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Eight Months of a Century

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Loki can feel it in his bones far before Thor can ever conceive it. In the night it wakes him, leaves him grasping for something that isn't there, cold in his belly. It feels like a storm, dark clouds creeping over the horizon and making the air heavy. It feels like the end. So there is only one thing to do.

Make it the beginning.

--

To get his attention, Loki has a raven deliver Thor a note, telling him to come to his chambers at once. To get the urgency across, he enchants it to burn after Thor reads it. So when Thor finally comes to his chambers that night, his fingertips are red and charred. Loki is sitting upright on the bed, hands folded in his lap, unable to stop his lips from twitching upwards at the sight of Thor's fingers. Thor shuts the door.

"I got your letter," Thor says, hands curling around the handle of Mjölnir. He's not going to use it, but it makes him feel better to hold it. "Was it really necessary to set it on fire, after?"

"I suppose not," Loki says, "but it was rather amusing."

Thor steps towards him. Yes, he's angry, but he'll take Loki's tricks over outright destruction any day.

"You could have come to me yourself."

"No," Loki says. "I needed to you see alone. And in private."

His tone is suddenly more serious, more urgent. Thor straightens, chest tightening. It's still so hard to read Loki at times, to understand exactly what he needs and wants. It makes Thor unbearably anxious.

"What is it," Thor says. "What is so urgent that you had to pull me away from a meeting with—"

"I'm pregnant."

Thor drops Mjölnir. The impact of it cracks the marble of the floor. Loki watches this with his eyebrows raised.

"This is a trick."

"No." Loki looks put out, annoyed, as if Thor should have known or something. For the first time since entering his room, Thor notices that Loki looks weary. Tired. "There is no trick, brother, not this time. I carry a child."

Thor immediately glances down at Loki's stomach. It's flat beneath his clothing, not a hint of pregnancy. And the idea of it is just ludicrous, makes no sense at all.

"But how—"

"Forget the how," Loki says. "We have to deal with this."

"We?"

Loki's hands curl into fists.

"You fool," he says. "The child is yours."

Thor has never fainted before, but he wonders if he might now. Loki's words make his stomach go hot, and the rest of him feels unusually cold. Thor doesn't know what to say, so he says nothing. He just stares at Loki's stomach, still flat, still deceptively barren looking. He's not sure how to proceed with Loki—never has been. Usually, if Loki says it, then it's probably a lie. But there's still some part of Thor, some scared, ashamed part of him that wants it to be true. He wants to believe.

"Six weeks ago," Loki says, when Thor remains silent. "Surely you remember."

Of course Thor remembers. He's remembered it every night since, has nearly made himself sick because of it. Even if he wanted to, he couldn't forget: Loki with his sharp teeth and sharper tongue, all that bone and muscle, that smooth and tempting flesh.

The night had been hot and uncomfortable, everyone restless. The air felt too thick, clothing too heavy. Thor woke to Loki climbing on top of him, one elegant and deadly hand curling around his neck. He was naked, and the moon made his body glow silver, a flawless curve of skin.

"I'll only ask once," Loki had said. "Do you want this?"

They had never lain together. There had been times, moments when Thor would admit to thinking of it and then feeling hot with shame afterwards. Moments of an image of Loki underneath him that was twisted enough to tempt. That didn't stop him from wanting it, and as to why it was happening now, Thor wasn't about to question.

"Yes," he said, and Loki rode him all night, until Thor choked on his own breath, hips rocking up into Loki of their own accord.

Loki was gone by morning, which was not a surprise, but still stung.

"I don't understand," Thor says. "You're…you cannot…brother you are male."

"You half-wit." Loki's eyes narrow to fierce slits. "There are no female Jotun. How did you think they reproduced?"

"I had not thought of it," Thor admits. His face is bone white.

Loki scoffs. "This is your fault."

"What?!"

Loki points to Mjölnir, doesn't bother elaborating further. "Please remove your hammer from my floor."

"I do not understand how this is my fault," Thor says, but picks Mjölnir up. Then he pauses, a new dread filling him. "Loki, if father finds out—"

"I know," Loki says.

Loki stands and moves towards him, all elegant movements, holding Thor's gaze. Thor looks down and finds himself staring at Loki's stomach, wondering what it will look like rounded out and full. Loki leans into him as though he must whisper.

"He will find out, eventually. What do you suppose Odin will do? Or would you have me get rid of it?"

"No," Thor says, with a forcefulness that surprises even himself. "No," he says again, gentler. "I would not ask that of you, brother."

"What would you have me do, then?" Loki asks.

Thor already knows the answer.

--

They leave Asgard immediately. Thor knows it's the best course of action. With everything that's gone on, it's just about the only course of action. And it's not just what's happened between Thor and Loki, but between everyone else as well. Loki has only just started to be accepted again, and they can't risk being in Asgard when people find out. Especially their father. Odin will need time to calm down before they can even think of returning. It just isn't safe right now.

So they go the safest place Thor knows: Midgard.

Thor has allies there that will be more than willing to help them. Or at least, they'll be willing to help Thor. Loki is just there, always has been and always will be, whether anyone likes it or not. Thor guides Loki with a hand on his lower back, protective, not allowing him to stray too far. He's fiercely loyal, and he will see Loki through this.

They arrive at Stark tower in a thunderstorm, wind and rain all around them, lightning cracking across the night sky. Thor angles them onto the roof with Mjölnir to guide them. Midgard is not Loki's favorite realm, Thor knows this, but he still did not raise any protest when Thor suggested they go there, only rolled his eyes.

"Yes, fine," he'd said. "To earth. Let your precious humans help us."

"They will," Thor said.

They land on the roof, just outside Tony's penthouse suite. Thor knows Tony is probably already alert to his arrival…his comings to earth have never been very subtle.

"I will talk to Stark," Thor says, still with an arm around Loki. "He will understand."

"Oh, I'm sure," Loki says, shifting away from his touch.

Thor doesn't let him stray too far. He feels this need to touch Loki now, keep him close. The journey wasn't difficult, but Loki seems tired and irritable, and Thor does not miss the way his hand strays to his stomach and presses lightly. They're walking towards the door of the penthouse when Tony comes out of the elevator, already searching for Thor. His face is relaxed at first, but the second he realizes Loki is with him, he tightens up, but luckily, still opens the door.

"I think someone tagged along for the ride," he says.

Next to Thor, Loki smirks, a fond hello, but Thor doesn't have time for jokes. He pulls Loki forward with him, suddenly determined to never let Loki go again.

"We require your assistance, Stark."

The closer Loki gets, the more Tony backs up.

"'We'? Sorry, I don't really help criminals."

"Loki has long since served for his crimes," Thor says. "You will not forget he helped us defeat Thanos—"

"And whose fault was it that he came here in the first place?" Tony points to Loki, eyebrows up. "I'll give you a hint: he's in this room."

Thor's grip on Mjölnir tightens. It's true though, Loki did help them defeat Thanos, mostly at Thor's insistence, and mostly because it was his neck on the line, as well. They struck up a temporary alliance, he and the avengers, but it broke the moment Thanos fell. They still didn't trust him, probably never will. But that doesn't matter to Thor. For him, it was Loki returning to the light again. It was Loki as he was before, even if it was only a shadow. They fought Thanos, together.

"I do not have time to argue the specifics," Thor says. "Will you allow me to stay on my floor?"

Tony does a kind of half nod, and that's good enough for Thor. He starts pulling Loki towards the elevator, but Tony's voice stops him.

"Well, hey, wait a minute! Are you going to tell me what the hell is going on here?"

Loki looks up at Thor and gives him a knowing look. Earth is not like Asgard, more specifically, humans are not like gods. They see things too black and white, too open and shut. Their bodies are confined much more than Thor or Loki's. Thor turns back to Tony, finally slowing in his movements.

"Loki is…ill. And it is not safe for him on Asgard, nor is it for me. I must take care of him here."

"What do you mean, 'ill'?"

"Well, if you must know," Loki starts, and Thor cuts him off by saying, "You would not understand the nature of it."

He finally, reluctantly lets Loki go, only to approach Tony and place a hand on his shoulder.

"Just know that it is most urgent," Thor says.

Tony watches Thor, and then glances to Loki, then back to Thor. Eventually, he groans loudly and bats Thor's hand away.

"Fine, fine. But other people live here, you know. I can't say that Clint is going to be too pleased about this. And if Loki so much as gets a parking ticket while he's here, I'll throw him back to Asgard myself."

"I don't have a car," Loki says, lips curled up in amusement.

Thor steps back over to him, herding him into the elevator.

"Brother, please," he says, because Loki is not making this any easier.

Tony watches them as the elevator doors start to close, and the look on his face speaks volumes, silently asking if Thor knows what he's doing.

He doesn't, not really, but he's going to make it work.

--

From what Loki can gather, each Avenger has their own floor in the tower, but there is a common area with a kitchen and television room, and another room for meetings. There is also a holding cell made specifically for him that he never stays put in. Thor's floor is a poor attempt to recapture Asgardian architecture, but a daring attempt nonetheless. Thor's chambers are huge, a bed sits in the center of the room, neatly made up with sheets and pillows, big enough for at least three.

Thor sets down Mjölnir for the first time, and Loki allows himself to sit on the bed and breathe. A part of him cannot believe this has actually worked, that this is actually happening. He touches his stomach again, some strange habit he's picked up without realizing it. Thor watches him, eyes flickering between Loki's face and his stomach.

"I honestly had no idea such a thing was possible," he says, walking towards him.

He's only known for a few hours now, still forced to get used to the idea of it. Six weeks ago, it hadn't been a thought in his head. Yet here they are.

Thor sits next to him on the bed, looking unsure. He fidgets next to him, hands twitching like he wants to reach out and place a hand over Loki's stomach to feel. He seems so nervous, finally at a loss, and Loki does find himself enjoying it.

"All things are possible, Thor," he says.

And that's all he's going to say about it. He doesn't have the time or energy to explain the ins and outs of conception to Thor, not right now. It is hardly his fault that Thor is thick enough to know that there are no female Jotun and yet not understand how Jotun children are birthed. In truth, it is a fact that Loki had been unsure of the specifics of himself until recently, but he's not about to tell Thor that.

When he knew for sure he was pregnant, he knew that leaving Asgard would be the only choice. Loki could shield them from Heimdall but he would find out eventually, which meant Odin would also know. Thor is at least not thick enough to think that Odin would allow him a bastard son, with Loki of all beings.

"I still do not understand," Thor admits. "But I do believe you."

He finally reaches out and flattens a hand over Loki's stomach, covering his hand with his own. It's strange, but also oddly welcoming. Loki feels a warmth within him now, something he can't quite explain but just knows.

"You are such a fool," Loki says.

He reaches down and pulls off his boots. Thor watches him with a stupid expression on his face, as if any moment Loki might spontaneously give birth. Loki dresses down to his tunic and trousers, pulling aside the coverings of the bed and sliding in. Thor is still watching him, still unsure, and Loki is glad for that. Let him finally be the one the always questioning his place, not Loki. After Loki left Thor's bed that morning, sore and sticky with sweat, he locked himself in his own room for weeks, refusing to see anyone. He let Thor wonder, he's still letting him. Eventually, Thor dresses down as well and lies next to Loki in bed, eyes watching the ceiling, thinking, looking to home. Loki falls asleep easily for the first time in long while.

He does not dream.

--

Thor wakes up first. For a moment, he forgets everything that's happened, forgets he's even on earth until he turns over and sees Loki next to him on the bed, still sound asleep. Then he remembers. Loki is pregnant. He is pregnant and Thor is the father, and by now, Odin must know where they are. Thor knows it's a small miracle he hasn't sent anyone after them, but for now, he has no clue about why they've left, only that they have. Thor shifts out of bed carefully, trying not to wake Loki. He'll admit he doesn't know much about pregnancy, Asgardian or otherwise. The only piece of information regarding Jotun pregnancies he's ever gotten was this: they are extremely unpredictable.

He isn't quite sure what that means.

What he does know is that pregnant people need food, and Loki hasn't eaten since they left Asgard. Thor dresses and then heads for kitchen, leaving Loki to sleep.

Tony and Steve are waiting for him.

Clint and Natasha still take solo missions for Fury, and Bruce tends to keep to himself in his laboratory, so the tower has felt somewhat empty. But with Tony and Steve watching him, it feels very crowded.

"We need to talk," Tony says.

They remind Thor of concerned parents the way they are standing, arms folded, bodies angled close. Tony is snacking on jellybeans, throwing one up into the air before catching it in his mouth.

"Tony told me this morning," Steve says. "About Loki. And I'm sure you can…understand why we have reservations."

Thor looks toward the doorway like Loki can somehow hear them. He wouldn't put it past his brother. Realistically, Thor knows the other avengers will find out eventually. It's only inevitable, once Loki starts rounding out, only his stomach growing. The thought of it makes him strangely proud, happy. He's never fathered a child before, and he doesn't want to hide this from his friends. But still—

"I understand," he says. "Though I'm afraid coming here was our only option."

"What the hell happened?" Steve says. "Tony told me you said Loki was ill."

"Which could mean anything," Tony points out. "Oh god, he's not contagious, is he?"

Thor shakes his head. He's not stupid, he knows that he and Loki aren't normal, and their relationship is far from normal. Being together is something that a lot of people would frown upon, never mind the whole idea of a male pregnancy. But the avengers aren't stupid either. They've seen Thor and Loki at times when perhaps they shouldn't have, sitting too close, touching for just a bit too long. They don't say anything about it, and Thor is grateful for that.

"The nature of it may be difficult to grasp at first."

Tony and Steve exchange glances.

"Thor," Steve says, "we're your friends. And Loki is…well, he has helped us in the past. You said it wasn't safe for you on Asgard. Why?"

Thor frowns. He doesn't actually know a good way to ease them into the topic, so he figures the best thing to do is just say it.

"Loki is pregnant."

Steve and Tony go quiet. Tony drops his jellybeans, and Thor can hear them rattle and roll across the tile floor. He can't quite sense Tony and Steve's reactions just yet, other than shock. They look to each other again, perhaps to make sure they've heard correctly, and then Tony opens his mouth like he's getting ready to speak, but only closes it again.

Steve is the first one to find his voice.

"What do you mean, pregnant?"

"He is with child," Thor says.

"He," Tony says. "He as in Loki. As in your brother, as in the male."

"Yes."

Tony shakes his head and starts mumbling something that sounds like scotch.

"That's physically impossible," Tony says. "You understand that, right?"

"Well," Steve says. "It could happen? Haven't you read any Norse mythology?"

"Um, no?" Tony looks at Steve. "What, you have?"

"Yes," Steve says.

"Well excuse me for not—"

Thor puts a hand up between the two, effectively blocking the conversation.

"If we could get back to the matter at hand," he says. "My brother is pregnant, therefore I will be taking care of him while he carries the child to term."

Tony sputters a bit like he still can't grasp it, though Steve nods along with a look on his face like he's listening carefully. Thor is extremely glad no one else is around. The worst reaction? They could have been appalled, disgusted, anything. But they seem mostly confused, and Thor is okay with that for now.

"Right," Steve says. "Right?"

"It is my duty to look after him, though I know Loki would not do anything to put the baby in danger."

"The baby," Tony says.

Yes, Thor thinks. The baby. There's silence again, and then Tony and Steve both take a seat at the kitchen table. Steve looks a little faint, to be honest, one hand resting on his forehead. Their eyes are wide as moons. Loki would at least find it humorous. Thor lets them talk quietly together while he starts pulling food from the pantry, something he thinks Loki might like.

