Heartfelt thanks to Raven for teaming with me for this work. Her art is so beautiful, and her beta eye is as sharp as ever.
Much love and gratitude to Rosa for additional deep beta work and horror fangirling with me about this. Rosa and Raven made this story possible. Behind the scenes, they held my hand not only through writer’s angst but ‘anxious writer fighting many of my own demons while I managed to write my longest story yet’ life stuff.
AHH deep breath IT IS READYYYY.
Thank you so much to Illwynd for reading the fetus of this and assuring me I was striking the note I wanted to. They are the maestro of dark Thorki and I am in constant awe of their work.
I love y’all.
Raven is Ravenbringslight at AO3 and @raven-brings-lights on Tumblr.
Rosa is Rosatremaine at AO3 and @fictions-stranger on Tumblr.
Illwynd is @Illwynd at both.
I have a Tumblr @darklittlestories,
A NOTE: Because this is a horror story, I chose not to tag some warnings in the ao3 tags so readers can avoid possible spoilers if they want to. Your mental health and safety are more important to me, though. If you want to read all the triggers I saw as I wrote, please see the end note to this chapter under the spoiler warning.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Vade Retro Satana, Nunquam Suade Mihi Vana—Sunt Mala Quae Libas, Ipse Venena Bibas.
“Step back, Satan, do not suggest to me thy vanities—Evil are the things thou profferest; drink thou thine own poison.”
—from the inscription on the medal of St. Benedict, patron saint of exorcists.
Late Winter, 1994
A shaft of cold, wan sunlight reflected off the straight-razor Father Borsson used to keep the bristles off his cheeks. It was an indulgence to his fastidious nature, not vanity. Plastic safety razors had never given him the clean finish he preferred.
He scraped away the foam and hair, rinsed and toweled off his face, and wiped the blade to a perfect polish before tucking it back into his leather kit.
He squinted and replaced his glasses to inspect the job one last time.
“Hah! Good,” he declared to himself. The small mirror of the rectory’s washroom showed him a fresh, pink face clear of any dark or silvering hairs and behind him a framed view of the snow piled high outside the stone façade of St. Francis Xavier.
It had been a heavy storm, even for the Northeast, so he opted for a cassock rather than his usual collarino–overly formal, he’d been told, but Odin Borsson was a stubborn traditionalist.
Armed against the bitter weather with his fedora and a heavy wool overcoat, he marched off through the crunching iced-over snow to work. With his brisk pace, he arrived at the rear door to the church at precisely six-thirty, and within fifteen minutes was sipping at a mug of tea―no milk, no sugar―engrossed in his strange research. His reference books were stacked neatly by category and his pen dashed across his notes.
The current case was worrying, yes, but terribly fascinating.
Arden, North Carolina
Odin sat down hard on his side of the bed. It was a rough night. His boys were stirring up a terrible ruckus–at seventeen and fifteen they fought constantly over their damned gadgets, over food, over the bathroom. Hell; he was fairly certain Loki would argue (and successfully with some people) that up was down just for the sake of the fight.
His eye socket burned with phantom pain, and his temples were in a vise. He pulled off his eyepatch and tossed it on the nightstand.
Frigga pressed a cool cloth to the back of his neck and gave him a pillow sachet for his forehead.
“Lavandula and Syzygium aromaticum,” she said, and rubbed expertly at the knots in his shoulders. Then she kissed the top of his balding head and went to go herd the boys downstairs.
Once he was alone, he poured a double E.H. Taylor single barrel and searched through the mess of his nightstand for the bottle of Zebutal Eir had prescribed for when the headaches got bad. He took one with a huge swallow of bourbon.
Absently, he ran a finger along the scar that cut a vertical line on the axis where the pupil of his right iris used to be. When the glass was empty he poured another.
It felt like the kind of night when the dreams would hit.
These are the more specific warnings for the entire story are below and they may contain mild spoilers or interrupt the mood.
Panic attack/anxiety attack, graphic and detailed symptoms (chapter 8)
Withdrawn consent/analogous experience (chapter 11)
Mild body horror, presented as sexy for everyone (Chapter 14)
Violence against children (Chapter 15, 18)
Restraints/bondage but not sexy (Chapter 18)
Forcing mouth open to force “feed” liquid (Chapter 18) This whole chapter just has a pretty serious lack of body autonomy
Character death(Chapter 18-19.) It’s not Loki or Thor.
Thor had Loki’s arm bent backward at a sharp angle but Loki was slippery and wouldn’t relent; he was also double-jointed as hell so Thor quickly gave up and just shoved him hard so Loki landed face down on Thor’s bed, ass in the air, but his skinny legs shot out like darts and caught Thor with swift kicks to the shin and thigh.
“Fuck! That hurt!”
“Well, fuck you!”
“I can’t log in, Loki, and it’s my computer!”
“Well, you said I couldn’t use it anymore, and that’s bullshit. Your graphics card is better, and my–”
“Boys.” She didn’t have to raise her voice. Frigga just stood in the doorway and tilted her head just so.
As usual, Loki opened the negotiations. Or attempted to.
“Hey, Mom,” he said, sitting up fluidly and smoothing his hair, seeming for all the world as if wind had simply blown it out of place. “We’re just working out some kinks in our computer time scheduling and Thor–”
“He’s lying Mom, because he’s breathing, and he hacked my PC and–”
“That’s not hacking, you troglodyte.”
“Kids,” Frigga cut them off. “Your Dad has a headache, so why don’t we move the technology summit down to the living room and you can plead your cases there, okay?” She gave a pointed look to Loki and motioned both of them downstairs.
Thor tried to look attentive but Loki actually did have Mom in negotiations at the dining room table. Thor perked up significantly when she mentioned his getting an upgrade for his senior year instead of when he started college, Loki thereby inheriting the lauded PC in time for that coming school year.
Loki had an angelic look on his face, oh so scholastically engaged, but Thor knew his smugness with the timing was one hundred and ten percent about the release of Fallout 76 that November.
Plus Loki could bullshit his way through school on a first generation iPad, two hours of sleep, and three Mountain Dews a day.
(Original Dew. They did agree on a few things, and the indisputable fact that Code Red Dew was an abomination unto gods and men was one of them. The other variations were lesser sins but still unnecessary and terrible. Jesus.)
Frigga and Loki worked out the details while Thor spaced out a little, playing a game he’d devised for family meetings. He’d watch Loki and try to see if he could pick out his “playing mom” expressions then check her face to see if she was buying. She was playing Loki that night, and so well was like watching three dimensional chess on Star Trek.
Eventually Loki was checkmated or whatever happens on Star Trek chess (Thor preferred Star Wars himself) and had to go make Thor an admin on his own machine again. Thor watched him type, fingers flying over the keyboard. He reset permissions and told Thor to create a new password. Thor made him go to his own room and waited until he heard the neighboring door shut and typed:
Then, as directed by Frigga, they went to the family room for mandatory brother bonding time.
After scrolling through a lot of Netflix suggestions and being either at odds with each other or jointly uninspired, Thor let Loki show him a Norwegian horror/fantasy movie called ‘Thale.’
It was in turns slightly boring and almost hypnotic. There was a mysterious pale girl with a tail, and crime scene cleaner guys found her along with filmed evidence of her being experimented on and tortured. They helped her and then Thor lost the plot a little after that. He couldn’t decide if it was great or terrible or a strange mix of both.
It was such a Loki film, though. He was really into reading and collecting all that kind of stuff: Gods and fairy tales and mythology and occult oddities from everywhere but especially “the old country”—he called it that, even though their mom’s people had immigrated to the Carolinas many generations back. Frigga’s mom had come to Asheville when she’d married a Catholic boy.
Loki collected Catholic miscellania, too. Ever complicated, was Thor’s little brother.
He was wearing a silver saint medallion on a chain alongside a Viking wolf pendant now. He was idly fidgeting with it, flipping the medal then the pendant between his long musician fingers.
He wasn’t actually a musician but he had the hands for it—everyone said “piano player hands,” but Thor always imagined them plucking at strings. Not a guitar, but something more unusual.
A lyre or a lute. Something archetypal and otherworldly.
Loki was really into the movie and his eyes were eerie in the blue light coming off the screen. Thor loved that they were so pale they were always different shades of green depending on the light.
It was the longest, hottest summer in history and Loki’s boredom had festered into annoyance and was feeding itself. How Mom was actually working in the garden was baffling.
He was working on his AP English summer assignments. In theory. Currently he was taking a break to read the newest Stephen King novel. And to regret telling Ms. Speight that he’d re-read ‘Dracula’ three times (because now he had to read ‘Salathiel the Immortal’ and compare the treatment of Catholicism in the former to Judaism in the latter.)
Now he was taking a break from both the King book and ‘Salathiel’ and lying half upside down on his bed, hair dangling off the edge, picking at the hem of his black ‘The Knife’ t-shirt and hate-reading Buzzfeed listicles.
His stomach grumbled in irritation. He closed the tab and noticed the time. He’d been messing around online for an hour. He needed to summon the will to move and feed himself.
He groaned because life was dreadful and summer was interminable. Then his stomach knotted up because at least he wasn’t in school and he’d actually rather be bored than deal with that social clusterfuck.
He dragged himself to the kitchen and grabbed a Mountain Dew and stared at the contents of the fridge for a while before he noticed he was wasting electricity. He thought a vague apology at the earth.
That reminded him of a question he had about Jörð, the Old Norse earth goddess. Sometimes she was called a jötun and sometimes she was a goddess. He loved the mystery of the Norse gods and goddesses.
What frustrated some people delighted him. He felt like he could spend entire lives reading and researching and still have so much to uncover. He loved that interpretations of texts varied so drastically and was vaguely thinking of studying Scandinavian languages in college.
Daydreaming about Jörð, he grabbed an apple and a knife and started cutting wedges to dip in almond butter.
Thor came in and said, “Hey,” and started making a sandwich.
Loki thought Mom had an old book with some cool information about Jörð that—
“Shit!” He’d cut his hand.
“You okay?” Thor asked.
“Yeah, it’s just… fuck. Ow.” Loki snatched up the kitchen towel and wrapped it around his finger.
“Is it bad? Do you need stitches?”
“No. Overreact much?” Loki laughed. It really wasn’t that bad. It just stung and it was awkward because it was on the index finger of his left hand.
His dominant hand. How did that even happen?
Thor noticed too, and asked if he needed help.
“I guess? Yeah, thanks.”
Thor poured peroxide over the cut and they watched the always interesting fizziness. It distracted Loki from the bite of the cut, at least. Thor cradled Loki’s hand in his own like a wounded bird.
It was surprisingly sweet. That was the maddening thing about Thor: They’d be ready to claw each other’s eyes out, then the next moment Thor was being tender and affectionate. It should be annoying, like their Mom being a little helicopter-y about Loki, but Thor did ‘careful’ the right way somehow.
Loki remembered being small and Thor acting like this. The protective big brother who held his hand in the dark as Loki learned to sleep without a night light.
He put the damn band-aid on too quickly, though; Loki was sure his skin wasn’t dry enough.
It stuck, though, so Loki didn’t say anything except a quick thanks. Thor gave him an odd look.
Maybe Thor was feeling nostalgic, too, and it was a little much for him after their fight yesterday.
They returned to their snacks and Loki wiped his blood from the counter and sprayed it down with Frigga’s organic antiseptic spray. Melaleuca alternifolia and Calendula. Loki forgot the rest of the ingredients but he loved the smell of it. Like Mom and home.
Thor went up to his room and closed the door so Loki went to his parents’ room to search their bookshelves but he couldn’t find that mythology book.
He chugged the rest of his Dew and stopped in his room for flip-flops and went to the basement to look through the metal bookshelves down there.
He needed to go down there to restock the soft drinks in the kitchen anyway.
The book wasn’t on the shelves down there either. He sighed and decided to check a box or two before admitting defeat and returning to gothic literature.
He got into treasure hunting mode when he found a box of old photos: Frigga and her brother Frey holding hands in front of a rickety little Maypole in their little barnebryllup wedding costumes.
There was Frigga with a plump little Thor on her hip and a pumpkin sized belly full of Loki; here a much newer one of Odin laughing with a toddler Loki on his shoulder pulling at his eye patch.
Oh, there was Loki’s favorite: The boys were seven and five, sitting on the porch swing together on a bright day, the sunlight cutting a sharp shadow across the porch. Thor was in the full sun shading his eyes with his hand and Loki was in the shadow but the light still hit his face. It was a great photo.
He pocketed it to take to his room.
He found another box. This one was like a wooden crate but with a lid. Very treasure-worthy.
Excellent , he thought, all research intentions abandoned.
There were some books inside. A couple of photo albums with Dad’s snapshots. They were all gifts—photos taken of him, not by him. Most of the old ones were cool vintage Polaroids at a couple of different churches, the colors desaturated now. Newer ones were more varied; it looked like he’d travelled more in his latter years as a priest. There were some letters Loki was absolutely sneaking down to read later and a rubber-banded bunch of greeting cards. Goodbyes to Father Odin, he guessed.
Loki loved the drama and romance of his dad leaving the priesthood because he’d fallen for his wild woman of a mom.
He hoped Dad’s last parishioners had been supportive about things. But first, curiosity beckoned. There was a smaller box inside the crate. So he opened it.
Dad technically forbade any Catholic iconography inside the house. He was amiable about it, said he’d just moved on and was happy to be surrounded with Frigga’s herbs and stones and folk remedies. So Loki’s saints and things were confined to his room, but Dad didn’t make a big deal.
But this was a rosary in what was clearly a box of Dad’s stuff from before. Loki was surprised he’d kept it.
Moved on, my ass , he thought.
Loki loved rosaries. He owned several, kept in a box under his bed.
It was a beauty. Ivory or bone, the carving fine and delicate. He didn’t really approve of ivory but no one could say it wasn’t attractive.
He loved the way a rosary felt. He rubbed the smooth beads between his fingers and brought the crucifix closer to examine the detailing and damn—
His bandage had slipped. And ivory was porous. He’d probably ruined it permanently.
A smear of red marred the figure of Christ and a droplet had fallen onto a bead making a circle within a circle.
Thor’s exposed arm was covered in goosebumps. Sweat dripped into his eye when he opened it. He was damp all over and shivering like winter. He was still breathing hard from a dream. He couldn’t remember it really, just scenes and impressions, all jumbled:
Black hair tossing and thrashing—Loki, maybe, but a smaller, younger Loki. The hair obscured half of the face; the other half was in shadow.
