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Friends and Neighbors

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"Your son is having such a good time. Isn't he adorable!"

Odin flashes the woman a quick smile. He can’t spare any more time… Thor's at that age where disaster can strike out of a clear blue sky with absolutely zero warning. "He's got a lot of energy," he tells her, eyes back on his child. This is a fenced-in play area tailored specifically for toddlers - no big-kid swings to smack the little ones in the face, no dangerously tall slide or tempting monkey bars - but he can’t help but remember how Thor’s ended up nearly needing stitches three times this week alone. Once, the only hazard in range (and who knew??) had been the floor.

No steps, even. Just plain old pine boards.

He's not sure their poor house will survive Thor's childhood, even if Thor does.

"How old is he," she asks. "He's so- mobile."

"He'll be two and a half next week," Odin says. A baby hiccups. He glances over at her again, startled and a little ashamed that he's only belatedly noticing she's pushing her own stroller. "Here," he says as he hastily gathers his belongings - Thor's jacket and cap, an empty coffee cup, his phone and a big stack of magazines - and crams them into what his wife calls his diapercase. "I didn’t mean to hog the bench! Please, sit."

"Mommmmmy!" It's not Thor screaming, but the little dirty-blonde-haired girl he's smacking again and again with his toy shovel. Fortunately when he's wound up like this Thor's not all that coordinated; what his mind thinks up, his body struggles to deliver. He does land one good smack, though, and Sif screams.

Shit. "Just a sec," he tells the woman. She's still standing, the wind blowing her dark hair across her face. Her baby has started to grumble and snort; back in the day, that was often all the warning Odin and Frigga might get before Thor would start flat-out wailing. "Can you watch my stuff for a minute? Sorry!" The last bit he has to call out over his shoulder as he runs; he's already more than halfway to the sandbox.

"Young man," he tells Thor sternly, "what have your mother and I told you about hitting?"

Thor’s "I hatechoo!" is cut short; his little playmate seizes the moment and gives Thor a hard shove, enough that he topples over and lies there like a turtle with the wind knocked straight out of him.

"Sif!" The little girl's father squats and catches her by the shoulders. "No hitting. What do you say?"

Her brows pull into a comically serious frown. "He hit me first," she tells her dad. She's only a few months older than Thor, but she's surprisingly articulate. Well, for three. She and her older brother both skipped right past baby talk and went straight to sentences.

"He did," Odin admits. "She's only being honest. Thor, buddy." He steers his stubborn, pouting son towards little Sif. "No hitting. Say you're sorry."

"Am not," Thor huffs. He stamps one foot. "NOT SORRY!"

"Ooooohhhhkay," Odin says. He sighs. "I think someone needs to come sit with me for a few minutes." He scoops his kicking, shrieking son up under one arm like the world's biggest, angriest football and heads back towards the bench. "Sh-sh," he soothes as he walks. "You don't want to go home, do you?"

"Baby!" Thor tries to wriggle loose, beaming through the tears. Odin gives a silent little thank you to whatever deity might be listening. "Daddy! Daddy! Baby!"

"Thank you," Odin says again, aloud this time. "I'm so sorry! I don't know how my wife does it." Frigga swears Thor is her perfect angel, but Odin doesn't believe it. "Oh, and I'm Odin. I would shake your hand, but-." He jerks his head at Thor, who is fighting like mad to get to the woman's stroller. To the baby. "And this holy terror is Thor."

Thor wiggles and shoves at Odin’s arm. “Babababy!”

The woman smiles. Up close she looks exhausted, even more so than he feels. “Farbauti,” she says. “And this is my youngest, Loki.”

“Nice to meet you. Both of you.” All Odin can really see of her son is a few downy tufts of black hair, but he knows the drill anyway. He flips the straps out of the way and sets Thor – who’s still making grabby hands at Loki – in the jogging stroller. Not that Odin does a whole lot of jogging (like, any… once upon a time he’d been careful to keep in decent shape, but nowadays he chases his son and lies to himself and pretends it counts for something), but Frigga sometimes likes to. That, and his wife holds out the endless hope that someday they’ll do better.

Maybe she’s right. Right now, he doubts it.

“So Loki’s your youngest,” he prompts Farbauti. Thor is utterly fascinated with her baby, so much so that Odin’s even able to fasten the stroller straps without a struggle. “He’s nice and quiet.”

Farbauti laughs. “Mm. Right up until he isn’t. Yes, I have two other boys. They’re in school now, the both of them.” She has a faint accent Odin can’t quite place, except to be certain she’s not from around here. Finnish, maybe. “My oldest is twelve, and my middle son is ten.” Her son’s tiny hands come up to grab at her bracelets. Odin finally gets a quick look at Loki's small face; it’s sharp and pointy like his mother’s. His eyes are almost silver, at least on such a bright-overcast day, and are framed with long, dark lashes. It’s like he has two beautiful flowers where his eyes would otherwise be. “They like their teachers, but I miss having them around. And I could use their help with the baby.”

She’s not laughing anymore. If anything, she sounds almost sad. Wistful. Odin wishes his wife had come with them; no one ever manages to stay sad around her for long. “They don’t go to school here, then,” he asks.

“No,” Farbauti says. She gently works her jewelry out of Loki’s shell pink, chubby hands. “They live with their father.”

Oh.

“Huh,” Odin says. “That must be really difficult.”

Farbauti shrugs. “We get by.” She checks her phone. “Oh, crap. Speaking of getting, we need to get going. It’s been nice chatting with you.”

Odin nods. “Say bye-bye,” he tells Thor.

Thor waves his hands and feet. “Baby!”

Chapter Text

It rains for a solid week. The guys at the office start to joke about ark-building. Odin takes a couple of days off to give his wife a breather. Frigga works from home and normally schedules her calls and project work around taking Thor to the park and letting her little man burn off an hour’s worth of energy… but it’s just been too wet for that. Spending day after day locked in a smallish house with a rambunctious toddler, no matter how much love you have to spare (and between them they have plenty; Thor was very much wanted and is even more treasured, every step of the way), can all too quickly become a special kind of torture. Odin and Frigga try their best take care of each other; they go to lengths – great ones, sometimes - to ensure things never reach the breaking point.

Some days do manage to approach it, though. And that’s just how life goes. Still, they’ve gradually learned what drives each one of them crazy and they try hard to remember to ask for help when they need it. It’s not a perfect system, for sure… but they think they have it working.

By Friday, though, they’ve both had it. All, maybe; even Thor is having a meltdown. Odin decides that getting a little (okay, a lot) wet is better than spending yet another second caged up in here cringing while their son alternates between wailing and systematically destroying the place one not-as-childproof-as-it-looks – or maybe childproof doesn’t mean Thorproof – item at a time. “I’ll take him down to the park,” he offers. “It’s not like toddlers melt in the rain or anything.”

Frigga pushes her hair out of her face with one hand and smiles her gratitude. “I just have to get this proposal out the door,” she says, “and then I can take over. I promise. Give me an hour and a half, okay?”

It’s not cold out; if it weren’t for the endless downpour, it would be a nice day. Odin figures if nothing else the bumper crop of puddles will keep Thor occupied. They can just pile into the bathtub when they get home if needed. He nods. “Sure,” he tells her. “I think I can even give you two.”

~

The park is surprisingly busy, considering how hard it’s raining. Clearly he and Frigga aren’t the only little family this weather has been killing.

No sooner has he gotten the inner gate closed – one of the best things about this place is the airlock-style double-gated entrance that really does help keep the little ones contained – than Thor is struggling against the stroller straps and yelling. “Baby! Baby!” Thor wriggles and points and tugs on Odin’s fingers. “Baby!’

Sure enough. Odin glances up towards the benches and there’s Farbauti. She’s looking over towards the sandbox, all the while juggling an umbrella in one hand and rocking Loki’s stroller with the other. “Okay, buddy,” Odin tells Thor. “Easy does it, kiddo. We’ll go say hi.”

Baby Loki is crying loudly enough to give one of Thor’s tantrums a run for the money. “Oh.” Farbauti flinches away when Odin gently touches her shoulder to get her attention. “Hi.” She angles her face away. “Loki’s having one of those days. Um, it’s nice to see you two.”

Maybe it is, but she sure doesn’t sound like it. “Sorry,” Odin tells her. “I didn’t mean to startle you. And I think everyone’s had enough of this weather. Anyway, Thor here wanted to say hi to your son.”

“Babybabybaby,” Thor says, enthusiastically. “No cry!” He reaches out with his little hands and only just misses snagging the front edge of Loki’s stroller.

Odin smiles. “I think someone missed your little guy,” he tells Farbauti as she twists to wave to Thor. Water from the edge of his umbrella trickles down his neck. “What have the two of you been up to this we- hey, are you okay?” She’s sporting a black eye and a scabbed-over scrape on her cheekbone, along with another bruise along the far side of her jaw.

For a moment Farbauti looks- frightened, maybe. “I’m fine,” she assures him, looking quickly away again. “I just tripped a couple of days ago and bumped my head. It’s nothing. I’m fine,” she insists again; his skepticism must show on his face. Farbauti gets to her feet, a little stiffly, and fumbles with the stroller cover. “We’d love to stick around, really, but I forgot Loki has a doctor’s appointment. Just a check-up, I mean. He’s fine. We’re going to be late; that’s all. We have to get going. Say bye, Loki.”

“Ba,” Loki says. He’s pretty much stopped crying.

“At least let me-,” Odin starts, but it’s too late… she’s already hurrying away.

Shit,” he whispers to himself. Frigga doesn’t like it when he swears in front of Thor. She hadn’t liked it even when their son had been a tiny baby, but he has to be especially careful now that Thor’s old enough to mimic. Any conversation that includes a cheery “SHIT!” from the little guy is bound to result in- in sanctions.

“Baby?” Thor’s sad little voice snaps Odin out of it. Thor’s bottom lip is wobbling and two fat tears run down his cheeks. “Wheredego?”

Odin squats down to smooth them gently away with his thumbs. “Sorry, sweetie,” he says. “Loki and his mommy didn’t have time to stay and play today. Maybe we’ll see them tomorrow. Here, hold still.”

Bye, Odin doesn’t bother saying, laughing as Thor – newly freed from the stroller - takes off. Now that he’s free to run and to splash around, Thor will no doubt forget his tragic loss. That, and the area around them is grassy enough to keep him from getting all that muddy; it’s nothing a quick hosing off once they get home won’t fix. There’s no reason not to let him go.

Nobody’s young enough to see only beauty and potential in this kind of rain forever, after all.

Watching his son splash gleefully around is much nicer than sitting home while Thor bounces off the walls, even though he himself is getting drenched. Odin looks on from the sidelines, doing his best to ignore the unpleasant way his soaking-wet pants stick to his legs, until Thor finally runs out of energy.

And that takes a long, long time.

Farbauti and baby Loki don’t stop back by. Odin isn’t surprised, but he’s a little disappointed. And more than a little worried.

~

Thor finally dozes off on the way back to the house. His little head lolls to one side, his mouth a perfect pink bow, as Odin unfastens the stroller straps. It’s a pity to have to wake him. In the end Odin opts to forego the hosing and simply hoists wet, grass-stained Thor onto one hip as-is. Clothes wash. It’s nothing.

“Hi, boys,” Frigga says as he carries Thor into her office. “I see you had fun. Thank you,” she mouths silently (and enthusiastically) to Odin. “I got so much work done!” She sets a stack of paper neatly aside. “Including that never-ending proposal. I think I’m done here for the day… do you want me to put his royal wetness down for a nap?”

“I’ll do it,” Odin says, tugging at his pants with his free hand. “See? I’m already soggy.”

~

“Something weird happened today,” he tells Frigga between sips of his coffee. Odin’s changed into sweats and a t-shirt and has toweled his hair off, but he still isn’t feeling dry somehow. It’s hard to shake the feeling that the sun may never shine again. “That cute baby we see at the playground, the one Thor likes? Loki?” Frigga nods. She’s regularly run into Loki and Farbauti at the playground as well; just last week she’d mentioned how Loki was babbling and almost pulling up and seemed dangerously close to both talking and walking. She and Odin had shared a laugh over how relieved they are, in retrospect, that Thor hadn’t been an early walker.

“Farbauti,” he continues, “she looked a little banged up earlier. And when I asked her if everything was okay, she suddenly remembered they had to be somewhere. And then she and Loki took off, before I could- oh, hell, I don’t know. I don’t know that I could have done anything anyway. I just- I feel- I don’t know.” Odin doesn’t. He feels powerless, and that never sits well with him.

“Huh,” Frigga says. She frowns and purses her lips. “Next time I see her at the park, I’ll try to find a way to talk to her about it.”

“She’ll leave,” he cautions.

“I’m nice,” Frigga teases. “Not like you. She’ll talk to me. Plus maybe it’s a girl thing.”

He hugs her close. She is nice. “I’m just worried about them. It was- strange, I guess. Something didn’t feel right.”

Frigga hugs him back. “Yes,” she says against his chest. Her breath is warm through his shirt. “I know.”

Chapter Text

Thor is turning three on Tuesday. He’s using sentences most of the time now, although he still calls (walking, talking) one-year-old Loki baby. He also picks the little guy up a lot, arms slung around Loki from the back - up under the armpits, legs dangling - like his pint-sized friend is a cat, or a pillow.

Frigga and Odin have thrown together a little party; nothing fancy, just a chance for a few friends to get together. It’s scheduled Saturday around lunchtime, to give all the parents lots of recovery time before the start of the work week. They haven’t invited a big group: the guest list is pretty much just Sif and her parents, Fandral and his dad, Tony and his nanny. Recently, Tony's nanny has been the one taking him everywhere. The nanny tells anyone who asks that Tony’s parents want to keep some continuity in his life, rather than switching on and off with her depending on whether or not they're available, but Frigga secretly terms the whole business a cop-out and Odin doesn't disagree.

Oh, and Farbauti and Loki are invited, too. Neither Frigga nor Odin thinks they will show, but Thor is adamant. He wants to play with baby.

~

Saturday dawns bright and sunny. It's the middle of September, so you never really know – and part of why they’ve kept this small is so there's room for everyone indoors if needed - but the weather really couldn't be nicer. It's a relief. Playing in the yard is so much easier.

Sif's parents bring Heimdall along to help out; at a very solemn nine and three quarters, he's the perfect one (alongside Tony's nanny, of course, because the Borsons are no fools and shit happens) to keep the little kids away from the hot grill while Odin flips hotdogs and burgers. Along with a black bean burger for Farbauti, just in case. Frigga's pretty sure Loki's mom doesn't eat meat, and no one wants her to go hungry.

~

Odin's seeing to the last bit of grill time - melting cheese onto the nicely-cooked meat patties for the cheeseburger lovers amongst them - when it happens. The sliding door onto the deck opens and Thor shrieks "BABY!" And then skids face-first across the wood when, because he's so busy elbowing her out of the way to get to Loki, Thor doesn't see that Sif has gotten a foot out to trip him.

Farbauti lets go of Loki's little hand and drops to her knees. "Oh, sweetie," she tells a bawling Thor as she scoops him up and hugs him to her carefully. Loki looks on from behind her, eyes round and huge. "Let me see." She holds Thor still and inspects his hand carefully. "Oooh, look at that," she exclaims. "That's quite a splinter. Thor, honey, look at me. Are you very, very brave?"

Thor nods solemnly. His round, pink cheeks are shiny wet with tears.

"Then count to ten with me, okay? I'll help you do it. Ready?" She holds his sore hand firmly in her own. "One, two..."

She pulls the splinter on three. Thor's so busy trying to help her count that he doesn't really notice.

"Thank you for swooping in to save the day," Frigga tells her a few minutes later as Thor half-leads, half-drags Loki down the steps and out into the lawn proper.

Farbauti smiles. "My older boys were constantly doing this sort of thing at his age," she says. "Now they play hockey. I don't think his hand needs a bandage," she goes on, raising her voice over a much happier-sounding din this time. "It's a little splinter, really, and it was just under the skin." She holds out the splinter in question - at least, Odin assumes she does; from a few yards away he can’t see anything - and Frigga laughs. "See? It's practically a javelin."

"A mighty spear," Frigga agrees. She gives Farbauti a quick one-armed squeeze. "Aren't kids funny!"

"Hilarious," Dag - Sif's father – tells Odin drily. He's taken up his son's guard post while Heimdall supervises Sif's little timeout. "All I ever do is laugh. Seriously. Some days I swear my face will crack in two. Sorry, man. My daughter is growing up with a big brother, and it's obvious, but she does know better." He takes a swig of his beer. Yes, it's lunchtime, but it's a party. "I'll talk to her about her behavior later."

"Don't sweat it," Odin says. "Thor pushed her." His own beer is conspicuously absent, as Frigga thinks the two of them need to be responsible hosts. She's right, and he knows it… but the idea of a beer does sound awfully good. "And look at the bunch of them playing together. He's totally over it."

"He sure loves that little one," Dag says, pointing with his bottle. Sure enough, Thor's carrying Loki around. Yet again. "I'm glad Loki has someone to watch out for him."

"Why do you say that," Odin asks. The boys adore each other, and he adores them for it. Still, Dag- the guy's getting at something.

"No reason," Dag says. He looks away, towards the patio. Where there is exactly nothing going on. "Just- I don't think things at his home are very happy. Laufey's- he’s not nice, you know?"

Laufey. "Hm," Odin says. "I thought Farbauti lived alone with Loki."

"She does. They do. But he brings the boys over sometimes. And I think he-. Anyway, I should mind my own business. My wife will have my as- my rear end otherwise. Cheers." Dag raises his nearly empty bottle. "That Frigga of yours is one smart woman."

Odin makes himself smile. "Absolutely."

~

Everyone gathers around the long table, with just a little pushing and shoving. The kids scramble up onto the benches and their parents move them around to make space in between. The yard is full of happy chatter. That and the squeaks of knives on plates as moms and dads cut up their children's meals into bite-sized pieces. Farbauti spoons Loki's baby food onto little bowls and sets them out on the tray of what used to be Thor's high chair. Thor's way too big for it now.

Odin tries not to stare at her. She definitely is wearing a lot of makeup for an informal neighborhood kids' thing.

“I’ll tell you later,” he whispers to Frigga when she asks him what’s the matter. “Right now, let’s just let these kids have their party.”

Chapter Text

Heimdall is a couple of years short of being old enough to watch the kids on his own, but he’s great at helping keep an eye on them. Even better, he’s crazy fast, which becomes increasingly important as Thor and his pint-sized peers grow more and more sure on their own feet. It’s also the right thing to do; Odin knows his family appreciates a little supplemental allowance. Dag and Helen talk a good line about teaching their children personal responsibility (not that there’s anything wrong with that… in fact, when Thor is a little older Odin and Frigga intend to do much the same). But Odin knows there’s actually more to it. Helen cleans for an office janitorial service and Dag works at a tire shop and neither one of them exactly came from money.

Helen’s first husband had been a great guy too – solid and dependable, with a dry little sense of humor Heimdall definitely seems to have inherited – but what savings they’d put aside all went towards his medical expenses. After the cancer had finally taken him Helen’d pretty much been forced to start over again, with a five year old in tow this time. Just to make things that much more challenging. All in all, she’s done well when it comes to finding great fathers for her children. And if Frigga and Odin can help make their lives easier, especially without letting it seem like that’s what they’re doing, so much the better.

During the school year Heimdall reports to the Borson household straight from class. Frigga uses that time to really concentrate on her work; Odin, on the days he takes off to be with his family, likes to bring Thor to the park and let Heimdall do all the chasing. Sometimes they bring a ball and Heimdall tries to teach Thor soccer. Other times they just run around.

Thor shrieks like crazy every time Heimdall catches him, but he’s grinning ear to ear and he’s always right back there looking for more. Everybody wins.

Sometimes when they’re at the playground Farbauti shows up with Loki, too. Of course, Thor is beyond excited, which makes for that much more chasing. On the days both boys are there, Odin pays Heimdall double. He doesn’t tell Farbauti, and the first time it happens he tells Heimdall he hopes the whole arrangement can be their little secret.

Heimdall nods and smiles. He misses pretty much nothing. Life (and natural aptitude, for certain) has made him wise beyond his few short years, and it’s easy to forget he’s not even in middle school. “You’re nice, Mr. Borson,” he says. “It’s good of you to take care of everyone.”

“Oh,” Odin tells him, “I’ll never be able to take care of everyone, believe me. But I try to help out where I can. That’s what neighbors do, you know?”

~

“Daddy, do you hit mommy,” Thor asks conversationally as Heimdall pushes the empty stroller and Odin (with a firm grip on both Thor’s sticky, warm, chubby fists) patiently lets him walk home “on his own.” Thor never wants to ride in the stroller anymore. He’s gotten very independent and wants to walk everywhere, no matter how slow his short little legs sometimes make them.

Odin stops very suddenly, inadvertently swinging Thor through the air. Thor shrieks happily. To him, thank goodness, they’re just playing.

“Wait,” Odin says, keeping his voice light and fun. “What did you just say?”

Thor sticks his landing. He twists and beams up at Odin. “Do you hit mommy,” he says very loudly and clearly. “Loki says his daddy does.”

Loki isn’t even two yet. He shouldn’t have any idea what any of that means, let alone be talking to the other kids about it. The whole thing leaves Odin feeling a little sick. More than a little, really.

“No, sweetie,” he says as he squats down to Thor’s eye level. He’s not sure how to play this without making it sound like he’s judging Loki. “We don’t allow any hitting in our family. Just like we ask you not to hit, remember?”

Thor nods. He frowns the way he always does when he’s thinking. “So if Loki’s daddy was at our house he would get a timeout?”

Personally, Odin thinks that doesn’t begin to touch it. “Of course,” he says. “That’s what we do when someone has trouble following important rules.”

“Hm,” Thor hums. “Maybe that’s why he never comes over.”

Odin steals a quick glance at Heimdall, who’s looking a little startled. They’ll need to talk later. “Maybe, buddy,” he tells Thor. “Hey, mommy’s waiting for us. Are you ready to go home?”

“We can’t.” Thor giggles. “You’re not standing up, daddy.”

~

“It’s okay, Mr. Borson,” Heimdall tells him. Frigga is helping Thor wash up; the two of them are having a man-to-man talk outside. “Loki says stuff like that all the time. I’m not even sure if it’s true.”

Loki is certainly quite imaginative for someone so young. Odin and Frigga have both noticed how much he loves make-believe and stories. But he’s still just a toddler and Odin doubts he’s capable of inventing this sort of thing without- without it having any basis in reality. “I’ll take care of it,” he says. “You let me know if he says it again, will you?”

Heimdall scuffs the toe of one shoe back and forth in the dirt. “Loki isn’t going to get in trouble, is he? I don’t want you to be mad at him.”

Odin makes himself smile. “No, he won’t. And I’m not mad at either of you. Don’t worry. No one’s going to get in trouble. Speaking of which, here.” He digs for his wallet. “Let me pay you before I accidentally make you late to dinner.”

~

“I don’t know what to do.” They’ve packed Thor off to bed, after a perfectly normal meal where (thankfully) no one mentioned anything untoward, and are sharing some wine in the family room. “Dag said something a while back about Laufey not being very nice, and we’ve both seen… well, you know. And we can’t exactly make Farbauti’s choices for her. But I had no idea this was affecting Loki.” He shakes his head back and forth. “Who would do- okay, I’m judging. It’s just- it’s horrible.”

Frigga hums. “Maybe I should invite them over… we can all have dinner together once a week or something. You know, to let her see she and her son have a safe place here if they need it.”

“Just what we don’t have enough of,” Odin says. “Drama. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Frigga tells him. “Loki’s a sweet little boy. He and his mama both deserve better.”

Chapter Text

The whole thing had sounded simple enough, back when her husband had casually tossed it out there: Just have the two of them over for a weekly dinner, give them both a little stability. Nothing to it. Bring yourselves, bring a dish to pass if it all starts too feel too much like charity.

Easy.

Except here Frigga is months later - as the cold, sloppy grey of late winter is finally starting to make way for spring – without so much as one single thing accomplished.

Okay, maybe that's not fair. She's switched up her schedule a bit so she can take Thor to the park in the morning, now that he’s doing half-day preschool in the early afternoon. There's a full-day option, since he's four, but she likes getting to spend a little time with him. That, and whenever she suggests it he wails like his little heart is breaking and demands to be allowed to bring Loki. Loki is reading like a champion, but even so he's still only two. By next year Frigga's confident she can help Farbauti apply for a scholarship.

This year they're still compromising. Thor and Loki and Frigga and Farbauti share park mornings, after which Thor goes sulkily off to big boy school and Loki and Farbauti go- somewhere. Somewhere else. Odin kids Frigga about it: "A good sleuth would track them." At least she hopes he's kidding. But nothing she's tried - not lunch, not hot cocoa, not stopping over to the house for some girl time while Loki reads or colors - has proved sufficiently tempting.

Farbauti always begs off, albeit never angrily. If anything, she seems disappointed. But the end result is invariably the same; she and her quiet, watchful little boy vanish, only to reappear (most days) at the park after the following morning's breakfast.

And those times that they don't show up for a few days, Frigga worries like crazy. Because when they do reappear, it's to (bruised, slow-moving) Farbauti's report of yet another accident. Every. Single. Time.

When it goes beyond a couple of days Frigga finds herself thinking Odin's tailing idea might not be all that crazy.

~

There are finally crocuses opening everywhere. The park is practically awash with them. It’s beautiful. Really, the only downside is having to (try to) keep Thor from crushing half of them. He loves flowers, which means he wants to hold them all. It's not a great arrangement. "Careful, sweetie," she tells him for at least the twenty-fifth time. One for every minute late Farbauti and Loki seem to be this morning. "Here. Let mommy get that for you."

"Frigga?" Farbauti's voice is so soft; she has to repeat herself a couple of times and then bend over to touch Frigga's shoulder before Frigga catches on that someone besides Thor is talking. "If I stop back in an hour or so, do you have a few minutes?" Frigga cranes her neck to look up; Farbauti's all wrapped in a scarf, as though they were still stuck in the worst depths of winter. "After Thor goes to school, I mean?"

"Where's Loki," Frigga wants to ask, badly. The possibilities are as terrifying as they are endless. "Sure," she says instead. "I'll come straight back here." She makes herself smile as normally as she can and then sneaks a quick look at Thor. At his rear, to be precise; his hands are once again all down in the crocuses. "Do you think it's chilly enough to justify grabbing a coffee?"

As Frigga looks up again Farbauti nods. All Frigga can see is her eyes. That, and a wayward lock of windblown hair. "Coffee sounds good. I'll see you later." And then she's gone, hurrying off across the wet, matted grass with its dirty piles of old snow before Thor has a chance to notice she's been there. And without baby.

It's hard to focus after that. Frigga can't stop herself from running through scenario after horrific scenario in her head. She worries about Farbauti. She worries that perhaps she's failed the two of them both somehow, and that something terrible has happened to Loki. Consequently, she doesn't pay nearly enough attention to Thor. All she can do when he shows up to proudly present her a huge double-fistful of crushed crocus blossoms is (kick herself inwardly, and) thank him.

~

"Why wasn't Baby Loki at the park," he asks her as they make their way hand-in-hand to school. "Is he sick?"

"I hope not," Frigga tells him. "Why don’t we do this: I'll find out while you're in school and tell you at dinner."

“If he’s sick,” Thor asks, “will you make him better?”

“We’ll see, honey,” she tells him. He’s her big boy now; he can climb the steps in front of his preschool without using his hands. “I’ll try. Go have fun.”

He pouts up at her. “I can’t have fun without Baby Loki.”

She ruffles his hair. “Well, then, do the best you can.”

~

Frigga half figures Farbauti won’t show up. In reality it’s not more than five minutes after she’s taken up her post waiting by the playground gate – there’s nothing official saying no child, no entry, but she always feels funny going into the playground proper alone anyway – that Loki’s mom waves to her from up by the sidewalk. Frigga’s heart thumps as she climbs the little hill, picking her way between snow piles, and it’s not from exertion alone.

“Hi,” she says as she comes up to where Farbauti’s standing. “Still in the mood for that coffee?”

~

The diner isn’t much to look at (what diner is?), but it’s got great coffee. It’s also way off the beaten path, meaning they’re not likely to run into anyone they know. At least, Frigga doesn’t think they are. She belatedly realizes she hasn’t got any idea who Farbauti spends time with. Or avoiding.

They slide out of their outerwear and settle into a booth towards the back of the place. Farbauti keeps her scarf on. It’s wrapped up over her hair and covering most of her face. When she sips her coffee, the fabric slips a little and Frigga gets a quick glimpse of betadine-stained skin peeking out from under surgical tape along her cheekbone.

“Hey,” Frigga says softly. She can’t keep it in anymore. “Is everything okay?”

“Loki’s with my boss,” Farbauti says bluntly. “She’s been watching him since Sunday. It’s a long story.” She blots her nose with a wadded paper napkin. “Do you think could watch him tomorrow? I hate to put you on the spot, but he loves Thor and he would-.” She stops and shifts in her seat uncomfortably. “I shouldn’t even ask. I’m sorry.”

“No no, t’s fine,” Frigga assures her. “I’d love to. Thor will be so excited! Should I come pick Loki up?” Farbauti’s address is mystery, but she lives somewhere in the general vicinity of Helen and Dag’s apartment so it’s not going to be a major expedition.

Farbauti shakes her head. “I’ll drop him off,” she says. “Is 7:30 too early?”

Frigga would take him now if she could. “That’s perfect,” she says. “I’ll make everybody breakfast.” She takes a sip of her coffee and looks at Farbauti over the cup’s rim. “In the meantime, is there anything I can do to help you?”

Farbauti gives her a little half-shrug. “I’m good. But thank you for asking. And especially for taking Loki.”

“Any time,” Frigga says. For good or bad, she means it.

Chapter Text

It's not like Frigga's all that out-of-practice when it comes to dealing with two-year-olds. Not long ago she had one herself, along with his collection of little friends.

But Loki is- different. When Farbauti'd dropped him off earlier, she'd had to pry him off her leg. Twice. And although Frigga knows from past experience that the little guy has a set of lungs on him, he hadn't screamed and he hadn't wailed. He'd just stood there in front of the picture window, little hands gripping the sill, and silently watched his mother drive away as big tears rolled down his face and dripped off his small, pointy chin.

That was two hours ago.

Loki's still quiet and still noiselessly weeping. Frigga’d gotten him to eat most of a somber, soggy breakfast, but he’d marched right back to the window as soon as she'd set him free. And there he stands, reminding her of a poor, sad dog waiting for its master. "Hey, kiddo," she tries. Playing hasn't tempted him in the least; maybe working will. She squats down beside him and joins him in looking out the window. "Do you think you can help me with something?"

He frowns and wipes his nose on his sleeve. The gesture is so very, very Thor that Frigga's heart hurts. "Loki?" He finally looks at her... and nods. She bites back a this'll be fun, you'll see, because fun doesn't seem to be what's he's into. And how sad is that? He's so young. "Thank you," she says, getting to her feet and holding out a hand. "Here, come with me. I'll show you."

~

They make cookies. Frigga does all the mixing and measuring, but Loki gets to help scoop up the dough (he holds the spoon with her while she provides the muscle) and pick out each little ball with sticky fingers. He's much more careful than Thor, and clearly bothered when a blob lands wrong. The first time one misses the cookie sheet entirely and plops directly on the tabletop, Loki lets out a choked little squeak and almost slips out of the booster seat in his rush to- run and hide, maybe. It’s not at all what she expected.

"Shh," Frigga soothes. "It's okay. See?" She holds the lump of dough up to show him. "You want to try again?"

He doesn't. He won't. Nothing she does coaxes him to even touch the spoon. Finally she gives in; she doesn't want to torture him. "Well," she says, smiling at his wide-eyed, wet face. "I'll just finish these myself and you can keep me company." She grabs some paper towels and a plastic bowl full of water and sets everything on the table in front of him. "But first, why don’t we wash our hands?"

~

Later on Frigga leads him into her office and sits him on the floor with paper and thick crayons. She doesn't try to help him, and she doesn't ask him to talk... she just sits at her desk and reads. Well, she pretends to. Mostly she covertly watches as Loki draws. Here, too, he's much more careful and precise than her own son is. No broken crayons, no crumpled pages, no long red lines across one of her shoes or up onto the chair.

As he wears himself out with all that concentrating, Loki gradually shifts until he's cuddled up against her calf. She reaches down and carefully touches his head, half expecting him to startle. What he does is almost worse: he heaves a huge sigh and starts back in on the silent crying.

"How about a nap," she offers. "We can get a blankie and you can stay right here with me.”

Loki shakes his head no, quite a bit more frantically than the question warrants. Frigga makes a mental note to do a little research on anxiety and depression in young children before her next babysitting stint, because there’s probably a right way to handle this sort of thing and she can’t help but think she hasn’t found it. “Okay,” she says as cheerfully as she can. “That’s fine. You can keep drawing if you want to.”

Eventually he can no longer keep his eyes open. Frigga looks at him crumpled in a little heap on the run, eyes shut and mouth open, one small fist still clutching the green crayon. He has the perfect porcelain face of an angel.

An angel that needs a haircut.

Not that Thor doesn’t. Her son had thrown a tantrum the first time anyone had tried, and since then letting his mop grow unchecked has become an inside joke and then a mission.

Loki looks more like someone tried to neaten him up and then abandoned the whole thing as waste of effort. One messy curl is caught in his long black lashes. He has a smear of cookie dough on his cheek.

Frigga stretches out of her chair and hooks the afghan up off the loveseat with two fingers. The blanket slips out of her hand and settles around Loki like a pale grey cloud. It may just be the cutest thing she’s seen in a long time. She grabs her phone and takes a quick picture.

~

As the afternoon wears on Frigga can’t shake the sinking feeling that Farbauti has just left Loki here. They hadn’t really made concrete plans anyway – she doesn’t even know where Farbauti is, or why she’s been asked to babysit, and in hindsight she should probably have asked a few (yes, a lot) more questions – but things just don’t feel right.

She leaves a note on the door, on the off chance she’s wrong. The last thing she wants is to cause Farbauti undue stress. “Let’s go get Thor,” she suggests, hoisting Loki up and tucking him into Thor’s stroller. She hasn’t got a second car seat for her car – the other one’s in Odin’s – and it’s not worth the risk of driving around with someone unfastened. Plus a walk to and from Thor’s preschool will do them all good.

Predictably, Thor is absolutely thrilled. He wants to carry Loki home, which is sweet in concept but hopeless in execution. Frigga finally ends up with Thor in the stroller and Loki curled up in his lap. She does make the straps work. Even so, and not for the first time, she can’t help but think how much easier life would have been if she’d only thought to bring along the duct tape.

No one cries on the way home.

Farbauti is parked in the driveway when they get back to the house. She’s leaning against the trunk of her car, still wrapped in her scarf. She smiles and waves as they come around the corner

“Hi Loki’s mommy,” Thor calls out. “Mommy mommy!” He reaches up and tries to tug at Frigga’s hand. Loki startles awake and then yawns, rubbing both eyes with small, pink, balled-up fists. Thor squeezes him. “Mommy! Look! It’s Loki’s mommy.”

Frigga unfastens Loki. He reaches out to his mother; Farbauti scoops him up and snuggles him against her front. “Thanks again,” she tells Frigga. Up close she has big dark circles under her eyes and a fresh, white bandage across her cheek. “I hope he wasn’t too much of a problem.”

“Not at all,” Frigga assures Farbauti. She lays a gentle hand against Loki’s back. “He was a sweetheart. He’s welcome any time. You both are.”

Chapter Text

At three years old Loki reads well above his age level. He speaks in full sentences and can hold his own in conversation (with adults, even) far better than most of Thor’s five-year-old peers. School officials feel he’s just too young for kindergarten – there’s no way they can justify that sort of exception, they say; no child his age is socially mature enough to bridge a two-year gap – but they do agree to let him into their advanced/”head start” preschool a full year early.

Which means he’s able to start at Big Kid School in the fall, the same as Thor.

Most days Farbauti drops Loki off at the Borson household on her way to- whatever she does during the day now that he’s not around. Frigga has never pushed to get an explanation; sometimes it’s just better not to know.

Sometimes Loki has had breakfast before he gets there. Most days, he hasn’t. It’s fine for a while but, as winter approaches, things seem to be going gradually downhill… several times Loki shows up dirty and yawning, wearing the same stained clothing he’d spilled maple syrup on the morning before. Twice in early December he falls asleep at the kitchen table while Thor is busy talking. Once he doesn’t show up at all, and Frigga finds him shivering on the steps outside.

The day he shows up at the door – no Farbauti in sight - with a black eye, Frigga steels herself and vows to deal with it. “Look, we need to talk,” she tells his mother that afternoon as they stand together watching Loki following Thor around the yard. “I don’t mean to pry, but-.”

“Right,” Farbauti cuts in. “Then don’t. Seriously.”

“Your business is your own,” Frigga goes on. “I get that. But if someone is hurting Loki, I- I can’t just stand by and let it happen.”

Farbauti gives her a long, considering look. “You can’t help us. Not beyond what you do already, I mean. Don’t take this wrong, but you should stay out of it.”

“I probably should,” Frigga agrees. “But I can’t watch such a sweet little boy get hurt and just stay quiet.”

“If you tell the school they’ll take him away from me,” Farbauti warns. “And then I’ll have nothing. Loki will have nothing. He won’t even be able to see Thor anymore. And maybe you’ll feel better, maybe you won’t. But the only thing you’ll have done is hurt all of us.” She puts a hand to her mouth. Her forehead and hand are bruised; in this light, it’s shockingly obvious. “I’m sorry,” she goes on after a few seconds. Tears streak her face; her silent crying reminds Frigga of her young son. “You didn’t deserve that. You’ve been nothing but nice. And you’re a good person. But there’s only so much anyone can do, and- and you’ve already done it.”

Frigga takes a deep breath. “You’re welcome here any time, and I’ll always help you if you want me to. I mean it. But we all have to look out for Loki. He’s too little to fend for himself.”

“He’s smart,” Farbauti tells her. “He’ll do fine.”

He’s sensitive, too. Frigga’s not at all sure how fine he will be. “Promise me whatever this is won’t happen again,” she insists.

“Boys get banged up,” Farbauti counters. “I’m sure that even your precious Thor gets the occasional bruise. You can’t sit here and tell me-… Loki, come here, honey. We need to go home. Look,” she tells Frigga, “I just can’t have this conversation. Thank you for your concern. We’re fine. Loki, now. “ She grabs his hand and starts backing away. “Let’s go.”

~

Afterwards, Thor cries. He doesn’t understand.

Frigga’s pretty sure she does understand; because she does, she cries too.

~

Farbauti shows up Monday morning like nothing’s happened, coffee in hand and Loki in tow. His black eye has gone from purple to yellow-green, and he’s extra-skittish, but otherwise everything seems perfectly normal. As normal as it gets, anyway. Which is normal enough, probably. No new bruises, no crying. No arguments. No fights.

~

The four of them – five, if you count Odin - fall right back into their regular routine. Farbauti drops Loki off every morning and picks him up every night.

Right up until the day she doesn’t.

It’s a Thursday, a couple of weeks before Christmas. There’s snow on the ground and more falling. It’s not a nice day outside, but the weather’s nothing crazy. In fact everyone who’s lived here for more than a season has driven in worse. As 9:00 PM rolls around and it’s time to put a very wound-up, overtired Thor and Loki to bed, Frigga gives Farbauti the benefit of the doubt. The snow has kept on falling all evening. The main roads are slippery; the back ones are even worse. It’s good to be careful, and there’s no reason Loki can’t stay over. Sure, a phone call would have been nice, but they’ll live.

Loki and Thor fall asleep together, piled in a tangled heap in Thor’s bed. When Frigga goes in to check on them around midnight, they’re still curled up in a messy heap. “Take care of each other,” she whispers. The world’s a hard place. “We’ll get everything straightened out tomorrow.”

~

Friday morning Frigga helps the boys get ready for school. Loki gets stuck in his shirt and there are a few tears, but it’s nothing she can’t handle. They have pancakes to make up for it, and things are fine.

Friday afternoon, there’s still no Farbauti. Frigga checks the news; nothing. “Should we call someone,” she asks Odin that evening as the two of them watch Loki and Thor crashing Thor’s wooden racecars all over the track. It’s mostly Thor slamming things around, while Loki giggles. Neither boy seems to have noticed that anything’s the matter.

~

By Sunday morning, Frigga and Odin are pretty concerned. Frigga is calling the local hospitals and Loki is asking for his mama. “I’m sure she’ll come back as soon as she can,” she tells him. Whenever that might be. She wipes away his tears with gentle fingers and kisses the tip of his pink button nose. “She will. I know it.”

That night, after the boys have run themselves ragged and end up needing to be scooped up and carried to bed, she and Odin have a serious conversation. “What if Farbauti never comes back,” she asks. “What if she’s dead or something?”

Odin frowns. He rubs a hand over his face. “Then I guess we keep him,” he tells her. “He’s a good kid. Quiet. It’s not like we’re going to really notice him anyway… certainly not enough to be a bother. Not if he stays like this.” He pulls her in for a hug. “What choice do we have, really?”

Chapter Text

Monday afternoon, about two hours before the point where Frigga would normally start making her way over to Thor’s (and Loki’s) school, the doorbell sounds. She leaves the chain on as she answers the door, because this time of day visitors almost always bring some sort of annoying fundraiser or a door-to-door sales offer. Nothing she wants to address, in other words, and no one she wants to see. But with a home office she can't just ignore the whole thing and risk missing an unexpected, urgent delivery.

"Hi," Farbauti says as Frigga gapes. "I'm so sorry."

"It's not me you should be-," Frigga starts in, cutting herself short as she notices how awkwardly Farbauti's standing. "Hey, are you okay?"

Farbauti shrugs and doesn't quite manage to hide a grimace. "They tell me- it's just bruised- and not broken,” she says. “But I guess I've been better."

"Here, come in," Frigga suggests as she unhitches the door chain. "Sit down. The kids aren't home yet." She offers Farbauti an arm and steers her gently into the kitchen. "Can I get you something?"

Farbauti sips at her water and slowly, haltingly tells her tale. She has two bruised ribs, she explains, which she’d gotten when her ex had stopped by without warning… only to find she had a friend over. A male friend, yes, but there'd been nothing more to it. They'd been talking, only talking. Swapping stories about their children. Her ex had come barreling in and had pretty much thrown the guy bodily out onto the sidewalk... and then he’d gone after her. "My friend has dark hair," she tells Frigga. "Laufey insisted the guy was Loki's father."

Huh. Frigga says nothing; just nods and smiles encouragingly… and then quietly waits for Farbauti to catch her breath and continue.

"It's because of his size," Farbauti says softly. "And how he's- not rough and tumble like his brothers. Laufey's sure I cheated. He doesn't think Loki's really his... and I swear he hates- both me and Loki for it."

Oh, goodness. "That's awful," Frigga says. Words have pretty deserted her. "That must be- hard. More than hard." And now the two of them - mother and son - aren't safe in their own home, even. "Can you change the locks or something?"

Farbauti huffs out a jagged laugh; it ends in a whimper. She presses a hand against her side. "No point," she grits out between shallow breaths. "He broke- the crap out of- the doorframe."

She has to go someplace. And like it or not there aren't a lot of options, at least not until Farbauti is feeling well enough to fake it in front of her young son. Volstagg and his roommate Hilde, Frigga thinks. They're never above taking in strays, and Volstagg's someone no one in his right mind would ever mess with. And neither would most anyone else, either. "If I find you someplace to hole up for a few days, until you heal up a little," she asks carefully, "will you take me up on it?"

Farbauti tries to pull herself up straight and fails. "As long as it's not some shelter."

"No no, it's Thor's old babysitter," Frigga explains, shaking her head. "I would call him a college kid, because he kind of is.” Volstagg is in trade school, studying to be an HVAC tech, and there never seems to be a good, quick way to explain that. “But that just doesn't do him justice. Anyway, he’ll keep you safe. I know it.”

“Mm.” Farbauti’s eyes narrow. In the sun from the window they’re nearly as pale as her son’s. “And what about Loki?”

Frigga takes a deep breath. “He can stay here with the three of us. Only until you’re back on your feet,” she hastily adds as Farbauti starts to argue. “As soon as you feel like you can handle him again, he can stay there with you.” She probably shouldn’t be speaking on behalf of Volstagg, but he’s never once backed away from the opportunity to do anyone most any kind of favor. That, and he and his roommate – Hilde acts an awful lot like his girlfriend, but they both insist otherwise; Frigga figures they must be friends with benefits, or else maybe they’re just drowning in denial - have that enormous dog. Farbauti will be as safe with them as she could possibly be, anywhere around here. At least, she’ll be safe as long as no one shows up with a weapon. “Will you try it?”

“Mm,” Farbauti hums again. “I guess I kind of have to. I mean, we can’t live in my car anymore.”

Ugh. That explains a lot. More than anyone wants it to.

~

With the basics sorted out making the actual, detailed arrangements doesn’t take long at all. As expected, Volstagg is happy to oblige. Farbauti has what she needs to get by in her overnight bag, that and stuffed in the car. She follows Frigga to Volstagg’s place – he rents the upstairs of Fandral’s father’s garage, it’s roomy, but calling it an apartment is being far, far too kind – and ultimately does agree to stay there. At least for a day or two.

“I need to get back,” Frigga tells the three of them (and the dog) after they get Farbauti’s things stashed in what serves as the guestroom. “I have to go pick up our boys.” She touches Farbauti’s hand, gently. “I’ll check in with you tomorrow, okay?” And then she turns to go before anyone can see how close she is to crying.

~

“Where’s mama,” Loki asks again as Frigga fastens him into his car seat. She’s got them both in her car now. “Why isn’t she here?”

Frigga cringes. It’s awkward and sad, and she’s not really sure how to handle it. This kind of thing doesn’t come with a manual. “Your mom hasn’t been feeling well,” she tells him. He watches her intently; he looks worn out, though his black eye has finally completely faded. “But as soon as she’s better, you’ll be able to go see her. How does that sound?”

He frowns. “B-but I want to see her now,” he protests.

Frigga hugs him. “I know, sweetie,” she says. “She wants to see you too. Soon.” She hopes she’s right, and that wishing makes it true.

Chapter Text

A few days before the school year draws to a close, Frigga sits on the deck with a glass of lemonade and thinks about how everything – and nothing – has changed.

In the first few weeks after her disappearance Farbauti had continued to bounce around some, but eventually the whole Volstagg-and-Hilde arrangement had stuck. With that straightened out, over the past few months, things have really started to settle down. Even now Farbauti and her son are still living with Volstagg and Hilde. Well, to be precise, she and her Loki are actually living behind the two of them. Early on, when the strain of having everyone forced into sharing one open living space had gotten to be too much, Fandral’s father and uncle had devoted several weekends to turning the long-unused, unfinished storage space (two floors, with a few oddly-situated, barred windows, an internal staircase, and – best of all, considering the situation - a choice of exiting the building via one of the fire doors in an emergency or out through the service bays the rest of the time) into a workable apartment.

Farbauti’s told Frigga she’s happy there. It’s more than a little industrial and probably not to everyone’s taste, she’d explained, and she and Loki do have to watch where they walk coming through the bays or else they risk tracking oil onto their carpets. Still, it’s a good place. It works for them, nicely. Farbauti says she especially likes it because it’s safe and secure; as long as they don’t prop open the emergency exits there’s really no way someone one can manage to sneak up on them. And if one of the doors is open, the alarm sounds. She calls it comforting, which Frigga doesn’t doubt in the slightest.

Loki likes it too, or so he often shares with Frigga when she’s toting him back and forth to school. From his childish perspective, the best part is how the place is so interesting. He likes looking out over the restaurant patio behind the apartment, and climbing up and down the funny, carpeted staircase with its big, square landing and doubled upper course. The location is nice, too – he especially likes how the library is just two doors down from the building, which means his mother can take him there twice a week right after supper. He also really likes the barred windows… because they’re good for when he and Thor play zoo.

Thor in turn likes it because Loki lives much closer now. The Borson house sits a couple of short blocks south of the little park, in an area that’s nearly all residential, but the garage is directly north of the park itself and only a street away.

It’s a good area, with nicer apartments over shops and cute restaurants. Frigga has to guess it’s better than wherever Farbauti and her family had lived previously… even without the Laufey situation. She hasn’t asked, though, and she doesn’t intend to.

On the weekends the two little families sometimes meet up in the park and then all walk back to the apartment together. Frigga and Odin are okay with Thor visiting Loki there, as long as all the adults are with him. There’s a commercial alarm system in the building itself, and the place sits in the middle of a busy block that gets a lot of foot traffic. All told, it’s not the kind of place someone’s going to be able catch someone unprotected. That, and anyone visiting (good or bad, welcome or otherwise) has to run the gauntlet past Fandral’s father… and then past Volstagg. It’s fine when you’re friendly. Frigga doesn’t think she’d like to see how it plays out when you’re foe.

From everything Frigga can tell the change has been good for Farbauti. In the months since she and Loki more or less officially moved in behind the garage full-time, Frigga hasn’t seen a mark on her. Or on Loki, for that matter. They both still have their moments – times when they’re anxious and easily startled and afraid of their own shadows – and Frigga still stumbles into off-limits topics from time to time, but Farbauti smiles more and more frequently and Loki- Loki is a little kid again. He’s happy and carefree, like he should, be. Like he hasn’t had the chance to be since he was a baby.

Frigga takes another sip of her lemonade. It’s a hot June afternoon, the first real indication of warmer weather to come. Summer. Cookouts and pool time and everybody’s kids turning another year older. She should be inside working, but it’s just too nice for that. Her computer’s in on her desk; she isn’t even pretending to be working outside.

She’s still sitting out behind the house thinking when Odin comes home.

~

Sure enough, it’s a lovely summer.

~

School gets underway. Right on schedule the weather turns just a little colder. The days are still hot but most evenings there’s a distinct chill in the air. It won’t be long before the leaves are turning. Just now they’re midway through Friday afternoon, and Frigga has already put the bulk of the week’s work behind her. Odin had called about an hour ago; he’d decided to take off a little early (“How many nice days like this do we have left?” he’d asked – rhetorically – “and why would we want to waste one?”) and had volunteered to pick up the kids.

It hadn’t taken him long, either. A couple of minutes ago she’d heard the car door slam and then the three of them had all come flying around the corner of the house and out into the backyard together.

The boys have already made it into the sandbox before she’s even had a chance to say hello to her husband. Thor is solid and Loki is surprisingly fast… they tumble together like puppies. “Come back here, you two,” she calls out over the deck railing as Odin heads inside to set his bag down. “Don’t be thinking you can get away with not telling me about school.”

They do as they’re asked, cheerfully. Frigga loves the way both boys still enjoy talking with her. Thor clambers up onto the bench beside her and tugs and jostles until he’s pulled Loki half into his lap. After barely a minute in the sandbox they’re both already more than a little sandy, and they talk over one another in their hurry to list off the week’s high points. Frigga thinks she gets the bit about people visiting and show-and-tell and something about snakes, but the rest is just a giggly jumble.

“Hey, you two,” Odin says as he comes back outside by way of the kitchen. He sneaks Frigga a piece of chocolate; she stealthily pops it into her mouth and hums, smiling up at him. “Who wants to go to the park?”

“Do you think we should call Farbauti,” he asks, raising his voice over the chorus of me me me. “Maybe she’d like to go with us. Rockin’ the park after school… It will be just like the good old days.”

“Not just like them,” Frigga says. There won’t be big bruises, for starters. Still, it’s a great idea anyway. “But, sure,” she agrees. “I’ll give her a quick shout… see if she wants to meet us there, since it’s right on top of her apartment.”

“We’ll take the car,” Odin suggests. “That way we can grab dinner while we’re out if anyone wants to.”

Frigga laughs: the boys bounce up and down shrieking, “I do! I do!”

Chapter Text

At fourteen, Heimdall is just as staid as ever and at least twice as intimidating. Frigga loves having him babysit; he’s great with Thor (and even better with Loki, who paradoxically manages to be around even more now that both boys are in school full-time) and she never has to give him so much as an ounce of direction.

Which is why - when he asks to meet with her - she takes it every bit as seriously as she would if a fellow adult had asked her.

He’s so self-possessed, she marvels as he takes a seat in her office and folds his hands neatly in his lap. She’s confident she hadn’t even developed (anything close to) this kind of poise by the time she’d graduated college. “You wanted to talk to me,” she says after he declines her offer of something to drink. “Is anything the matter?”

Heimdall frowns. “I’m not sure… maybe? I think so,” he tells her. “I try to let the kids play among themselves without interfering, but- well, I can’t help but hear them talk, you know? And once I hear something that sounds strange, I keep an eye out.” He looks very- earnest. It’s scaring her a little, honestly.

“I know,” Frigga says. “It’s one of things that makes you so good at taking care of the young ones.” She doesn’t push. She doesn’t need to; from considerable past experience, if she lets him go at his own pace, he’ll get there eventually. “Is there anything I can help with?”

He sighs. “The kids are picking on Loki,” he admits. “At school. They take his stuff and hold it over his head and make him jump for it. And a couple of days ago I saw one of the second-graders push him in the dirt. I told the playground monitor,” he adds, “but I don’t think she believed me.”

