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Not what she expected

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The moment the second hand clicks into place and the grand clock starts chiming twelve throughout the great hall, all but empty at this hour, Frigga lets out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

It’s time. At last.

After one hundred years in Valhalla, every single soul is granted the opportunity to go back for exactly one day – back to their old life, back to those loved ones who are still alive. One hundred years Frigga has been waiting for this day. One hundred years of worrying, as only a mother worries about her children.

Her anguish had only increased when Odin had joined her in Valhalla, face grim and lined with concern. She’d thrown herself into his arms, begging him to tell her what had happened, why he was forced to unite with her so soon, in what state he’d left Asgard to her dear sons.

Odin had hugged her back, but he’d been shaking his head in the crook of her neck. The rules were clear: in Valhalla, no one is to talk about their past life under any circumstance. She’d known then, though, that the future wasn’t looking bright for her boys – she could still read Odin like the back of her hand.

Soon after Odin, Thor’s warrior friends had arrived. Then, after some time, came Heimdall – Asgard’s steady rock and keeper – and her anguish had almost turned into despair.

Twice she’d even thought she’d seen Loki. It had been just a glimpse of a black mane, a narrow frame, and both times she had felt like her life had ended a second time. Then she’d blinked – and Loki had been gone. She’d dismissed it as a figment of her imagination. The idea of one of her boys dying at such a young age was simply unbearable.

If she were honest, it was Loki whom she was worrying about the most. Thor, for all his youthful rashness and arrogance, would be alright in time, she was sure of that. But Loki –

Loki.

The last time she’d seen him, in his prison on Asgard, he’d been so angry and bitter. Yet when he’d reached for her, unwillingly shattering her illusion, she’d gotten a brief glimpse of his grief, his pain, and her heart had both ached and feared for him. Those were dangerous emotions, she knew, emotions that could ruin a man indefinitely. It’s not something she wishes for her youngest son.

But it’s time, now. Time to go back and see her boys, with her own eyes.

As she approaches the dais that had been Odin’s since the moment he arrived, her husband looks down at her gravely.

“Are you sure about this?” Odin asks. “You might not like what you find, dear wife.”

“Yes.” Her voice doesn’t waver. “I’m sure.”

“You know the rules? You can’t change anything. And you won’t be able communicate with anyone, for they will not see you.”

Frigga nods. “I know the rules.”

“Frigga.” Odin sighs deeply. “You’ll be a bystander, powerless in the face of any evil or grievance you’ll see there. Most people decline the opportunuty to go back, as it can be… hard to just stand by and do nothing. Furthermore, people do change, even the ones you love the most.”

“I know that, Odin.” Frigga looks him in the eye, pleading. “But it doesn’t matter. I just – need to see them.” She knows Odin doesn’t understand, but no matter how many hundreds of years old they are, they will always be her boys, and missing them feels like missing two limbs. “Please.”

Odin briefly closes his eyes. “Very well, then,” he states. “I hope you won’t come to regret this.” He comes down and takes her arm in his.

When they’re standing in front of Yggdrasil, he smiles sadly at her. “They’re on Midgard, now.”

Midgard? Frigga remembers how fond Thor had been of his midgardian friend, but surely, Jane must have died a long time ago. Why aren’t they on Asgard? Why –

The next moment, she’s surrounded by a rainbow of colours and she loses all concept of space and time.

***

Frigga finds herself standing on a narrow road flanked by trees and small white houses – cottages really, all similar to each other. Next to her is a blue sign that tells her she’s in New Asgard. She feels her throat constrict as the implication becomes clear to her: the old Asgard, the world where her sons grew up by her side, no longer exists. There’s no other explanation.

What happened?

Now is not the time for sadness, though. She pulls herself together as she starts walking down the road, wistfully regarding the bleak houses that hold nothing of the grandeur of her Asgard, until her feet lead her to one of the cottages almost out of their own volition. It looks no different from the rest, yet she knows this is the one, even before she notices the little wooden placard at the entrance.

Odinson. She finds her fingers unintentionally tracing the intricate pattern of characters, in which she can easily see Thor’s handicraft.

Frigga takes a deep breath, suddenly nervous, and she enters.

It doesn’t take her long to realize Thor’s not there and she tries to swallow down her disappointment. It feels wrong to be in someone else’s house when they’re not there, like you’re breaking into someone’s sanctuary. Yet Frigga has no time to waste, and if she can’t see her son in person, she’ll at least try to find out how he’s doing.

The hallway leads to a small kitchen, where an empty cup with a thick drab of coffee and sugar on the bottom has been left on the counter. Frigga sighs fondly at the realization her eldest’s never grown out of that bad habit. Next to Thor’s cup, though, is a half empty mug still holding a chamomile tea bag – Loki’s favorite blend.