Dad was there but younger too, his hair still as black as Loki’s.
Twin golden, glowing shapes.
Red—First just the memory of the color red, then it coalesced in his mind.
A stain on something pale. White or Ivory. A dress or cloth.
Blood spread on the weave of the fabric.
Fuck. Midnight nachos, I disavow you forever , he thought, and reached for his phone. The screen was already lit, but it was solid white. His thumbprint unlocked it, though, and he let out a sigh of relief, still shaky from the nightmare.
It was three o’clock. It felt like he’d been asleep for twelve hours.
He went to piss and gulped down some cool tap water. He rinsed his face and ran a washcloth over his arms and torso and wrapped up in a fluffy towel like a shawl.
It was weird, being awake at this hour. Their place was always quiet. They were at the end of a long road with big yards nestled against a wooded hill. If you looked out from the west side of the house it felt like they were deep in the forest of one of Loki’s fairy tales.
But three in the morning after a nightmare held a kind of silence that was different. It was a unique sort of solitude he’d never really felt before. It carried an almost physical weight.
He usually slept well. He ran in the evenings and lifted a little in the school gym, swam in the Morris’ pond in the summer. So he supposed usually his body was exhausted enough to sleep deeply.
He wondered if Loki was awake, though. He had insomnia a lot, because of his anxiety. Thor blamed the assholes at school. Loki said it was that, but also that his brain just never stopped. Thor walked softly down the hallway past his parents’ and his own room to listen at Loki’s door, curious.
At first he heard nothing, then there was a tiny, fussing sound. Breathless and light. Oh god, maybe he was… Thor felt a warm tingle stir him but he buried the thought.
No, Loki was just making dream noises. It was cute, he thought. Actually, completely adorable—
Loki said it in a level, conversational voice, out of nowhere.
A frisson wracked Thor’s body. He stood outside Loki’s door for several more minutes, but Loki was completely peaceful now. Not even the little fussy sounds.
Uneasy, Thor went back to bed, but it took him a long time to fall asleep.
Thor was dazed. Frigga’s voice seemed to be coming from miles away.
“Guys, it’s nearly ten! We’ve talked about this.” Frigga had serious ideas about circadian rhythms and health but she allowed wiggle room during the summer. The wiggling had a very full stop at ten a.m., however.
Thor very rarely slept in that late, though. It’d be much too hot for a run now.
Loki usually had to be dragged out of bed like a sullen cat. He’d grumble and in his dry-ass delivery, say something super Loki-ish like, “I have a night soul.”
Thor pulled on his “Han shot first” tee and slumped to the kitchen.
Odin nodded good morning over the paper—Thor loved that their Dad read a physical paper.
Frigga gave Thor a quizzical frown. He started to complain about his nightmare and sleeplessness but Loki came down and they both turned toward him instead.
He looked awful. Worse than Thor felt.
Loki had translucent pale skin that you could read like a book. It either glowed with health or showed every angry vessel and bruised slight. There were blue-violet circles under his eyes and he was a flat-pale not luminous-pale.
“Baby, are you okay?” Frigga reached an arm toward Loki, who rolled his eyes at her. They were bloodshot. He went to her anyway. There was never any point resisting Mom.
“You feel cold, not feverish.” She tested with her lips, not her hands. She felt his pulse. Eir, their doctor, was her best friend, and she’d rubbed off on Mom a lot. Frigga’s folk healing was balanced with efficient practicality, but Thor thought she went overboard with her doctoring when they got sick, especially with Loki.
“Thor, you look a little off as well. How’d you both sleep?”
Thor said, “Awful,” just as Loki answered, “Fine.”
“Well, sit down and eat. I’ll make you some tea,” Frigga said, and turned to her kettle and jars of herbs.
The boys shared a look, Mountain Dew the minute she turns her back, and then looked at Odin, who was watching over the folded down paper and gave them a look that said I won’t tell, but drink the damned tea.
They wolfed down bacon, eggs, and toast before Mom could ruin their appetites with the herbal stuff, but it actually wasn’t bad. It was gingery and she’d sweetened it with honey.
They did have their caffeine and refined sugar afterward and then she set them to serious chore duty because Eir was coming for dinner.
Loki got a headache doing the windows, and Mom sent him to bed until Eir showed up.
Thor thought Eir was great. She had laughing, elfin eyes and a warm manner but sharp humor.
But Thor knew her semi-weekly dinners were only half social. They were also stealth missions to check up on Dad and Loki. Frigga would find a way to work Odin’s headaches into the conversation and after a long, careful warm-up, Eir would delicately ask Loki about school without any cliché adult shit.
No obvious, “So how’s school going?” from her. She was awesome.
They had steak (and portobello “steaks” for Loki and Eir) and a ton of rich sides after Mom had seen how rough Loki had looked that morning. She sent Thor down to the basement for a bottle of shiraz, and asked him to set out glasses for himself and Loki as well as the adults.
They were usually only allowed a small glass on Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
“Red wine’s good for the blood,” she explained. Thor had no idea if this was a Grandma Idunn thing or an actual health thing but he knew wine had some medical benefits so, hey ho let’s go.
The table was piled up with food like it was a holiday. ‘Starve a fever, feed everything else’ was Frigga’s modus operandi . Thor was busy plowing through a medium rare steak and grilled heirloom tomatoes as quickly as he could within the confines of table manners but everyone else was doing dinner party conversation.
Loki’s wine glass was empty. He must have downed it. The wine had done something, anyway. His cheeks were pink and his eyes were sparkling. Now their green was emerald in the dim ambient light. He looked like a different person.
His petal-shaped mouth was wine-stained. He smiled at a joke Eir made and bit into a chunk of baked carrot. His lips caught a little of the honey glaze.
The conversation sort of swam around Thor as he finished his own wine.
“Odin, the mushrooms are amazing. Your grill work is still masterful.”
“Will you pass the green beans? Did you know six percent of Americans are vegans now? Ugh, I’d rather die than give up cheese.”
“Darling, is this real cream in the spinach? Are you trying to clog an old man’s arteries? Did you approve this, Eir? Surely that violates your oath… Oh, shit!”
Odin sloshed a little of his wine out of his glass while gesturing with it. The stain spread on the linen and conversation resumed as he blotted it with his napkin, smiling ruefully at himself.
“Friggs, do you remember the time when we were at that boat party when I was at UNC? That girl had us over. What was her name—”
Thor was watching Dad clean up the stain and it gave him a weird déjà vu. Then it hit him like a physical jolt. The blood on the cloth in his nightmare. It was exactly the same. The same shape, the same seeping, the same color.
“Hey, you okay?” Loki said, kicking Thor under the table.
Thor forced a laugh. “Yeah. Heh. Yep, I’m good, Jerk.”
“Bitch,” Loki replied, but there was a harsh bite to it; like it wasn’t their in-joke. Even his voice seemed lower, rougher.
Then he grabbed one of Eir’s biscuits and passed one to Thor and everything was fine, like he hadn’t used a weird tone and Thor hadn’t had déjà vu. Thor decided it had been sleepiness and wine and the way some dreams just get under your skin.
“No, the one that always wore the braids!”
“Yes! Ellen or Ella or..”
“Ooh! Ellie! Yes! It was on that lake, back when you were with Sarah…”
Thor and Loki cleaned up afterward, listening to Eir and Odin chat as Frigga fetched another bottle. The boys were both yawning by the time Thor had dried the dishes. Loki was a mess, as usual. He couldn’t wash without soaking his shirt. The thin charcoal tee stuck to his skinny belly and Thor could see the dent of his navel.
“Okay, I’m crashing,” Loki said, stretching his arms up over his head.
The fabric clung then released and Thor looked for skin but the shirt was oversized.
“Same,” Thor said. Loki turned to head toward the stairs and Thor put a hand on his shoulder and said, “I’m glad you’re feeling better.” He pulled him into a quick hug.
“The hell? I’m fine, Mom. Jesus.”
Thor stood still, shocked a little at himself. He heard Loki grumbling as he stomped up the stairs.
“I’m always treated like the goddamned baby.”
The boys were in the family room on the couch playing Mario Kart on the Wii. Thor had seemed distracted lately, acting so weird, and Loki was certainly not above exploiting this for competitive advantage. He won his third consecutive race.
“Yes!” Loki held the remote aloft in his fist. “I am victorious and shall feast with my mighty brethren in Valhöll !” Loki crowed. “One more game? Come on, let me beat your ass one more time.”
They restarted the game and Loki was speeding Yoshi through the Star track, totally on autopilot and in the zone.
“Loki? Lo!” Thor was shaking him by the shoulders.
He felt like he’d been in a really deep sleep and someone had splashed ice water on him. Thor looked really worried.
“You had some kind of... I don’t know. You sort of went foggy and quit playing, then you dropped the controller. It was almost like you were in a trance or something. It could’ve been a seizure. I’m gonna go get Mom.”
He got up to go and Loki grabbed his arm.
“Don’t go. I’m fine,” Loki insisted. He blinked several times to clear his vision. “I’m just really tired and I drifted off. It’s fine, I swear. I’m not sleeping for shit lately. It’s no big, though. Please don’t bother Mom and Dad about it, okay? They’ll totally overreact.”
“I guess,” Thor assented. “But if anything else seems off or you feel bad or whatever, let me know, okay? Or tell Mom. Promise?”
“Okay,” Loki said. He felt nauseous and so tired it was like sleep was a weight trying to pull him down. “I think I’ll go lie down for a little while.”
He made it to the upstairs bathroom before he vomited and then he didn’t remember making it to his bed.
Dinner was too quiet with just the three of them. Frigga had checked on Loki and he was still feeling sick. Cool with no fever, still, but tired and too nauseous to eat. He’d slept all afternoon and all evening. She’d taken him some tea, Citrus limetta and Zingiber officinale, with some crackers and the rest of them ate a stripped down dinner.
Thor’s own stomach was churning with worry. He couldn’t stop thinking about the look on Loki’s face earlier. Sickly pale with a sort of half grin as he’d just stared and stared before he’d dropped the controller. But the lighting was weird and who knows what kind of faces Thor made when he was spaced out.
He was being paranoid, probably. He’d just been in a really strange mood lately.
He’d confused himself the other day, looking for Loki’s shirt to reveal skin. It was nothing, though; he was just a teenager cooped up for the summer and hormones and it was a random whatever. He’d always thought Loki was gorgeous. It was like thinking a piece of art or music was beautiful. A neuron had just misfired.
But he kept remembering Loki saying “no” and it knotted up his insides.
When the landline rang, he startled so hard adrenaline made his heart race.
Odin answered it and passed it to Frigga. "It's Frey, darling."
“Fae! Hi, honey! How are you?” She greeted her brother with her nickname for him.
Thor took his and Dad’s dishes to the sink and washed them.
“Thank you. I’ll dry, son.”
Thor gave him a forced smile.
“What’s on your mind, Thor?” Odin’s voice was soft. He had only two volumes; it was either booming declarations or warm and easy like this.
“Oh, um. Just a little worried about Loki, I guess. He was sick the other day, then today again.”
Odin made a thoughtful hum but didn’t say anything. The silence made Thor need to fill it. He figured his Dad been scary good at digging sins out of people in the confessional.
“I guess he’s been having another bout of insomnia or something maybe. I don’t know. It’s not a big thing, I’m just kind of concerned.”
“I see,” Odin said, “Well, I hope your fears are unwarranted. And for my part I’m pleased the two of you aren’t currently fratricidal. I believe it’s been several days since either of you attempted murder.”
Frigga came into the kitchen then. “Oh, thank you, boys,” she said, admiring their work. “Frey confirmed his plans. He’ll be here next week.”
She gave Odin a mock-exasperated look. “We’ll have to get the boys moved into Thor’s room. Do you think they’ll resist killing each other?”
Odin laughed. “I was just remarking on their apparent peace treaty. We’ll have to see if it holds.”
Frigga winked at Thor. “As the elder statesman, I’ll hold you responsible if it doesn’t.”
Thor smiled, and hoped it was convincing.
Fuck . He felt embarrassed and ridiculous. Frey came every summer. Loki crashed in his floor every summer. He was really spinning out. He needed a good hard run to clear his head. He went upstairs to grab his running shoes.
Loki was standing in the doorway to Thor’s room. His head hung down a little, hair fallen over his face, casting one side in shadow.
“Oh, hey. You feeling any better?”
Loki didn’t answer.
Thor wondered if he was sleepwalking. That hadn’t happened before. Not even as a kid.
He reached out and laid a hand on Loki’s shoulder to start to steer him back to bed.
Loki leaned into Thor’s touch, and Thor pulled him gently by the shoulder. He turned and Thor was able to wrap his arm around him and guide him slowly back to his own room.
Loki’s hair brushed against Thor’s cheek, like a whisper of a kiss, and Thor wanted to die.
He kept moving, urging Loki toward the next doorway, and it felt like a hundred years, a thousand steps. He could feel every muscle and bone in Loki’s shoulders and neck and he told himself he wasn’t memorizing the feel of his brother’s body warm and pliant and sleepy against his own.
They finally reached Loki’s bed and he sat himself down and looked up at Thor with those huge eyes. Gray-green in the dusky light. They seemed bright and alert now.
“I think you were sleepwalking. Have you ever done that before?”
“No, I don’t think so. I mean, you would’ve told me, right?”
“Yeah, I don’t remember anything like it.”
“You helped me back to bed?”
“Yeah… you were in my doorway, so I just kinda walked you back here.”
Then Loki’s eyes lost focus again and that hazy look fell over his face. When he spoke it was that scratchy, wintry whisper Thor had tried to forget from the strange dinner with Eir.
“Oh, yes, and you loved it .”
Loki had fallen back into a silent, still sleep immediately after turning Thor’s guts to ice with that voice. And those words. Thor had gone to his room in a daze.
He lay awake for what seemed like hours, tears soaking his pillowcase as he stared helplessly at the ceiling. He remembered lying like this with Loki when they were small and this was their shared room. They’d search for images, for pareidolia in the random splotches in the texture of rough plaster. He remembered the wolf with the spoon and cried harder.
When he finally slept, nightmares came again:
A rocking chair swaying in a gentle rhythm and the barely discernible melody of a nursery rhyme.
An eye socket weeping fresh blood.
A rosary falling to the floor.
The dark haired child, half shadowed and head thrashing.