Frigga squints. Heimdall’s got to be the most trustworthy teenager she’s ever met, and his own younger sister is in second grade. There’s just no reason not to believe him. “Why-.” No, she doesn’t want to take that route. “What did she say when you told her,” she tries instead.

Heimdall shrugs. “She looked at me kind of funny and then went to check with Loki. Just like always.”

“And?”

He chews his lip. She waits, patiently.

“And I could hear them talking. Sure enough, Loki lied.” He sighs again, in clear frustration. “He always lies. Even when I try talking to him one-on-one, even when I tell him I saw what happened, he lies. Right to my face if he has to.”

Kids do that. Frigga knows they do. When he was the same age Loki is now, she remembers, it was not the least bit unusual to catch Thor chocolate-smeared and still get a ridiculous story about what awful fate had befallen the last of the cookies. Still, something about this particular situation troubles her. “I’ll see what I can find out,” she assures Heimdall. “I won’t tell him who’s asking.”

“Don’t worry if Loki finds out,” he tells her. “I’m not his friend; I’m his babysitter.” He laughs. “He doesn’t have to like me.”

~

“Hi, Loki,” Frigga says when he and Thor show up at the door. She still drives them most days, but on nice sunny afternoons Thor wants to walk home from school and every now and then she lets him. Given what Heimdall’d just told her, though, she’s starting to wonder if she needs to rethink that. “Come sit with me for a minute. I want to ask you something.”

He pushes himself up into the chair opposite hers and sits with his little feet swinging. He’s so tiny compared to her son. Tiny, and with a huge chip on his bony little shoulder. It’s – sadly – not the least bit difficult to picture the other kids bullying him. The two of them eye one another for a minute or so, Frigga with her hands loosely folded and Loki picking absent-mindedly at a hangnail on his thumb.

“That’s quite a bruise,” she ultimately offers, gesturing towards his leg. Both of Loki’s knees are black-and-blue and scabby, as is one of his wrists. “Do you remember how that happened?”

He purses his lips and looks up towards the ceiling. It’s the finest bit of faked thinking she’s seen since her years of high school drama club. “I tripped,” he says. “I stepped on my own shoelace,” he adds, warming to the subject. “Mr. Coulson always reminds us to watch out for that but” – he shrugs, dramatically – “I forget sometimes. I’ll be more careful.”

Frigga studies Loki for another moment. His too-long black hair, his pointy-chinned, pale face. He’s reading her body language and putting on precisely the right expression. “That’s smart,” she tells him. “Say, I hear some of the bigger kids are bullying the younger ones.” She keeps her voice neutral, like this is nothing. Just your average, everyday conversation. “Have you heard of anything like that happening?”

If she hadn’t been watching so closely, she couldn’t possibly have seen the quick flash of- fear, probably, across his small face. “It’s okay,” she says softly. “If you have, don’t worry. I’m not upset and you won’t be in trouble.”

“I will be if anyone tells my mother,” Loki mumbles.

Sweetie, you’re five. If Farbauti’s already after you for that sort of thing, she’s part of the problem. “If something’s going on at school,” she tries instead, “I need to know so I can help you with it.”

He makes eye contact briefly and then looks at his hands, at her desk, at the wall, at the ceiling. Anywhere he safely can. “I tripped,” he insists, decisively. “It’s fine. I promise.”

Frigga makes a mental note to speak with the principal anyway. “Okay,” she concedes. “If something does happen, you’ll let me know, won’t you?”

“Of course, Mrs. Borson,” he tells her, all big eyes and sincerity. “But you can ask anybody. I’m just clumsy.”

Clumsy like your mother’s clumsy, she thinks to herself. “I don’t need to check up on you,” she tells him. “I trust you. Go ahead out back,” she adds as he wriggles a little in his seat. “I’m sure Thor’s waiting for you.”

And then she feels bad, watching him go. Guilty. She’s the grown-up… she should know better.

Chapter Text

Frigga shifts awkwardly in her seat. The wooden chair is just small and flat and upright enough to (look fine while somehow managing to) be singularly uncomfortable. Her coffee has to be stone cold by now, too, and with each passing second she's that much more unpleasantly aware that she shouldn't have run inside “for a minute” without locking her vehicle.

"You and your son are free to go, Mrs. Borson," the principle's administrative assistant points out for what must be the tenth time in half an hour, easily. "Like I told you, Thor isn't in any trouble."

"Thank you," Frigga says firmly, "but we'll stay. You have no idea how quickly Far- how quickly Loki's mom will be able to get here." She looks across the waiting area, to the bright orange vinyl-upholstered chair Loki and Thor share. Loki's skinny arms are still folded tight across his equally skinny chest, and he's glaring off into the middle distance, but his jutting lower lip is wobbling. Thor's gallantly trying to interest him in a children's magazine.

"You aren't the boy's guardian," the assistant reminds Frigga. Again. "And while I do realize you have Mrs. Naljarson's permission to transport her son to and from school," she presses on before Frigga can interrupt (also again), "we can't release him to you under these circumstances."

"Circumstances," Frigga huffs, mostly to herself. She's really trying to mind her own manners but the whole thing is getting ridiculous. From what she’s been told Loki put gum in another child's hair. Nice? Of course not. But then again, who hasn't?

It’s certainly not a federal offense.

"You're welcome to continue to wait, of course," the assistant assures her, false-cheerfully. "If we're lucky it won't be much longer."

If we were lucky, Frigga thinks, none of this would even be happening. She gulps down a large mouthful of cold coffee. "Boys," she says brightly, "which one of you would like to read me a story?"

~

"I'm so sorry," Farbauti exclaims as she whips into the waiting area like a small tornado. Her hair is flying out of its ponytail and the legs and seat of her jeans are a little muddy. "I couldn't leave work until I'd found someone to cover for me." She's held a variety of odd jobs over the time Frigga’s known her; this one, cashing people out at the bigger local garden center, seems to be working out best for her. It's a good place full of friendly people and for once she seems mostly happy.

She smiles a little quizzically at the jumbled heap of arms and legs that is Loki and Thor. She looks worn out. "Come here, Loki sweetie. Mr. Fury wants to talk to us before we leave."

"We're reading to mama," Thor tells her. "Loki's busy."

Frigga smiles. "It's okay, Thor. You can finish reading, but Loki needs to go with his mama. Maybe afterwards," she adds, mostly to Farbauti, "they can come over for dinner."

Farbauti rolls her eyes. "First let me see what we're in for."

~

In the end, it takes a good bit of talking to quite a few people - teachers, parents, Heimdall, school officials, and a handful of (to varying degrees) desperately lying children - before Frigga feels like she's close to putting the while thing together.

“As best I can tell,” she explains to Odin that Friday evening - one of those rare occasions when Loki’s gone home with his own mother and Thor and Heimdall were last seen hunched over Thor’s math homework in the kitchen - “Loki caught Sif and Thor- well, doing what Thor's teacher euphemistically terms playing doctor.” She can feel her face flushing, which is stupid, and that just makes her blush all the harder. “Now I talked to our son,” she soldiers on, gamely pretending she isn’t lighting up like Rudolph’s nose at Christmas. “He swears he was only showing Sif the way boys pee standing up. After she asked him to, at that. ‘Maybe she was watching really closely’… that’s what he told me when I pressed the issue.” She can’t help but laugh in spite of herself, because the whole mess is surreal and she doesn’t even know how they got here. “He just kept insisting that the school bathrooms are tiny. It seems ‘the two of them could hardly squish in even with the door open.’”

Maybe it’s right, maybe it’s wrong. Either way, she leaves off the last part of the tale, the part where Thor – wide-eyed and deadly serious - had gone on to complain that Sif was just too big; it hadn’t, he insisted, been nearly as nice as going in there together with Loki.

“It’s a good story,” Odin admits. “You have to give that much to him.”

It is. It’s almost a story worthy of Loki.

Thor’s second grade class is really two classes that share a single large classroom. They split up for the special subjects like art and gym – all the bells and whistles Frigga and Odin fight for every year at budget time – and that means Thor hadn’t even been in the room as the rest of Loki’s tale had unfolded. Instead he’d been, both he and his teacher told her, off making collages out of construction paper and old magazines.

Without her son as a (creative, sure, but still…) witness, Frigga’d been stuck piecing things together from several different sources. By all accounts Loki's counterattack, when it came, was stealthy and swift and decisive. He’d lain in wait outside the door of (Thor’s and) Sif's classroom - which raises the question of why he was out loose to start with, and that’s something no one at the school has managed to answer to Frigga's satisfaction - and freely admits to sticking freshly chewed gum in her hair. He even admits he got the gum in question from Heimdall, who is impossibly contrite.

“He used it on my very own little sister,” Heimdall told Frigga the day after the Big Event. “And for once I’m not even sure she deserved it.”

“Poor Heimdall promised me he’s going to carry – his words – ‘a heightened level of suspicion into each and every encounter,’” Frigga tells Odin. Heimdall’s so grown up nowadays. The whole situation would almost be funny, except for how it isn’t. “I think he’s afraid we won’t trust him anymore. Or maybe he thinks that we blame him.”

Odin shakes his head. “We deal with these two almost every day. I hope you told him he really shouldn’t worry.”

~

Loki swears he had nothing to do with the ink. Or the superglue. And he insists he didn't laugh when Sif finally started crying (or later on, when the school nurse had to cut nearly all Sif's hair off to get all the gunk out of it). “I don’t know,” he wails over and over, every time anyone asks why Sif is no longer speaking to him.

After one round of questioning too many, all he will do is cry.

Frigga feels sorry for every single one of them, but the damage is already done. More than anything she misses the days when they were younger; the days when she could still magically hand-wave their troubles away.

Chapter Text

Odin lines the two of them up on the hard plastic chairs and then squats down to silently look them over. They’re both old enough now to recognize in so much trouble when they see it; Thor is on the edge of crying and Loki stares blankly at nothing. Thor’s clothes and hands are filthy, and there’s a big smudge of dried blood on Loki’s upper lip. It matches the smears on the backs of both hands, and the crusting around his left nostril. His left eye will be black by morning.

“Okay,” Odin says heavily. Principal Fury is talking to the other kids (and their parents); he and the boys going to be on their own out here for several more minutes. “Now’s your chance. Tell me what happened.”

“You won’t believe us,” Loki says. He doesn’t sound defiant anymore; just bluntly defeated.

“Try me,” Odin says. “Seriously,” he adds when neither boy speaks up. “Tell me anyway.”

Thor fidgets for a long moment. He’s losing the battle. Odin’s still his papa; he can’t hold out as well or as long as Loki. “One of the older kids said Loki’s mama is a hooker,” he admits. He sounds stunned, and rightly so; the whole thing knocks the breath right out of Odin. “And that his papa left because anyone could be his daddy. And that he’s the reason she can’t earn any money.”

Odin clears his throat. Shit. “Do you know what any of that means, honey?”

“It’s really bad,” Thor says, solemn and wide-eyed. “All the grown-ups said so.”

Okay. That isn’t so bad, maybe. “It is,” Odin agrees. “It’s an awful thing to say. What happened next?”

“I hit him,” Loki says quietly. He shakes his shaggy hair out of his bloodstained face. “For mama.”

What do you say to that? Not for the first time since he’d gotten Fury’s call, Odin wishes his wife could be here with him. Frigga is meeting with one of her larger clients, though, and that’s the kind of thing Odin knows he can’t just interrupt because parenting is scary. “It looks like he hit you back,” he observes. Loki’s nose is running now, the snot pink-tinged and messy.

Frigga would have a tissue. That’s why she’s the mom and he- isn’t.

“Two of them did,” Thor cuts in. “And when I tried to pull them off somebody tripped me.”

“And where was your teacher when this was going on,” Odin asks. It’s not like they were out playing in the front yard at home. He expects school to be better supervised, for starters.

“By the slide,” Thor says, just as the door to Mr. Fury’s office opens. They all turn to see the other two families file out, grim-faced and hurrying. Thor sits up very straight and glances worriedly at Odin.

Loki sticks out his chin. He looks like he’s ready to flatten somebody… just as soon as his nose stops dripping. Both kids are big, a lot bigger than even Thor. Which makes sense. They’re nine, maybe even ten already. Their parents shuttle them out. No one speaks, no one looks in Odin’s direction.

No one except the principal, that is. Odin can’t quite read his expression.

“Mr. Borson, come in.” Mr. Fury’s off-center tie is the only visible sign that he’s having a challenging afternoon. “And bring the boys with you.”

In place of the row of chairs Odin remembers from his own younger days, Mr. Fury’s office sports a long leather sofa. If it weren’t for the imposing wooden desk, a trip to the principal would feel an awful lot like therapy. And maybe that’s actually not so far from the truth, once he stops to think about it.

They don’t really get yelled at, any of them. Mr. Fury is concerned about Loki’s injuries, first and foremost, and then about what was said. He asks Odin’s thoughts on discussing the whole thing with Farbauti. Loki gets a quick, sternly-delivered little speech on how disagreements should be settled via teachers and words, not with fists. “Loki,” Mr. Fury says once they’ve all pretty much run out of things to say. “Can I speak with you alone for a minute?”

Loki’s had too rough an afternoon already. Odin wants nothing more than to shield him. “I’ll send Thor outside if you want me to,” Odin offers. “But anything you need to say to Loki, you can say in front of me.”

“I’m sure I can.” Mr. Fury steeples his hands, the tip of one index finger just touching his chin. “But I don’t want Loki to feel uncomfortable talking freely.”

The kid is five. Five. Loki shifts closer to Odin, his arm and leg warmer than the leather. “It’s okay,” he says. “He’s pretty much my dad anyway.”

Mr. Fury looks at the three of them for a good half-minute. “Thor,” he says, finally. “Would you mind waiting for us outside? We’ll come get you in the waiting area in a couple of minutes.”

It’s fine. The administrative assistant will keep things in line. Maybe, Odin thinks, they should move her desk out to the playground.

“Is everything okay at home,” Mr. Fury asks Loki. “With you and your mom, I mean. Not with the Borsons.”

He doesn’t live with us, Odin almost clarifies. In the end he just lets it all go, because he doesn’t want Loki to feel- rejected. To feel like they don’t want him at their house, which of course isn’t true at all.

“Mom has to work,” Loki says. He doesn’t say “mama” or “papa” anymore, unless he’s talking to Odin and Frigga. “She isn’t doing anything bad. She loves me.” He presses up against Odin. “She isn’t going to get in trouble, is she?”

The principal shakes his head. “I do want to talk to her,” he admits. “But you don’t need to worry.” He doesn’t sound very convincing, at least to Odin’s ears, and Loki huddles that much closer.

“She’s at work right now,” Odin repeats, even though no one has asked him. “Two of the cashiers called in sick. There just wasn’t any way she could leave.”

Mr. Fury fixes him with a look Odin’s thankful isn’t aimed at Loki. “She’s done at 8:00 tonight,” he promises. It’s been decades since he was the one in the proverbial hot seat, but he still feels overwhelmingly guilty. “If Loki’s feeling worse later on, she can meet us at Urgent Care. Otherwise, he’ll just stay with us until she’s done for the day.”

“Go collect your son, Mr. Borson,” the principal tells him. “And you go wash up, Loki.”

Loki nods. His head bobs against Odin’s ribs. “Come on,” Odin says, tugging Loki’s shoulder gently. Out of here is the very best place they can be heading. “Let’s get Thor and go find out what Mrs. Borson’s made for dinner.”

Chapter Text

Frigga sighs. Odin makes what he knows is a rather silly-looking wry face at her; he’s pretty sure he knows exactly how she feels. In fact, he feels much the same way about it.

~

Life always has its ups and downs, sure. But it’s been years since they’ve faced a major problem. Three years, more precisely; it’s been that long since the mess with Sif’s hair. Shortly afterwards Frigga had spoken with Heimdall, and with Thor, and in the end they’d all found life went along much more smoothly when Sif and Loki weren’t interacting. Neither Odin nor Frigga had ever quite figured out who was instigating, or who (if anyone) deserved what came of it. Regardless, keeping them apart as much as possible had seemed to be the easiest way to avoid a repeat performance; on that, even the school officials agreed. And best of all, before Odin and Frigga (and Farbauti) had really needed to do much about it, the problem had neatly solved itself: Dag and Helen had signed their feisty (if hairless) second-grader up for fencing lessons. Everyone – her parents, her brother, a long litany of family friends who were keeping their own little victory dances private – had been happily amazed at how quickly she took to the sport. A real aptitude, true love, and a whole lot less spare time to spend knocking heads with Loki.

Farbauti had kept her job at the garden center. Things had been going well enough that, about a year ago, she’d been promoted to front end supervisor. She’s been taking classes at the local community college – online/via distance learning whenever possible, meaning Odin and Frigga weren’t stuck “adopting” Loki… although they certainly hadn’t noticed him being around any less with his mother’s change in schedule – and hopes to graduate with an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration. She’d told Frigga a few weeks ago that she thinks she might ultimately like to go into some sort of human services position. For now she’s just doing what will give her a leg up in her current job. They’re proud of her.

Laufey’s been out of Farbauti’s and Loki’s lives all but completely, ever since the older boys finished school (the elder off to college, the younger to Canada where he can play hockey in Juniors without being forced to continue on scholastically), and it shows. Not that things are perfect… Frigga’s heard he hasn’t been keeping up with his child support payments. Still, she says - and Odin can’t disagree with the logic, personally - that Farbauti claims being able to avoid him is probably worth it.

And speaking of Loki, part of the way through first grade – when it had been painfully clear that everything was boring him, and that being bored was doing nothing good whatsoever for his behavior – he’d been skipped ahead a year. The end of that school term found Loki only one grade behind Thor.

And, of course, the others.

Odin remembers that neither he nor Frigga had been a big fan of the whole business at the time, but that had been two years ago and since then Loki’s school life had been- uneventful. He’d ultimately had to concede that, whatever he and his wife might think, the district people might actually have known what they were doing.

At least, he’d thought so until now.

Thor and his little tribe of friends and neighbors had started fifth grade a couple of months ago; Loki, fourth. Things had been (seemed, at least) fine at first. Recently, though, first Odin and then Frigga had noticed a couple of things: Thor has seemed less and less cheerful, which is totally not normal, and Loki – who still comes over most nights, staying at least until after dinner… he’s so much a fixture after all this time that it’d be weirder if he stopped coming – has been holing up in the den with his nose in a book rather than doing much in the way of interacting.

They’d let it go for a week. More like two, actually.

Unfortunately, it had gotten worse instead of better.

~

Today, Frigga’d explained a few minutes ago, she’d caught Thor in the kitchen after school. That whole growing boy thing is starting to come true; at the rate he’s going through milk and cheese, they’re going to be taking out a second mortgage with their favorite grocer. She’d chosen the timing on purpose… it’s easier to play “good cop, bad cop” when Odin (who gets to star in both roles, depending on the situation) isn’t yet home from work. “I asked him what was going on,” she’d recounted, “since he clearly wasn’t planning on volunteering anything.”

“And,” Odin had prompted, trying not to smile at the irony. His wife had been genuinely concerned – as is he - and laughing at her was certainly not the right way to thank her for taking the lead on this.

“At first he told me things were fine,” she’d said. “But when I dug into it, he admitted that his friends had been pressuring him to stop hanging out with Loki.”

~

And here they are, Frigga sighing and Odin making a face about- about whatever’s going between his boys.

“Can you talk to him,” Frigga asks. “I don’t think he felt comfortable discussing it with me. Maybe it’s a guy thing.”

Odin groans inwardly. Thor is ten; she could be right. To him, though, they’re both still babies. He’s not looking forward to any guy thing conversations any time soon. “Sure,” he says instead. “Where is he?”

Frigga smiles for the first time since Odin had come through the doorway. “Thanks, honey,” she says. “I think he’s out back tossing a ball around. And Odin? Give me a few minutes and I’ll get started on something you really like for dinner.”

~

“Hey, kiddo.” Odin sits on the edge of the deck and watches as Thor experiments with different ways of throwing the football. His son hadn’t shown any interest in playing until recently, but Fandral and Hogun have been doing it for years now and have started seriously trying to talk him into it.

“Dad,” Thor acknowledges. He’s sweaty and breathing hard. “Did mom send you out here?”

Odin laughs. “Maybe. She thought you might prefer talking to me about what’s going on.”

“Well, I don’t,” Thor says. He picks up the ball and throws it again, then jogs after it. His form is impressive; Odin can see why his friends think he has the makings of a natural-born quarterback.

“Too bad,” Odin says, still laughing. Taking things too seriously invariably works better with Loki than it does with Thor. “Because I’m just going to grill you anyway.”

Thor feints and throws the ball at – not to, at - Odin. This not being his first rodeo, Odin is able to react just quickly enough to catch it. It’s sloppy and graceless, and he nearly falls off the deck, but it’s a whole lot better than an embarrassing miss… or a shattered kitchen window. “Nice try,” he says. “Hah hah. Now talk to me.”

“I’m sure-mom told you. My friends- don’t like- Loki tagging- along,” Thor admits, in between breaths. He stands with his hands on his hips, looking at the grass beneath him. “They say he’s a nuisance, a whiny baby. And that he lies and plays tricks on them,” he adds. “They don’t want to be friends with me if I’m friends with him, they tell me.”

“And what do you think,” Odin asks. As a family they may still need to have a talk about cliques, especially since Loki’s been bullied in the past, but some of what he’s hearing doesn’t sound all that… atypical for Loki.

Thor looks up, then quickly away. “I think I don’t want to have to choose between them.”

“You don’t,” Loki says from the kitchen doorway. Both Odin and Thor jump; Odin can feel his own heart pounding. Shit. He swings his feet back onto the deck. “Oh, no, don’t get up,” Loki offers, voice flat and hard. “I’m outta here.”

~

Odin tears through the house; Thor races around from the backyard to the front.

They’re both too slow, though. Odin looks frantically up and down the street… nothing. Loki has- he’s vanished. There’s simply no sign of him anywhere.

Chapter Text

Her son and husband round the corner from the hallway into the kitchen together, Thor knocking Odin against the counter and Odin struggling to catch hold of his son. They’re both talking at once, shouting over one another in a frantic jumble of sound. Frigga picks up her frying pan and sets it aside. She turns the burner off, too; whatever's going on - and something clearly is - doesn't look like it's going to be fixed quickly. "One at a time," she admonishes them, wiping her hands on a wadded-up ball of paper toweling. Their panic is contagious, sure, but she's had long years of practice at not letting on. "Thor," she offers, silencing Odin with a raised hand. "You first. What happened?"

Thor snuffles. His face is sweaty and streaked with dirt and tears. "Loki ran away," he says.

"Now that's not qui-," Odin starts. Frigga waves her hand.

"Let Thor finish, hon," she suggests. Order is calm compared to chaos. "Thor?"

"Papa and I were talking and" - he snuffs again, then wipes his nose on one shoulder. Unlike Loki, he still calls his parents mama and papa when he’s upset. "Um... I think Loki overheard us. He got mad at us and left."

Awesome. "Did he say where he was going," she asks, still hoping against hope that this may be less complicated than it sounds.

"No," Thor says. He chokes back a sob. "Just that he was 'outta here.’ He sounded- really serious."

"Odin?" Her husband isn't sobbing, but he still looks pretty freaked himself.

"Thor's got it," Odin tells her. "We were talking about how Thor's friends-."

"DAD," Thor howls.

"I'm sorry," Odin tells his son. "But your mother is good with secrets, and if she's going to help us she needs to know what happened.” He jostles Thor gently. “Okay, buddy?"

Frigga and her husband both watch quietly until Thor nods. "It seems some of Thor's friends want him to choose between Loki and their group," Odin explains. "Their clique. Loki must have been listening from somewhere in here," he suggests, pointing towards the screen door, "and I guess he heard-."

"I didn't say anything bad," Thor insists. His face twists. "I love him, mama! I hate that I have to pick is all."

"Shh," Odin soothes. "I don't think you did anything wrong, Thor. Loki just didn't stick around for the whole story. Which I get," he tells Frigga. He shrugs, then takes a deep breath and blows out a whistling sigh. "It probably sounded- all wrong out of context. But we can talk about that later. Whatever happened, he's gone-."

"-and we have to find him," Thor finishes. "He's out there all alone."

Frigga thinks for a moment. If Loki’s not in the empty lot past the end of the cul-de-sac - the one with the weed-strewn mini-mountain the builders left behind a few years ago, when the contract on the last development phase fell through - he’s bound to be hiding in a yard somewhere. It won't be dark for a while yet, but a bullied kid isn't going to head for the schoolyard and Farbauti's apartment isn't within easy walking distance. Not that she's even sure he would run home if it was... but no matter: it isn't. "You two stay here," she tells them, "in case he comes back. If not, I'll find him."

"But-," Odin and Thor both start in as she puts the eggs back in the refrigerator.

"But nothing," Frigga says, crisply. "It's not me he's mad at." She ducks out of her apron and throws it over the back of one of the kitchen chairs. "Call me if something comes up," she tells them.

She doesn't give either one time to reply.

~

Frigga’s bet is on the empty lot. Thor and Loki aren't supposed to play there - underneath the crabgrass and the overgrown weeds, the soil is full of construction debris (nails and chunks of wood and sharp scraps of metal) and the sharp-edged remains of more than a few beer bottles - but she’s pretty confident that hasn't stopped them. Every now and then one of her boys shows up (Loki, most frequently; in that scrawny little chest of his flutters the collector’s heart of a magpie) in the sandbox with a bent fork or an assortment of colorful bits of glass. And despite the boys’ increasingly creative storytelling, she knows the neighbors haven’t started handing out junk to them.

Nonetheless she walks down the street, going for relaxed but purposeful. If she's wrong and he's watching from under a bush somewhere, Frigga doesn't want to have him freak out and sprint away before she spots him. While she’s not making an obvious effort to inspect the manicured yards closely, she's keeping an eye out for Loki just the same.

Nothing. No one hiding in the shrubbery, not so much as a branch out of place.

The dirt mound, too, on first glance looks undisturbed. But when Frigga takes a little time to inspect the scenery more carefully, sure enough, there it is: off to the left, a trail of flattened grass and bent stems disappears from view. Payday. "Hi, Loki," she says conversationally into the false emptiness. "It's Frigga Borson. May I talk with you?"

And then she waits. Listens, and waits.

Still nothing.

“Loki,” she says again. “I just want to talk.” She shuts her eyes. No one should ever have to say this, not to a sweet little eight-year-old boy. “I’m not going to hurt you. I promise.”

“Whatever. I don’t care if you do.”

And sure enough, there he is… right where she’d thought he’d be. Off to the left, just out of sight. You should, she doesn’t say. “You don’t have to come out if you don’t want to,” she assures him. “But can you tell me what happened?”

“Nothing,” he says. “I just don’t want to be here anymore.” He coughs. “Everyone hates me.”

“I don’t hate you,” she says. She knows her son doesn’t either, but it’s probably not her place to say so. “I like you very much, and I’m sorry you’re so unhappy.” She gives him a minute to answer; he doesn’t. “It can be really hard being a kid,” she tells him. “When I was around your age, no one liked me either. I got picked on all the time. It was awful.” It was. She clearly remembers wanting to run away or, worse, to just disappear into nothing. “And I know you may not believe me when I say this… but you can get through it. I will really miss you if you leave.” If they get past this, Frigga knows, she needs to talk the people at school about getting Loki appropriate help with his feelings.

After a long, long pause, long enough that Frigga is starting to wonder if he’s snuck off on her, Loki coughs again. “Why?”

Why, indeed? “Because you’re practically part of our family,” she tells him, “and we love you.”

Chapter Text

The first time Frigga actually sees it happen Thor is almost twelve years old and Loki is just as close to ten. She hurries around the corner and through the half-open door of Thor’s room, a basket of laundry balanced on one hip, and looks up just in time to catch the two of them kissing. The boys jump apart in a frenzied blur of motion, Loki ducking his head behind the desk chair and Thor babbling on and on about how they’d been playing a game, but they’re both red-faced and flustered. That, and she knows what she saw anyway. They’re not fooling anyone.

The whole thing catches her off guard. She just smiles and says hi and asks them to put away Thor’s laundry.

Only once she’s safely downstairs alone does she dare rest her forehead against the wall and cry a little. Not because she really minds if they’re gay, or bi, or just learning new things; she doesn’t. It’s more that- well, their lives are going to be hard enough – Loki’s, especially, with his family situation and his (lack of) self-esteem and his prickly smarts that set him painfully apart from his peers in ways the other kids seem insistent on making him pay for – without yet another thing to make them- different.

And the saddest thing, from her perspective? That – out of all of it – what people will most hold against Thor is that he’s kissing Loki.

~

“No, that’s not the first time,” Odin reminds her later. She’d been worried all afternoon about telling him, about how he might react, but – as usual – he’d taken it all in stride and gotten right to work trying to make things better. “Remember? A few years ago, after the whole business with Sif in the bathroom?”

Frigga laughs. “Right, right. The time they got into our DVDs and watched ‘Saturday Night Fever’… after which Loki ‘wanted to see what the fuss was all about’… and then-.”

“-they spent fifteen minutes dangling from the kitchen sink and trying to wash their tongues,” Odin finishes.

“Well,” she says, still laughing, “at least they seemed to like it better this time.”

Odin gets up from his chair and comes over to sit beside her on the couch. “It’ll be okay,” he assures her. “Whatever happens, we’ll figure out a way to get through it.”

She frowns. “I know. I just wish for once in their lives they would- I don’t know, catch a break or something.”

“Thor’s going to catch plenty of breaks,” her husband reminds. “And a scholarship, if the way he catches a football is any indication.”

It’s stupid, she knows. Loki isn’t even their son, after all. Still, he’s been a part of their little family for so long now. “Maybe it’s not fair,” she admits, “but it’s really not so much Thor that concerns me.”

Odin slings an arm around her and pulls her into a half-hug. “I know,” he says softly into her hair. “I do. But I also know we’ll make it work somehow.”

~

“You’re really not mad?” Thor wipes down the countertops as Frigga loads the dishwasher. The older he gets, the more important she thinks it is for him to take an active part in keeping the household running. Not that she’s so sure he’s going to be wooing a wife-to-be anyway, not anymore, but she still doesn’t want any part of raising one of those young men everyone says will make someone a terrible husband.

“No, sweetie, of course not.” She isn’t. The two boys have always been close, ever since Loki was a tiny baby. It’s one of the things she loves about them. “But remember that Loki’s a lot younger than you are.” At their age, two years is a big difference. “You both have lots of time to grow up and decide what’s right for you.”

Thor wipes the stovetop with enough force to rattle the burners. “I don’t need time,” he complains. “I already know what I want.”

Even all these years later Frigga hasn’t completely forgotten what it feels like to be so young that the years creep by. “Loki needs time,” she says. “You’re just going to have to trust me on this one.”

~

She doesn’t want to get the boys in trouble but, considering how Loki couldn’t possibly spend more time in the Borson household if he actually lived there, Frigga feels guilty and dishonest hiding too much from his mother. “This is awkward… but have you talked to Loki about sex yet,” she asks Farbauti over brunch one Sunday. The menfolk, large and small, are out learning to paddle kayaks. As conversations go, it is awkward. She and Odin and Farbauti have known each other for almost a decade now – they’ve been through a lot, together and separately – but she’s not sure their discussions, even the wholly adult ones, have ever run in this particular direction. Farbauti has always seemed… sexless, really; too tired and too preoccupied with life’s various miseries to have any energy to devote to- to getting laid. Or whatever.

Farbauti studies her coffee closely. “A little,” she admits. “I’m not sure what to say to him. I think he- he’s going to like boys when he grows up. Maybe he should have been my daughter.”

Frigga laughs, softly and a little nervously. Loki is, all things considered, delicate and pretty. He’s also only almost ten in a crowd of late pre-teens, and nothing about him strikes Frigga as remotely girly. Still, what his mother is saying is certainly true, at least from what she’s been seeing. “He might,” she admits. “I think he and my Thor might have a crush on each other.” She holds her breath and waits for Farbauti to go ballistic.

It doesn’t happen, not really.

“Of course they do,” Farbauti says instead. “They’ve loved each other as long as my son has existed. But whatever you do,” she adds in a hushed whisper, “promise me you won’t say that in front of his father.”

For a second Frigga thinks Loki’s mother means Odin. “He won’t ca-,” she starts, but then her brain catches up with her mouth and what Farbauti must actually be saying hits her. “Oh, no no, don’t worry. I wouldn’t say a word to Lau- your ex, not with my last breath. I promise!” She raises her small orange juice glass in a fruity toast. “It can be our little secret. Cheers,” she adds as Farbauti clinks her glass and tips a chipped coffee mug in return.

“Your family has always been really good to my son,” Farbauti says, once they’ve gone back to their food. “Thank you.”

“Of course,” Frigga assures her. There simply aren’t other options. “Any time, any time.”

Chapter Text

It's a little awkward, sure. Although Odin doesn't mind that his son isn't into girls. And there's no arguing with Thor's taste in boys. Not from an aesthetic standpoint, certainly, and Loki's a sharp kid. A good student, quiet. Maybe a little sneaky. Okay, maybe a lot sneaky... but at least as a pair they seem to bring out the good in one another. For kids their age. No, it isn't any of that. It's mostly that Odin’s just a little (yes, a lot, again) uncomfortable thinking of his son as a sexual being. As changes go it isn’t easy to come to terms with. And on top of that, he's gotten used to viewing the two boys – both Thor and Loki - as his kids.

As brothers.

Which only adds another layer of weirdness and makes the whole thing that much less comfortable.

Seriously.

But all of that, collectively and individually, is his own stupid issue. Issues, plural. And even taken collectively they don’t constitute anything approaching a good enough reason to say no when Frigga cheerfully suggests that the three of them bring Loki along on a mid-October mini-vacation "so Thor has someone his own age to play with."

Play. Play.

Frankly, that's precisely the part that's making Odin more than a little uncomfortable.

He can't come up with any way to say so, though - any way to explain his concerns to his wife - that doesn't leave him feeling and sounding like a creepy-ass pervert, so he just keeps his opinion to himself. That, and he hopes against hope that Loki’s mother will veto the whole idea before it even happens.

Yeah, no. Try the opposite, maybe.

Because in actuality Farbauti – who compared to the Borson household doesn’t spend a ton of time around the two boys and, despite what she’s told his wife, is probably happily ignorant about what’s blossoming between them - thinks it's a terrific idea. She has never really been able to afford a vacation, she tells them, so she's beyond pleased to see her son getting the opportunity. Even if it's just a long weekend in Niagara Falls. In the off-season. It’s a great chance. Loki's never been there, she admits. He'll love it.

~

And love it Loki clearly does.

Odin and Frigga (armed with Farbauti's blessing and Thor and Loki's undying gratitude) pull both kids out of school for two days and go do all the touristy things, taking advantage of how the place is so (relatively) quiet.

The boys squeal their way through the Spanish Aerocar ride and cling desperately to one another – both of them soaked to the skin despite their cheap plastic capes, hair stuck to their faces in wet ropes and cheeks flushed rosy - on not one but two Falls cruises. After lunch they all head up Clifton Hill, where the Thor and Loki ooh and ahhh through Ripley's and spend (what feels like forever but probably isn’t even) a couple of hours in the wax museum arguing over which celebrity likenesses are the most fakey-fake looking.

Back down at the falls, Thor listens in wide-eyed fascination as Loki reads - dramatically, and if the kid doesn't have a gift for theatre Odin doesn’t know who does... – each and every one of the old over-the-falls-in-a-barrel stories that line the walls of the behind-the-falls tunnels.

They stand together along the railing out on Table Rock with their arms outstretched, playing Titanic as the wind whips their hair back out of their faces. Even this far from the water, the heavy mist once again drenches them. Thor eats too much greasy food; Loki giggles at the way Thor has to shut his eyes and hold his stomach through at least half an Imax movie. Even though there are superheroes, which Thor normally loves and can’t get enough of.

~

In deference to Odin’s worrying Frigga has booked all of them into one room. It’s a good-sized space, bright and airy, and it boasts the rather puzzling combination of two double beds and its own en suite hot tub. Odin's grateful, too; what they lose in solo hot tub time - because there simply isn't a hot tub in the world that's big enough to share with two shrieking, slapping tweens hovering on the brink of adolescence - they make up for by not having to stress (over what's going on behind closed doors in an adjoining room somewhere). Which, if their room is any indication, would probably just be watching cartoons (loudly) and thwacking each other with pillows. It can't hurt to be too careful, though. The boys have plenty of time left ahead of them… time to ease into- whatever it is they're going to be to one another.

The second day is a lot of fun, too, although as parents they do have to pick their battles: no to a helicopter ride, yes to the waterpark. Even Odin and his wife have to put their feet down sometimes. The two responsible adults take turns embarrassing the kids by joining (enthusiastically) in on the slides instead of holing up with the other parents in the hot tub lagoon.

Everyone has a wonderful time. They grab a really quick dinner afterwards and fall into bed exhausted.

~

Odin wakes up in the night to the tiniest of wet kissing sounds. He makes a big, loud show of rolling over, though; there's a little quick shuffling from the other bed and by the time he yawns and heads for the bathroom they are far apart. "Sleeping," in the faint greenish glow of the nightlight.

Loki fakes it all beautifully; arms here and there, mouth slightly open, soft, slow breaths with only the slightest hint of snoring. Thor, on the other hand, needs to stick with sports... Odin actually catches his own son peeking.

~

Breakfast the next morning is hilarious. At least, it would be if Odin wasn't as least as uncomfortable as the kids are. Thor can’t make eye contact and spends the whole meal mumbling into his pancakes.

Loki on the other hand is brazenly normal; he spends the entire meal chattering on about all the things he'd still like to do and see before leaving. That one, Odin thinks, is going to be trouble.

Not that they couldn't have seen that coming.

After they finish eating, the four of them head up to the top of the Canadian falls. The sun is shining; it promises to be yet another great day.

Chapter Text

Most of August has been broiling hot and today is no different. The afternoon sun beats down on Thor and Loki. Loki pretends not to feel the sweat trailing down the back of his neck as the two of them jog the last block; they race each other up Tony’s driveway, pushing and shoving and giddy with excitement.

It’s a secret.

Loki’s mom thinks he’s at Thor’s. Which he was until just a few minutes ago, when the two of them had checked the clock over the kitchen table, exchanged meaningful looks, and leapt to their feet. “It’s so hot,” Loki had complained. He’d glared pointedly at Thor, willing his best friend in the entire world not to blow this chance with ridiculously bad delivery. They’d spent half the morning practicing in the privacy of Thor’s room, after all. You really can’t put too much into your one ticket to freedom.

“Hey, remember,” Thor had said, sounding almost believable, and Loki hadn’t dared make eye contact for fear of causing him to lose it and screw this up somehow. “Tony said if it got crazy outside we could come over to his place and go swimming.”

That part’s true.

“Is his father home,” Frigga had asked. Tony is almost 14, old enough to be home alone, but Thor’s parents don’t seem to trust them around him. It’s both totally unfair and – given their plans - completely understandable.

“I don’t know-,” Thor had started, and Loki had quietly kicked him in the foot.

“-but his nanny is,” they’d finished, in stereo. Thor had turned to beam at his mother. “She says it’s fine,” he’d offered. “She doesn’t mind us stopping over.”

That part’s not so true.

Or, at least, they hadn’t known if it was true or not because Tony’s nanny – who really just comes by every few days to help with the laundry now, but that’s not something they’ve shared with Thor’s parents – was purportedly out of town this weekend. Visiting her parents, Tony’d told them.

Tony’d also told Sif, and Fandral, and several of his own friends who he’d guaranteed would be the life of any party.

Including the one they’re only steps away from presently.

“Stop it,” Thor orders. He’s caught Loki by the wrists and is laughing as Loki struggles. “I’m serious. Stop. We can’t go in there looking like little kids, you know? They’ll kick us out.” He stops laughing; his eyes, which are pale blue in such bright light, narrow in warning. “And I’m not going to let you ruin this for me.”

Loki smiles brightly. He knows he’s irresistible like this; he’s practiced the perfect expression so regularly in front of the bathroom mirror that he almost thinks his mom might be right when she threatens that his face will get stuck this way. “Ruin what,” he asks, all sweet innocence. “I’m just here to go swimming.”

~

They do get in the pool. In fact, they do that first, almost as soon as they get there. People are playing volleyball, and screeching. And sunbathing.

It isn’t until he’s already been in the pool and back out and is following Thor dutifully over to lounge chairs that Loki notices: a good third of the sunbathers are pretty much naked. The girls are topless and terrifying. Most of the guys here play football; their legs and pits are getting hairy and they have muscles that rival Thor’s. In all his life Loki – who is so smooth he could star in a bikini-line hair remover ad - is pretty sure he’s once never felt this pale and scrawny.

“Hey, Borson.”

Thor stops and Loki stiffens. Whether or not he is one, it doesn’t take a genius to see where this is headed.

“Hey, man. What’d you bring baby Loki along for? Isn’t he just going to tattle?”

Loki sticks his nose in the air and his chin out. It stings to be thought of that way, especially given how he’s probably one of the least likely tattle-tales here, but fuck if he’s going to let anyone know it. “Why don’t we go inside,” he says smoothly before Thor can answer and get them both in trouble. “It’s kind of crowded out here by the pool.”

Thor takes Loki’s hand and gives him a tug. “Yeah, let’s.” Thor’s fingers are hot where they stick to Loki’s skin. It’s a weird feeling, one that makes him shiver.

In fact it’s almost enough to let him completely ignore the asshole with the chips and salsa who calls out “look, Thor’s got himself a girlfriend.” Actually, it is enough; Thor’s the one who turns around. Loki can feel the muscles all along Thor’s arm tightening.

“Thor, no,” Loki hisses. He pushes Thor. It’s like shoving a brick wall. “Don’t.” He just wants to get away from everyone. The last thing he needs right now is a solid beating. Unlike Thor, Loki knows that’s the sort of thing he needs to be on the constant lookout for. “Pick your battles, remember?” Thor’s mom had been going on about that just yesterday afternoon.

“Not girlfriend,” someone else behind them corrects. “Thor’s got a ho.”

Loki only narrowly avoids being taken out by the first of Thor’s punches.

~

They do get inside eventually, and then down to the basement bar where Thor can grab some ice for his knuckles. Tony sloshes vodka into a line of smudged glasses and passes them each one. “Here,” he says when Loki is almost too startled to take it. “You both look like you need it.”

Thor picks his up left-handed and clinks Loki’s glass, the same way they do with their juice some mornings. “Cheers.” He swallows the whole thing in one gulp and smacks his glass back down on the bar.

He and Tony both look at Loki expectantly.

Loki’s had a few sips of champagne before – Thor’s parents let the two of them have a tiny bit back on New Year’s – but that’s about it. If his mother drinks he’s never seen it, and while the Borsons have beer at their backyard parties they’re pretty strict about who gets served. Before he can ponder the whole idea too long and lose his nerve, Loki goes for it… he shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath and imitates Thor.

“Whoa there, cowboy.” Tony pats his back as Loki sputters and coughs. The stuff burns like crazy. His heart pounds; he’s not at all sure he’s ever going to be able to breathe again.

“Hey.” But then Thor’s face is close, kissably close, and his voice is low and rich with concern. “Are you okay, baby?”

Crap. Loki stops coughing just long enough to cringe, but Tony only smiles.

Chapter Text

They don’t stick around the party very long after what Loki insists on referring to - all the way home - as Thor’s “little altercation.” Some of Tony’s other friends, older kids Tony knows from the private school his father makes him attend, start to get a little crazy with the bar and all that going on around Loki makes Thor quite uncomfortable.

That, and knocking his large drink back like a pro has left Thor feeling a little queasy. “We should get going,” he suggests to Loki, who is exchanging flirty looks and little giggles with one of Tony’s friends in a way that’s making him decidedly antsy. He gets up (well, down, more like) from his stool and pokes at Loki’s shoulder. “We need to get home before my dad does.”

“Sorry,” Loki tells his admirer as he turns to follow Thor. “My boyfriend here keeps me on kind of a tight leash.”

Thor grabs for Loki’s hand and yanks it hard, hard enough that they both stumble. “Bye, guys,” he hears Tony call out from behind them. Someone laughs, drunk-sounding and loud. “Come again when you can stay longer.”

Out in the street Thor takes Loki by the arms and makes his friend look him in the eye. “What was that about,” he demands. He’s not even sure what happened, but he knows he didn’t like it. Except for maybe the part about being Loki’s boyfriend.

Loki shrugs. His eyes are unusually green and a little glassy. “That jerk was hitting on me,” he says. “I needed to get rid of him.” His expression softens. “Is your hand okay? You didn’t have to do that, you know.”

“I did,” Thor thinks, except Loki flinches and he figures he must have used his outside voice, a bit too loudly. “I did have to,” he says quietly. He lets go of Loki and flexes his fingers; his knuckles hurt, and the whole area around them is swollen and turning more than a little purple. “We’re going to have to tell my parents I- I fell or something.”

“Fell.” Loki snorts. “Right into someone’s face, maybe.” He weaves a little where he stands and Thor reaches out to steady him. Thor isn’t quite sure what happens after that, but somehow they end up leaning against a tree across the street from Tony’s house kissing. Really kissing, like they haven’t before.

It’s good, in a floaty sort of way, but something about it is also more than a bit terrifying.

~

“Hi mom.”

“Hi Mrs. Borson.”

The two of them breeze through the kitchen like it’s nothing and head straight for the den. They’d agreed on the walk home that going up to Thor’s bedroom was just going to look suspicious; with his mom cooking, which she’s bound to be by now, they can hang out in the den uninterrupted and play games or read until they’ve cooled down (and sobered up). They start off down the hallway, trying not to laugh too loudly or bump into anything. They can’t look at one another; as it is, it’s already difficult not to giggle.

“Thor? May I see you for a minute?”

Thor and Loki exchange a quick look. Loki’s eyes are huge. “Shh,” Thor tells him, even though he isn’t talking. “We’re fine. Let me handle this.”

“But-,” Loki starts.

“No,” Thor tells him, firmly. “She’s my mom. You keep quiet.”

“Thor? Now,” his mom orders.

“Right,” Loki says, in a tone of voice that makes it clear he doesn’t believe Thor. “We’re fine. Sure.” He gives Thor a push. “Go on, then. Let’s get this over with.”

~

“Hi, mom,” Thor says again, maybe just a little too brightly, from the doorway of the kitchen. He can feel the heat of Loki’s body just behind him. It’s distracting. “You wanted to see us?”

“Well, I wanted to see you,” she tells him. She has that look on her face, like- like if he were only a few years younger, she might (ask his dad to) spank him. “But from what I’m seeing” – she looks them both up and down, and Thor starts to actually panic – “Loki ought to hear this too. So, tell me: did you have fun at Tony’s?”

“Yes,” Thor says, squeaking just a little as Loki’s foot collides painfully sharply with the back of his ankle. He pushes back his hair. “It was a good day for swimming.”

“Not just swimming,” his mom says.

Thor’s not expecting that. He has to stop and think before responding. All of a sudden his decision to not let Loki talk isn’t feeling quite so smart anymore.

Before he can come up with an answer, his mom continues. “In fact, why don’t you tell me? What else might you have been doing there?”

“Um.” Thor’s brain isn’t working properly and it’s hard to hear over the thumping of his heart. That, and Loki chooses the same moment to hiccup and then cover it with an unconvincing coughing fit. “Hanging out?”

“Let me see your hands,” his mom prompts.

Thor quickly puts them out, (sweaty) palms up. “Mom?”

She makes a sharp circular gesture. Behind him, Loki sucks in a quick breath that’s almost loud enough to count as gasping. Thor bites his lip and flips both hands over. His right knuckles are- a mess, really. They look worse than they feel, even. “I fell down on the way-,” he starts, but his mom cuts him off.

“Don’t,” she warns. “Don’t even. You do you know you’re only making things worse for yourself now, right?”

They are so screwed. “Mom,” he tries again, but it’s hopeless.

Hanging out,” she muses, as though she’s never heard the term before. “Interesting. Because that’s what I thought. Maybe you can imagine my surprise when Sif’s father called to make sure you were okay. Because he’d heard you had been fighting.”

Sif’s dad? Thor doesn’t even remember seeing Sif there. Or Heimdall, who’s almost never around now that he’s started junior college… although their former babysitter still seems to have eyes everywhere. He lets his hands drop. “Some guy called Loki a ho,” he tries to explain. He can feel his face turning red. “You know, a-.”

“Yes,” his mom says, “I’m familiar with the saying. And I’m not even going to ask why Tony’s friends might think that. Instead, why don’t you tell me the rest of what happened?”

Thor frowns. He has no idea what- what whoever saw them might have seen.

“It’s true,” Loki says. “A couple of guys there were calling me names. I said I was okay, but they were really rude and Thor stuck up for me. I’m sorry,” he says earnestly. “I didn’t mean to get anyone in trouble.”

It’s a valiant attempt, and Thor appreciates Loki’s trying. On someone else it might even have worked. His mom is too smart, though, even for Loki. And of course she has- spies or something. “Thor Odinson,” she says, sharp and impatient. “I know the two of you were drinking. I can smell it on you. So don’t even waste my time trying to hide it.”

Ugh. Thor knows defeat when he sees it. “Sorry, mom,” he says lamely.

It’s the wrong thing to say, apparently. “You’re sorry? You’re sorry? Do you realize you could have been arrested? Or that one of you could have ended up in the hospital? Thor,” she demands, and he looks at his feet. “Loki’s still a child.” Behind him, Loki huffs but (wisely) says nothing. “You’re two years older. Do you know what that means? Your father and I expect you to be more responsible. And speaking of your father, rest assured he is going to be very disappointed.”

That does it. Thor can feel himself right on the edge of crying. “I’m sorry,” he says again. “I didn’t mean for anything bad to happen.”

“Exactly,” his mother says. Her tone is a little- softer, maybe. “All too often things go wrong without our meaning it. Honey, you could have been hurt. Really hurt, I mean. And Loki’s way too young to be drinking. You both are. How would you feel if something had happened to him?”

He snuffles. He can hear Loki shifting from one foot to the other behind him, back and forth. “Bad,” he admits. “Really bad.” He snuffles again, and wipes his nose on his hand without thinking. It hurts. He cries a little harder. “Are you going to tell dad,” he asks wetly. Like there’s any way she won’t.

“No,” she says, and his head snaps up. “You are.”

~

His dad takes it better than Thor had expected, probably in part because – by the time his dad gets home – he and Loki have had a long time to think about their mistakes and are both damp and teary.

“We’ve all done dumb things,” his father tells him. “It’s part of growing up. You’re going to make mistakes; I know that. But this- this is serious. Just because Tony’s family thinks they’re above the law, trust me, that doesn’t mean we are. You know that, right?” Both of them nod, in unison. “And I try not to dwell on this, Thor, but Loki needs to be extra-careful. Something like this could get his mom in big trouble. It could even get him-.”

“Don’t,” Frigga cuts in. “There’s no need to-.”

“I know what he means, Mrs. Borson,” Loki says quietly. “It could get me taken away.”

Thor gets that awful feeling you get in a too-fast elevator. It’s a good thing they’ve sobered up or he might actually puke. “No,” he exclaims. “They- they couldn’t!”

“They could, honey.” His mom looks- worried, and sad. “You both need to be more careful.”

“Yes, mom,” he says, dutifully, just as Loki says “yes, Mrs. Borson.”

“Thank you,” she tells them both, very seriously. “And Loki, yes, we do have to tell your mother.”

Loki sighs. He sounds so grown-up that Thor feels abruptly like the young one. “Yeah,” he says heavily, “I know.”

Chapter Text

Odin hugs his wife. “You stay here,” he tells her quietly. “I’ve got this. I’ll talk to Farbauti before making any big decisions… but I’m pretty sure I know exactly how to handle it.”

She hugs him back, a quick little squeeze. “I bet you do,” she says, pushing him gently away. “Just give me a minute to get them.”

~

"I don't think either of our boys meant to do anything wrong," Odin assures Farbauti. “And neither of us is angry with them.” Loki and Thor sit with her on the couch, Loki closest to his mom and Thor all but pressed up against him. It would actually be cute if the circumstances were even a tad less unpleasant. "To be honest, I suspect they just weren't thinking. But then again that's the problem, isn't it? I assumed we could trust their judgment, and we can't. Not yet, anyway. They’re just not ready."

Normally Loki is sullen when lectured, even when it's Odin doing the lecturing. Today, though, he's just tearful and scared-looking. That makes Odin feel more than a little a bit sad. He wants very much to cut them a break, but there’s an important lesson to be learned here and letting them go without stopping to learn it isn’t going to do either of them any long-term favors.

"On top of that," he tries again when Farbauti just sits there quietly, "I know this happened on my watch. Ours: mine, and Frigga's. And while we'd all really miss having your son around, my wife and I talked and we'll both do whatever it takes to support your decision. Even if that means you don't feel comfortable entrusting him to us anymore.”

Odin counts slowly to and silently to ten, watching closely as the realization of what’s actually just been said dawns first on Loki - all the color drains completely out of his sharp face and his mouth quite literally drops open - and then Thor. Thor grabs for Loki's hand in a panicked gesture. "Dad, no. You can't!"

"I'm sorry," Odin tells his son. "But I screwed up, and that choice isn't mine to make. Not anymore." He nods to Farbauti. "It's up to you. And if you need time to think about it," he adds, pushing off the chair arms and getting slowly to his feet, "that's fair. Thor and I will leave the two of you to-."