"Dear god," Tony says suddenly. "Who's the father?"

Steve's head shoots up and they both look back to Thor.

"I am," Thor says.

The third silence is much shorter.

"I feel like I dreamt this once," Tony says. He shrugs, throws his hands up. "I'm getting a drink, now."

He steps out of the kitchen, presumably to do just that. Steve doesn't look like he can stand up quite yet.

"Thor," he says. "You're…you and Loki?"

"You cannot honestly be that blind, Captain," Loki says.

Thor turns. Loki is right behind him, dressed and freshly showered. He looks less exhausted, wet hair still clinging to his neck. He stands next to Thor and Thor has a sudden protective urge come over him again. It's always been there with Loki, but now it's so much stronger, almost desperately so.

Steve clears his throat. "I knew you were close, that you've—"

"Had over a thousand years of a lifetime together." Loki touches Thor's arm. "You could spend twice as long on this earth and never understand it."

At that moment, Tony comes back in, a glass of scotch in his hand.

"Oh, mom's up," he says.

Loki simply laughs.

"Honestly, I'm not surprised." Tony takes a long sip of scotch. "You guys always stood a little too close for me to buy the whole brother thing."

"Tony," Steve says, scandalized.

"I speak only the truth," Tony says. He points to Thor and Loki with his drink. "So I'm guessing you ran off from Asgard because of the uh, repercussions this is going to cause."

"I am the heir to the throne." Thor shifts on his feet. Odin is probably watching them right now. He is probably damning them both, cursing Thor for being the fool that he is. "I am to produce heirs of my own with a wife, and as you know, Loki is not…he is not Asgardian."

"Also kind of your brother," Tony says. "So there's that."

Loki ignores him, reaching for the food Thor has in his hands. It's a box of cereal, something with granola, Thor thinks. Loki sniffs it briefly, apparently deeming it good enough to it, because he starts pulling out handfuls and eating it. After a minute, he grabs an apple out of the bowl on the counter, tucking it under his arm.

"Now that you understand the situation, I hope you will allow us to stay," Thor says. "But I would also understand if you did not approve."

Steve softens immediately. "You're our friend, Thor. Of course you can stay."

"But the others will have to know," Tony says. "Who knows how psycho boy over there is going to start acting once the hormones kick in. Speaking of, how long do god pregnancies last?"

Thor bites his lip. Honestly, he has no idea. For Asgardian women, the pregnancy lasts much as a human's does—nine months. Jotun are different, though the specifics are vague to Thor. Next to him, Loki shrugs.

"It varies, given the size of the child. Jotun are giants, but they grow at much the same rate an Asgardian might. Given the mixed blood it is…difficult to gauge."

"Okay," Tony says. "Just for argument's sake, what's the longest Jotun pregnancy you've heard of?"

"Two years."

"Sweet fuck," Tony says, and Loki just shrugs again.

"I do not think it will last that long. The shortest was eight weeks."

Steve has gone speechless again, and Thor feels kind of the same way at the moment. He had no idea Jotun pregnancies could last so long. Even though it's unlikely, given Loki's size, and the fact that Thor, an Asgardian, is the father, it's still shocking. He wonders what the child will look like, whether it will be male or female. It's all so new it's…Thor still isn't quite used to it, not yet. Loki seems strangely calm about the whole thing, biting into his apple like nothing much has changed. Thor finds it almost funny now, how the idea of Loki getting pregnant never occurred to him before. There are no female Jotun, it makes perfect sense in the same way that it makes no sense at all.

"Are we the godparent's, then?" Tony asks. "Er, wait. Mortalparent's?"

It's a small gesture, but it carries so much relief with it that Thor can't help smiling.

"We'll have to keep this quiet, though," Steve says, shifting back into captain mode. "It's not that…the public view of Loki isn't really flattering and once he starts showing…I think it's best that no one else knows. Just the avengers. Fury doesn't even have to know."

Tony nods and then drains the rest of his drink.

"Right, that should be fun. Nine plus months with a pregnant Norse god, what could go wrong?"

"I could list them alphabetically for you, if you'd like," Loki says.

Tony points a finger at him. "Yeah, I bet you could. We're still not friends, buddy, so don't expect a baby shower."

Despite not knowing what a baby shower is, Thor still laughs at the comment. He's just so relieved, as if half of the battle is already won. He spreads his arms, unable to contain his smile.

"Then it is settled," he says.

"Somewhat," says Steve. He looks to Tony, who nods in agreement with him. "This isn't exactly an ideal situation for us."

His eyes flicker to Loki, still wary, untrusting, and then he offers Thor a smile.

"Just give us some more time to get used to it, Thor, okay?"

It's a start, that's what Thor tells himself. It's something.

--

Thor manages to convince Loki to go back upstairs with him. Bruce is the only other one in the building, and Steve thinks it will be best if he and Tony tell him the news alone. Thor agrees. Loki isn't always exactly tactful when it comes to the avengers. Upstairs, together and alone, Thor has time to just sit and think. He realizes now that he has absolutely no idea what he's supposed to do. He knows only the basics when it comes to pregnancy, and that's only Asgardian pregnancy. In another month or so, Loki's clothes won't fit the same. Loki won't be the same, he isn't the same right now. Loki is pregnant with a child, with his child, and Thor isn't even sure what to do. He breathes in heavily, shutting his eyes, and when he opens them again, Loki is sitting next to him on the bed, watching him.

"Having second thoughts, brother?"

Loki is holding his stomach lightly, one hand resting on the flat of it, and Thor reaches out slowly to cover that hand with his own. There's still nothing but hard muscle there, yet Thor thinks he can feel something.

"Not at all," Thor says, which is the truth. He squeezes Loki's hand. "You needn't fret, Loki, I will take care of everything."

"That reassures me of nothing," Loki says. He squirms under Thor's touch, the warmth of his hand over his belly. "Stop that."

Thor doesn't stop. "How long until you show?"

"A while yet," Loki says.

Something about that, the idea of Loki walking around with his belly full of Thor's child makes him smile. When Loki sees it, his eyes narrow, suspicious.

"What stupid thoughts go through your head, Thor?"

"Nothing," Thor says. "Do you need anything, right now?"

Loki watches him for a moment, like he's trying to figure out whether or not Thor is serious. He is, very much so. He's spent the last few years trying to repair a relationship that people kept telling him could not be fixed. Thor has no plans to mess it up, not now.

"I'm hungry," Loki says after a moment.

Thor stands, finally moving his hand from Loki's stomach. He can handle this, he can. While the stove is something he hasn't quite mastered here, the others are always willing to help him out, and Pepper always produces bagged food for them late at night. Loki shrugs off his overcoat and pushes back until he's lying on the bed, stretching out across the comforter. Thor reaches out and pulls his boots off, and then gathers Loki's overcoat in his arms. Loki stares at him.

"I told you I would take care of everything," Thor says.

Loki scoffs. Thor wants to reach out to him, kiss him, but he hesitates. What right has he? He and Loki have always been hot and cold, one moment smiling, the next tearing at each other's throats. The moments they've spent trying to ruin each other are more than enough for a lifetime. Thor doesn't reach out.

"I will be back with food," he says.

--

For the next week, Loki is just there, a constant presence. Bruce now knows—Steve and Tony broke the news to him gently, and he managed not to let the Hulk out over it. It took another day and a half before he would even set foot in the kitchen, but he and Loki seem to have some silent understanding between them now. Everything just feels so normal (well, as normal as it can be), that for a while everyone just sort of forgets that Loki is pregnant. Then things change.

It starts with Loki throwing up in the meeting room.

He's sitting next to Thor, quiet and deadly as always, just waiting for the right time to speak out with a nice, biting remark. Thor has been insisting Loki stay in his sight always, so Loki figures he may as well take these opportunities to have a little fun. And then it hits him—the nausea. Loki had felt it earlier that morning, a sick feeling that sat in his stomach and threatened to travel up his throat, but he thought it was gone. So, he was wrong. Loki admits to being wrong on occasion.

The wave of nausea hits him so abruptly that he doesn't have time to move or think, he just leans to the side and vomits.

"Oh my god," Steve says.

He and Tony are in the middle of an argument about why Tony can't just show up to meetings whenever he wants to, and then bitch that Thor ate all of the donuts. But right now, everyone's attention is on Loki.

There's a pause where Loki watches the vomit, just sitting there on the nice clean floor, before saying, "Ah."

With a wave of his hand, the vomit disappears, and then Loki gets up and walks out of the room.

"It seems gods are not immune to morning sickness," Bruce says.

"Wow," says Tony. "We should hire him on as a maid."

Thor gets up to follow after him.

--

Loki hears Thor's footsteps long before Thor ever enters the room. He's actually sprinting, the fool. Loki is on the bed holding his stomach, waiting to see if the nausea comes back. Thor nearly breaks the door entering.

"Brother," Thor says, rushing to the bed side. "What's wrong? Is there something wrong with the child?"

He reaches out to touch Loki's stomach, but Loki slaps his hand away.

"Calm yourself, Thor," he says. "I'm merely nauseous. This is normal."

"Oh," Thor says.

He sits next to Loki on the bed, watching as Loki smoothes a hand on his stomach in small circles. The feeling of it soothes Loki for whatever reason. He absolutely despises feeling sick.

"Do you feel all right, now?" Thor asks.

Loki shrugs, shifts away from Thor so he's lying on the bed on his back. His stomach is still churning, and he thinks if he speaks he may throw up again.

"I will be near if you need me," Thor says.

Loki waves a hand at him, shutting his eyes. He's suddenly exhausted, feels like he could sleep for days. He doesn't have the patience to speak with anyone anyway. Thor leaves and Loki is asleep not two minutes after.

--

He throws up again that afternoon. This time he makes it to the toilet, with Thor banging violently on the door.

"Leave me," Loki snarls, "before I shove your head into this toilet."

The banging stops.

--

Thor is in the kitchen that night when Bruce talks to him. Loki is refusing food, keeps insisting he's not hungry, but Thor isn't about to let him go a whole day without eating. He makes toast, something he can actually manage (thanks to Natasha), and sets two slices on a plate to bring up to Loki when Bruce comes in, hands folded behind his back.

"Loki feeling any better?" he asks.

"He refuses food." Thor shakes his head. "Loki has always been stubborn."

Bruce nods and traces the edge of the counter with his fingertips, stalling for something. Thor frowns at him. He wants to say something, and ultimately it's something about Loki, Thor knows that much. He sets the plate down.

"If you wish to speak, Bruce, do so."

"No, it's just…" Bruce stares at the toast. "How do we know Loki isn't lying? How do you know this isn't some trick?"

They think he hasn't thought about that at all. Thor will admit to being soft when it comes to Loki, but he isn't truly blind to him. He has no concrete proof, not really, nothing but the feeling in his chest telling him this is real. Only Thor knows that for everyone else, that's probably not enough proof, especially given Loki's history.

"You saw today he was ill," he says. "Is that not proof enough?"

Bruce takes his glasses off and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Thor, no offense but, not really. This is Loki."

He's trying to be kind about it, but Thor understands what he's saying. Tony and Steve must be feeling the same way. That's why Bruce is talking to him right now, because they all have doubts.

"There is something we can do, though, to make sure," he says. "Tony got his hands on an ultrasound machine."

"Ultrasound," Thor says. "I do not understand."

"It's a…a machine to look at the baby. It makes sure everything is okay, that sort of thing." Bruce slides his glasses back on. "It's like seeing a picture of the baby. That way, we'd know Loki is telling the truth, and we'd also be able to check on the fetus whenever we wanted."

It sounds almost too good to be true. For Aesir, there really isn't much worry involved with birthing children. Healers are involved, though Thor is not sure to what end. The idea is definitely intriguing. He has no doubts of Loki's condition, but the thought of seeing is something else entirely.

"And this machine, would it harm Loki?"

"No," Bruce says, "not at all, it's used all the time on pregnant women here. Thor, it would…it would be a way for Loki to gain some trust. I'd consider it."

Thor picks the plate of toast back up.

"It makes no difference what I consider. If Loki refuses there isn't much I can do to make him."

Bruce snorts.

"You're twice his size. I'm sure you could make him if you needed to."

"Physical strength has nothing to do with it," Thor says, smiling. Loki is more quick-witted than anyone Thor has ever met. He can count the number of things he has made Loki do on one hand. "I will see what I can do."

He leaves Bruce to go upstairs.

--

Loki can smell the food from down the hall. It smells rancid, whatever it is. When Thor enters the room, the smell only intensifies, and Loki snarls when he sees what's on the plate. It's nothing but toasted bread, yet it smells like rotten garbage, and his body screams at him for it. Thor holds out the plate like an offering and Loki curls further in on himself from where he's perched on the bed.

"I told you I was not hungry."

"You must eat, Loki." Thor stretches his arm out further, trying to get Loki to take the plate. "Your stomach holds nothing, surely that is not healthy."

Oddly enough, he hasn't been hungry at all. The force of the nausea has pushed away any other needs, and it's the only thing he can think on now, the only thing he knows. Loki pushes the plate away.

"It won't help," he says.

Thor frowns, staring at the plate in defeat. "I have never known anyone to become so violently ill from a child."

"How Jotun pregnancies have you witnessed, brother?"

"How many have you witnessed?"

Of course, Thor already knows the answer to that. Despite what he's read, nothing has really prepared Loki for the reality of pregnancy, and he knows that now. But he's too irritable to concede to that point, he only stares at Thor, sour-faced.

"Bruce Banner has made a suggestion," Thor says, breaking the silence.

Loki scoffs outright. "Are you implying he knows more than I about this?"

"No, but he is a doctor." Thor sits on the bed, setting the plate on the floor to be forgotten. The smell is still making Loki rage, but he forgets it for a moment. "He has a machine which can look at the child. I think it is a wise move that we use it."

Loki grabs Thor by the collar of his tunic, pulling him forward so he can snarl at him, so Thor can see the sheer anger on his face. He knows the reasoning behind it, he's no fool, but clearly Thor is. The idea of letting someone prod and poke at him makes Loki shake with resentment, like it is a violation.

"Are you that naïve, brother? You would let the humans experiment on me? Touch me with their machines?"

"Bruce is a friend," Thor says, infuriatingly calm. "This is no experiment, it is for the child's safety. And your own."

He doesn't try and remove himself from Loki's grip, and that only serves to make Loki angrier. Thor is so patient with him now.

"Your friends think me a liar, and now you think the same." Loki releases his grip on Thor's tunic. "Tell me I'm wrong."

"I think no such thing," Thor says. He reaches out to touch Loki's stomach, then thinks better of it. "I trust you in this, Loki."

Trust. After everything. Loki's stomach curls. Maybe that's what he hates most about Thor: his ability to forgive. Even after everything that has transgressed between them, Thor doesn't harbor any hatred, any resentment. He has let it go, forgotten. Loki still doesn't understand that, he doesn't know how to do it.

"If you trust me, then trust that I know the child is well, and that I—"

Right as he's saying it, his stomach twists. It feels like something has gripped his lower intestine and pulled it down into his pelvis. Loki pushes Thor away, catapulting off the bed and hitting the bathroom just as his stomach empties. The bile falls into the sink, a clear mess of fluid that smells like nothing. The force of it makes Loki's eyes sting with tears. This will pass soon, he knows it will pass, but for now—for now it is almost unbearable.

Thor rushes into the bathroom not a moment after, one hand resting on Loki's back, rubbing it. The gesture is actually soothing, and Loki doesn't push him away. Even if he wanted to, he doesn't have the energy. Thor turns on the faucet, and Loki watches as the bile drains out of the sink, Thor rubbing his back slowly.