A drop of blood falling onto a bead on a rosary.
Like ink spreading, all the beads turn red.
A dry, chilled whisper, libido seditionis auctorem…
He woke, shivering violently.
His phone was in his hand. He must have reached for it in his sleep.
He went straight to Loki’s door. He was whining, high and frightened sounds that lanced straight through Thor. He started for the doorknob and then, again, came the firm, “No.”
The hairs on Thor’s neck went up like hackles. That ‘no’ felt like an admonishment for him, but he beat down his shame and tried the door.
It was locked.
Loki was quiet now, so he didn’t force it.
He waited a few minutes to be sure, his hand on the door in case Loki needed him, but there wasn’t a sound aside from Thor’s own quiet sniffling as he wept.
Finally, he went to piss, then rinsed off sweat and the salty grit of tears, and crawled back into bed.
He drew his knees up and curled around them, fresh tears pouring out as he rocked himself under the false shelter of the linen sheet.
Hammering woke him.
A fight? There was yelling.
He came out of his fog.
“Thor! Mom’s starting to get pissed off!” It was Loki, pounding on his door. “Wake up! It’s almost ten, dude!”
Thor hollered back, “Okay, okay. I’m up. Chill.”
Footsteps thumped down the stairs.
Totally awake now, his dreams came to him in a rush. The nightmare and waking to visit Loki’s room seemed like the distant past now. But he’d finally cried himself to sleep in the deep dark before dawn, and he’d dreamed again.
Loki above him, squirming and wriggling against Thor’s hardness and that wavy hair shadowing his face into harsher angles.
Thor’s sheets were sticky-wet and cool, but he got hard again with the memory. Loki’s pelvis pressing into him, bony in the right places. Thor’s fingers digging into the swell of his ass...
His skin burned from his scalp down to his bare chest and tears stung his eyes.
He didn’t think he’d ever cried so much in his life.
That night, Thor set his alarm for 2:55 am, then lay awake long past midnight. It seemed he’d just fallen into his fitful sleep when he jerked awake to the tinkling electronic bell.
He unplugged his phone and crept to Loki’s door, opening a voice recording app. He felt invasive and disrespectful recording Loki, but really, he thought it might be helpful. Maybe he could play it back to see if Loki remembered any dreams.
The couple of minutes waiting outside the door were long and completely silent. Then as he watched the clock turn to 2:59, the phone went dead.
Loki started to moan. Thor rattled the doorknob but it was locked again.
From inside the room, Loki made a high, panicked sound and then, “No, no, no!”
Thor tried the door again, then pushed his weight against it.
Adrenaline shot through him, kicking up his pulse and sharpening everything.
He felt the cold of the brass doorknob, the grain of the oak. The crickets outdoors with their screaming nightsong. The tiny groaning of the slats of the floor when his weight shifted. His own blood in his ears, his breath fast and hard.
And the focus of his whole being was Loki whimpering and trapped on the other side.
“Nnnn… no. Nononono.”
Then sudden, total silence fell.
No normal, comforting creaks of an old house.
Just blood, whooshing in and out through Thor’s body to his heart, and even that seemed muffled.
The following evening, Thor dosed himself with a large mug of Frigga’s bedtime tea. “For sleep: Lavandula, Matricaria chamomilla, and root of Valeriana officinalis.”
A razor blade catching light.
A child’s voice singing nursery rhymes with two angels.
The color white, hurting his eyes. Then it came into focus: Snow.
Loki, bare chested and half-reclining beside Thor in his bed. His black jeans riding low to reveal the curves of his hip bones and the inviting dip of his navel. His skin was ivory and snow and his hair was ink and shadow. Rosary beads hung around his neck like a necklace of perfect blood droplets. With a delicate finger, Loki drew a line from the figure of Christ down to his navel and down, down to where his fly was parted in the beginning of a vee—
A pretty young girl with long black hair. She stood in front of him, grinning wide. As he watched, her smile split into a crooked slash. The flesh gaped on one side, baring skeletal teeth.
His alarm woke him and he jumped out of bed, cursing into the dark room and trying to shake off the dreams. He was still hard, but revolted by the image of the half dead girl.
He caught his breath and pulled on a long, loose shirt.
He didn’t bother with his phone that night. He just crept to Loki’s room, sat down with his back against the door and listened.
Loki didn’t lead up with moaning or whimpering.
Thor was on his feet and pounding on the door as Mom and Dad ran down the hall. Mom was clutching a skeleton key and her fingers trembled a little as she fit it into the lock and threw open the door.
Loki was sleeping on his side, peaceful as a little child, hair covering part of his face.
Thor looked at his parents. Frigga looked pale even with just the light of a gibbous moon. Her eyes were full of tears. Odin looked as stunned as if a ghost were lying there in Loki’s bed.
Odin recovered first and cleared his throat. “Well, we’ll let him be. He likely won’t remember it in the morning. That’s the way of night terrors.”
Relief swept through Thor. “Night terrors? That’s what these are?”
“Has this happened before?” Frigga asked, a little sharply.
Thor looked at the floor. “Nothing like this bad or anything. He just... talks in his sleep sometimes? And he was sleepwalking the other night. But only the one time.”
Odin and Frigga shared a look. Odin’s face was more expressive without his eyepatch. His frown was somewhere between concern and outright worry.
Frigga looked more than worried. She looked terrified.
“I don’t remember any of that,” Loki said the next morning, his eyes round. The shadows around them made their glassy green look wild and haunted.
“Dad said that’s normal,” Thor said.
Loki still looked unsettled.
“Here, let’s google ‘night terrors.’” Thor pulled out his phone and Loki scooted closer, leaning against Thor so he could see the screen.
Thor thumbed open the lock screen. The voice recording app was open. “I gotta pee,” he told Loki, “Be right back.”
Locked in the bathroom, he stared open mouthed at the files listed in the app. He’d installed it on the eleventh to record Loki talking in his sleep. That was the only night he’d tried to use it, and his phone had gone dead. But there were files listed. Several of them.
00000000.mp4 00:00:0000 00:00:00 00:03:33
07092018.mp4 07:09:2018 03:00:00 00:03:33
07112018.mp4 07:11:2018 03:00:00 00:03:33
07122018.mp4 07:12:2018 03:00:00 00:03:33
His hands shook. His first wild instinct was to delete them (and then smash the phone and salt and burn it.) But what the actual shitting fuck was on there?
He scooped up cold water and splashed his face, checking the mirror to see if he looked like maybe he was having a psychotic break.
He just looked like the asshole who needed to go check on Loki.
Swallowing down the dread rising like bile in his throat, he went back to the family room to reassure his little brother.
Thor came back and sat with Loki on the couch and opened Google. He scooted closer so he could see the screen.
“They aren’t night terrors,” he insisted, “These symptoms don’t fit.”
“Well, no, not all of them, but everyone’s different; you know how psychological stuff is.” Thor was trying his best to soothe him, he knew, but he looked stricken to Loki.
Loki felt like a mess himself. He smoothed his hair and tucked it behind his ears and tried not to fidget.
“Okay, you’re right. I know,” he said. “It’s just weird. And I feel like shit. It’s like I haven’t slept in days.”
“That’s triggered your anxiety in the past. Could that be happening now?” Thor asked.
He usually had a way, like Eir did, of talking about it in a way that was gentle but not patronizing. But now he sounded a little like he was trying to talk himself into this, like he really needed to believe Loki was just having night terrors and anxiety.
“No, I mean, I actually am sleeping, but I feel like I’m not. Thor, is there something going on with you?”
His ears turned a little pink. That was his tell. So Loki knew he was going to lie before he even answered.
“Nope. Just brotherly concern. I’m awesome like that.” He patted Loki’s knee and stood up.
“You know what we need? A Mountain Dew and summer movie marathon!” Thor called from the kitchen. “Something terrifying yet beachy!”
After a minute or two he yelled at Loki, “We have a problem Loki! I can’t carry all this Dew!”
Thor used a tone of campy cheesiness and Loki was perplexed for a beat but then he rolled his eyes and joined in, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!”
Loki started the Jaws DVD while Thor made popcorn and they watched it the way they always did—shouting at characters and rooting for the shark.
He was as drained as if he’d been awake all night, and the sequels were objectively terrible. Let Thor be a completist, Loki thought. He fell asleep not long after the opening credits of ‘Jaws 2.’
Carefully extricating himself from under his sleeping brother, Thor crept upstairs to play the audio files.
000000.mp4 00.00.00 00:00:00
The file with no date or time stamp. There was static, a feedback squeal, then nothing but the low static for a while. Thor settled in, prepared to listen to white noise for the entire three minutes of the file. Then a sudden laugh scared him so much he yelped. It was high and sweet, childlike, then deepened to that husky voice Loki had used.
He paused the app, starting to tremble. He didn’t want to keep listening, but he needed to in case there was some answer there to help Loki. Quaking and queasy, he pressed play, but the rest of the file was just static.
07092018.mp4 07:09:2018 00:03:33
July ninth was the night Eir was over for dinner. Taking a deep breath, Thor played the file. A staticky, distorted voice: “Bitch.” Then the sound of sobbing and the throaty voice again, barely discernible beneath the blanket of white noise whispered, “Another perfect little bitch.”
Then dead air ran out the remaining time, just static nothing with its little pops and hisses. A drop of sweat fell into Thor’s eye as he watched the time slider show its creeping progress then he jumped when Loki’s voice shouted, “No!” shocking, and as clear as if he were in the room.
07112018.mp4 07:11:2018 00:03:33
There was a long stretch of scratchy, clawing noises and then under the texture of dissonant sound, a hissing voice. It gave Thor an ugly feeling of déjà vu, but he wasn’t sure why. He had to play it three times to make out the words. They were Latin, the phrase from his dream. He wrote it down in shaky script. He’d have to translate it later. “Libido seditionis auctorem…”
07122018.mp4 07:12:2018 00:03:33
When Thor pressed play, the sound of Loki screaming made him startle so hard tears burned in his eyes. And then a childlike voice giggled. It gave him an uneasy feeling as if the thing were in the room there with him. “Mine,” the voice sang. Then it hummed the child’s song from his dream.
He rushed to the bathroom and barely resisted being sick. Trembling and crying as quietly as he could, he let himself break down for a few minutes before he rinsed his mouth and splashed cold water over his face.
He gathered himself, made plans to talk to Eir as soon as he could about what could make him hallucinate like this. He tried to ignore the tiny little whisper that he knew exactly what could drive this; that it wasn’t normal to stare at a sibling like he did. To wake up sticky with semen with afterimages of his brother’s naked skin still searing in his mind.
He imagined boxing it up, nailing boards over the feeling, but all that did was make him remember the ‘Tell-Tale Heart’ as he walked back downstairs to sneak back onto the couch with Loki.
When Loki woke up drooling on a throw pillow, Thor was rubbing his feet and ankles. Loki stretched and kicked Thor’s ribs a little for lying to him earlier.
This was a mistake. Thor grabbed both feet in one hand and launched a tickling offensive. Shrieking, Loki twisted and grabbed a fistful of hair and they were wrestling on the couch knotted up like two writhing snakes when Frigga came in from outside.
“Gentlemen,” she said lightly, “While my heart just dances to see you displaying fraternal affection, the elder of you promised to fetch my own brother from the airport. My youngest is supposed to be tidying the room he is graciously loaning to said guest.”
Pulling away from Thor, Loki flashed his seraphic smile at her and piped, “Yes, Mother!”
The nap, the soft drink and the movie had lifted his mood back to near normal levels, and there was nothing like kicking Thor’s ass a little to send it over the top.
He could hear Thor’s car keys jingling from the little ceramic bowl in the foyer as he skipped up the stairs.
Loki finished dusting and the room smelled pleasantly of Frigga’s furniture polish. Lemon verbena and Key lime. Aloysia citriodora and Citrus aurantifolia.
It had rained and cooled things down earlier, so he opened the window.
He dumped his things in a messy pile on Thor’s bed—the drama of night terrors and the necessity of movie time meant they hadn’t blown up the air mattress yet. He opened the window in Thor’s room, too, then grabbed clean linens from the hall closet.
Fighting with fresh sheets was his least favorite chore. His room was the smallest one, and the bed was flush against the wall, back-to-back with Thor’s larger room. With a queen-sized bed , he thought enviously.
He had to get on his bed to reach the top back corner. Finally victorious with both sheets and comforter, he surveyed the room.
It was definitely uncle-ready.
Thinking of his night terrors brought a small itch of anxiety. He noticed he was biting his lip as he rechecked the room. He probably ought to do the meditations his therapist had taught him. He’d even suggested Loki use his rosary beads for the repetition and comfort.
He reached under the bed and pulled out the wooden case with his collection of religious and ritual stuff. Statuettes of gods; a deck of tarot cards; his rosaries and saint medals; herbs and oils and other odds and ends he’d collected.
When he opened the lid, he recoiled with a stifled scream.
The crucifix on every rosary was gone.
Thor crested the hill where the paved road turned to gravel and drove the last half mile to home. He was glad the airport was close.
Asheville wasn’t far at all, and thankfully Frey could carry a conversation. He chatted lightly and played a few songs for Thor. He’d been to a concert by a singer-songwriter called Lucette. She was really good, Thor thought. She was Canadian but she rocked this Southern sound that didn’t cross into pop country.
Frey had easygoing energy that was a godsend. Thor almost told him what was going on. Not his own crazy stuff, but Loki’s night terrors and sleepwalking. But he knew his mom would tell him everything, and it felt like a betrayal to talk about it without Loki, so he kept it to himself.
He carried Frey’s heaviest bags up the rocky driveaway and answered questions about his weight training as he opened the front door.
The house smelled like his mom’s peach and blueberry pie.
Frigga rushed to hug him, reaching on tiptoes. She was tall, but Frey had several inches on her. They shared the same honey-blond hair Thor had inherited along with the height she’d passed to both kids. Frey reminded Thor of Loki with his huge green eyes and razor sharp cheekbones.
Frigga shooed her brother and Odin into the kitchen for pie and coffee, asking about the house. Frey was scrolling through his photos as they walked, bragging about exposed beams and shiplap and showing her the house he was flipping.
Thor let his mom and Uncle Frey have their reunion and carried Frey’s luggage upstairs. He slung a duffle bag over his shoulder so he could do it in one lopsided trip.
When he’d dumped everything on Loki’s bed, Loki peeked his head in and hissed at Thor, “Come here.”