"Please," Loki whispers. Big tears are rolling down his face again. "No. Please. Don’t go."

"Sit," Farbauti tells him. She sounds worn out, probably worse than Odin feels. "Loki, Thor: go wait in the bedroom, please. I need to talk to Mr. Borson. In private," she adds as her son starts to say something.

Loki shuts his mouth and hops up from the couch. He tugs at Thor's hand. Odin's once again struck by how slight the kid is; two years at their respective ages makes an awfully big difference.

That, and Thor takes after Odin, meaning he’s going to be a big, solid guy when he’s older.

"Come on," Loki insists, tugging again. "You heard my mother."

Thor gives his father a last puppy-dog-eyed, beseeching look. "Please, dad," he tries one last time. Odin cocks an eyebrow, and Thor gives in; he turns away to follow Loki off down the hall.

"This isn't your fault, you know," Farbauti says, heavily, once the boys are out of earshot. "As much as it pains me to admit it, my youngest son lies like a rug. And he's easily the most persuasive person I can ever remember knowing."

Odin shakes his head. "Still, they're kids. I sometimes forget how young Loki is. And while Thor's old enough to know better, he's- he's at that age where people specialize in making all the wrong choices." He rubs his face with both hands. "The last thing I want is for something to happen to you or to Loki because my son is being impulsive."

Farbauti nods. "Thank you for that. Really. But I don't think splitting them up is the answer, though."

Odin sighs. "No," he agrees, "I don't either. But I'm not so sure an evening or two apart - to give them a taste of what the future might feel like - is a bad thing."

"Mm. Good point." Farbauti smiles a little half-smile, one side of her mouth curling up. For a moment she looks very, very much like her son. "I actually don't have to work until the day after tomorrow," she says, nodding. "What do you say we let them cool their heels until then?"

"Deal," Odin tells her. "So… do you want to break it to them, or should I?"

"Lead the way," she says. "I'll chime in."

~

"Dad, no," Thor blurts out over Loki's audible gasp. "You can't!"

"Alas," Odin reminds his son, "that's where you're wrong. Because I can. In fact, I just did. You're grounded for the rest of the weekend. Monday, your mother and I will talk things over again and decide if this message needs a little more time to sink in."

"Can Loki still come over? While I'm grounded, I mean? He can stay in the den. We won’t talk or anything."

Like that would be any sort of punishment, Odin thinks. Props for being creative, though. And tenacious. "No," he says instead. "No going out, no TV, no computer, no phone, no visitors. But never fear… I'm sure we can find plenty of chores to help you keep busy."

"Dad!" Thor is crying now too. He and Loki are clinging to one another. It's going to be the longest weekend in recorded history; Odin can tell already.

"It doesn't matter anyway, honey," Farbauti points out, "because I’m grounding Loki too. So say your goodbyes, both of you, and then Loki's going to his room."

"And we're heading home to help your mother with dinner," Odin tells Thor. "Since I'm sure whatever she'd started is long since ruined."

The boys hug fiercely. To their credit, there isn't any kissing.

Thor snuffles all the way home in the car.

~

"Our son here is going to spend a couple of days thinking about what just happened," Odin explains to Frigga as Thor stands over by the sink looking utterly crushed. "And then we'll talk about next steps. You and me, I mean, along with Loki's mother."

"And what about Loki?" Frigga frowns. She looks worried.

"Farbauti has a few days off," he assures his wife, deliberately vague. "Loki's going to spend them with her. I bet he's got some thinking of his own to do." Odin looks around the kitchen. "Now," he starts again, briskly, "how can we help? Because I'm sure Thor can’t wait to get started."

Chapter Text

Frigga stops on her way through the kitchen and turns to look out the window, the one centered over the big double sink. Odin closes the refrigerator door and comes up to stand behind her. He plants a quick kiss on her hair. “Do you think we’ve gone overboard,” he asks her, nodding towards the long row of yews up against the fence line. The closest few are neatly trimmed; near the middle of the bushes, Thor is doing battle with the clippers. “With this punishment, I mean.”

They’d given their son a laundry list of chores to choose from; Thor had been the one to offer to do the hedge, under the dual theory that it was good exercise and would make the day pass more quickly. “And after that I’ll wash your car, mom,” he’d promised. “By then, I’ll need a good rinsing anyway.” And he certainly is getting a lot done. But it’s hard to see him moping and alone, hour after hour. And even Frigga hadn’t expected the place to feel so- empty without Loki. Still…

“No,” she says. She doesn’t. Sure, the boys are still fairly young. But in two years Thor will be driving, and it’s important for him to genuinely get it that this sort of thing is serious. She sighs and lets her head rest against the muscle of Odin’s shoulder. “It’s not easy and it’s not pleasant, but it wasn’t meant to be. And it’s a lot better to be apart for a day or two because we said so than apart a whole lot longer because- someone is in jail or hurt in a car accident. Or worse.” She sighs again. “If they grow apart, they’ll need to learn to function independently. And if they don’t… well, they need to really commit to being responsible.” As mature and independent as Loki sometimes acts, the two of them are not the same age, not even close, and it’s going to be years before they reach a point where that gap stops being important. “Life isn’t fair,” she reminds her husband. Not that he doesn’t know that already. “They’re going to have to develop better self-control than their peers… and thicker skins.”

“And none of that’s going to be easy,” Odin agrees. “You’re right. I just- I feel mean.”

Frigga reaches up and takes one of his hands in both of hers. “Being a parent isn’t going to be easy either,” she says quietly.

Odin laughs. “I was going to say ‘not that it ever has been,’ but that’s a lie, isn’t it? We’ve been awfully lucky.”

He’s right. They have. She’s sure of it.

~

“Dinner’s almost ready,” Odin calls out the back door. “Why don’t you put that stuff away and come get yourself cleaned up? Then you can help me set the table.” Frigga has made a big dinner salad with chicken and cold roast vegetables; it’s another hot day and she’d reminded her husband earlier that – nice as the idea itself might be – it’s simply not the kind of weather that’s good for spending quality family time together in the kitchen. “Thor,” Odin yells, louder this time. “Today, already.”

It’s probably not more than two minutes before Thor’s back indoors, scrubbing the wax and brake dust off his water-shriveled fingers with the better of her two mushroom brushes. He’s been so good today that she can’t even chastise him.

~

“How did you manage to spend your whole day out there without managing to work up an appetite,” Frigga asks her son halfway through dinner. She and Odin have made good dents in their salads, Odin especially, whereas Thor seems to be spending most of his time pushing vegetables from one side of his bowl to the other. “Did you let yourself get dehydrated?”

Thor shakes his head. “I drank out of the hose,” he admits. “I’m fine. It’s just- without- I don’t know. I’m-… this sucks, mom. Sorry,” he adds, when the reality of what he’s just done (as in, used language his parents prefer not to hear at the table) hits him. “I didn’t mean- I feel really bad.” He sets his fork down. “I’m sorry.”

“We miss him too,” Frigga tells her son. “Believe me; we all wish life came without consequences. But it doesn’t.”

“Yeah.” Thor looks at his hands. “I know. I wish I could do yesterday over.”

Don’t we all, don’t we all? “I know, honey,” she tells him. “But life doesn’t work that way. If you and Loki want to continue to be such close friends – yes, yes, or whatever -,” she amends, holding up a hand to keep him from interrupting her, “you’re going to have to be a whole lot more responsible. Even when he isn’t. Especially then.”

He chews his lip for a good minute before responding. “Do you think his mom is going to let us hang out anymore,” he worries, and Frigga wonders how long he’s spent thinking about this. “Now that she knows she can’t trust me?”

“I hope so,” Odin says. “But it isn’t that simple. Yes, you and Loki both made some big mistakes yesterday. And you both know better. And as the one who’s older, more of the blame is always going to fall on you. But your mom and I didn’t do any better. And Loki’s mom had a part in it too.”

“That’s dumb,” Thor blurts out. He claps a hand over his mouth. “Sorry,” he’s quick to say, but it comes out sounding more like “summy.”

Frigga has to look out the window for a moment or two, just to keep herself from laughing. “It’s part of being an adult,” she corrects. “And we’re sorry too.”

~

They’re loading the last of the dishes into the dishwasher when Frigga’s phone rings. “Hi,” Farbauti says. “I hope I’m not interrupting your supper.”

“Not at all; just a little after-dinner cleanup,” she offers. “Nothing my boys can’t do without me, certainly.” She ducks into the dining room, where Thor isn’t as likely to overhear them. “How did things go today?”

Farbauti snorts. “My son is a little dramatic,” she says, “which I’m sure comes as no surprise to you. But he’s sad and he’s lonely and he’s very, very sorry. At least, that’s what he’s literally spent all day telling me. And showing me.”

Frigga hums. “It’s been a sad day here, too,” she agrees. “Although at least I got my hedge trimmed.”

Loki’s mother clears her throat. “Do you think we’ve gotten the point across,” she asks. “I’m not sure I can make it through another day of my son being so sad he’s sure he’s dying.”

“Hm.” Frigga thinks about it for a few seconds. “Yes,” she tells Farbauti, “probably. But let’s not tell the boys until morning.”

Chapter Text

It's only the fourth day of school, but Frigga can tell one thing already: this is going to be a long, long year.

In their district grade school and middle school share a campus; one large building, really, with each school forming half of a pair of large wings that branch off in opposite directions. In the middle are the shared gymnasium, auditorium, and cafeteria. Oh, and the library, but that’s divided into grade-specific sections as well. Students in the middle school are expected to keep to their own side of the complex, and lunchtime and physical education schedules don't overlap. Still, it's easy enough for the older grade-schoolers to mingle with their middle school friends in the library. The schoolyard is fair game too. All in all, Loki and Thor had navigated that one tricky year - the one where Thor'd been in seventh grade and Loki'd still been stuck "down" in sixth - without any serious difficulty. And they'd been as inseparable outside school that year as they had been all the years before (and after) it.

Clearly this one is going to be different, though. This year Loki is in his final year of middle school - he's a freshman, actually, but the overcrowded high school is only housing grades ten through twelve - and Thor is- in the big league now. The high school isn't far from the K-through-9 campus, not even a mile away. But the two schools might as well be on separate planets.

No one from the high school is allowed on the K-through-9 campus. Period. At all. Never. And while select middle-schoolers are allowed on the high school premises after school, that's only the kids who play sports on one of the varsity teams. As in, not Loki.

Well, the teams… plus any kids who miss the last bus at the middle school. They're allowed to walk over to the high school campus and catch the "late bus" there instead, along with all those student athletes.

Four days. So far, Loki's missed the bus home on every single one of them.

"I was in the library studying," he protests when Frigga remarks upon his sudden schedule-management problem. "When I'm reading, I can’t help it; I invariably lose track of time."

Frigga cocks an eyebrow. "Oddly," she tells him, "that didn't seem to pose a problem for you last year."

Loki nods, so serious he'd have her totally convinced... if only she didn't know him quite so well. "It looks like freshman year, the work is so much harder," he explains. "I can tell I’m going to be working my a- my butt off." He bats those long, thick black lashes like a pro. Thor is in so much trouble. "I suspect I'm going to be late pretty often."

"Interesting." Frigga smiles. "I don't seem to remember Thor finding the material particularly challenging last year."

"That's because your son's a genius," Loki gushes. His expression is so studiously earnest that she has to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. "It's really amazing."

Frigga nods. "I guess he's so smart that he knows to hide his brains at home, then," she deadpans. "I suppose he knows we'd all feel terribly inferior by comparison."

"Mm," Loki agrees. "He doesn't want to hurt our feelings. Not that you and Mr. Borson aren't smart too," he adds, carefully. "Because of course you are. That's where Thor gets it from."

"You're right," she says, and he's not quite quick enough to hide the flash of relieved surprise before he catches on to how she’s only teasing. "We are smart. And you'd be wise not to forget it."

~

"Do I have to?" Odin tries his best smacked-puppy face. "You know how much I hate this."

"Your son is going to be sixteen in less than a year," she reminds him. Yes, Thor is her son too, but this really needs to be a father/son conversation. "And by the time Loki is sixteen, Thor will be eighteen. If they start now, they're just going to have to turn around and give it all up again. That's got to be harder than never having- well, you know. If they get a taste of it, do you really think they'll be up for stopping?" Honestly, she thinks the whole thing is going to be a huge problem no matter what she and Odin say... but that doesn't magically excuse the two of them from their parental responsibility: trying. "I'm serious," she reiterates as he tries launching a weak protest. "They need to hear this. From another guy, not me. If I tell them, they just going to write it all off as 'she can't possibly understand because she doesn't have a dick' anyway."

Odin sighs. Twice. "Fine," he says, even though it clearly isn't. "But what exactly am I supposed to tell them? I mean, my parents told me sex was only for grown-ups and we both know where that got everyone.” He's right. Between the two of them, at least, his checkered teenaged past is no secret: Thor would have an older half-brother had it not been for the ugly intervention of- fate. Or nature, or something. Frigga’s gone with him to visit the tiny headstone every year. They leave small stones and loose bunches of wildflowers. Thor doesn’t know a thing about it; they agree that – in theory – they should tell him, and someday they doubtless will. So far they haven’t found the right moment.

“Just tell them we’re depending on their making good choices,” she suggests. “And then fill them in on the details, of course,” she adds, in case her husband takes the bit about just a little too literally. “There are plenty of ways they can enjoy one another’s company that- that don’t run the risk of them getting arrested.”

“And just how long do you think that’s going to hold them off,” he asks, shaking his head sadly. “You do realize this isn’t going to do a thing, don’t you?”

“Mm.” She does. It’s been a while, obviously, but it’s not like she’s completely forgotten what it’s like to be young. Young, and horny. “But we do still have to try, don’t we?”

“We do,” Odin agrees. “I just wish we meant you, at least on this particular occasion.”

She laughs. He does have a point. “Fine, then. We’ll scar them for life and talk to them together.”

“Thanks.” He hugs her. “At least we don’t have to worry about birth control?”

Frigga squeezes him in return. “Right. Small favors.”

Chapter Text

It takes the better part of a month – a month during which Loki literally “misses” the bus every single day, a month where both boys arrive at the Borson residence late and puffy-lipped and a little flustered-looking – for the right occasion to present itself. Which is a nicer way of saying for Frigga to talk her husband into doing his fatherly duty. But he does agree to do it, so she’s fine with being nicer.

Odin follows her into the den. It’s just past lunchtime on a bleak Saturday afternoon, one of those cold, rainy October days best spent cozied up under a hand-knit afghan reading. And sure enough that’s what Loki and Thor are doing, except for how they’re extra-extra cozy. Frigga nudges Odin with her elbow. He clears his throat. “If the two of you have a few minutes, we’d like to talk to you.”

Loki twists around – he’s in Thor’s lap, essentially, with his back to Thor’s chest and his sock-clad feet up on the arm of the loveseat – and the boys exchange a quick, panicky-looking glance. “Um,” Thor starts. He sounds puzzled and a more than a little worried. “Sure. What’s up?” The two of them shuffle around a little until they’re sitting side-by-side with the blanket stuffed between them. Frigga’s relieved to find they’re both fully dressed and- well, decent. The whole discussion is bound to be more than awkward enough as it is.

“Do you need to talk to Thor alone, Mr. Borson,” Loki tries. “Because I rode my bike over and I can-.”

“No no,” Odin says. “This concerns both of you. You might as well hear it together.”

Frigga nods. Loki looks briefly- disappointed, maybe. She knows she would be. “It’s definitely best that we all talk about it as a- group,” she assures him. It’s a little too weird to say as a family. Plus, they aren’t one. “Loki, has your mom talked to you about sex?” She and Odin have taken turns talking to Thor over the years, starting back when he’d first shown interest in his own body, but she doesn’t want to assume. Every family is different, on top of which Loki has spent an awful lot of his childhood here instead of home talking with his mother.

Thor’s mouth drops open. He recovers quickly, but not before he’s seen that she’s noticed. His face flushes bright pink, from his collar all the way up to his hairline.

Loki sticks his chin out in a gesture that’s sadly familiar. “Yes, Mrs. Borson,” he says. His cheeks are pink, too. “So if that’s what you wanted to tell us, we’re good. Thank you, but you don’t need to waste your-.”

“Oh no, honey,” she says before he can finish. “I just wanted to be sure we didn’t need to review anything. Go ahead, dear,” she prompts her husband, who’s busy trying not to look as uncomfortable as the boys clearly are.

“Ohhhkay,” Odin stalls. He clears his throat again. Thor and Loki look at each other nervously. “Well, I think everyone here is well aware that the two of you” – he takes a moment to look at Thor and then Loki; both of them fidget and only Loki manages to maintain eye contact – “are interested in one another in ways that go well beyond friendship.”

“Daaaaad,” Thor howls. Loki looks frightened, and that makes Frigga sad.

“No, it’s okay. It’s good. We’re happy for you.” Odin smiles. “It’s just that you’re both getting to the age where you’re going to want to start experimenting with sex, if you haven’t already. And we want to make sure you have the information you need in order to make smart choices.”

Thor looks at Loki, eyes wide. Oh my god, Loki mouths. They’re hilarious. They think they’re so smooth.

They aren’t. “And please,” Frigga tells them both. “Don’t be afraid to butt in if you have questions.”

“Butt,” Odin mimics, and everyone giggles. The tension is so thick that it’s all but visible. “Frigga, can you do some of this,” he pleads, and the boys giggle again. “You’re just so much better at it.”

She sighs, but he is right and there’s no point in arguing. “Always remember that your body is the only one you’ll ever have,” she tells them. “And you’re the best – sometimes the only, even - person to really take care of it. That means getting tested before beginning a sexual relationship, and insisting that your partner does the same. Don’t take anyone’s word for it, either. Ask to see his – or her – results, and respectfully decline anyone who won’t produce them. And any time a relationship may not be exclusive, which pretty much means always, use a condom. And not just for intercourse… use one whenever body fluids are involved.” She watches them squirm and frown. “Now you probably don’t think any of this is necessary for the two of you, since you’ve had your hearts set on each other for pretty much forever, but if nothing else it’s good practice. Thor, you can call your doctor Monday if you’d like.” Loki, though, is still young enough that going to the family doctor may raise eyebrows, or worse. “And Loki, if you want, we can go to the clinic.”

Thor takes Loki’s hand. Frigga’s not sure he even realizes he’s doing it. They always instinctively comfort one another. “If Loki has to go there, I want to too.”

“That’s very nice of you,” Odin says, “and I’m sure Loki appreciates it, but that actually brings us to the next point. Loki, you’re enough younger than Thor that people may take issue with anything the two of you are doing. They may assume Thor is coercing you, or worse, and they may take action to put a stop to it. Action that might-” – he pauses; Loki squeezes Thor’s fingers and Thor swallows audibly – “include having Thor arrested. It’s not what the law is intended to address, and it’s not fair, but you need to know that it’s reality. Plus, remember that even though we’re fine with you sharing a physical relationship, as long as you treat one another respectfully, Loki’s father may not be. And other people may not be either.”

“Especially since more people than you might think are still very much against homosexuality,” Frigga adds. “Going after your age difference, and how Loki comes from a ‘broken home’ and will always be the one who’s farther underage, gives them a handy way to get what they want without exposing their bigotry.”

Both Thor and Loki look horrified. “Any questions so far,” Odin asks. The boys shake their heads, silently.

Frigga looks down at her list. They’re staying on track better than she’d expected. “As weird as it may sound to you now, when hormones are busily programming your bodies to insist that sex is about putting your penises in everything, good sex is about communication,” she says.

Her husband nods. “And always remember,” he continues, ignoring the way Thor and Loki have sunk down several inches and are both looking as though dying right here on the spot is a perfect alternative to vanishing, “that porn is nothing but entertainment. It’s absolutely not an instruction manual. Just like movies don’t teach you how to grill steaks or drive safely or play football, they don’t teach you how to have safe, enjoyable, healthy sex. It’s okay to watch porn if you want to,” he tells them, and Loki makes a little choking sound, “but always keep in mind that you’re watching fiction and that porn stars are professional actors. On top of which, many key things happen off-screen. So if you jump in and try to mimic exactly what you’re seeing, you won’t have fun and you’ll run the serious risk of hurting one another. There are plenty of good references out there, and we’re happy to help find some if needed.”

“Speaking of which,” Frigga says, because she knows Odin really doesn’t want to do this part… he’s fine with them loving one another, and conceptually fine with them being gay or bi, but he still finds the finer details a little challenging, “there are many ways you can bring one another pleasure that don’t involve penetration.” She looks at the boys, one and then the other. “By that I mean putting your-.”

“Jesus,” Loki says, and then quickly covers his mouth with one hand.

“Mommm,” Thor groans. “We’re not babies. We both know what you’re talking about.”

They probably don’t, not exactly, but she lets it go for now. Later on they may have questions, and that will give her another chance to be more specific. “Okay,” she agrees. “Anyway, there are lots of other things you can do, and we hope you’ll start there and take your time exploring them. Either way, Thor, please don’t forget that Loki is younger and smaller than you are. No matter what happens, you need to be careful with him.” She’s not sure either one of them can get any redder, and Odin’s an interesting shade of pink too. “Okay,” she says, setting her list on the end table and smoothing her skirt. “I think that covers the high points.” She smiles at them, nicely. If she was in their shoes, she knows, she’d be absolutely mortified by now. “We’re always here if you need help, or advice, or if you just want to talk to someone.” She waits a minute, but no one says anything. They’re so still now that it’s hard to be sure they’re even breathing. “Loki,” she asks cheerfully, “will you be joining us for supper? I was thinking of making soup. This kind of weather deserves it, don’t you think?”

“Uh, sure.” Loki’s voice breaks a little; he coughs into his sleeve to cover it. “Thanks. And, uh, soup sounds good.”

“Perfect,” Frigga says. She gets to her feet and Odin quickly follows suit. “Keep an eye on the clock, then, both of you. Around 4:00 PM, you can plan on helping me.”

~

“Whew,” Odin says loudly as soon as they’re safely out on the deck. “I can’t even tell you how glad I am that’s over.”

Frigga laughs. She’s happy to have it done with too, really. “How do you think we did?”

Her husband laughs with her. “Well,” he says, “we probably bought ourselves at least two weeks free from serious hanky panky,” he offers. “But after that? All bets are off.”

“Daaaaad,” she teases.

“Don’t you dare,” he warns. “Seriously.” He can hardly keep a straight face, and she isn’t even trying. “Don’t even think about it.”

Chapter Text

Their school district doesn’t offer Driver’s Education classes during the regular school year, and Thor insists he doesn’t want to waste his summer cooped up in a classroom learning what he’s written off as “stupid rules that don’t make sense anyway.” He says it over and over again, all during the spring semester… every time someone mentions driving.

Odin suspects it’s actually a lot more complicated than that – for starters Loki, who even at nearly fifteen is still just over a year too young to get a permit, already knows how to drive courtesy of years spent living behind-over the garage and dealing with family challenges - but he’s determined not to be the one crazy parent who complains when his child won’t start driving. No, he’s going to enjoy another year free from insane insurance hikes and white-knuckle rides and the endless low-level terror born of never quite knowing when the ringing phone will be someone telling you your son has been in an accident.

And for this one last summer, if Thor wants to walk, then walk he shall. Odin is completely fine with it. Next summer, one of them is bound to want to move on to cars. This one is going to be peaceful.

~

And peaceful it is, right up until the day a totally wiped-out Loki curls up to nap and then wakes up with such a bad sore throat that even whispering and sipping juice are off limits. “Mom,” Thor calls down the stairs. “Where’s the thermometer?”

Frigga is out dropping off a proposal. She has a client meeting that may run well into the evening. “It’s in the linen closet,” Odin yells back. He’s on substitute mom duty. “Third shelf, in the red box with the cold medicine. Are you okay?” He peers up the staircase into the gloom. “Are you coming down with something?”

Thor’s upper body appears, in dark silhouette. “I’m fine,” he says, shaking his head vigorously. “But Loki’s burning up.”

Odin comes up to check. What little of Loki he can see poking out from under blankets is pale and miserable looking, with flushed cheeks and covers pulled all the way up despite the warm summer weather. Loki’s teeth are even chattering. “Hey, buddy,” Odin says. He tries not to call Loki sweetie and honey now that the kid is- a teenager? Taller than he is? Dating his son? Something like that. “You look like crap. What’s going on?”

“Sore throat,” Loki rasps. He sneaks three shaking fingers out from under the covers and hands off the thermometer.

102.3F, the thing reads. Ugh. “Do you want me to call your mom?”

“She’s at work,” Thor says as Loki shakes his head. “We don’t want to bother her.”

“Okay,” Odin says a little hesitantly. He wishes Frigga would hurry up and get home. “But do we need to call your doctor?”

Loki shakes his head again, less vigorously this time. He shuts his eyes tight; when he finally manages to swallow, a few tears push out through his lashes. “I’ll be fine,” he whispers. “Don’t worry.”

~

By an hour or so before dinnertime, Thor hurries downstairs to report that Loki claims to feel better but seems worse. “He’s not making sense,” Thor frets. “And he’s so hot. Is mom home?”

She isn’t. Frigga’d told Odin they might have to eat without her, depending on the client’s plans. He marches dutifully back upstairs. He can do this. Except sure enough, Loki is smiling and- and hallucinating and completely clueless. “Open wide,” Odin coaxes, waving the thermometer. “I just want to make sure things are moving in the right direction.”

They aren’t. Loki’s temperature registers at 104.7F, even though he’s been breathing through his mouth and laughing and talking. He’s making less than no sense, and Thor is hovering. “I’m going to call your mother,” Odin announces, more firmly this time.

“She likes peaches,” Loki says. “She’ll be happy.”

~

Farbauti meets them at the after-hours walk-in center. She’s on a break from work and can’t stay, not unless she really, really has to, but she signs the paperwork and kisses Loki’s forehead distractedly and makes Odin promise to call her. It probably doesn’t really matter; he’s pretty sure Loki has no idea who she is anyway.

There’s bloodwork and lots of poking and prodding. Odin has to look way as Loki chokes and gags his way through a throat culture.

And then they wait. And wait. And wait some more.

~

“Epstein-Barr virus,” the doctor says after everything is said and done. “Mono,” he explains when Odin asks.

“Hold on,” Odin tells him as he starts in on a set of complicated-feeling instructions for bringing Loki’s fever down without medication. “My brain isn’t working. Let me get my wife on the phone.”

~

They call Farbauti on her cell phone. Everyone agrees – except Loki himself; he’s shivering under his blanket and mumbling unintelligibly – that it’s best for everyone if Loki goes back to the Borson household for the night. Probably the next few days, even; their place is peaceful and quiet and someone can be around pretty much all the time to take care of him.

From the look on her face Odin thinks Frigga just might be judging. Personally, he does his best not to go there. He’s just happy Thor will be able to keep an eye on Loki; separating them with Loki so sick feels like an invitation to open warfare.

It’s a long evening, even what little’s left of it. Frigga talks Thor through cooling Loki down; a lukewarm bath, a cool washcloth on his forehead, sips of cool (not cold) water. They try going to bed, but sleeping just doesn’t happen.

Odin’s proud. His son is a trouper.

Thor takes care of Loki instinctively, without flinching or complaining. By 2:00 AM he has Loki’s fever down to a manageable level, the sweat-soaked sheets in the washing machine, and a mug of tea with honey and lemon at the ready. He’s awesome, and Odin makes sure to tell him so.

~

“You know this is going to go on for weeks, right,” Frigga warns when Odin is still bragging shamelessly about Thor the next morning. “And we can only hope he had this himself as a toddler.”

She’s right about that. Odin can’t imagine babysitting the two of them. Still, he can’t stop being impressed. “You should have seen him,” he insists. “He’s taking the best care of Loki. He should be a- a nurse or something.” He stops to think for a moment. “They love each other so much, it’s scary.”

Frigga sighs. “I know,” she says. “They’re so lucky.”

Chapter Text

"For the fiftieth time, it wasn't a fucking date, Loki!"

Frigga isn't really eavesdropping; Thor's close enough to full-on yelling that she can hear him all the way out in the kitchen. And if she'd shut the water off just now, well, that was because she'd finished the rinsing. "How many times do I have to tell you that before you believe me? I ran into her at the mall. I haven't seen her all summer. We stopped for coffee. I came right home and told you. What do you want from me, Loki? I can't spend every waking minute in this room with you. And if I try, you'll just be pissed that I'm not catering to your every fucking whim. Seriously." He smacks a palm on something - her big, solid desk, maybe - loudly enough that Frigga jumps. "Whatever. Forget it. I give up already."

Loki's retort is shrill and immediate, but she can't make out a thing he's saying. Not even by standing right at the edge of the doorway.

"You know what? Fine," Thor fires back, and he really is yelling this time. "Suit yourself. I'm done here. Have a nice fu- oh, hi, mom," he huffs as she's not quite fast enough to get out of his way when he stomps down the hall into the kitchen. "Sorry!"

"Is everything okay?" She angles her head towards the den. Week upon week of forced inactivity has clearly been grating on Loki – on all of them - recently, but this is the first time an actual fight has erupted. "Can I help with anything?"

Thor's face is flushed and sweaty. His hair is a mess. Her big golden bear of a boy. "Loki's pissed that I had coffee with Sif," he explains. And complains. He’s still breathing hard. "Apparently that's somehow both fraternizing with the enemy and, um, fraternizing. Even though I'd rather gouge my eye out with a stick than-... sorry, mom," he says again when she makes a face at his gruesome comparison, "than go out with Sif. I don't like girls like that. I don't like Sif like that. I’m not on the market. But nothing I say matters, because he won't fu- he doesn’t believe me. Crap. Sorry."

Frigga reaches out and pats his sticky, warm arm. "You're fine," she says. "It's really hard being sick this long, especially now," she points out. "I’m sure he’s about had it. Not that you've done anything to deserve what’s happened either." As far as she can tell, and nothing's given her reason to think her imaginary maternal crystal ball is functioning any less accurately than normal, Thor is still as devoted as ever. Which amounts to completely. But Loki’s protracted recovery has to be wearing on him, too. "I'm guessing this isn't how either of you wanted to spend the summer." It should have been their last lovely childhood summer; next year, Thor will have graduated. She doesn’t even want to think about how that might… unravel.

Even though it's been close to a month since Loki'd last complained outright of feeling lousy, he's still sleeping twelve hours a night and picking at even his favorite meals with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. And while it’s nice that he’s feeling a little better, none of really makes a difference. His spleen is enlarged, in the collective and individual opinions of his own pediatrician and Frigga's beloved family doctor, and their verdicts are identical, precise, and clear: Loki’s not allowed to do much of anything until his innards are wholly back to normal and all his symptoms have resolved.

And when they say not much of anything his doctors basically mean… nothing.

No biking. No car rides, beyond what’s absolutely essential. No active play. No horsing around. No walks outdoors. No climbing stairs, even, at least not more than the mandatory lone round trip down every morning and back up every night. He can't sunbathe (not that he's ever much cared for it, but this summer he’s been told to stay out of the sun completely) or toss a ball around or splash about under the sprinkler. And at almost fifteen, being thus deprived is plain, old-fashioned torture. Loki has never been the more physical of the two boys, sure, but lying on the couch all day, every day is not-so-slowly driving him crazy. Recently it’s been concerning enough that Frigga's even snuck in a call to her doctor about it... only to be warned that mono often walks hand in hand with mild to moderate depression.

Thor has been a doll about the whole business, for the most part, but her son is only human and Loki's relentless foul mood is clearly starting to take a heavy toll on both of them.

"Why don't you go relax outside," she suggests, waving a hand in the deck's general direction. "Have a glass of lemonade, give yourself a little breather. I'll go talk to Loki."

"Listen," Thor corrects, wiping his face on the shoulder of his t-shirt. "Loki will talk and you will only listen. Trust me." He sighs. "I don't mean to lose patience with him. I really don't. Things suck right now. I get that. But holy crap can he push a guy's buttons."

"Oh, I bet," Frigga says. She laughs, just a little. "And I'm sure your father can relate, from back when I was expecting you. All those nice things you hear about mommies-to-be? Yeah, no. Not this one. I would cheerfully have killed anything that couldn't outrun me. Really, honey," she assures him as he cocks an eyebrow at her. "I would have. I swear. If you don't believe me, go ask Odin."

"No, I do," Thor tells her, "but that’s different. Loki's only- he’s only giving birth to a virus."

They share a sad little laugh. She pours her son a big glass of homemade raspberry lemonade and sends him outside to regain some of his lost perspective.

~

“Hi, sweetie.” Frigga hands Loki his own glass of lemonade. His mouth is set in a grim, sullen line, but his face is blotchy and streaked with tears. “You must be awfully sick of this.” He’s essentially living at their house this summer; he’s been home once since his diagnosis, and not overnight. That, too, can’t be easy. “I’m sorry.”

He shrugs, sharp and angry. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“Hm?” She picks up the afghan and sits down beside him, close by but not quite touching. “Why do you say that?”

“Thor hates me,” he says, blinking back more tears.

Oh, Loki. “No,” she corrects, gently. “He’s probably almost as tired of your being laid up as you are… but I guarantee he doesn’t hate you.”

Loki snuffles loudly. “That’s dumb,” he argues. “He ought to.”

Chapter Text

Ever since The Big Talk they’ve been being good. Really, really good. Thor is a lot better when it comes to self-restraint – he’s the older one, obviously, and he insists he’s going to be held responsible if anything happens – but even Loki has been trying really hard (and there’s some impressive irony just lying there for the taking) not to push or instigate. And of course being sick for weeks and then under a parental microscope the rest of the summer has done a lot in terms of eliminating opportunity.

Not that they’ve been perfect angels. Early on there’d been a lot of serious making out, the kind that starts with the smallest of kisses and quickly degenerates (or boils over, depending on your perspective) into open-mouthed panting complete with hands inside clothes and tongues down throats and barely-stifled gasps. And lots of shushing, especially late at night on the days when Loki had theoretically gone home or was “sound asleep” in the den somewhere.

But Loki’s battle with mono had put an end to all of that, for weeks and weeks. They’d lived in abject fear of Thor’s coming down with mono too, meaning they’d gone more than a month without kissing at all.

That was the month they’d come to the agreement that jerking off – in the same room, at the same time, but not with each other – simply had to be exempt from all the rules. After all, over time, all three of their actual parents had assured them that masturbation was perfectly normal. And as long as they weren’t touching one another… or putting on a show… taking care of business simultaneously was just good time management.

For the rest of the summer, that had been their routine. They’d done it last thing at night and first thing in the morning. And sometimes in between, if they were home alone. During Loki’s official stairs ban when he’d been bored as fuck, that last bit had felt deliciously risky. They’d had to make do with a quick pull in the den – the last thing they needed was for Loki to stumble on the stairs and hurt himself because they’d been sneaking up the Thor’s bedroom to take care of business together - and that had meant not only keeping a lookout for family but also arranging for careful cleanup and even more careful disposal.

Thanks to long hours of practice they’d developed a routine so detailed and solemn that it practically qualified as ritual. No eye contact, no discussion. No dirty talk, no obvious gawking. Just business. Flies open (or sweats down, in Loki’s case especially; considering how he’d been trapped in the house and not allowed to do anything, putting on actual pants had seemed completely unnecessary). Hand in place (two hands in public just seemed weird; it had quickly become one of Loki’s go-to options after he’d first tried it out alone in the shower, where he could pretend his smaller hands paired were actually one of Thor’s much broader ones, but no way was he doing it in front of anyone).

And of course no touching one another!

But if they fell into a rhythm together, hands moving simultaneously and chests heaving in unison, well… that was only natural, right? It wasn’t really any different than falling into step with a fellow runner.

It wasn’t, was it?

As long as he hadn’t let himself dwell on any of that, Loki’d been fine. Considering how he’d spent the whole summer dying, anyway.

But he’d been cleared to ease back into normal activity about three weeks ago, just before school had started. And this is Thor’s senior year. All good reasons, Loki’s certain, for going all-out when it’s time to celebrate Thor’s birthday.

~

“We’ll make it up to you both, I promise,” Odin had told them a couple of weeks back, when one of Frigga’s clients had asked her to come out to California to help with an urgent campaign. “And we’re only staying on the west coast for two extra days.” There’d been something about expenses paid and too good an opportunity to pass up and your mother’s always wanted to show me where she went to college. Loki’d done the requisite pouting while Thor’d bemoaned their parents missing their birthdays – his last birthday before college even, which isn’t something Loki wants to think about at all - but aside from the college part Loki’d been struggling not to fist-pump and dance around and jump up and down screaming.

Because when no one else is home, what could possibly say “Happy Birthday” better than a blowjob?

~

“You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.” Thor assures Loki. Now that the time has arrived, they’re both horribly nervous. “I won’t be mad or anything.” Loki checks the door out of habit; of course, no one’s around. No one but Thor, who’s standing blushing and awkward at the edge of the bed with his belt off and his half-off pants clenched in his fists. “You know I don’t want to take advantage of you.”

At that, Loki can’t help himself. He barks out an embarrassingly freaked-sounding laugh. “Like you even could,” he retorts. It’s not true, of course; Thor’s twice his size and could pin him and take him by force – Loki shudders at the thought of that – any time the mood strikes. But it’s fun to watch Thor’s face, so Loki says it anyway.

Thor clears his throat. “I would never,” he insists, rasp turning into a squeak as Loki kneels before him. “Baby. Are you su-ahhh!”

Loki’s never done this before. He’s watched a lot of footage, and practiced more than a few times with an embarrassing array of foodstuffs and household objects… enough to be sure he won’t immediately gag and make a fool of himself. The real thing is- different, though, and it turns out he’s not even close to prepared.

He’s not ready for the taste, or the smell, or the delicious little sounds Thor evidently can’t stop making. He’s not ready for Thor’s hands tangled in his hair or the way Thor bucks into his mouth and then apologizes over and over and over. He’s not prepared for a mouthful of jizz after less than two minutes of fumbling and choking… or for the tears that squeeze out and then won’t stop coming.

And then Thor’s on his knees too, petting Loki’s face and kissing his hair and laughing and crying. “Are you okay,” he whispers. “I didn’t mean to do that, not without warning you. Honest! I’m such a loser.”

Loki smiles. His mouth feels puffy and Thor’s mess has gotten everywhere. It’s in down his neck and in his hair, even. And what with all of Thor’s embarrassment, he’s intensely grateful that his thick black sweats hide the evidence of his own ejaculation. “Shh,” he soothes. “It’s fine. I love you. Happy birthday.”

Chapter Text

Odin sits alone on a stool near the kitchen door, slumping against the end of the counter and watching the snow falling. It's big and soft, like tiny feathers, and it's slowly consuming everything he recognizes about the local landscape.

Everything's changing… so much change.

He's taken to knocking every time he’s about to enter a room, even when the house is so quiet he's certain no one else is here. The kids- well, they aren't kids anymore. That’s what it all comes down to. Time and football have bulked Thor up into a young god, and even Loki has finally started growing. The inexorable march towards adulthood had slowed down a little over the summer, when Loki'd been so sick and their lives had revolved around catering to every single whim, but nowadays things are back to normal and the two teens prowl the house in a constant swirl of sweat and hairy, muscled legs and- sex.

Sure, they may not actually be doing it - it - but Odin's caught them twice in positions so compromising he'd feared he might be the one to die of embarrassment. Thor and Loki hang all over each other with the kind of open, comfortable familiarity that only comes with powerful physical intimacy. Odin’s not a prude, and he wasn't born yesterday. Far from it. Either it, for that matter. But having a vague sense of what's going on behind closed doors can be a lot different- a lot more palatable than actually seeing it.

"Sorry dad," Thor rumbles when Odin finds his son gazing into the open refrigerator with a hand inside the waistband of Loki’s shorts or teeth sunk into the meat of Loki's upper shoulder.

"Sorry, Mr. Borson," Loki squawks as Odin catches him in the upstairs hall wearing nothing but his own skin and his impossibly long, thick eyelashes and a dark thatch of curly hair Odin's thankful not to have laid eyes on before. Or since. Loki's tall now and slender and working his newfound jailbait status to sobering advantage.

There's a lot Odin doesn't need to know and what the two of them look like tangled in bed together might just be at the very top of the list these days.

Outside the snow is fresh and white and pure... and strangely disquieting.

~

"I wonder what’s going to happen next year," Frigga muses, and Odin catches a mournful note in her voice that’s been present with more and more regularity recently. The three of them - Odin, Farbauti, Frigga - are sharing tapas and wine for lunch when they all really should be working. "Loki's still welcome at our house, of course," Frigga hurries to assure Farbauti, "whenever he wants to join us, but it seems- well, maybe he'll want to be home again – home with his mom, with his actual family - once Thor's- gone. Once it’s just Odin and me rattling around there."

"I don't think so," Farbauti says quietly. "Things are- I guess you could say they’ve gotten kind of bad at my place again." Something in her tone makes Odin's stomach lurch miserably. "I still have the restraining order, so nothing's happened inside the building, but Laufey's back in town and he’s been sneaking past the place when no one's around and leaving- messages, I guess you could call them, for Loki. Mostly it's just letters and notes, all sealed up so no one else will see, but..." She pauses; Odin watches her fork shake as her hand trembles. "Sometimes Laufey leaves- dead birds and things. Outside the door, or on the fire escape, all laid out as though they’re offerings. Like it’s some kind of warning. I think the guy has finally really lost it." Her voice is so soft Odin can barely make out what she's saying. "I intercept as much as I can, and throw it away or give it to the police before Loki sees it. But he- it’s clear that Laufey knows too much. And it’s things- it’s information I have no idea where he's even getting."

"Oh, sweetie," Frigga says sadly. Odin watches in a bit of a fog as his wife stretches across the table to hug Loki's mother. He's angry now, suddenly really angry. At Laufey, sure, but also at- the situation. And maybe at Farbauti. His own son is at risk, and his wife, and especially the odd, bright, spirited young man Thor practically lives for. This guy could take them all down, when they least expect it, and here Loki's mother is just making excuses.

When Odin interrupts his voice is sharper and less kind than he intends. Frigga shoots him a look; she knows all too well what he’s thinking. He's not being fair and he knows it. The judging comes easily when you're big and male and not in the thick of whatever's going on. He clears his throat and takes a sip of wine. "Excuse me." He thunks his chest and coughs again. "Is there anything we can do to- to make things easier? Safer? We don't want anything to happen to you, or to Loki."

Farbauti looks at her plate, at the gnocchi and plump, browned meatballs. "I made my bed long ago," she says. "But maybe you can help Loki not lie in it."

"Of course," Odin and Frigga say in stereo. "He's welcome to stay with us as long as he wants - or needs - to," his wife reiterates.

They've talked about it before, about how having Loki around once Thor's off to school will help them dodge so-called empty nest syndrome. And Loki's young, and poor... he may well stick to one of the local two-year programs, or opt to work and not go on to school (at least not right away) at all. In her head, Odin knows, Frigga's built a future where Loki stays home and waits like a fairytale princess and Thor sweeps back to round out the fantasy. It's not going to play out that way. Nothing does. But they can pretend, can't they?

"I'm worried about you, though," Odin says once he’s calmed down a little. "If Laufey's doing weird crap like this, what's to say he won't seriously hurt you?" He can't even begin to imagine how horrible having to tell Loki about something like that might be.

"It's fine," she says. "I don't think my older boys would let him. No matter what he tells them, they love me."

Chapter Text

Frigga watches (a little sneakily, sure, but like it or not that’s sometimes what being a parent amounts to) over the top of her magazine as Thor fidgets and wiggles and works up the courage to ask her something. He’s playing some sort of beeping, rumbling game on his phone, and he probably thinks he’s being subtle, but she’s known him all his life and he’s about as opaque as one of her favorite French Bistro drinking glasses. Which is to say, not at all. “What is it, honey,” she finally says when the whole business has gone on for at least twenty minutes and he’s got to be getting a sore butt from all that moving around. If nothing else he’s going to wear a hole in his underwear.

Thor sighs. “I think maybe- maybe I should defer.”

She and Odin have been expecting this. It’s taken longer to arrive than they’d anticipated, actually. “Defer,” she asks, even though she knows exactly what he means. It’s s hundred times better if he comes right out and says it.

“School,” he clarifies after two deep breaths and another big sigh. “You know, admission. Like, ask to start the year after next, rather than in the fall.”

“Mm,” Frigga says. She folds down the corner of her page – it’s just a magazine, and not one that Odin reads anyway, but her husband hates bent pages and she still feels a little twinge of guilt about it – before setting the magazine aside. “Why do you think you ought to do that?”

Thor has paused his game and set his phone aside as well. He looks at his empty hands. “Um,” he fumbles. “I’m not sure if I’m ready.”

His grades this year have been as good as ever - not a trace of senioritis, not so far at least - and football had gone fine too. “I’m not sure anyone ever feels ready,” she tells him. There’s pretty much no way this is the actual problem, but she plays along because that’s usually the best way to get him talking. “I sure didn’t, and to hear him talk about it your father didn’t either. Sometimes the best thing to do is to jump in and see what happens. And colleges are used to helping students deal with any problems adjusting.”

Not surprisingly, Thor looks unhappy rather than reassured. Just as she’d thought: not the problem. “What else,” she asks gently.

“I’m worried about Loki’s family,” he says. He probably is, and justifiably so, but from the look on his face this still isn’t the real story. Or the whole story. Regardless, it’s an important topic and well worth discussing.

“Mm,” she hums, nodding. “Me too. But I don’t think there’s anything we can do about it, beyond making sure Loki always has a safe place to stay here. And his mom’s said she’s fine with him continuing to spend time with us next year, while he finishes out high school. Laufey’s never showed up at our house; as tempting as it might be to think otherwise, I doubt that has much to do with whether or not you’re around.” She does doubt it… sure, Thor’s a big guy, but it’s hard to imagine Laufey being afraid of a high-schooler. Especially given what Farbauti’s been saying about her ex’s declining mental health, or whatever you want to call it. “We’ll take the same good care of Loki we’ve been taking of both of you, I promise. Don’t worry.”

“Uh huh,” he says dully.

Frigga rearranges her blanket. This time of year the house tends to be a little cool around the edges. Loki likes it; he’s probably curled up with a book in one of the colder rooms right this minute. “Okay, spill it,” she tells her son. “What’s really worrying you?”

Thor crosses one ankle over the other knee, then switches, then gives up and sets both feet flat on the floor. It doesn’t help, as far as Frigga can tell; one of his knees is still jiggling madly. “What if Loki- what if- crap. What if he meets someone while I’m gone? You know… what if he moves on or something?”

Ah.

“Loki’s young,” she tells her son. She doesn’t want to upset him, sure, but there’s nothing to be gained by lying, either. “And so are you. That doesn’t imply that your relationship isn’t real, or important, and it certainly doesn’t mean that it’s doomed, but it does pose a special challenge. And there’s always the possibility that either one of you might meet someone… or just decide you’re ready to move on alone, for that matter. But honey?” She smiles sweetly when he finally makes eye contact. “If that’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. Whether you’re there, or here, or wherever.”

“Do you think this is hopeless, then,” he asks her sadly. “Because that’s not what I want. Not at all.”

Frigga frowns. “No, actually, I think the two of you are great together. But you’re both at a point in your lives where you still have a lot you need to accomplish. You have to keep focusing on the things you’ve got to do and let the rest take care of itself. And you’re lucky, really; with today’s technology you can keep in close touch all semester.”

Thor smirks. Good. They’re making headway.

“Oh no no, I don’t want to even think about how you might opt to do that,” she teases. “And I do wish there was a way to guarantee the future,” she says when his smile starts to falter. “Everyone does. But there isn’t. All you can do is keep giving it a fair try. And I think you can do that, don’t you?”

“Do what,” Loki asks from the doorway. From his overly bright expression, he’s probably heard more of this than her own son had really intended. Thor jumps and looks utterly horrified, but it’s a good opportunity to get them talking – really talking – and Frigga has no intention of letting it slip away.

“We were just going over some of the ways you and Thor can stay in touch next year,” she explains, “while you’re finishing out your senior year here and he’s off to college.”

Loki blushes. Evidently he’s been thinking about this too, and coming to different conclusions than Thor has. Frigga laughs. “And as I was telling him, I really don’t need to know any of the details. But here, come sit down.” She stretches to grab another blanket from the basket and holds it out. “This really is a good thing for all of us to talk about together.”

“Moooommm,” Thor protests. He sounds so sulky that even Loki – master sulker extraordinaire - can’t help but laugh.

“Like it or not,” she tells her son, “part of being a grown-up is talking through all the tough stuff.”

“Thanks,” Loki says as he takes the offered blanket. He settles onto the loveseat right next to Thor and spreads the soft thing carefully across both of them. “I think it’ll be kind of fun,” he says, leaning in to kiss Thor’s cheek. “Skype or whatever, I mean. Even though I’ll miss you. Oh, and I can sleep in your bed, you know.”

“Ah-ah,” Frigga chides. “Don’t. Need. Details.”

Loki grins ear to ear. “Remember,” he parrots, “part of being a grown-up is talking through all the tough stuff.”

Even Thor laughs at that one.

Chapter Text

Thor watches in growing frustration as Loki perches on the edge of the deck and breaks a small dead branch apart one split at a time. The snapping sounds are starting to really, really get to him, but from the angry set of Loki’s shoulders Thor can see that it’s not the smartest time to try to put an end to it. The branch isn’t a very big one, after all, and there can’t be much left by now. He just needs to last a few more minutes, by which point the problem will have solved itself.

Except that, immediately afterwards, Loki scrambles down off the deck and grabs another branch out of the near end of the garden. Thor groans. It’s been windy for more than a week now and the yard is littered with opportunity.

Loki hops back up onto the deck. “What,” he asks, in a snippy tone of voice that pretty much guarantees he knows the answer already.

Thor sighs. More and more often these days, a perfectly innocuous conversation turns into a fight. It’s almost like Loki’s starting up on purpose. “Do you have to keep doing that,” he asks. He’s careful to say it like he would to- to his mother, say. Someone who’s disturbing him innocently. Even though he’s sure that’s not what’s going on here. Because accusing Loki isn’t going to gain him anything, not anything worth having. “That noise is giving me a headache.”

“No one said you had to sit out here,” Loki points out, nodding over one shoulder at the sliding door. “If it’s bothering you, there’s a whole house right there.”

“I don’t want the whole house,” Thor protests. He doesn’t want to argue, not again, but life is far too slippery a slope these days and no matter what he says or does he just can’t seem to get any traction. “I want to be with you.”

Loki throws the branch down, hard enough that it clatters against the steps and explodes into several pieces. One of them sticks up out of the grass like a miniature broken spear. “It’s good to want,” Loki says nastily, “but you know what? Sometimes the things you want just don’t happen.”

“No, really?” Thor’s ears are already ringing. The very last thing he needs right now is a lecture about lost hopes and dreams. “I wouldn’t know, because nothing like that has ever happened to me.”

“Oh, right.” Loki whips around to face back towards the house. His hair is long this spring, longer than Thor can remember it ever being. Some of it catches in his mouth as he turns. “Of course. I’m so fucking stupid sometimes. How could I have forgotten how difficult it is to be Thor Odinson?”

Thor takes a step towards Loki, who backs away and ends up dangerously close to the top of the steps. “Please,” Thor begs. “Can we stop this? In a month I’ll be graduating. I don’t-,” he adds, not catching himself quite quickly enough. “We shouldn’t waste our time arguing.”

“Good point,” Loki snaps, like it isn’t one. “There are so many other things we could be doing instead. Let’s see.” He starts counting off on his fingers. “We could be talking about how much you’re going to miss football. Or your friends. Or your parents. No?” He smirks as Thor searches in vain for the right way to salvage anything from the wreckage of their conversation. “Wait, no! I know! We can talk about how excited you are about college. Or about – boo hoo – how much you’re going to miss me.”

“Stop,” Thor insists. “I am going to miss you. Why is that a bad thing?” He almost takes another step forward, but if Loki backs up any further they’ll be having the rest of the discussion sprawled out in a heap on the lawn. And not in a good way.

“Because life is not all about you,” Loki snarls. “If you ever stopped thinking of yourself for five fucking seconds,” he hisses, right up in Thor’s face, “you might realize that I’m the one getting screwed here. I’m the one who’s going to be stuck in this dump of a town while you go off and see new places and meet new people and find yourself a girlfriend everyone likes in place of the creepy gay asshole you’re only with because you feel sorry for me.” He pushes Thor so hard that Thor has to take a quick half-step back, and then catch Loki’s wrists to keep him from falling. “Let go of me,” he howls, jerking both hands free. He’s red-faced and wet-eyed and absolutely furious-looking. “Do you really think I don’t hear what people are saying? Do you? Do you? Because I do hear them, Thor. I hear every bit of it. And I know everyone’s counting the seconds until you’re finally free of the little black-haired monkey on your big, strong, shouldn’t-be-wasted-on-degenerates back. The monkey that’s got two thumbs and is going to turn out just like his dad: crazy.”

“Loki,” Thor exclaims. He can’t- he just can’t believe what he’s hearing. And he can’t stand here and listen to any more of it. “I don’t feel that way. My parents don’t feel that way. We love you. I would give anything to not have to leave you behind.”