"Loki, let Bruce look at the child."

"No," Loki says. His voice is raspy, throat scratched raw.

"For the child's sake if not your own," Thor says. "Would you let harm come to it to spite my comrades?"

Loki heaves again, driving home Thor's point.

"Enough." Thor pulls Loki upright by his shoulders, holding him steady by his collar. "I am having Bruce look at you. There is no other option."

Loki doesn't put up much of a struggle, mostly because he can't. He feels so incredibly weak, limbs heavy and aching, stomach churning like an angry sea. He'd read about the initial grueling second month of a Jotun pregnancy, but this is nothing like he'd imagined. Before they left Asgard, before he told Thor, Loki took to researching everything on Jotun pregnancy that he could. No matter how hard he denied it, no matter how much he loathed it, he could never truly deny who he was. Who he is. He is not Aesir. All of it is only a trick.

Even Jotun pregnancies are monstrous.

He leans his weight on Thor as they make their way downstairs to Bruce's lab. The nausea and vomiting will pass, Loki is almost certain of that, but Thor has pushed a doubt into his mind that he can't forget. If he loses the child, he loses all reason for being here. Then what's left? Return to Asgard, and face something far worse. If he loses the child, he will have nothing.

Thor looks worried. His eyebrows are drawn downward, mouth set in a tight line. He says nothing, and that's how Loki knows how truly worried he actually is. He has Thor's attention. All of it. That makes Loki smile despite still feeling like his insides are trying to crawl out his mouth.

Bruce's lab is clean, polished in chrome and smells too sanitary. Loki wrinkles his nose as they walk through the automatic doors, Bruce already alerted to their presence. Even though Loki is who he is, Bruce seems to disregard all of that in light of what's happening. He's pure doctor right now, not an avenger.

"You still have this machine?" Thor asks, moving so quickly Loki stumbles to keep up.

Bruce sets his glasses down and walks over to meet them halfway. He reaches out for a moment like he's going to touch Loki, but he hesitates, and ultimately keeps his hands down. Loki grins weakly at him.

"I won't bite," he says.

"That's very reassuring," Bruce says. He holds Loki's gaze. "Do I have your permission to do this, then?"

Loki clicks his jaw. "Yes."

Bruce nods.

He dresses down only enough to expose his stomach, but he still feels laid entirely bare. Bruce has him lay down on the table as he turns on the machine, and Loki watches every movement carefully. The avengers may not trust him, but they don't have his trust either. Thor won't stop fidgeting above him, all nervous energy, questioning everything Bruce is doing.

"You're sure this will not hurt the baby? Mark my words, Banner, this child is of royal blood—"

"Leave us, Thor," Loki says.

Thor stares at him, startled. Bruce falters in his motions at the computer, but says nothing.

"Loki—"

"You are not helping by being here," Loki says. "Go, or I will stop this now."

Thor straightens, reluctant and ready to be stubborn, but does leave the room. He looks devastated, a kicked child. Thor tells Bruce he'll be right outside, though his eyes flicker to Loki. Loki nods to him. When he's out of the room, the air feels calmer, and Bruce stands next to Loki, sweat on his brow.

"That was mean," he says. "Thor is only worried."

"And in turn worrying you. He will survive waiting."

Loki does not mention that Thor was doing the same to him, and Bruce doesn't comment on it. Smart. He picks up a tube of some sort of gel and holds it in Loki's line of vision.

"This is going on your stomach," he says.

The gel is cold on his skin and it makes Loki's abdominal muscles jump before Bruce starts spreading it around with some type of sensor that reminds Loki of a wand. He's nervous, and it is infuriating him because it seems so unnecessary. He can feel the child's presence inside of him, a weight like a stone in his stomach, another being. It is not something he can explain, but it's there.

The ultrasound goes on in silence, Bruce clearing his throat every ten seconds, hands surprisingly steady. Loki laughs quietly, but the motion shakes his body, and Bruce looks down at him, frowning.

"You have questions," Loki says.

"Uh, yeah. A few."

Loki opens his palm, a gesture. "Go on, then."

"You're male," Bruce says. "And yet you're pregnant. Explain to me how that works."

"My…kind appear only male. There are no female Jotun, never have there been. The male's body, as you put it, is able to accommodate a child. It's really fairly simple once you stop thinking in the realm of humankind."

Bruce snorts. "Simple, sure. So you're basically intersexual? That's how you gave birth before?"

Loki says nothing. He's watching the screen of the computer now, this grainy black and gray image that appears to be showing nothing. Bruce keeps talking.  

"It's just that in Norse mythology, you kind of gave birth to a lot of…things."

"The scribes of Norse mythology were not kind to me," Loki says, grin bitter. "Certain manners of my exploits have been exaggerated greatly."

"So you never gave birth to a serpent?"

"No. This is the first I have ever been impregnated." Something on the screen is different suddenly, a mass that wasn't there before. Loki can't help the jolt that goes through his heart. "What is that?"

Bruce leans into the screen, squinting. When he pulls back, he looks a bit faint.

"Oh my god," he says. "That's a baby."

Loki's breath freezes. It's not that he ever doubted it, not for a moment, but seeing it, this small, almost nonexistent mass, it makes it real. A child grows within him, and nothing will stop that now. Not even Odin himself can stop this. Loki laughs suddenly, madly, his grin threatening to split his face. Bruce is still standing in shock.

"Have you any doubts now, Dr. Banner?"

Bruce removes the sensor from Loki's stomach and saves the image on the monitor, still silent. He traces the image with his finger, outlining where Loki's child is.

"It, uh, it appears healthy," he says.

Loki wipes the gel from his stomach, grimacing. It's thick and warm now.

"Of course it is," he says, pulling down his tunic and sitting upright.

He can get a closer look at the monitor now, and leans over to do so. There's barely anything there, just a speck, an anomaly surrounded by cracks of white. The child is surrounded by his magic, drawing on it to grow. It does amaze Loki, despite all his knowledge of it, how small the child is, barely existing within him. He wants Thor to see.

"You really don't have ultrasound machines on Asgard?" Bruce asks, over the initial shock of it all. "That's amazing. This…this is amazing. You're pregnant."

Loki ignores him to fetch Thor from outside. He isn't sitting, but rather pacing the hall with his arms tucked behind his back, hands fidgeting. When he sees Loki he nearly trips trying to get to him, full of nervous energy still.

"Say you are fine," Thor says. "And the child. Say you are both fine."

"See for yourself," Loki says, and leads him into the lab.

Bruce is already printing out the image when Thor gets to the monitor, squinting to see it. He points to nothing on the screen.

"Where? I see nothing, brother."

Loki reaches out and points, a finger pressed against the screen. "There," he says.

Thor's eyes go wide.

"It's so small," he says, nearly breathless.

"Aye," says Loki. "But she is there."

Thor catches the she, as Loki thought he might.

"She? You carry a girl?"

Bruce looks up from the computer, still staring at the image of the womb, still trying to understand how Loki has a life growing inside of him. He shakes his head at them.

"No, that's…it's way too early to tell. We'll have to wait until at least twelve weeks."

"I don't need your machine to tell me. I can feel it," Loki says. "I can feel her."

At that, Bruce doesn't argue. He goes back to tinkering, leaving Thor and Loki to their own devices. Thor is even more wide eyed than when Loki first told him he was pregnant. He looks stupidly, inconceivably happy.

"Loki," he says, almost breathless, and when he reaches out to touch Loki, Loki does not stop him.

"Better make haste, brother," Loki says. "I'm going to retch again."

Thor carries him back upstairs, taking the steps two at a time.

--

The nausea subsides after another few days. Then comes the hunger. Loki ventures downstairs, lured by the smell of something. It smells warm, sweet, and it wakes Loki up from a deep slumber. His stomach growls at him and he obeys it, slipping out of bed without waking Thor to find the source of the smell.

He finds Steve in the kitchen, flipping something over the stove. He notices Loki immediately, and gives him an uneasy smile.

"Is the smell bothering your stomach?" Steve asks.

"Quite the opposite." Loki steps next to him, perhaps too close for comfort. "What are these?"

Steve stares at the pan. "They're pancakes. Did you want—"

"Yes," Loki says.

Days of not eating have finally caught up with him, and he is famished beyond belief. Steve piles three pancakes onto his plate, and Loki swallows them down after having barely chewed them. His stomach is screaming at him for having ignored it, and Loki plans to rectify that immediately. When he looks up from his plate, Steve is already sliding two more pancakes onto it. He does so carefully, reaching without stepping too close as if Loki might bite his arm off if he does.

"Wait," Steve says. He pushes something towards him. "Pour this on them, it tastes much better."

Loki eyes the bottle. It's thick and looks more like a type of alcohol, but when he flips the cap open it smells incredibly sweet and makes his mouth water. Loki has always had a weakness for sweet things. He drenches the pancakes in it, and then eats them with the same fervor as before. Steve watches him wide eyed before pulling out more mix for pancakes. He says nothing of Loki's appetite, a wise move on his part, in Loki's opinion.

Thor comes down during Loki's third plate. He enters the kitchen clearly looking for Loki, and smiles when he sees him seated at the table.

"Brother, your appetite has returned, I see."

Loki can only nod around his fork, but he flinches when Tony and Bruce join them in the kitchen as well. They're all watching him give into the needs of his body, and it's unnerving. Loki feels suffocated. He forces himself to stop, setting the fork down onto the plate. Thor watches him with the same adoration as always, slightly patronizing without meaning to be, but ever protective. The rest watch him as if he is no longer a threat, an enemy stripped down to nothing, weakened. Loki cringes. He is weakened, there is no doubt about that. To go into battle now would be foolish, but Loki does not want to appear helpless. He is not helpless.

"Weird cravings already?" Tony asks, cup of coffee in hand. Bruce smiles next to him.

"If you continue to stare I will insert this fork into your mouth," Loki says, standing.

"Loki," Thor starts, but Loki doesn't stick around to hear what he has to say.

He's still hungry, stomach craving something else, but he ignores it, instead takes a hot shower. Whether it is his Jotun blood, or just personal preference, Loki doesn't know, but he likes very, very hot water. Under the spray of the water, alone for what feels like the first time in weeks, Loki presses on his stomach with both hands, holding, feeling. She is there. Loki shuts his eyes, head pressed against the tiles of the shower. It was necessary, he tells himself. And it will be worth it.

When Loki exits the shower, draped in a towel and still dripping wet, Thor is waiting for him. He's sitting on the bed, arms folded. Loki ignores his presence, unfolding his clothes to dress himself. Thor watches him. He watches as Loki drops the towel, watches as he slips into his tunic, watches as he squeezes the excess water from his hair.

"If you wish to speak, do so," Loki says. "Your silence is unnerving."

"I often try to understand your reasoning, but I admit it is lost on me today. My friends have been nothing but courteous to us, brother, yet you treat them with hostility."

"You mistake their gawking for courtesy. Without you they would not be so kind to me," Loki says.

Thor rises, walking to stand behind Loki and snake his arms around his stomach, holding him there. Loki tenses but doesn't pull away.

"You too often look for the worst in people," Thor says.

"And you for the best."

Thor sighs, breath gusting the back of Loki's neck. His fingers stroke the flat of Loki's stomach, and the pressure of it is somehow more soothing than Loki's own. It quiets his stomach like a hum.

"Your appearance has changed," Thor says, an afterthought.

Loki furrows his brow, looking down at himself.

"I've done nothing," he says.

"I can't find the words to explain it, but, you appear different. Brighter." Thor shifts away from him before Loki can even think to comment on that, gazes towards the window of the room. The city is vivid below them, alive and hilariously unaware. "Father knows by now…he knows something, at the very least. Yet no one has come."

Loki looks to the ceiling. He has, some nights, waited for it to crack open, Odin's wrath behind it. But it does not.

"Perhaps no one will."

"Perhaps," Thor says.

--

His body is changing. Loki finds himself waking in the night, freezing, something that never happens. Other times his body aches for no reason. He and Thor shed their clothes for Midgardian wear, and Loki opts for something that will be easy to wear once his stomach begins to round. He also craves, and it's strange. Something unnamed sits in his stomach, and no matter what he eats, it doesn't go away. And then finally, the craving hits him with such force it's impossible to ignore.

"Elk," he says.

Thor stares at him. "Elk?"

"I desire an elk," Loki says. "The child desires…I need one."

The problem with being on Midgard is that Loki is craving things that aren't necessarily native to the landscape. An elk, though, surely that's something they have here. Loki intends to have one either way. He's never wanted something so badly before.

Thor stands from the couch immediately, so ready to do this for Loki. He's ready to drop everything. Loki has to stop himself from grinning.

"Then I shall hunt you one," Thor says. He turns to Bruce. "Where can I find elk?"

"Um." Bruce shifts on the couch. "They're not native to New York. You'd have to go to Pennsylvania, at least."

Thor has already called for Mjölnir. He's already going, it's decided. Loki watches him, eyes bright, pleased. As if Thor would say no to him now. He hardly ever has.

"Wait a minute," Bruce says. "What about—"

"I will return shortly." Thor touches Bruce's shoulder. "Watch over Loki for me."

Bruce sits there, speechless, while Thor walks to Loki, hand cupping his jaw.

"Make no mischief in my absence, brother. I will return with what you desire."

Loki nods, body alive with some kind of nameless joy.

--

It takes Thor less than an hour to get to Pennsylvania, and less than ten minutes to track and kill an elk. Hunting trips with his father have made him one of the most skilled trackers in all the nine realms. Thor heaves the beast onto his back, it's small, but with enough meat that Loki will more than likely be satisfied. The forest is dark around him, strangely silent.

He admits it was difficult to leave Loki and come here. Since leaving Asgard, they have been apart but minutes, and never far. Thor has never fathered a child before. There was a scare, once, when he was much younger, a teenager by Midgardian standards. A maiden from the lower part of the city told him she was pregnant with his son. It turned out to be nothing more than a lie, and it was Loki, the most skilled liar of all, who discovered it to be so. Still, the prospect of it had been thrilling.

It was even more so now.

And for that reason Thor wants to do everything right. He wants to make sure he messes up nothing. Even when Loki stopped the fighting, even when he put aside his anger and called Thor brother once more, there was still a distance between them. Despite everything, Thor had not been able to fix what was broken. He has a second chance now, and he doesn't intend to waste it.

He turns to leave, Mjölnir raised above him, and then stops and stills.

There are two ravens perched on a stump before him, silent and watching. Odin's ravens. Thor lowers Mjölnir. The Allfather is watching, then, but how much does he know? Muninn caws, but they do nothing more. They simply watch.

"Well," Thor says. "Have you no message for me?"

The ravens make no noise.

Thor raises Mjölnir once more, and leaves. The ravens do not follow.

--

He returns to the tower mere minutes after Clint and Natasha. They've been in the Ukraine for months, a mission for Fury. Needless to say, this is the first they are hearing of Loki's stay. Of any of it. Thor enters the common area to find Steve and Tony standing in front of Loki, Natasha and Clint opposite them, weapons raised. Thor drops the elk to the floor, rushing between them all.

"Stand the fuck down, Thor," Clint says. "Your brother is here."

"I am aware." Thor extends Mjölnir. She stares down Clint's arrow. "Drop your weapon, my friend."

"While Loki's in the building?" says Natasha. "Not likely."

This can either end well, or very bad. How much they both know, Thor isn't sure, but he's grateful Steve and Tony have stopped anything from happening, at least. Bruce is nowhere to be seen, but that's probably for the best. Clint and Natasha keep their weapons raised, and Thor's fingers itch around the handle of Mjölnir. Clint hisses at him.