“What’s up? Oh my god, Lo. What happened? You look like shit.”
“Get in here,” Loki said, sounding panicked. He was chalky white and the hair around his face was damp looking. His eyes were red-rimmed.
He closed Thor’s door and sat down on the bed. There was a box beside him and Loki was staring at it like it might bite.
Thor sat down gently, facing Loki. “Hey. It’s okay. Can you tell me what’s going on?”
Loki looked openly scared. His eyes were wide and glazed over with a thick sheen of tears. Thor’s reflections in them went prismatic before they spilled in shining trails down his cheeks. Loki’s hands shook as he opened the clasps on the wooden case.
Inside were all of Loki’s religious items. A hodgepodge of belief systems crowded the space but it was all packed neatly, maybe reverently. The center held his rosary beads and when Thor saw them, the lopped off crucifixes, he felt a dizzying sense of wrongness.
He didn’t want to look at them. His eyes slid up and over them. They physically ached when he tried to look; his vision doubled.
“Loki,” he asked hesitantly, “Why did you do this?”
didn’t fucking do this! I was just cleaning my room and found them!”
“Loki, please, please don’t fuck with me.” Thor’s eyes burned with tears too. Then they were both crying.
“I cannot believe you,” Loki said, turning his back on Thor and walking to the window. “You think I’m lying,” Loki said, his voice choked.
“Well excuse me but what was I supposed to think? Like this isn’t something you’d do?”
“But. I. Didn’t.”
“I didn’t even say you did , Loki! I just said don’t fuck with me. Jesus, Lo. I’m really freaked out right now.” Thor was on the verge of telling Loki about the audio files on his phone but Loki’s incandescent anger interrupted him.
“You’re freaked out?” Loki spat. “I’m fucking sleepwalking and sleep
which I didn’t even know was a thing and now, now, now… my rosaries are fucking… holy shit. Holy shit
the rosary… oh my God ohmygod—”
Loki made a sound like his chest was seizing up. His eyes went wide and terrified, his pupils huge and the sclerae bloodshot.
He tugged at the collar of his shirt and gulped air in rapid, strangled wheezes. His lips were corpse-pale and spasming.
“Oh shit, Loki, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Hey, it’s okay.” Thor immediately switched gears and laid his hand gently on Loki’s shoulder.
Loki flinched at first, like he’d forgotten Thor was even there, but then he stared at Thor with imploring eyes. He was still gasping and pulling at his shirt.
“You need it off?”
“Can’t breathe. Yeah, off…”
Thor lifted the gray tee over Loki’s head and smoothed his hair.
Loki let Thor guide him to the floor, and they sat facing each other. Loki sat on his knees and rocked, staring at the floor, eyes wide while tears poured out.
“Okay, now breathe with me, Lo. In as slow as you can… good. Let it out, now in again.”
Loki looked at him, eyes huge and round and scared.
“That’s good. See if you can go slower now. Great. Hold it this time. You’re doing great. Let’s do another one. In, hold, out. Awesome. One more.”
Thor took Loki’s shuddering hand in his, curving his other one around Loki’s neck.
It was their thing. They used to do it as little kids and Loki said it helped ground him when he was anxious.
Thor relaxed a degree as Loki closed his eyes and settled into a steady rhythm, breathing deeply. He rested his hand on Thor’s nape and Thor watched the crease in Loki’s forehead unfold.
From his peripheral vision, Thor noticed the curtains stirring in the breeze.
They wafted slowly, inward and out, in and out. He realized with that wrongness again that they were moving in perfect time with Loki’s breath.
When he looked back, Loki’s eyes were open wide, fixed on Thor’s and his lips were stretched into a sly grin.
With reflexive horror, Thor tried to pull away, but Loki grabbed on hard and his grip was like iron. He didn’t move or speak, just stared. Thor felt like a rabbit looking into the eyes of some green-eyed predator.
And then Loki blinked, slowly, his smile even wider, and when he opened his eyes, they were a cold, hard blue.
The gasp was barely out of Thor’s mouth when Loki’s stare went vacant, his fingers loosening their hold on Thor.
Thor scrambled away from him, appalled by the look Loki’d given him, that horrible smile.
Loki blinked up at him slowly, as if waking from a deep sleep.
“Thor?” he said, his voice tremulous. “Thor, what’s wrong?”
“Loki, stay here. I’ll be right back.” Thor’s voice sounded high and thin but it was hard to breathe.
“What are you doing?” Loki looked like his life hinged on Thor staying in the room with him.
And what the hell was Thor going to say, anyway? Hey Mom, Loki’s eyes looked blue and he wouldn’t let go of me?
“Please, Thor. Mom will overreact. You know how she acts with me. Like I’m a porcelain doll that’s gonna break or something. I’ll call Eir, first thing tomorrow, if it makes you feel better, but I need to talk to you. I think I know what’s actually going on…” Loki trailed off, staring at the floor and picking at the scab on his index finger.
Thor wavered, but what was he going to do, upset Loki further and ruin everyone’s evening?
“Yeah,” Thor said finally, and he sank back to the floor. “Yeah. It’s okay. I’ve got your back. We’ll figure this out.”
Loki frowned at him, his eyebrows tilted up in that look so legible it was like a question mark to Thor.
“What do you mean?” Loki asked. “I said I know what’s going on.”
Despite his unease, Thor asked Loki to tell him everything.
Fidgeting and mostly avoiding Thor’s eyes, Loki told him about the box of Odin’s old things in the basement, and finding the rosary. Bleeding on it.
“Loki, that doesn’t have anything to do with this stuff. That’s just—”
“What, Thor? Crazy?” He looked murderous.
“No! No. Loki. Hey, hey. Look, I know this seems like some kind of… whatever. It’s really weird, yeah. I’ll give you that. It’s got me freaked completely out of my skull here. But it’s something we can get a handle on, all right?”
Loki pulled away, looking defensive and hurt. He ran his hands through his hair and took on a closed off look. He was shaking.
“Okay,” Loki said. “Fine. We’ll talk to Mom and Dad in the morning, then. Let them have a good evening then we’ll take this to them tomorrow. Mom and Frey only get to hang out once a year. We’ll tell them and I’ll get Mom to call Eir tomorrow.”
Relief washed over Thor. He’d tell them about his recordings, too, and the weird stuff he’d been seeing and dreaming. The idea hit him that maybe something he and Loki had eaten had gone bad and they’d been lightly poisoned. None of this was even happening.
He’d gone into a Wikipedia freefall once researching Greek mythology for an English paper and read about a theory that ergot “poisoning” was used on purpose during some cult-y ritual stuff.
He couldn’t remember the details now, but there were tons of things that could cause all these bizarre hallucinations and even symptoms like Loki’s seizures.
“Deal.” Thor smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring way.
“Good. Thanks, Thor.”
He looked tired, but his face was so beautiful the urge to kiss him was like an actual craving.
“I’m gonna set up the air mattress. I’m ready to crash. You want the bed this year? Since you’ve had sleep issues?”
Loki rolled his eyes. “Thor, the floor smells better than your dirty ass sheets do. My dirty socks smell better than they do. Expired milk—”
“Fine, go get some non-sour-milk sheets and I’ll blow it up.”
When he started the pump, there was a hiss and the flat plastic mattress stayed flat.
Loki was standing in the doorway with fresh sheets.
Thor shrugged up at Loki and gave him a sheepish smile. “At least it’s a queen-sized stinky bed?”
Loki fell asleep while Thor used the bathroom and brushed his teeth. Thor stripped down to his t-shirt and boxers and crawled into bed.
He watched over Loki for a long time. The dashing eyes beneath the fragile lids was reassuring―He could see that Loki was dreaming quietly.
It was almost unbearably intimate, to see the evidence of dreams on Loki’s face, to witness them as they were spelled out on the thinnest skin.
He bent over and gently kissed Loki’s eyelids. It was such a divine feeling it was painful.
Moved by the moment but guilty for stealing it, and flooded with disorientation, Thor curled up at Loki’s side and wept like a hard summer storm. It battered him, shaking his body with wracking sobs as he emptied himself.
Eventually he slept and dreamed.
He was in a rocking chair, bound tight. It seesawed back and forth too fast.
The two angels were weeping, their golden heads bowed.
A razor slashed through the air and sunlight glinted on it.
The girl stood in front of him, grinning wide.
As he watched, the girl’s smile split into an obscene gash. Her skin turned gray and blistered on one side, decaying as she smiled.
Then her neck opened in a second smile and blood ran, staining her ivory dress.
He didn’t wake abruptly like he’d become used to. He was being gently rocked and he emerged to consciousness slowly, buffered by a warm feeling of contentment.
Loki’s soft sigh woke him fully, and Thor realized Loki was the rocking feeling. He was moving subtly in his sleep, his pelvis making little thrusts against Thor’s side and Thor could feel Loki’s arousal.
Thor’s arm was folded behind his head and Loki’s whole body was pressed into him, his face nestled into Thor’s chest as his hips circled against Thor. His hard-on was firm and Thor felt the warmth through the fabric separating them.
Thor meant to pull away.
He was going to, and then Loki moaned, his voice quiet and sleep-roughened and Thor went hot all over. His cock thickened and a little whine escaped him. Time seemed to stop.
Loki sighed again, a sweet sound like surrender and he whispered, “Yes.”
Thor’s cock pulsed out fluid and he palmed himself to relieve the pressure.
Loki hummed quietly, pushing against Thor’s hip in lazy, sleepy circles.
Thor twisted a little, leaning away from Loki.
Loki snored softly then rolled over and went still and silent.
Thor scooted as far away as he could, and reached into his boxers. His dick was hot and urgent in his hand. He stroked himself just a few times and he was coming hard, the electric surge of release crashing through him from his scalp to his toes.
He lay there in the dark, gasping for breath like he’d just emerged from the deep, murky end of the Morris’ pond.
Thor tried to drink his coffee too fast and burned his tongue.
Everyone was picking at breakfast while they talked. Frey and Frigga were peering at Loki’s laptop, which wasn’t usually allowed at the dining table.
The lines around Frigga’s eyes were distorted by the curve of her rimless glasses like reeds sticking up through clear water. Her mouth was drawn down in a frown as she read over Frey’s research. She scratched at her thumbnail with her finger.
Odin rubbed under his eye patch and drank his coffee like it wasn’t hot enough to burn. He looked like shit. He was pale and his eye was shadowed and puffy.
Thor blew on his coffee and tried to look at Loki’s face to check in but couldn’t meet his eyes. He hadn’t been able to all morning. Loki’s hands were shaking, though, and he was worrying at his cut. Thor laid his hands over Loki’s and gave them a quick, gentle squeeze.
The doorbell rang and Thor jumped like he’d been caught doing something awful.
He could feel himself turn red and hot. Loki looked at him quizzically. He escaped by rushing to answer the door.
Eir looked like she’d thrown clothes on and rushed straight over. Her hair was thrown up in a messy knot and she was wearing glasses, too, not contacts.
Thor felt uncomfortably aware of how old they were, his parents and Eir and Frey. He never thought much about having older than average parents but his family seemed especially fragile this morning.
Eir brought in her calm and sturdy vibe, though.
She smiled at Loki and accepted the offer of food happily, listening to symptoms and stories attentively while she ate. The adults seemed to find her appetite contagious, but Loki and Thor just nursed sweet coffees and answered questions when prompted.
They didn’t talk about blood and rosary beads (or mystery fucking audio files), just the trance-like events and sleep disturbances. Thor followed Loki’s lead there and backed him up. He wasn’t sure he was comfortable, but he didn’t know how to bring it up either, and his father looked like any more stress might give him a heart attack.
Finally, Eir wiped her mouth and thanked Frigga, crinkling her eyes in a warm smile. “Y’all just sit sight. I’m going to make a couple of calls, okay? Oh, and grown-ups, evacuate the area. These boys are wound up! They aren’t going to eat a bite unless they get some space.”
Thor boggled at her, and she winked.
“I so cannot eat,” Loki said, but he laughed. It was nervous but it was a laugh.
“Same,” Thor said.
“So, Thor?” Loki said, his voice dropping to almost a whisper.
“Why’d you lie?” Loki asked, staring him down.
“What are you talking about?” Thor said. His face burned again.
“Jesus… you’re beet red again. I can tell when you’re lying. And when I asked you this morning if I had a night terror or talked in my sleep last night you said no. And then you turned red. Like, completely red. So, you lied.”
“Just drop it, Loki. There’s enough going on.”
“Yes, Thor,” Loki hissed. “There is a lot going on. And I really need you to be on my side right now, okay? So whatever the fuck is going on with you, can you fucking stow it and tell me the truth?”
He looked haunted. He was all pale skin and hollowed cheeks and oversized light gray shirt and cloud of messy black hair.
“Fine. All you said was ‘Yes’ okay? So it wasn’t a big deal and I just didn’t wanna scare you.”
Loki’s voice quavered. “I said yes?”
Thor had to wait while Frigga and Frey took Loki to talk to Eir’s psychiatrist friend. Odin had a migraine and had gone to bed.
As soon as the house was empty, he went down to the basement. He pulled the cord on the bare dangling light bulb. He saw the box right away. Loki had left it askew on the shelf, the lid set aside. On top of a stack of yellowing paper envelopes was a glossy, scarlet rosary. Loki had described a white one but Thor knew this was it.
The light bulb swung like a pendulum, making the shadows and light trade places and cast stark geometric shapes on the walls.
When Thor moved to get a closer look at the beads, the light shifted and he saw that they were wet.
He knocked on his parents’ bedroom door, heart hammering from the sprint up the stairs and the horror in the basement.
“Thor?” Odin’s groggy voice answered.
He opened the door, looking haggard.
“I’m sorry Dad, but uh… I need your help. In the basement… Loki found this old rosary and it’s—”
Odin’s expression turned from confusion to concern. “Slow down, Son. Easy. Sit down.”
Thor grabbed his Dad’s hand, “Dad, please!”
“All right,” Odin said, and let Thor urge him on.
In the basement’s harsh light, the scars covering his naked eye socket looked fresh and the lines on his face looked chiseled.
Thor rushed to the open box, but there was nothing resting on the envelopes. He rifled through the papers frantically until Odin shouted, “Enough!”
“Thor, I know you’ve been anxious about Loki but getting overwrought about it and this, this… hysteria is quite another thing! My belongings are private. You boys are not to touch them! You cannot just—”
His one eye twitched and his skin clenched around the hollow the other had left behind. He staggered forward and steadied himself on the shelf. Thor reached out toward him and Odin shook him off with a gruff bark.