“Anything. Right.” Loki wipes his eyes with one wrist, furiously. “Well, I guess anything doesn’t mean the same thing to you as it does to me.”

Every time they fight lately it’s the same thing… Loki twists Thor’s words and spits them back at him until nothing makes sense anymore. And every time, he can only tolerate so much of it before his brain shuts down completely. “What do you want me to do, Loki,” he asks, a little too loudly. “My parents say I have to-.”

“Don’t even,” Loki yells. “My father says I should die and stop being a burden. So just shut up about what your parents are making you do, okay? Just shut up and leave me alone.” He spins around too fast and all but falls after all, staggering down two or three steps before catching himself with both hands in a death grip on the railing. “In fact, I’ll make it easy for you. Goodbye, Thor. Have a nice life, why don’t you.”

It isn’t a question, and Loki’s disappeared around the corner of the house before Thor can get an answer out anyway. When he gets to the front yard, he’s just in time to see Loki pedaling furiously off into the sunset.

Thor hops onto his own bike and heads after Loki. He finally catches up when Loki wipes out in the sand at the park entrance and goes down in a long, ugly slide.

“Baby!” It’s like watching a horrible train wreck. Thor almost falls himself as his throws his bike down and scrambles away from it. “Loki!”

Loki’s up almost instantly. He’s limping a little and one knee is bleeding. Thor closes the last few feet between them without thinking and wraps him in a huge, insistent hug. “Please,” Thor mouths into Loki’s hair. “Don’t do this. I can’t- I can’t lose you.”

Chapter Text

No one is more surprised than Loki when graduation day dawns before the earth has opened up and swallowed anyone. As in him, probably.

He just hasn’t been able to leave well enough alone in the rush of days leading up to Thor's big event - all he’s wanting is to be loved; all he’s done is start up and find fault at every possible opportunity - and the two of them have been fighting viciously. Time after time Loki’s goaded Thor into finally losing patience and then freaked out over the resulting tongue-lashing he’s earned himself. And yet he’s kept at it, pushing and needling, every single time.

Loki’s never once felt more alone. He's never behaved in a way half this isolating.

Even as he’s being doing it, Loki’s known full well it's all stupid and counterproductive. Undermining. Dangerous, and not in the dizzying sense that comes complete with thrills and chills. Every single time he’s opened his mouth recently, Loki's horrified himself. And yet he’s kept on (and on, and on) doing it; he can no more stop behaving horribly than he could stop breathing.

It's an awful cycle: pick, accuse, push, get a fight going, feel like dirt, bawl, get comforted, feel like more dirt for so not deserving comfort and yet accepting it anyway. It’s revolting.

But he's gotten addicted to it somehow.

At his worst Loki’d spent hours plotting all sorts of shit he could set in motion to wreck graduation... to ruin the day for Thor and all those shamelessly obnoxious college-bound sycophants Thor calls friends. Sif. Fandral. Tony. All of them. Even Thor. Especially Thor. And then he’d raced upstairs and locked himself in the guest room - it's not his room, of course; he's nothing but a bastard, one who doesn't actually live here - and cried until his mouth had been almost painfully dry and his whole face had been swollen. All the while, he’d imagined Thor finally angry enough to write him off… forever.

But when the day comes at last, hot for so early in the summer and uncomfortably steamy, Loki's- paralyzed. He's afraid to be cruel and afraid to be bold and afraid to do anything more than hide behind the Borsons and clap politely.

When Thor strides into the sea of chairs that stretches across the football field, homing in on the four of them (Farbauti, the Borsons, and unworthy little him) like there's not another soul in the stadium, Loki accepts the hug. What else can he do?

Inside, he's dying.

~

The Borsons throw a neighborhood party in the afternoon, because graduation weekend warrants a trip back to the good old days. Everyone shows up, like always, although most of the parents are paunchy, greying, and a little haggard. The kids stand around chatting; they’re newly-minted grownups, and most of them act the part. Even Heimdall makes a cameo appearance… he’s here to spend a couple of precious days off from work celebrating the life and times of his baby sister. He's a big guy now, proud and stern. Next to him Loki feels like- like so much vermin.

"You're next up," Heimdall reminds Loki during a little break in the party action. As though Loki needs reminding; as if forgetting is even an option. Heimdall has a beer in one hand and a plate in the other, and Loki privately wonders when he magically turned into an actual card-carrying adult. "Senior year and all that. Woo hoo, right? Have you picked a college?"

Loki's contingency plans have contingency plans. He's crafted an elaborate scheme from complex calculations of what Thor might do and where Thor might be, all of it keeping in mind whether or not they’ll still be speaking this time next summer. But sharing all of that would make him look and sound insane, on top of which... spilling the whole thing now would only give everyone - Thor, Frigga and Odin, even Farbauti - way too much time to throw down countermeasures. "Not yet," Loki tells Heimdall. He pretends to be busy trying to chew a bite of burger he'd actually choked past the huge lump in his throat several minutes ago. "Mm," he stalls. Hand up, look apologetic, wipe mouth awkwardly. "Working through some things. Keeping my options open."

Heimdall takes a big swig of beer and gives him the side-eye. It's almost as though Loki’s lying or something. He catches himself starting to bristle and smiles beatifically instead. He is lying, after all. Getting all defensive will just draw that much more attention to it. "I've got time to make up my mind," he says. Nice big shrug, smooth and easy. "I'm sure I'll come up with something. What did your sister opt for?"

Heimdall rattles off the name of the biggest engineering school in the state like it's nothing. "She's still thinking ROTC," he says quietly. "But both my parents are against it. I guess it's bad enough that their little girl wants to do all the boy things, without throwing career military into it. But once she sets her mind on something, she always finds a way."

Loki nods. Talking about Sif is a whole lot safer than talking about Thor (or about Loki). "She'd make a good leader," he agrees. It's true. That's one of the things he dislikes most about her. "And she'll like blowing up things."

"Who's blowing who? Did I miss something?" Fandral pops up out of nowhere, too loud and uncomfortably close to Loki's elbow.

"No one’s blowing anyone. My sister’s heading off to college," Heimdall clarifies. "You know you don't stand a chance, right? "

Fandral laughs. Loki uses the noise and movement as cover and shifts subtly away. "Yeah,” Fandral agrees, “she's out of my league. Always has been. Now this one," he goes on, reaching for Loki. "This one is a different story."

"Excuse me." Loki ducks free. With everyone here he feels skittish and frightened… and a little violated. A lot of people are drinking and he’s not feeling up to being creeped on. "I need to go help Mrs. Borson."

"No problem," Fandral calls after him. Loki girds himself and starts pulling together a quick list of a thousand gruesome deaths. "I'll be here when you realize you want some."

Fine, then. Two thousand.

Chapter Text

Loki has established - not set; he's a college-bound senior now and he’s limiting himself to using real words - two goals for his not-nearly-fast-enough-approaching sixteenth birthday. Neither endeavor is legal until he actually makes it to sixteen, though. Necessity makes his twinned missions very stealthy ones.

They’re reasonable goals, really: Loki wants to get his driver's license as close to right on his birthday as possible, and he wants to lose his virginity.

To Thor, of course... only and always to Thor.

Behind each goal is an elaborate rationale. As someone who's largely going to be looking out for himself this coming school year, the ability to move about quickly - and beat a hasty, protected escape if and when needed - by car could be critically important... and nothing will bind Thor to him like a hot, bubbling mixture of lust and guilt. The plan itself is simple enough, though. Loki’s reasonably sure he can work the two things together. Put less subtly, he intends to make heavy use of his second goal - the sex - as a way to bribe Thor into keeping any visible effort expended towards his first goal – via solid, regularly driving practice – very, very quiet.

~

"I heard you," Thor grumbles. "I just don't get why this is so important." Byeleistr's old junker, the one Loki'd first learned to drive years ago… back when he couldn't even see over the steering wheel and Bye (mostly) wasn't paying his shenanigans any attention, is stashed at Bye's friend's cousin's house. Or something like that. It's at someone's farm, a few miles out of town. The homeowner is somewhere in Europe for the summer and the friend's cousin or cousin's friend is a lot more interested in getting stoned than- she... Loki's pretty sure it's a she... is in keeping an eye on the premises. Getting out to the farm is an easy bike ride, barely half the distance Loki's ridden plenty of other times. Going alone should be nothing.

But no… Thor is insistent about coming along and won't hear any different.

"You're going to get arrested, you know," Thor admonishes. He glowers as Loki spins the tarnished key ring on one bony index finger. "You'll be in jail and I'll be in college."

"Be my pen-pal, then," Loki teases. He licks his lips, slowly, just the way he knows drives Thor wild. "Or bail me out. Save me from the monsters in juvie."

"It's not funny," Thor insists, because at almost eighteen he's studying up for his AARP membership. "They'll put you in foster care. My parents will get in trouble."

"Yes, mom," Loki snaps. "Seriously. No one's getting in trouble, no one's getting busted. If it makes you uncomfortable, go home. That way you honestly can say you had no part in it." He studies Thor's face. This isn't going the way he'd hoped. "Don't tell," he wheedles, shifting mental gears and trying a different tactic. "If you let me do this, I'll make it worth your while." There. There it is: the guilt, hot on the heels of something- darker. "Go home," he suggests again. "I’ll owe you. We can settle up later."

In the end Thor doesn't go home. He doesn't get in the car, either... he just stands in the shadow of the hedgerow with both their bikes and watches for any sign of movement.

Loki doesn't screw around. He really is here to practice his driving, properly, the way he needs to in order to pass his road test. He's got a copy of the study guide Tony'd scrounged up for him - the details are a little fuzzy, but it’s probably better that way - and a carefully planned schedule. His mornings are packed full of endless parallel parking attempts and lots of mirror checking and signals.

In the afternoons the two of them hole up back at the house, where Thor stresses over impending college and Loki crams for his written exam.

Frigga’s busy with her own work this summer; she has a important client on the other side of town with a strong preference for face-to-face meetings. Meaning, she’s out of the house a lot. Loki promptly determines that it’s the little things; reading a book all over the house, for example, affords chance after perfect chance to advance his second cause. Simultaneously. He's always been a reader, so adding in a few bonus features (along the lines of scantily-clad or bent neatly over the closest solid object) isn't much of a stretch, really.

And if Thor's badly-muffled groans are any guide, Loki’s master plan is coming together (hah!) nicely.

~

"No," Thor insists, less and less forcibly each time. He’s out of breath and panting. Loki stretches forward to lick the sweat from his temple. "No. I mean it. We can't. Really. Not until you're sixteen, baby."

"And may I remind you that, when I finally am sixteen, you will be hundreds of miles away and all I'll have on hand to put up my ass is my fingers?"

"You may," Thor says, breathlessly. "But it's not going to change anything."

"Oh, good," Loki chirps, turning to dig in Thor's second desk drawer. He's nothing if not observant, after all. Growing up Loki means you pretty much have to be. "Then you won't mind if I practice, will you?"

Thor shoos him out right after the third finger.

The burn, and the ache in his groin? Everything, totally worth it.

~

Which isn’t to say they don’t spend a good chunk of the summer fighting. They do, because Loki’s still human and he still has plenty of awful, doubt-plagued moments. But at least there’s The Plan.

~

“You two sure have been busy this summer,” Odin says as he reaches across the table to take the plate of corn on the cob Thor’s passing. Loki freezes, tensed for flight, but everyone is smiling. “Good for you,” Odin tells them, pleasantly. “Enjoy your downtime while you can. Because soon enough” – he and Frigga exchange a meaningful look – “you blink and it’s gone forever. You especially, Thor. In a month your whole life will be different.”

Privately Loki’s pretty fucking sure his life is going to be different too. Probably more so than Thor’s will. But he can’t say that without coming across as the whiny child he’s trying so hard to not to be. “Oh, I don’t know,” he says brightly. “I’m kind of looking forward to having the place to myself, actually.” But he has to make sure to laugh it off, right away, before Thor’s parents catch on to him. And that little flash of real pain in Thor’s eyes? It’s surprisingly cold comfort.

Chapter Text

Frigga takes a last look around the upstairs. The whole place – Thor’s room, especially, but the bathroom and the guest room haven’t escaped unscathed either – looks so strange. Empty, forlorn. Her son has lived here for almost two decades now, and Loki right along with him; she’s forgotten what it’s like to have the place to herself.

Thor's luggage is already loaded in the borrowed pull-behind trailer, along with a broad assortment of things the school insists incoming freshmen need. The vast majority of the items, Thor's been just as adamant he can live without… but Frigga and Odin have talked this all through and decided to err on the side of caution (and send their son off to college well-stocked anyway). They can always collect any extra things when they come out to bring him home for winter break, if he really doesn’t need everything.

But as of this morning, they’re sending Thor on his way… lacking for pretty much nothing. Bookshelves. Wastebaskets. Hangers. The new laptop they'd gotten him as a graduation present, partly because he’d deserved something nice for all his hard work and partly (more so, actually, except they’re not admitting it to anyone) to ensure the old computer will still be available for Loki to use once Thor’s left for school. Because both Frigga and Odin agree: they want to do everything possible to encourage Loki to stay here with them. Straight out demanding won't get them far – Loki has a stubborn streak even broader than Thor's - but they have to imagine doing what they can to make him comfortable certainly can't hurt.

And both of them are afraid that sending Loki home to Farbauti - formally or otherwise - is an invitation to every imaginable sort of disaster. And perhaps some unimaginable ones too; the possibilities really are just about endless. Neither of them wants to see anything happen, be it minor or serious. Especially since Thor won’t be here to help smooth things over.

Even with a fair amount of stuff left behind, gadgets and furniture and soft goods they hope will help Loki find an anchor point here, this part of the house looks so- so empty. Frigga digs a tissue out of her pocket and blots her eyes carefully. Her emotional state isn’t anything she’ll be sharing, not with Thor and certainly not in front of Loki. The boys need to be strong today, and that means she and Odin need to set a good example. To act like this is natural and wonderful and good.

It is. Really. She clears her throat and takes a last quick around. There’s nothing left to do. It's time.

"All set," she asks Loki from the bottom of the stairs. He's hovering just inside the living room, looking massively anxious. "Come on,” she suggests, like everything is normal and it’s just another day. “After you. I'll lock up."

"Maybe I should stay ho- in town," Loki says softly. His face is absolutely blank, save for the muscle twitching in his right cheek. "If I come along I'm just going to be in the way."

Frigga takes his elbow and steers him gently towards the door. "Shh,” she tells him. “Of course you won't be in the way." His tension is contagious. "Please? Thor will be really sad if he finds out you’ve decided against coming."

Loki drags his feet and looks at the floor. Frigga’s wracking her brain for a better approach when her son appears at the front door. “Oh, good. I was just coming to look for you,” he says to Loki. “I saved room for you in the back seat. Next to me.”

“Mm.” Loki nods. He lets Thor sling an arm around his shoulders and steer him outside. Frigga shuts her eyes for a moment, thanking her lucky everything, and then follows the two of out to the car.

Odin’s tightening the last of the straps securing the tarp to the trailer. “Hey, guys,” he calls to the boys. “Hop in. Today, Thor. Your mom and I are kind of hoping to get you settled in time to take you out to dinner.”

The two of them do as they’re told, without any further balking on Loki’s part. Watching Thor help Loki climb very carefully into the car, Frigga’s abruptly certain they didn’t heed the advice she and Odin had given them.

Not that she’s surprised. In fact, she’s hard put to be sorry.

~

“I did get my single room,” Thor calls out to them from up by the check-in table. It’s good, good news; with his football practice schedule, he’s going to have to be up early and studying when his fellow students are alternately sleeping and partying. They’d been happily hopeful when he hadn’t gotten any roommate information, but things do change and many freshmen don’t get their room choices. It’s a relief to see final proof of the desired outcome right there in writing.

And it means when Loki comes to visit, which Frigga knows Thor is very much hoping he will, there won’t be any Awkward Roommate Business to navigate. She laughs. “See? It’s a good thing we made you bring all that stuff you said not to worry about. Otherwise you’d be throwing everything in a pile on the floor.”

He walks back over to the car, a thick information packet clutched in one hand and his key in the other. The key catches her off guard; Frigga blinks back tears. “Hey,” Thor kids her like he hasn’t noticed, “what makes you think I won’t still be?”

~

Lugging everything up to Thor’s tiny third floor room is a lot of work, especially with the elevators so busy and the stairs the only reasonable option, and Frigga is doubly glad Loki’d agreed to come along with them. It’s hard to miss how, sure enough, he’s moving a little stiffly (and just as clearly trying to hide it… which is fine, too; she doesn’t want to know the details any more than he evidently wants to share any).

She’s just grateful that he isn’t complaining and is carrying his share right along with the rest of them.

~

Just after they’ve brought up the last load, when they’re all sitting crammed side-by-side on the bed sweaty and panting, a beaming dark-haired girl with big, chunky glasses pokes first her head and then her whole self into Thor’s room. “Hi,” she says brightly. “I’m Darcy. I’m the RA for this hall. You must be Thor.” She extends a hand and Frigga can feel Loki stiffen, but Darcy’s handshake is nothing but firm and businesslike. “And who’s this cutie,” she asks, turning her 150 watt smile on Loki.

“That’s my boyfriend Loki,” Thor hurries to explain. “And these are my parents. Everyone’s here to help me move in… and to take me out for one last dinner. Before I waste away on dorm food.”

Darcy laughs. “Right. Like that ever happens.” She takes the time to shake everyone’s hands. Frigga’s pleased to see Thor will have someone confident and friendly keeping an eye on him. The five of them have a quick, pleasant conversation after which Darcy - evidently having satisfied herself that they have everything under control and aren’t in need of immediate assistance - turns to go. “I’m jealous,” she tells them. “About dinner. Go on, eat some good food for me. I’ll stop back this evening and make sure you’re all set, okay?”

“Thanks,” Thor says. They all wave goodbye.

~

Dinner is a little strained. Frigga’s grateful that she and Odin get to have one last meal with Thor before they drive away and lose him until at least Thanksgiving, but everything is- awkward. Loki and Thor cling to one another like one of them is dying. Topic after topic fails to catch on, and despite all the lugging not one of them seems very hungry.

She’s almost glad in a way when no one wants dessert.

~

“You two run up and say your farewells,” Odin offers after they’ve hugged Thor as much as they’re going to. “Fifteen minutes, Loki, and the Borson bus is leaving.” Not that they’re going to strand him here, but they’re still parents and that means setting limits.

Loki’s back downstairs in just over ten. He’s flushed and teary. “All set,” Frigga asks him kindly. This has to be awfully hard. He nods. They all pile into the car without asking any more questions.

~

All the way home Frigga has to remind herself not to text her son every time she sees something interesting. She’s not going to be that awful mom who won’t let her baby turn into a grownup. She just isn’t. And she has another baby (albeit a borrowed one) who needs her anyway. She flips her visor down to check her lipstick – Odin’s driving home, too; riding long distances inevitably makes him carsick, even when he’s not struggling to find something to keep himself occupied – and sneaks a quick look at Loki.

He’s looking out the window with his teeth clenched and tears streaming down his face.

Yes, she reminds herself silently. You’re definitely still going to have someone at home who needs you.

Chapter Text

It’s really late when they get back home, far too late to drop off the trailer. Odin doesn’t even bother unhitching it; he just yawns and rubs his eyes and mutters something about dealing with it in the morning. Loki looks almost as sleepy, face streaked with dried tears and hair stuck to one cheek.

“Go inside, both of you,” Frigga orders. “Before you fall asleep right here in the yard.” She rests a hand lightly on Loki’s back and steers him towards the front door. “You can sleep wherever you’d like,” she tells him quietly. “I put out fresh towels for you.”

He nods and thanks her, but she can see the muscle jumping in his jaw again. He has to be right on the edge of losing his- his everything by now. “Go to bed, honey,” she tells him. “And get a good night’s sleep. We’ll make cookies in the morning.”

~

Odin’s still yawning something fierce when the two of them make their way to the den a few minutes later. “Give him time,” Frigga’d told her husband out in the kitchen. “Let him decide where he wants to spend the night. We don’t want him feeling like we’re pressuring him.” Loki hasn’t slept in the guest room in ages, even though it’s been his daytime hiding place of choice for almost as long as he’s been old enough to choose, but she’s not at all sure how he’s feeling about Thor’s room now. Not tonight, anyway. And the last thing she wants is to have him thinking he’s somehow trapped between what he wants and he feels like he should do. “I’ll tell you what… let’s have a glass of wine and watch a little bit more of that movie.”

“I’ll fall asleep,” her husband warns her.

Frigga laughs. It’s that or cry. As long as she focuses on Loki she’s fine, but the minute she lets her mind wander it’s- it’s awful. “That’s okay,” she tries to tease. “If I hear you snoring I promise I’ll wake you.”

“But not until after you’ve drunk my wine,” he grumbles.

“Right,” she agrees. She stretches up on her tiptoes to kiss him, fondly. “My thoughts exactly.”

~

Ultimately Odin doesn’t doze off until after he’s finished his own glass. Frigga thinks about just letting him sleep, but his chair isn’t that comfortable and he’ll only end up with a stiff neck tomorrow. That, and lying in bed alone thinking about her poor son, all by himself in a strange place without-… yeah, no. “Honey,” she says gently, nudging Odin’s knee with her own. “Odin! Wake up. It’s way past bedtime.”

~

Thor’s door – she can’t think of it any other way, not yet – is ajar. The blinds are open and in the narrow stripe of moonlight she can see Loki… curled up asleep in Thor’s big bed. Their bed, really. He’s way down under the covers, nothing more than a riot of hair and a little slice of forehead. “Sweet dreams,” Frigga whispers. It can’t hurt to hope, can it?

Because they could all use some.

~

Everyone sleeps in on Sunday. Odin is the first one out of bed – he needs to take the trailer back to Dag, because Dag needs it to pick up Helen’s new sofa – and even he’s not dressed and ready until nearly 11:00 in the morning.

Loki doesn’t surface until close to 1:00 PM. He’s still looking the worse for wear, but he’s also- almost smiling. “Thor says hi,” he tells Frigga as he digs around in the refrigerator for milk and juice. He’s so comfortable here; it makes her happy. “I talked to him for a few minutes this morning. He called me,” he hastens to clarify. “I promise wouldn’t have bothered him.”

“He loves you,” she tells Loki, who blushes and starts intently at his cereal. It’s almost as though the meaning of life is written in the bowl somewhere. “I don’t think he’d find talking to you a bother.” She gets to her feet with a groan. Odin’s not the only one paying for lugging all those boxes. “So, cookies. What do you think? Chocolate chip or peanut butter?”

He shrugs, and Frigga really, really wants to wrap him in a big, warm hug. In the end she can’t resist; she gives in and just does grabs on. It’s been a while. Loki’s almost tall enough to rest his chin on her head, but he still has a lot of filling out to do. Without hesitation he hugs her back.

And cries a little.

Well, maybe they both cry. It’s not like anyone’s around to catch them.

~

They spend the day making batch after batch of beautiful, perfect chocolate chip cookies. While the last batch is cooling, Frigga takes Loki to the store and they pick out two boxes for care packages. That makes one for Thor, and one for the other kids on his floor who might be hungry. Or lonely.

Most important, probably, it’s a project that keeps the two of them busy. It works, too; by the time everything is ready to mail and the kitchen is clean, it’s nearly time for dinner.

Odin goes for pizza, because - to quote - he can’t watch them slave over the oven any longer. It’s good pizza, too, rich and cheesy. This time Loki excuses himself and falls into bed early.

~

“Is everything okay?” Frigga’s stomach leaps into her throat; it’s been ages since Farbauti’d last called unprompted and longer since the news was good. “Laufey hasn’t-.”

Farbauti laughs. “No, he hasn’t. Whatever you were about to ask, that is. He hasn’t been around for a few weeks, not that I’ve seen. I just-.” She stops and sighs. “Is it too much of a bother having my son there, now that yours is off to school? Because I can come get him if it is.”

“Oh, goodness, no,” Frigga assures her. “He’s always welcome. I mean that. We adore him. I don’t think our house would be the same without him.”

“You’re not just saying that because you feel like have to, are you?” Farbauti clears her throat. “Because you know I- I can’t pay you or anything.”

“Loki earns his keep,” Frigga promises. “Don’t worry. Speaking of which, would you like some cookies?”

Chapter Text

"I signed up for my road test today," Loki tells Thor right after they’ve said hello. He’s excited about it, more than he wants to let on. Especially like this… sometimes they skype but today Thor had made time to call him during a short break from studying so they're just plain old chatting on their cell phones. And wherever Thor's holed up, the acoustics are bad and echo-y; it sounds a little like his boyfriend – his college boyfriend - is calling him from a toilet stall. "Your mom even made us chocolate chip pancakes to celebrate. For dinner, I mean. They were yummy.” He yawns, then hiccups. “Sorry: full. Anyway, she wouldn’t even let me help.” It might be the first time Frigga’d ever shoed him away when he’d offered to assist in the kitchen.

Thor laughs. "I’m not surprised. I really think they love you more than they did me. Do me, I mean."

Privately Loki just thinks they feel sorry for him. "Something like that," he kids instead, because he knows Thor's very much not a fan of that particular line of reasoning. "But whatever. The pancakes were amazing." He mock-sighs happily. "Mm. So. Tell me. How was class?"

"Boring," Thor complains. "Studying is no fun without you around."

That actually is funny. Loki snorts. "That's because no one's giving you a handjob while you pretend to read.” He laughs, even though this is still something that makes him nervous. He’s stuck here; Thor’s out there in the real world with all those older, more convenient college boys. Or girls. “At least, I hope no one is."

"No way," Thor exclaims, with a comforting lack of thinking-up-the-right-answer time. "It has your name on it."

"Not literally, I hope." Loki rolls onto his side. He should technically be doing his homework too, except for how he'd done all of it during math class. "Your parents would kill me."

"I don't show my parents my dick, Loki," Thor hisses. So he is somewhere at least semi-public. Good.

"Too kinky," Loki asks cheerfully.

"No," Thor exclaims. "Too creepy."

"I miss it," Loki says. If he snuggles in hard enough, the pillow still smells like Thor. Way down inside, under the latest in an endless stream of clean pillowcases he can sometimes sucker Frigga into putting on for him. He's getting off way easier on chores now that Thor's gone. Way easier than he probably ought to.

"It misses you too," Thor says. He has the decency to sound properly sad and Loki feels a little warm glow in his own middle. "I miss you. Once you get your license, do you think my mom and dad will let you come visit?"

"They're not my parents," Loki points out. "How can they stop me?"

"It's their car? No no, wait," Thor goes on before Loki can answer. "You're not thinking of borrowing- no, baby! It's too old. And you'll get arrested."

He hadn't been thinking of that, actually, but now he is. It's a surprisingly good fallback plan, especially considering how he himself hadn't come up with it. "Don't worry," he says, just to smooth things over. It’s not worth getting Thor all worked up over. "I'll ask to use your mom's car, maybe. Or my mom's." Farbauti’s been driving something that must belong to Fandral's dad; it's not much newer than what he and Thor have affectionately dubbed the old beater, but at least it has tags. And a mechanic.

"Mm," Thor hums. "Speaking of… how's your mom doing?"

Bringing it up was- stupid. Loki mentally kicks himself. He sighs. If he tries to bury the subject, Thor will never let it go. "I'm worried about her," he blurts out, still kicking himself. Harder, too. Stupid, stupid. "I think she's been letting my- letting Laufey visit."

Thor's "WHAT?!" is, predictably, instantaneous. And loud. "She's what?? What the fuck, Loki. Why would she do that?"

"Hey," Loki reminds Thor. "Just the messenger. You don't have to scream at me about it. And how should I know," he complains over his boyfriend’s hasty apology. "It's not my week to watch- either of them."

"I just don't get it," Thor says, in a more normal tone of voice. "I mean, why? Why would she keep going back to someone who hits her?"

It’s like Loki’d taken a stupid pill with dinner, seriously. "I'd stay with you if you hit me," he whispers. He would, too. It's one of the things that both frightens and thrills him about himself. And it’s so not a thing he should be mentioning to Thor.

"But I wouldn't," Thor insists. "Never. I could never... and if I ever did, you shouldn't stay. But I swear I won't. I promise."

"She has my sharp tongue," Loki goes on. He takes after Farbauti much more closely than anyone in Thor's family realizes. "I'm sure she drives him to it half the time." He's partly fishing for a reaction from Thor, sure, but it really wouldn't surprise him if that actually is a factor. It's behavior that grates on people. Which is half of why he does it.

The other half? Because he just can't not. And he does sometimes wonder if that isn’t a- a problem.

"Eh," he says, trying for light. They need to be done with this discussion already. Thinking about the whole thing makes him antsy. “Never mind. I shouldn't have mentioned it. So. We were talking about me coming to visit. Let’s get back to that.” He smiles, knowing Thor will hear it in his voice and hoping that’s enough to sidetrack the discussion. “As subjects go I have to say I like this one a whole lot better.”

~

Sometimes Loki jacks off while they're talking, just lying there soaking in the honeyed warmth of Thor's voice. But tonight they only talked, and even afterward he's still not in the mood.

Not because anything’s wrong, though; he's simply too busy plotting.

From the campus website – not to mention the schedules Thor’s sent (every few days, it feels like) and all the times they’ve discussed it - Loki knows that Thor has home games on several November weekends. If he gets his license on the first try - which he will, of course; he's been driving forever, and now Odin is even teaching him - he should be able to drive out to campus and catch one. And then he will be (oops!) too tired to drive safely back afterwards. He’ll just have to stay over.

Frigga will understand, of course. She always does.

Chapter Text

He'd meant to do the whole thing by the book; honestly, he had. Loki'd embarked upon his little weekend travel project with full intention of getting permission and borrowing a decent car and everything. Right down to checking in with everyone before leaving and stopping for snacks and water periodically. But then, like every perfect plan he's pretty sure he’s ever had, things had quickly started to unravel.

The first challenge, far bigger than either he or Thor had anticipated, had been obtaining permission to go at all. Both Odin and Frigga had been sequentially concerned about the distance, the remote possibility of questionable weather, and finally Thor's school's policies around underage visitors. They'd worried that having a guest the weekend before Thanksgiving, when lumped together with the scheduled game, would wreak havoc with Thor's studying and jeopardize grades or holiday visits or- or both, probably. Loki’d grumbled to Thor with each new obstacle. It had gotten to where he’d been certain Thor’s parents were making things up right out of nowhere.

In the end simply getting cleared to go had been such an ordeal that Loki'd lied and promised he'd get himself a bus ticket. And he’d meant it at the time; it hadn't been anything close to a lie when he'd first offered it up. In fact it wasn't until late the following day, when he'd priced out tickets and looked at the shitty departure times that would effectively shear a whole day off his - far too short already - stay that Loki had decided the bus just wasn’t going to work out.

And then he'd planned on taking Tony's car – with its good tires and fancy nav system and every safety feature known to beast and man – right up until he'd overheard Frigga making lunch plans with Tony's former-nanny-cum-housekeeper. One of the few things Tony's not famous for is keeping secrets, and Loki knows a trap when he sees one.

The beater it is, then.

It's raining a little when Loki skips out of school a period early and pedals as fast as he can - thanks in equal parts to adrenaline, freezing-cold fingers, and a nagging need to be at least a tiny bit responsible and start out ahead of the worsening weather - to the farm. He locks his bike safely out of sight in the old icehouse, slaps one of the only-marginally-newer tags from the wall by the door onto the back bumper mount, and jumps in the car with knapsack in tow. That’s all the luggage he has. He’s traveling light... if all goes as planned, he'll wear Thor's jacket at the game. And, of course, spend most of the rest of the visit happily naked.

The car’s heater actually works surprisingly well, and his windshirt will dry quickly enough now that he’s in out of the rain. He'll be fine.

~

Loki stops at the second rest stop gas station on the main highway. Fueling up there is a little more expensive, but the likelihood of running into someone he knows is a lot less than it would be in town. He tops off the windshield washer solution, too, in case the rain continues to make things complicated.

He's feeling better and better as he heads back out into traffic, and better still when he gets off at the state route that will take him almost all the way to Thor. There isn't another car around, not as far as the eye can see. Perfect.

~

And if not perfect it's good, at least, for most of the next hour. Before long dusk crosses into dark, but he'd stopped to clean his headlights a while ago and the misty rain isn't bad if he slows down a little.

Until the road turns and heads uphill, mile after mile, and the mist turns to sleet turns to snow.

Big, wet, sloppy snow that sticks to his wipers and hides the road surface. The slower he goes, the less he can see and the more he can't decide if he's all over the place because he's white-knuckling or skidding. A lone car eventually does come up behind him and Loki signals his way onto the shoulder so the other driver can pass. For a little while things are good again, what with clearish tracks through the white mess and tail lights to follow, but before long he's clinging to the steering wheel for dear life again and- well, he’s just not able to keep up.

~

The first time Loki drops a wheel off the edge of the road he's able to save it. He does fishtail a little, but he manages to get back on the road and keeps going. No harm done, except for a dry mouth and a pounding heart that won't quiet. The higher he gets the more snow has fallen, to the point where he's starting to kick himself over a whole slew of really bad choices, but then the clouds start to break up and - courtesy of a nice full moon - the visibility is suddenly quite good again.

Which is how, when something goes abruptly, badly wrong a few miles later, he can see absolutely everything. Trees. Pole. Trees. Pole. Trees. Time stretches out from here to infinity and with each rotation he's increasingly certain he's trapped in some infernal, eternal vortex from which there’s not going to be any escaping. Treeeees. Polllllle. Treeeeeees. Pollllllle. Treeeeeeeeeeees. Polll- Oh fucking FUCK. He spins off the road at last and slips into the ditch, where the car tips fast and stops faster and his head smacks into the B pillar with more than enough force to split the skin.

Stars.

~

Something really bright is shining in his right eye. Painfully bright, even. But the left? Nothing. Loki can smell blood and taste blood and someone nearby is screaming.

He doesn't figure out for way, way too long that the voice- it's him. And then he can't stop screaming, not until the endless smell and taste of blood makes him gag. "Okay, stop," he tells himself aloud once the retching stops. His voice is rough; his throat, raw. "You're not dead. You might not even have hit anything. Calm. The Fuck. Down."

Inventory, then.

The car is still running. He eases it into park with one shaking hand and drops down to parking lights with the other. The burning, blinding white turns to soft orange. Snowbank, maybe.

He can use both hands and feel both feet.

It takes Loki several minutes before he can work up enough nerve to inspect his face. He's beyond relieved to find his left eye working fine, once he digs the bloody hair away from in front of it. He has a pounding headache, and the side of his face is slick-sticky with blood, but everything seems to be functional.

Except he's shivering like crazy, even with the heat on high. And he's in the ditch, at the kind of angle that would be unsalvageable on a good day.

He should grope around for his cell phone, an increasingly distant part of his brain reminds him. It takes a few tries before he finds it, largely because he’s shaking so much and there’s blood everywhere.

No service. No fucking service.

The rest of his brain opts to cry.

Chapter Text

It probably isn’t long before the hot stream of blood down Loki’s face slows to a cool, itchy trickle. Which happens about the same time he runs out of tears, actually. The car is still running. He’s alternating between mildly uncomfortable and absolutely freezing, and even when he’s not full-on cold he can’t stop shaking. Or panicking. He’s going to fucking die out here in this ditch, all because he didn’t want to waste precious time on the bus.

Or maybe it has been a long time. It’s all a painful blur.

To add insult to (literal) injury the bus, the very one he couldn’t be bothered taking because he was way too smart for public transportation, doesn’t even follow this same route and consequently won’t by driving past his frozen little carcass later this evening. If it is still this evening, even.

Loki feels around for his phone. It’s a little hard to work the thing – his fingers aren’t taking orders well and his wrists and arms ache… on top of which his brain feels thick and sluggish like cold oil – but he eventually does manage to check the time. 9:27 PM. Yeah. The bus is long gone already. Another hour and Thor’s going to think he decided not to bother. And since his phone has no cell service… pretty much anything could happen.

By rights Loki should be frantic about it (Thor will think they’re breaking up; Thor will think he’s forgotten to come and just go ahead and move on without him; Thor will think he’s dead in a ditch somewhere, which of course he will be soon enough, and will call some subset of the fucking parents… at which point if he isn’t dead already he’ll fucking wish he was) and for a few long minutes he really, really is. So frantic he almost dry-heaves. Again. But he’s so, so tired and everything hurts and he just can’t do it anymore.

~

“Mmph!” Loki startles awake. The world is on fire. Everything is uniformly, impossibly bright; a horrible, blinding orange-yellow-red. By the time Loki figures out he’s not actually burning his brain has short-circuited and he’s already gasping and panting.

“Hey.” This time the voice he hears is clearly not his own. Which doesn’t help him place it, or locate it amongst the glow. “Hey,” once again. “Are you okay?”

A sharp, loud sound makes Loki flinch and he cries out, partly from pain but mostly from confused terror. “Fuck,” a second voice exclaims, and Loki jumps again. “He’s hurt. Or she. I think it’s a guy. But see that all over the window? That’s blood. Fuck.”

“Yeah,” someone says. Maybe it’s people outside the car rather than voices in his head. Or maybe this is all a dream and Loki’s still dying alone. “Wow. Gross. But at least it looks like he’s kind of moving.”

Apparently not dreaming, then. People. People are conversing. About him. In the flames. Crazy.

It isn’t until Loki tries to blink away the fiery glare that he realizes his eyes aren’t actually open. And when he does open them, it’s only for an instant; the light is whiter and even more blinding. “What,” he croaks out. “Who’s there?”

“Not an axe murderer,” someone- a guy offers, and that’s something he hadn’t even managed to think to worry about. Maybe he sh-.

“Don’t,” the other person cuts in. “He’s a mess. It’s not funny.”

“I’m fine,” Loki tries. His tongue feels thick and rubbery. “I skidded. Didn’t hit anything. Fine. Just stuck.”

“Can you open your window a little? I don’t think we can get the door.” Someone rattles the door handle, except at this angle the door is somewhere between a wall and a ceiling. “Please? I’ve got my truck. And tow chains. We can help you.”

Too much noise, too many decisions. “Who,” Loki rasps. He’s not even sure what he’s asking.

“Ray. I’m Ray. The window?”

The crank – it’s a old car, the beater; none of the ubiquitous electric bells and whistles – isn’t quite where he expects it to be, but Loki does ultimately manage to find the thing and even give it a few turns. “Hi, Ray,” he says to whatever’s blocking the glare. “I’m fine.”

“Sure you are,” Ray tells him, from just outside the window, in the same tone of voice Loki normally reserves for people who are plain old lying liars. Which is fair. “Hold tight, man. Let’s get this old piece of junk back on the road for you.”

Loki has to cover his ears against the clanking of the chains.

~

“And one of them drove you here? In the beater? Seriously?” It’s at least the third time in a row they’ve gone through this. Thor has dragged the desk chair over by the little sink and is busily working the worst of the blood out of Loki’s hair and clothing. “Why didn’t they take you to the hospital?”

“I told them not to,” Loki explains, earnestly. He’s had some cocoa and is wrapped in (blood-smeared) towels (he’s going to owe Thor a laundry run, big time), and he can actually converse almost lucidly again. “The hospital would call- your mom and dad. Or my mom.” That would be even worse, probably. “I’d be so fucked. They’d all take turns grounding me for life.”

Thor tsks. “And what, you’re just going to drive home like this and hope no one notices?”

Pretty much. “Yeah,” Loki says. “It was soft, fresh snow. I don’t think the car is even damaged.”

“The car you stole,” Thor points out. “And you look pretty damaged.”

Loki frowns. “Borrowed. Not stole, borrowed. And whose side are you even on, Thor?”

“Loki,” Thor admonishes. He cups Loki’s face gently. Even the lightest touch hurts, but Loki hasn’t got the energy to pull away. “You could have died.” Thor says. “Do you even get that? Do you understand that would have destroyed me? What were you thinking?”

“Please don’t tell your parents,” Loki insists. His head is starting to really throb again. “Don’t. They will never let me come visit ever, not for the rest of my life.”

Thor very, very carefully cuddles Loki close. He guides the good side of Loki’s face, the side that isn’t black-and-blue and blood-smeared, to rest against his warm, muscled chest. It would be delicious if everything wasn’t so- awful. “If that’s what it takes to keep you alive,” Thor starts, and then for once he’s the one really, really crying. “Of course I won’t tell. But you honestly could have died. What if no one had come along?”

“Shh,” Loki tries. The corner of his upper lip has swollen badly, exactly why he’s not sure, and certain words just aren’t happening. “You sound like me. I’m fine. I’m here. Stop with the drama.”

It doesn’t work. Thor just holds him a little tighter and cries that much more.

Chapter Text

Thor sighs loudly as Loki curls onto one side - the good side, the one that didn’t smack into the skidding car’s doorframe and come away bruised and bloodied – and lies perfectly still with six inches of cold silence between them. “No,” Loki says. Yes, again. “No, no, no. A decent night’s sleep, which I’m not going to get while you’re bugging the living shit out of me, and I’ll be almost as good as new. Just stop already.”

“Loki,” Thor complains. They’ve been having this conversation for almost two hours now, until it’s 1:00 in the morning and they’re both grouchy and yawning. “I looked it up online and you need to go to the hospital. You could have a concussion. Or more. Because the worst case scenario is passing out briefly and waking up again.”

“Yes,” Loki snaps, “so you’ve told me, and told me, and told me. And like I said the first five million times, I didn’t pass out briefly and wake up again. I fell asleep, because I was stressed and cold and figured I was going to die out there anyway, and then I woke up when the headlights from a gigantic pickup truck seared my eyeballs.” Thor watches as his ribs expand on a huge breath and pinch together again as he huffs and the air whooshes back out of him. “I don’t have a terrible concussion. I threw up because blood makes me nauseated. I remember exactly what happened before, during, and after. I have a cut on my head, Thor. A cut. Ah-ah,” he adds, twisting a little to waggle his finger in Thor’s face. “I’m fine. Don’t patronize me.”

“But on the Internet it said-,” is as far as Thor gets with his latest protest before Loki, whose whole face is striped with long lines of dark bruising, cuts him off. Angrily.

“And the Internet says my vaccines give me autism. And UFOs are real. And have you seen what it says about college guys who have sex with underage children? I don’t see you rushing to jump right on that Dr. Internet bandwagon. Am I right? Am I?”

It’s infuriating, but Loki’s hurt and Thor needs to suck up and take it. “How many fingers am I holding up,” he starts in, gamely, stretching to reach a hand around in front of Loki’s face.

Loki flips him off. “More than me, probably.”

“Will you go in the morning?”

“Thor, give it a rest.” Loki rolls carefully onto his back, his fluffy damp hair spread around his head like some weird black alien sun. “I’m underage. I don’t have any insurance. I drove here in a car that isn’t mine, without permission. I’m having sex – not right this moment, sadly, but you know what I mean – with someone who’s too old to legally sleep with me.” He sighs and puts out his blood-smeared lower lip. “Don’t you see? We can’t risk it. I’m fine. Really. Just a little banged up and exhausted. Set your alarm to wake me up every hour if you really, really need to… but I have to get some sleep.”

It’s just not worth it. Thor doesn’t want to fight. He wants to wrap Loki in his arms and kiss the hurt away. “Fine,” he concedes. “Go ahead and die if you want to,” he adds, which is about as far opposite what he’s really thinking and feeling as anything can be. “But I’m holding you to the once-an-hour thing.” He starts setting alarms on his phone. “I mean it.”

~

Loki’s asleep within ten minutes. Thor can feel it in the way his breathing quiets and evens out, in the barely perceptible way the muscles smooth out under his skin. Sleeping, Loki is softer and warmer. He’s easy to cuddle, and cuddle Thor does.

Waking him at the one-hour mark is a bit like spritzing water on a sleeping cat. There’s lots of jumping and hissing, a little kicking, and one good bite. But Loki’s pupils are equal (and working properly) and Thor knows that alone is worth pissing him of a lot worse than this has.

By the end of the second hour they are both asleep, Thor sprawled out on his back (unhappily suffering through nightmare after nightmare full of Zombie Loki staggering around grey-fleshed and rotting) and Loki quietly drooling on his shoulder. Loki blinks sleepily awake, all heavy lids and puffed red lips.

Thor doesn’t fight when Loki tries to kiss him.

He doesn’t fight when Loki succeeds, either.

They skip the third hour and set the alarm straight for two more hours instead. And when Loki is still healthy enough then, Thor bags it entirely.

~

“What time is your game?”

Loki is propped up on one elbow in bed. He’s calmer than last night, less argumentative, but when pressed earlier he’d admitted that he hurts absolutely everywhere. Thor can’t even rub his back to soothe him.

It’s not shaping up to be the visit they’d hoped for.

“What am I going to tell your mom,” Loki worries. He’d actually screamed earlier, on catching his own reflection in the little mirror over the sink, and Thor’d had to stake the hallway out before he’d even consider sneaking out to the bathroom. “Everyone is going to think you hit me or something.”

“Oh, I dunno,” Thor says, laying on the sarcasm. It was an accident, the kind of thing that could happen to anyone, and Loki’s insistence on making it totally nothing is starting to drive him a few steps beyond bonkers. “Maybe you could tell them you crashed the car? Just saying, I mean.”

Loki’s bruised face crumples. “Do you want me to just leave?”

Thor sits down on the bed and carefully pulls him close. “No. Of course not. I’m sorry. I’m just- worried and afraid. Come here. I love you.”

“Mm. Ow.” Loki tries to nuzzle his chest and jerks away. “This sucks. I can’t even go to the game, not looking like hamburger.”

“Sure you can,” Thor assures Loki. He can’t stand the idea of Loki all alone in his dorm room, sad and hurting. “Wear my hoodie.”

“Ugh. What am I going to tell your mom,” Loki asks, again.

Thor kisses the unbruised tip of Loki’s pretty, pretty nose. “Shh. Tomorrow we’ll figure out something.”

Chapter Text

Loki reeks. He rolls out of bed feeling sweaty and oily and disgusting, only to find the cut had resumed its oozing at some point overnight and his hair is once again glued together. “Fuck,” he grumbles under his breath. It should have scabbed over by now, and the longer it doesn’t the more he won’t be able to ignore how it probably does need stitches. Ugh. He actually feels worse than he had Saturday morning… still just as sore, but also exhausted and dizzy.

Maybe he’s coming down with something.

Or- no. Some little bug. That must be it. He groans and starts to push himself carefully up to standing.

“Come back here.” Thor loops a warm arm around his waist. “You can’t leave yet. I’ll miss you.”

“We’ll see each other again in a couple of weeks,” Loki reminds his boyfriend. His head is pounding. Again. Still, maybe. He’s tired of this, and the ride home is going to be both terrifying and endless. “Over turkey. And pie.” He hasn’t got it in him to hang out here and pretend things are okay, and if Thor starts getting suspicious that- well, he simply can’t deal with it. “I need to hit the road in time to be sure I’m home before dark,” he says, hoping Thor doesn’t notice anything concerning about his being ridiculously sensible. “And I need to be sure I drive slower this time.”

“At least have breakfast with me?” Thor is awake now, bright-eyed and pouting. “We can go into town and get real eggs and Canadian bacon.”

Agreeing feels faster and easier than arguing. And maybe a little coffee will help with the headache.

~

It doesn’t. Loki’s not really hungry and not really thirsty and not really feeling like being here. More than anything he just wants the drive behind him, so he can curl up asleep in Thor’s bed. On his right side, too, so he doesn’t ooze all over the pillow.

He really, really wants to turn the clock back and take the fucking bus already.

“Mm!” He smiles fake brightly, trying not to clench his teeth against the pain. “It’s delicious. But you can have the rest of mine, if you want it. I have at least three hours of driving ahead of me,” which is true, because he really does plan to take it slow and easy, “and the last thing I want to be is full and sleepy.”

From the look on Thor’s face, he’s onto the fact Loki’s lying. But he must sense Loki’s desperation because he plays along, forking up the rest of the eggs and not questioning anything.

~

The drive is a nightmare. The roads are actually clear – yesterday had been clear and sunny, and today is more of the same – but he can’t shake the feeling that his next skid is just over the next hill or around the next corner. Plus, everything is painfully bright. While most of the snow has melted away to nothing, the sun still catches the odd patch here and there. When it does the glare feels like it’s stabbing into his eyeballs.

That, and the car’s alignment must be a little off. The body isn’t scuffed up and there’s nothing leaking, but everything seems a little loose. Lopsided. It’s oddly scary.

When Loki finally gets back to the gravel drive, he’s so stiff he can hardly stand. He’s shaking and dizzy and yawning. It feels like 2:00 in the morning, when in reality it’s only midafternoon.

He can’t even ride his bike; he tries, briefly, but the road feels like it’s moving. Consequently, it’s almost dark when he finally trudges up the Borsons’ driveway.

~

Loki opens the door very carefully, with his hat pulled down and the hood of his borrowed sweatshirt up. “I’m home,” he calls from the kitchen. “But I’m dying for a nap and a shower. I’ll see you later.”

“Come in here for a minute, please,” Frigga yells back from the den.

Shit. Loki clears his throat and starts slowly down the hall. His mind is too foggy to race, even. He’s so screwed. “Thor told you,” he says, flatly. “He called, didn’t he?”

“Thor told me what? Because, no,” Frigga says, just as he gets to the doorway. “I just wanted to talk to y- OH MY GOD, LOKI!” Her mouth literally hangs open and Loki cringes. “What happened to you?”

“I bumped my head,” Loki says. He hasn’t got the energy to dance around it. “It’s a long story.”

She eases the hoodie down. “What did the doctor say? My god,” she exclaims again as her fingers catch in his bloodied hair. “You should have called me from the bus station.”

His breath hitches. He hopes desperately that she’ll assume it’s from the pain.

She doesn’t.

“You didn’t even take the bus,” she says instead. “Did you?”

Hot tears spring to Loki’s eyes. He looks away. Which hurts. “No,” he says softly. “I’m sorry.”

Frigga doesn’t panic and she doesn’t raise her voice. “What really happened, then,” she asks quietly. “The short version is fine. We can talk more about it another time.”

All the fight left him days ago; he’d barely been able to hold his own against Thor, even. In the end he tells her far more than he ought to. Not everything – not the details on the car, for example - but still too much. Her mouth gradually settles into a thin line and he knows he’s a goner.

“I don’t think I really need to lecture you, do I?”

Loki snuffles. “No,” he tells her, sadly. “You don’t. I’ve already figured out it was stupid, Mrs. Borson.”

“And what did the doctor tell you,” she asks again. “Did she clear you to drive home?”

“I didn’t go,” he admits, barely louder than a whisper. “I don’t have insurance, and my mom wasn’t there to sign for me.”

Frigga makes an angry little noise. “And what, pray tell, was my son doing while all this was going on?”

The last thing he wants is to get Thor in trouble. But it’s kind of too late to think about that now. “He told me to go,” he explains. “He did. But I talked him out of it.”

“And he let that happen, even though he knew you were hurt and frightened?”

Loki’s frightened again now, actually. He isn’t sure he’s ever seen quite this expression on Frigga’s face. “Never mind,” she says before he can answer. “I’ll discuss it with him later. Let’s get you to Urgent Care, sweetie.”

“But-.”

“No buts,” she orders. “Now. In the car.”

~

Farbauti meets them at the front desk and signs for him. She doesn’t lecture either, just wraps him in a hug and then sits looking at him with big, sad eyes. She even holds his hand while the nice doctor tells them all he needs to go to the emergency department.

~

Loki’s never been in an ambulance before. If the situation was different it might be kind of cool; as it is, he thinks it’s stupid. This all happened days ago, and if his head hasn’t fallen off by now it really isn’t going to. No one can ride with him, though – Frigga needs to bring her car, to take them both home later, because no fucking way is he staying overnight, and Farbauti will have to sign for him once again but she’s stuck going in to work for a few hours later (something Loki only half catches about doing inventory) and will have to leave once he’s been processed – so it’s just him and the paramedic. He keeps his opinion to himself. Especially since it’s not a very big ambulance… he wishes more than anything that he’d toughed it out and taken a shower.

Well, okay, not quite more than anything. More than anything, he wishes his head would stop throbbing.

~

The ED is annoyingly noisy, but it’s not super-busy and they get him into a room quickly. Farbauti even sits with him for a little while before Frigga takes over.

The CT scanner is kind of weird, and the dye makes him feel warm and funny.

When he howls in protest, they only shave a tiny strip of his scalp. The tech even brings him a mirror so he can check the damage. It isn’t that bad. He doesn’t admit it.

The plastic surgeon is friendly and sarcastic and fun, but the shots and the stiches- aren’t.

Concussion.

A week of bed rest, minimum, but he can do it at the Borson household since Frigga will be there to keep an eye on him.

It sucks, though.

Loki gives up and sags against the bedrail, defeated. He hurts. He’s exhausted. And he misses Thor terribly.

Chapter Text

Frigga’s coffee sloshes out onto her coaster as she slams the mug down. A good teaspoonful - if not more - curls up over the coaster’s edge and disappears into one of many small gaps between two adjacent pieces of decking.

Odin truly can’t remember the last time he saw his wife this mad.

Not even back in the days when she’d first suspected Laufey of beating his little family. This might just be a new record.