"Thor, get out of the way."

"No."

"I'll move you myself if I have to," Clint says.

Thor knows that he can't, but he also knows that Clint will try regardless, and he's not about to let this escalate to the point where there's bloodshed. Despite their camaraderie, despite that fact that Thor trusts all of them with his life, he will not let harm come to Loki. He won't even risk it.

"Stay your hand, Barton. There is much we need to talk about."

"I don't think there's much at all," Natasha says. "Give me one good reason why Loki is here—"

"He's pregnant," Tony says, effectively splitting the tension in the room. "Yes, I'm serious. So there, that's out."

Natasha's face changes immediately. She lowers her gun, and then raises it, only to lower it again. She and Clint both look exhausted, sporting fresh bruises and cuts. They're in no mood for a fight. No one is.

"I'm sorry," Clint says, "did you say pregnant?"

"Yes," Steve says, and then sighs very loudly. "It's…there was an ultrasound, we…it's true."

Clint asks who the father is, and Natasha looks to Thor as though she already knows. Thor nods quietly to her.

"Clint," she says, nudging him.

Loki's laugh is quiet behind him, but Thor can hear it.

"She's figured it out already," he says, amusement in his voice.

Clint will not lower his bow. "Figured out what?"

"Barton," Natasha says, grabbing his arm, understanding. "Lower your weapon. We need to talk."

There's tension between everyone, the wait to see if this will turn bloody or not. Steve and Tony are more than aware of the lengths Thor will go to in order to protect Loki. This could turn very bloody. But Clint does lower his bow, arrow back in the quiver, even if the tension doesn't leave his body. He turns to Natasha, eyes still on Loki.

"'Tasha…"

"Let's talk," she says. "Downstairs."

Clint follows her, but Thor waits until they're out of the room before he lowers Mjölnir. Steve and Tony exhale loudly behind him, as if they were holding their breath the entire time.

"How well do you think he'll take it?" Steve asks.

Tony snorts. "On a scale of one to ten? Zero. We're just lucky Natasha is the one telling him. He hasn't forgotten what Loki did to him."

Thor and Loki watch each other from across the room, and Thor wonders whether or not to tell Loki he saw Huginn and Munnin. He wonders whether Loki will care. Loki breaks his gaze, eyes flickering to the floor.

"Oh, you've found an elk," he says. "Good. I'm famished."

--

Clint doesn't take it well, but he also doesn't take it bad, either. That can only be Natasha's doing. He stays hidden for a while, angry with reason that Thor cannot fault him for. He simply waits. Natasha appears strangely neutral about the whole thing. She looks at Thor fondly, but her expression remains unreadable. She only says that she has seen stranger things happen. They agree not to tell Fury, for Thor's sake more than Loki's, but it is something. Thor roasts the elk for Loki, and he eats nearly the entirety of it.

Things are changing, almost so quickly that no one has time to register it.

--

Loki wakes one morning and his stomach is rounder. He doesn't even notice it until he starts to pull on his pants and they won't button. It's as if it appeared overnight. When Loki touches his stomach, it feels firmer, tighter. He grabs looser pants, sliding them over his hips and covering the bump with his shirt.

Thor notices anyway. He comes into the room and realizes it immediately, as if he sensed it. The way he stares is oddly intimate, exposing, so Loki scowls at him. Thor doesn't even seem to notice.

"You knew this would happen," Loki says.

"Aye, I just…I did not realize…" His gaze flickers between Loki's face and his stomach. He looks like he wants to reach out to him, but he remains rooted to the spot, unsure still. That's the way Loki wants it. Control. He's not going to just give anything to Thor, he's going to make him earn it.

"Lift your shirt," Thor says. "Please."

Loki does. Thor's eyes go wide, comically so, and Loki has to look down himself again. His stomach is pushing out, looks almost as if he's bloated from a large meal. There's a dull ache in his hips—they're expanding, making room. It's a sensation that Loki, for all his silver tongue provides, cannot find the right words to describe. He looks up and Thor is closer to him, hands reaching out and spreading over the skin of his stomach, pressing so lightly they're almost hovering. He's so gentle, so hesitant, the opposite of bumbling and raucous as Loki usually sees him. His hands are warm against Loki's stomach, and something jolts in him, as if the baby is responding. As if she knows. Thor exhales.

"You did this, brother," Loki says, and fits his hand over Thor's, making him press harder, making him feel. "Do not forget that."

"How could I?" says Thor.

He rubs a pattern over the skin of Loki's stomach before pulling away, folding his hands behind him as if he doesn't know what to do with them. Loki smoothes his shirt back down. He has an odd feeling about him suddenly, like someone is trying to tell him something, but Loki can't hear them, he can only feel them.

"Steve Rogers and I are patrolling later," Thor says. "Do you require anything?"

Loki snorts. He knew his stay at the tower would not be without conditions, and after Clint accepted the situation for what it was, the avengers thought it their place to set rules for the duration of Loki's stay. They weren't going to let SHIELD know what was going on, but that meant that Loki couldn't leave Stark Tower and risk being spotted, especially once he started showing. Thor insisted he would provide Loki with anything he needed, but that didn't stop Loki from occasionally changing his shape and exploring the city when Thor was asleep. Thor still did patrol regularly, though he loathed leaving Loki, they didn't want to alert SHIELD that anything might be amiss. When Bruce tried to convince Loki to let him do other tests, Loki refused outright. He wasn't about to be an experiment for Thor's comrades.

"I have no need of anything," Loki tells him, waving Thor off.

His appetite has leveled out somewhat, though if Loki doesn't eat right away, he finds himself with a violent stomachache, as if he's being yelled at. She's talking to him, the baby, not through words but through the most basic of all desires and Loki cannot ignore her. It isn't something he read about, and it makes Loki feel unprepared, uneasy. Jotun pregnancies truly live up to their name of being unpredictable.

When Thor leaves for patrol that night, Loki goes downstairs and looks for grapes. For the past three days, he's been craving fruit, specifically grapes. The act of actually eating them gives him a satisfaction so great it's slightly terrifying. Loki grabs the last bunch from the fridge, walking the tower as he eats them, stretching his legs. He's bored. Being pregnant requires a lot of waiting, and when the avengers aren't fighting him Loki finds them to be rather dull.

He takes the elevator up and then he's in Tony's penthouse. The area is dark, but Loki remembers the layout well. He wanders across the marble flooring, retracing his steps from a year ago, when he picked Tony off the floor and threw him from the window. He can see out across the city, the lights of the buildings like stars, and wonders briefly where Thor is.

"I hope you have a good reason for sneaking around my penthouse."

The room floods with light as Tony enters.

Loki turns around, grinning. "No."

Tony steps forward, then pauses, staring wide-eyed at Loki's stomach.

"Oh god, there's not something wrong with the baby, is there?"

Loki plucks the last grape from the stem, chewing it slowly.

"She is fine," Loki says.

"So then what—" Tony pauses, and then laughs. "You're bored," he says, relaxing his stance somewhat.

Loki smiles. "Idle hands. And you will recall I am not to leave the premises, per your conditions."

"Right, because that always stops you."

Tony snorts, and then moves away from him, walking over to his bar and turning his back to Loki. He's never been afraid to do so, something Loki might admire him for if he didn't find it so incredibly insulting. Tony turns back to him with a scotch poured.

"Want a drink?" Tony asks. "Ah, oh wait."

Loki smirks. "Let's not risk it, shall we?"

Tony steps away from the bar, setting his gaze out onto the city much like Loki was only moments ago. He sips his scotch slowly, and Loki moves behind him silently, grape stem clutched in his hand.

"I think we're already risking an awful lot," Tony says, and looks at Loki's reflection in the glass. "You're showing."

Loki looks down. He hadn't thought they would notice yet. The shirt is loose enough, but looking for it, someone can still tell.

"You act as though this is a surprise," he says.

"Not a surprise," Tony says. "A warning."

Loki frowns. "From whom."

Tony is watching him through his reflection, arc reactor glowing gently.

"Don't tell me you see this ending anyway other than messy, because I sure as shit don’t, and it won't. For anyone. We've got enemies, hell, you've got enemies enough for all of us. I'm sure you can imagine the repercussions when Fury finds out, which he will. For only have one eye, the guy is surprisingly perceptive." Tony finally turns to look at him. "SHIELD is still a government organization. You think they'll just let you walk out of here with a kid? No, no—they're going to want to keep it here, maybe—"

Loki has him pressed up against the glass before he can even think about it. The force of it shakes the window and Tony drops his scotch, the liquid pooling on the floor as the glass shatters. There is a sudden, fierce anger in him that Loki wasn't prepared for. It pools up from his belly and telegraphs into his nerves. It's an instinct that Loki doesn't ever remember having, but his body is humming with it, as if she's encouraging him, feeding off of it, even. Loki shakes with it, hand curled tight around Tony's jaw and squeezing.

"If you think I'd let them touch her, you are a fool. I would skin them and destroy this realm before they had the chance. My child is to be a queen, and I will burn the stars ensure that. I would destroy any realm, every realm." 

Tony gurgles something against the glass and Loki realizes that he's close to choking him out, close to killing him, which would not bode well for his stay. He lets go, even though his body is screaming at him to kill him—it's such an animalistic instinct and Loki isn't sure how to combat it. It's beyond reason. He hasn't summoned it, it's just there. Tony slides to the floor, coughing and taking huge gasps of air, eyes wide and glassy. He must see that Loki is as shocked as he is, but he can't say anything yet, and Loki can hear his AI speaking through the ceiling, asking if he needs to call anyone…

Loki flees the room.

--

It doesn't take Thor long to come. Loki isn't sure who informed him, but it doesn't matter either way. Loki waits in the darkness and then Thor is there, gripping Loki by his shoulders, face furious and also lined with worry. Loki can see that, even in the darkness. If it were any other time, Thor might shake him, throw him. Instead, he tightens his grip on Loki's shoulders.

"We had an agreement," he says. "You were to cause no trouble, Loki."

"I have not broken that agreement." Loki shakes himself from Thor's grip. "I caused nothing."

"Explain."

Loki sits on the bed. His feet ache but his body is still humming with nervous energy and anger.

"Would you let any harm come to your daughter?"

"Of course not," Thor says. "I would kill anyone—"

"So would I," Loki says. He takes Thor's hand in his own and presses it to his stomach. "And so would she."

Thor doesn't understand right away, and Loki did not expect him to. Loki barely understands it himself. What he does know is that he is less in control of his body than before. It appears she's feeding off of his magic, off of his very body, and it's becoming partly her own.

"How do you mean," Thor says. "She is but a child, she hasn't even come into being."

"She is part of my body, Thor. If she feels threatened, she tells my body to react. I only listened."

Thor stares between them at his hand on Loki's belly.

"So," he says, slow, "she was protecting herself."

Loki nods. "Do you understand, now?"

He looks as though he doesn't, not quite, anyway, but he nods regardless.

"Does Stark know this?"

"I think he inferred it."

It felt good to be feared again, if only for that moment. Loki had felt a sense of power, a sense of control even though he was so far out of it. It was terrifying and exhilarating. He's exhausted now, though. Every day that she grows stronger, he grows weaker.

"I fear I don't know what action to take in this," Thor says, quiet.

Loki shrugs, leaning back against the mattress. Thor's hand slips away from his stomach and it starts acting up immediately, like a storm is brewing inside. What a temperamental thing his child is going to be.

"Put your hand back," he says.

Thor does, stroking the curve of it. Loki's stomach quiets immediately.

"Loki," Thor says.

"There is no action you need to take." Loki shuts his eyes. "As long as no one threatens, we have no cause to worry."

Above him, Thor laughs quietly, shaking the bed.

"We have all the cause to worry, then," he says.

--

Loki falls asleep before he can answer him. He looks so peaceful, untroubled, innocent of all the bloodshed he's caused. That they both have caused. If any harm comes to anyone while they are here, Thor won't be able to forgive himself. Staying in Asgard was not an option but even coming here, so unprepared, it's now put everyone else at risk, too. But Thor didn't think of that when Loki first told him. He didn't think of anything but getting them out of there before Odin found out. Tony Stark has already paid for it, and Thor fears he won't be the last.

There's something Loki isn't telling him, but Thor can't figure out what it is.

He finds Tony still in his penthouse, a fresh drink in his hand. He sees Thor and nods his glass to him, propped on the couch with his feet up. There are red marks around his neck. Thor winces.

"Stark," he says. "You are well?"

"Are you kidding me? This is like a gentle slap to the face compared to what Loki's done before. He did make me spill my drink, though."

Thor sits next to him, declining the glass Tony tries to offer him.

"It was unwise for us to come here," he says. "We've put all of you in danger."

"What exactly were your other options?" Tony asks, eyebrows rising. "From what Loki was saying, it sounded like Odin would sooner kill him than let him bear your kid."

Thor winces again. The exact repercussions of what would have happened if they stayed in Asgard are a mystery, but Thor knows they would not have been good. Not at all. They could be equally bad here, still. Thor is not above begging Tony to not tell anyone else what transpired.

"I'm not going to tell anyone what happened," Tony says, as if reading his mind.

Thor exhales, relaxes. His muscles feel wound up and on edge like his body is preparing to fight.

"Thank you," he says.

Tony nods, offering the glass to Thor again. He accepts it this time, taking a long drink before swallowing. The alcohol here is nowhere near as potent as on Asgard, but it's relaxing nonetheless.

"I'm not doing it because he's my friend. I kind of worked Loki up on purpose, if you want to know the truth," Tony says, which is certainly not the wisest move Thor thinks he has ever made. "I was testing him out, I guess. But damn, when he grabbed me, it…his face was off. It wasn't all him. He's not as in control as he makes himself out to be."

So Loki was telling the truth, then. Thor finishes his drink and pours another.

"But, listen." Tony pauses to drain the rest of his drink, setting the glass down on the table with a hollow clink. "This is still Loki, okay? No matter what is happening with him, you need to be careful. Has he ever been totally honest with you?"

Thor can't answer that because he truly doesn't know. "What are you saying?"

"I'm saying: what does he know about this? About all of it?" Tony catches Thor's eyes over the rim of his glass. "How much is he not telling you?"

Thor breaks his gaze. If he's being truthful, Loki has never been fully honest with him save for a few times. So much has changed between them in the past year and Thor wants to believe that Loki is being honest about everything now. But concerning Loki, Thor only knows two things for sure: He loves Thor dearly, and he's a skilled liar.

"I don't know," he says. "Loki's mind is not something easily unraveled. Trying to do so at this time would prove unwise."

"Yeah," says Tony, and scoffs. "I figured that out pretty quick. Man, you two are something else. This whole time you've been sleeping with the enemy."

Thor clears his throat and Tony gasps in that horrid overdramatic way he sometimes does, hand over his arc reactor.

"Holy shit, are you telling me—? That was the first time you'd been together?"

Despite the redness of his face, Thor manages to nod.

"Wow. Wow. That's a tough break," Tony says.

He refills Thor's glass and they drink in silence, but Thor's mind is loud with possibility. What is to become of him and Loki? Of their child? He glances out the window, at the clouds illuminated by city and moonlight. He fears, but he doesn't know what he's supposed to fear just yet. Perhaps everything. Or nothing at all. He doesn't know what Loki could be hiding from him. It could be anything. Thor watches the moon until it's hidden by the clouds.

--

Another month passes. Clint joins them all for the first time since he and Natasha came home and discovered Loki sitting on the couch. There's eggs and bacon for breakfast, which he's apparently not about to miss just because Loki is around. He walks into the kitchen just after Steve finishes cooking and sits next to Natasha. He's still in full gear, bow and arrow strapped like he's going in for a fight, but he's there. Natasha glances up at him over her coffee and smiles, passing him a strip of bacon. Clint chews it slow like he's checking to see if it's poisoned. After a second strip, he nods at Loki from across the table, chewing open-mouthed.