“Just watch me going up the stairs, boy, and rid yourself of this nonsense. Loki and your mother need you to keep a level head.”
Thor had never seen a headache strike his father so badly before. He followed him upstairs and made sure he was settled in bed with a glass of water and shook out a pill beside the glass. He closed the door and padded softly down to the family room then bolted down the basement steps. He tore through the box and the shelves and searched every nook and cranny he could access.
It was gone.
He needed to talk to Loki.
Who was currently in a shrink’s office. (Because of Thor.)
Who insisted everything going on was unnatural. (And Thor knew it was, too.)
He stomped up to the family room to try to wait. He watched ‘Rogue One’ but couldn’t pay attention. He wanted to go for a run but he was afraid Loki would get home while he was out or Odin would need him.
A text alert pinged.
Mom: Can Eir stop back by? She has a question or two for you
Thor: Sure i’m here. Loki ok?
Mom: Yes, he’s doing fine. Dr. Gamble seems great. she's ready for us—Gotta go xoxo
Thor: K love you mom
He sat down on the couch with Eir and took a gulp of Mountain Dew, feeling too aware of the numb spot on his tongue.
“You doing okay, hon?” she asked.
“Yup,” he said. He felt his ears warm up. He was going to murder Loki. He was never not going to be aware of that blushing now.
“Good.” She smiled. “I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while you and I could just chat quietly.”
“You saw Loki sleepwalk?”
“Okay. This is a little strange, but did he seem sleepy, or did he seem awake?”
Thor was taken aback. “Uh, he seemed awake for part of it.”
“Okay,” she said. “And has he acted out of character or strange in any ways besides when he was asleep or in the trance or seizure states? Sudden mood changes or even voice or facial expressions that are out of the ordinary?”
“Why are you asking that?” Thor said, his pulse speeding up.
“It’s all scary, right? But he’s okay, sweetie.” She patted his knee. “I saw a weird little thing when we were running through some screening questions in my office and I wondered if maybe you’d seen some things too, maybe stuff you blew off.”
“What do you think’s going on? What did he say?”
“It could be a several different things,” she said. Thor noticed she avoided the other question but she looked spooked. “Can you tell me what you’ve seen? It might help.”
He felt a childlike shame, lying to her, but he couldn’t really tell her what Loki was hinting at, could he? He pretended he couldn’t remember what Loki’d said specifically but told her he’d had “spacey” expressions sometimes and Eir said that still helped a lot.
She asked him some more questions about how Loki’s trance-things looked and checked on Thor about everything. She seemed satisfied Thor wasn’t losing his mind about his little brother, and told him she had to get back to the office.
He finished ‘Rogue One’ and wept.
He wasn’t even crying about the movie, although the ending had brought both Loki and him to tears when they’d first sat in the dark theater and tried to hide their sniffles from each other.
The end credits were playing when everyone came home.
He dug the heels of his palms into his eyes, trying to stop.
Loki sat next to him. He could hear Frigga and Frey talking in the kitchen.
“You okay?” Thor asked.
Loki shrugged and his shirt fell, exposing his shoulder. “I don’t know. But you don’t look very okay.”
“I’m really, really not,” Thor said, and his throat tightened.
Loki stared at him appraisingly. He tilted his head.
“Want me to make you feel better?” Loki asked.
“What?” Thor inhaled sharply.
Loki leaned in and kissed Thor’s cheek, filling Thor’s nose with the scent of his hair and breathing into his ear.
“I want to make you feel better.”
“Loki, what are you...?”
Loki snuggled in against him, draping his arm casually over Thor’s shoulder. He looked up at Thor and whispered, “Can you just hold me?”
“Yeah, Lo. Of course.” Thor wrapped his arms awkwardly around Loki, who rested his forehead against Thor’s cheek. He started to play lazily with the hair at the back of Thor’s neck.
Thor prayed he wouldn’t notice his hard-on, but he draped his legs onto Thor’s lap. The weight of them pressed onto Thor’s erection.
He sat as still as he could while also trying not to seem paralyzed.
When Thor was starting to feel like he was going to die right then, Loki stood up and calmly left the room as if nothing had happened.
Before the adults could gather everyone for a family meeting, Thor dashed to the bathroom.
He fucked into his fist urgently, as if he were drowning and this were his air.
Orgasm came fast, shaking through him from his bones to his feverish skin. He gasped for breath afterward, stunned by the intensity, but too quickly he came down.
He felt like something dirty and traitorous.
They all sat around the dining table, waiting for Eir to stop by to discuss lab results and what she and her colleagues thought was the best course of action.
Loki seemed comfortable with Thor, much to his brother’s relief, though he looked exhausted. Frigga and Frey looked really tired and worried, but Odin absolutely looked like hell.
Thor felt awful about bothering his father earlier. He resolved to take care of Loki on his own. They were in this together and he was furious with himself that he hadn’t figured that out sooner.
Frigga assured Loki he didn’t have to share anything he didn’t want to, that he and Eir could talk privately with her and Odin, but he shrugged and said it was fine. She squeezed his shoulder affectionately.
Loki told Thor and Odin how much he’d hated the MRI, but that the staff had given him a Valium and a warm blanket and they piped in music to the machine. He said all that had helped a little but he could still hear the clunking machine noises. He said it was claustrophobic and felt like being in some alien torture device.
He said he couldn’t remember everything about meeting with Eir and Dr. Gamble but it had all been okay, just overwhelming and different from his usual therapy with Dr. Collins.
The doorbell rang while Loki was showing off the phlebotomist’s handiwork—he hadn’t bruised like he normally did. Frey answered it and showed Eir into the dining area.
“I come bearing treats!” she announced, and Frigga started a pot of coffee to go with the assortment of pastries Eir had brought from Short Street Cakes, their favorite bakery.
When they were all settled with sweets and drinks, she also checked with Loki about privacy and got the go-ahead to share with everyone.
“All right, hon. You’re sure?”
“Yeah, it’s fine,” Loki said, looking at the table and tracing the wood grain.
“Okay.” She smiled warmly at him and gave his hand a quick squeeze. “Well, we don’t have clear-cut answers yet, but that’s pretty typical in psychology and psychiatry.” She was talking to Loki, not to the group about him, which Thor appreciated.
“When you and I talked one-on-one and during your exam with Dr. Gamble—now it is okay to share what y’all talked about, right? Okay. Based on those talks, you’re showing some symptoms of dissociative disorders. Is anyone familiar with that?”
She looked around the room.
Odin, his face dour, said “Yes, in my former work we contracted psychiatrists to eliminate dissociative disorders in those who were in our care.”
Eir nodded, businesslike. “So dissociation is a continuum. Everyone dissociates mildly. Even daydreaming is a kind of dissociation. Any detachment from your physical self or environment is dissociation. At the problematic end, people can feel as if they’re seeing themselves from outside their bodies; they could feel as if they aren’t real or the world isn’t real; or experience a dissociative fugue that would include amnesia. Another disorder we see in this class is dissociative identity disorder.”
Odin grunted softly and Frigga gasped. He took her hand.
“Now that’s nothing like the preconceptions most of us have from movies or books about multiple personalities. Loki, you’re just showing one or two symptoms of that, but you really don't fit the profile for any dissociative disorder. Dr. Gamble agrees. There’s definitely something going on that doesn’t fit a standard presentation of anxiety, but it isn’t looking like a cut-and-dried dissociative disorder either. We’ve ruled out schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder as well.
“These are stills from your MRI,” she said, spreading out some glossy prints of Loki’s brain on the table. “This area’s your hippocampus, and right here snuggled up against it is the amygdala. They’re both normal size. In dissociative disorders, these would typically be much smaller than average.”
“So if we’re thinking it’s not a dissociative thing, what’s the next step?” Frey asked. Frigga and Odin didn’t seem appeased by the news. Thor was disappointed: The whole medical ordeal was just a show for them at this point, really.
Any lingering skepticism he’d had was gone now. He just needed a plan. And he had no idea where to start.
Eir answered Frey, “Well, number one is to relax and know that we’re addressing Loki’s needs. Gamble’s going to call with a follow-up plan tomorrow. Meanwhile, I’ve called in a mild anxiolytic that’ll relieve some of Loki’s anxiety short term and some medication to help with sleep. Until we know the root cause, I’m comfortable conservatively treating the symptoms. Does that sound okay, Loki? Frigga and Odin?”
Everyone agreed and Eir was given a round of grateful goodbye hugs. She refused the leftover eclairs and croissants, insisting the boys could burn off the sugar more easily than she could.
That led to a chat at the front door between her and Thor about running in the humid summer heat. They laughed about both preferring evening runs. When Thor mentioned swimming in the pond she got a strange expression on her face for a moment.
He walked her out, like Frigga had taught him, and watched her drive off until her headlights were a faraway blur.
The boys were told to go relax after dinner. Odin and Frey did the dishes while Frigga went to the pharmacy for Loki’s pills.
Thor needed to lay everything out for Loki. He needed to know Thor was unconditionally on his side and that no matter what, he knew Loki wasn’t crazy.
He had to play Loki the audio files.
He told Loki he needed to talk to him upstairs, and they went to Thor’s room, Loki looking trepidatious. He sat down on the bed, looking up at Thor with dark-ringed green eyes full of trust.
Thor closed the door and when he turned back to Loki, he looked hungry.
Thor ignored it. Sometimes the oddness passed. He sat down beside Loki on the bed and started to talk, but he lost his voice completely when Loki leaned in so close Thor could feel his breath on his own lips.
Loki trailed his fingers along Thor’s biceps.
Shivers went through him like sparks.
He forced himself to ignore the tingling want stirring in him. “Loki, I need to talk to you.”
“We can talk later,” Loki said. “I need you.”
“Loki, stop. Snap out of this. Please.” Thor needed Loki to stop. He felt his will slipping. He could taste Loki’s breath, sharing his air, the promise of a kiss.
In the stories a kiss broke a spell but for Thor it seemed like it would open a door he couldn’t close. If Loki didn’t stop this he wasn’t sure he could resist. But his world was shrinking to the need for Loki’s lips.
“Kiss me, Brother,” Loki whispered, and Thor was broken.
He inclined his head and cupped Loki’s jaw, kissing his cheek and nosing against his ear. Loki groaned deliciously and kissed Thor’s ear with teeth and electric shocks danced through Thor’s body, kicking up his pulse. He caught a thick handful of hair and opened his mouth onto Loki’s, tongue dipping in to taste him and Loki was parted and ready for him, wet and slick and perfect.
They kissed hard, teeth clashing and tongues pushing deep.
Then Loki was in his lap, grinding down and Thor had him by the skinny hips, pulling and guiding him, hands wrapped around his bony pelvic crests like handles and thrusting his cock hard against Loki’s.
They found a rhythm immediately, instinctively. Thor felt like his body was made to have Loki perched there, straddling him and rolling and squeezing and working his thighs and ass against Thor’s cock with perfect pressure.
Thor was so lost. Nothing would ever feel as real or as good as this. He grunted and drove himself up against Loki hard, chasing more of this and he kissed Loki again, deep and sweet.
Loki was moaning and whining and then muffled, helpless little sounds and—
“Fff—Thor! What the fuck!”
With a sharp crack Loki’s fist slammed into Thor’s cheek.
“What are you doing?” Loki yelled, gaping at Thor liked he’d been punched. His face drew up into a wounded, lost look.
Thor pressed his palm against his stinging, bruising cheek.
“I didn’t…” he started. “I… I’m sorry, Loki. Oh God, I’m so sorry.”
Loki was seething, pacing the room, but keeping his anger in check.
Apparently he didn’t want their parents coming to check on them.
“You don’t know what it’s like, knowing there’s something in me, using my body, fucking using me to do... Jesus, Thor… it even got you to do—that...”
Thor’s skin burned like a brand, like he was marked, and he let out a hysterical half-laughing sob when ‘The Scarlet Letter’ came to mind.
“Loki, I don’t…”
Loki cut him off. “Just, okay. Whatever. Stop apologizing. It isn’t not your fault. That thing made you do it.”
He finally stopped glaring daggers and sat down with a resigned huff that hurt Thor more than the punch.
“It’s okay,” Loki repeated, raking his hands through his messy hair.
Thor wanted to argue with him. It was all wrong. All of this was. He knew Loki understood the “thing” wasn’t him, but it still felt he was blaming himself.
That sense of wrongness he’d felt, that aching in his eyes when Loki had shown him the rosaries had never quite left him. It hummed constantly in his mind. Except when your brother’s tongue was in your mouth.
When the boys were twelve and ten they’d driven up through West Virginia where there was this kitschy roadside tourist trap called the Mystery Hole. The floor inside the building was tilted enough that there was an illusion that gravity was off kilter. You actually felt it; it sent you off balance and made you dizzy.
Loki’d loved it but it had given Thor a headache and made him feel motion sick.
That was what this felt like. Like their world was tilted and it felt like it would never be level again.
“Loki, look it’s not you, this ‘thing’, okay? We know that, right? It’s not some dissociation thing or whatever either. You’re not crazy. Listen—you need to hear something. I’m sorry I didn’t share this with you sooner.”
Thor played the audio he’d captured, and watched a story of fear play out on Loki’s face. His mouth pulled in as he bit his lip nervously, his eyes widening, his face draining of blood. He startled in the same places Thor had.
Frey had insisted on drinks and Odin had wholeheartedly agreed. They were on their second bottle of Chablis and the siblings were regaling Odin with tales of their childhood.
He loved Frey’s visits. No one made Frigga laugh quite the way her brother did, and Odin was terribly grateful for it now.
“So this fucking hell beast, knowing we had school photos the next day, sneaks into my room—”
“He’s leaving out the context! He’d left gum in my bed! I had to call off my date with Ricky Benedict and I smelled like peanuts for days…”
“Your prank was permanent, Twig!”
“Pfft. It grew back. He was so vain, Odin. You think Thor preens about his hair? Our Rapunzel is far outshined by a fifteen year old Fae.”
“At any rate, I wake up that morning with a ghastly bowl cut.”
“He sleeps like a stone. Snores like an asthmatic hog.”
Frey snorted wine up his nose, and the three of them giggled as if they were all careless teens.
Thor told Loki about seeing the crucifix himself, red and shining wet with blood. Then his dreams, the girl and rocking chair and the two golden angels, their father with his bloodied eye.