“This is utterly ridiculous,” she storms. They’re out here freezing their butts off on the deck because Loki’s asleep upstairs and Frigga wants to keep this conversation between the two of them. Odin’s caught that much. He’s still waiting for the rest of it to come together. “What was Thor thinking? I know we’ve been lenient about the two of them, maybe too lenient. But- Loki could have died. And where would that have left them?”

It’s a rhetorical question. Odin knows better than to bother answering. He doesn’t even dare shrug.

“He thinks he knows it all,” she says, her voice still sharp and furious. “Because they sit around here and play house and make believe they’re grown-ups. But Loki is a child. A sixteen-year-old child. And no amount of sex and puppy love will change that.”

“I don’t think it’s puppy love,” Odin disagrees, quietly. He knows this isn’t about him, not really, but the boys aren’t here to defend themselves and someone has to say it. “They really do care very, very deeply about one another.”

“Oh, I’m sure they do,” Frigga tells him. “And they think this is forever. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong. But whatever it is or isn’t, I can guarantee it’s not worth dying over. No, you listen to me,” she orders, holding up a hand when he tries to interject. “They’re both mistaking lust for commitment and bad, bad judgment for bravery. Thor clearly isn’t mature enough to be taking care of a child, even a tall, smoking-hot one who likes pretending they’re married.”

“He isn’t taking care of Loki, honey,” Odin points out. “We are.”

“Well, shame on us then,” she snaps. “Because we sure are fucking rocking it.”

Odin’s out of things to say that won’t get him shredded. Has been for a while, clearly. And he does get where she’s coming from. The story as she recounted it gave him chills; they probably don’t know the half of it yet, and even so he really is horrified. But he’s not at all sure where she’s going with any of this. The only thing he knows for certain? That separating Thor and Loki is bound to backfire horribly.

He waits, as patiently as he can, until Frigga calms down at least a little. “I’m sorry,” she admits. “I shouldn’t be taking any of this out on you. I’m just- we should- what if something had happened to him? I can’t imagine having to tell Farbauti, who entrusts her precious son to us because we provide a safe haven and take care of him so- so dutifully, that Loki died because- he was careless. Because Thor was careless. Because we sat here all smugly confident that our kids tell us everything while her baby boy lay bleeding to death in the front seat of- Odin, Odin… what have we done?”

Screamed ourselves hoarse? Put a little too much faith in our naughty, lying children? Been the best parents we’ve known how to be, except even that isn’t always enough somehow? Odin knows, true as that all is, none of it is going to help at all. “I think we should talk to him,” he suggests. “To Thor. And then to Loki. Separately. We need to make sure they understand that what they did was wrong, in ways that are really serious. But they adore each other. I don’t think we have any hope of separating them… not even for their own good. And honestly I don’t think we ought to.”

Frigga sighs. “I know. I’m not sure it would be good for them, either. But we can’t just let this go.”

“Oh, no,” he agrees. “Of course not.”

~

“This is your mom and dad,” Frigga says as soon as Thor answers his phone with a tentative-sounding hello. “We have you on speakerphone.”

“Hi mom, hi dad,” Thor parrots back, dutifully. “Wait,” he goes on, suddenly wary and a little panicked-sounding. “Is something- did something happen to Loki?”

Odin winces. “You know,” Frigga says, crisp and businesslike, “I was just about to ask you the exact same question.”

For the better part of a minute no one says anything at all. Not an audible breath, not a word. Finally, right about when Odin’s starting to think the call must have dropped, Thor sighs. “Um,” he starts, and Odin can hear his voice wavering, “how much do you know already?”

“No games, Thor,” Odin warns his son. “Let’s just call it enough to ground you for a lifetime.”

“Yeah,” Thor says. “Okay. But is Loki all right? I tried calling this morning, and again just before you called me, but his phone just goes to voicemail.”

“Loki’s sleeping,” Frigga says. Odin can hear the strain in her voice. “He’s on bed rest. He has a concussion, Thor. And yet you let him drive all the way back here by himself… and then stumble along in the cold pushing his bicycle. It was dark when he made it home. Do you realize what could have happened?”

“Yeah,” Thor admits, again. “He could have died. I know. It’s all I’ve thought about, ever since he showed up here all covered in- um- on Friday evening. But he- I- I didn’t know what to do.” Odin swallows hard. It tugs at his heartstrings to hear his big, burly son crying. “I’m- I’m really sorry.”

“I realize the two of you have known each other practically forever,” Frigga points out. “And you probably feel like you’re almost living in the same skin. But honey? Really, Loki’s still just a kid. Anything could happen.”

Thor clears his throat loudly. “I love him, mom,” he says. “I really, really do. More than anything else in the universe.”

“Well, then,” Frigga says. Odin holds his breath. “You need to start using your brain, Thor. Because without that, loving him isn’t going to be enough to save him.”

“I know, mom,” Thor confesses. He’s crying openly now, breath coming in jerky, wet sobs. It’s awful. “I’m sorry, mom. I’m so, so sorry. I don’t know what else to tell you.”

Chapter Text

By the time Christmas Eve Eve (as her family has called the evening of December 23rd for almost as long as she can remember) finally rolls around, Frigga can’t hold back any longer. The bus is due in around 8:00 PM, not even an hour from now, and she can only barely contain her excitement.

They’re all in about the same state. Loki is practically bouncing off the walls, Odin is actually singing, and even Farbauti - who had ducked in to say a quick hello on her way home from, to hear her tell it, cashing out enough last-minute-sale holiday wreaths and garlands to decorate a small country - had been humming cheerfully.

Because on that bus is the biggest present of all: Thor.

~

For the first half of the semester Frigga and Odin had been planning to bring their son home for a couple of days at Thanksgiving. Thor would already have been away at school almost three months by late November, far longer than any of them could bear to picture being apart from one another, and they’d all been eagerly awaiting a chance to spend a long weekend of good food and good times together.

But after Loki's accident and Thor's subsequent missteps they'd had a Borson-family-plus-two teleconference, during which they’d settled on appropriate punishment. Because even the boys had (wisely, yes) agreed that their actions deserved consequences. The resulting sacrifices - no bus fare for Thanksgiving, no Thanksgiving dinner, no Christmas presents for either Thor or Loki... with all of the money that would otherwise have gone into travel and festivities and fun instead put towards paying for Loki's medical treatment - had felt reasonable, albeit sad.

They'd all suffered (apart, but) together.

Not having Thor home for winter break, though? Frigga- just couldn’t. That would be cruel and unusual. Especially since the college was closing for most of the three weeks, meaning her son would have nowhere to go or stay anyway. And Loki - who had ended up out of school for a full month, complete with weeks of bedrest and home assignments and the occasional tutor’s visit - had finally gotten back on his feet again. That had to count for something.

Ultimately they’d decided it could work out, as long as they put some solid boundaries in place beforehand. The rules Frigga and Odin had laid down were, as best they could make them, compassionate and targeted. Focused. Reasonable.

To wit:

No driving, for Loki. Not even after he's been medically cleared. His bike, his feet, and the school bus have gotten him everywhere he'd needed to go for years; there’s simply no reason now needs to be any different. Yes, he has his license. No, he doesn’t need it. Some other time (year), they’ll reconsider. Maybe.

No visiting - not Loki to school and not Thor, home - until Christmas, with subsequent visits to be discussed and approved only after the dust has fully settled.

Absolutely no drinking, even at the holidays, for any of them. Loki'd been issued an ironclad ban by the utterly matter-of-fact neurologist - no lectures, no judging, just a simple "not until your brain is completely done healing" - and they'd all agreed the rest of their little family-and-friends unit would abstain right along with him. He’s not healed, they’re not off the hook yet.

No activities of a sexual nature unless cleared in advance by the doctor. Meaning if Loki wants to get any action at all, he needs to actually ask his neurologist’s permission. In detail. "If you're uncomfortable asking about it like a responsible adult," Odin had explained (after Frigga had done some serious nudging), "you're not mature enough to be doing anything. And besides, consider this,” he’d gone on when Loki’d waffled. “How much worse would it be to have to explain, after the fact, how you'd put yourself back in the hospital?" The three of them had agreed, after some discussion (and largely to spare the poor neurologist, although neither Frigga nor Odin had shared that part with Loki), that inquiring via email would still qualify. Loki had dutifully done exactly that, his face redder than Frigga’d seen it in ages. He’d gotten an answer the following afternoon, and had glowed just as bright the second time around.

In addition, the boys had agreed to work on their grades. The subtle or else hanging over their heads had never been laid out in detail - honestly, Frigga and Odin hadn't even had a plan in mind. It hadn’t mattered; the whole business had been reassuringly effective.

Last, but not least, Farbauti'd agreed to join the Borsons (and Loki) for the various celebratory meals that were pretty much the only thing left of the holidays. It had felt a little odd lumping “join us for dinner” in with the discipline, but Frigga feels strongly that they really should be including Farbauti more regularly again. They haven’t adopted Loki, after all; they’ve just been letting him hang out with them. He still needs his actual mother. And without direct orders Farbauti invariably manages to have an excuse or five at the ready.

The whole thing actually hadn't been working out all that badly. Not badly at all.

~

"Odin's going to go pick Thor up at the bus station while you and I scrape dinner together," Frigga tells a keyed-up, restless Loki. She would love to have them all go, but Loki isn't 100% yet and she wants to establish the appropriate calm, low-key tone for Thor’s visit right from the very beginning. "He'll be here for weeks. We'll all have lots of opportunity to spend time together."

Loki looks at her, all wide eyes and sad little mouth. But he doesn't argue, and he heads right for the refrigerator. His hair is up in a ponytail that does nothing to hide his scar, or the short hair growing back in around it. Which is a good thing for Thor to see… it will hit her son hard; she’s sure of it. Frigga makes note, but carefully says nothing. "Go ahead and get out the spinach," she suggests instead. "And the last of that bacon. I'll heat the pan and crisp the meat while you rinse, and then you can do the wilting."

~

Their timing turns out to be pretty much perfect. Thor rips the door open just as Loki is plating the salad and Frigga is stacking chunks of warm bread in a basket. She’s forgotten just how big her son is; he crosses the kitchen in two strides and scoops Loki up with a tiny whimper.

Frigga can’t help herself. As the two of them – still teetering somewhere between boys and men - cling desperately together she sneaks a look at her husband. Just like her, he’s grinning.

Chapter Text

They don't have to be up early tomorrow morning. Thor and Loki have both been drafted to help prepare Christmas Eve dinner, but the pies are done and the rest of the process won't get started until at least early afternoon. There isn't any reason to hurry tonight, then. Not at the table, not at anything.

After dinner the four of them settle into the den with mugs of hot mulled cider and soft little ginger cookies. Thor eats three and then hurries to let his mother know her cookies are wonderful. Loki blushes, head bowed, and smiles a private little smile when Frigga immediately passes along the credit. "We wanted to do something to make your visit special," Loki explains, cheeks flushed so pink they glow. "Even though we're kind of all in trouble."

Thor smiles in return and takes another cookie. He doesn't mind missing out on presents. Loki alive and well is really the only gift he needs anyway. Plus, it's nice to catch up with his tired-looking family.

~

"So. How are you feeling, really," Thor asks Loki once his parents have finally said their goodnights and trundled off to bed. He's still on college time and Loki has always been closer to nocturnal; the two of them are wide-awake even though it's almost midnight. "Your texts and emails- I dunno. They kind of scared me." For weeks now Loki had sounded- down. Frustrated and sad and lonely. And guilty, like he'd ruined everything. Thor'd done some reading up on minor traumatic brain injury and found that most of it- most of Loki's symptoms were actually pretty common. Not that knowing that had done much of anything to reassure him, though… depressed is still depressed, even when it’s not unexpected. And given how Frigga had put the kibosh on extended bedtime skype sessions - "the dreaded nookie ban," Loki had termed it, laughing... but it hadn't stayed funny for long - Thor hadn't had much opportunity to really observe how Loki was doing.

Definitely frightening, and made all the worse by being so far away; Thor'd spent pretty much the entire last six weeks in a constant state of nagging dread.

"Well, the average male recovers from a concussion in something like 57 days," Loki says. "From what I’ve been told, I'm actually a little bit of an over-achiever."

"So you're really okay again, then?" Thor ghosts the very tips of his fingers over Loki's cheek. "Okay-okay? You're not still having symptoms?"

"Right." Loki smiles. He turns to lick at Thor's fingers, his tongue only barely there and then gone again just as quickly. Thor valiantly tries to suppress a shiver. "I haven't had a headache in over a week now, and I'm not dizzy. I’ve even felt happier again the last day or so, but that could just be because you're here." He ducks his head and plants a kiss on the soft, sensitive inside of Thor's wrist. The warm breathy contact pulls a startled little gasp out of Thor. "But to answer the question I hope you're asking, yes, my neurologist says I can be intimate with you - which may just be the least hot term for it ever - as long as my head can take it. That would be this head," he clarifies, pulling gently at his own ponytail, "in case you were wondering. But I have to take it slow and be observant when it comes to symptoms." He snorts. "And if that little speech actually gets you in the mood, I don't know what the fuck is wrong with you."

It’s not about speeches. Even with Loki’s (very upsetting) scar in plain sight, simply being within touching distance is turning Thor on. Thor lifts Loki's chin and kisses him carefully, lost for a long moment in how Loki tastes like apples and smells like sin.

Right. Take it slowly.

"Mom seriously made you do that," he asks. "Made you get your doctor's permission?" It's hard to imagine something more embarrassing. "Ugh! That’s terrible."

"Not made," Loki corrects. "I could have refused. But they probably would've stuffed me into a chastity belt or something. One of those weird little lucite cages we saw on that one website."

Thor snickers. "Yes! The ones with the little slots you can pee through." He leans in to capture Loki's sweet red lips again.

"We should take this upstairs," Loki pants after they've let their mouths get thoroughly reacquainted. "If one of your parents- comes down to check on us, things could get massively awkward."

Thor clears his throat into the shoulder of his sweater. "Mm," he hums against Loki's neck, which in turn makes Loki purr and writhe. "If we go upstairs, I'm not sure I can take it slowly. You know, doctor's orders." Not that pacing himself is easy down here, but with Loki sprawled across his bed like a feast for the devouring? Hopeless.

"Please," Loki wheedles. "We did the slow start part already." He runs a hand teasingly along the center seam of Thor's jeans and right on up the fly. "I'm okay. Really. And I want this."

Thor growls. "Stop. Nothing strenuous."

"Okay," Loki agrees, almost too readily. "If you insist. I'll just lie there and you can blow me. If you’re really fabulous, maybe I'll even sing you a carol."

Thor wants Loki so badly it hurts. "Oh," he manages to tease anyway, because he’s not going to rush. He isn’t. "Trust me. I really don't think you'll be singing."

~

Stumbling around the house retrieving glasses and turning off lights isn’t easy, not with a raging boner in his jeans and Loki perched on one hip like an overgrown toddler, but Thor slowly gets everything done. He even lets Loki nibble on his earlobe and plant wet kisses on his cheek…

…and grouse about how very, very long it’s all taking.

Once the place is finally locked up safe and sound, Thor lugs Loki upstairs and stops in the bathroom to kiss his boyfriend breathless. There’s a little good-natured pushing and shoving between there and the bedroom. “Would you get on with it already,” Loki huffs as Thor closes their door quietly behind them. “Unlike some people, evidently, I can only wait so many months without exploding.”

Thor grins. “Make me.”

Chapter Text

The holiday break flies by in a happy blur of food and family and sex. Thor spends several enjoyable days relaxing with his family, a few short hours hanging out with some of his old friends, the world’s longest-ever-feeling dinner making ridiculously painful small talk with his own parents, their parents, Heimdall, Loki, and Sif, and (best of all, maybe… okay, probably) night after night writhing in bed with his very warm, very real, very alive boyfriend. The two of them are so busy that most nights they don’t even try to orchestrate anything in particular; they simply fall into bed in a warm, naked heap and pull each other off or curl up on their sides in a lazy 69. At least one night they fall asleep in the middle of nothing but kissing.

Not that any of it is a problem. Thor and Loki agree; they can’t remember the last time they had this much fun. It’s like a dream, brighter and louder and faster than real life could ever be.

And then it’s over. Loki’s left to mope around at home, and Thor is just as stuck back at school.

~

They’d vowed not to cry as they parted. “It’s just a few months,” Thor’d said. “And then we have the whole summer together. And more, if you get your ass in gear.” Loki’d confessed – and even that only when pushed – to caving in to a sudden, crippling attack of self-doubt: no matter what he did, regardless of how hard he tried, he was (convinced he was) bound to fail. Meaning here it was the second week in January and he hadn’t even started applying to college.

Not to Thor’s school, not to any school.

“I’m a kid,” Loki’d worried when Thor’d pushed the issue. “Just like your mom and dad are so fond of saying. I may not like it, and you may not either… but that doesn’t make it any less true. I can’t go to college. I’ll fail. I’ll starve to death. I’ll freak out from the stress and have to be institutionalized.” Only then comes the actual worry, if Thor knows anything about anything: “You’ll get me there and find you like actual me a whole lot less these days than you do your own fantasies.”

Having just spent three wonderful weeks with actual Loki living out a good chunk of said fantasies, from going sledding together to spending half the night panting and rutting, Thor finds that eventuality highly, highly unlikely. He even makes sure to immediately say so. “Look,” he insists when Loki still won’t stop arguing long enough to listen. “I’ll get you there and we’ll settle down in my single room and keep each other warm at night and it will be perfect. Unless you keep this up, and then you’ll get your stupid wish… you’ll be spending next year right here in this room. Alone. With my mom and dad.” Thor sighs. “Loki, it’s only college. Lots of people your age go to college. And you’re smart. Really, really smart. You’ll be fine.”

Loki had stood facing the window, all stiff, angry lines. He’d elbowed Thor hard in the side when Thor had tried to embrace him. And then they’d both cried like big, ridiculous babies… vows to the contrary and all. “I’m sorry,” Loki’d whispered into the skin of Thor’s shoulder, over and over. “I just want to be together.”

“I know, baby,” Thor’d soothed, one hand smoothing Loki’s hair while the other’d kept the two of them pressed as close together as possible. “I do. And that’s why you need to try this. Just apply. It’ll be fine. I promise.”

“You don’t know that,” Loki had protested. “You can’t know.”

“There’s no way you’ll get in if you don’t apply,” Thor had countered. “I know that much. So… promise me you’ll do it? Please?”

Just as Odin and Frigga had called up the stairs to warn them it was that time, Loki had relented. “Okay,” he’d said softly. “You win. I’ll try.”

We win,” Thor’d pointed out. “It’s the best thing for both of us.” But then it had hit him. “You believe that, right?”

“Yeah,” Loki’d said, his tone unreadable. “Yeah, sure.”

~

The spring semester feels better, though, somehow. They both keep up their grades and, when Loki’s headaches don’t resurface, Thor’s parents agree to lift a few more of the restrictions they’d imposed after the accident. Most of it is just small stuff, but the biggest item is easily the best: Loki can come visit the week of Easter, when his own school is on holiday break.

In return, all Loki has to do is actually take the bus – with Frigga there to drive him to the station this time; even if all this wintery weather has lifted by the holiday week, and that’s certainly not a given, there isn’t going to be any biking – and check in as soon as he gets there. He can spend the whole week, and then take the bus back home. Afterwards Frigga will pick him up at the station. It’s a bit like glorified babysitting but- but at least this once it’s worth it. Because in between humiliating supervised rides Loki and Thor can spend their time doing all the things they didn’t get to do back in the fall.

The timing will be nicer, too. Thor won’t have football. Or looming exams. He won’t even be stuck going to class, at least not for most of the time Loki’s visiting. And very, very best of all, there won’t be concussions and bruises and bleeding lacerations.

It gives them something to look forward to, at a point when they really need it.

~

Loki does apply, at last, without waiting to be told he has to.

Thor’s secretly relieved, because he’s personally far too familiar with how much Loki hates to be given orders. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for one of his parents, meaning to be helpful, to accidentally talk Loki out of submitting an application just by encouraging a little too much heel-digging-inning.

He’s surprised when Loki tells him it’s finally over and done. He’s not surprised when, just a few short weeks later – the place has a rolling admissions policy, and Loki is smart - Loki reports coming home from school to find a fat packet on the counter.

“Go on,” Thor encourages as Loki frets. “You know the drill. Thick envelope: good news.”

It is, too. It’s awesome news. Next year they will be here together.

Chapter Text

Loki watches quietly, his back up against the house and the hazy air – it’s not all that warm, which gives him at least a little hope for the day, but it’s already humid enough to make breathing a bit uncomfortable and this hour barely even counts as morning – ruffling the fine fuzz on his legs, as the sun finally peeks over the horizon. The humidity settles onto his skin and soaks into his hair. Meaning, no doubt, he’s going to be dealing with a veritable rat’s nest of tangles and sloppy curls later. At least it doesn’t look like today is going to be another June scorcher… rather than another blistering-hot early summer afternoon like the one that heralded Thor’s graduation, it could be almost pleasant. Especially once the haze burns off. From that perspective, at least, today promises to be a whole lot different than he remembers graduation day being last year.

And that’s fortunate.

Because one thing he knows for certain: standing up there in front of everyone, in his stupid cap and the waterproof polyester bag that is his equally idiotic gown, Loki is going to melt anyway. If it’s the least bit hot, he’s going to keel right over onto his side in front of most of the town and- and die. And to make things all that much worse, he’s been up at least half the night (and that’s generous; Loki isn’t positive he really did anything more than doze at all). In other words, he’s going to go to his grave horribly badly rested.

Which, of course, doesn’t even make sense. He does know that. There’s no reason to be so ridiculously nervous. All he has to do today is stand when instructed, walk when called, and navigate three wide, non-slip steps without faceplanting. These are all skills he mastered a decade or more ago. He’s sure his brothers both did it without incident, all those years back. And just twelve months earlier, nearly to the day, Thor had been the one getting to his feet in the middle of the football field - wrapped in yards of cheap, unflattering yellow fabric and grinning as brightly as the sun - and starting off on the Walk of Doom. Thor and all those friends of his. And not one of them had died doing it.

Thor’s friends, the very same ones Loki’d once worried would push him aside and then trample him.

Once.

Okay, once this year. So far. Honest. During the, um, only week he’d even seen them.

Whatever. That kind of thing is so high school. He’s over that childish shit now.

Mostly, he is. He’ll be 17 in three months. He has goals and plans and in about seven hours he’s going to be capping his not-particularly-storied high school career off, semi-literally, with a diploma. He’s (still, amazingly, after that mess with the ditch) got a driver’s license and a passable fake ID and a boyfriend hot enough to fry an egg on.

He doesn’t need to panic. It’s all going to be fine.

Yeah.

Not working. So, so not working.

~

Once the sun rises just a few more degrees above the horizon, it does indeed start to burn through the worst of the haze. Loki retreats back into the kitchen, where he lies flat on the floor in a limp, mildly sweaty heap and thinks about becoming one with the worn vinyl.

It’s not such a bad thing to think about, given his options, and he’ll do just about anything to put yesterday’s situation behind him.

Ah, yesterday.

~

”Why are you even bothering with telling me this?” Laufey’s loud voice booms angrily through Loki’s mother’s apartment. “Why would you ever dare to think I would give the tiniest of fucks about what that little bastard son you haven’t been smart enough to disown yet might be up to?”

Loki presses himself as tightly as he can against the closet wall. No one knows he’s here – not even Farbauti, as he’d only just let himself in the back way and gotten halfway to the kitchen when he’d heard Laufey shouting and realized she wasn’t alone – and from the sound of things his continued health and welfare depends on keeping it that way. Hers too, probably.

There isn’t any reason for someone – as in Laufey – to open the door; there’s nothing in here but cleaning supplies and dust bunnies and a few old winter jackets. If anyone does, though, he’s screwed. Loki’s tall these days and this closet simply isn’t big enough for him to hide in.

“I asked you a question, woman,” Laufey bellows. He’d actually asked two, both of which had seemed pretty much rhetorical, and Loki totally gets why his mother hadn’t bothered with an answer.

“It’s his graduation,” Farbauti says quietly. Loki has to press his ear right up against the louvered panel in the middle of the door to make her words out. “I didn’t know- I wasn’t sure if you would want to be there.”

“Maybe you should ask his real father,” Laufey snarls. “Wouldn’t that be a little more logical?”

“Whatever you might think,” his mom counters, and Loki can hear a little bit of steel in her voice… just enough to make him proud, and (even more) nervous, “you are his real father.”

“You’re delusional,” Laufey spits back. Farbauti shrieks and there’s a loud crash as something hits the floor and shatters. “That girly little cocksucker will never be a son of mine.”

“Get out of my apartment,” his mom orders. “Now. Or I will call the police this time.”

“You’ll be dead before you can finish dialing,” Laufey promises. Loki claps both hands over his mouth and shuts his eyes tightly.

“Just go,” Farbauti says. Loki huddles against the wall, shaking. His father is huge. If things go down, there’s no way Loki can save her. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four-.

Laufey stomps past the closet, muttering under his breath. Three. Two. The door slams.

Loki slumps to the floor, tears running down his face and both hands still covering his mouth. Out in the kitchen he can hear his mother crying.

~

“Loki! Are you all right?” Frigga’s face swims into view, upside down, her hair about as crazy as his must be.

He sits up in a flurry of arms and legs. “Sorry,” he says, making himself smile. “I went out to watch the sunrise and got a little overheated. The floor is nice and cool. I didn’t think anyone else would be up yet.” He takes a deep breath. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“No no, don’t be silly. I couldn’t sleep,” Frigga says. “There’s so much to do, and big days like this always make me nervous.”

Loki smiles for real. “Me neither,” he tells her, “and me too. I’ll be glad when it’s over.”

“Even the party,” she kids.

He knows the right answer: “Nooo, I’m sure the party will be fun.” In truth, he would almost (okay, he would actually) rather not have one, especially after yesterday, but the Borsons always insist on going out of their way to make sure he has the same opportunities and celebrations their own son has. They’re nice people and he certainly doesn’t want to hurt their feelings. And it actually will be- different to be the guest of honor. Good different. He gropes for something a little more convincing. “I just want to get the ceremony done with.”

“Me too,” she confides. “So hot, so many people. And I worry the whole time that someone is going to trip and fall.”

“Seriously?” Loki bursts out laughing. “I was up half the night worrying about how that someone was going to be me.”

“Keep it down, you two. People are sleeping.”

Loki and Frigga both jump. Thor stands in the kitchen doorway rubbing his face with one hand. “Hey, baby,” he says to Loki. “Everything okay?”

“Mm,” Loki says, because now it is. “Just a few jitters.”

~

He doesn’t trip. He doesn’t fall. His feet carry him up the makeshift aisle and up the stairs and across the stage (over all those taped-down cables looking for all the world like silver snakes, lying there ready to trip the unsuspecting) to the podium. He shakes Mr. Fury’s hand one final time and endures a last one-eyed glare, and then heads back down the stairs on the other side. People may be clapping as he heads back to his seat; Loki isn’t certain. He’s just incredibly glad it’s all behind him.

When he flips his tassel with the rest of his classmates at the end, Thor pulls him into a huge hug and kisses him full on the mouth in front of everyone. “Congratulations,” Thor whispers into his hair. “You’re amazing.”

Loki isn’t sure what’s so amazing about graduating from high school like most every other kid out there, but Thor’s lips against his ear make him shiver. “Mm,” he hums. “Thank you.”

~

The party – the signature Borson cookout, this time with bright paper lanterns that Frigga tells everyone in earshot remind her of Loki – really is more fun than he’d expected. Sif shakes his hand politely and Heimdall sneaks everyone (as in his sister, and Thor, and Loki; who else matters?) a beer and everyone pretends not to gossip about how Amora (one of the popular mean girls in Loki’s year) might just be expecting a baby.

He’s careful not to catch his mother’s eye, which isn’t all that hard given that everyone seems to want a (separate) piece of both of them.

Most of the time all Loki has to do is nod and smile. That, and let Thor hang an arm around him. They’re grown-ups now. They can do this.

Chapter Text

Frigga watches from the master bedroom window as Thor and Loki take off on their bikes, helmets fastened and hair streaming out behind them. She’s made them promise – every chance she gets, and some she has to manufacture – to be safe. To wear their helmets and their shatterproof sunglasses. To follow every applicable rule of the road, every single time.

To be constantly alert and aware of their surroundings.

It’s ridiculous. She’s being ridiculous. They’ve ridden their bikes everywhere since they were barely old enough to turn the pedals and only now when they’re finally newly-minted responsible adults has she developed this near-phobic fear for their safety. They’re so, so close to being out of the nest and she’s really struggling to rid herself of the feeling that this is the point where they’ll falter.

The two boys have both gotten jobs in town this summer, Loki because he needs money for school and Thor because Loki’s working. Thor still doesn’t have his license (and isn’t showing any sign of correcting that any time soon… which might be a bit of a nuisance, sure, but that’s more than outweighed by the peace-of-mind). One less thing to worry about.

Loki, for his part, has evidently picked his battles and not asked about his own driving again. Or he’s secretly still rattled. Or maybe Frigga’s fear is contagious.

Her boys ride to work together every morning now. Loki staffs the counter at the movie theater closest to their old preschool, doing all the matinees because he’s the one who’s always free during the daytime. He sees lots of movies for free but comes home every evening reeking of butter-flavored popcorn.

Thor does the books for a small, local gardening magazine. No one is quite sure how he landed the job, least of all Thor himself, as he’s only taken (and not exactly aced; to date, it’s been his weakest subject) one semester of accounting and the only thing he knows about gardens is that Farbauti has a job doing something garden-related. But this stint will count for college credit, as long as he shows up when he’s supposed to and follows up with his manager about completing the forms. So no one is asking too many hard questions.

It’s good. They’re busy. Things are happy and peaceful.

Except something isn’t quite right and – on top of all her silly worries – that’s really grating on Frigga.

~

“So,” she starts on one of those increasingly rare occasions where she’s managed to somehow corner Loki alone in the kitchen, “how’s your mom?” She hasn’t seen Farbauti in weeks now, not since Loki’s graduation party, and every single one of her (planned-in-advance, or spur-of-the-moment) invites has gone unanswered. “I keep trying to get together with her for lunch or drinks, but it seems like she’s really unusually busy.”

Loki hides behind his glass of lemonade, nothing but eyes and sharp brows and hair. “I guess she is,” he says. His voice is- odd. Wary. “I haven’t really talked to her either.”

“And that doesn’t strike you as odd?” It’s not like Farbauti’s been the most attentive of parents, but she loves Loki and it’s not like her to pull a vanishing act on him. “Do you think I should try har-?”

“No.” Loki cuts her off, forcefully. “Just leave it alone.” He sighs. Frigga waits. “Um, I’m sorry. I know you’re just trying to be nice,” he tells her. “But some things can’t be fixed, you know?”

She does know. That doesn’t mean she has to agree, or to like it. “Is something going on?” Now that she thinks about it the timing – graduation, the party, her own nagging sense that something has gone awry – does line up a little too perfectly. “Did something happen? Loki,” she asks as he abruptly turns away. “What is it?”

“Laufey,” he says after a pause so long she almost thinks he isn’t going to answer. “He was at the apartment the day before graduation.” He clears his throat and looks out the window, tense and coiled. Frigga’s struck yet again by how tall he is, and how solemn. “He- he threatened her. He said awful things. I’ve been keeping my distance, so he won’t hurt her.”

Oh, sweetie. “Have you talked to her about it,” she asks, finally. “It doesn’t seem like-.”

“No,” he cuts in again, but carefully this time. “She doesn’t know. I’d just stopped over to make sure she was all set for the following morning. She- she never knew I was there. I didn’t- I don’t want to worry her.”

Frigga doesn’t like the sound of any of this, not at all. “Do you think she’s in danger,” she asks. “Because I can follow up if I need to. I promise… you don’t have to handle all of this on your own.”

“I know,” Loki says. He sets his glass down and leans heavily on both hands on the counter, head hanging. “I do. But I can’t tell her. She’d- she’s be horrified. And he said he would kill her. I’m afraid of what he’ll do if he finds out I know.”

“I’m so sorry.” She is. And horrified, and above everything deeply sad. No child should have to know the sorts of things Loki knows. “Do you think it would help to talk to someone?”

He stiffens. Frigga watches the long muscles in his arms bunch. “What kind of someone? Because I’m not going to get the police involved; they won’t do anything until somebody dies.”

She’s not sure that’s true, but it isn’t really the point either. “I meant a counselor,” she explains. “Someone how can help you make sense of what’s happening.”

Loki snorts. “Oh, I’m not having any trouble making sense of any of it,” he assures her. “And I don’t think I want to hear anyone else’s thoughts on it, either.”

It’s not the kind of thing she can force him into. “Well, if you change your mind,” she starts, but once again he doesn’t let her finish.

“I won’t,” he says. “I don’t need it anyway, and it’s just too risky.”

“Maybe at school, then,” she suggests. “Where you could be anybody.”

He pushes off the counter and straightens, downing the rest of his lemonade in two long swallows and setting the glass in the sink. “I can be anybody anywhere,” he reminds her. “Anyway… I’m fine. Honest. Don’t worry.”

Chapter Text

It’s different this year. The sharp anxiety of last summer, when he’d had no idea what to expect and had spent the whole season teetering on the edge of the complete unknown, is gone. In its place is an odd, bubbling mix of excitement and something more- not parental, really. Brotherly. Which is probably a little creepy, sure. But there you have it. Thor is the expert now. He’s been through this. He’s going back to the known, and he gets to be Loki’s guide. To make the whole experience easier for Loki, who pretty much has the rougher time of everything and could actually use a little way-smoothing.

That, and having his boyfriend there at school is bound to be very, very nice in all sorts of ways he has no intention of sharing with his mother. Or father. And that part isn’t the least bit brotherly. It isn’t. The two of them are- they’re friends. And neighbors. Nothing more.

Nothing less.

~

“I got my room again, the one I had last year. With the sink,” Thor tells Loki… Loki, who flings both arms around his neck and wraps him in a gangly, warm hug right in the middle of the movie theater lobby. “I mean, they told me last semester that the odds were good, but I just got the email with the final confirmation.” It had come right as he was leaving work himself, and he’d been so excited he just might have squealed. Quietly. Almost.

Thor returns the hug. Loki’s hair smells like popcorn. And while he knows it drives Loki crazy, Thor actually kind of likes it. He likes thinking of Loki here, all cute geeky uniform and bright eyes and movie promo buttons.

Movies make people happy, and knowing Loki’s in a cheerful (if smelly, sticky, and mildly greasy) place makes Thor happy.

Even if it doesn’t seem to be making Loki all that happy.

“Let’s walk our bikes today,” Thor suggests as Loki, uniform tucked away in his backpack and baggy grey-green t-shirt hanging off one slim shoulder, comes out of the office that also serves as a dressing room. “It’s not that hot, for a change.” It isn’t; it’s a lovely warm, breezy summer day. “And I want to talk to you.”

“Why,” Loki says, abruptly tense and nervous. Which – right there - is the why, really. “Did something happen at work?”

“No,” Thor assures him as the door swings shut with a clang behind them. “I just- I want to talk before we get home.”

Loki smirks. “Is it about sex, then,” he asks, sounding markedly more hopeful.

Thor tugs him close and kisses him soundly. Loki tastes sweet, like candy. “It wasn’t going to be,” Thor says against Loki’s mouth, “but I think we can fit that in somehow.”

“We always fit it in somehow,” Loki agrees, nudging Thor with a shoulder. His voice is hot… low and full of dirty promise. They share another kiss at the bike rack, and another, and then one with hands and hips that almost needs a room.

“Stop trying to distract me.” Thor is gentle in steering Loki away, and careful to smile as he says it, but he really isn’t joking. They’ve been playing this little game of cat-and-mouse for weeks now, ever since graduation. Every time he tries to pin Loki down and find out what’s going on, Loki laughs it off (or picks a fight, far more rarely, although Thor’s not quite sure if that’s a good sign or a bad one) and slips free. It isn’t fun, not anymore, and it certainly isn’t funny. “Please? I just want to ask you something.”

Loki looks at his bike, then at the sidewalk. “Mm.”

It takes a couple of deep breaths to get it out, what with Loki looking so- so uncomfortable. “What happened,” Thor finally manages to ask. “Right at the end of the school year? Because I know something did. You haven’t been yourself all summer.”

“Seriously,” Loki huffs. “Who else would I be?”

Thor sighs. “You’re doing it again.” He fits his bike lock back into its mounting bracket. “Changing the subject.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Loki says softly. “It’s not going to change anything. I don’t see the point.”

That’s a start, and a big one. This is the first time Loki has even conceded that there’s something worth (not) talking about involved. And there actually is a point, but it’s selfish and Thor opts not to make it. “Can you at least tell me if it’s about us or not,” he asks, because that’s probably his biggest nagging worry. If they’re going to have a big problem (or, worse yet, go their separate ways) once they get to school, Thor would rather know about it now. Even if it’s horrible and life-ruining.

Loki straightens, helmet dangling from two slender, touchable fingers. He looks Thor in the eye for a long, long time. “No,” he says at last. “It isn’t about us. It’s about my family. My actual family. Now drop it. Please,” he echoes, and Thor (swallows hard, and) nods. “Thank you. And Thor?”

Thor nods again. “Mm?”

“I’m sorry if I’m acting weird,” Loki offers. “It’s hard, you know? Lots of change. Can we walk now?”

They could pretty much ride at this point, but that doesn’t seem fair. Thor hangs his own helmet off his handlebars. “Sure,” he says, and does.

~

Getting home this way takes a lot longer than riding would. And now that he thinks about it Thor hasn’t walked home from town in a long time. But it’s nice, really; once the hard stuff is as over as it’s going to be, they stroll along looking at wildflowers and talking about college. Loki is (understandably) nervous, as it turns out, and it’s a good feeling to be able to soothe most fears and answer every question.

“I hope I end up in your dorm,” Loki admits as they at long last trudge up the driveway. Despite the weather they’ve managed to get pretty sweaty. “Otherwise it’ll suck and I’ll miss you.”

Privately, Thor highly doubts the logistics, whatever they may be, will pose any real problem. But he knows from experience – his own, and what he’s learned over a lifetime spent dealing with Loki – that “don’t worry, it’ll be fine,” really isn’t the best approach regardless. “We’ll find a way to make it work,” he says instead. “We will. I promise. Ah ah ah,” he chides as Loki dives in for another kiss. “Later. Mom’s watching out the window.”

Chapter Text

Thor watches as Loki stands just inside the doorway of the double, holding an overflowing box in both hands and looking around. It’s not a bad freshman room, and it’s not just in the same dorm but also (uber-conveniently) right here on the third floor same as his own, but Loki is obviously tense as fuck and Thor can’t help but think back to how this feels. He remembers standing in his own room last year with his family around him and thinking there was just no way. He couldn’t possibly do it.

Except he could, and he did, and now he has Loki right here with him. “You’re here first,” he prods his boyfriend. “You get to pick the better spot.”

From the expression on Loki’s face the only spot he wants is curled up in the car and heading home. “Take a good look around,” Thor suggests, “and stake out the side of the room where you feel more comfortable.”

Loki’s shoulders curl even farther forward. “Won’t I be spending most nights in your room anyway,” he asks softly. Frigga is down the hall talking with the RA; Odin wouldn’t fit in the elevator and is consequently still on the way up from the car. Still, one or both of Thor’s parents could pop in at any moment and while it’s likely they’ve done the math themselves and are fully aware of what’s going to go down here… Thor certainly doesn’t want to discuss it with them. From the look on his face Loki doesn’t either.

“Absolutely,” Thor says, with conviction. He takes the box from Loki’s hands and sets it on the closest desk. “But you should still have a place of your own, one you like, because you’ll probably be doing more studying here than you’re expecting.”

“This one, then.” Loki gestures towards the bed closest to the door. “That way, if I’m in and out a lot, I’m not walking through my roommate’s space constantly.”

It isn’t bad thinking. Plus, the desk closest to them has a nice view out the window. The other side of the room does have more space, since the door isn’t carved out of it; maybe giving that up will help curry favor with the roommate. “Okay,” he agrees, squatting to pick up the box he’d brought in from the car and hoisting it up to set on the desk next to Loki’s. “Plus, that way it’s easier for me to visit you.”

“Oh no,” Loki says. For the first time since they’d pulled up to the building initially he sounds alive. “I- you can’t. I’m not going to let my roommate lay eyes on you.”

“Loki,” Thor chides, laughing. “He’s not even gay for, all you know.” The guy probably isn’t. Statistically, at least, the odds are against it.

“Once he sees you,” Loki teases back, “he will be.”

“Will be what,” Odin asks from the door. Thor and Loki both startle.

“Nothing, dad,” Thor says, in stereo with Loki’s “nothing, Mr. Borson.” Loki’s cheeks are bright red, and not just from the heat. “We were just talking about Loki’s roommate.”

Loki sighs. “Maybe I’ll get lucky and he won’t show up.”

Odin laughs. “I think every college student who’s ever shared a room thinks that initially.”

“And as time goes by?” Thor didn’t go through this, since he’s always had a single. Still, he can imagine.

“Half of them still do.”

~

It takes a good three hours to get Loki settled in and to bring Thor’s stuff up to his old familiar single. Darcy is still the RA on his hall, which is nice; she knows (probably more than she really wants to) about Loki and isn’t one for judging. Loki’s RA is a friend of hers, so there likely won’t be issues from that end of things either.

“Do you two still want dinner out,” Odin asks as Frigga shushes and tells him that of course they do, “or are you too eager to settle in?”

Thor’s tired, more than eager, and from the looks of it Loki’s dragging too. But they can always use one last good meal and his parents- his mom and dad deserve one last hour of family togetherness. That, and Loki is probably more scared and less eager to let them take off than he’s letting on. “Dinner would be great,” he says as Loki nods. “Burgers, or pancakes?”

~

“Loki, isn’t it?” Darcy puts out a hand. “I never forget such a pretty face.” She winks at Thor. “Don’t worry, dude. I know he’s taken. It’s just always nice to see the scenery improving.”

“I resent that,” Thor kids as Loki grins. Darcy’s great with people, especially skittish freshmen, and Thor knows her far too well to waste time being jealous. He slings an arm around Loki’s shoulders. “Excuse us, won’t you? Move-in day always makes me tired.”

“Always.” Darcy winks again, at Loki this time. “Listen to this expert, with all two years’ experience behind him. Whatever. Have fun, you two.”

~

Thor is hoping they will. Have fun, that is. Loki, it turns out, is too stressed to really enjoy anything. Classes start in two days and the logistics alone are an awful lot to master so quickly. “Do you want to head back to your room and get some rest,” Thor offers when Loki grumbles and shoves him off for the third time. “I won’t be upset. I know this is stressful and I really do just want to do whatever makes it easiest for you.

Loki groans. “Why is life so hard?” He reaches out for a hug, one Thor cheerfully grants him. “Maybe a backrub? And then can I stay here? Or do I have to go back to my own room?” He stretches. “I mean, I don’t want to start off badly with my roommate.”

“He’s not even here yet, Loki,” Thor reminds him. “And if he shows up early in the morning, the best thing you can do for your eventual friendship is not be there.” Loki at that time of day is, well, pretty beastly. “You two need to meet in the afternoon, when you’re able to act halfway civilized.”

“Asshole,” Loki says, but he doesn’t sound mad; just worn out. Thor takes it as a cue to ease Loki down onto the mattress and start working the worst knots out of his shoulders.

As he kneads away, Thor smiles to himself. He can feel it already: it’s going to be a much better year.

Chapter Text

Frigga finds herself rattling around the house most days now. It's not that business is slow - she's as busy as ever; busier, even, and she’s kept right on taking as much work as she can reasonably handle - but just that the place is so quiet. Even last year when it had only been Loki and the two of them, the place'd had a constant hum about it. There was always the promise of someone coming home, of shed shoes and smiling hugs and mouths crammed full of fresh-baked cookies, hiding just around the corner. Every day meant meals to plan and messes to (make one of the boys- the men) straighten. Cheerful family togetherness.

Now, for the first time in a little over nineteen years, it's just her. One. Singular. Frigga herself, bouncing through space like a wayward pinball. Oh, and Odin in the mornings and evenings, sure. It’s not that he doesn't count for something. But the energy in the place is different. Like the house itself is sad. Muted.

"Just a couple more weeks," Odin says from somewhere close behind her. He's not loud, and he's probably not even meaning to startle her, but she still manages to squeal and jump and whirl to face him "Sorry," her husband tells her. He looks as surprised as she is. "I thought you heard me come in. It's a great picture," he adds, nodding at her phone. "Always makes me miss them."

Frigga's breath catches low in her throat. "Breathing makes me miss them," she whispers. "Last year I don't think I realized how much I missed Thor, not with Loki around... but now? Now I'm stuck missing both of them." She tries her best to laugh, but her eyes are starting in with that old, familiar burning. "And it's silly. Loki isn't even ours to start with." She's been thinking about that a lot recently, about the irony inherent in missing Loki as much as his own mother does. More, maybe, although perhaps that's not as strange as it feels. Not considering how long he's (he'd, rather, and that's an awful, final thing to say) practically lived here.

"Mm." Odin takes a step towards her, then wraps her in a hug as she meets him halfway. "I guess I feel pretty much the same, really. And honey?" He pushes back a little, to look her very solemnly in the eye. "This probably sounds awful, but I'm not sure if visiting is going to make it worse or better."

She exhales in a tiny huff of laughter. "Exactly," she agrees. "But either way there's not a force on this earth that would keep me from going."

Only once Odin has kissed her - temple, then cheek, then oh so softly on the lips - and headed off to read the newspaper in the den does Frigga lean with one hip against the tall counters and unlock her phone again.

He’s right. It really is a great picture, lively and animated. Fun. She can't quite tell if it's a double selfie or a too-close close-up taken by some out-of-frame friend. Thor has his chin resting in the crook of Loki's shoulder, and they're both flat out beaming into the tiny lens… Thor sporting his trademark sunny smile; Loki caught in toothy, open-mouthed, laughing splendor. The whole thing taken collectively makes her so happy it almost feels like sadness.

"Two weeks," she tells the phone. "Not even. A week and five days."

The school doesn't really have any sort of parents' weekend, and last year she and Odin hadn't really questioned the lack of it. They'd had Loki to keep an eye on and plenty to do, and by the time they'd really gotten around to feeling the endlessness of the distance between summer and (what they'd expected would be Thor's trip home over) Thanksgiving the four of them had already been caught up in planning Loki's trip. Or, rather, Frigga and Odin were. The boys were busy scheming.

The rest of the semester, they'd given over to- to concussions and worries.

~

This year, with both boys gone and no one mooning around lovesick, Odin had come up with the very best idea: they would head up to school for football. If it was okay with the kids, of course.

It had been. Both Loki and Thor had oohed and ahhed in a reasonable facsimile of excitement, and Thor had even suggested inviting Farbauti.

Frigga'd cleared her throat. "We can," she'd ventured as Odin had nodded encouragingly, "but she's working a lot of extra time these days. So... promise me: if she says no, you won't be disappointed."

Loki'd responded first. "Um, I might be, actually. But try? For me?"

"Please," Thor'd echoed. "It can't hurt to ask, can it?"

~

"Oh, thank you. How sweet of you. Just let me check the schedule," Farbauti suggests, and Frigga's heart sinks. Like a stone. Telling Loki is going to su-. "I think I can switch my Friday shift," Farbauti says. She sounds- excited, even. Not at all what Frigga'd expected. "Can you get us home by 8:00 PM on Sunday?"

Odin's face melts into a smile. "Sure," Frigga says. "We were planning on leaving right after lunch. So you think you can do it? The boys will be so pleased to see you."

"Just let me make one call," Farbauti offers. "I'll get right back to you."

Frigga carefully doesn’t call the boys until after she hears from Farbauti. Loki’s been disappointed far too many times over the years; she’s not going to see it happen again. Not on her watch.

But when her phone finally beeps, it actually turns out to be good news for a change.

~

Life is splendid. It’s 3:30 PM on a crisp, cold fall day. The trip up last night had been wonderfully uneventful; no snow this time, and no near deer misses either. The four of them huddle together in the stands, wrapped in stadium blankets and sipping cocoa. Frigga sneaks a peek while everyone else is caught up in the action. Loki looks good; tired, maybe, and a little worn, but strong and loved and happy. And down there on the field below them, her own son is a young lion.

“It’s so good to see you,” Loki says at the next stoppage of play, looking back and forth between them. “Really. All of you. You can’t even imagine.”

Chapter Text

When the boys come home for the summer - the first time they've been back in town since Christmas, either of them, because they'd stayed at school over spring break to let Thor get a head start on a huge research paper - the first thing that hits Odin is how big they are. Thor towers over both his parents, and at almost eighteen Loki has shot up and might only be a couple of inches behind him.

Thor still has his football muscles well into the offseason and Loki, who's taken up club-level crew after being subjected one too many times to the endless litany of how he'd be perfect for it, has finally put on a few pounds too.

Loki's shoulders are broad and his hips are slender, and rowing has given him the kind of sculpted legs Odin's pretty sure they could market. If only Laufey could see him now… these days he looks the part of the man who has big, brawny hockey players for brothers.

Not that Thor shows any intention of letting Loki out of his sight long enough for his biological father to catch up with him to start with. Which Odin kind of appreciates, actually.

Looking back over the years, Odin knows the two of them have never been particularly shy when it comes to showing affection towards one another… especially once they'd gotten old enough to know their (other three) parents didn't take issue with any of it. This time things are different, though. As in, it’s obvious they've been living together. Like, really living together, complete with shared clothes and a shared bed and nothing kept secret from anyone, anywhere.

It's kind of cute, but it leaves Odin feeling- impossibly old. Ancient.

~

"Have you stopped over to see your mom since you got- back," Odin asks, only barely catching himself in time. This house - their house - is very much Loki's home, but it also isn't and he doesn't want to presume. Or to pressure, where pushing might not be warranted.

"No," Loki says. He and Thor both yawn, one after the other in quick succession. Neither of them seems conscious of the way Thor is playing with Loki's hair… pawing at it, right where it hits the neckline of his loose, rumpled t-shirt. It’s a soft, intimate gesture; Odin feels like he’s intruding. "I suppose I should. I do miss her," Loki adds. "A lot. I just know she'd rather not have me over there."

Odin runs a hand through his own hair and fights not to stare at what Thor is doing. "Um- what if we invite her here? For dinner, maybe? You two can help Frigga with the cooking."

Thor smiles and nods, but Loki's eyes narrow. "Have Frigga do the inviting, too," he says at some length. "Mom never could say no to her."

~

"Dinner tomorrow," Frigga tells them a couple of hours later when Odin’s mostly dozing and the boys are curled up in a sweaty-looking pile on the couch across the den. "I guess tonight she has to work. But Loki?" She waits until he's looking straight at her before going on. "She wants you to stop my the garden center later. I said you would. I hope that's okay."

"Mm," Loki says, frowning.

Thor reaches over Loki’s knee to set his magazine aside. "We can go right after supper," he suggests. "Whatever time her break is scheduled."

"Sorry, honey," Frigga tells him. Them. Odin isn’t quite sure why, but he feels a little dizzy. "She specifically asked that it just be Loki."

"It's okay." Loki puts a hand on Thor's arm as Thor bristles. "I'll be fine. If you want, we can ride over together. And then you can- whatever you do when I'm not there." They both smile, but Loki’s doesn’t quite reach his eyes. Odin watches his wife studying them.

"Go before supper," she suggests instead. "That way Thor can help round up the makings of a salad."

~

It's only an hour or so later when the boys storm back into the house. Loki's expression is pinched and dark; Thor has clearly been yelling. "Everything okay," Odin asks them because saying anything else feels even more stupid.

Loki shrugs.

Thor growls in frustration. "I don't know, you see, because somebody here won't tell me."

It's been a long, long time since Frigga'd last sent her son to his room. Odin's a little surprised to see how far she hasn't fallen out of practice.

~

"Here," she says when Thor’s slammed door finally stops echoing and their ears are nearly done ringing. "You set the table," she suggests, nicely, in a normal speaking voice as she passes Odin a stack of plates and silverware. "And you come here and help me with the lettuce. Please."

Of course, they do. Farbauti’s not the only one who can never manage to say no to Frigga.

~

Odin waits until the worst of the snuffling has stopped before he pokes his head back in the kitchen. Loki's slumped at the table, face in hands. The lettuce sits untouched on the drainboard. "Give us just a minute," Frigga says, but Loki cuts her off.

"No, he can come in,” he offers, voice thick and wet. “I'm sick of lying."

Frigga gestures with one shoulder as she wipes her hands on a dishtowel. Odin takes first one and then another awkward step into the room. “Um.” He clears his throat. “I just came back to grab the glasses. Um, Loki? Is there anything I can do?”

Loki sniffles. “Kill my- Laufey, maybe?”

There’s no good answer to that, so Odin doesn’t try to give one. Instead he walks slowly over and sets a hand very, very gently on Loki’s upper back, just between the shoulder blades.

Loki doesn’t move to pull away, but Odin can feel him shaking. “There’s nothing anyone can do,” Loki says quietly, with a bitter edge in his voice Odin hasn’t heard in a long time. “Not until she’s ready. And she’ll be dead before that happens.”

“I’m sorry,” Odin says. What else can you say. “I wish there was someth-.”