Could it be?

When she spots a little note underneath the coffee cup, she almost knocks over the mug in her haste to retrieve it. ‘Thor, meet me here for dinner at 18.00. I’ll bring something. Be there. Loki’, it reads.

A smile creeps on Frigga’s face, the kind of smile that makes her cheeks hurt, and it’s not only because of the fact that she’ll be able to see them, right here, when they're meeting for dinner. No, it’s because she’d never imagined the both of them getting along again. The relationship between her sons had been beyond repair at the point where the dark elves had invaded Asgard. Thor had told her as much, claiming that no matter how much he missed his brother, he could find nothing of him in the creature that had returned from Midgard and had been put in one of the cells. She’d tried so hard to make him see that he was wrong, but he’d never once even visited Loki, that much she knew. And now –

Now, it seems like they’re actually living together.

She doesn’t want to get her hopes up, though, before she’s absolutely sure. She hesitates for a moment, but then she steps into the hallway and opens the first door she comes across.

The room she steps into is clearly a bedroom. There’s a small wooden bed and a matching wardrobe, but that’s just about it. As she opens the wardrobe, it makes a loud creaking noise and she jumps, still not quite comfortable being there by herself. But when she looks inside, the smile returns to her face.

The clothes hanging neatly from the racks are definitely Loki’s. He’s abandoned the asgardian style for midgardian outfits, but they’re still mostly black and green, some of them even in silk. It makes her chuckle; her youngest has always been somewhat prone to vanity.

He’s also been prone to luxury, though, and she can’t believe this is where he sleeps. Besides, it’s too clean, too impersonal to be an actual, lived-in bedroom. A spare room, maybe?

Frigga swiftly continues her perusal of the cottage and enters another bedroom, a much larger one. Judging from the mess in there, it must be Thor’s. Still, as she quietly takes in all the details, something doesn’t quite make sense to her.

It’s not the fact that there’s a double bed. Thor has always been large, both as a boy and as a man, and she supposes that couldn’t have changed during the last century. It’s not even the fact that not one, but both sides of the bed are obviously slept in, as well – Thor always was fond of company, and without Jane he might have regained that habit, she supposes. No, it’s the stack of books she recognizes on one of the bedside tables. Since when does Thor – or one of his conquests – hold any interest in the different uses of Seidr across the realms? Or the study of exact solutions of Einstein's field equations?

Those are Loki’s books. In Thor’s room. Next to his bed.

There’s a nagging feeling at the back of her skull. There usually is only one reason two grown-up men are sleeping in the same bed, it offers. Frigga’s never been naive, not even when it comes to her boys. Yet she finds herself stumbling back into the hallway, looking for another bedroom.

There is none. She shakes her head. A long nice walk, that’s what she needs. To clear her head, to think things over – surely there’s another explanation for this. She wants to see more of this New Asgard, anyway.

***

When Frigga returns to the cottage at the time the sun starts setting, Thor's home. As she looks at him, leaning back against the kitchen counter, she can’t believe that he’s really there – or more accurately, that she’s really there, able to see him for the first time in a hundred years. All previous thougths disappear from her mind as she finally gets to study him.

He’s changed, she’s quick to notice, and it’s not just the midgardian clothes he’s wearing. He looks less boyish now, and with the patch over his right eye, the resemblance to Odin is striking. But it’s not even that, not really. No, there’s a hunch to his shoulders and a weariness in his one eye that she’s never before seen in her eldest. It makes her wonder for the umpteenth time what happened to him, and to Asgard. Thor looks more mature than ever, but in her experience, people often have to go through the worst before they manage to grow up.

She doesn’t know how long she’s been standing there, simply watching Thor, but at a certain point he starts circling the small kitchen like a caged animal. His eyes keep finding the clock display on the oven, which reads 18:17. “Come on, Lo,” he mumbles, putting his hands back on the counter, knuckles clenched white.

It’s 18:21 when the front door opens and Loki waltzes through, panting slightly as if he’s been running. He's too thin, Frigga notices immediately. And too pale. All in all, he doesn't look in a much better state than his brother.

“You’re late,” Thor states. It sounds accusatory and Frigga holds her breath; in the past, she’s been an unwilling witness to many of her sons’ shouting matches and she knows that most of them started for less than this.

Much to her surprise though, Loki’s eyes soften as he closes the door. “I know. I know, I’m sorry. Line at Nonna’s was longer than I’d expected on a Friday.” He places the pizza boxes he’s been holding on the table and immediately goes to Thor, pulling him into a hug. “Hey. I’m sorry,” he repeats. “I know you get antsy when I’m late.”