He’d always told them he’d fallen, a perfect storm of an accident to send shattered spectacles in just the wrong direction. How he’d only needed to correct the vision in his right eye.
Thor kept to himself the dreams of Loki, moving sinuously against him, or wearing that crucifix, the spots of crimson terribly beautiful on his white skin.
“Okay,” Loki said. “Okay… okay, okay…” He muttered quietly but urgently, pacing again and wringing his hands.
“Can I have a piece of paper and a pen?” he asked, already heading to Thor’s desk.
Thor felt a rumble of anxiety.
“Mom was so busy canning the apple butter she didn’t even notice.”
Frigga’s eyes streamed tears of laughter as she finished, “Until Fae vomited chunks of apples all over the floor, seeds and all, right at her feet!”
“And she just deadpans—God, I wish you’d known her, O—’Well, at least ya chucked up the seeds already, then, boy. They’re pois’nous, y’know.’” Frey did an over-the-top twang Odin couldn’t quite fathom anyone in their family using. His eye was damp from tears, too. These two were a riot.
He was still sometimes shocked after all these years by his life, and it always seemed a pleasant surprise that old Borsson had a brother-in-law who radiated warmth and good cheer and called him ‘O.’
Loki sat down in the floor facing Thor and balanced Thor’s physics textbook on his crossed legs.
He held the pen loosely in his right hand.
“Why your right hand?”
“I think I read once it’s easier to do if you use your non-dominant hand,” Loki said, shrugging.
“Easier to do what exactly?”
“It’s called automatic writing. I’ll relax into sort of a trance—”
Thor cut him off. “Nope. That sounds crazy dangerous, Lo. No way.”
“Thor, you promised you’d back me up. And I need to know—we need to know what this is inside me!”
“So fucking what, Loki?” Thor asked, and grabbed for the pen. “What if this makes it worse? Maybe dicking around with it like this isn’t the best idea.”
“Tough shit.” Loki dodged Thor’s attempts to take the pen. “Because you’re doing it with me or I’m doing it alone.”
“Fine. Just get it over with. This is bullshit. And I’m tired.”
“Fine. Shut up and let me relax.”
Thor didn’t argue. Loki recentered the paper and anchored the book with his left hand while his right gripped the pen. He closed his eyes and picked up where he’d left off before, breathing in a careful rhythm. The curtain began to follow him again, billowing as if on a breeze in time with Loki’s exhalations. Thor watched and willed himself to believe it was his mind making it up.
When he looked back at Loki, his hand was moving in the same lazy rhythm in gentle swoops on the paper, just drawing long, loose ellipses. Then Loki’s neck went limp and his hair obscured his face. He began to write slowly but with perfect penmanship, H E L…
“Oh that’s just hilarious, Loki.”
Thor finally was actually unafraid for a moment then. The cheesiness drove it right out of him. But then—
H E L A.
“Loki, What’s Hela? Who’s Hela?” His voice cracked on the word.
Frey and Odin rinsed the wine glasses and Frigga cleared up the takeout mess then they headed up to bed, yawning.
“Are the boys still up? It’s too quiet,” Frigga noted, seeing the light peek beneath Thor’s door.
Then she heard Thor ask in a thin, shaking voice, “Loki, What’s Hela? Who’s Hela?”
Her vision closed to a tunnel.
She heard Odin gasp, “Mother of Christ,” as she fell backward.
Loki didn’t respond. He was breathing deep and fast.
Thor was super aware like he’d been that first night—it seemed like years ago now—when Loki had spoken that calm, conversational “No.”
He heard the smack of the pen hitting his physics book muffled by the paper with its neatly written and wholly unfamiliar name. He saw in his periphery that the curtains swayed in time with his own pulse, with Loki’s rapid breath.
Then the curtains stopped and the hairs near his ears stopped tickling him. The soft waves fell around Loki’s jaw and neck and ears and responded only to Loki’s breath.
He heard nothing but the racing whoosh of his own blood.
The room felt strange and insulated, as if they were inside a vacuum.
He startled when Loki raised his head. He’d been perfectly still since he’d started to move the pen.
He looked through Thor, his eyes heavy lidded and his face slack. As Thor watched, his hair went long and straight as if pulled by some unfelt gravity. But it seemed to grow as well, in fits and starts, like Thor was watching time-lapse photography mostly smoothed out.
It was dragged from curling at Loki’s shoulders to hanging below his biceps. It was long and silken, cared for.
Loki’s head jerked to the side like it was yanked hard by a fistful of that hair.
And then the strands of black floated upward, with the graceful motion of ink droplets falling into clear water.
Polluting it , Thor thought.
Then, this isn’t real this isn’t real this isn’t real . The phrase was a loop in his mind like the game where you repeat a word until it loses meaning. He didn’t realize he’d bolted for the door at some point until he felt the doorknob rattling in his hands. It was stuck.
He flattened his body against the heavy oak and stared helplessly. Loki’s pale, sharp features were surrounded by a dark aureole, eyes bright and flashing between blue and green.
When Thor found his voice he whimpered his brother’s name.
Loki didn’t respond. He looked blissful, his expression almost sexual.
Like the statue of The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa from Loki’s art history textbook cover. A saint shouldn’t look like that. Loki shouldn’t look like that.
“Loki, please!” he tried again.
It occurred to Thor to try that name, Hela, but he refused, he fucking refused.
Then Loki made real eye contact and laughed softly. “Ask them about her,” he said in the scratchy, deep voice. He leaned in close.
“I dare you. I can’t wait to watch it all come apart.”
He went limp and slumped over to the floor.
Frey laid his sister on the bed while Odin produced two tumblers from his nightstand.
She protested, coming to while he was arranging her legs. She sat up against the headboard, still dizzy and feeling like a frightened bird had replaced her heart.
“Jesus,” Frey breathed, accepting a double bourbon. Odin’s hand shook as he handed over the glass and tossed back his own in a single, practiced swallow.
“Ha!” Odin barked. “Jesus? What has He done—”
“No! You stop right there, husband. We have no time for theology or agnostic rage. And it’s ludicrous coming from you of all people. I’d say God is an established fact for us.”
She was running on in her panic. “He just is! He exists and and so did she and she has something to do with our son now and…”
Her face crumpled and her composure was gone for a moment. She forced down the sobs and fought her way back to the present.
“Loki is our concern now and we need to make a plan. Stamus contra malum. We do, and we must.” Then she repeated in English for Frey: “‘We stand against Evil.’ ”
She sniffled and wiped her nose on the back of her hand.
“So have another fucking bourbon then start blessing some holy water.”
The men stared at her mutely. This time Odin poured three bourbons.
Thor couldn’t wake Loki, but his breathing was normal and he seemed to be sleeping peacefully.
Somehow, he wrangled Loki into bed. He was a couple of inches shorter than Thor, but there were about ten miles of leg on him.
Panting and weary through to his bones, he curled protectively around Loki and fell into a troubled sleep.
Loki woke him some time in the night.
“Thor,” he said, voice raspy from sleep.
Thor’s mind was muddled, his eyelids heavy.
“Thor,” Loki said again, sounding urgent and needy.
That brought Thor out of his haze and he sat up. Loki was reclined on the bed, naked to the waist, his skin lustrous in the moonlight stealing in between the drapes.
The crucifix was around his neck, a slash of red against his skin. Loki’s eyes were half-closed, his mouth parted, a picture of sin. Thor knew he’d mimic the dream and he watched, his anticipation both arousing and frightening.
The combination, he found, was intoxicating.
Thor’s eyes were hungry, taking in the planes of muscle, the sharp angle of bones, all that on display for him, ending in the invitation at the undone fly of Loki’s jeans.
And just like the dream, Loki fingered the cross, his beautiful fingers playing over the carved Christ and then moving down his body, down the valley between his pectorals to dip into the hollow of his navel where he paused and breathed the softest “oh.”
He feathered his touch down to the Y shape made by his unfastened jeans and looked up at Thor.
That look, with its rosebud pout and huge green eyes a pleading question under dark, moth-soft lashes pulled Thor inexorably.
He leaned in to kiss him, and Loki arched up and licked Thor’s soft, chaste mouth. Thor groaned at the eroticism and pressed Loki down into the bed, kissing him roughly and gripping a fistful of his hair and the rosary.
Suddenly furious, Thor sat up astride Loki’s hips and tore the beads off his neck.
Loki growled and hissed as the beads flew. His eyes flared to an eerie glow. He flipped Thor onto his back. Loki’s weight pushed against his pelvis, trapping his full, hard cock between them. The pressure almost hurt but it was so, so good. Thor’s hips chased it instinctively and Loki let him rock up against his groin as he thrust his hands under Thor’s shirt, digging his nails into his chest as he tore it off.
The cool air sharpened the heat of Loki’s body straddling him and the searing trails scratched into his skin.
Loki was riding him with purpose, hands gripping Thor’s abdomen, his head tilted back, and Thor bucked hard beneath him. He watched in awe, planting his feet flat on the bed and taking control—lifting and bouncing Loki, spiraling fast toward climax.
Loki looked down and smiled wolfishly, then the beads, scattered across the bed, crawled up his body like drops of blood moving against gravity.
Thor tried to move but Loki held him immobile with that unnatural power.
Still swirling his pelvis against Thor’s, Loki closed his eyes sensually as the beads slipped up his pale, lean torso and came to rest in a bloody pattern at his neck. He fingered them with one hand, mouth falling open on a sigh, and Thor realized he could still feel both hands with their iron strength on his hip.
He didn’t care. His cock was aching to spill, and the look on Loki’s face was so decadent he could come just looking at that.
Loki pulled away though, with a coquettish smirk. He peeled off Thor’s jeans and then showily pushed down his own, exposing one perfectly angled hipbone then the other. A snake shedding skin.
Thor’s cock twitched and fluid dribbled onto his belly. Loki fixed him with a seductive stare, eyes pulsing slowly from green to blue.
He bent low and Thor spread his legs wide to accommodate him.
Loki opened his mouth wide and took Thor’s balls into his mouth, suckling on one then the other, lips stretched and glossy-wet. He stroked Thor’s cock as he looked up at him, always holding eye contact.
He slipped his tongue over the base of his cock and licked up the length of him, taking the head into his mouth and sucking lightly, gripping the shaft and cupping his balls.
Thor almost came then but Loki squeezed the root of his cock firmly and bit into the tender meat of his thigh. Thor gave an anguished, shaky moan and arched his head back, eyes squeezed shut.
Fingers stroked his hair and sent tingling jolts through his nerves. They couldn’t be there… but Thor couldn’t quite care.
Loki took him deep into his throat and kneaded handfuls of flesh from Thor’s ass. His hair tickled and teased Thor’s thighs and abdomen.
Thor combed his fingers through Loki’s hair and gasped at the hot, dirty feel of his little brother’s greedy mouth bobbing up and down on his cock. He felt half drunk, lost in the feel of Loki’s mouth and so many hands stroking and teasing him.
Loki pulled off Thor’s prick and stroked it as he sucked and licked his balls then went lower and nudged Thor’s legs farther apart with an impatient, hungry sound.
A dazed, weightless sensation took him as Loki dragged his velvety tongue against his perineum, and Thor realized that was impossible from this angle. He was suspended in the air. His legs dangled from the knee and his arms skimmed the air just below him as if he were floating on water.
Panic threatened to cut the spell of pleasure but Loki was at his entrance then and the warm, wet tip of his tongue was pressing in and Thor was opening.
He gasped and moaned as Loki delved in, moaning and humming as he licked and sucked, sending unbearably good vibrations through Thor. He slipped one, then two of his long, delicate fingers inside and Thor cried out when an electric thrill spiked through him.
But a soft hand from nowhere was over his mouth, shushing him. Clever fingers kneaded and pinched his nipples and he cried out.
Loki spun him in the air effortlessly, and forced him face down into the mattress.
He rammed his way deep inside before Thor could get his bearings, beating the breath out of his lungs and bending over him to press his full weight into Thor.
He laughed, low and husky, in Thor’s ear. “Tell me, Thor. How does he feel?”
Thor started to scream but two hands covered his mouth. He tried to fight his way free but Loki trapped him by the wrists with more strong hands and pinned him flat against the bed, his cock buried balls deep.
Then it was Loki’s voice, sweet and breathy, little “ah, ah, ah” noises and Thor was caught on the edge between pleasure and terror.
Loki dropped his head against Thor’s neck, whining helplessly. He started to move fast and hard and Thor lost any semblance of resistance, pushing his ass up and back against Loki.
Loki reached for Thor’s cock, stroking him off as he slammed into Thor just a few more times.
Whimpering and groaning, Loki gushed into him hot and messy and Thor followed, orgasm erupting through him like nothing he’d ever felt. He could feel every spasm around Loki’s prick as he spilled and spilled, slick bursts all over Loki’s fist and marking the sheets.
They parted and collapsed.
Loki was asleep instantly.
Thor lay there catching his breath, trying to fit what had just happened into his mind and failing.
Finally he rose on shaky foal legs, wincing as he tiptoed down the hall to fetch warm cloths.
Asheville, North Carolina
The freak storm battered the house, freezing winds spearing through every crack in the walls.
The pine frame of the window clattered, echoed by the rocking chair going wild against a creaky floorboard.
Frigga wept as she watched but Father Borsson had warned her to stay back.
Frey held her hand tightly as Borsson finished binding her little girl to the rocking chair. When she sobbed, he squeezed her shoulder and kissed the top of her head.
Borsson made the sign of the cross and sprinkled holy water over the pink satin cloth Frey had torn from her daughter’s bedding.
The priest was so patient and fucking calm Frigga wanted to slap him.
He held a pale rosary and a gleaming saint medal. He took a fortifying breath, pressed his lips to the crucifix and began again.
“Speak your name, unclean thing.”
In her sweet silver bell voice, she answered, “Hela Ross.”
“No, your true name. Verum nomen eius. ”
“Hela Eugenie Ross,” she said smugly, then turned to Frigga and asked casually, “Was Great Aunt Genny a whore like you, Mommy?”
Frigga opened her mouth but Fae gently closed his hand over it, whispering in her ear, “Remember, don’t engage with it. That’s not really her.”
Borsson spared her a look of apology before continuing on.
“I command you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God of heaven and earth, God of the angels and archangels, God of the prophets and apostles, God of the martyrs and virgins. Deus caeli et terrae, a Deo in Angelis et Archangelis, prophetarum et apostolorum, Deus est, Deus ex martyribus et virginibus. Speak your name.”