“Why,” Loki says as he shakes Odin’s hand off and sits up suddenly, his voice unexpectedly loud and sharp. “Why? Why would she keep going back to someone who fucking beats her? I just don’t get it. Sorry.”

Frigga and Odin exchange a worried look. “Don’t be,” she says. “You have every right to be upset. And to express your feelings.”

“But none of that fixes it,” Loki protests. “None of it means anything. She doesn’t listen. She doesn’t think she deserves better. And I just have to sit here and watch it all happen.” He slumps forward onto the table again, letting his forehead smack into the wood with a heavy thud. Odin winces. “And now Thor hates me.”

“No, sweetie,” Frigga says, and Odin wants to hug her. “He’s just frustrated.”

“You don’t know that,” Loki argues. “You weren’t even there.”

Odin needs to be doing something, anything. Whether it works or not. He- he simply can’t keep on standing here helpless. “I’ll be right back,” he says, turning to head for the stairs. “Just give me a second to speak with my son.”

Chapter Text

Thor's not too proud to admit that he's still full-on sulking by the time his mother tiptoes upstairs. "May I come in," she asks from outside his mostly closed door. "I need to ask your help with something." And that, of course, is not at all what he's expecting. On top of which she doesn’t even sound mad, really.

"Uh, sure," he says, struggling to put two and two together. "It's open." Which is dumb, because of course it is. She can see in, for fuck's sake.

Frigga pushes the door open just enough to slip inside and then closes it carefully behind herself. "Loki needs us to be there for him," she starts in without any preamble, while he's still getting to his feet. "In whatever way works for him, whether or not we understand it. We really need to be on his side."

None of this is anything like what he was expecting, either. "I am on his side," he insists. "A hundred and ten percent. More than completely." And it's true; he would do anything and then some to make everything better. Except that right then an ugly thought hits him, punching the air right out of his lungs. "Wait," he huffs. "You don't- he doesn't- you didn't think I was mad at him, did you?" Because he totally wasn't... not at all. He just- he hates the whole thing with Farbauti and Laufey. Hates what it does to Loki, especially.

"What I think doesn't matter," his mom tells him. "Not in this situation, at least. But Loki's afraid- well, I think you should talk to him and let him explain how he’s feeling. But I need you to be calm and supportive. He needs that. He’s at the point where- well, I don't think he can handle anyone else's anger right now." She reaches up and lays a soft, cool palm against his jaw. "Can you do that? For me? For Loki?"

Thor takes a few long, slow breaths. In and out, again and again, each time counting the seconds. Just the way coach after coach has taught him. He clenches his fists and then relaxes them, shaking out both hands. "Yeah," he says. "I'll do my best. I promise." He shakes his hands again, then holds them overhead to feel the blood draining back down his arms and into his torso. "Where is he?"

"In the den, last I saw," Frigga says. "And go easy, honey. I can pretty much guarantee that he doesn't need a single reminder that anyone else in his life has a temper.”

Thor nods. He feels sick to his stomach, but maybe just a little bit more in control now. "I will. And I'll be careful."

She wraps him in a quick hug and he returns it with only the briefest hesitation. "Thank you," she says softly. "I don't know if you even realize how important this is."

He shrugs and tugs gently free. When she lets him go without further protest, Thor heads out into the hallway and makes his way down the stairs. He reminds himself move confidently, without pausing, and doesn’t turn to look back up at his mother. He knows he needs to look like he can handle this, with or without her. She doesn’t have to know that, deep down, he’s still wondering if he actually can.

~

"Hi, baby," Thor says from the den doorway. "Can I get you something?"

Loki sighs. "Hemlock?" He’s pink and mottled and hoarse; he pretty much looks (and sounds) like he's been all-out bawling.

That alone is enough to make Thor want to cry too. Instead, he forces himself to paste on a tiny smile. "For yourself," he asks lightly, like they’re joking, "or for Laufey?"

"I was thinking myself," Loki says, forehead wrinkling into a small frown. "But that's a great idea, actually."

"How about some water for yourself instead," Thor suggests. It’s a struggle to find things to say. "You must be thirsty."

Loki looks away. "Are- are we okay?"

Ugh, another punch in the gut. "Of course," Thor says, doing his best to keep his voice soft. Sweet. "I'm sorry I gave you any reason to- to think otherwise. To wonder."

"I have some," Loki says, and it takes Thor an uncomfortably long moment to get that he means the bottle of sparkling water dangling from his long fingers. "Your mom made me."

This time Thor actually laughs. "Yeah," he admits. "She's like that. Listen... I'm not upset with you. I never was. I'm so sorry I yelled. That- that has to be the last thing in the universe you needed." He's better than that. Or, at very least, he needs to be. "I guess I don't know what to do. But that shouldn't be your problem."

Loki nods. He licks his lips. Or tries, rather; his tongue tugs and sticks.

Thor winces. "Drink that water," he pleads. "Really. You need it."

"Yes, mom," Loki grumbles, but he dutifully cracks open the safety seal and chugs half the bottle in big thirsty gulps. "Better?" He hiccups, then burps. "Oops."

Thor smiles. "Yes," he says. "Can I join you?"

"I don't know," Loki singsongs, and Thor is abruptly reminded of a life’s worth of his mother's everyday grammar lessons. "Can you?"

"Fine, fine." Loki is almost smiling himself, and Thor is fine with being teased if that’s what does it. "May I?"

Loki scoots over. "Right, like I have a choice."

Thor stays where he is, up against the doorframe. He needs to be patient. Calm. Rational. "You do, actually," he reminds Loki.

"Yeah," Loki says, patting the cushion. "Okay. Come sit down, then."

~

For a long time they rest together in what would otherwise be peaceful silence, Thor with his legs folded and Loki using his thigh as a pillow. He cards his fingers absentmindedly through Loki’s soft hair. “It just sucks,” Loki says, eventually. “I wish there was some way to get through to her.”

“I could go beat the shit out of him, instead,” Thor offers. “Maybe teach him a lesson.”

Loki curls right back to sitting. “No,” he exclaims. “He’s fucking huge. He’d kill you. No no no. Not a good idea.”

“Give me a few minutes, then,” Thor says. He pats his own lap encouragingly. “Here, come back. Lie down. And don’t worry; I’ll think of something.”

Chapter Text

“Hey, Fandral.” Thor clears his throat and blinks a little dizzily at his phone. It’s barely after 5:00 AM, crazy early for a summer weekend. “What’s up? Is everything okay?”

“I’m over at my dad’s place. There was a lot of noise upstairs a couple of minutes ago,” Fandral tells him, sounding tense, “enough that I could hear it over the ventilation system, and I then I saw Loki’s father fly out of here the back way. Now no one’s answering when I knock or call. I think something might be wrong up there.”

“Shit.” Thor sits bolt upright. He’s wide-awake now. Even Loki has rolled over and is frowning at him sleepily. “Don’t go in. Really. I’ll be right over.” He ends the call before Fandral has time to answer.

“What’s going on,” Loki asks, eyes huge, as Thor leaps out of bed. He sits up; the sheets pool around his bare hips. “Did something happen? Wait. Thor! Where are you going?”

Thor yanks up a pair of rumpled, stretched-out shorts and then tugs a dirty t-shirt out of the laundry pile. “Out,” he starts as he yanks it over his head. He doesn’t bother with underwear, or socks. “I’m- never mind. I’ll be back in a few minutes. Don’t worry.”

That’s all the time it takes before he has Loki hanging off his arm like- like an anchor. Which isn’t fair. Loki doesn’t even know there’s a serious problem. “No,” Loki says. “Something’s going on. Don’t lie. What is it? You have to tell me.”

“Okay, okay. That was Fandral,” Thor admits. “He thinks something might be up at- at your mom’s place. I’m going to go check it out; you’re going to stay here.”

“No,” Loki says, again. “Actually, I’m not. Now, remind me… which one of us has the driver’s license?”

“The same one my parents wouldn’t let take the car if we were running for our lives during the zombie apocalypse,” Thor says. “Don’t bother. We’re wasting time here. I’ll just bike over there and come right back. Seriously.”

“She’s my mother,” Loki points out. “If she needs me, I’m going to her, and- and nothing you can do is going to stop me.”

That’s probably not true, and they both know it, but Thor is in a hurry and he opts not to press the issue. He’s already all jacked up on adrenaline, even though it’s probably pretty much nothing. Or completely nothing. For all they know Farbauti isn’t even home. “Fine,” he concedes. It’s not, but there’s no way to win this. Not that he can see. “Throw some clothes on and let’s get going.”

~

Odin and Frigga are still sound asleep, but it really would be too risky taking a car. Not this time of year, with the windows open. Instead they grab their bikes out of the garage (using the back door, to avoid all the noise from the squeaky old electric opener) and race off towards the auto shop pedaling like crazy.

They’re both ridiculously out of breath when they get to the parking lot, despite how they’re college athletes and all. Fandral is pacing around outside, and one of the big service bay doors is halfway open. “I didn’t go in,” he whispers, even though there’s no one around to hear. “But the door’s ajar and the frame is splintered. Maybe we should call the police.”

“No,” Loki insists. They all duck under the overhead door and pick their way across the garage floor, dodging cars and parts and diagnostic consoles.

“Let’s find out what’s going on first,” Thor suggests, mostly to placate his boyfriend. “Then we can call if we need to.”

“We can’t,” Loki pants as they run up the stairs two at a time. “No matter what. Promise me.”

“Tell you what,” Thor suggests. He elbows past Loki and jogs down the hall to Farbauti’s apartment. “Let’s let your mom decide.”

“Yeah,” Loki says, right on Thor’s heels. “Right. Let’s hope she can, okay?”

For the first time what they might be walking – okay, running – into really hits Thor. Farbauti could be dead in there. He’s shocked and afraid and- and angry. “Wait here,” he tries once again, holding out an arm to keep Loki behind him. “I don’t want anything to happen to you. Let me go first, why don’t-.”

Before he can even finish his thought, Loki has ducked under his outstretched arm and disappeared from view.

Thor can’t quite catch up again before he hears it: Loki screams.

~

He’s as prepared as he can be for the worst when he rounds the corner into Farbauti’s sparsely furnished living room. Thor hasn’t been here in ages… he dimly remembers the place being less- dismal, maybe. Brighter. Cleaner, or something. Loki is hunched over a dark shape behind the couch, babbling frantically.

Farbauti.

There isn’t any blood, not that Thor can see. She’s just lying there, like she’s asleep… except for how Loki is frantically shaking her.

“Hey!” Thor ducks down and pulls him back. “Careful. We don’t know what happened. You could accidentally hurt her. More, I mean.”

“How,” Loki wails. “There is no more. He- he killed her.”

Even in the shadows behind the couch, she seems too pink to be dead, exactly. Thor swallows down his own panic and feels for a pulse, just like they always do on television. And holy fuck, she has one. “No, baby,” he hurries to reassure Loki. “She’s not dead. But we need an ambulance. Quickly.” At least he thinks they do, if all their noisy chaos hasn’t awakened her.

“I can do that,” Fandral says from the foyer. They both jump. Farbauti’s head lolls to one side, her face warm against Thor’s bare thigh. “I mean, I’ll call for you.”

“Don’t,” Loki orders, struggling to clamber to his feet without stepping on his mother. As it is he grinds a heel into Thor’s hand. “She- we can’t. We just need to take care of her.”

“We can’t,” Thor tells him. He catches Loki around the thighs with one arm and holds on, still steadying Farbauti with the other hand. “We don’t know what happened,” he explains again, trying not to sound like he’s losing patience, “or how bad this is. We need help, baby. Nothing’s going to happen to you, I swear.” Laufey, on the other hand, may not be so lucky. “Go ahead,” he suggests to Fandral. “I’ll wait here with them. And Fandral?” He nods as his old friend looks back over one shoulder. “Thank you.”

~

Loki strokes his mother’s hair, gently pushing it out of her face. She doesn’t move. Doesn’t make a sound. In fact, the only thing Thor can hear is Loki near-silently weeping. And then, off in the distance, the first faint wail of a siren.

“It’s going to be okay,” Thor assures Loki with conviction he doesn’t feel. “You’ll see. Whatever’s wrong, they’ll fix it.” This time, he’s careful not to promise.

Chapter Text

Frigga’s sitting up – she has been ever since the phone rang, actually – but she looks about as wide-awake as Odin feels. In other words, barely. “Wait,” she says, one hand up in stop. She’s busy rubbing her eyes with the other one. “Start from the top. They’re where again? Doing what? And they need us why, exactly?”

Odin looks down at the phone. It feels unnaturally heavy, resting warm and silent in his palm. Almost like it’s cursed or something. At least, that’s what his kids – because they are his kids, really, by blood or by happenstance – would tell him. “Loki is in an ambulance en route to the hospital,” he recites, ticking the items off with the fingers of his empty hand to make sure he’s gotten all of them. “He’s okay, but his mother isn’t. Thor is at Fandral’s father’s garage and needs us – one of us, specifically, although I’m sure we’re both welcome - to pick him up and take him to wait with Loki.” Odin clears his throat. This is where it starts to get ridiculously complicated. “Before the police get there… which they’ll be doing as soon as they’ve finished up with Fandral.” He’s in the home stretch. Almost there. “Who can’t go to the hospital, because he has to finish opening the shop. Something about his dad being away, if I’m remembering correctly.”

“And Fandral fits into this how, exactly,” Frigga asks. She shakes her head, just a little, as though she still can’t quite believe what her ears are conveying. “If he’s been there all along, I- I guess I don’t get what happened.”

“Whatever happened,” Odin explains, “apparently he only heard it. He called Thor and Loki because what he was hearing- worried him? Something like that.”

“So Laufey was there and Fandral lured our boys into a deathtrap, basically.” Frigga’s mouth tightens in that thin, angry line they see most often on Loki. “Tell me again why I’m making this easier for him?”

Odin sighs. “You’re not. You’re – or I’m, if you’d rather – making it easier for Thor to get to the hospital in time to support his boyfriend.”

Her eyes narrow to mirror the set of her mouth. “So it’s okay if I go give Fandral a piece or two of my mind later, then? Because I really think I ought to.”

“I’ll tell you what,” he suggests. “Once you’ve heard the whole story, sure. If you still feel like he deserves it, then you’re welcome to deliver.”

“I’m always welcome to deliver,” she reminds him. There may be a lecture in his own not-nearly-distant-enough future too, he can’t help but figure.

“Of course you are,” he says, half because it’s true and half just to placate her. There isn’t time to take sides, and he knows (if they insist on doing it anyway) they’ll just come to regret the whole thing later. “But right now Loki needs Thor and Thor needs us and- and at least one of us needs to put some clothes on.”

Frigga swings her feet over the side of the bed and stands up with a soft groan. “I’ll go,” she says. “I’m sorry.”

He reaches over to squeeze her hand before dragging himself to standing. “Me too,” he assures her, “and me too. They might need both of us. Here, you can have this. It’s mostly clean.” He tosses her a rather wrinkly t-shirt. She doesn’t laugh as she throws it back at him.

~

The rear parking lot, the small one right up against the fire escapes and the covered back stairway, is wall-to-wall police cars. Or, rather, it seems that way; on further inspection there are only three, but the cars are parked all over the place the way police always do when they’re in a hurry. “There he is,” Frigga points out, gesturing with her head to keep both hands on the wheel. And sure enough: Thor’s standing by the corner of the building, shoulders up around his ears and hands jammed in his pockets. “I don’t dare honk, honey. Can you wave to him?”

Thor makes eye contact just as Odin is giving up waving and starting to unfasten the seatbelt. He says something to one of the officers and gets a quick shooing. Odin can’t help but be struck by how- how small and young he’s looking. It’s not all that different from the times one of them had to go bail the boys out at school. As in grade school. As in more than a decade ago.

“When do they stop being kids,” Odin asks his wife as Thor makes a slightly wobbly beeline across the crowded lot towards their vehicle, “and start being just grown-ups?”

Frigga smiles at him for the first time all morning, but her eyes are sad. “When we die, maybe? I can’t imagine it happening sooner. At least, not anymore. Once upon a time, I thought we might actually get there.”

Thor opens the back door. “I’m sorry,” he says softly. Everyone is sorry this morning; everyone but the person who should be, probably. “I wish I hadn’t had to bother you.”

“And we wish you’d told us before you ever left the house,” Frigga counters. “But it’s too late for all of that, isn’t it.” She’s not asking, and she’s not wrong. “Let’s take what we’ve got and make the best of it.”

“Mm.” Thor slides in and starts fastening his belt. Even in the mirror Odin can see how badly his hands are shaking.

“Hey, kiddo,” Odin starts. It’s a young nickname, but from what he can see everyone’s feeling a little young right this second. “How bad is it?” He can’t quite bring himself to ask if she’s still- still living.

“Dunno.” Thor snuffles. “Everyone- everyone agreed Loki’s mom was still breathing. And she looked fine, dad,” he insists, almost begging. “No blood, nothing bent wrong or dented or- or anything. It just looked like she was sleeping.” He hiccups. “On the floor. Next to the sofa. And Loki found her first, dad. This is going to kill him.”

Odin shakes his head. “Loki’s strong,” he reminds his son. “And we’re all here for him. Whatever happens. And Thor?”

“Mm,” Thor hums again. As Frigga pulls out onto the roadway, the streetlights catch his wet, clumped lashes. “What, dad?”

“We’re all here for you, too.” He’s not sure he’s been called dad this many times in five minutes since the kids were in middle school. It doesn’t feel nearly as good as it ought to, not under these circumstances.

“Yeah,” Thor acknowledges. “I know. I do. And thank you.” He jumps straight up as his phone rings. “Fuck,” he exclaims. He holds the phone up so Odin can see. “This is Loki.”

Chapter Text

Loki looks- older, somehow. Tired. Exhausted, even, and like he’s laboring under the weight of some very adult burdens. Which makes sense, because he doubtless is. Frigga offers him a breakfast sandwich from the little deli around the corner, the one all the police officers and ambulance people frequent. He takes it and thanks her, smiling genuinely enough.

Five minutes later he’s still staring dumbly at the oily paper wrapper.

Thor is draped (sound asleep) in one of the tiny plastic visitor’s chairs nearby, golden head resting against the counter. He’s snoring lightly. Frigga smiles fondly at her son; even in his sleep, he’s still managing to cling to Loki’s hand as though their lives depend on it. “So,” she says quietly (not whispering, because she knows whispering disrupts sleep far more than soft speech does… and the last thing she wants to do right now is wake him), “were they able to give you any kind of update? Did you get to speak with the surgeon,” she goes on when Loki just blinks at her. “While I was out getting our breakfast, I mean.”

“Oh. Right.” Loki stops to peel back the wrapper on his egg/cheese/ham bagel sandwich. He’s so still for so long that she almost thinks he’s drifted off to sleep too. “Um, thanks. For running out, I mean. This really does smell delicious.”

“Of course,” she says. She takes a small bite of her own sandwich. It’s salty and greasy and perfect. “But Loki?” Frigga waits until he’s looking at her before she tries again. “Did you get to talk to anybody?”

Loki sighs. “A few people, actually. Including one really annoying women from Social Work who thinks I need to get myself into therapy.” He fakes gagging. “Like, I can’t fucking wait. Where do I sign?” He sighs again. “The surgeon did stop out for a minute. He said they are – how did he put it? - cautiously optimistic, I think he called it. They were able to relieve the pressure before it was too late, at least from what he could tell. Her tests look good.” He pauses to scrub at his face with the hand that’s not tucked in Thor’s. “But she isn’t awake and he says it could be days before they know if she- if she can wake up again. Ever.” He has to stop once more, this time to wipe away a few stray tears. “Sorry. And I guess it will be at least that long before they find out how much of this is- how much won’t go away.”

Frigga isn’t sure what to say. It’s good-bad news, for certain. What do you tell a kid whose mother is clinging to life, really? Even when that mother has been a little unreliable over the years. Because in a very real way Farbauti is all Loki has. Frigga knows she and Odin can do their best, and most of the time she actually thinks they have- they do. But they’re never going to replace Loki’s real parents. Not his real mother, anyway… or the real father he’s never really had the pleasure of having. “Is there anything I can do, sweetie,” she asks instead. “While you’re waiting?”

He nibbles at his sandwich. “Oh, wow,” he says. “This is amazing. Um. Thanks, but no? It sucks, but I guess I just have to be patient.”

~

“Mr. Naljarson?”

Everyone jumps. Frigga and Loki had finished most of their breakfast – Thor’d slept straight through; Frigga’d let him, because there’s always the microwave - and then dozed off themselves. It’s a good thing they’re pretty much the only ones up here. The only other people around are the son and daughter of – from what Frigga could gather earlier – an elderly man in for some kind of spinal surgery, and they’ve dozed off as well.

“I’m sorry,” the scrubs-clad woman says, kindly. “I didn’t mean to wake you. There’s an officer here to ask you some questions about your mother.”

From the look on his face Frigga half expects Loki to refuse to speak with the police. Although he must have talked to them already at the apartment, at least briefly. Instead, though, he just squares his shoulders and nods. “Fine,” he says. “Yes. Send him in.”

“Her,” the woman corrects. “The officer, I mean.”

“Oh, right,” Loki says. His face is impassive but he’s holding onto Thor so tightly his knuckles are white. Waxen. “Send her in, then.”

She wavers. “You can use one of the quiet rooms if you’d like, sir.”

“No,” Loki says, a little sharply. “Anything I have to say, I can say in front of my fa- my friends.”

~

The questions are endless. And difficult. Frigga knows the officer is just trying to do her job. To be thorough, because it’s not the sort of thing you can halfway-investigate. But it’s awful watching Loki being grilled about his parents just the same. Hearing him talk about his life in ways she’s always managed to sweep under the rug. Ways she’s fought not to imagine.

“Yeah,” he concedes. “As long as I can remember. Literally. I don’t remember a time where he- where Laufey, I mean, wasn’t beating her. He tried to beat me, too, when I was little. But these nice people” – he gestures to Frigga; to Thor, who’s wide awake now – “always kept an eye on me. I think he was afraid of what they might do if they found out- if they really realized exactly what was going on.”

And rightfully so, Frigga thinks. She, for one, would have been perfectly happy to take Laufey on barehanded. In fact, she might just still be. She reaches over and gives Loki’s shoulder a comforting little squeeze.

We’re always here for you, she tells him, silently. She hopes he understands.

~

“Mom looks so- so peaceful.” Loki and Frigga stand at Farbauti’s bedside while Thor waits outside. Only two visitors at a time, the policy says, and it’s a rule the staff enforces strictly. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her look so calm.”

Frigga hugs him, one arm looped around his waist.

“I almost feel like it would be better if she- if she died,” Loki goes on, voice trailing off to a whisper. “Is that an awful thing to wish for?”

“No,” Frigga assures him. “It’s not. I really do get where you’re coming from.”

Chapter Text

Everything feels- dingy. Flat. Like the world is covered in a pale grey shroud that dulls the senses and numbs the mind.

Loki doesn’t spend all that much time with his mother – no matter what he pretends, they haven’t been particularly close in years and the things she needs, he simply can’t offer – but even so her situation hangs heavily over every aspect of his existence.

~

“You don’t need to sit here all the time,” the doctor tells the three of them – Frigga has been bringing Loki and Thor to the hospital every day, along with her laptop, and then working from the lounge while they keep their silent vigil at Farbauti’s bedside – after the second week. “She’s in good hands with us. I promise. And we’ll make sure you’re the first to know as soon as anything changes. Don’t you think your mom would want you to take care of yourself, too,” the doctor asks Loki when they all hesitate. “At least think about it.”

The guy has a point. Thor hasn’t even tried getting a job and Loki’s got the movie theatre holding his own position; he did so well last summer that they’re willing to spot him a couple of weeks, and besides he can play the sick mother card. But there does come a point when sitting here is probably stupid and pointless. He’s just not sure he’s ready to face it.

“Let me talk with her,” Loki insists. “No, Thor,” he adds, as nicely as he can, when Thor pushes forward to stand beside him. “By myself. It won’t take long.” He goes into Farbauti’s room and pulls the curtain. She looks so frail; her skin like so much parchment. The way she’s lying, turned partly away, he can see the shaved patch behind her ear and the nicely-healing track where she’d had her stitches.

The only sound, beyond the dull mechanical hum that pervades the entire building, is the steady click-hiss of the ventilator.

“She’s breathing on her own,” one of the nurses had assured him shortly after surgery when he’d stumbled all over himself in a worried panic trying to ask about it. “It’s just there to help her. When she’s tired, you know?”

“Hi, mom.” Loki reaches up and takes Farbauti’s hand. Her fingers are cool. Smooth, like old marble. He’s careful not to touch the thin plastic covering her IV site. Her lips are shiny from the generous layer of petroleum jelly that’s keeping them from cracking. Loki’s almost gotten used to looking at the tube sticking out of its gauze at the base of her neck. Not quite, but almost. “The doctor says Thor and I should go out and have our summer,” he tells her, quietly. “I don’t want to leave you here alone, but he says it’s going to be a while before anything changes and- and you wouldn’t want us spending every day sitting here in the intensive care unit with you. But I feel bad.” He swallows. “I don’t want to abandon you. I love you, mom. Really. With all my rotten little heart. Mom? Do you understand?”

Loki’s never going to be sure he didn’t imagine it… but he’d almost swear his mother squeezes his hand.

“Okay,” he says as he opens the curtain. “The doctor’s right. Let’s go. We can stop up every few days in the evening, and on the weekend. She’ll be fine.” Loki nods crisply, mostly for him own benefit. “She will. I know it.”

~

Farbauti opens her eyes the first week in August. As promised, someone from the hospital calls pretty much immediately. “Put me through to her room,” Loki orders, followed by “okay, I’ll be over in a few minutes,” when they tell him she hasn’t got a phone. As soon as he hangs up, Loki apologizes to his boss and calls Frigga.

~

“Mom!” They haven’t told Thor and – at Loki’s request – Frigga’s let him go into Farbauti’s room alone. Sure enough, her eyes actually are open. She blinks. She doesn’t move her head, but her eyes sometimes track him when he’s talking or moving.

While he’s there, he’s ridiculously, stupidly excited.

In Frigga’s car on the way back to work, though, the reality of the whole mess overtakes him again and he has to spend a while in the ice cream shoppe bathroom getting his crying back under control. When he gets back to the theatre, his boss wisely says nothing.

It’s just easier not to feel at all.

Loki does his best not to.

~

“Look, are we still even friends?” Thor has Loki cornered against the bathroom wall. Loki can see the two of them in the mirror. He’s steadfastly refusing to look in Thor’s direction. “I just want to help. But all you fucking do is avoid me.”

“I can’t hurt anymore, Thor,” Loki says, dully. He can’t. He’ll be crushed under the weight of his own emotions. “It has nothing go do with you.”

“It has every-… all I want,” Thor says again, this time with something close to tears in his voice, and Loki does know dealing with him has to be incredibly frustrating, “is to help you. I mean it, Loki. I- I’ll do anything.”

“Anything,” Loki echoes, still not making eye contact. The grout above the sink could use a good cleaning. It’s as filmy and dull as his life right now.

“Of course,” Thor – stupidly – hurries to assure him.

“Good,” Loki says. “Then you’ll leave me alone when I tell you to, won’t you?”

~

They wean Farbauti off her vent a couple of weeks later. Eight days before Loki and Thor are due back at school – and Loki hasn’t done a thing to get ready, but he knows he can’t stay here… knocking around the place alone would kill him – they extubate her. By then she’s moving on her own. She’s mastered the basics of swallowing without aspirating, and she goes through the motions of writing. Even though what makes it to the paper is no language Loki has ever seen. Still, it’s something.

She stares into his eyes like she’s gazing straight into his soul. For a short while Loki feels incredibly important. After that he just feels- sick. Sick, and sad.

~

Loki pulls it together enough to drag his own ass back to school. He’s learned to fake his whole life. He fakes eating when someone worries that he’s losing weight. He fakes studying and sleeping. As long as he fakes listening, no one seems to notice that he barely talks at all.

He fakes- well, you know, when Thor dutifully fucks him what-ought-to-be-senseless on his (once) long-awaited (but now utterly pointless) eighteenth birthday. Dutifully, because there’s no way anyone actually loves him anymore. Not even Thor

The tears, though? The tears are real.

~

“Your mom took three steps today!” Frigga sounds so excited that Loki doesn’t have the heart to tell her he doesn’t- he just can’t care about anything anymore.

“Cool,” he says, trying to sound properly enthusiastic. He hasn’t had to fake talking in a while. No one bothers talking to him anymore. “I’m glad you could be there.”

“Loki,” she says. She sounds- cautious, probably. He closes his eyes and braces for it. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” he lies, before she has time to get really suspicious. “Of course. Don’t worry about me… I’m fine.”

Chapter Text

It doesn’t really hit her right away, not when she picks the two of them up at the bus station. It’s late, nearly midnight. Both Thor and Loki are already outside, in the snow, when she makes her way up the slushy drive that runs along the front of the terminal. It’s not the right sort of weather for anything beyond the most cursory of hugs – the white stuff is coming down like crazy, and the wind is whipping it around hard and fast enough to sting – and she credits their unsmiling stillness to a combination of being cold and being- worn out, probably. It’s been a while, sure, but she vividly remembers the pressure of finals. The nights without sleep. The extra-strength caffeine tablets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Frigga doesn’t try to delude herself into thinking nothing’s changed since the not-so-good old days… but just the same she’s reasonably sure she gets it. Close enough, anyway.

In the car, though, things feel- off. Neither of her boys seems to want to make small talk. When she sneaks the odd look in her rearview mirror, Loki’s sitting with his face pressed against the frosty window and his eyes closed. Thor’s leaning against the far door, watching him closely. She’s not sure which hurts worse; the longing in his face, or the fear.

Frigga’s seen them fight before, sometimes really seriously. This isn’t that, not at all. It’s- different.

~

She gestures for Loki to go ahead and he does. Thor, though, takes the door and waves her into the house like the consummate gentleman.

When she gets them both inside, in the warm glow of the kitchen lights, Frigga’s shocked – actually shocked, for real, like she’s seen a ghost or the business end of a weapon – at the sight of them.

Loki hasn’t been thinner in- well, so long she can’t even remember. His face is actually gaunt, with bruise-colored half-circles under both eyes. As he stretches back to take off his coat, she can count his ribs right through his winter-weight t-shirt. His jeans hang from his hipbones and pool around his sock-clad feet. Frigga reaches for his wet mittens; when he hands them to her, she can see all the bones and veins in his hand pressing up against his skin.

Thor doesn’t look nearly as much the worse for wear physically, although he’s been biting his nails. That’s new. But the two of them share the ragged jumpiness of habitual liars. Of addicts. And they’re so awkward towards one another. Not like they’re angry; it’s more like they’re- lost, maybe. Like they’ve forgotten how to find each other.

She doesn’t ask them how they are. They’ll lie. The way they look right now, she’s just not up to dealing with that. “Listen,” she says instead. “I’ve cleaned both rooms upstairs. You can stay wherever you’d like. Whatever works best for you. It’s late.” She yawns, as much from nerves as anything. “Why don’t you go on up to bed? We’ll catch up in the morning.” What she really means is you can bet your asses we’ll be talking in the morning, boys, but she can’t shake the feeling they’ll vanish in the night if they feel the least bit threatened.

~

“Everyone get home okay,” Odin mumbles sleepily. Frigga doesn’t mind. He lets her warn her freezing hands and feet using his bed-cozy body. He’s dependable and solid and everything the rest of her life just isn’t right now.

“Yes and no,” she says, wincing guiltily as he tenses a little. “They’re home. But they look like shit, honey. Even for college kids just coming off of exams. Loki, especially. I don’t know. Something’s- wrong. I feel like something’s really wrong.”

“Huh,” he says, into his pillow. “That’s not good. Is it okay to wait until morning?”

Frigga half-shrugs, with the shoulder that’s not pressed into the mattress. “I’m not sure,” she admits. “But I didn’t feel like we’d get anywhere tonight. So, what… I hope so?’

“Shh,” he says. He wraps an arm around her and pulls her close. “They’re smart kids. Don’t worry.”

~

She wakes to the smell of- oh, okay. Coffee. Frigga blinks at her clock until the blurry lines and dots coalesce into numbers. 3:12 AM. Ugh. She gets out of bed slowly, quietly, and pulls on her favorite soft nightgown. And slippers, too; it’s cold out there.

Loki is in the kitchen, slumped across the breakfast table with a steaming mug of black coffee clutched in one pale hand. He’s awake, from the looks of it, but his eyes are completely blank.

“Hey,” she says quietly. He frowns a little and looks briefly surprised, like he hadn’t really noticed she was standing in front of him. “Mind if I join you?” She’s staying either way, of course, but from his pinched, dazed expression he could use the illusion of control right now.

He thinks about it – or maybe he doesn’t – for a long time. “Um, okay,” he finally whispers. “Want some coffee?”

This time of night, just the idea of it makes her nauseated. “No thanks,” she tells him. “I’m hoping we can go back to sleep. You know, sometime.”

“Not me,” Loki says. He shudders. His collarbone, where the stretched-out neck of his worn, old sleepshirt dips past it, looks about five minutes away from bursting through his skin. “I can’t. When I try, I have nightmares.”

“That’s hard,” she says, all calm and matter-of-fact like this is everyday normal. “Have you found anything that helps with them?” Awkward. She simply can’t find anything to say to him.

Loki shrugs, the same sort of half-shrug she’d just done for Odin. “Thor used to rub my back. But these days he- doesn’t. I guess he got sick of me.”

Frigga thinks back to her son in the car, to his worried glances and stricken expression. He’d looked sick, all right… but more like worried sick about than sick of anybody. It’s not the right time to be arguing about it, though. Especially not before she gets a chance to speak with Thor. Alone. “It’s cold out here,” she says instead, trying for a small smile. “Why don’t we go curl up with our blankets in the den? Doesn’t that sound more comfy?”

Something flashes across his face; she really thinks he’s going to argue. Instead, he just sighs. “Yeah,” he says, like every word is a heavy, heavy burden. “I guess so.”

~

Fortunately Loki’s coffee is on the ottoman when he dozes off; she’d hate to have to wake him.

It’s not until he’s been asleep – sound asleep, snoring faintly – for over an hour that Frigga decides it’s safe to snuggle down in her own blanket and turn off the light. “Sleep tight,” she says, very, very softly. This will keep. At least until tomorrow.

Well, until later this morning, really.

Chapter Text

“I’m not sure what you mean.” Thor shifts uncomfortably on the sparkly vinyl seat. This diner is ridiculously retro, so campy it’s borderline unbelievable (like it’s a move set or something), but the big, greasy breakfasts are to die for. Probably literally. The food is so good, he honestly can’t bring himself to care. “And you know how much he hates it when I try speaking for him anyway.” He shrugs. This isn’t a topic he wants to dip into. Not with a single toe, even. “If you have a question or five for Loki, you should be taking him out to breakfast.”

Frigga shoots him a look and he reminds himself to grin at her. “Not that I mind, if course. Nothing at school comes anywhere close to rivaling these pancakes.” Or the perfect maple-glazed ham, still warm and moist. Or anything else he’s ever tried here. Thor fidgets again. His mother is still staring at him, and he’s rapidly running out of ways to deflect her. He goes for a slightly more serious demeanor and tries one last idea. “Speaking of Loki, though, how’s his mom doing? I hope we can visit her while we’re home.”

He’s talked to his own mother regularly throughout the course of the semester, obviously. And by so doing he’s already learned that Farbauti has been moved to a skilled nursing facility, one that specializes in brain injury rehab. Everyone there sounds optimistic, from what Thor’s been told, and Loki’d even gotten a few postcards from her – her writing improving each time, up to the point where they could both actually read it – over the last month and a half. Even so it’s hard to shake off his own personal memories of nursing homes, of his grandmother dying in one of those awful small-town places with hallways full of worn-down folk sagging in their wheelchairs.

Frigga frowns. “She’s doing well,” she tells him. “Making good progress. They think she might be able to move back out on her own by summer, as long as she has aide service. Maybe sooner, even. She asks about the two of you every time I stop by.”

Aide service. It’s so- wrong. Foreign. Last summer Farbauti was no different than any other mildly overworked, underpaid, middle-aged person with a job to do and a life to live. Now she’s- Thor’s not sure, even, but the whole thing makes him both sad and uncomfortable. “Good,” he says, gamely. “That she’s doing well, I mean. The idea of her not- being out and about… it’s- weird, I guess.” He forks up a big bite of ham and pancake. “Mm,” he says when his mouth is acceptably empty again. “Yeah, weird. That about covers it.”

“It is weird,” his mom concurs. “And, yes, it’s sad, too.” She looks Thor square in the eye, unblinking; he has to fight hard not to look away. “But that’s not what I brought you here to talk about, honey, and I’m fairly sure you know it.”

Thor’s stomach sinks a little. “I thought you brought me here to eat,” he quips. Although right this second, it’s not really something he feels entirely up to doing. “Not true, huh?”

She gives him one of her trademark looks. “Well, yes, that too. But we could have eaten at home. And don’t even think of telling my cooking wouldn’t have been as good, because you’re never too old for a class-A spanking. Okay, enough,” she adds when he laughs. “I won’t mince my way around it. We’re not leaving here until I get a chance to talk with you about whatever’s going on with Loki.”

No surprises there. Her real intentions had been clear when they’d first sat down, right from the second or third sentence. And he’d known it was coming before that. Before they even left the house. Probably from the moment she’d laid eyes on Loki. Thor’s not even sure how he feels about- about any of it. About not being surprised. About knowing it was coming. About maybe, finally having help dealing with it. Because he does know someone’s going to have to deal with it eventually. And he really, really hopes part of that someone can still be him. Still, talking about it behind Loki’s back- the whole thing seems wrong. And he still feels as though, if his mom wants to talk about Loki, she should talk to Loki directly. But he’s clearly not going to be winning that battle any time soon. And there’s only so much effort he feels like wasting. “Okay,” he says a little grudgingly. “But I’m not sure I have much information to share.”

She nods. “That’s fine,” she offers. “I want your opinion, actually. I’m not planning to pump you for any juicy secrets.”

Huh. That, on the other hand, is not really what he was expecting.

“How do you think he’s doing,” she asks him.

“Um, we’ve both still got to finish out the semester,” he reminds her, “but the last I saw he was heading for another round of A’s.”

“Mm,” she says, and for a split second he can almost convince himself he’s dodged the proverbial bullet. “That’s good. I’m glad. And I suspect you know that’s not what I meant, so why don’t you try again?”

Thor sighs. “Fine.” It isn’t, but at the rate this is going they’ll still be sitting here at dinnertime. “He’s not okay, and I don’t know why, and it sucks. There. Happy?”

Frigga sets down her silverware and wipes her hands, then reaches out to pat one of his. If she heard the little dig, she doesn’t show it; instead her face is full of sympathy and concern. “He looks awful,” she says, “and he just doesn’t seem like himself at all. I won’t lie… I’m really concerned about him.”

Something Thor’s kept locked carefully away for far too long rips free from its cage and thrashes around in his chest. It hurts. If he’s not careful, he’s going to cry right here in front of a dinerful of people. “Yeah,” he agrees, quietly. “I am too. But no matter what I try, he- he pushes me away. It’s like he doesn’t even want anything to do with me.”

He expects his mother to roll her eyes a little and remind him that they’re not her to talk about him for a change… at least, not right this second. So he’s a little surprised when she looks- relieved, of all things.

“I’ve only talked to him for a few minutes, so I won’t pretend I know what’s going on,” she admits. “But whatever it is, it’s not that at all. Not from what little he’s told me.”

Thor honestly can’t remember the last time a few little words – even coming from his mother, who has always had a special gift in that department – have left him feeling so- so warm. So much better. “I just want him to be okay,” he tells her. He can do that, now. “I’ve been so, so worried.”

Chapter Text

Out of nowhere, when Loki least expects it, life suddenly gets both drastically simpler and all that much more fucking complicated.

It starts Thanksgiving morning, when he wakes up gasping in the middle of an awful reoccurring nightmare only to find that it’s not actually morning after all. It’s almost 2:00 PM, according to the clock across the room. On a holiday. Everything is quiet and still. He flies out of bed and rushes to the window; sure enough, no one is around. Neither one of the cars – not Frigga’s, not Odin’s – is in the driveway.

On a holiday.

When he and Thor are home from school.

It’s creepy. Normally the entire household would be one big whirlwind of hustle and bustle. Turkey in one oven, pies in the other. Everything roasting and baking and braising and filling the whole place from top to bottom with all sorts of mouthwatering aromas.

Not that he cares, not about that. He isn’t hungry anyway and has been dreading navigating the Big Meal without anyone noticing that he- that he’s dying by tiny degrees and he just can’t do it anymore. Which isn’t the sort of conversation anyone ever wants to have – not with him, not with anybody – and it’s doubly inappropriate for Thanksgiving.

No, it’s just- this is weird. Disturbing. Everyone has bailed on him. Snuck out and left him to rot here. When after last night, especially, he would have at least expected Frigga to- to what? Say goodbye?

Yeah, something.

Loki picks up his phone. Nothing. He almost texts Thor without thinking, only just catching himself and reminding himself sternly that – much like sleeping and eating - he doesn’t do that anymore either.

No, he’s on his own now.

Because more than anyone Thor deserves the normal life he’s never been able to have, not with Loki tagging along ruining everything for him. Thor may not realize it just yet, but he’ll catch on eventually. He’ll see that Loki’s done him him a favor.

That part hurts a lot more than the sleep and the food put together. But he’s strong. He can take it.

The heat’s on; Loki can hear one of the registers rattling. He neatens up the bed – and when did he go to bed, even… the last thing he remembers is curling up on the cushions in the den and drifting off to the sound of Frigga’s voice – and rummages around in the dresser until he finds shorts and a t-shirt. He’d packed like a zombie back at school and forgotten anything to wear around the house. Which would normally be fine. These days, though, when he tugs them up over his bony rear Thor’s old shorts fall right off again. He grimaces at himself in the mirror; even this plain old t-shirt looks like a fucking nightgown.

Awesome.

On top of everything else he looks like shit now. Actual shit, frozen solid in the winter yard. It’s no wonder Thor doesn’t love him.

No wonder everyone left him behind without saying a word. Who wouldn’t? He’d sure as hell have been the first one out the door if he’d been given the chance to do it.

“Good, you’re awake.”

Frigga’s voice, from just inside the doorway, is soft and gentle but Loki’s wound so tight that he literally jumps a foot. And shrieks, to make it even better.

“Oh, sweetie,” she exclaims. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you.”

She looks sorry, too, and she’s just watching his face; she’s not looking him up and down or wearing that disgusted expression people save for huge bugs and dead rodents. “It’s okay,” he pants. “I just- I didn’t think anyone was home.”

“Odin should be back any minute, and Thor’s just bringing a few things in from the car.” She comes two careful steps closer, like he’s a wild horse, and pats the bed. “Sit and talk with me for a couple of minutes?”

There isn’t any viable alternative. Loki sits. He tries not to fidget and just looks at her expectantly.

It doesn’t work. As always, she outlasts him.

“What’s going on,” he says, finally, when no one else comes upstairs and Frigga just sits beside him in companionable silence. “Today’s Thanksgiving, isn’t it? Please tell me I didn’t sleep through an entire holiday.” He’s losing his mind, but not that badly.

She takes his hand. Next to her solid warmth he feels bone-cold. Frail. “It is,” she says, “and you didn’t. Although I’m really glad you got some sleep, finally.”

He nods. Everything is getting weirder by the second. “Please tell me,” he says, when he can’t stand it any longer. “I know something’s wrong.”

Frigga takes a deep breath. Loki braces himself, certain she’s going to tell him something’s happened to his own mother. “Look,” she says, “I know you’ve had a bad few months. That’s understandable. Normal, even. But this?” She gestures at his slim wrist, at the bones pushing up through his blue-white skin. “When’s the last time you ate something that wasn’t coffee, Loki?”

He bites his lip and thinks. He had a little cereal for breakfast… a couple of days ago. Maybe. He shrugs. “I’m not sure? I haven’t been feeling good. I don’t think it’s a big deal, though,” he (realizes his mistake, a little too late, and then) hurries to clarify. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.” He is, too. He can see what she’s thinking – it’s written all over her lovely, worried face – but it’s not true. Eating disorders are for chubby girls. And wrestlers. Whereas he’s just sick and tired.

Sick and tired of living.

“I’ll tell you what,” she says, still holding his hand in hers. “We’re going to go easy on Thanksgiving this year. Just some homemade soup, with fresh-baked bread and some fruit. And you’re going to try a little. For me. For Thor. And then tomorrow morning we’re going to go see my doctor.”

Loki stiffens. “Your doctor,” he repeats. He doesn’t bother asking why.

She nods. “And based on what he says, we’ll see if you can go back to school between now and Christmas.”

That, Loki wasn’t expecting. He actually gasps. She can’t. She wouldn’t.

“Shh,” Frigga soothes. She rubs her thumb over his knuckles, absent-mindedly. “You’re right. It’s going to be okay. I promise. Baby steps,” she says, when all he can do is open and close his mouth like a big, stupid guppy. “But together we’ll get there.”

He- he nods. Because out of nowhere the worst of the panic is gone, and with it some of the awful, blank deadness. “I’ll try,” he concedes when she asks. “But what about Thor?”

She leans in closer and wraps Loki in a warm, soft hug. “Thor loves you, sweetie,” she assures him. “The same as always. More, even. He’s just- afraid.”

“Me too,” Loki whispers. He is. The tears start, burning hot against his cheeks.

“Of course,” Frigga says. “We all are.”

Chapter Text

None of this is what he expected. He’d be lying if he said it was, or if he even claimed to understand it. And it's not a fast process, for sure. It's not even particularly linear. But bit by tiny bit Thor sees it. It’s a really good thing, maybe the best thing ever: Loki's turning back into Loki.

Whatever this is, he can trace its inception back to late last semester. More precisely, to the end of November. It had all started right there at their makeshift Thanksgiving dinner, when Frigga and Loki had conspired to make the most delicious turkey and wild rice soup Thor'd ever tasted. The three of them - Thor, his parents - had (deservedly, and shamelessly) oohed and ahhed over it, on and on, until Loki'd had no choice but to try some.

And then he'd slowly, quietly eaten the whole bowl.

It had been a true holiday feast. Months later Thor's still not sure he's ever had more about which to be grateful. Or that he ever will again, really.

Thor's mom had spirited Loki away on that Friday morning and brought him back teary and slow, with a bottle of small pills Loki still won't discuss and a fat envelope to take back to school with him.

And at the end of that weekend, back to campus the two of them had gone.

By the time they'd come home again at Christmas things were just starting to definitively look up. Thor and Loki'd been fighting like proverbial cats and dogs again, sure, but even that had been a huge relief after the long cold months of flat, dead, empty nothing.

On New Year's Eve, after a little over a week of Frigga’s excellent cooking, Loki'd finally had some pink in his cheeks again. That, and more spring in his step than Thor'd seen him showing off in ages.

They’d been left to their own devices that night. Frigga and Odin had gone out for the evening (with plans to stay over at a hotel downtown) and Thor – emboldened by a little too much champagne and by the warm looks Loki'd been shooting him over slice after slice of lazy takeout pizza earlier - had set out to systematically worship every square inch of Loki's body.

Every. Square. Inch.

With nothing more than his own warm pink lips, and a well-time swipe of the tongue on occasion.

There hadn’t been any reason to hurry. Thor’s little project had taken all evening, and been time well, well spent. Somewhere in the world the ball must have dropped at midnight. They'd both been far too busy watching Loki ejaculate - big arcs, all the way up to his sharp-edged, sweaty chin - to notice.

For the rest of winter break they'd stalwartly held hands no matter who was looking. And if anyone had happened to notice things had changed between them, well… no one had said anything.

~

The spring semester's mostly over now. The days are warmer and the sun sets well into the evening. There’s no more curling up in the dark and feeling sad and lonely. Not that there’d be time anyway… they're once again coming right up on finals. Loki is still taking his little pills religiously, and talking to someone once a week in (what, to Thor, feels like) a frustrating assemblage of secrets and tears. But he’s also rowing and the two of them have found their way back to the gym.

They’re working out together again and touching each other again and every now and then Thor catches Loki in the midst of flat-out laughing.

They have sex – actual, write-home-about-it penetrative sex – the last night of exams, once the stressful stuff is finally over. This time, Thor can see it written all over his face: Loki's in there. It’s real and heartfelt and fucking wonderful.

Thor cries so long afterwards that Loki seems to genuinely think they've collectively hurt him.

They have, they have… but it's a good hurt. Mostly. Fresh new life wrapped around a solid fear center.

~

Frigga and Odin drive up together to take the two of them home. And that’s nice, because Thor surprised by how badly he feels like he’s missed them. It doesn't take long to load a year’s worth of crap onto the rented trailer, either, not with everyone pitching in cheerfully. Most everyone, mostly. Thor keeps stalling out, lost in the sight of it all. He watches the shift and glide of Loki's muscles under the thin layer of fat that’s finally accumulating and wants to cry all over again.

Maybe he does, just a little. It’s the dust, of course. And the pollen.

"How are you," Frigga asks them both as they buckle themselves in, jostling and bumping playfully, in the back seat of the car. Odin's off somewhere in the bowels of their dorm, probably returning their borrowed handcart. She twists around and smiles fondly at the two of them. "You look good. Happy. Both of you." She looks at Thor and then Loki, smiling all the while. “Really. I mean it.”

Thor nods and starts to agree, only to earn himself one of Loki's pointy elbows right in the ribcage. "Oof," he grunts. "What was that for?" He does know, though, and when Loki mouths "be honest, Thor," he- he does. He is. "I'm mostly good, I guess, but under it all I'm- I'm frightened," he admits. "And I don't seem to be able to find my way past it."

"Maybe you should talk to someone," Loki 2.0 (3.0? 8.0? Like a cat, his boyfriend has had many lives) offers smugly. "You never know; it might help you."

Yes, Thor's mildly irritated that Loki's brought up something so personal - something they've bickered about, and Thor's stubbornly refused to consider, nearly all semester - in front of his mom. But these days he picks his battles and maybe this just shouldn't be one. "I'll think about it," he says, half to see Loki's mouth drop open.

They're all still laughing (and swatting at one another) when Odin comes back out to the car and joins them.

Chapter Text

It's not anything they'd ever considered, even. No one in Thor's family had really crossed paths with Laufey, not way back all those years ago when Loki was a child and certainly not more recently. They all know what the guy looks like, yes, because- Thor's not even sure how or why, actually. And he doesn't remember being expressly warned to stay away; it's just something he's always known, as long as he can remember.

All of which means it's a huge surprise when Odin calls from the hospital to report that- he's had a run-in with Laufey and is going to be there a while. Thor isn't good in a crisis anymore, if he truly ever was. In fact, nowadays he's positively awful. True to form, his brain shuts down somewhere around "observation," and everything after that is a dull white hum.

"It's for mom," he manages flatly when Loki comes flying into the kitchen and then pulls up short and hard at the expression on his face. "Dad’s hurt himself."

"MOOMMM," Loki howls, and it's even more ridiculous than Thor calling her their mom to start with. "Hi," Loki says into the phone in his normal speaking voice. "Who's this? Oh! Hi, Mr. Borson. What can I do for you? What seems to be the matter?"

Loki and Odin chat for a couple of minutes. Thor's still too busy melting down to actually listen. He just hasn't really got the mental bandwidth to work through how it is that Loki's suddenly the mature, functional one of the two of them. When Frigga finally comes in from the yard, all he can manage is waving and pointing.

"Hang on a second," Loki says into the phone. His eyes flash; his face looks like a thundercloud. "Your wife is here."

~

"What the actual fuck," Loki says to no one in particular. Frigga's still talking to Odin on the phone in the kitchen; Thor and Loki have beaten a hasty retreat to the den, where Loki is pacing so violently he's practically stomping. "Where does he get off with this shit? Where does it end? And why wasn't he in jail years ago? I'm sorry," he tells Thor. "I should shut up, shouldn't I? I hope- I hope your dad's okay." He clenches a fist and slams it down on the back of the loveseat. "This is just so unfair."

Thor clears his throat. His brain feels like it's full of sludge. "You- all of you - you, my dad, everyone - lost me."

Just like that he has a warm lapful of Loki, kissing his cheek and cuddling against him. "My biological father is an asshole," Loki says, more matter-of-factly. "He and your dad- got in a fight, I guess? It doesn't really make sense to me either."

Huh. "Is my dad okay," Thor asks. He feels like he already ought to know the answer. "Is- do we need to go over there?"

Loki hums against Thor's chest. "Probably," he says. "I thought we'd let your mom decide that one. Shh," he adds, one ear pressed tight against Thor's ribs. "Try to relax,” which is kind of funny given all that pacing. “Seriously, Thor. Your heart is racing."

Thor lets his head drop back against the cushion. "I just want things to be okay for a change," he grumbles. "I'm tired of- of everything sucking."

Loki sighs. "I know," he agrees. "And I'm especially sick of being at the heart of it."

That jars Thor out of his weird, ugly headspace. "No, baby," he assures Loki. "You don't have any control over the crap your- Laufey pulls. Honest," he insists when Loki looks skeptical. "It had nothing to do with you. No one's blaming you for anything. No one."

"I am," Loki says into Thor's hair, his voice abruptly very small. It hits Thor that he's still pretty fragile. They both are. "Um, should we go back out there and talk to your mother?"