"So where are your boobs?"

Bruce successfully chokes on his coffee, spraying black liquid across the table. Thor glances at Loki, waiting and watching to see if something will happen. There hasn't been an incident since Loki choked Tony in his penthouse, but Thor is still wary. But Loki doesn't anger, he grins at Clint, teeth showing.

"You'll be disappointed to know I won't be getting any," he says.

"Wait, really?" Tony says, and looks up. "But how is she gonna…you know, eat?"

"She is of Jotun blood, and more importantly, a child of magic." Loki sighs as though this is taxing to explain, like they should all have been well educated in such a matter long ago. "She does not require mother's milk for nutrition. If I mix my blood with her food, it will be more than enough to sustain her."

"Ew," Clint says.

He reaches to steal another piece of bacon and Natasha slaps his hand away. Thor glances at Loki's chest. It is odd, he will admit, to see Loki's stomach grow but his chest remain flat, but he remembers Loki mentioning this to him almost a month ago, red-faced and snarling, when Thor asked if he would develop them.

Other than that comment, Clint doesn't say much else. He watches Loki with the intent to shoot him at any moment, but at least will sit in the same room with him, which is progress as far as Thor is concerned. The fourth month of Loki's pregnancy is already upon them, and with any luck it is almost half over. No matter how much he loves Midgard, Thor still itches to see home again.

All of them hear the crack above, the heavy thump of someone hitting the roof. Thor's eyes slide to Loki, silent, asking. Jarvis's voice echoes out from the ceiling.

"Sir, there is someone on the roof terrace. Identified as Asgardian."

"Is that—" Tony starts, looking at Thor.

"No," Thor says. "The entrance would have been much less subtle. Trust me on that."

If Odin had come, the building may already have been leveled, but that doesn't do anything to hinder Thor's apprehension. Clint reaches back and slides a finger to one of his arrows in the quiver.

"So who the hell is it, then?"

Next to Thor, Loki's expression goes tense, but is otherwise unreadable. He doesn't know who it is, either.

When they get to the roof, Sif is waiting there, unmistakably Asgardian, ponytail whipping in the wind, stance strong. She is alone, and Thor is grateful for her presence. Regardless, it confuses him. She has no reason to be here.

"Thor," she says, rushing towards him.

He meets her halfway and they embrace a moment before pulling away.

"What are you doing here?" Thor says. "Has Odin sent you?"

"No." Sif shakes her head. "No, I've come of my own volition."

Her eyes flicker to Loki, tucked off near the others on the corner of the roof, watching. His silence is unnerving to Thor. He wonders if Sif can sense the tension building between all of them.

"I do not understand," Thor says.

"The Allfather acts as though nothing has happened. He does not speak of your absence, but others do." Sif grips his arm. "Why have you not come home, Thor?"

Thor can hear the others shifting behind him, all nerves. If Sif does not know, then that means Odin has said nothing. Thor considers this to be a good thing. Perhaps Odin is coming to terms with this. He smiles, trying to calm Sif.

"I often travel to Midgard, you know this."

"But for so long? And when there is no danger?"

Loki is beside him without warning. Thor can feel the energy pouring off him.

"What she means to ask is: why are you here with me?"

Sif's expression goes sour.

"Loki," she says, and then her eyes go wide with horror.

She's noticed his stomach. Loki smiles at her, biting, mocking.

"You see I cannot return home. Not yet," Thor says, still composed.

He moves to tuck Loki behind him. Sif has still not spoken. She watches Loki's stomach as if transfixed. There had been a cruel rumor of them long ago, fueled by Loki's own mischief and silenced by Thor's stature. But now it is real, it is undeniable.

"What has he done to you?" Sif says, no longer stunned. She looks back to Thor. "What madness is this, Thor? What trickery?"

"No tricks," Loki says. "I carry Thor's child. His daughter and heir to the throne."

He adds the last sentence to be cruel, Thor is sure of it, and it works. Sif bristles, eyes narrowed.

"This cannot be true. You are a liar, Loki. Even you would not stoop to this level—"

"Enough, Sif," Thor says.

He glances behind at the others. Stark has disappeared, Thor hopes to get the Iron Man suit.

"I understand your reservations, Lady Sif, but there is no lie here. No trickery. I am to be a father."

Sif's head shakes and she looks close to tears. "No. He has forced you into this."

"No," Thor says, just as Loki snarls behind him.

"Is it so difficult for you to comprehend? It is, isn't it?" Loki's voice is vicious. "Thor loves me more dearly than you could ever hope for, and it burns you."

"Enough!" Sif steps back, fingers twitching like she's going to reach for her sword. "Think of what this means, Thor. Stop this madness and come home."

This is the exact opposite of what Thor wanted. He loves Sif like his own kin, wants her to be happy for him, but she can only see Loki's malice behind this, can't comprehend that Thor could want this too.

"Sif," he says, though it pains him to do so. "You must go."

"Not until you come with me. I will not leave you here to suffer Loki's madness with him. He's bewitched you."

She stops speaking abruptly and Thor takes only a second longer to realize why. Loki has dropped to his knees behind them, head bowed. He's clutching his body like he's in pain, hissing through his teeth.

"What's happening," Natasha calls out. "Bruce…"

"Stay back," he says. "I don't know, just stay back."

Thor bends down to Loki's level, and that's when he feels it, and then he sees it. Magic swirls around Loki, green and mist-like.

"Loki," he says. "Brother, speak to me."

"Stand back," Loki says, teeth bared, gums bled white.

The sky above them swirls black and the winds pick up.

"Thor," Sif says, and the next moment she's flung backwards from the roof by a shield of pure ice.

Thor jumps off after her, one hand calling out for Mjölnir, the other reaching for Sif. He catches her by the arm and they tumble together, the air whipping and cutting around them. Sif's mouth is open but she doesn't scream. Mjölnir comes and Thor propels them upward until they land back on the roof. Sif rolls away from him and jumps upright, unsheathing her sword.

"Drop the weapon," Tony says, overhead now in the suit, and not a moment too soon. "You're cornering an animal, lady, and he will strike. Trust me."

Loki laughs below him, something manic bubbling up his throat and pouring out like a song.

"You didn't think I'd risk losing everything." His hands curl over his stomach. He's standing now, clouds swirling above him, threatening. "You didn't think she would."

"What the hell is he talking about," Clint yells over the winds, bow prone and ready.

"Well," Tony says, "what would you do if your unborn child knew how to protect itself?"

Thor reaches out for Loki. He knows he's the only one who can. Loki's body is literally vibrating, pulled tight like it just might snap.

"The threat is over, brother. Stop the storm."

"I cannot," Loki says. "It's her."

There's silence around them, even Sif is quiet and questioning. Natasha is the first one to understand.

"Oh god," she says. "The baby is creating the storm. We need to do something, now."

As she says it, lightning cracks across the sky, but it's not rain that follows, it's ice. Huge blocks of it fall from the sky, hurtling themselves into buildings. They're completely solid and glistening green, infused with magic.

"Ah, Christ," Tony says. He points to Sif. "Get out of here! You are not helping."

Loki, for his part, doesn't try to do anything to stop the storm. He looks impressed by it, eyes wide and nearly glowing. Amused, possibly. Despite Natasha's command, no one has moved yet. How do you combat weather? Bruce lets the Hulk out and he jumps from the roof, slapping away an ice chunk as it falls from the sky, breaking it up, but there's too many for him to keep doing it. He won't catch them all.

"We need a plan," Steve says. "Evacuate civilians in a two mile radius. Loki…just…dammit, just try and calm her down, okay?"

"Captain," Loki says, unable to contain his smile, which is really not helping. "Why should I? She acts on good instinct."

"Loki!"

The ice falling is the size of a full grown Asgardian male, if not larger. The destruction could be catastrophic if the storm grows, and the avengers are still at a loss as to how to fight the weather, because they just can't. It's not a physical being. Loki still holds his stomach tight, nails digging in. Thor can't tell if he's trying to stop it or not, but he looks pained, like the magic is being forcibly drawn out of him. Thor takes the only action he can think of.

"Please," he says, but he isn't speaking to Loki. Their daughter has reacted to him before, she knows his touch, his presence.

Thor grabs Loki's arms and bends, pressing himself close to his stomach, speaking to it.

"You are safe, child," he says, and Loki struggles a moment in his grip before going still. "Please stop this for me."

Wind still blows violently around them, and any second the storm is going to turn critical, ice falling at a faster rate. Then the ice stops, just like that, it ends. The clouds slow, no longer threatening but dissipating, clearing away just as quickly as they appeared. Thor praises his daughter outwardly, watching as the sky returns to normal before exhaling and resting against the curve of Loki's stomach. Loki is taking huge, gasping breaths as if he's exerted intense energy. His form shakes once and then he crumbles, body spent. Thor catches him easy and looks over to Sif, who is still standing on the rooftop, stunned. She's wide-eyed once again, but for a different reason, now. Loki laughs against Thor, though it sounds weak to his ears.

"No threats," he says. "No worries. Right, brother?"

Thor presses closer to him.

--

SHIELD agents are swarming around Stark Tower within a thirty-minute period. It's the only expected outcome, really, because there's no way Nick Fury was going to ignore a sudden ice storm in Manhattan that seemingly generated from the top of the tower. Thor gets Loki inside and Natasha and Tony intercept Fury as the helicopter lands on the roof and Fury jumps out in a wave of black. From inside, Thor can't hear what's being said, but he knows that Loki is mentioned, because Fury's eye goes wide and then he's staring through the windows, searching for a glimpse of Loki. He starts walking towards the doors, Natasha and Tony right at his heels.

"Can you keep her calm?" Steve says to Thor.

"I…do not know."

Loki leans heavily against Thor, exhausted still, eyes hollowed. Thor is on edge nonetheless. If Fury does anything Loki chooses to perceive as a threat, there's no telling what will happen. Once he's inside though, Fury keeps a good distance. His hands slide to his hips and he looks remarkably unimpressed by everything.

"Agent Romanoff and Mr. Stark have just shared some very, very interesting news with me," he says.

"Don't threaten," Tony says, speaking out the corner of his mouth. "Don't even think about threatening."

"I just want to know why in the hell any of you thought this would be a good idea."

"It was no one's choice," Thor says. "I was the one who brought Loki here."

Natasha and Tony have surely already told Fury what happened, why Loki's here. It doesn't stop Fury from looking completely unsympathetic to everything.

"So you thought it would be a good idea to bring Loki back to earth? After everything he's done?"

"Not trying to play devil's advocate, but you did grant him a pardon after he helped defeat Thanos," Tony says.

Fury side-eyes him before turning back to Thor and Loki. He can see the curve of Loki's stomach, and he has to give the avengers some credit for having kept things under control for this long. Thor fears he will try and take Loki to SHIELD headquarters, and he knows that will not end well for any of them. The sky only fully returned to normal after Sif left and she hadn't even done anything but use her words.

"That's beside the point, he's dangerous. He can't stay here, he'll have to go SHIELD headquarters. The fact that you've kept him here for months without telling us is issue enough."

"That's not a good idea," Steve says.

"Your captain is right," Loki says. He pauses to catch his breath. "If you try and take me, who knows what my child may do. Thor is the only one who can calm her, would you risk separating us, knowing what that might do? You don't truly think what you saw out there was the limit of my power. I can assure you it is not."

His words are a mockery and poorly veiled threat, but Loki is being truthful, and Fury knows it. He cracks his jaw, a sign his mulling over what Loki has said, even if he's not happy about it. Fury really has no choice but to accept. Even though Thor is sure that Loki won't do anything that would risk her, he's in no position to try and call Loki on that threat.

"We'll be keeping an eye on you," Fury says, and shifts on the marble. "Make no mistake about that. I don't negotiate but given the…circumstances, we'll have to compromise."

"Compromise," Loki echoes, but says nothing more.

And he's too tired, Thor realizes, to do much else. How could he not be? There's someone inside of him, relying on his magic every second of every day to stay alive, to grow. After conjuring the storm, Thor is surprised he hasn't passed out from the strain. This close to Loki, Thor can see the bags under his eyes.

"Can we cease this talk?" he says. "I think enough has been said on the matter. Loki has caused no malice of his own volition."

"Yet," Fury says.

"Do you really think that's my plan?" Loki barely lifts his head to speak. "I became pregnant so that I could come to your wretched earth and, what, exactly? Threaten it with my stomach?"

Tony's hand flies to his mouth to stifle his laughter. No matter what the situation, Loki has always made it a point to use his words as a weapon. Fury opens his mouth to reply, then shuts it slowly. Thor looks down. Loki's eyes are closed, features relaxed. He's fallen asleep, Thor realizes, still propped against him. Whatever else Fury was going to say, it will have to wait.

"Did he just fall asleep?" Steve says, taking a cautious step forward.

"He is exhausted from the strain." Thor starts to maneuver Loki gently, collecting him into his arms as Loki's head lolls against his chest. He's in too deep of a sleep to wake up and complain. "If we are quite finished here, I will take my brother to our chambers."

Thor walks away without waiting for a reply.

--

Loki sleeps for two days. He lays tucked under the bedding, Thor a near constant present beside him. Even when Bruce told him that Loki was perfectly healthy, just regaining strength, Thor was reluctant to leave. He tried to wake Loki only once: and he was met with fierce resistance. Something was around Loki like a force field, and the moment Thor tried to rouse him, his skin itched until it was painful, until he pulled his hand away. Loki did not stir.

Fury played the ice storm off as an electrical accident to the press, but he kept demanding to talk to Thor, wanting to set boundaries. But Thor refused to leave.

Eventually, Natasha pulls him away with the promise of food.

"He's not going anywhere," she says. "Trust me."

They move to the kitchen with leftovers between them, Natasha perched on the countertop and Thor leaning against the wall opposite her. He hadn't realized how hungry he was until she pulled the food from the fridge. It's silent. Thor eats quick as usual, taking huge bites and swallowing before he can really savor the taste. Natasha is watching him, her own portion mostly untouched. She's gauging him, the way she does everyone, silent and effective.

"You're really worried about him," she says.

"I am." Thor pauses in his eating. "Have I not cause to be?"

"No, you definitely do," Natasha says, and passes him a napkin. "Has it always been like that, with you two?"

She's vague on purpose. She has to be. There is more than a thousand years of history between them. It would take a lifetime to explain. Thor thinks that even if he had that long to explain, it still wouldn't make sense to most. The devotion he feels to Loki, the love and everything that comes with it, he can barely explain to himself. Thor swallows his food thickly.

"Yes, and no," he says. "Loki was not always this way. I wish you could have seen him as he was before. You would have liked him."

"And you always…" Natasha motions with her fork. "It was always different between you two. Your relationship."

It takes Thor a second to grasp what she's saying.

"No. Not always. Not until very recently."

Even though Natasha doesn't make quite the exaggerated movement Tony did, her facial expression appears much the same.

"You mean you had never—?" She pauses. "You'd thought about it though, hadn't you?"

Of course he had, even if he hadn't voiced it or known it. Thor would even venture to say Loki had been waiting for it as well. Something was always different between them.

"Many things came to light after I fell to earth," Thor says. He eats the last of the food from his plate and sets it in the sink next to Natasha. "Thank you for the meal."

He wants to get back upstairs to Loki incase he wakes. Natasha's voice stops him just before he turns to the hallway.