The demon made a low, guttural roar and rolled its head. Glowing eyes glared at the priest from under Hela’s dark hair. It snarled and said, “No.”
Borsson sprinkled more holy water on Hela, who’d gone impossibly pale, her blue eyes smudged in shadow. Her skin blistered where the water hit and inhuman hissing bubbled out from her mouth.
“Your true name!” the priest shouted.
It grunted and made garbled, consonant utterances that resolved into syllables. “C-c-rrrrackkk arcracckk, arcrackk arvrackkorc arvvrac llarv arckkk.”
More holy water, and it hissed writhed in the bonds. The chair flew to and fro on its rockers.
“Verum nomen eius! I command you!”
There was a sudden ominous, heavy feeling, as if the air pressure had increased in the room. Everything went preternaturally silent but for Frigga’s heartbeat thrumming in her ears.
But Hela looked weightless. Her hair drifted upward as if underwater and then, impossibly, the chair rose off the floor.
The oppressive weight in the air gave out and the window exploded outward and biting, burning cold air filled the room, seizing Frigga’s lungs and making everyone’s panicked breaths visible.
The demon laughed. The chair fell with a loud crash.
The thing growled and whipped in the chair fighting for control, and Frigga could see glimpses of Hela’s expression there, too, a child’s pure terror.
Borsson saw it too and pressed his advantage, laying his ivory rosary and the medal of St. Benedict on Hela’s brow and beginning the Lord’s Prayer. The demon shrieked and the chair raised from the floor, Hela’s long black hair floating above her head as if she alone were underwater.
“Calvora!” she cried, her chest heaving. “Hoc est nomen meum .”
Borsson cupped Hela’s little face in his hands. “We can begin in earnest now. Mr. Ross, my bag, please? Swiftly.”
He picked up where he’d stopped when he’d had to have Hela restrained. Beneath his cassock he was probably still bleeding.
“I cast you out, Calvora, unclean spirit, along with every Satanic power of the enemy, every specter from hell, and all your fell companions; in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Hela made whimpering pitiful noises.
“Begone and stay far from this creature of God! Leave this child Hela Eugenie! Eradicáre, et procul ab hac creatura Dei.”
He crossed her once again, and patted her cheek.
Then there was a blur of motion and sound Frigga couldn’t process.
Borsson was screaming and on his knees. Hela was standing free and had her tiny fist closed around something. Blood dripped from between her fingers.
Frey rushed toward them but she raised her other hand and he flew through the air. He landed with an awful crack and screamed. Frigga’s stomach threatened to empty itself. A red splatter blossomed on his jeans. A compound fracture.
Frigga tried to check him for shock but the room was too cold and dark, her own senses too overwhelmed to assess anything.
Hela leered at Father Borsson’s kneeling form. She kicked him square in the sternum with her patent leather shoe and he fell onto his back, gasping. He was still conscious and rose back to his knees, fumbling in his bag as the demon circled him.
“Shall I finish for you, Father?” the demon taunted. “‘ He who once stilled the sea and the wind and the storm. Ímperat, qui mari, ventis, et tempestatibus.’ But he doesn’t seem to be here, stilling the wind and the storm.”
Frigga rushed toward Hela, and her daughter—she was sure it was really her—made eye contact and opened her arms toward Frigga.
Frigga clutched her in a fierce embrace then as quickly as she could twisted Hela’s arms behind her back.
Then the demon chuckled and Frigga willed herself to hold on through the revulsion she felt.
It easily broke free and spun to face her. The tiny thing clawed and hit her with her daughter’s little hands. It punched in hard, vicious strikes and a sharp blow landed low in her belly, knocking her to the floor.
It pounded her skull on the wooden slats, over and over. Pain and light erupted in her head and a hot, wet gush spread over the back of her scalp.
Her vision swam and everything sounded distant except the hammering. Borsson was shouting words but Frigga could neither understand nor care what language he was using. Hela’s body jerked and thrashed as she pummeled Frigga.
Everything was backward.
The floor was beating up against her head.
She was looking down on the scene.
Her daughter was taking her life.
The world was shrinking to a tunnel as the priest grabbed Hela by a huge handful of hair and drew a blade across her neck.
A thin band of crimson opened and splashed onto her dress.
It widened terribly, like a second mouth, silently screaming.
Hela drew a few wet gasps of air.
Her body sank to the floor, light and small and quiet.
Thor cleaned himself in the bathroom before he went to Loki.
He was trying to work out how to face him at all after this. His eyes stung but he seemed finally to be out of tears.
Loki’s sudden whisper at the door didn’t even startle him. Maybe he was out of adrenaline, too. Maybe he was empty of everything.
“Yeah, I’m coming back now.”
They went back to his room and Thor locked them in. Loki turned to him, eyes catching moonlight.
Thor was trying to figure out what to say, awkwardly holding a bundle of warm, damp washcloths wrapped in a dry towel. Loki broke the silence for him.
“Thor? You don’t need to freak out. I remember what we did. Sort of. I guess it wanted me to remember this time.”
“Oh my god, Loki. I’m so sorry.” Not out of tears after all.
Loki sighed. “Thor, it’s okay. Well, Jesus. Nothing’s really okay anymore. I just don’t think I can deal with this stuff without you and…” he trailed off, beginning to cry too. “Can you just hold me? It feels really good and I could use that now. You probably could, too.”
“Are you sure it’s all right to touch you?” Thor asked, feeling ashamed and ridiculous after everything but asking anyway.
Thor handed him a cloth and watched, feeling a little heartbroken as Loki cleaned dried semen and sweat from his skin. He shucked his underwear, shrugged at Thor, and climbed into bed.
Thor wrapped him up in his arms, and Loki snuggled back against him. Thor took a deep breath of Loki’s hair, with its hints of sandalwood and amber.
“You okay, Lo?”
“Fuck. I have no idea,” he said shakily. He closed his hand over Thor’s.
They lay in silence for a while.
“Thor? What was it like?” Loki asked, barely louder than a whisper.
“The, um, sex?”
“Yeah. Being the one who had it, uh… the one who was penetrated? Have you done it before?”
“No. This was my first time.” He had to force the words out, but he owed Loki the truth. “You’re my first everything.” His face was on fire. His whole body burned, and probably his soul.
Stunned, he realized suddenly he needed to square with actual evidence of the human soul. It was far too much to fathom, and he pushed aside the esoteric for now. He could barely comprehend what had happened physically.
Loki rolled to face him. “Oh, Thor. It isn’t just the thing making you feel like this. You already did.”
Thor closed his eyes with the confession. “Yeah. I already did.”
“I didn’t,” Loki said matter of factly.
“I know, and I’m so sorry.”
Thor held him close and Loki asked him again, “Tell me what it was like? For you?”
“It was the most confusing thing. It was like almost having everything I wanted but it wasn't really you. But you were—you are—so beautiful, and...” he choked up for moment. “I couldn’t help it, Lo. It felt so good.”
Loki stroked the tears from Thor’s cheeks. “It did for me too. It felt good.”
He sounded shy and fragile and precious. Thor pulled him gently against his chest and they fell asleep entwined and exhausted.
Odin did the work by rote, old habits coming back with muscle memory and moving his hands through the motion of the cross, slipping his tongue along the words.
He purified the salt, now doubly blessed—Frigga always kept a large store of sea salt she blessed with her folk magic.
"O salt, creature of God, I exorcise you by the living God, by the true God, by the holy God, by the God who ordered you to be poured into the water by Elisha the prophet, so that its life-giving powers might be restored.”
He’d never exorcised so much salt at once. Generally only a little was needed for the ceremony of making holy water, but they would use much of the blessed salt as well. He’d honed his own version of the rite over his long practice, and only one foe had bested him.
And it seemed the fiend hadn’t yet taken enough from his family.
A sharp pain went through his skull. He would see the thing defeated. It would not have another child.
His reflection rippled in the pail of water as he prayed. Moving over the water, his hands shook with banked fury.
The sunlight was diffused by the shades, and Thor woke groggily. It seemed late. He reached for his phone. 10:43. He scratched his head and stretched his limbs. His left arm prickled with pins and needles from cradling Loki.
He was still asleep. A strand of curling black hair wafted toward and away from his face on his ragged breath, and the trademark “worry furrow” between his eyebrows was prominent. His fingers twitched.
Thor considered waking him, but he was sleeping, at least, so he let him rest.
He was on his way back from the bathroom when the phone rang. When he heard his mom gasp, he sprinted downstairs.
She was pale and she sat down hard on the couch when her knees buckled.
“Eir’s gone. It was a car accident… She went off the road—” She couldn’t finish, sobs overtaking her.
The shock of it was like freezing water. All he could think was to take care of his mother. He reached for her and she broke down on his shoulder as he began to weep himself. He felt like the clattering dishes when a tablecloth was jerked away.
Odin and Frey came down a moment later and Thor explained what had happened.
Frigga collected herself, amazing Thor as always with her force of will.
She told them more of what Eir’s niece had told her. She'd gone into the pond, Frigga said, but they thought Eir had died instantly from the impact. The road overlooked the water from high up.
Thor was grateful for that, at least. But he soon lost track of the conversation. There had been so much noise and activity in the house. Loki should have woken up.
He took the opportunity to go check on him when Odin got up to go make Frigga some tea. He felt heavier than usual, walking upstairs. It was too much, Eir on top of everything else.
His bedroom door wouldn’t open. He knocked and rattled the knob, tangled snarls of fear pulling at him.
Inside, Loki laughed.
In a loose huddle outside the door, a strange shorthand was exchanged.
Thor wasn’t thinking when he said, “It’s got him locked in my room!” No one questioned it, though.
“Can you break it? Pop the lock?” Frey asked, “You’ve got the best shoulders for it.”
“O, all the ritual stuff ready?”
“Darling can you handle this?”
“Just fetch everything. Get your belts. All of them, and take them to the dining room. It’ll be worse than last time. He’s stronger but the chair should hold.”
The lock gave on the third try, splintering the door frame.
Loki smirked from the bed.
Not Loki. The thing.
Thor went hot all over, but no one reacted. Frey rushed past him to Loki, then Odin returned.
“Father Borsson. Pleasure to see you again. And I have to tell you,” it said in a confidential tone, “I like this kid so much better. And you made it a companion. They’re so very close, your boys. You should be proud.”
It gave Thor an exaggerated, lascivious wink.
Frigga pulled him against her, her hands protectively on his shoulders.
“Loki, my son,” Odin shouted, “Can you speak to me?”
The demon used a high, sweet voice. “Yes, Daddy, it’s me! Would you like to hear how I had my cock in my big, strong brother’s ass?”
“That’s enough,” Frey snapped. He grabbed Loki’s arm and dragged him out of the room.
“Oh-ho! That’s going to bruise. But it’s okay. This one likes it rough,” it laughed. It went willingly enough, only half-resisting as Frey pulled it down the stairs to the dining room.
Thor followed with his mom’s hand still on his shoulder.
Thor had to help restrain his little brother’s body.
It fought them, though it smiled the entire time they were securing it to the heavy chairs. Thor was the strongest one and the thing knew it.
It was awkward. Loki’s legs were long, and his knees jutted out at sharp angles as Thor strapped the leather belts around his thighs and ankles.
As he was wrestling the last belt onto Loki’s right ankle, it stroked the inside of his thigh with Loki’s foot.
Thor stood up and slapped it hard with the back of his hand then, horrified at himself, watched as blood dripped from Loki’s nose onto his lip. It still grinned maniacally, and blood fell onto Loki’s teeth, staining their ivory with crimson.
“Thor!” His father yelled a harsh warning. “Back away now. It will only taunt you further.”
Frigga and Frey sat him down between them. Frigga leaned in and said, “It’s not your fault, my darling. Nothing that happens here is your fault.”
Tears poured out hot on his cheeks. She took his hand.
“Mom, did it kill Eir?” he asked.
“I think so,” she whispered. “Something like this happened before. My aunt Genny died because she was trying to help someone like Loki.”
Thor squeezed his mom’s hand. He wondered if it was as weird for her as it was for him to see Dad in his vestments. Was he allowed to wear them now? He guessed it didn’t matter as long as this worked.
Frigga handed Odin a little bundle of bitter smelling herbs. Odin dipped the dried flowery ends in the copper bucket of holy water and sprinkled it on Loki.
It hissed and popped like butter in a hot frying pan. Loki’s skin turned rosy where the droplets hit and the demon smirked at Odin.
Unfazed, Odin made the sign of the cross and began to pray.
It rolled its eyes dramatically at the Lord’s Prayer and the Ave Maria, looking unnervingly like Loki arguing with Thor.
Odin poured out a circle of salt around Loki’s chair.
“Frey, can you offer the sanctified blood?”
“I’ll take your confession in the living room.”
They left and Thor turned to Frigga. “What’s that?”
“It’s just part of the ritual Odin perfected over the years. Are you okay, love?”
Thor nodded. “Are you?”
Frigga just gave him her small Mona Lisa smile and patted him on the shoulder. She got up and fetched candles and some other stuff from the pantry. A silver bell, a bundle of dried rosemary, and a huge jar of apple cider vinegar with bits of spices and herbs floating in it.
“Witchcraft is a sin, Mother,” the thing said with Loki’s voice.
Frigga gave it a badass Are you seriously gonna fuck with me? grin and Thor felt like everything was going to be okay.
“Are you comfortable?” she asked Loki calmly.
“Could be better,” the demon said. “Thor, come suck me off. I want to come down your throat.”
She ignored it, and arranged the candles, lighting them around the room and wafting smoking herbs throughout as she went.
Thor stood up and asked, “Can I help, Mom?”
He hated sitting still and staring at Loki like that. The demon was licking his lips and giving him this half lidded stare that was thickening Thor’s cock even as it repelled him.
Odin and Frey returned while Frigga was lighting the rest of the candles, though, so he was saved from being the creature’s sole entertainment.
“We’re ready to start again,” Frigga said. “You can be my anchor. Go into the shed and get a bucket and trough. Then dig in the garden and bring in as much soil and as many roots as you can. Tear up the flower beds, as much as you can. Doesn’t matter what kind, just anything I’ve planted—roots and earth. Then spread it on the floor in here, and you and I will stand in the dirt, and you just think earth, okay? You hold my hand and envision us rooted in the earth. Can you do that?”