Thor sighs, arms closing around his brother, and Frigga can almost see the tension leave his frame. “Yeah, well. If you hadn’t kept on dying on me, then maybe I wouldn’t be this strung up.”

So it hadn’t just been her mind playing tricks on her, Frigga realizes with a pang. Her youngest, her beautiful boy, had actually died. More than once. She expects Loki to take the bait like he would've before, but he doesn't.

“Shh,” he says instead, soothingly, “I’m here now, brother. I’m not going anywhere. And if I have to repeat that a thousand times for you to believe it, then I will.” He gently strokes up and down Thor’s back, before pulling back slightly and pressing his lips against Thor’s.

Frigga’s hands fly to her mouth, but the next moment Loki’s pulling away, taking Thor’s hand in his and smiling up at him. “Come on, let’s eat that pizza before it gets cold.”

They sit down at the table and dig into their pizza’s with an eagerness that reminds her of the old days. It makes her relax somewhat.

“So, how was parliament?” Loki asks in between bites. “Any progress?”

Thor grunts in negative. “Nope. They're still refusing to give us the same rights as humans.”

Loki shakes his head. “The mayors wouldn't budge eather," he says. "It's so damned frustrating."

"I know," Thor sighs, swallowing audibly and picking up another slice of pizza. "You'd think that after all this time we've been here -"

"It's 'cause they fear us, you know," Loki says, an edge creeping into his voice. "Still."

Frigga knows what's going to follow: Thor's going to make a harsh - albeit true - comment on how Loki didn't really help in that department, back when he attacked New York, and they'll be at each other's throats next. She braces herself, but - nothing happens. Thor just makes a noncommittal sound and grabs the last slice in the box.

When did they become so gentle with each other?

They continue talking politics for a long while, and Frigga hangs onto their every word, greedy to understand the world her boys are now living in.

When they’ve finished their dinner, Thor moves into the kitchen to wash the grease off his hands. Loki follows him, and after discarding the empty pizza boxes, he embraces his brother from behind. “Thor," he breathes.

“Yeah.” Thor turns around, looking at him with a fond smile. His hands come up to tangle in Loki’s hair, before pulling him even closer until their lips are touching again. Loki makes a small sound and immediately deepens the kiss.

Frigga stands rooted to the spot. While that first kiss could be interpreted as innocent, there’s no mistaking the nature of this one. It's passionate and greedy, and she doesn't miss the small jerky motions Thor’s hips start making against Loki’s, nor Loki’s answering moans.

She’s about to make herself scarce when Loki suddenly steps back. “Thor, no. Not – not now, ok? I promise I’ll make it up to you later, but –"

“Why not?” Thor frowns, pulling his brother closer and nipping his neck.

Loki briefly glances in her general direction and for a moment, she gets the impression he knows she’s there. But that’s just impossible, no? Odin’s told her as much. “Now’s just not a good time, I think,” Loki says, voice suddenly faltering.

“Loki." Thor says. “What’s wrong, love?"

“Do you know why I wanted to have dinner with you today?” Loki’s voice sounds muffled. “Today, it’s been a hundred years since mom –"

Thor makes a choked sound. “Oh, Loki. I didn’t realize, I’m sorry.” Their grip on each other tightens.

“I wonder what she’d think of us, if she knew…” Loki doesn’t finish the sentence, but he looks up again and this time, it seems like he’s staring straight into her eyes.

Oh, her clever, clever boy. He knows – yes, he knows, she's sure of that. She smiles at him, not able to hold back the tears that start rolling down her cheeks.

“I’d like to think she’d understand,” Thor answers softly. “That she’d be happy for us.”

Loki’s still looking at her, uncertainty clear in his eyes, and she nods through her tears. To be honest, she doesn't understand at all, can't grasp how and when her sons turned from enemies to actual lovers, but she's learned a long time ago that sometimes, one doesn't need to understand something to be able to accept it. And yes, she finds herself being happy for them; the past may not have left them unscathed, but it's obvious that they've found great comfort in each other.

Loki nods back curtly, visibly relieved. "I'd like to think so, too," he whispers, before dropping his head back into the crook of Thor's neck, pulling him impossibly closer.

It’s her cue to leave, she knows, as she watches her sons all but merge into one another. She takes one last look at them and leaves, not without difficulty.

Walking back down the gritty road, she inhales deaply. She feels calmer now that she's seen them, now that she more or less knows what they've been through and what they're facing. It's not what she would've wished for her boys - their world gone, having to start again on another realm where they don't even feel welcome.

In the midst of it all, though, they've clearly managed to find each other again. It might not be in the way she expected, but she can feel it's a good thing. They’ll be able to heal, together, and in time, they will shine once more. And when that happens, this New Asgard will shine with them.

A mother simply knows these things.