"You want this baby," she says, as though it is something to just now be realized.

"Why would I not? Loki is…I love him more dearly than anything else in this universe."

Thor smiles at her because she doesn't understand. Or perhaps she does.

--

He wakes up face down on the mattress and feels nothing but want. Sweaty and hot, cock trapped in his pajama bottoms between the mattress. His balls are aching. Loki shivers, suddenly wide awake, and feels around for Thor, but he's not there. He can't even bring himself to ignore it—it sits like a heat in his pelvis, a throbbing. Loki pushes at his bottoms until they slide down just enough to expose his cock, already hard and leaking. He ruts against the mattress, shameless and dizzy with it. He just needs release, and he needs it now.

Loki shifts downward, humping at the mattress until the friction is enough and he comes all over it and his stomach, warm and wet. He gasps to get his breath back, panicked when he finds himself still unbelievably aroused, just not hard. Loki doesn't move for a long time. He shuts his eyes tight and waits for the feeling to go away. It doesn't. He finally gets off the bed, sliding his pants back over his hips.

He needs to find Thor. Part of it is his own selfish want, but there's something else there. Someone else.

The trip downstairs is nearly painful. It's his body, not the child, it's hormones, it's something. He wants, badly, sick with lust to the point where he's shaking. Loki feels delirious—how long had he been asleep? It feels like it's been an age. Thor isn't in the kitchen, only Steve, perched in one of the barstools and reading the paper. He looks up when Loki comes in and frowns. His cheeks must be flushed, probably looks as aroused as he feels. It's shameful.

"Where is Thor?" he says.

His voice comes out thick and odd sounding.

"He's…out. Out shopping with Natasha," Steve says.

"Get him here. Now."

"Are you all right?"

Steve folds the newspaper up and sets it down on the table, standing and walking over to Loki. His body recoils, tells him it's not Thor. This is not who he's looking for. It's Thor, his mind screams. It's Thor. Loki curls in on himself.

"Get back," he hisses. "I need Thor. Get him here now."

Loki leaves without hearing Steve's answer.

He goes back upstairs and waits what he determines to be an unreasonable amount of time. It may only be five minutes, but by this point he's gone hard again, and touching himself just isn't enough. Thor announces his presence by crashing into the room, sweating and smelling absolutely delicious.

"Loki," he says, and Loki doesn't give him time to say anything else.

He grabs Thor by the shoulders and shoves him down onto the bed, slipping his pants off so that he's naked, intentions clear. Thor stares at him and infuriatingly does nothing. Loki pulls at his shirt, tearing the fabric.

"Get this off," he says. "What is the matter with you?"

So Thor helps, stupid expression still on his face.

"What is going on? Brother, what—"

"Please," Loki says, not even caring how it must sound. "I need it, Thor."

He seems to understand, then. Thor is naked quicker than Loki can register, body temperature skyrocketing and making him dizzy. He's given Thor permission, and Thor uses it freely. His hands slide all over Loki's body and they feel wonderful. Loki's skin tingles under the touch, shivers. He remembers what Thor's body felt like from before, and he wants it again.

Thor grabs him by his hips, pulling him forward onto the bed so that Loki is sprawled in Thor's lap, pushed flush against his chest. Thor's cock rubs hot against the seam of his ass and Loki growls.

"Oil," he says. "Do you have oil?"

Thor nods, eyes glassy, reaching behind to the bed table. Loki shuts his eyes. His need is terrifying in its intensity, a boiling, almost painful desire that nearly consumes. And how is it, that his child knows enough already to make him want? Even without seeing Thor, she knows him, and she is not intending to let Loki ignore him. Even to his own offspring, his attachment to Thor is obvious. It's sickening.

Loki's eyes snap open at the first touch of Thor's finger against his entrance. He'd been so consumed he hadn't even noticed, but now it's all his body can focus on. He opens up so easily for it, and Thor's flesh feels hot as fire. Loki's already sweating. Tangled here in Thor's arms, Loki feels something he recognizes as safety, and he can't tell if it's him or the baby that feels that. Thor moves so slow and careful, not nearly what Loki needs. He hisses but it comes out as a whine, teeth clenched together.

"Another." Loki shifts down. "Do not try and coddle me, Thor."

He gets what he wants. Thor slips another finger in, twisting slightly, pushing downward. Loki grabs the meat of his shoulders and squeezes hard, feels the weight and girth of Thor's fingers through his whole body. He doesn't even realize he's going to come until he is, sudden and almost violently, shaking in Thor's lap.

"Oh," Thor says, working him through it. "Loki."

When he slips his fingers free, Loki's body protests. He's still hard, despite the mess between them, he's still not satisfied.

"How inconvenient," Loki says, and tightens his grip on Thor when his brother tries to remove him from his lap. "No, no. Not yet."

"But you've…" Thor looks between them and sees the problem, but the confusion doesn't leave his face. "Loki, I'm not sure this is—"

"In me," Loki says, already guiding Thor's cock. "Please."

If Thor was going to protest, it dies on his lips the moment Loki sinks down on him. He trembles against Loki and they both work Thor's cock into him at a pace that is maddeningly slow but feels absolutely wonderful. Then Thor starts thrusting with his hips, pushing up into Loki with a broad hand on his back to steady him. Loki's mouth opens without his permission.

"Thor," he says, voice thick. "Oh, just—"

His hips snap and Loki yelps, voice echoing off the ceiling. He pushes down to meet Thor halfway and feels this roaring in his ears like a wave crashing. Had it felt this good before? He can't remember. Thor's other hand slides down to Loki's erection, stroking and coaxing. It brushes over Loki's rounded stomach on the way, and Loki remembers the situation for what it is. He slaps Thor's hand away.

"You haven't earned that," he says.

"You are impossible," Thor says, but keeps fucking into him. "Can I at least—brother, let me kiss you."

Loki doesn't much care what Thor does right now, as long as he doesn't stop. Thor takes his silence for permission and kisses him open mouthed, tongue wet and hot and inside. It sounds at one point as though Thor says something to him about how sweet he tastes, but Loki can't hear much over the roar in his ears. This time, when his orgasm comes, he's ready for it.

The whole building shakes.

Thor pulls out before he comes, holding himself in his hand. He's breathing heavy and shaking, and Loki rolls to the side and does much the same, feels so content in it that he decides not to move. Thor's hand encircles his ankle, stroking lightly.

"Are you satisfied, now?" he says.

"For the moment," says Loki, not to be funny, but because he thinks it's rather true.

--

To his own amazement, he sleeps again. Only a few hours, this time, and when he wakes up Thor is still there, watching him over a cup of coffee. He shifts under the covers and realizes he could go another round. Thor seems to already understand.

"Tell me something," Thor says when he has Loki on his back. "How much of this is your own doing?"

"I don't know." Loki throws a hand over his face. "I don't—oh Thor, there again, please."

Thor does.

--

He eats around the smirk on his face, twirling noodles in his fork before taking a bite. Thor watches Loki, the way the plate sits balanced on his stomach as Loki reclines on the couch. He looks utterly fucked out, but then, they both do. The past two days haven't afforded Thor much time to see the outside of their room, much less put on any clothes. He has no reason for complaint, though. Even if Loki ignored it, or pretended to, Thor could feel the tension between them. Everything unsaid and hanging there—despite returning to Asgard, Loki still harbored resentment, a suspicion of his brother that Thor couldn't seem to get him to shake. Until now. And there was no reason for it anymore, was there? They were to be parents, a child conceived between them. There was no need for animosity, not anymore.

Regardless of how thick the walls in Stark Tower were, it was impossible for the others not to know what had transpired. They sit at the table with their food untouched, awkward in their silence, though Thor does not quite understand why. It's no secret how Loki came to be pregnant.

"My friends," he says. "If you do not eat soon I fear Loki will devour your food."

Loki scoffs next to him, not even bothering to glance at the others. "They're still trying to digest the fact that we've been having sex."

"Loki," Thor says, meaning to chastise but smiling regardless.

"Please," says Clint. "Please. I'd really rather not think about it."

He snatches the parmesan cheese from the center of the table and starts dousing his spaghetti with it. Loki's eyes turn to slits, wrinkled slightly at the corners, mischievous.

"Don't be so prudish, Agent Barton. I know you're no stranger to—"

"So have you thought of any baby names?" Steve says, voice unnecessarily loud.

There's silence then, except for the sound of everyone's forks scraping against their plates. Thor looks down at his own plate. A name, he hadn't even thought about it. Things have been so hectic as of late he hadn't given it any thought at all, but a child needs a name. Traditionally, it's the father who names the child but…Thor looks up at Loki.

"Well, brother? Have you?"

"Some," Loki says. He doesn't elaborate further.

"Are you going to tell me them? Should I not have some say?"

Without looking up, Loki says, "She is mine to name. Any name you might pick would be stupid, Thor."

Before Thor can even think to react, Loki grabs hold of his stomach with one hand as if wounded. His eyes widen, not in pain but in shock, and he moves his plate away. Thor isn't sure if he should move to help or not. Loki looks both bewildered and irritated, staring down at his stomach like he's waiting for it to speak to him.

"She kicked me," he says, before Thor can ask what's wrong. He sounds flustered.

Thor laughs straight from his gut, shoulders shaking.

"She can hear you, brother." He shifts close to Loki on the couch. "Your own daughter can see you are being disagreeable."  

Loki growls, lips thin. He looks like he wants to throttle Thor, but only for a moment. The way he's watching his stomach is almost like he's terrified of it, yet amazed at the same time. Thor frowns, confused, and then he realizes.

"She's never moved like that before," Loki says, voicing Thor's thoughts. He grins, frighteningly wide. "She's getting strong."

They don't stay downstairs much longer after that. Loki claims fatigue, and that night beside him, Thor can feel how cold he is. He wraps himself around Loki, pulling him into the curve of his body, chest pressed against his back. Loki doesn't fight him. Part of it just doesn't feel right to Thor. The pregnancy seems to be taking such a toll on Loki's body—he goes from warm to cold, aching in pain to aching with lust—Thor fears it isn't healthy. Loki has always been pale, but Thor can see the way his skin is almost translucent now, eyes sunken in beneath deep circles. Is this how it should be? Such a great burden? Thor is afraid to ask, he only does as Loki requests. It's all he can do.

--

He becomes, according to Tony, a planet. The next month brings about a growth spurt that no longer allows Loki the luxury of being able to see his feet. For whatever reason, the excessive roundness of his stomach has caused the avengers to be even more cautious around him, a fearful politeness that has slowly turned genuine. Pregnancy has created a vulnerability in Loki that he cannot afford to ignore. He expected that to happen, knew it would happen, but not to such an extent.

The magic he relies on is now shared with his daughter, and she seems to have more control over it than he. Loki wonders more often now what she will look like—the color of her hair, her eyes and her stature. Will she be more a warrior, or prefer magic? She'll have both gifts. She will be a force in all the realms. A true princess.

For now, for now she wakes Loki up at midnight for food. He groans upon sitting up, Thor's arms still around him. His daughter wiggles in his stomach like a worm, restless. She is nearly fully developed now, Loki can feel where her feet press into his gut. He slips from Thor's grip and travels downstairs to the kitchen for something salty. He holds his stomach as he walks now, a habit that Loki can't remember picking up.

"Be calm, child," Loki whispers, and presses his hand firmer against his stomach. Magic glows from his palm, filtering warmth into her. It soothes her long enough for Loki to grab something to eat.

He eats alone and revels in the silence of it. Finding solitude when Thor is there is difficult enough, but adding his mortal friends into the picture makes it nearly impossible. Loki sighs as he chews, comforted by his child's contentment. It shouldn't be much longer, now. Two months at most. Two months and all he has done will be worth it.

Loki glances up to the hall entrance.

"How long are you planning on watching me?"

Natasha turns the corner, enters the kitchen.

"You look like you wanted to be alone," she says.

"'Alone' is not a possibility." Loki laughs and squeezes his stomach. "Lest you've forgotten." 

Natasha shakes her head. "No one has, trust me."

Of all the avengers, she is the most difficult to read, and Loki will begrudgingly and privately admit to respecting her for that. He allows her to sit near him as he finishes eating. She procures her own snack, and they eat in silence. When they're finished, Natasha even collects his empty plate for him, depositing it in the sink.

"Why did you come here?" she says, no longer holding back.

"To eat," Loki says.

"You know what I mean."

"I'm no fool, Agent Romanoff." Loki stretches out, reclining back into his chair. "I know what Asgard thinks of me. Do you imagine they felt jubilation upon my return? Siring a child as a male is no strange feat to them but knowing it was Thor's child inside of me? Beloved Thor, fathering the child of a traitor? Of a Jotun? I am an outsider, Agent Romanoff."

Loki can feel something inside of him cutting loose as he says it. He curls both arms around his stomach.

"But I am that no longer," he says.

Natasha watches him strangely. "Is that your play?"

Loki stands. He's said too much already to her. She thinks she understands, but she's so far from it.

"There is no play," he says.

He walks to the hallway and she doesn't follow him, but she does watch after him. Loki can feel her eyes on him. He pauses right at the opening of the hall, hand steady on the frame of it.

"Take care not to dwell on things that do not concern you. Goodnight, Agent Romanoff."

Things become more restless as the week continues. Just past midnight one morning, Loki wakes to the baby moving in his stomach. She twists her position every few minutes, punches, kicks. It's been this way almost every night for the past week. This is when she's most active, and Loki can't even sleep through it. He rubs soothing circles over his belly, trying to calm her, but she won't stop moving.

"Stubborn child," Loki says to her.  

Thor snores next to him and Loki curses him silently. He should wake him up, if for no other reason than to interrupt his sleep as well, but he knows Thor would only be overjoyed to know his daughter is healthy and moving. He'd probably encourage it.

Loki huffs and stares down at the mountainous curve of his belly. The child moves again, it's as if she's doing battle in his stomach.

"You are your father," he says, and then something in him snaps. He bolts upright in bed, hands stilled in their movement. How could it have just hit him now? He's known all along but now the weight of it is on top of him, it's crushing him. "You are your father," Loki says again. There's a moment of pause, and then a sob escapes before he can stop it. He doesn't quite understand why he's crying, only that it's beyond his control. Loki slips from the bed and into the adjacent washroom, easing himself down onto the tile floor to sit.

He lets himself cry, but it's quiet. The act of it makes his whole body shake. Loki needs Thor, not just want but need. And after everything, over a thousand years of every trial possible, he has him. Thor is not going anywhere, and Loki has a part of him inside now, he will not be forgotten, not left behind. He's done it, he's truly done it. A part of it feels terribly overwhelming, suffocating. Loki cries until his head pounds, face wet and ugly. The baby has stopped moving, oddly still, so Loki murmurs down to her.

"Not you, little one. Not you."

Something presses against his palm. It feels like her hand. Loki inhales sharply.

"Loki?"

He looks up and Thor is in the doorway. Loki hadn't even realized he was there. He bends down to Loki's level, eyes wide and concerned.

"What's wrong, brother? Why do you cry?"

There is much he could tell him, but—

"She will not sleep," Loki says, and Thor pulls him into his arms.

"You're fatigued," he says. "I am sorry."

Thor holds him with his knees bent in an awkward crouch, and Loki can do nothing but sit there and let him do so. This is a moment of weakness he must allow. Eventually, Thor helps him to stand upright, one hand supporting Loki's back. Thor doesn't lead them back to bed, he stands, watching Loki.

"I wish there was something I could do to ease this burden for you."

Loki snorts. He is being sentimental, as usual.

"You could try carrying her," he says.

Thor laughs. "I fear I cannot. Does she…she moves often?"