~

"He just wanted to let us know what to expect," Frigga says as they're all climbing into her car. "He was afraid we'd see him in an eyepatch and- and assume the worst, probably."

"So he's going to be okay," Thor asks. He's still all keyed-up and jittery. It's like he's got Loki's brain in his own solid body. Odin has to be okay. If not, he's flat-out killing somebody. Loki's right. This shit has to stop. It has to.

Frigga shrugs. Her hair catches on the swell of her shoulder. "He seems to think so," she tells them. "But they won't know about his eye for a few days, it sounds like. And that's after the laser surgery. And he says it could be months before his vision is back to normal."

Thor can't get his head around the idea that things might never again be the way they were just- just this morning. Not when everything's been going okay for a change, finally. Loki squeezes his hand as the car bumps to a stop in the little lot next to the parking garage. "One step at time, right? We can do this."

~

"Hi, dad," Thor says stupidly. Odin's flat on his back in a hospital bed, wearing an ugly pink gown and a lumpy white wash blanket tucked all the way up to his armpits. He's got a patch - gauze and tape; nothing the least bit pirate-y - over his left eye, and bruises all down that side of his face.

"Hi," Odin echos. "Thanks for stopping up. You have no idea how long I've been stuck here studying the ceiling. Which is, by the way, incredibly boring."

"I hate Laufey," Loki blurts out. "I hope he rots in hell forever."

"Or in jail, at least," Thor amends. They don't need to get greedy. "Is he finally going to jail this time?"

Odin grins up at them, the one half of his face swollen and wrong, somehow. "He is, actually. I had less to lose..."

"...than my mom always has," Loki finishes for him. "Thank you. I mean that. But you didn't have to. People have got to stop taking chances for me."

"Never," Thor insists. He wraps both arms around Loki. "Whatever happens, we're all in this together."

Chapter Text

Odin's always loved the boys like crazy, whatever they've been up to, but this summer they've been nothing short of a godsend. His actual flesh-and-blood son has uncomplainingly shouldered all the chores while the handsome man - because they are men these days, more than ever - he privately, secretly hopes will one day be his son-in-law has spent hour after hour, day after day reading to him and keeping him company. For what it’s worth Odin doesn't have to lie flat anymore, but he can't read or drive or even watch TV. And while the idea of playing hooky all summer sounds fun, he’s quickly learned that being out on sick leave isn't all that entertaining when you (feel perfectly fine, save for a little lingering soreness in your face and a gritty-feeling eye, but) aren't even allowed to spend a few measly minutes a day on your computer.

The patch makes his face sweat, and the tape keeping it in place makes him itch. The hard shield he wears every night rubs the side of his nose raw, even just lying in bed. Worst of all, Odin knows he’s completely useless and then some.

Yeah, his boys are truly precious. If it weren't for the two of them he'd have gone completely bonkers weeks ago.

~

"Are you looking forward to next week," Loki asks brightly, the kind of cheeriness that could be pasted on for his benefit but might also just be Loki being- being happy. "To getting the patch off, I mean. I think I would be.”

He is, but he isn't. Of course it will be a huge relief to have full use of his face again. To be able to lie down to rest without taping on the stiff, domed shield and then poking around the master bathroom looking (and feeling) like he’s half fly, half human. On the other hand, though, he's going to miss all this quality time he’s been spending with Loki. There’s been more than a little joy to be found in feeling like he's giving Loki a much-needed life’s purpose. And loath as he may be to admit it, even (especially?) to himself, Odin’s just plain old afraid. He's been very, very diligent about not using his injured eye at all, even when he’s briefly uncovered it (in near darkness, always) so he can put in his drops... and he's terrified that he's going to find he can't really see anything. That he'll never use his eye again, even for the basics.

That it will have shriveled up and disappeared altogether. Which he knows is ridiculous, but there you have it: irrational fear is irrational.

Odin carefully doesn't share any of that with Loki, though. Things seem pretty good in Loki’s mental universe these days, at least relatively speaking, and the last thing Odin wants is to give his helpful company-keeper yet more cause for self-flagellation.

Because no matter what Loki insists, it's simply not his fault that he was born to an angry, jealous, troubled father. Nor that his mother wasn't - isn't, even now - better able to cope or to protect her youngest son. And it's especially not his fault that Odin, when unexpectedly faced with Laufey standing outside his front door and the easy choice between calling 9-1-1 and actually doing something, had lost his usual common sense and bravely but stupidly chosen the latter.

"Yeah," Odin says. It's not completely dishonest. "I can't wait, really."

Okay, maybe that last part is. He could wait for years if he had to.

~

Frigga has a client meeting, which he’s assured her over and over is fine. He’s actually glad she can’t stay home this afternoon; she reads him like the easiest children’s book ever and without her around it's a whole lot easier to put a fake brave face on everything. The weather is picture-perfect and it's a short trip, too: only a couple of miles to the doctor's office, and there’s never much traffic in the middle of a weekday afternoon. Odin (talked this over with Frigga last night; with her blessing he) decides to make a very rare exception and let Loki drive him to his appointment. And back, or course, because no matter what happens he won’t be cleared to operate the car himself. Not this soon. Maybe never.

Odin had thought Thor might stay home – how much entertainment can a trip to the eye doctor really provide? – but he insists on coming along, wedged into the back seat all silent and nervous.

The three of them are each lost in their own thoughts. They have been all day. They’ve been in a weird funk since first thing this morning, way before they’d even scraped together breakfast, and not one of them has bothered to say much of anything.

~

“Right this way, Mr. Borson.” Odin lets the technician steer him gently by one elbow and send him off to wait in the exam room solo. It might look like bravery; actually, it's cowardice. When the gauze comes off, if he really can't see, he wants a little alone time to pull himself back together.

"How's it feeling," the doctor asks him cheerfully.

Odin’s pretty sure it would feel much, much better if he was sleeping. Straight through to next summer, ideally.

"Okay, I guess," he says instead. His eye has felt mostly fine for a while now. "I'm really more bored than anything," he volunteers, but of course that's not the whole story either. He takes a deep breath and lets it out as slowly as he can. "Bored, and worried."

The doctor nods as Odin carefully searches his expression, one-eyed, for clues. "That's perfectly understandable," he agrees, nodding again. "And there always is some degree of risk. But there’s no real cause for alarm here… I was very pleased with the results of your procedure and I think you'll find you're making a good recovery.” He runs a finger over the tape holding Odin’s patch in place. “Just let me know when you’re ready.”

Odin takes another deep breath. “Sure,” he says, willing himself not to have any more feelings. At all. About anything. He’s being crushed under the weight of them as it is. “Go for it.”

“Blink,” he hears the doctor saying as he squints and strains. “Don’t try to force things into focus.” He does as he’s told, and it’s- better. Things aren’t that bad, really. The room does look a little blurry and- wavy, oddly wavy, but all told his vision is already much better than he’d expected.

“Give me a second,” Odin asks, and it comes out like begging. “Please… just let me text my boys.”

Chapter Text

When it comes to coaching them all on what to do, the prosecutor and Odin’s own attorney (who won’t be part of the trial itself, but who can always be counted upon for at least one opinion) have been working closely together. Laufey’s trial won’t be for a few weeks yet – there’s a lot of preparatory work to do, from the sound of it, and then they still have to wait for jury selection – and Odin’s already needed a ride to the District Attorney’s office six or seven times.

On the days she hasn’t had client appointments, Frigga has taken him. Whenever she hasn’t been available, the DA’s office has sent a car service. Loki’s volunteered to give him a ride – with his permission, of course – but Odin’s (thanked him enthusiastically, but) reminded both Loki and Thor that they’ll be heading back to school shortly. “I don’t want to get too dependent on you two,” he insists. “You’re going to miss enough of the semester during the trial itself. We can’t have you running home every time I need a nanny.”

Loki still thinks they should probably sit out this semester. A few months off isn’t the end of the world, and there’s so much going on here in town that they’re not going to be able to concentrate anyway. It’s unanimous, though; to a man (and woman), all three of their important parents and several of their older friends (Heimdall, Volstagg… and, Loki’s a bit shocked to find, even Tony) say they absolutely have to drag themselves back to campus.

“You’re smarter than anyone,” Tony says to Loki. “Maybe even me, and I’ll have you know I don’t admit that lightly. You’ll do fine in your classes, distracted or no. And if you don’t, you have all these ready-made excuses. Don’t waste a perfect opportunity!”

“They’re probably right,” Thor admits after their third or fourth lecture from Frigga about how they can’t let Laufey win. Not that Loki sees how staying home would be doing that, but clearly he and Thor aren’t the ones in charge here. “And it’s going to be a while before the weather gets bad. We can come home pretty quickly any time we need to.”

~

“No, they definitely want you to be there,” Odin assures both Thor and Loki over dinner. Frigga scoops Loki out a second serving of skin-on smashed red potatoes. “And they want you to act like you’re there together. Within the bounds of good taste,” he stresses when Thor and Loki share a smirking look and waggle their eyebrows. “It’s for two reasons, from what they tell me… first, anything that might get Laufey riled up is a good thing-.”

“-and nothing’s going to do that like having to watch his faggy little bastard son in action,” Loki finishes. He doesn’t like being bait, not at all, but he does understand the power gained out of making things happen.

“Sweetie,” Frigga starts. She sounds sad, and Loki’s annoyed that his eyes start to water.

“It’s okay,” Odin says. “Loki’s right. That’s the way Laufey thinks, exactly.” He freezes. Just like that his face – the part of it that’s not covered with gauze, anyway – turns completely white.

And then so red it’s almost smoking.

“Oh, Loki, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it that way,” Odin says as Frigga reaches out and grabs Loki’s hand. “Please don’t think I-.”

“I don’t,” Loki says, quietly. There are probably plenty of highly distasteful ways he’s far too much like his biological father, but Odin has never been the sort of person who would intentionally rub his nose in them. “I know what you meant. It’s fine. It’s nothing.” He squeezes Frigga’s fingers back when hers tighten around his. “Really,” he assures them both. “I’m not upset about it.”

He’s upset about the whole business, in all sorts of ways, but Thor’s very lovely parents certainly don’t need to be feeling guilty about anything.

~

“We have to wear suits? Seriously?” Thor looks and sounds stupidly horrified, as though Odin’d just announced between soup and salad that they were expected to show up to court sporting nothing but women’s lingerie. “We’re not even testifying. We just have to sit there.”

Odin smiles. “I warned the DA you were going to feel that way,” he tells his son. “You’re going to be in the courtroom. Everyone will know who the two of you are. They want you to look like respectable men. People who might earn the jury’s sympathy.”

“But yet they won’t let Loki’s mom attend,” Thor complains. Loki rolls his eyes. They’ve been over this. Over and over and over.

“Mom’s not really up to sitting for hours on a hard bench,” he says. She’s doing a lot better, sure – almost well enough to go back to her apartment - but no one is in favor of doing anything that might stress her.

“And having her there will distract people,” Odin chimes in. They’ve been over (and over and over) that, too.

“Having me there in a stupid suit will distract people,” Thor mutters. “I’m going to look like a total idiot.”

“I don’t think so,” Frigga and Loki volunteer, in perfect unison. She grins at him. Loki honestly doesn’t think Thor’s going to look stupid at all. Hardly. His boyfriend is going to look fantastic all dressed up. Truthfully, Loki’s kind of looking forward to that part. And he’s also ridiculously pleased by the idea of having a nice suit of his own. The two of them can sit there together and pretend they’re actually somebody. And then, since they’ll be all gussied up anyway, they can go somewhere fancy for dinner.

“You’re both going to look very handsome,” Frigga goes on, smiling at Thor and then again at Loki “I’m really, really proud of you.”

~

“So,” Loki starts. They’re sitting outside with the grill going, now that Odin’s finally home from yet another meeting at the DA’s office. Being out on disability is turning to be an awful lot like working. “I’ve heard the official story, and I’ve heard Thor’s version. Now tell me what actually happened. And don’t try to pretty it up for me,” he warns. “I know Laufey.”

Odin sighs. He wipes the sweat off his top lip with one hand. It’s a sweltering late summer evening without a hint of a breeze. They’re both literally melting. “I’d really rather not,” Odin says. “It’s- ugly.”

“I need to know,” Loki points out. “It’s been long enough. And who knows what Laufey is going to say; it might come out on the stand, even. Tell me,” he demands. He wants to hear it here, where he’s safe and happy. Where he has Thor and Frigga around to put his broken pieces back together.

“Okay,” Odin says. “That’s fair. But I’m still sorry.” He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. “Your fa- Laufey showed up over here that afternoon while you and Thor were off somewhere. You know this part: that he threatened me, and my wife, for helping your mother. But he also went off on a tirade about how I was going to hell for harboring his son. And that’s when I lost my shit and took a swing at him.”

“What did he actually say,” Loki asks, because that can’t be it. “I know he didn’t call me his son. He- he wouldn’t.”

“You’re right,” Odin admits, very quietly. “He said ‘if it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to kill that little cunt and his whore of a mother.’ But he’s wrong. He’s going to rot in jail instead, even if he takes me with him.”

The screen door squeaks. Loki feels- numb, kind of. It didn’t actually hurt as much as he’d expected. “What are you two talking about,” Frigga asks, looking back and forth between them. She’s not smiling. In fact, from the look on her face, at least one of them is in trouble.

“The trial,” Odin says, just as Loki says “nothing.”

Chapter Text

They want to be responsible, to contribute. To make things easy. Frigga knows that, and she appreciates it. She does. Just the same, it’s hard to watch Loki and Thor struggling under the combined weight of all the burdens the four of them normally share… the things they each do, as part of their makeshift family. The boys are still in college, in the midst of what should be the last relatively free, low-responsibility time of their lives. But instead of enjoying themselves, the two of them are busy juggling trips to the tailor and court appearance preparation and cleaning Farbauti’s apartment and helping hire a home health aide and getting back into the swing of driving.

Not to mention packing and buying used books to save money and spending time with Odin and somehow still finding opportunities to be sweet to one another. When she tells them how proud they make her – which she makes a point of doing nearly every day, recently, so often that they fake gagging whenever they sense she’s about to mention it again – she really couldn’t mean it more. They’re awesome, both of them. She’s incredibly fortunate to have spent all these years with them.

~

“I’m going to really, really miss the kids in a couple of weeks, once they’re back at school,” she tells Odin over a mid-afternoon bowl of popcorn. With him still out of work (he insists could probably go back part-time if he really pushed himself, but she’s been arguing against it; he’s still wearing the patch and struggling with headaches and the attorneys want him out until after the trial if at all possible) she’s been slacking more than a bit on her own duties. Not that she’s missing client meetings or turning away work, but she’s certainly quicker to find other ways to spend her time than she would be normally. On top of wanting to do everything she can to help the boys out, she- she can’t shake the feeling that any day she could lose Odin. Any of them. All of them.

When she looks at it that way, it’s almost stupid not to make time for the important things in life. The simple things.

“Me too.” Odin nods. He scoops up another handful of popcorn and sets about eating it neatly, one buttery piece at a time. Popcorn isn’t usually allowed outside the (kitchen, or the) den because of the extreme mess potential, but with him on the mend and Thor and Loki flying in and out of the house like butterflies Frigga’s opted to relax the rules a little. In return, without her even asking, Odin is being as neat and careful as he can.

It’s that kind of cooperation that makes them such an awesome team, probably.

“But they’ll be back a few times between now and Thanksgiving,” Odin goes on, startling Frigga out of her own thoughts. “We’ll get to see them plenty.”

“They’re going out into the world,” she counters. “I’m not sure we’ll ever see them plenty again.” And now that she’s got a bit of a captive audience, especially one with a mouth full of popcorn, she decides this is as good a time as any for the question she’s been trying to float for days now. “Speaking of growing up, what were you and Loki talking about the other day? When you were sitting out in the back yard, I mean, and you both saw me coming and froze solid. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen you look quite that guilty.”

Frigga’s exaggerating a little, sure. Over the years, Odin’s managed to appear pretty damned guilty any number of times. They both have, and the kids right along with them. But this particular incident rates up there in the top ten, no question. And Loki’d looked for all the world like he’d been hit upside the head with a cast-iron pan and was trying his best to hide it. And then the whole rest of the week he’d been oddly shy and stoic.

Every time she’s tried bringing the topic up since then, her husband has found endlessly creative ways to duck and cover. Which actually isn’t like him at all. They’re usually open and honest with one another, and with the boys. It’s a practice they’ve always insisted was very important. Consequently, even though Loki seems to be back to normal (as normal as things can even get right now, in these ugly days of pills and therapy and murderous birth fathers), she’s determined to get to the bottom of it.

“I know, I know.” Odin sighs. “You’re not going to let this go until I tell you,” he adds, sounding- resigned. He knows her just as well as she knows him; after all this time, it’s just a flat statement and he’s not going to bother asking. Much like she wouldn’t, if the proverbial shoe was on the other foot. “Loki wanted to know why Laufey and I got into it. Specifically why, I mean. As in, what Laufey said to me.”

Ouch. “And what did you tell him,” she asks. Even open and honest has a downside.

Odin looks away. Frigga’s still not completely used to the eye patch; she wonders if, when he finally gets rid of it, she’s going to find his return to two-eyed status just as jarring. “The truth,” he says quietly. “I tried the nice version but then, when he pushed, I told him everything.”

“Shit,” she exclaims. No wonder Loki’d been a little off afterwards. The things Laufey’d said, no father should ever say to his children.

“Yeah, that about covers it,” Odin agrees. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt worse telling anybody anything. “But he was good about it.”

“I don’t think it came as a surprise,” she says. “Which is really just the saddest thing ever.”

Odin clenches one hand – the one not holding the popcorn, for which she’s grateful – into a tight fist. “I hate that fucker,” he says, loudly. “What gives him the right to do this sort of thing to his family?” He punches the pillow next to his thigh. “Some people shouldn’t be allowed to have children.”

“I know,” she tells him, “I know.” But she’s still grateful – for herself and, especially, for her son – that- that the whole cruel twist of fate has brought them Loki.

Chapter Text

“Look at you. Holy sh- wow!” Thor’s voice fills the dressing room and spills out into the hallway, no doubt, as does his subsequent wolf-whistle. It’s a good thing they’re trying on the goods at an off time. “Turn around for me,” he suggests, and Loki pirouettes. On one foot, slowly. “Oh. My. God.”

Loki can feel his cheeks heating as Thor looks him up and down and back up again, eyes lingering on every single inch, from his socks to his hair. He turns back to face the mirror and sketches something halfway between a deep bow and an awkward curtsey at Thor’s reflection. “At your service,” he quips, continuing around until he’s facing Thor again. “Master.”

“Oh no,” Thor breathes. His own neck and face are rapidly flushing, too. “You’re the one dressed as someone’s master. That looks so fantastic on you. All of it. The scarf, especially. Fuck,” he huffs, mostly under his breath, and Loki thinks again that it’s fortunate the place is effectively deserted. “Seriously. Look at yourself,” Thor orders, steering Loki back around towards the mirror with a big, warm hand on each hip. “Fucking hell.”

It’s true, Loki knows. He takes a good long look at his own reflection, from the cut of his dark suit to the parchment spread-collared shirt to the muted silk tie. He looks like a model, or the exotic heir to a tiny country and an impressive offshore fortune. And Thor’s right; the soft dark green, black, and gold jacquard scarf sets the whole thing off and elevates his look from good to, well- whatever Thor might be thinking. He looks nothing like Laufey and almost as little like his usual withdrawn, college-hipster-trash self. And better still, there’s not a single trace of the silly teen in the cinema workers’ uniform anywhere.

“Thanks,” Loki says when nothing suitably (no pun intended, even though he can’t deny he sometimes is just that funny) witty or worthwhile comes to him. “I’m glad you like it. And Thor?” He points and smirks. “Wipe your face. You’re drooling.”

Thor does; Thor is. “I can’t help it,” he says, all earnest smiles and pink-red cheeks. “You- I’ve never seen anything like it. Just- just wait until mom and dad get a look at you.”

Loki laughs. “They’ll think I’m auditioning to be your pimp or something,” he teases, to cover how badly his face is once again burning. It’s not even true… he actually looks- not at all pimpish. He’s positively classy. So much so that no one in the courtroom will believe he’s the, er, fruit of Laufey’s loins. Or whatever. Which, especially given the situation, is in no way a bad thing. “So, next? Your turn,” he encourages, giving Thor a little push towards the pale grey suit hanging just inside the dressing room door. Thor’s shirt is a truer white; his tie is a lovely deep red that looks positively tasty. “I’ll cover my eyes,” Loki offers, doing approximately that (but still peeking out between his fingers), “so I can experience the whole thing properly.”

“And since when is seeing me in varying states of undress not experiencing things properly.” Thor asks, stripping off his shirt – this place used to be a bridal salon and the two of them are sharing one of those ridiculously large dressing rooms that comes with wrap-around mirrors and its own real-life dais - and starting to unfasten his fly. “Caught you looking,” he teases, grinning, as Loki doesn’t quite manage to stifle a tiny gasp. Because Thor is, well- he’s cheating.

“That’s so not fair,” Loki hisses. “You’re not wearing any underwear.”

“They spoil the line of my garments,” Thor says, affecting his best snooty English butler voice. Needless to say, his best isn’t very good. Loki doubles over laughing and ends up with a faceful of scarf and hair.

“Go on,” he insists when he’s picked all the hair out of his mouth and can more or less talk again. “Try your own suit on, please. I’ll behave. I really do want to see it.” And he actually stops looking this time, too, because in truth he does want to be surprised. Especially in this room, this all feels a little like they’re getting married. As Thor rustles and grunts, Loki thinks about what it would be like to fit himself out wedding-style – underneath his suit, of course – with delicate stockings and a wisp of something lacy covering his naughty bits. And a garter belt and real garters. Charcoal and rich green, maybe, to go with the suit. Or off-white, which would be a little less stripper chic and a little more bridal. Not that he plans to be anyone’s bride, exactly. But all the same he’s pretty confident Thor would-.

“Loki? Hello?” From the tone of Thor’s voice Loki’s positive this wasn’t the first time Thor’s said his name just now. Maybe it’s not even the second. Or the third. “Hello,” Thor says again, waving a hand back and forth in front of Loki’s face. “You insisted that you wanted to see this. So, are you planning on looking any time this century?”

“Of course,” Loki fires back, letting his hands drop. “You look- ohhh.” Because Thor looks like an angel. A big, golden angel, all wrapped up in the perfect shade of muted silver-grey.

Thor’s even tied his tie properly, which is a skill Loki hadn’t expected him to have down to begin with. “Wow.” Loki reaches instinctively for Thor’s hand. “We- uh- I guess we should do this more often.”

Thor takes Loki’s hand in both of his own. He drops carefully to one knee as Loki gapes at him. “Loki, will you-,” he starts, only just getting that far before Loki’s ripping free like Thor’s burning hot. “Wait. Don’t. I didn’t mean-…”

“No no no stop don’t joke about things like that not funny stop,” Loki babbles. His heart is hammering; he’s lightheaded. “Please don’t. I can’t- please.” He flaps his hands and edges towards the door.

“Okay okay,” Thor says, getting carefully to his feet and backing away with both hands in the air. “I’ve stopped. I promise. Relax. I’m- I’m sorry. But just for the record I- um- I might not have been entirely kidding.”

Loki stops so suddenly he nearly falls. This can’t be real. It’s the pretty clothes talking. Except… “Oh, shit,” he says as his eyes burn and his vision blurs. “I’m such an asshole.”

“No,” Thor corrects. “You’re beautiful, and wonderful. And I have no sense of timing. We’ll come back to this. I promise that, too. Next time I’ll do better.”

Next time. “Did I just screw myself over,” Loki asks, very quietly. He still feels like he might throw up, right here in the middle of their swanky little oasis. “Because that would just fucking figure, wouldn’t it…”

Thor takes his hand again, very carefully this time, and smiles. “No, not at all. Of course not. Anything worth having – and you are; you really, really are – is worth earning. Which, yeah. That totally wasn’t. I’m sorry,” Thor says again. It all sounds normal enough, but there’s something in those wide blue eyes that calls to mind raw pain and Loki feels like garbage. “For what it’s worth, I would have said yes,” he says. “Once I’d finished freaking.”

“Good,” Thor says, taking his other hand and pulling him in to kiss lightly. “Then there won’t be any unfortunateness next time around, when I actually manage to pull off doing it properly.”

Loki nods. He still feels a whole lot like he’s falling. “Good,” he echoes. “I’m glad we got that out of the way.” Inside his head a little voice is still screaming. “Um.” He flicks the end of his scarf. “We should get home and show this stuff off to your parents.”

“Yeah,” Thor says. “I guess we ought to.”

Chapter Text

“So,” Loki says very softly, voice so quiet that Frigga has to lean forward a little to listen. She and Odin are sitting at a safe, respectful distance, giving Loki room to talk with his brother, but that doesn’t mean they’re not keeping a watchful eye – and ear – on how things are going. The two of them have every right to talk. But no one has the right to hurt her baby.

Thor, on the other hand, she’s sent to the other end of the courthouse. He doesn’t want Loki around Byleistr at all, for no real reason other than “he’s Laufey’s son,” and the last thing she and Odin need right now is a situation.

Loki clears his throat. Bye studies him closely. “So,” Loki tries again, “do you hate me?” Frigga puts a hand to her mouth.

“Please,” she says to herself. “Be kind, Byleistr. He needs you. Don’t turn on him.”

Bye shakes his head. He has Loki’s dark hair but a whole lot more muscle. “Why would I hate you? We don’t know each other as well as we should, probably, but mom loves you to death and that’s good enough for me. And these people,” he adds, tipping his head towards where Frigga and Odin are sitting, “they love you too. And- I won’t pretend to understand it personally, because I’d be lying if I said I did, but I can tell you this: everyone should have someone who looks at him the way Thor looks at you.” He smiles and reaches out to tuck a stray strand of hair behind Loki’s ear. “I don’t think my wife loves me half that much. Honestly.”

Loki doesn’t smile in return. “Why? Why do you think? Because if it weren’t for me, none of this would have happened? Laufey would be a free man? Mom wouldn’t be- disabled, or whatever you want to call the way she is these days? Just little stuff like that. Nothing important or anything.”

Ugh. Frigga glances at Odin, who’s pretending with all his might not to be paying attention. It’s really, really hard not to cry.

Byleistr pulls Loki into a big hug that’s only a little stiff looking. “You don’t real-,” he starts, and then must think the better of it. “Trust me,” he says instead, “none of that has anything to do with you. Seriously. I grew up with the guy, and he’s the only father I have… but he’s- he’s always been an unreasonable, violent person. Helblindi and I were pretty big by the time you would remember meeting us,” he goes on, rubbing Loki’s back gently. Frigga’s impressed with him. She really is. On top of which, she has a whole lot more hope for his children. “So you didn’t see any of what really went on. But when we were little he used to smack the crap out of us. Over nothing, I mean. Spilled water, even.”

Loki’s crying now, silently, with his head on Bye’s shoulder. He’s so handsome in his suit, so grown up, but inside he’s still learning how much the world sucks. She hates it, hates that he’s had to go through so much and yet his father is still somehow managing to shock and disappoint everyone. Or maybe not shock, which is worse, actually.

“Shh,” Bye soothes. “It’s okay. We’re okay. It’s almost over, and we’ve all risen above it.” He pushes Loki carefully out to arm’s length and wipes away his tears. “You, most of all. Just look at you, little brother.”

Thor chooses that moment to come wandering back down the hall. “Hey,” Odin says just before he passes them. “Hold up. Things are fine. Stay out of it.”

“They don’t look fine,” Thor grumbles. He folds his arms across his chest; he looks like someone’s bodyguard. Frigga supposes, in a sense, he is. “Loki’s crying.”

“It really is okay,” she says, quietly. If she can hear Bye and Loki, the reverse is doubtless true. “Byleistr’s being nice to him. Supportive. Sit,” she orders. “Give them a minute.”

“I don’t trust him,” Thor says. He doesn’t sit down. “Where was he when all this shit was happening? Stuff, I mean. Sorry.”

“Where he had to be,” Frigga tells her son. “No one can make Farbauti’s choices for her. Not Loki, not me, not you. And certainly not Byleistr and Helblindi, who have families of their own now. I know you hate it when I say this,” she acknowledges, “but this may just be one of those things you’re still too young to understand.”

Thor makes a wry face. “How old do I have to get before you’ll finally stop telling me that,” he asks. “Because you’re right… I do hate it.”

“Oh, probably not all that much older,” Frigga lies. She’ll probably say it the rest of her life. “You and Loki are practically grownups.” They look the part, too, with their serious suits and their even more serious expressions.

“I suppose Loki’s still got a ways to go,” Thor admits. He finally relaxes into something that almost counts as a smile. Almost. “But I’m twenty-one now,” he points out, like there’s any way she could ever forget it. “If I haven’t grown up by now, it may just not ever happen.” He looks down the hall at Loki and Byleistr, who are taking turns admiring Loki’s scarf and chatting away amicably. “I want to marry him, you know,” he blurts out just as someone pokes her head around the heavy wooden door to tell them Odin’s due back in the courtroom.

Oh, my. It shouldn’t really be a surprise but it- it still is somehow. If nothing else, it’s the last thing she expected just now. Frigga opens her mouth and closes it, twice. She’s speechless. The best she can do, which doesn’t feel nearly good enough, is smile and nod.

“That’s a great idea,” Odin says as he gets to his feet. He and Thor both hold a hand out to Frigga, who takes one in each of her own gladly. “But for that? Do everyone a favor and wait until you’re a little older.”

“I don’t want him to get away, though,” Thor says. As if that will ever happen.

“Of course not,” Frigga agrees, now that she’s finally found her voice again. “But I really don’t think you need to worry.”

Thor sighs. “I hope not. Hey, Lo,” he calls down the hall to his boyfriend. “Time to go back in.”

Loki gives Byleistr a last quick hug. “Thanks,” he calls over his shoulder as he starts back towards them.

“Any time,” Bye says. “See you around.”

“Yeah,” Loki concedes. “Maybe.”

Chapter Text

They part ways just inside the courtroom, with Odin taking his customary seat upfront, right behind the prosecution, and Thor and Loki (this time joined by Frigga, whose presence is a little less typical) several rows back. They’re surrounded by the press and by spectators, as this may be the last day of testimony and the case has finally started to draw a surprising (and maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is) number of fresh allegations out of the woodwork. Odin keeps looking back over his shoulder at the two of them and smiling. A good, solid five minutes after they’re back in their seats Thor can still feel himself blushing crimson.

“Your dad looks happy just now,” Loki turns to whisper into Thor’s ear. Loki’s long, dark lashes are still spiky and slick with tears. His boyfriend is beautiful and strange and Thor’s at a loss for words… all he can do is nod. Looking around isn’t any easier, either; there are people they know scattered all over the courtroom today, friends and neighbors. The show of support for his parents is nice, it really is, but even so the whole thing is uncomfortable. Awkward, especially with Loki’s own brother here among them.

Oh, Loki. Thor hasn’t mentioned what he’d just told his parents, nor does he have any plans to. Not here, anyway. He’ll have to confess once they’re on their way back to the house – the two of them are in town for the whole week, keeping up with their homework online in the evenings rather than wasting precious time driving back and forth to college, and if the trial itself drags on into another week they’ll- well, they’ll cross that bridge when they come to it – because Frigga and Odin… Thor trusts his parents not to outright tell, for what that’s worth, but they’re going to be all sentimental and Loki’s bound to catch wind of something.

Left to his own devices Loki invariably imagines a million scenarios, each of which is far worse than reality… and with all the pressure they’re under right now that’s the very last thing Thor wants happening.

“He’s probably just glad this whole mess is almost over,” he whispers back. It’s not a lie, exactly; just last night over dinner Odin had complained of being exhausted. They’re all more than ready to put this behind them.

Just the same, he’s relieved when Loki nods.

~

Listening to Byleistr testify is- difficult. While Thor can’t begin to describe how much he appreciates Bye’s willingness to do this – Bye is an upstanding citizen, with two small children and a pretty, friendly wife, and now that his hockey-playing days are over his little small-town sports bar is apparently a local treasure; his testimony is going to go a long way towards convincing the jury of Laufey’s guilt – Thor can’t help but think how terrible it would feel to have to do this to his own father. “Your dad would never deserve it,” Loki had told him last night when he’d mentioned feeling conflicted. “That’s really the difference.”

It probably is, and he does get that. Still, Thor really can’t imagine being forced – being compelled, too – to turn on Odin.

As Thor fidgets unhappily on the hard bench, Loki reads his mind and squeezes his fingers. “It’s okay,” Loki whispers. “He wants to do this. It’s been thirty years in the making. Let it go. Really.”

Thor tries, he does. Frigga’s sitting on his other side, and the more he wriggles the more frequently she looks up to see what’s wrong with him. He needs to be strong for her. For Loki. For everyone.

It isn’t fucking easy.

~

“I might have mentioned my- my, er, intentions to- to my parents while you were talking with your brother earlier,” Thor stammers as soon as Loki’s swung the driver’s side door closed. One of his own feet is still out on the pavement, in the rain. Just in case he needs to flee, maybe.

“Your intentions,” Loki repeats, one graceful black eyebrow cocked. “By which you mean what, exactly?” The strain of three straight days in court is showing in the dark circles under his eyes and in the tight set of his mouth. Thor just wants to hug him. They have to talk about this, though, before Odin or Frigga does something unfortunate.

“My intentions to spend the rest of my life with you,” Thor says. The words tumble out of him in a rush. “No details beyond that, don’t worry.”

Loki laughs. “So you at least didn’t tell them you botched proposing, in a dressing room, without your underwear? Thank god.” He laughs again. “Because that sure would make for interesting dinner table conversation.”

“No no,” Thor says. Relief pours through him as Loki laughs again, all sweet and happy, not sardonic. Not self-mocking. Not manic. “Even I’m not that stupid. All the rest of their lives, we would never hear the end of it.” He clears his throat. He wants to race around and haul Loki back out of the car and jump around happily, but they’re in the courthouse parking garage and that’s really not an option. Not to mention how Loki’s never been a big fan of public displays of idiocy. “I just mentioned, rather vaguely, that I might be wanting to marry you.”

“And what did they say?” Loki is still smiling, but now his expression is a little more wary.

“They didn’t seem surprised,” Thor assures him. “And they did act pleased. They just want us to hold off until we’re grownups,” he adds lamely.

Loki snorts. “I hope they’re not holding their breath, then.”

“Seriously,” Thor tells him. “They’re fine with it. As long as we do it later on, I mean.”

“Good,” Loki says. He leans across the center console to kiss Thor’s forehead. “Stop worrying. I’m not going to hound you about it. Now, let’s go pick everyone up a little dinner.”

They settle on pizza. Thor is so busy daydreaming that he only just manages to stop Loki from ordering anchovies.

~

“Your brother was great today,” Frigga tells Loki as she helps set the table. Even for something as ridiculously informal as takeout pizza, she still prefers the routine of place settings and candles and actual cloth napkins. It used to annoy the two of them, back when all their friends did paper plates and licked fingers, but now that they’re in college Thor and Loki have come to appreciate it in ways they’d never really expected.

Thor gives Loki’s shoulder a quick squeeze. It’s okay, baby.

“Yeah,” Loki agrees. “I hope it makes a difference,” he goes on as Thor nods.

Frigga sets out the big cork trivets to go underneath the hot, damp pizza boxes. “Oh, don’t worry,” she assures them both. “I know it will.”

Chapter Text

Thor and Loki aren't there when the jury hands down its verdict. The trial runs a full week longer than expected, and Loki has a major exam everyone (but Loki, to listen to him protest) understands he really needs to be back at school for. The test includes both written and presented components, and - even though he swears left and right that his professor is willing to let him record the latter portions - there's little doubt in anyone else's mind (or in his, truthfully, from what Thor’s learned to read of Loki's subtle tells) that he'd be doing himself a grave injustice by skipping it. And even after a long string of mild to moderate arguments on the whole subject, Loki never succeeds in convincing Thor that he should go back to school alone.

With the headspace Loki's been in recently, some strange, dark place full of guilt and self-blame, there's simply no way Thor's sending him back to hang out by himself among a few thousand strangers.

"It's fine," Frigga had assured them (again, for at least the tenth time; Loki is nothing if not persistent) over dinner the night before their departure. "I just wrapped up a big project and my schedule is pretty open for the next three weeks. And no I didn't plan it that way, smarty," she'd added when Loki had started to protest. "Go. Really. Odin’s fine. You're both fine. You've done everything the attorneys wanted. Now stop worrying and head on back to school. I've got this."

"She's right, you know," Odin had chimed in. "I'm sure it's unfathomable from where you’re sitting, but my wife and I have been handling things just fine since before you were even born."

Frigga'd smiled at their stubborn faces. "And it only got worse after that, I assure you."

~

Loki aces his exam. He jokes that he got by on sympathy points, except it doesn't feel like joking and that makes the little part of Thor's heart that's saved just for Loki hurt. "We should go home," Loki suggests. "We could be back to your parents' place by morning."

Thor has been sitting on the news since just after lunch, praying that Loki'd been stripped of all technology during the exam and hasn't had any chances to be checking it. He’d known he should be the one to share what he’d heard, and (even more than that) he hadn’t wanted Loki to be alone hearing it. Now that they’re back in the dorms and have his room to themselves, though, he's not sure quite how to break it. "We don't need to, baby," he says gently, squatting by the bed and looking up into Loki's worried face. "It's over. Guilty," he going on, carefully not smiling. "Second degree felony assault. The judge is sentencing him Friday."

Loki cuffs Thor on the shoulder. His eyes are wide, his nostrils flaring. "You fucker!" He hits again, harder this time, and Thor catches him by the wrist to keep him from hurting himself. "When exactly were you fucking going to tell me?"

Thor clears his throat. His back burns just over the middle of one shoulder blade where Loki's second hit caught him. "Lo, shh. Please. I found out just as you went into your exam. I couldn't exactly tell you then, could I?"

Loki hisses and yanks himself free. He paces the (short) length of Thor's room, back and forth, hands tangled in his own hair. "And the last two hours? Over fucking dinner? What's your great excuse there, Thor?"

There isn't one. "No excuse," Thor admits. He gets to his feet, careful not to crowd Loki. "I was afraid to cause this, I guess," he explains, gesturing vaguely to try and cover his involuntary wince. "It's good news, kind of. I wanted it to be- happy."

Loki stops. He wipes his face, and then his nose. "I don't think it can be happy," he says, defeat replacing- anger. Whatever all that just was.

"No, probably not," Thor agrees, sadly. "I'm sorry."

"Mm," Loki hums. He thuds back down onto Thor’s bed; the frame squeaks and bounces into the wall. When nothing else happens, Thor eases carefully down next to him. For a few minutes they sit in complete silence, not quite touching but still close enough together that Thor can feel the warmth of Loki’s wrist against his own.

“I’m sorry,” he says again. “I have to imagine this- this is really difficult.” He doesn’t want to fight. Really, he just wants to make everything better. Which, he’s finally learning – and maybe this is what growing up is all about; he hopes not, because it’s shitty – isn’t even possible most of the time. And the rest of the time, it’s “only” not easy.

“I guess.” Loki sighs, then leans in just enough to bring their shoulders together. “It shouldn’t be hard. I hate the guy. I hate everything about him and everything he stands for. And yet here I am fucking crying over- I don’t even know what.”

Thor’s pretty sure Loki’s crying over how his boyfriend is a graceless, insensitive prick. But if Loki’s big enough not to point that out, well, maybe it just doesn’t need saying. “I just wish none of it had ever happened.”

~

“Huh.” Thor lets his hand drop away from his face and stares down at the phone cradled in his palm. It chatters. His mom is still talking; from this distance he can’t hear her.

The noise catches Loki’s attention. He looks up from where he’s been curled in Thor’s desk chair, reading. “What’s going on,” he mouths.

Thor shakes his head and mouths back “nothing.”

Before he realizes what’s happening, Loki’s already come up out of the chair like a striking snake and snatched the phone away from him. “Hey,” Loki says to Frigga. “Thor had to put you down for a minute. What were you saying?”

 

No no no no no. Thor tries to grab his phone again but Loki ducks and whirls. “That’s about what we expected, isn’t it?” Loki gestures what the fuck; Thor isn’t sure if it’s commiseration or accusation. “Yeah, probably. Thanks for letting us know.” Loki waits until the call drops and then tosses Thor’s phone back to him.

“That’s so unfair,” Thor protests. “How could the judge even do that?” Two to seven years, his mother had said. Two years is barely anything. Two years and Loki will only just be finishing up college.

Loki angles his head and shrugs one shoulder. “It’s the law?” He shoves his hands in his pockets and shrugs again, properly this time. “A lot of people have come forward… maybe someone can make a more serious conviction stick? If not, whatever. It’s two free years, maybe more. Hey, do you think I should call my mother?”

Chapter Text

With everything that’s been going on the past few months it’s probably no surprise they’ve overlooked things here and there. The proverbial elephant in the room has gotten too big to ignore, though, and Frigga can no longer shake the nagging feeling that something’s going on. She knows she should have noticed it sooner. Only now, though, with Laufey in jail and Odin back to work – and the boys all snarled up in the crunch time that invariably precedes finals – does she finally have time to think about it.

This is Thor’s senior year. He’s already in the final few weeks his second-to-last semester. He’s missed out on a fair amount of his last football season this fall, thanks to Odin’s injuries and the ensuing trial. Of her two boys he’s nearly always the better-natured one, the one with the less volatile temper. Even so, by now there should be all kinds of angst on the horizon.

There isn’t. Not even from Loki, who is normally an impressive anxiety factory.

And speaking of Loki, he’s been taking a heavy course load for a couple of years now. It’s not to the point where the school is intervening (or even offering suggestions, probably at least in part because his grades continue to be fine... more than fine). But he’s been taking a couple of extra classes a semester and has reached the point where he can no longer hide the way he’s (getting special permission, from he’s told her when she’s questioned it, and) taking prerequisites concurrently and flying through his program.

Sometimes her boys – Loki, especially – are masters of subtlety. Other times, they’re like the very worst farts in church. Frigga isn’t sure they know it.

“I’ve figured the whole thing out,” she tells Odin that night over dessert. “What’s going on with Thor and Loki, I mean.”

Odin grins. “You’re only just getting around to that now,” he teases. “Really? Because they sure do suck at keeping their passions secret.”

They don’t, truthfully, not most of the time… but she gets what he means anyway. She shakes her head, smiling a little sadly. “No, not that, silly,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I figured out why they seem off this semester.”

“Besides all the shit I put them through? There’s more?” Odin shakes his head. “Greaaaat. How have they even found time to get into trouble?”

Frigga laughs outright this time. “I don’t think they have gotten into trouble, Mr. Suspicious,” she counters. “Not yet, anyway. I think - well, I guess I know, but I haven’t actually challenged them about it – that Loki’s… I suppose you could say he’s giving Thor one of his semesters.”

“He’s what?” Odin’s forehead furrows. He’s had his patch off for a couple of weeks now; sure enough, seeing him with two eyes again is taking far too much getting used to. “I’m not sure I see what you mean.”

“Loki’s going to graduate early,” Frigga explains. “Probably a year from now. And Thor’s basically going to hang around an extra semester and watch him do it.” She spreads her hands, palms in the air. “It’s the only explanation that makes sense. Think about it.”

Odin takes some convincing. At first, even though he normally trusts her implicitly and (wisely) considers her reasoning flawless, her husband just can’t see the logic in what she’s saying. But the third time she runs back through the evidence – Thor’s blasé attitude (and not even about graduation, specifically… it’s more like graduation isn’t on his radar at all. Which makes sense, in retrospect, because it isn’t), Loki’s frantic cramming – Odin finally gets it. “They’ve probably figured it all out and decided they can be together without costing us any extra money.”

Thor is still on a partial football scholarship, although his on again, off again semester has cost him (them) some money. Loki has done well enough to earn an academic scholarship that’s nearly as lucrative. Most of what they’re costing the Borsons – and it is they because, yes, Frigga and Odin are helping Loki pay for college; Farbauti has plenty of good intentions, but that never bought anyone any credit hours, and as Odin points out regularly letting Thor have a deadbeat husband will cost them all more in the long run – is room and board and textbooks. It really should even out, and it’s nothing Frigga and her husband can’t cover anyway.

“That’s not really the point,” Odin reminds her as she explains what she believes to be the situation. “It’s smart, Loki-smart, but it’s sneaky. If they’re going to be pulling this sort of thing, they need to be willing to talk about it.”

He has a point. What Loki and Thor have contrived isn’t necessarily a bad plan. In fact, it’s a fairly good one. But it’s not the understanding Frigga and Odin had at the start of the semester (or last year, certainly, which must have been when this all started). “Fine,” she says. She’s not excited about this particular discussion. “I’ll call them.”

~

“Hi, mom.” Thor sounds cheerful and relaxed and Frigga almost can’t bring herself to ruin things. Of course, that’s why she’s the one calling… and not Odin.

“Is Loki there,” she asks. Calm. Friendly.

“Yeah,” Thor tells her. “Do you want me to get him?”

“Yes, please,” she continues, still cheerfully neutral. “And then put me on speaker.”

Thor hesitates a little too long before replying. “Is everything okay,” he asks at last. She can hear Loki milling around in the background.

“Things are fine,” she assures him (them). The whole business with the trial is still too recent. She doesn’t want to stress anyone unnecessarily, not for real. “Your father and I talked, and we thought it was time I checked in with you about your plans for next year.”

“Shit,” Loki says, close to the phone now. “Busted, huh?”

Frigga laughs. “Busted.”

~

“You’ll be pleased to hear they have a pretty solid plan going,” Frigga tells Odin afterwards. They do. After refreshingly little defensiveness, both Thor and Loki had been willing to chat at some length about their intentions. It all boils down to this: they don’t want to be apart, and Thor’s not feeling all that ready for job-hunting. Yes, he remembers her pre-college lecture about never feeling ready. Yes, he gets it. But they don’t know which of them will land a better position, so they would prefer to look together.

“I don’t want to get settled into a job I like, only for Loki to find one across the country,” Thor’d explained. Frigga’s stomach sinks again, more than a little, simply from thinking about it. She can’t argue with them. It’s sound logic, but the idea of losing both kids to the far coast doesn’t thrill her.

“When did our little kids grow up,” Odin muses. He takes one of her hands and laces their fingers together. “When did we, for that matter?”

“I’m not even sure,” Frigga says. “And while I do know it’s all for good, I have to confess: I’m not sure I like it.”

Chapter Text

It's a fancy little holiday dinner, complete with the sparkling chandelier dimmed to near-nothingness and a nice selection of fanciful winter-themed candles. Odin sits at the head of the table and quietly watches everyone; he's grateful for the way relative darkness lets him hide. Every now and then he closes his good eye and checks things out with his injured one. Things aren't quite back to baseline yet - and he does understand they may never be - but he's pleased to find himself able to see fairly normally again. The one eye still tires faster than its partner, probably because the little muscles controlling it went so long without a good workout, but nowadays he can once again see fine print and follow movement. He can look on as his son, his son's achingly handsome partner, his own gorgeous wife, and the shy, pretty woman who will likely be the mother-in-law someday smile and laugh… and cry.

Thor and Loki take turns feeding themselves and each another, switching so smoothly from one approach to the other that they seem to share a single brain. It should be a little disgusting, probably. It’s not; it’s adorable.

Farbauti still needs a cane to get around – while she's gotten back a good bit of her strength, her balance is off and that makes her unsteady - but seated at the table gesturing and talking she looks good again. Healthy. Since Odin'd seen her last she's gotten her hair cut; a chin-length, choppy style that hides the bits still growing back in after her emergency surgery. Her soft turtleneck and festive scarf cover the long-healed tracheostomy scar. Odin can almost pretend none of it ever happened. He only wishes Loki could do the same.

~

Everyone lifts a glass in toast. Odin has been watching, not listening, but this is an old, familiar drill and he knows his part in it. "To friends," he says, touching the rim of his wineglass to Frigga's.

Farbauti smiles. Her hair frames the sharp angles of her face, and that leaves her looking all the more like Loki. "To family," she offers. "The kind you make for yourself, and the kind life gives you."

"To love," Frigga says, warmly. "And kindness."

"I was going to use that one," Thor complains. "Um... to being here together again, finally."

Loki frowns, brows knit in concentration. It’s hard to go last. "To the way we're always there for each other."

"Hear, hear." Everyone clinks and drinks and clinks some more.

Odin nods, once they've all set their glasses back on the table. "Loki's right," he says. "I've really missed this." And it's so nice to have Laufey gone and my boys back, he tells himself. It is. It's lovely. “I’ve missed our weekly dinners together.” He really, really hopes the kids stick around here after college.

~

After the boys have cleaned up in the kitchen and everyone has changed into cozy, soft loungies - Farbauti isn't great with stairs, so she's staying in her temporary assisted living apartment until Fandral's father finishes installing one of those stairway chair "lifts" that are all the rage in old people's magazines; they collectively decided they couldn't send her back there on Christmas, and she'll be spending the night on the good living room sofa bed - they all hole up in the den and try their best to relax. Odin flips through a really nice book of paintings, a present from the boys, while everyone else talks quietly.

Well, Loki and Farbauti talk. Frigga puts her two cents in very, very occasionally. Thor curls up on the loveseat like the world's largest cat and lets Loki toy with his hair absentmindedly.

Slowly but surely their idle chatter turns serious.

"I've always felt guilty for wrecking your life," Loki tells his mother. "Because if it weren't for me, Laufey never would have turned on you. But from what Bye told me at the courthouse, I- I dunno? It almost sounded like things with him- they predated me?" His fingers trace little circles on Thor's cheek, over and over.

Farbauti wipes away an escaping tear. "And I've always hated myself for not being strong enough to get away. To protect my family." She shakes her head. "I had babies to raise. I should have gotten help a long time ago. But if I had, I guess you wouldn't be here," she admits. "And when I think about that it's hard to know if I really did make the wrong decision. You're the light of several lives, you know that?"

Thor hums.

Loki wipes his own eyes. Odin's right on the edge of needing to do the same. "I'm not sorry I exist, not beyond what it’s done to the people who care about me," he tells his mother. "Not anymore. So don't think that way, okay? Trust me. It’s dangerous."

“I know,” Farbauti says quietly. “I’ve been seeing a therapist as part of my rehabilitation. I- I wish I’d gone sooner.”

Frigga makes a wry face at Odin over the magazine she’s evidently not actually reading. “Being a parent,” she tells no one in particular, “really isn’t easy.”

“Thank you,” Farbauti whispers. She truly does adore her son. It’s written all over her face. “I mean it.”

“It’s okay, mom.” Loki stretches out over the space between them to reach for her hand. “It is, really. You didn’t make me what I am, and you sure as fu- um, yeah, no, sorry.” Despite himself Odin has to hide his smirk behind his book; whatever else they might be, Thor and Loki are still potty-mouthed college kids when they think no one’s really looking. “What I meant was: you certainly didn’t make Laufey Laufey.”

Farbauti sighs. “I’d love to tell you he wasn’t always like this. Isn’t that what people always say? And he has gotten worse as he’s gotten older, certainly. But he never really was very nice to me.”

Thor twists to kiss the palm of Loki’s hand. Loki beams down at him. “I’m happy,” he tells his mother, “to say I don’t think I’ve inherited that particular problem.”

“And no one,” Farbauti insists, and while Odin might privately disagree he keeps it to himself; it’s Christmas, “is more glad to see that than I am.”

~

Eventually they turn everything off but the tiny strings of colored lights that wrap the Christmas tree. Thor, Loki, and Frigga hum carols i(n surprisingly good harmony, especially when they’re all so tired) as Farbauti nods along and Odin slowly succumbs to his food coma.

He almost wants to toast to a better year… except he thinks they’ve already got one coming.

Chapter Text

When it's finally time to pack it in and call Christmas over and done, Thor putters about in the den and lets Loki and Frigga work together to get Loki’s mom settled out in the living room. Loki and Farbauti finally had the chance to spend some good, quality time together, over the course of the evening, and Thor is determined not to hurry either of them past it.

After Loki’s made double sure his mother has gotten everything she needs and Frigga has followed Odin off to the master bedroom, Loki and Thor head upstairs and rattle around a little lost.

It’s bedtime, and they’re happy to be together, but they aren’t sure what to do.

Because Thor's room - their room - is literally right over where Farbauti is (soon going to be, hopefully) sleeping. If they go at it on the bed, even extra-quietly, she's going to be so right there that she might as well be between the sheets with them. And if the bed so much as squeaks, the game is all over.

Of course, none of what they’re up to is new news, and it's highly unlikely she’s going to be unfamiliar with what "our sons are lovers" actually translates into. Still, as used to parading the (too literally) intimate details of their lives in front of Frigga and Odin as they may be, the idea of getting it on directly over top of a third parent is- it's just a little bit too disturbing. Any other time Thor might give his boyfriend a nice helping of shit about how, funny, it sure is a lot different when it's your own mother. But Loki's been under a ton of strain lately and the last thing Thor wants to do is add to it.