He nodded and went to do as he was told. The sun was dissonant with the indoors. Another universe. He did his messy chore and carried in a large bucket of damp earth and knobbly, hardy roots.
Loki had a smear of red of his forehead and Frey had a bandage on his palm. A knife was on the table with blood on the blade.
Oh. Sanctified blood. Confession.
Good timing, Mom.
“Ego te, immunde spiritus, omnis satanica potestas cum hoste omne phantásma sátanæ, fámulus tuus sociis in nomine Domini nostri Jesu Christi.”
Loki was sweating now, and looked pale, making the shadows around his eyes look stark. The irises were bright, glowing blue.
“Begone and stay far from this creature of God. Eradicáre, et procul ab hac creatura Dei!”
Odin’s voice had risen to that booming shout that Thor had always imagined was the sound of the wrath of God itself.
He hoped it was as good as.
“For it is He who commands you! He who flung you headlong from the heights of heaven into the depths of hell. It is He who commands you!”
Loki quaked and the chair rattled on the wooden floor.
Impossibly, Odin roared even louder. “It is He who commands you! He who once stilled the sea and the wind and the storm.”
Thor heard a thundercrack and startled, checked the window, but the sky was still clear and bright. He remembered to think earth. The idea came to him of grounding electricity.
“Hearken, and tremble in fear, Satan, you enemy of faith, foe of the human spirit, you begetter of death, you robber of life, you corrupter of justice, you root of all evil and vice; seducer of men! Instigator of lust! Font of all sin, fomentor of discord, author of pain and sorrow. Libido seditionis auctorem! Ex quo omne peccatum, discórdiæ, auctor dolor et dolorem a!”
A cold chill snaked down Thor’s spine.
Loki shrieked and panted. Odin nodded to Frigga. She moved quickly and forced a gulp of vinegar down its throat.
She did it again and murmured a prayer Thor couldn’t hear.
He sputtered and growled and it sounded inhuman, like a huge wolf was in the room.
He pulled and thrashed and tendons stood out in his neck.
Odin sprinkled more holy water on him.
Frigga was still murmuring the prayer and she thrust out her hand to Thor. “Salt.”
Odin forced Loki’s mouth open and she sprinkled salt on his tongue and said some more words.
She laid her things on the table and Loki’s hand shot free, scratching open a wide gash beneath Odin’s remaining eye.
He staggered and Thor rushed to refasten the belt.
Loki grabbed a fistful of his hair and licked Thor’s lips.
Thor grit his teeth and buckled the belt.
He’d taste salt and apples and cayenne the rest of the day.
“Speak your name, unclean thing.”
“Loki Ross Borsson.” It twitched a smile.
“ Verum nomen eius. ”
While Odin faced off with the thing, Frigga was ringing the bell and muttering a steady chant in Latin, unwavering, her eyes closed. The more she repeated it, the more agitated the demon became.
“ Verum nomen eius. ” Odin demanded.
“Your true name!”
It snarled. “No!”
Odin crossed him. Frigga chanted. Thor thought earth, earth, earth.
“Speak your name.”
“Speak your name.”
“Ahh! Caló var arco caló varrr cllacc arr vacc varra … arvo caló vara lacc arc ava avo car col cor lac.”
It shuddered and one of the chair legs lifted off the ground.
There was another thunderclap and Thor’s hair took a static shock. Frost bloomed on the window panes.
Loki screamed “Thor!”
Thor tried to run for him but Odin held him back without losing eye contact with the demon.
“Your true name, unclean spirit!”
It wailed and the chair rose into the air.
Loki’s hair floated toward the ceiling, his glowing eyes and shrieking face as painfully beautiful as one of his martyrs. It levitated higher until the ends of Loki’s hair flattened against the high ceiling and the chair was several feet off the ground.
His cry broke off with the sharp crash of all the windows in the house shattering.
The chair fell hard on its side and the arm snapped off cleanly.
Loki was free in a terrible instant. Odin rushed to bind him again.
Blood exploded in the air with a wet, crunching sound.
Thor’s eyes were covered by someone for a moment and they tried to hold him back but he escaped easily.
His father’s face still looked surprised.
The jagged remains of the chair’s arm erupted from his concave, bloodied chest.
Behind Thor, the thing inside Loki said, “One parent down! Let’s go get Mom together!” and giggled madly.
Thor roared with rage and launched himself at Loki.
He knocked him to the floor and was hammering his face with his fists, left then right, over and over, as the demon cackled.
“That’s enough, son!” Frey yelled. “You’re not going to hurt it that way. You’re just hurting Loki. Hold him still if you can.”
Thor hadn’t realized he was crying until he saw heavy tears falling onto Loki’s face and sizzling.
They blistered and blackened the skin.
The demon growled at him with raw animosity for the first time.
Thor grabbed Loki’s wrists and held them flat on the ground, his weight planted firmly on his legs.
Behind him, he heard his mother sniff. She brought her things to the floor where he and Loki were.
“Hold him steady and tight, Thor,” she said, her stare fierce. “Listen quickly. If we can’t get through to him, you can. You must keep trying. Make Loki hear you. He can fight it from within. Make his heart hear yours. I love you both so very much. Now hold him still.”
Frey held Loki’s mouth and she dribbled some more cider vinegar into Loki’s mouth. He choked on it.
He shook violently and turned his head to vomit.
“Get that filth out of my mouth!”
“Tell us your name, demon,” Frigga commanded.
“Calvora! Hoc est nomen meum . ”
“No, it isn’t. Tell us your true name.”
“Thor, you ask it,” she suggested.
“Tell me your name,” Thor said. “Loki, make it tell me!”
“Ah, ah,” it panted, straining up against him, muscles contorting with the fight.
“Tell me!” Thor yelled.
Frigga shook holy water onto Loki as he writhed and hissed at her.
“Tell me!” Thor shouted again.
Loki flipped them, the motion so sudden it caught everyone completely off guard. For a moment he lay atop Thor, just taking in huge breaths.
Then he was up, stance wide and eyes like blue gas flames.
The three of them surrounded Loki like a strange, tense dance. Frigga never stopped her constant prayer, but now Thor could hear the words, a long stream of Latin.
"Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus, omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursio infernalis adversarii, omnis legio, omnis congregatio et secta diabolica…”
Loki was like a live wire, crackling with wildfire madness. Beyond taunting banter now, the demon’s rage made him look wolfish. There was a lot of the look of a wounded animal in it.
It swayed slightly, shifting its weight from one leg to the other and slowly moving to face each of them in turn.
“Loki,” Thor began, hoping to keep the demon’s attention away from her. “Make the demon tell me its true name.”
It smiled a wicked look, squinting malevolently, then spun in place and took hold of Frigga by a thick hank of hair at the nape of her neck.
She stopped her prayer just long enough to gasp, “Make his heart feel yours.”
Thor heard a sound like fruit being crushed and a sudden spot of red appeared high on her blouse.
Only then did he think to wonder where her knife had gone.
The demon threw his mother’s body to the floor.
Frey fell to his knees at her side.
He seemed to be in wordless grief. But then he was up again, blood soaked knife in his hand.
Thor was already on Loki and they were knotted on the ground in furious, vicious motion. They clawed, punched, and tore at each other with lethal ferocity.
Thor won the upper hand briefly and heard himself roar like a mindless beast. He knocked Loki’s skull once, hard against the floor.
The unholy glow of his eyes dimmed and his eyelids fluttered. For a moment, the irises pulsed between pale blue and Loki’s beautiful bright green.
Thor yelled, “Loki! Its name! Tell us its name. Please.”
The fight left Thor, and he dropped his head onto Loki’s chest, tears pouring out. They soaked the torn and blood-sullied cotton of Loki’s shirt.
Dully, his exhausted mind realized the tears weren’t burning Loki. Then his brother spoke, out of breath and scratchy-voiced from screaming.
“Valorac. His name’s Valorac. Hurry. Tie me up again. He’s coming back… weak now though. You’ll get him.”
They tied Loki to the four poster in their parents’—in the master bedroom.
Frey was chanting the prayer Frigga had been saying, and Thor had a bit of the sheet they’d torn to strips to tie down Loki. He was dipping it into the copper pail then wringing it out into Loki’s mouth.
He hissed and gurgled sometimes as it steamed on his lips, but more and more he drank it down like he was dying of thirst.
Thor slowly repeated commands to the demon to leave his brother, to return to Hell. He used its true name and spoke simply and from his heart the way his mother had told him.
It grew weaker as he spoke, but he could still feel it.
And it was there in Loki’s eyes, gray blue and tired.
After what felt like hours, Frey put his hands on Thor’s shoulders and said, “Thor, whatever you’re holding back, just don’t. There’s something blocking you up and I can feel it. Feels like guilt, kiddo. I think we’re miles past that, don’t you? I’ve got your back. Just let it go. Save your brother.”
Make his heart feel yours.
Loki looked up at him, barely able to hold his eyes open. They were weary eyes, but they were Loki’s—clear and grass-green.
“Hey Thor,” he said, sounding delirious. “Like a fairy tale.”
Thor bent over and kissed him, hesitantly.
The chill left the air.
Behind him, Frey let out a long, shaky breath.
Thor opened his mouth gently, and kissed Loki long and deep and slow. He twined his arm around him and cupped him at the nape of his neck. Loki returned his kiss sweetly.
A warm breeze whooshed inward through the broken window and stirred the pieces of glass to make soft tinkling music.
Thor pulled away and a bright beam of sunlight fell over part of Loki’s face, so that one eye was pale as green sea glass and the other was deep emerald.
Swannanoa, North Carolina
Thor drifted lazily on the porch swing, watching pale gold maple leaves fall and waiting for Frey and Loki to get home. He was reading a postcard he’d just pulled out of the mailbox at the edge of the gravel road.
An old contact of Odin’s had gotten in touch with them a month after the exorcism, never explaining how he’d known what had happened. The mysterious Father Heimdall had quickly become a fixture in their lives, though. Loki’d opened up to him easily after the priest made it clear he had seen similar things in his work and would believe their experience.
Loki’s sessions with Dr. Collins were going really well, too. Thor was relieved he’d been able to keep seeing his established therapist after everything. They’d done a lot of family sessions, too.
Their new family was a patchwork, like the hipster quilt Frey had that was a new thing made of old t-shirts.
But it was becoming a sort of comfortable mess.
Dr. Collins said they were doing a good job of grieving their losses together and processing the family’s secrets, and Thor agreed. He’d had to work through a lot of anger about his mom and dad not telling them about Hela, but he felt like he’d made good progress over the last year.
Frey was being cool about Loki and him. He’d been responsible, insisting they talk to Dr. Collins.
“Not because it’s ‘wrong,’ but because you’re young, and you’re not in a position that regular teenage relationship rules apply. It’s a seriously heavy thing. Thor could go to jail.”
So they’d talked about it in therapy together, and separately, and together some more. They’d had to work out a fake beginning to the relationship, which had caused Thor so many sleepless nights he’d sworn off Mountain Dew for a few weeks.
Frey had given Thor the master bedroom at the end of the hallway in the new house, so he and Loki were separated by Frey’s room.
They all loved the farmhouse, with its rustic white wooden siding and enough projects to keep Frey’s saws happily humming during the long summers. The fragrance of sawdust and linseed oil mixed with the clean scent of the tall pines that shaded the north side of the property.
The scent always triggered Thor’s favorite memory of the house yet.
Loki toyed with the hem of Thor’s tee, and slipped his hands beneath. Thor’s breath caught when Loki’s fingers touched his belly.
“Loki, are you really sure?”
“Yes, I am absolutely certain. Again.”
“I just—” Thor started.
“I know you ‘just,’ but we’ve talked to death. I want this. A lot. I want you.”
Loki’s eyes glittered prettily.
They were alone in the empty, echoing house while the realtor showed Frey around the perimeter of the large plot of land.
Instinctively, the boys whispered.
“You’re not pressuring me. You’re so much not pressuring me you’re almost pushing me away. Let me logic at you. You wanted this before… everything. I want you even after everything. Ergo, we want to be with each other despite and independent of everything.”
“Logic boy, you can’t isolate this from what happened to you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Thor. Love isn’t logical!”
Thor tackled him with tickles, which quickly gentled into sweeter touches. Thor brought his hand to the nape of Loki’s neck and his brother gave a soft sigh Thor could feel as a slight warming of the air near his lips. Loki grabbed Thor by the base of his skull and pulled him in to close the few inches between them.
They sat together on the bare floorboards with their legs entangled and kissed slowly with sunbeams turning motes of dust to airborn gold around them.
THANK Y'ALLso much for reading, kudos, comments, reblogs, and everything. I'm unabashedly just bullshit fucking proud of this.
For my geeking-out-in-the-notes-squad, Varolac is the grandfather of Hela in the comics!verse. He's Angrboda's dad.
His name might be inspired by vârcolac. That's a Romanian mythical wolf creature similar to werewolves and vampires. Here's some info:
There are similariyies to Fenrir/Fenris in Norse mythology. They can swallow the moon, so they’re said to be responsible for eclipses. I’m curious and I imagine (hope eeeeEEE!!!!!) Marvel writers probably used this as the origin for naming Angrboda’s father. (Angrboda is Hela’s mother with Loki in the comics!verse and in Hel’s mother in mythology, but in myth Angrboda’s parentage is unknown.)
I snuck the Romanian word for "black" into the demon's anagram babble as a nod to this. Multilingual Siggy might be the only reader who sees it. I can't remember how the ever lovin' hell I even found it because guess who does NOT SPEAK a single word of ROMANIAN?
Here’s a playlist I made from songs I listened to to get me in the Southern gothic mood, and songs based on the story.
Snake Song, Isobel Campbell, Mark Lanegan
Barton Hollow, The Civil Wars
Arsonist’s Lullaby, Hozier
Natural Lullaby, Moby
Rain in the Valley, The Steel Wheels
The Heart it Beats the Thunder Rolls, The Wind and The Wave
Black is the Color, Lucette
Be Invited, The Twilight Singers
Forest Families, The Knife
Silent Shout, The Knife
Ancient Man, Deadboy & The Elephant Man
Come on Up to the House, Tom Waits
Black Market Baby, Tom Waits
Eyeball Kid, Tom Waits
Keep the Streets Empty for Me, Fever Ray
Sins of My Father, Tom Waits
Sons & Daughters, The American Spirit
Come on Up to the House, Sarah Jarosz