"Any chance she gets," Loki says.

He rests a hand along the top of his stomach. For the moment, she is actually being rather quiet. Without hesitating, Thor presses a hand alongside Loki's and waits. He's yet to feel his daughter move, only knows that she does because Loki tells him so. Loki breathes in deep and then Thor feels it—like a heartbeat under the palm. His eyes widen.

"Was that—?"

"Her hand," Loki says.

Thor kisses him before he has time to react.

"I had no idea she was so strong already. She is really—"

"Taking far too long," Loki says, and prods at his stomach. "Earth bores me more each day."

He starts back to the bed and Thor follows right behind.

"This is not something that can be rushed, Loki."

"Don't be stupid," Loki hisses. "I am aware of that fact."

He curls into bed and lies on his side, shifting very carefully. The calmness in his stomach makes him think she's fallen asleep, and Loki doesn't want to do anything that might wake her. Thor is next to him, close enough to be touching, but still not. Through the window, Loki can see the stars, even the moon in its half-crescent stage. It is nothing like the stars and moon of Asgard—it all seems wrong. He doesn't want to be here any longer.

"Father will love her," Thor says suddenly.

"Is that so?" Loki lifts his head up to look back at Thor. "You think he will allow us back with open arms?"

"I think he is stubborn and proud, probably still furious, but he is no fool. He will not deny his only granddaughter."

Loki looks back to the stars. That is exactly what he is counting on.

--

In another month or so, Loki will give birth. He says it Thor one morning, so casually that Thor almost doesn't catch it. Then he does, and his senses go haywire. Things have been slow around the city, which is well enough because Thor absolutely refuses to stray far from Loki at all. His fussing makes Loki cranky, swatting him away when he gets too close. But most days, Thor likes to talk to his daughter, and Loki does allow that. He'll walk into their chambers to find Loki sitting up in bed, frowning at whatever Midgardian literature he's managed to get a hold of. Thor will sit between his legs and talk to his daughter, place a hand over Loki's belly to feel her move again. He usually manages to do so for a good five minutes before Loki pushes him away.

"You're making her press on my bladder, you oaf."

And Thor kisses an apology on Loki's brow.

"She still knows my voice," he says.

Loki shuts his book, setting it aside with his others. Thor can't help smiling at him, giddy with the thought of holding his daughter, of quieting her when she cries. Eventually, if they wanted, they could make another child. Thor's already thought about it, they could have as many as they wanted. They could have a son. He's wearing his emotions openly, and Loki notices, head tilted slightly and mouth grinning.

"You're thinking again, brother," Loki says.

"Yes," says Thor, and kisses him.

He shoves the books to the floor, hovering above Loki and starting to undo his trousers. Loki's hands fly quickly to his own and try to still them.

"Come, brother." Thor pushes himself closer to him. "It's been an age since we've lain together."

"It has been but a month."

Loki grabs Thor's wrists and squeezes hard. He looks somewhat panicked.

"Later, Thor. Perhaps after I have birthed her."

He doesn't release Thor's wrists, even when he tries to tug them free. Loki is waiting for his word, and Thor isn't ready to give it.

"What's wrong?" he says. "You did not deny me before, you seemed to enjoy much more—"

"Has it not occurred to you that perhaps I am not in the mood?"

Thor frowns. Honestly, it hadn't occurred to him at all, because Loki seems to be always 'in the mood' these days, cornering Thor as he walks down the hallway, or pouncing on him when he comes out of the bath. Thor just doesn't buy it.

"You are lying," he says. "Why can I not see you?"

"I am a planet, your Iron Man said so himself." Loki growls and finally releases Thor's wrists, shoving them away. "My skin has stretched itself almost to the limit, do you really wish to see that?"

"Yes." Thor says it without hesitating.

He'd momentarily forgotten, much to his own surprise, how vain Loki could be. Physical appearances were something he always kept up, no matter what the situation. Loki stares at him wide-eyed, as Thor is the fool in this situation, not him. After a moment, he shifts and tugs his shirt off over his head, revealing his bare stomach. Thor can't remember the last time he's seen it. And Loki is right, his skin has stretched to the limit. Thor can see the outline of veins scattered across it, the almost bluish hue just underneath the skin. But right below, that's where his daughter is. How could Thor not think it beautiful? He leans in and kisses the skin, open-mouthed. When he looks back up, Loki's pupils are blown.

"Get undressed," he says, and Thor scrambles to do so.

Loki rides him like a punishment, driving down onto Thor's cock with his head thrown back and his throat exposed. Thor keeps both hands on Loki's stomach the whole time, holding, caressing. The skin must be extra sensitive, because it makes Loki shake uncontrollably.

"You fool," he says, breathless. "You stupid fool."

He's exhausted, after. Loki falls asleep easy, still naked on top of the covers, propped on his side. Thor watches him for a while before covering him with the blankets. He moves to lay next to him, but his stomach growls embarrassingly loud and Thor realizes that he hasn't eaten yet today.

He leaves Loki slumbering and goes to the kitchen to make a sandwich that Volstagg would surely be jealous of, practically inhaling it while he sits on the couch. In truth, he misses the food of home. Thor hasn't mentioned it to Loki, but he does miss Asgard terribly, their mother and father most of all. Going to Midgard was the right choice, but Thor is ready for home. He's ready to raise his daughter alongside Loki in their home, not here on earth where she doesn't belong.

Tony enters the kitchen with a whistle, nodding to Thor. He glances left and right, even ducks to check by Thor's feet.

"Loki is asleep," Thor says.

Tony laughs but relaxes nonetheless, scratching at the back of his neck.

"Yeah, well, I'm sure you understand why." He claps his hands together, pointing. "Hey! So, big day is coming soon, right? I hope you're ready."

"We have had ample time to prepare," Thor says.

Even without Loki in the immediate vicinity, Tony keeps pacing.

"I don't know if raising a kid here is easier than it is on Asgard, but for what it's worth, Steve is totally willing to help."

The image of Steve trying to care for an Asgardian child makes Thor laugh, and he nearly chokes on his sandwich because of it. "A valiant offer, but not necessary—Loki and I will be leaving for Asgard after she is born."

"Seriously? That soon?"

"Yes, so much needs to be attended to. We left rather abruptly, many things left unfulfilled. There was even talk of my coronation. I can only hope my father still sees me ready for it, after what has transpired. He may be furious now, but he must know it is inevitable."

Tony stops pacing abruptly, turning to fully face Thor.

"Wait. Whoa, wait a minute. You were going to take the throne? Did Loki know this?"

Thor doesn't like the tone that Tony's voice has taken. It sounds like he's aware of something that Thor isn't. He sets his sandwich down, pushing the plate aside.

"Of course he knew. Why do you ask this?"

Tony slides down next to him on the couch. "Thor, just try and see this with a clear head. This is Loki here, okay? You told me what happened at your first coronation."

Thor's throat starts to constrict. Surely Tony is not suggesting…

"What are you saying?"

"It's too convenient, Thor, that's what I'm saying. Talk of your coronation and then suddenly Loki gets pregnant? You can't tell me it doesn't sound like he planned this."

Thor stands up so violently he knocks the coffee table over, sandwich pinned helplessly beneath it. Tony jumps up with him, scrambling to get off the couch to avoid becoming collateral damage. He's a second too slow, though. Thor grabs him by the collar of his shirt and heaves him forward, the fabric already tearing under his grip. Tony makes a choked noise, holding onto Thor's wrists for leverage.

"You dare assume that my child is nothing more than a cheap ploy?"

"No," Tony says. "No, that's not—wow, you've got a good grip—I'm just saying—"

"You bring insult upon her by even implying such a thing!"

He's got Tony in the air now, and Tony is just kicking his legs trying to get ground back. Thor won't even think about it. He won't. The idea of it is too absurd. Why would Loki subject himself to such a thing, all to ruin Thor's second chance at becoming king? Why?

"When has he ever been honest with you?" Tony says, voice strangled. "I'm not trying to insult you, Thor, I'm just trying to get you to see what could be really going on here, since you're too blindly in love with Loki to even notice! Think about it and tell me it doesn't sound like he had some hand in this. Tell me that!"

Thor lets Tony go. He drops to the couch and rolls to the floor, rubbing his neck to get circulation back. Tony has made a really good point, as much as Thor doesn't want to admit it, but when it comes down to it, Loki has never been honest. He's always been scheming, plotting, even when it was just for good fun. It's who he is, and Thor didn't want to see it. Didn't want to think it could be possible.

Tony pushes himself upright, ignoring Thor's hand outstretched to help. He fiddles with his shirt collar, now stretched out and ruined. Thor can only stand there, ashamed at his outburst.

"Sorry," Tony says.

"No," says Thor. "I am sorry."

He moves to put the coffee table back on its legs, but doesn't bother to pick his plate up from the floor. Tony must sense what he's about to do, because he simply nods to him, though his face is full of pity. Thor nods back to him, and then walks out of the room.

Loki is awake and dressed when Thor walks into their room. If he weren't pregnant, Thor would have probably thrown him across the room the moment he saw him. Instead he stalks towards him, crowding Loki against the wall. He's too angry, too devastated, too many, many things to form words, so he just watches Loki as if he can pull the truth out of him that way. Loki squirms under his gaze, but the moment he opens his mouth to speak, Thor finds his words.

"You called me a fool, earlier, and you were right."

"Thor—"

"You knew that father was going to put me on the throne within a year's time," he says. "You knew this and then you came to me, into my bed, for the first time in all the years I've known you. Why?"

Loki says nothing. He just stands there, terrifyingly silent, and that hurts all the more. Tony is right, Thor is too blind to see Loki's deception. He always has been. Thor punches the wall next to Loki's head, fist going right through the drywall. Loki doesn't even flinch.

"Was this all a ploy? Was this—" Thor uses his free hand to flatten his palm over Loki's stomach. "Was this nothing more than a way to see me stopped from being king once more? Have we not moved past this? Answer me, Loki!"

All at once, Loki comes to life again. He snarls, hands on Thor's shoulders to push him away. With his teeth bared, he looks much more feral, hands curling around his stomach for protection.

"Is that really what you think? That I became pregnant to stop you from succeeding to the throne?"

"I do not know, but answer me this: was it truly an accident, or did you plan it?"

"Which would make you feel better to hear?" Loki says.

"I do not wish to hear what would make me feel better. I wish to hear the truth."

Surely Loki is capable of that much. If he owes Thor one thing, it is this. He had suspected in the beginning, he truly had. Thor knows Loki, though he ignores his faults, he is aware of what he can do. But to do this, to conceive a child…it seemed too mad, even for him. Judging by what's happening now, though, Thor realizes he was wrong.

"I came to you that night with every intention of conceiving," Loki says.

He knew it was coming, but still shatters Thor's heart to hear it. He looks down at the carpet. It hurts far too much to look at his brother right now.

"After all this time, you still resent me?" Hot tears gather in the corner of Thor's eyes. "Even you, Loki, could not hate me so much."

"It isn't hate," Loki says. "Are you truly that blind, Thor?"

Thor looks up. "Blind to what?"

"Who am I, in the eyes of Asgard?" Loki steps toward him, leaning away from the wall. "I am a traitor, an outcast. A criminal. They look upon me with disgust, Thor. It's only you that sees me as someone who belongs. So you become king of Asgard, and then what becomes of me?"

"You…" Thor shakes his head. "You would rule by my side. You would be my advisor."

Loki breathes out like it's painful, and then Thor realizes that he's holding back a laugh as though Thor has missed something vitally important. He stalks around him like he's prey, eyes wide and mad.

"A nice sentiment, brother. Me by your side…until you got married, of course. Until you had heirs. What woman would be worthy of ruling beside you? Do I get nothing?"

"Loki," Thor says. "Brother, listen to what you're saying."

"I am listening! You are the one who is deaf to everything." Loki is upon him with a fury and desperation that Thor has never seen before. "Did you really think I'd be forced into the shadows again? Did you think I would let you forget me?"

"Forget?" Thor has to repeat it over and over again in his head. There is no way that Loki could think that. No way that his self-loathing could be so great that he'd think such a thing. How could Thor ever forget him—he couldn't, it's that simple. "Brother, what have you done?"

"What I had to. I've ensured my place. I made sure we conceived."

Loki's holding him by the arms, grip tight, but Thor can see the way he shakes. He truly believes it. He truly believes that Thor will forget him, cast him aside. It makes Thor dizzy just thinking about. He can see the desperation in Loki's eyes from it. The last part of what Loki's said comes rocketing into his brain.

"What do you mean, made sure?" Thor says. He looks down at Loki. "What do you mean by that?"

Any sense of preservation Loki had seems to be gone. He's not even attempting to lie to cover it up, he's just speaking.

"Look at me. I am no Asgardian, but I am no frost giant, either. Jotun can conceive but I am a runt, not even true Jotun by their standards. It wouldn't be so simple."

Loki holds his hand up, the skin almost translucent and blue looking, far too sick for what is normal. Thor understands then, what he means. Capable of conceiving, sure, but carrying a child to term would be near impossible for him.

"You used magic," Thor says. "Your own magic to make sure she would live. The toll it's been taking on your body is—"

"Worth it."

Thor's fury comes back tenfold. "Worth it? Loki, you have gone mad. You could have killed yourself and yet you still did this. You did this and you did not have to. After all this time, you thought I would forget you? How could I do such at thing, brother? I love you."

Loki shakes his head. "Yes, now you do—"

"I started and never stopped! How could you think you had to force me into loving you? It comes so easy, Loki. There is no force."

He tries to grab hold of Loki once again, but he slips away from him. Thor suddenly has a terrible feeling in his gut. Loki looks shocked, face white, as if he really did not know it. He truly thought that Thor would leave him, forget him, and in order to keep him, he subjected himself to this. Loki looks ready to bolt, and that scares Thor most of all. He can't let that happen, not when Loki is so close to giving birth. Where would he go? He's in no condition to travel realms, his body couldn't handle it. Panicked, Thor steps toward him, moving quick to grab him.

Only Loki is quicker. He disappears in a blink, no smoke, no light, no trace of magic. He's just gone. Thor stares at the space where he should be, arms still outstretched.

"Loki," he says.

There is nothing. He doesn't come back. Thor says his name again, and when there is still silence, Thor starts to scream it.

--

Twenty-four hours and there is no sign of Loki. Natasha sits with Thor on the roof, the sun barely rising over the horizon. She has an arm around him, barely able to fit around his shoulder, but comforting nonetheless.

"We'll find him," she says. "He couldn't have gone that far."

"Loki is not easily found when he wishes to hide."

He turns to Natasha and tries to smile for her, but finds it difficult. At this moment, Loki could be anywhere, doing anything, and Thor is powerless to help him. Natasha squeezes his shoulder.

"You couldn't have known—"

"Yet I should have," Thor says.

He picks up a pebble from the rooftop and tosses it into the horizon, watching until it disappears into the rising sun. Tony and Bruce are working to try and track Loki, though Thor thinks it will be a fruitless effort, he appreciates it regardless. If they find him, when they find him, Thor will go to him and set this right.

"In my youth, I was cruel by my own ignorance. I thought only of my own gains, and Loki paid the price for it. I belittled him in front of my comrades, shut him down to suit my own selfishness. He is my brother, I should have been protecting him and instead I helped to fuel his madness."

Natasha grabs his hand, squeezing tight. "Thor that's not…you're putting too much blame on yourself. Don't do that. I won't let you."

"But it is what I have," Thor says.