"Do you want to just cuddle, maybe," he suggests as Loki stands in the center of the bedroom fidgeting. "We don't have to do anything- you know. Sexual." It’s an odd thing to say; he feels the flush starting on his chest and neck. "Not that I don't want that, too. Because I do. But I get that it's maybe a little too awkward. And that’s okay," he tacks on, smiling sweetly into the darkness, when Loki doesn't answer. "Tonight I just want to be with you. We can fuck in the morning after my parents take Farbauti back- um, to her place." Home just doesn't feel right, not applied to her tiny, dingy apartment with its nurse call system and its battered old hospital bed. "Or if she ends up sticking around we can find a way to do it in the shower."

Loki tiptoes over and melts against Thor in a lazy embrace. "Are you sure," he asks quietly. His breath is warm against Thor’s cheek. "Because that doesn't sound very- festive somehow."

Thor shrugs. His shirt catches on Loki's sweater; sex or no, he really wishes they were skin-to-skin. "The whole day's been plenty festive," he assures Loki. "We'll make up for it another time, I promise. And besides, we’re both tired. Right now I just want to touch you."

Loki nuzzles Thor’s collarbone. "If you insist," he relents. "Fine. Make that one back-rub, extra-soothing."

Frigga's left the heat up, thanks to how Farbauti will be sleeping out in the middle of things. It's nice in their room now, nice enough that Thor figures Loki can go without clothes and yet not end up shivering. Later, when it's actually time to sleep, they'll probably need to prop a window open. He carefully coaxes Loki's shirt and sweater off, followed by everything else. "Clothes or no," he asks when Loki is finally nude and facedown on the mattress. "I’m fine either way,” he adds, because even if he’s not he should be. “I just want you to be comfortable."

"No clothes," Loki says into the pillow. Thor smiles and nods to himself, and then obliges.

"Roll onto your side," he suggests. He doesn't want to start this off sitting astride Loki's hips, with his erection - because certain body parts never seem to follow anyone's rules, his own least of all - poking Loki's rear. Lying on their sides is better. He can't rub quite as well, sure, but he can do some basic exploring now and if either of them wants to they can change things up later.

Thor starts with the back of Loki's neck. The little ridge of the cervical spine, the small, rounded hollow at the base of Loki's skull. The lines of tense muscles running alongside the bone.

He works his fingers up into Loki's hair and kneads Loki's scalp.

Loki hums. "That's delicious," he whispers into the darkness. "Never stop. Please. Never."

Thor rubs until Loki's hair leaves his fingertips numb and buzzing. He shifts to sit behind Loki, one leg folded close and the other extended the length of Loki's own. While it’s not as mentally cozy, sitting this way lets him switch hands and work Loki's scalp with fresh fingers as his tingling ones come back to life stroking Loki's shoulders. He can feel every tiny muscle and sinew; they’ve both kept up with the gym, at least in between their court appearances, and Loki hasn’t really been eating properly. It’s a combination always takes the fat right off. That’s not Thor’s favorite look – he likes it better when Loki is a little softer, because that means Loki is a lot closer to happy – but he’s learned to be okay with it. These days it comes and it goes. The less fuss made, the better.

Thor traces the long s-curve of Loki’s spine, from the knob at the very base of his neck to the little dips just above of his sacrum. Thor lavishes attention on each and every vertebra, tracing circles around knob after bony knob with gentle fingers and then walking his hands back up to map the swooping curves of Loki’s ribs. The dip of Loki’s waist, the arcs that shape the bowl of Loki’s pelvis.

By the time he reaches the end of the line and runs a thumb over the tiny tip of Loki’s tailbone, his boyfriend is snoring lightly. Thor shifts as carefully as he can, until they’re spooned up together. As he cuddles as close as he can get, Loki very, very softly sighs. “Shh,” Thor whispers. “I’m here. I love you.”

Chapter Text

It’s quite a bit later than he’d expected when Loki finally finishes enough of his assignment to justify packing up his books and heading back to the dorm. The library is still hopping; while most classes don’t have exams scheduled (or work due) until after spring break ends, no one wants to go into vacation with a backpack full of textbooks and a laptop computer. Even those students – like Loki and, with him, Thor – who don’t really have anything much planned want to enjoy the ten days off. There isn’t much that’s more motivating.

Outside, the ground is still covered in snow. In a few weeks the weather will start to really warm up, but right now everything is still trapped in the awful grip of late winter… that endless stretch each year where it feels like spring will never come. When nothing green will ever grow again. It’s depressing and Loki hates it, but as bad as it is for him he knows Thor misses summer just that much more.

It’s sad. He’s trying his best to keep quiet about it.

Loki looks at his phone and curses. Thor had expected him back at their room – because they’ve long since dropped the pretense of keeping separate living spaces, even though they technically still do each have one; they store their off-season clothes, their sports equipment, and their old textbooks in his room and do everything else in Thor’s trusty little single – half an hour ago. Then again, Thor hasn’t texted. Maybe they’re both running late tonight.

Or not. “Hi,” Loki calls out as he unlocks the door. From the hallway he can see light underneath it, and the knob is locked but the deadbolt isn’t thrown. Thor must have just beaten him back. That, or his boyfriend is being uncharacteristically patient. “Sorry I’m so-.” His eyes are faster than his mouth. Or his brain. “Mrs. Borson? What are you doing here?” He comes to an abrupt stop; his backpack, slung over one shoulder in what’s pretty much the least ergonomic way possible, keeps right on going and smacks into the doorframe. “What’s wrong? Where’s Thor? What’s going on?”

“Come sit down, sweetie,” Frigga says, patting a chair. Her face is soft and kind. Worried. “Heimdall and I” – and, sure enough, there’s Sif’s brother leaning against Thor’s desk… here in his room, even thought they haven’t said more than five words to one another in ages – “want to tell you something. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with Thor,” she assures him when he can only flail. “He’s fine. I promise. We can wait for him if you’d feel better that way. Go ahead.” She gestures towards his phone. “Text him.”

“Text him what, exactly,” Loki snaps. He’s afraid, and he hates it. “Your mother is here and no one will tell me what’s going on? That, maybe?”

Frigga squeezes out a small laugh. The whole business looks like a big effort, which isn’t comforting at all. “No, not that. Just let him know I stopped by and wanted to see the two of you.”

School is not exactly right around the corner from their hometown, even in pleasant weather. Which this isn’t. “Yeah, right,” Loki says. He’s being a dick, which probably isn’t fair, but he can’t begin to stop himself. “He’ll definitely believe that one.” He sidles the rest of the way into the room and closes the door. “Instead, how ‘bout you just tell me what’s going on?”

Heimdall pulls out Loki’s desk chair. “Have a seat,” he suggests. Or orders. With Heimdall it’s always been difficult to be sure. Loki sits. He lets his backpack slide off his arm and thunk down on the floor beside him.

“Is Odin okay,” he asks Frigga carefully, “and my mother?”

Frigga leans forward and reaches for his hand. He lets her take it. Even breathing is difficult. “They’re both fine, sweetie. I talked to your mother just before I left the house, and Odin shortly before that. I’m sure they would have come along with me if they could have. No, it’s your father, Loki; it’s Laufey.”

It takes Loki the better part of a minute to realize that the dull roar he’s hearing is actually inside his own head. “What did he do now,” he asks. His words echo, like he’s speaking from the far end of a long, long tunnel.

“He was in a fight this morning, the police told your mother,” Frigga explains. She squeezes his fingers. “With another inmate. I’m sorry, Loki, but he’s dead.”

“What?” It’s all words, English-language words. He knows what they mean, even. But he can’t make sense of them, not strung together. He can’t make out what he’s hearing. “Dead? What? How?”

“He was stabbed,” Frigga tells him. “They say he died quickly; that he didn’t suffer.”

Loki hears a key in the lock. He tries to stand but isn’t nearly fast enough, not tonight. “Hi baby,” Thor says, cheerfully. “How was- wait. Mom? Heimdall? What- what’s going on? Why?”

“Laufey’s dead,” Loki says flatly. “Sounds like one of the other prisoners shanked him.”

In the awkward pause that follows, he realizes everyone is waiting to see what he’s going to do. He makes himself grin, a jaw-clenching, death’s-head smirk. “And all I can say is: it’s about fucking time.” Tough. Strong.

Fake.

None of it works. He bursts out crying.

The room tilts and spins and he falls.

~

“Lo? Baby? Can you hear me?” Thor’s voice is high and breathy. “Loki?”

He’s in- it’s Thor’s room, probably, but the place is all wrong somehow. There’s a ceiling light on the wall and Loki can’t feel the floor. Instead of sitting he’s lying on his back on something squishy. Loki flops around. Okay. It’s a bed – their bed, it has to be, because it smells of Thor – and it’s soft and rumpled and a little stinky. “I’m fine,” he tries to say, except he can hardly get the words out. “Let me up. Really.”

“Shh,” Frigga soothes. Her crinkled-up forehead swims into view, along with a bit of golden hair and one of her eyes. “Rest. Thor, can you get him some water?”

“I’m okay,” Loki tries again. “I must have fallen asleep. I- I dreamed someone told me Laufey had died.” He blinks and looks around. Frigga. Thor. Heimdall, of all people. He blinks again, and again. “Wait. Why are all of you here?”

~

They have to explain themselves over and over and over before it finally starts to sink in. His biological father is dead, stabbed by a fellow prisoner. Farbauti wasn’t able to make it all the way out to school, but none of them wanted him – or Thor – to be alone when the news came.

Eventually Loki’s even able to sit on the bed, knees up and arms wrapped tightly around them, and parrot everything back. Laufey is dead, he tells himself as Thor holds him close. It’s over. We’re all free.

Except he doesn’t feel free. He feels- dead inside. Cold. Flat. Empty.

He feels- nothing. Nothing at all.

Chapter Text

Thor loves spring; everything about it. He loves the changeable weather and the fresh green promise of the new season. He’s delighted when the songbirds reappear after long winter holidays, their cheerful notes filling the morning air. Loki grumbles about the way the bright little creatures wake everyone (meaning Loki) up painfully early, but Thor knows the return to warmth and daylight is good for both of them. He likes the colors of autumn, sure, and summer's wet heat. But spring is invariably his true favorite.

He had gone into it this year with high expectations. They’d finally rounded the turn into their last year's worth of classes - he could still swing graduation at the end of this semester if he really wanted to, but he doesn't and won't; he would really rather have the two of them finish this out together - and with the looming threat of Laufey finally gone from their lives forever they can finally catch their collective breath and relax a little.

Except everything feels- strained. Off. Conflicted.

It's not that they're fighting; they're not. And Thor’s not even having to walk on eggshells in an effort to try and forestall it. In fact, he’s not even sure the problem, if there is one, is Loki. He himself feels- confused. Torn. Spread too thin and pulled too far, in too many different directions. Some days he's so stupidly happy that he simply can't stand himself; other times he cries for no reason or just wants to lock himself away... alone.

Loki is equally (albeit differently) not himself. Always the forcefully independent one, the first to jokingly tease about mama's boys, he’s taken to calling not only his own mother but Thor's as well. Daily. To inquire solicitously after their wellbeing while somehow always managing to avoid discussing his own. He still sees his therapist, sometimes every couple of days now, which is probably why in the past two weeks a second pill bottle had appeared (sans fanfare) on the shelf over the sink next to the first one. Loki isn't angry or teary (excepting the occasional late night when Thor isn't as asleep as Loki thinks) or excited... he's- too quiet. Muted.

Thor isn’t sure what to make of any of it. He feels a bit like their emotional selves have gotten swapped somehow; he's the one with the hopeless rollercoaster feelings these days, whereas Loki's the calm, parental one. The glue keeping everyone's heads together.

It's not natural, any of it, and that makes Thor worried.

~

"You're both processing something huge," Frigga reminds him when he gets her on the phone and does a little of that worrying aloud. "Something life-changing. We all are. A big chunk of what we've built the framework of our day-to-day existence around has changed, suddenly and with almost no warning. We all need some time to make our own sense out of if. Be gentle with each other," she suggests, and he assures her they are. "You'll come out of this stronger. Loki, too. But please believe me when I say that you can't rush things. Really. Don't even try."

He can feel the tears coming, even before she says "promise me."

~

"Why am I crying over a dead asshole," Thor grumbles to (at) the school counselor his mother'd (gently) suggested he see. For years - dating back to when he and Loki were barely old enough to understand what "your father hits your mother" even meant, really – the End of Laufey has been their fairytale happy ending. Their own little game, their shared fantasy. The way other kids had organized battles against enemy soldiers and aliens, he and Loki had carefully choreographed Laufey's demise. Landmines. Vampires. Demons. Zombies. Medieval battles with trashcan-lid shields and plastic swords. Mafia executions. Childish torture chambers full of barely-imaginable (and poorly-thought-out) terrors. Burning, falling, freezing. Everything their little minds could come up with. Sometimes the two of them were furious; other times they were upbeat and jolly. Every time, Laufey was dead by the end of it.

Not one single bit of it had prepared Thor for the cold ugliness of reality: loss, numbness, guilt, depression.

~

"This probably sounds weird," Thor tells Loki one night in bed. They're curled up together, naked under a thin blanket, soothing each other with soft petting and softer kisses. "But I feel like we've been robbed of our celebration."

Loki presses his lips to Thor's shoulder. "Maybe it's better this way, for now. This way we'll- I don't know... learn our lesson?"

Thor hums, but he's still not sure he understands it. There’s not a lesson out there a man like Laufey can teach him.

~

Frigga's in the middle of a short business trip – it’s not unavoidable, probably but they all separately and together assure her they can handle things without her… she’s done enough sacrificing and they love it that her business is wildly successful - when it's time to come help them move home. Odin shows up a little earlier than they’d expected, and Thor and Loki are both stunned to learn that it’s because Farbauti (yes, that Farbauti; the one that’s Loki’s mother) has come right along with him. They’re so excited. She's never seen any of this... the campus, their rooms, their life here together. And while she's still not getting around as easily as she once had, they've learned patience. They make the time to show her everything.

Afterwards they let Farbauti supervise while they load the trailer. Even though the day is upon them, Thor hasn't quite worked his way up to asking Loki where they - collectively, or individually - are spending the summer. He hasn't even given name to the formless dread that Loki may want to go home-home this time. That their relationship has been one of necessity, of the wrong sort of need. When he overhears Loki asking Farbauti to make a point of joining them - them - once a week for dinner, he's so relieved he can't stop weeping.

“It’s the dust,” he says when Odin questions him. “We really need to get better about cleaning.”

He’s sure no one believes him, but he appreciates their silence just the same.

Chapter Text

On their first full day of summer vacation Loki and Thor make a solemn pact: since this is bound to be their last summer as bonafide, card-carrying not-quite-adults, they will do everything they possibly can to put recent events behind them and enjoy it. They have to. They're due to graduate in December... meaning that, by this time next year, they could be working long days in the kind of soul-sucking entry-level office jobs most college grads seem to end up saddled with. Thor's parents always tell them to follow their dreams, but to temper that with a little realism; "sometimes you can't chase after your dreams as quickly or as constantly as you might like," Frigga often advises, "but remember: that's not the same thing as abandoning them."

They will have dues to pay, they know, and they may well not enjoy paying them.

So, this summer is it. It it. Their one last chance to- not throw all caution to the wind, exactly, as Loki – and probably even Thor, now - has seen far too much in the course of his endless-feeling little life to think it's ever going to be that easy. It’s more like making their days count, probably. Loki nods when Thor suggests calling it that. It just feels right to him. To both of them.

Together they start to round out their collective summer plan. "I'm still going to work at the cinema," Loki says, because cinema sounds better than movie theater and he loves the way it rolls around on his tongue. And the theater really isn’t a bad place to work... he likes it there and of course they both benefit from his having some spending money. "But I won't be ridiculous about it. And if we want to take a few days off and go do something fun, I'm going to make sure we do it." He's also going to make it his internship; he's been in touch with the owner for months now, and he's going to (sub in at the counter when needed, but also) serve as their web designer. Their usual computer guy (who's actually a girl, and very good) is studying abroad this summer, so they need the help. The whole thing works out nicely for everyone.

"My old boss is going to Ireland and wanted me to help manage the garden center this summer," Thor tells Loki. It's good to talk, just sit and work through things... Thor’s probably known about this for weeks and weeks but with everything that's been going on they've been too stirred up for anything approaching normal conversation. "And I said I would do it... but only if I could work part-time. It's fine there, but I wanted time for us too. And time to do things with your mom and my parents."

Loki hugs Thor close. "Mm-hm," he hums into Thor's soft cotton shirt… the pale, worn blue one Thor adores, the one that’s the exact color of a bleak winter sky. Even a few years after the car accident Loki’s kind of over all things winter, but the way this particular shirt hugs Thor's body leaves him happily willing to look past that. "We've got the whole rest of our lives to work ourselves down into little worn-out nubs. Heeeee," he squeals as Thor slips a hand up under his (own much looser-fitting) t-shirt and briskly tweaks a nipple.

Thor laughs. "I'll show you little worn-out nubs," he promises, pinching and flicking as Loki wriggles. "Shh! You'll end up with mom up here."

Loki snorts. He's panting. "And if she's on the phone with a customer she'll fucking kill you."

"Oh, riiiight... like this is all my fault." Thor rocks back on his heels, hands up on Loki's delts now. "I'm not the one making an unholy ruckus."

"I'm not exactly pinching my own nipples, now," Loki points out between breaths, "am I?"

Thor smirks as he runs his palms down Loki's arms to catch both wrists and brings their entwined hands back up to Loki's chest. "I don't know," he teases as he works Loki's fingers. "It looks like you are from where I’m standing."

~

Pushing and jostling leads to biting and slapping. By the time Frigga actually is pounding on the door and ordering them to keep it down already, they're sprawled across the throw rug full-on wrestling.

~

"I still can't believe she said that," Thor hisses when she's made them swear they'll be quiet and then left them to their own devices.

"Why," Loki apes Frigga’s exasperated frown and rolls out his best mom’s disappointed imitation, "can't you make love on the bed like normal people?" He isn’t quite able to keep a straight face after all. "We weren't even. Can't she tell the difference between fighting and- mmmph!"

Thor pins him flat on his back, up on the bed this time, and uses generous amounts of tongue to silence him.

"Maybe," Thor says when Loki finally manages to wrench his own mouth free, "it's you that's confused this time."

He knees Thor in the side, still mostly playfully.

When they fall off the bed and crash to the floor, Frigga's had it. They can hear her stomping all the way up the stairs. "Out in the yard," she demands. "I’m serious. Take it outside, both of you."

~

Loki lets Thor bend him over the tall stack of glazed clay pots behind the gardening shed. Hopefully, he thinks while he can still manage to think at all, none of the neighbors lets a dog out.

No one does, but they’re effectively trapped; they have to do the rest of their planning out in the hot, sticky yard. It won't do to go traipsing (stiffly, in Loki’s case, because by the time they’re done he’s sore) through the house, smelling like sweaty sex. Not in front of Frigga.

It is nice to let loose, though. Even living in the shadow of the past year. Well, maybe even. It could just as easily be because of.

~

"And we should have all of our weekly family meals outside," Thor suggests a few minutes later. "Even when it's raining. My parents have that awesome patio umbrella."

"Uh huh." Loki's still listening, mostly, but his mind has wandered and he's (ignoring his discomfort and) gazing up at the line of thunderheads forming over the south side of town. "My mom would actually like that."

"Good," Thor says, smiling as he leans in close for yet another kiss. His lips taste like sunshine. Their fellow students complain about going home, but here Loki actually feels free for a change. "I love you, baby."

Loki smiles back. They’re still so close together that their eyes are all wonky. “Mm.”

Chapter Text

Frigga flips through page after page on her notepad, double-checking all the highlighted to-do list items. Over the years she and Odin have kept up their longstanding “back to school” neighborhood party tradition. Everyone who hasn’t moved away - and she’s always a little surprised by the number of families who haven’t, considering how fluid employment is these days - still shows up for beer and burgers and the best side dishes in the county, even though their kids are almost all off at college (or somewhere out of the area, busy working or married). In recent years it’s gotten to be a rather bittersweet gathering. They’ve all lived here together so long and been friends (good friends, or just after a fashion) through so many things. They were barely more than kids themselves, back when they’d all moved in all those years ago. It’s more a little sad standing around talking about divorcing children and dying parents and their own ever-worsening health.

Even so, no one’s been ready to call it quits… or even to shake it up much (as in any).

This year, though… this year is different.

An unusually large group of neighborhood kids – adults now, really, but to their parents they’ll always be children – teeters on the brink of significant change. Some have just graduated; others are heading into their final years of college. Thor and Loki (and a few others, all older; young adults who took a little time off, and transfer students set back by college-swapping) have just the one semester left; several other students have a full school year remaining. Either way, by this time next summer a lot more parents’ children will have developed lives and gone on with them.

And that – with the looming threat empty nests left and right, celebrating getting rid of the kids like they usually do sounds a whole lot less appealing - is what had given rise to the whole idea of having this year’s get-together a few weeks early.

At first they’d been shooting for the earlier part of August, past summer’s peak but still before the student athletes would be due back at their various colleges. A couple of weeks into the planning, though, it had dawned on Frigga: the second week in July, Helen and Dag would be marking their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

Odin had been fine with the idea of a mid-July party. Loki and Thor had been gratifyingly excited; they’ve missed the past few years for school and had been expecting more of the same. With her family’s approval behind her Frigga had consulted both Heimdall and Sif, trying to get a sense of whether or not their parents would be comfortable with being the heart – the focal point - of this year’s gathering. “That’s a great idea,” Sif – now a tall, self-assured woman, nothing like the little girl who’d had it out with Loki, sharing a downtown apartment with a lovely girlfriend and planning on starting graduate school in the fall – had assured her. “You know how mixed my mom’s feelings can be about big events. What with- well, you know. She always feels like celebrating is risky.” She’d paused for a moment, looking down at Frigga’s early notes. “But this? It’s just a backyard party. This will give her something to look forward to.”

Heimdall had agreed. “My mom and my stepdad have been through a lot this year,” he’d told her. Everyone has; it’s really been a rough one. “They’re pretty pleased to have made it this far. Go for it,” he’d added, smiling a rare smile. “Make us all one last perfect evening.”

~

Sure, they’ve done this year after year. More than twenty times, now… since before most of the grown-up children were even born. Even so, having a real party requires a lot more planning.

“We can’t just have burgers and beer,” Loki and Frigga insist as Thor and Odin look on with virtually identical, dubious expressions. “It’s their silver anniversary,” Frigga adds. “A huge milestone, especially considering their history.” Their own silver anniversary – hers, Odin’s - had passed pretty much unnoticed in the spring, but they’d- there’d been a lot going on. That, and they don’t have dead spouses and cancer scares and a lifetime of low-paying jobs complicating their situation. Helen and Dag have endured all that and more. “If we’re going to do this…” Frigga reminds her unruly menfolk. Loki’s on her side; he doesn’t need reminding. “…we’re going to do it right.”

~

Doing it right turns out to involve page after page of ideas and lists… and lots of heated discussion. Loki wants paper lanterns and beautiful linens; Odin wants his usual party fare, complete with paper plates and greasy pasta salads.

Thor doesn’t care what they have. He just doesn’t like how the stress from the whole thing is spilling over into his perfect summer.

He’s right, too. They all dial it back a little.

~

By the beginning of July all that’s left is the execution. Over Independence Day weekend Loki and Thor go to the shore. They’re only gone three days but when they come back everything is- different. They both laugh and blush and say “nothing, nothing,” when Frigga asks them what’s going on, but they’re sporting matching (what they swear are) promise rings and they can’t keep their hands off one another. While they’re always close and affectionate, the two of them haven’t been this chummy since they were both underage and everything was bright and new.

“Do you think they snuck off and got married,” Odin asks her quietly as she sets down their drinks. It’s a hot, hot day, even now at their late-afternoon happy hour, and Loki and Thor are taking turns enthusiastically chasing one another back and forth through the sprinkler. Loki stops under the spray to rake back his soggy hair and Thor pulls him in for the kind of kiss neither she nor Odin can watch all the way through.

“I don’t think they would do that,” Frigga says. “They would tell us. They know whatever they want, we’d support them.” She sighs. “I think they- they just needed this, after the year they’ve been through.” And she does think they’re excited to be officially promised to one another. She and Odin (and Farbauti) have always known their boys were practically glued together at the hip; Thor and Loki are still discovering what they are to each other as it happens. “But if I’m wrong and they did… I’ll find a way to be fine with it.” She’d be disappointed, sure (okay, yes, maybe a little less so with this ridiculous party planning taking all her time and energy), but all she really wants is for them to be happy. “But back on task. How much wine should we buy for 34 people?”

~

“They look so in love,” the woman two doors down tells Frigga, who first assumes she means Helen and Dag. The guests of honor are laughing and toasting one another. “They were high school sweethearts, right? Do you ever worry that they’ll get tired of each other?”

Frigga does a quick double take. “Oh,” she says when it hits her; Thor. Loki. “Yes. They were. They’ve been friends for Loki’s whole life. And no, never.” Despite everything, the two of them always find a way to be great together. “Some people are lucky, I guess,” she goes on. “They find one another on the first try, and somehow they just know it.”

~

There’s a lot of toasting and a lot of celebrating. It’s a good thing their guests all live (or are staying, in the case of people like Heimdall; even he’s a few glasses of wine too far in this evening) within easy walking distance.

It’s a great party. By the time they’ve all eaten Odin has to admit that Loki was right; the paper lanterns truly are beautiful… and only made all the more so by a backyard full of fireflies.

“I’m going to miss this,” Frigga tells Odin, a little sadly.

“No you won’t,” he assures her. “They’ll come back every summer,” he says, and she’s not sure if he means the fireflies, their friends, and/or Thor and Loki. “You’ll see.”

Chapter Text

The yard is still and quiet; their last guests left, all hugs and kisses and warm smiles, the better part of an hour ago. It’s still a hot, sticky night and clearly nothing’s going to change that, but the breeze has finally picked up a little. Later on (earlier, really, because it’s already nearly tomorrow) they will probably get some rain. Which will of course make the humidity worse rather than better. But for right now all four of them are grateful; there’s just enough air moving to keep the mosquitos down.

Loki knows he’s the one closest to crying out his gratitude. No matter how large nor how diverse the crowd, he’s invariably the one getting eaten alive. And then he ends up covered in huge welts that itch furiously and last for days. It’s awful. Thor must not taste as good (yes, Loki does know it’s really less about flavor and more about exhaled carbon dioxide… but he likes his own explanation better and trots it out whenever life presents him with the smallest opportunity), because even slathered in bug spray Loki is one gigantic mosquito magnet. The more he scratches, the worse the aftermath will be. He knows that, too.

Sometimes it’s all a lie: say what you want, knowledge still isn’t power.

Frigga tries and fails to stifle a yawn; within fifteen seconds they’re all doing it. It’s been a long, hectic few days and they’re dying, but no one wants to be the first one to call it done. Over. The last second of the last minute, the last hour of the last party. The last post-holiday Saturday in July of the last summer.

Loki frowns at his own train of thought. The line between funny and sad can be very, very fine.

“That was awesome,” Thor tells Frigga on the heels of a ridiculously loud, drawn-out yawn. “Best party ever. And did you see how Dag and Helen actually cried when Sif brought out the cake?” They’d all worried that the cake in question, a gorgeous buttercream thing that would have been the star of the party at almost any wedding reception, would be so far over the top for this sort of thing that the meant-to-be happy couple would find it laughable.

Dag and Helen hadn’t, though. In fact, no one had.

“I didn’t, no.” Frigga smiles at her beaming, blonde son. She looks at least as exhausted as Loki feels, albeit fractionally happier. “Thanks, sweetie,” she says. “I just wanted to make it special for them. Speaking of which, what do you two have planned for the rest of your summer?”

Thor turns towards Loki and rolls his eyes. “If you want to ask again about our trip last weekend,” he tells his mother, “just do it. Don’t make up fake questions to try and cover.”

“That wasn’t where I was go-,” she starts, but even Odin can’t keep from laughing. “Fine,” she huffs. “Okay. Yes. The two of you went on a quick mini-vacation and came back happier and more relaxed than I’ve seen either of you in years. Even a week of party prep insanity wasn’t enough to completely crush it out of you. So while I don’t want to pry,” she tries, and then stops to give the three of them dirty looks as they snicker again. “I don’t! Honestly! You’re all terrible people. I’m not like that,” she insists, as they keep on laughing. “I’m not! I just want to know what you did, because- well, I could use a few good ideas. Your father and I both could.”

“Oh no no,” Odin teases. He’s obviously beyond exhausted too, all punch-drunk and giddy. “Don’t even. You leave me out of this.”

“We went to a great little bed and breakfast,” Loki offers. “And relaxed, like you said. But mostly we just-.” He stops for a moment, making quick eye contact with Thor. Thor nods. “We planned out our future.”

“Wedding someday,” Thor chimes in. “Nothing this summer, we promise. Not until we’re good and settled. But we talked about going back to school and hunting for jobs and- just how we want to do things. And we both agreed. On so many things, it felt crazy.”

Loki nods along as Thor talks. That’s exactly what had happened, too. And Thor’s right: it had been crazy. Beautiful and ridiculous and insane. He can feel his whole body humming again, just from thinking back to it; it had been by far the closest they’d ever come to sharing one brain. He runs the tip of his index finger over his rune-emblazoned ring. “Mm,” he says. “I’d go back there in a heartbeat.”

Just like that, no one is laughing.

Frigga and Odin exchange a private look of their own. “Well, I hope those future plans of yours include lots of coming home to visit,” Frigga tells them. “Because otherwise we’ll really miss you.”

~

In the end they can’t help themselves. As the last weeks of summer march by, Thor and Loki take turns waxing sadly poetic about all the times and places they will never be again. “We’re being saps, you know,” Loki tells Thor when they both end up crying over their Last Malted Milkshake. “We can come back here on break, and we’ll be moving back here before Christmas. Last Malted Milkshake This Week, more like it.” Because that’s the plan; they’re going to find jobs here, and an apartment, and then strike out on their own just enough to feel a little more like grown-ups.

If they can’t find something here, they’ll wing it somewhere else. They have hopes and dreams, sure, but neither one of them is stupid. In the end they’ll do whatever they have to do, as long as they can stay together. Still, there’s no law against a little optimism.

They freely admit all of that to themselves and each other… but not to Thor’s parents. Neither one of them wants to make promises they’re not sure they can keep, and they don’t want to come across as stupidly sentimental.

~

Whether it’s the freedom Laufey’s death has finally provided or just happy coincidence, Farbauti is ultimately able to resume the life her estranged husband had forced her to put on hold the day- the day Fandral had called the two of them to the apartment to find her. She’s ready to live completely on her own; ready to go back to the place she calls home. Odin and Frigga offer to help her find a new apartment, in case the memories are too much for her, but Farbauti insists on returning to her place over the shop. As a compromise, she lets Fandral and Loki and Thor repaint it for her.

After they’re finished, Fandral’s father has his guys tear out and replace the carpet. Thor and Loki agree (privately) that Odin and Frigga likely paid for that, too.

Farbauti appreciates it, all of it. Every time one of them speaks with her, it’s practically the only thing she talks about.

Loki especially appreciates the way Thor did the entire living room alone, just so he never had to go in there. When they help her move back in, the room looks so different that Loki barely even recognizes it. He lets Thor hug him for a very, very long time.

Once she’s back home, Farbauti is even able to return to work full-time, the week before the start of the fall semester. Her manager still has to make some accommodations – she tires more easily, and her balance will never be quite as good as it once was – but she’s able to be a productive part of things again and for her that makes all the difference. “I think she’s going to be okay,” Loki tells Thor, not quite able to keep all the wonder out of his voice. “Really. She’s so strong. I’m not sure anyone can defeat her.”

Thor wraps Loki in a big, tight hug. “Of course not,” he half-teases. “She’s your mother. You have to have gotten it from someone.”

He actually squeals when Loki nips him.

~

“I don’t want to go back to school,” Loki laments. They’re curled up in bed together on their last night home. “I like it too much here.” He does, too. Over the years, what had once felt stifling has come to give him life.

“One semester,” Thor reminds him. “That’s it. Just this one more, and then we can come home.”

Chapter Text

Thor’s a little worried, going into the start of the semester, that the sad-obsessed crap the two of them have been tripping over all summer is going to follow them back to school. A whole semester of Last Evers may just drive him insane, and it’s pretty much guaranteed to crush Loki. Thor tries to bring it up (as a gentle joke) on the drive back to campus – after a long talk with Frigga and Odin, they all (four of them) pitched in and loaded up the car, because it doesn’t make sense for two graduating seniors to be constantly bumming rides to interviews and they don’t need to take everything they own with them for just one short little semester – but ends up feeling like he’s made things worse instead of better.

From the moment they set foot on school grounds, though, it’s – almost magically - just not a problem. “I’m tired of being here,” Loki complains the first night, when they’re only half unpacked and barely even gotten settled. “I should have tried harder, so we could have graduated early.”

“What’s this we shit,” Thor teases, trying to lighten the mood a little. “I’m actually staying here extra-long, just for you.” He winces at the sharp look Loki gives him, but whatever it was is gone from his boyfriend’s face before Thor can even decipher it and then Loki’s laughing (with, and at) him.

“Hey, I can’t help it if you’re slow.” Loki leans across the box he’s busy dismantling and kisses Thor on the cheek.

“Keep telling yourself that, genius,” Thor fires back. “Go ahead and believe whatever you want. Don’t let a dumbass like me stop you.” While he’s trying hard to fake sounding annoyed he’s apparently not, from the smile on Loki’s face at least, all that convincing. Which is fine… he is faking, after all.

“It’s not that,” Loki says, more seriously, when they’ve gotten over whatever’s had them snickering and snorting like idiots. They’re probably just overtired. “I- I know it would have been a lot of work, and I do appreciate how you’re staying. It’s- oh, I don’t know. I’m done with it, I guess. I’m ready to be somewhere else for a while.”

The tiniest chill runs through Thor. “Somewhere else,” he echoes. He’s compelled to ask the question, for all of how he’s not sure he wants to hear the answer. “Anywhere in particular?”

Loki looks at him like he’s just sprouted not one extra head but two. “Back in town? In the apartment we’re going to get together, once we have jobs and real lives?” Loki’s eyebrows pinch together in a worried frown. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten already.”

He’d only been kidding. Thor feels abruptly guilty for passing his little rush of anxiety straight over to Loki. He takes the emptied box out of Loki’s hands and sets it gently aside. “I haven’t forgotten a single thing,” he promises, ducking to kiss Loki’s ring. “I just wasn’t sure what you meant, okay?” He sighs. “I don’t want to stress out and argue. You’re right. I’m over this place and I wish we were done.”

~

Everyone needs a break from nonstop studying, especially given how (although Loki’s still rowing, which he somehow manages to combine with studying in ways no one else understands) Thor’s gone beyond the end of eligibility and been forced to give up football. To give themselves something to look forward to Thor and Loki start a countdown: a large, convoluted, decidedly unholy Advent-calendar-style parody of all the places on campus they haven’t had sex.

One a day, every day. And while they sometimes just can’t manage it – they’re exhausted, or Loki has a cold, or Thor has a paper due – the whole concept definitely makes the semester go faster. And it gives them a perfect excuse (they want, but don’t need) for not talking about what’s coming afterwards.

Like job applications and phone interviews and all the ugly trappings of adulthood.

~

“I think I’ve found something back in town,” Thor confesses one afternoon in late October, not long after Loki’s dinner-and-lingerie surprise. The one he still blushes thinking about. “Don’t laugh,” he adds as Loki looks- nervous, mostly. “My boss at the garden center has just gotten promoted to general manager, and he wants me to take over his old position. I didn’t tell anyone I’d been talking to him,” he babbles on even though Loki hasn’t said anything remotely critical (or anything at all, not that Thor’s left speaking room anyway), “because I- I guess I feel like it’s a cop-out. Like I didn’t actually try to get a real job.”

Loki doubles over laughing. “No no, it’s not you,” he assures Thor, reaching blindly out with one hand and trying to pat Thor’s wrist. “It’s just- oh, god… you won’t believe me if I tell you.”

Thor rocks back and pulls his hand away. “It’s not funny,” he grumbles. He feels uncomfortable enough about the whole thing without being made fun of. If there’d been any way not to mention it at all, ever, that’s the approach he would have chosen.

“Oh, no, trust me,” Loki gasps. “It is.” He sits up and wipes at his eyes. Thor can see he’s struggling hard to reel himself in. To act serious. “You have no fucking idea.”

“Fine,” Thor huffs. The whole thing stings. “What? Tell me.”

“I got a job at home too,” Loki admits. “Two weeks ago. I was too embarrassed to tell you.”

“What, doing computer work for the movie people?” Thor smiles. How ironic would that be? “That’s so cool. Did their IT person end up staying in Germany?”

Loki snorts. He grabs a tissue and blows his nose. “Italy. She went to Italy. And no, and no. Seriously, it’s way worse than that.”

“You’re working for the garden center too,” Thor half-jokes. He’s wracking his brains for the most ridiculous options. “Perfect! We can carpool.”

“I’ll be working for your mom.” Loki wraps both arms around himself, the way he always does when he’s painfully nervous. Thor’s too slow to react and knows it. “She’s been looking for someone to help out with her website and marketing materials,” Loki goes on when Thor can’t find his words. “Lo and behold, it turns out I’m that someone. See?” He shrugs. “That’s a hundred times more coppy-outie than what you’ve ended up doing. You’ve turned an internship into a job. That’s normal.”

For about a minute Thor tries pretending he’s still annoyed. Unsurprisingly, Loki sees right through him. “Fine, you win,” he says, finally. “But she’s lucky to have you.”

You’re lucky to have me,” Loki fires back. His mouth isn’t smiling but – finally! - his eyes are.

Loki’s right about that. Thor knows it.

Chapter Text

Odin tags along for moral support as his wife goes furniture shopping. Just after the first of the year, once the holidays have yet again come and gone, Loki’s going to be working for her. With her, actually; she’s fussy about that, which is something it’s only taken one unfortunate misstep for Odin to learn. Whatever you want to call it (and to keep the peace he definitely very much intends to stick with working together), Frigga is adamant about giving Loki a proper workspace. “I can’t expect him to accomplish anything while he’s flopped on Thor’s bed, now, can I,” she asks when Odin makes the mistake of wondering aloud what’s changed. “This isn’t homework we’re talking about. This will be his actual real life job.” She tsks. “I need to make sure I treat it that way.”

Suddenly the whole thing makes a whole lot more sense; she’s nervous. Frigga has been self-employed, a little company of one, since before Thor was born. It’s been a couple of decades since she last had to supervise anyone. This isn’t really about Loki at all. Odin silently vows to do better.

“What if we got him this,” she asks, gesturing at a smallish-but-nice wooden desk with an integrated a sit/stand arm and two file drawers, “and set it up… oh, I don’t know where.” She sighs. “I know Loki and Thor will share Thor’s room when it’s time for bed, but turning Loki’s own spot” – they stopped thinking of it as the guest room years ago; Odin can’t even remember the last time an actual guest who wasn’t Loki stayed in it – “back into an office feels like kicking him out somehow.”

Her own office comprises what would otherwise be their fourth bedroom. It’s comfortable and efficient, but small. There’s definitely not enough room for a second person to comfortably work in there with her… especially given how much time she spends a on calls and in online meetings.

“How about the mudroom off the den,” Odin asks in a sudden fit of inspiration. The odd, large closet had probably been built as a pantry, a long, narrow one with a tiny window in its end wall, but any shelving it’d once held was already long gone at the point when they’d first moved in. These days it’s really just dead space that collects boots and old winter clothing. They’ve dreamed almost forever about getting a plumber in there and setting up a first-floor laundry, but if it hasn’t happened in all this time they can probably manage without it a little longer. “We could use this desk and mount some shelving along the same wall, and hang a whiteboard or something on the opposite one.” With a couple of cute lights and some fresh paint, he can definitely see Loki working there.

“Mm,” Frigga hums. Sometimes she and Loki are so much alike, Odin has a hard time remembering that she isn’t Loki’s flesh-and-blood mother. Her nose wrinkles as she considers his suggestion. “That might work, actually.” She nods. “I like it. And we’d be at opposite ends of the house, so it wouldn’t feel like we were stepping all over each other.”

Odin laughs. “Right. And it has a door, in case he wants to surf porn when he should be working.”

His wife shoots him a look, but she does laugh too.

~

Odin paints the little room a deep greenish grey, one the guys at the paint store tell him is calming. It’s almost exactly the same color as one of Loki’s favorite t-shirts, which has to count for something. He goes with white trim so it’s not so depressing, along with hardwood floors and a tiny, thick oriental rug to add character to the pocket-sized space. The desk he and Frigga had admired earlier in the month, before they’d settled on a location, is a perfect fit. Once the light fixtures are in place the end result would be at home on the pages of most any design magazine. Odin wants it to be a surprise, but Frigga insists… they text Loki pictures and breathe huge sighs of relief when their all-but-son-in-law is excited enough to grace them with an immediate phone call.

Thor gets on the line too and says he’s incredibly jealous. “I’m going to be working in a gross old dump compared to that,” he grumbles, but Odin can hear that he’s smiling. “Thank you,” he and Loki say in unison, loudly and enthusiastically. They all laugh together.

“I can’t wait to get home and see it for real,” Loki says before Frigga ends the call.

All evening, Odin simply can’t stop beaming.

~

“Should we have a graduation party?” While she does ask the question casually enough, Odin suspects Frigga’s been thinking about it for weeks now. “It’s a huge accomplishment. Just because they won’t be walking across the stage, I don’t want them to feel like we value what they’ve done any less.”

Odin hugs her. “I doubt they would ever think that,” he assures her. She tells them how wonderful they are, and how proud she is, just about every time they call. “It’s winter, and they’re going to be tired. Let’s let them settle back in first… and then they can tell us what they want to do.”

~

Farbauti stops over for dinner. With dinner, actually; she’s gotten a promotion at work, one that had been long overdue thanks to whole ugly business with Laufey. She’s clearly proud to be able to return a few of the favors she’s been granted over all these years.

Once they’ve finished eating Odin gives her a quick tour of Loki’s soon-to-be office.

He’s not quite prepared – okay, forget that; he’s not prepared at all – when she stops dead still in the doorway and starts bawling.

“No no, it’s fabulous,” she insists, wiping her face. “It’s amazing. Loki will love it. I just- I don’t know what we would have done without friends like you. I mean it,” she goes on when Odin tries to shush her. “You and your wife have been the family he needed… the one I- I couldn’t be.”

Frigga arrives with cider and donuts right about the time it’s all getting a little too awkward.

The three of them take a ridiculous selfie, all sitting together cross-legged on the rug in front of Loki’s new desk. “Wish you were here,” they coo into the phone.

Loki and Thor can’t stop laughing.

“Don’t make us have to come home early, you three,” Thor admonishes, in a passable imitation of Odin. They can still hear Loki guffawing in the background. “Because if you do, I swear… somebody’s going to wind up grounded.”

Chapter Text

Loki isn’t even sure what he’s feeling anymore. As this last semester winds down his head is so full of conflicting nonsense that he can hardly stand it. He can hardly stand himself, for that matter. While they haven’t particularly enjoyed their time here – it hasn’t been awful, not at all, but it hasn’t been awesome either and they’ve been thoroughly sick of everything about college for months now – for the past few days everything’s seemed- too good somehow. The sun is shining brighter and the campus is looking lovelier and even some of Loki’s least favorite fellow students are suddenly much nicer and less irritating.

To make things even worse, he’s finding that (where he had really been looking forward to moving back into town and starting his new job) he’s dreading the holidays and frightened about the future. There isn’t any reason for any of it, not that he can come up with, but Thor is busy with finals (and with what amounts to a grand farewell tour of the entire athletic department and a huge host of friends Loki doesn’t even remember his boyfriend having) and not in the mood to be sympathetic.

Or, at least, he wasn’t the one time Loki’d tried mentioning how stressful and overwhelming everything had been feeling. “Did you forget to take your pills,” Thor had asked, frowning, “because if not… well, you know better.” In short, he’d given Loki a scolding much like one might a child.

Which Loki fucking isn’t. He’s twenty now, and feeling every long, ugly month of it.

He vows not to mention a single thing to Thor, ever again.

~

“What’s going on,” Thor asks. He’s standing in the door of Loki’s dorm room looking concerned, one arm resting against the doorframe and the light from the hall encircling his head like a halo. “You’ve been holed up in here all day.”

Loki shrugs. “I need to finish this paper.” He forces a small smile. “Just this and one more, and then I’m done. Done-done,” he adds, still smiling. It feels like his face is going to crack in half. “Forever.”

Thor invites himself in and shuts the door carefully. He hesitates - both the bed and the spare chair are piled with things Loki’s trying to sort through before packing and there really isn’t any space left for sitting – before stepping around the desk and settling his butt gingerly next to Loki’s laptop. “You seem down,” he says. “Or something. I’m not even sure. But you’re not yourself and- and even if I’m entirely wrong about all of that, I miss you.”

“I guess I’m just tired,” Loki half-lies, not adding and when I tried to talk to you about it the first time, you were flat-out mean to me. Thor’s probably just as worn down and shaken up as he is, and being irrationally bratty about it isn’t going to help anything. Except he is irrational and it is bugging him.

“Mm,” Thor says. He stuffs his hands in his pockets. The two of them are inches apart and yet they might as well be on different continents. “This is going to sound selfish and paranoid and dumb, but I feel like you’re slipping away from me.” He studies Loki’s face carefully.

Loki feels like a troll. Which, unfortunately, doesn’t stop him from blurting out “I tried to talk to you but you were a dick” not more than ten seconds later. He winces and ducks his head and waits – very tense, very still – for Thor to- to something. To stomp out. To argue.

Instead, Thor leans quickly in and wraps warm, strong arms around Loki’s shoulders. “I’m so sorry,” he says, lips brushing Loki’s ear. “I’ve been feeling all- sad, I guess, which I know is stupid, about leaving here and it’s made me a whole lot less than patient. You’re right. I’m a dick.” He gives Loki a little snuggle, one Loki doesn’t deserve. “Oh,” he says. “Oh, baby.”

It’s totally disarming. All the (idiotic, misplaced) fight leaves Loki in a dizzying rush. He slumps against Thor’s thigh. When he laughs, it’s completely authentic and just manic enough to make him (feel, and) sound a little bit crazy. “We’re such a mess,” he tells Thor’s pant leg. He doesn’t say he’s sorry, though, even though he probably should (and should be). Instead, he goes with “I guess we deserve each other,” which is also true and rolls off his tongue a little more pleasantly.

Thor kisses Loki’s face, his ear, his hair. “It’s late, Lo. Won’t your writing go faster if you come home now and start back at it on a full night’s sleep tomorrow morning?”

It would be unkind to point out that he technically is home, given that this is his room and all. That, and counterproductive… as stubborn and prickly as he feels, he’ll still sleep a lot better in their usual bed with Thor wrapped all around him. Loki checks the time on his computer and yawns. “Give me another half an hour to get through this draft,” he suggests, “and then I’ll call it quits for the evening.”

“And come over,” Thor prompts.

Loki rolls his eyes. “Yes, yes, I’ll come over. Seriously, Thor… do you see anywhere I could sleep here?” He can sleep right where he is, sprawled over his desk – and has, actually – but now that Thor’s put the idea (back) in his head he’s planning on trying hard not to. “I will,” he says more sweetly when Thor looks briefly hurt and then frightened. “I promise. I really just am tired and frazzled,” he goes on when Thor still looks far too worried. “I don’t know why I’m acting like this. Don’t read into it. I love you.”

“Okay,” Thor says. He grunts when Loki elbows him in the hip. “Ow! I love you too! You didn’t even give me time to say it! Mmph,” he exclaims when Loki puts a stop to his protest by kissing him.

“Really,” Loki assures him when they pull apart, one slender finger pressed across Thor’s lips. “If I’m not there in forty-five minutes, you have my permission to assume I’ve fallen asleep and to come back down here looking for me.”

Thor snorts. “And do I have your permission to sling you over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carry you off to my bed?”

“Aww,” Loki teases. He feels better, really. “There’s my little caveman.”

Chapter Text

“Can you believe it?” Frigga looks up from where she’s blotting pools of melted snow and smiles at Farbauti across the kitchen. “We’re mothers to college graduates.” Up until this semester she’d been a little concerned that the boys were getting too comfortable at school and might turn out to be perpetual students, but something had changed around the time of the Last Big Party. This year, each time she’d talked to them from school, they’d sounded a little more done with it. Ready to put it behind them and go on with living. “It seems like only yesterday Thor was wrecking the place and Loki was watching it all from his stroller.”

Farbauti laughs. She’s a vastly different person these days: strong, confident, free. Frigga hopes whatever terms she’s come to inside her own head will protect her from finding another Laufey out there, should she ever reach a point where she feels like dating. “What I can’t believe is how old we are,” she says, still laughing. “It feels like we’ve only just turned twenty-five. How can we possibly have kids in their twenties?”

It’s true, although honestly Frigga sometimes feels like she’s a hundred. As the boys have gotten older, so much has gone on that time has really flown. Normally she would joke about how being so old is better than the alternative. With Farbauti, though, that feels wrong and seems insensitive. She wipes up the last of the snow-water. “We can’t,” she agrees. “It’s impossible. They must be faking.”

~

“Whew, that’s the last of it.” Thor wipes the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. He shoots the other out to steady Loki, who’s hopping around on one foot trying to pull off a stubborn boot. “We were only there three months. How did we get so much shit? Sorry, mom,” he adds, sounding sheepish. “Stuff, I mean. Stuff. So much of it.”

Loki sets his snow-caked boots neatly on the mat, where they won’t mess up the floor again. “You’re big. Your clothes are big. Your bed is big. Everything about you is big.” Frigga laughs as Thor bites back a smirk and Loki blushes. “It takes up a lot of room, all your big stuff,” he presses gamely on. “Seriously,” he grumbles as Farbauti and Thor join in on the laughing. “Three quarters of these boxes are yours.”

“Yours are the heavy ones,” Thor counters. “All those books. My nerdy baby.”

Frigga leans across the final stack of belongings and holds out a hand each for their coats. “Let me take them downstairs to dry,” she suggests. “They’re soaking.” Thor’s wool jacket smells like wet sheep; Loki’s puffer is literally dripping. “Is it snowing out there, or pouring?”

“Snowing,” Thor says, just as Loki says “pouring. It’s right at freezing,” he says, shrugging. “Snain. Srain. Whatever you want to call it.”

“Gross,” Thor volunteers as he pulls off both their hats and tries to smooth Loki’s wild curls. “I want to call it gross. I’m so glad we’re in for the evening.”

Frigga’s glad, too. It’s the kind of night that’s perfect for curling up in the den after dinner and reading or watching movies. She wishes Farbauti didn’t have to drive home in it, but the apartment’s not that far and she’s sure Loki’s mom will want some downtime after this impromptu welcome home dinner. Farbauti has lived mostly alone for many years now and always seems most comfortable when there’s plenty of opportunity to do so. “Go ahead and put this upstairs,” she tells Thor, gesturing with Loki’s wet coat at the stack of boxes, “and then wash up, both of you. I guarantee it will still all be packed in the morning.”

She half expects them to argue – Loki, especially, likes a job done once it’s started; that’s one thing that’s going to make him a valuable addition to her business, actually – but they don’t. They’re tired and wet, and they’ve driven quite a distance. Perhaps it’s not all that surprising, really.

But, no. “Most of it needs to stay packed,” Thor points out as Loki nods, “because now that we’re home for good it’s time to start apartment hunting.”

Ugh, Frigga thinks. Don’t remind me. Yes, four adults, two close-knit romantic relationships, two offices, and a rather tangled family situation is an awful lot to expect this little suburban house to hold. Still, the whole business is- it’s sad. She can’t quite get her head around the idea of the boys moving out and moving on. “Well, at least make sure you have toothbrushes,” she kids, trying to diffuse a little of the pain. “Because even your father and I have standards.”

Everyone laughs, not least of all Farbauti.

~

Odin cocks an eyebrow when Loki and Thor show up to dinner in bathrobes, but he doesn’t say anything. “It’s really wet out there,” Loki offers anyway, after a quick look at Odin’s face. “Our clothes were beyond soggy.”

“It’s fine,” Odin tells him. “I just feel a little overdressed.”

Loki snorts. He’s come so far from the shy little boy he once was. “I’m feeling a little draft, personally.”

Farbauti almost chokes on her wine.

The food is good; the conversation is better. It doesn’t even feel like dinner with the kids anymore; it’s just like five friends having a nice, informal dinner party. Frigga doesn’t even really have to remind herself to feel grateful; Thor and Loki will be nearby, and she’ll have Loki to herself all but daily. They could have moved across the country, or the ocean.

They could no longer be together. They could have-.

“A toast,” Odin says, interrupting her unpleasant train of thought by raising his glass and clanking his knife against his plate softly. “To friends and neighbors.”

“To love,” Farbauti says, bringing her own glass up.

Loki smiles shyly. “To family.”

Frigga nods. “To taking care of one another.”

Thor picks up his glass and looks around the table, smiling at each of them in turn. When he gets to Loki, he stops to blow a tiny kiss; Frigga’s breath catches and her eyes start to water. “To everything a guy could ever hope for,” he says, to all of them. “Cheers… and thank you.”

“Cheers,” they echo, because there’s simply nothing more to say.