Later, much later, when Loki has given birth and their daughter is safe, Thor will throttle him for thinking such things, for believing that Thor could ever forget him. He cannot even begin to imagine a life without him, it's inconceivable. For now, all he wants is to hold him, to feel the bite of Loki's tongue once more. Loki is prideful, sometimes dangerously so. If he doesn't come back soon then Thor fears he never will. He'll never get to see his daughter.

He and Natasha both turn as the door to the roof opens. Bruce and Clint step out.

"We've get every camera in the city looking for Loki," Bruce says. "Clint even volunteered to do a sweep with Steve."

"For you, not him," Clint says, looking at Thor.

"Thank you, my friend."

Bruce crouches next to Thor, glasses tucked in his hand. "You said he used magic to keep the baby alive…if that's true then he's probably going to need help delivering her. I can't imagine he'll be able to do it on his own. Loki will have to come back."

"You don't think…" Natasha trails off, glancing to Clint.

"That he's crazy enough to try it on his own?" Clint shrugs. "Let's hope he's not, for Thor's sake."

Thor nods, staring out into the city. Loki wouldn't put the baby at risk like that, or at least, Thor hopes he wouldn't. He isn't sure what to think anymore. Loki has always been unpredictable. This is no exception. What Thor really wants is to get his mother's advice on the matter, but he can't even do that. He must wait. He must be patient.

After a week, Thor's patience turns into full blown anxiety. Clint and Steve do a sweep around the city but find nothing. Thor even goes with them a second time, but it's like Loki was never there. He can't eat, can't find sleep, he screams to the sky for Loki to come back but there is nothing. Worse yet, Thor is afraid to go too far to look for him. If Loki returns and he isn't there, then what? He won't stay with the avengers, there's just no way. If he returns, Thor wants to be there.

He hardly sleeps. His mind won't let him. Every night, he hears the sound of what he thinks is Loki's returning, his feet stepping over the threshold and onto the carpet. Even with the extra weight, Loki is still light on his feet, but Thor knows every sound that comes from him, every subtle move that could be him. It never is. But Thor still lays in bed with room enough for Loki to slip in beside him.

"Brother," he says into the pillows. "Where are you?"

--

Two weeks and there is no sign of Loki. Bruce and Tony keep searching for him with their technology, but there are no leads whatsoever. Thor does little else besides watch the horizon for his brother. It's getting to the point now where he is considering leaving to look for Loki himself, even know though he knows that effort would be in vain. Loki is very, very good at hiding.

Clint eventually pulls Thor from his chambers and forces him to have a beer with him.

"I can't stand to look at you like this, man," he says. "You're depressing me."

They shoot pool. More specifically, Clint shoots pool and Thor watches. The purpose of the game is somewhat strange to him, and the pool cue never fits right in his hands. He nurses his beer instead.

"I'm sorry about all this," Clint says, after half of the billiard balls are in the pockets of the table. "You know I'm not Loki's biggest fan but, I feel kinda bad. Mostly for you, though."

Thor looks up. He'd been lost in thought, watching the green felt of the pool table, beer nearly forgotten in his hand.

"Why do you feel badly?"

"After everything Loki's done it's just, I don't know." Clint shrugs and takes aim at a ball, going for the corner right pocket. He misses. "Damn. It's just a bad situation, is all."

He aims again and this time gets the ball in. There's only one left on the table now, but Clint ignores it. He leans against his pool cue, watching Thor, waiting for some kind of answer.

"I will readily admit that the situation is less than desirable," Thor says, and takes a swig out of his beer. "Nonetheless, I will find Loki and bring him back. He and our daughter will be together."

"After all this? You're seriously going to let him—"

"Would you expect any other decision from me? In my position, Clint Barton, would you not do the same?"

"I don't know," Clint admits. "Shit, probably."

"I only want to find him again." Thor glances down into his beer. It's nearly empty. "May I have another?"

Clint laughs, reaching into the cooler and tossing Thor another can. "As many as you want, big guy."

--

At seven minutes past two the next morning, Loki returns. Thor wakes because something in his mind tells him to, and then seconds later, Loki appears in the doorway to their chambers. He teleports in on all fours, head bowed. Then he collapses on his side, motionless.

"Brother," Thor says, jumping from the bed.

For a horrifying moment, he thinks Loki's dead, he's that still. Thor's heart drops to his stomach, cold and uncertain, but then Loki starts writhing violently. He gasps out for breath, rolling onto his back and clutching at his stomach as if to tear. The closer Thor gets, he can see movement under Loki's shirt, as if the baby is literally trying to rip him open. He's in labor, Thor realizes, panic setting in.

It seems too early, though. There should still be more time, shouldn't there? Thor can't even rejoice in the fact that Loki has returned. He is in labor, and he does not appear to be doing well.

"Jarvis," he says, looking upward. "Do you hear my call?"

"I'm alerting Dr. Banner now," Jarvis replies.

Thor grabs Loki by the shoulders, pulling him more into the room.

"Brother, can you hear me?" Thor strokes his hand.

Then, Loki screams. It's so loud that it's terrifying, and hurts Thor's ears as much as it does his heart. He's never once heard Loki scream like that before, in a pain so great he cannot even begin to imagine it. Thor squeezes his hand.

"She's coming," Loki says, voice raw. "Thor, she's coming, we have to get her out."

Thor nods, trying not to show his panic. Loki is sweating, skin deathly pale now. He doesn't look very good at all. Thor looks up as footfalls approach—it's Bruce, followed closely behind by Natasha. She keeps a safe distance but Bruce ventures further inward, crouching down to Thor's level.

"Okay," he says, swallowing. "Okay, he's in labor, we have to—Loki, when did this start?"

Loki teeth are clenched so tight Thor thinks he can hear them cracking, but he does manage to open his mouth to say, "An hour."

"We have to get him downstairs," Bruce says. "We can carry him."

He moves to Loki's feet, preparing to lift them, but Loki kicks, forcing Bruce away stumbling.

"There is no time!" Loki bites down on his own tongue, hissing. "Cut her out, Thor. CUT HER OUT!"

He tears his hand away from Thor's, scrambling at the fabric of his shirt until it rips open. Thor had not been wrong earlier—the baby literally is pushing and moving to get out of Loki, only there's nowhere for her to go. She will tear Loki apart to get out unless she's released. Thor shakes. If they don't get her out, she will kill Loki. He will have to do it.

"Oh my god," Natasha says behind them. "Thor…"

"Get me a knife," Thor says.

Bruce wipes at his forehead. "I'm not sure that's safe."

"A knife." Thor holds his hand out. "Please."

Natasha moves to him and pulls a knife from her boot, placing it in his open palm. Loki screams again, the very act of it seems like it will tear his throat. Natasha touches Thor's shoulder.

"Are you sure we shouldn't try and get him downstairs?"

"No." Thor shakes his head. "He won't last."

He steadies a hand over the highest point of Loki's belly, setting the knife below it. Natasha backs away, Bruce joining her. Thor's hands are steady, but he fears. This will hurt Loki beyond measure, perhaps even their daughter.

"Do it," Loki says, voice strained. "Before she tears me apart. Please."

Thor deep slices across his stomach without a second thought. Blood blooms warm from under the skin, spilling out in all directions. Loki's eyes are squeezed shut, tears running from the corners. His hands are clawing at the carpet. Thor takes a breath and then reaches into the incision, the wound stretching of its own volition. There's a clear, almost membrane like skin inside Loki's stomach that tears easily, and Thor can feel her right inside. He grabs hold of her, one hand still holding the knife to cut the umbilical cord. Then he pulls his daughter out, covered in blood and fluid, cradling her against him despite that.  

She's beautiful, that's all Thor can think. She's small and cries immediately, tucked carefully against Thor. He looks up at Natasha and Bruce. They're staring slack-jawed.

"A towel, please," Thor says, and Natasha bolts to the bathroom to fetch one.

He cannot stop staring at her. Her eyes remain closed still, but Thor can see a dusting of golden hair upon her head, can feel how strong she is already. This is his child, their child. He and Loki's. Thor looks down at his brother. Loki's body has finally released itself of all tension, nearly still against the carpet once more.

Natasha comes back with the towel and Thor wraps her in it, trying to wipe the blood from her as gently as possible. He smiles because he can't help it—she is here.

Loki reaches up, arms shaking. "Give her to me," he says. "Let me hold my daughter."

Thor obeys. He props Loki against him, his head resting in Thor's lap. Then he hands their daughter to him. Loki holds her close, shutting his eyes, whispering something to her that Thor can't quite hear. She quiets immediately, bundled safe against him. They stay like that a moment, peace and silence, and then Thor touches Loki's forehead. He's cold, clammy. When Thor looks down, he notices that Loki hasn't stopped bleeding. The wound in his gut is still fresh and open.

"Brother," Thor says. "You must heal yourself."

Loki shakes his head, though he barely has the strength to. "I cannot."

Thor's pulse quickens. "What do you mean? Loki—"

"I mean I can't." Loki's eyes slide open. "I'm too weak."

Thor wraps an arm around him, placing another hand over the cut on his stomach. Blood is flowing out, warm over Thor's hand, and there is too much of it, there is far too much. He looks up at Bruce, panicked.

"Can you stop this?"

Bruce kneels again, pressing his hand against Thor's to apply pressure. Loki's breathing feels more shallow, his eyes closing once again. Their daughter begins to cry. This can't happen. He won't let this happen. Loki's exhausted his magic to bring her into being, and now he's bleeding out on the floor, his daughter in his arms.

"We have to get him downstairs, now." Bruce repeats his action from earlier, moving to grab Loki's ankles and lift him up. This time, Loki doesn't try and stop him. He doesn't move at all. "He's lost too much blood."

The rest is a blur. Thor remembers taking his daughter back in his arms, holding her as close as he possibly can. Natasha and Bruce carry Loki downstairs, a trail of blood behind them and Thor can only watch, can only follow behind in horror, his daughter crying in his arms.

"I'm sorry," Loki says, as they lay him on the table.

He doesn't open his eyes.

--

He ran because he was a coward. Loki will admit that himself and himself only. He ran because he was a fool. But the look on Thor's face, the anger, the betrayal, Loki couldn't take it. He ran. He hid. It was only supposed to be a few days, time for Thor to think of how much Loki was right, to realize. But it turned into something else entirely. Loki had ruined everything, as was his lot in life.

When he first was sure of his pregnancy, very early on, it was all a means to an end. The baby, everything—it was a way to keep Thor. It was for himself and himself only. And in hiding, Loki realized that none of it mattered. He had Thor no matter what, and he could not stop loving him. On top of it all, he could not stop loving his daughter. He wanted to hate her, but instead he put his body through torture for her, used his own magic to protect her, to feed her. He was as ill prepared as Thor when it came down to it, no clue what he was in for. All he wanted was more time.

Now he has it all.

Loki wakes to something wet on his neck. He feels like he's been asleep for years, eyelids heavy, mouth dry and rancid tasting. There's a shift against him, and Loki sees where the wetness is coming from. It's drool. It's his daughter's drool as she sleeps curled against him, bundled in a blanket. Loki stares.

She is a perfection he did not realize could exist. Her skin is still slightly pink, eyes fluttered shut. Her hair is blond, wisps of it floating around her head like cotton candy. She's so tiny, Loki thinks, touching her hand with his finger. Every part of her seems delicate, but Loki knows she's strong. Part of him is still with her, it always will be. He shifts to get his limbs to stop feeling so heavy, and a sharp pain radiates from his stomach, like something pulling. Loki hisses, reaching to pull down the covers and lift his shirt. There are staples across his stomach, a neat row of them holding the flesh together.

He doesn't remember much about the birth, only images and moments—blood and pain and Thor's panicked face.

His daughter shifts against him, little baby noises slipping from her mouth as she moves. Loki watches, enchanted by it. Then her eyes open. They are a startling green, just like his. Loki breathes in. Everything about her feels so natural to him, more than he ever thought it would. He opens his mouth to speak, but nothing comes. She smiles at him.

And Loki smiles back.

The door opens and Thor enters, weary looking. When he sees Loki, his eyes light up.

"Loki," he says. "You're awake."

He sits beside him on the bed, one hand reaching out to touch their daughter. For some reason, Loki's first instinct is to pull her away, but he resists it as Thor strokes her head. She squirms, pleased with it.

Loki sits up with great effort, doing his best to avoid ripping out the staples in his stomach. He still doesn't feel quite up to healing yet, he's too tired. Thor says nothing else, and Loki realizes that he doesn't know what to say, so he takes the initiative.

"How long was I out?"

"Nearly a day." Thor searches Loki's eyes. "How do you feel?"

"I am fine," he says, and cradles his daughter against his breast.

Thor copies his position on the bed, slipping an arm over Loki's shoulder, staring down at their daughter with him. Her eyes are closed again, it seems she's fallen asleep once more.

"What shall we name her?" says Thor.

Loki strokes her brow. "Valdis. Her name will be Valdis."

Thor shoots him a look, frowning with his whole face. He doesn't approve, Loki knew he wouldn't, but he's not going to change it. He felt the name before he gave it to her—it's hers.

"Brother," Thor says. "That is not funny."

"It isn't meant to be. It's hers. She claimed it."

Valdis is calm against him, but Loki still gives her over to Thor when he asks, letting him hold her with one hand. She looks even smaller in his arms. Thor watches her the way Loki imagines he himself does—enraptured by her existence, her perfection. The way he smiles at her, it makes Loki feel something. It's the way Thor smiles at him, sometimes.

"Valdis," Thor says, whispering it, testing it. "Perhaps it is not so bad."

Loki laughs and then winces when it pains his stomach. He needs to eat, and then he'll be able to properly heal himself. He can feel his magic within him, but it's still faint, not quite where it should be. The mortal method of healing is too slow and crude for Loki's tastes.

"I need to eat," he says, and stands. But then it's like the world spins itself and then he's falling again, collapsing to the floor. It makes the staples in his stomach stretch and Loki hisses from the pain, clutching his stomach. Blood oozes. He hears Thor call his name and it sounds off, but he does feel when Thor picks him up and helps him back onto the bed. Loki realizes that he's hilariously out of breath and dizzy. He can't remember the last time he felt so weak.

"You are not well, Loki," Thor says. "You need to rest."

"I do not wish to rest. I wish to leave."

He goes to smooth a hand over his rounded stomach and then remembers that it's not anymore. Loki's chest tightens.

"Give her to me," he says, and Thor puts Valdis back in his arms without protest.

A very strong part of him doesn't want to let her go at all. She was inside him for so long that it feels strange not to have her near all the time. She was part of him, and now she has taken part of him with her into physical being. He feels lonely and it's nearly impossible to understand, but it's there. Loki breathes in, calmer now that Valdis is back against him. Thor checks his forehead for a fever but seems satisfied that there isn't one, because he moves from the bed.

"I will fetch you something to eat. Please do not move, Loki."

"I will move if I want," Loki says, but closes his eyes.

He does eat, a meal that Thor clearly did not cook but is delicious nonetheless. It takes him a while to finish it, it's actually a little painful to, and Loki is still amazed by how weak he is. Normally, with his magic, it takes him hours to heal, but Valdis seems to have taken some of his magic with her, at least for a time. They have to leave, soon. Midgard has served its purpose for them, but Loki itches to leave it. He lies next to Thor in bed, curled on his side so Valdis can sleep against him. There's no crib here for her, but Loki doesn't think he'd want to place her in it either way. The thought of leaving her alone is unfathomable.

"We will leave tomorrow," he says, once Thor has turned out the light.

Thor mirrors his position so he can watch Valdis, nodding his agreement. They stay like that a while, watching their daughter sleep, a peace between them that has not been felt in ages.

"I was afraid you would not come back," Thor says, sometime later, when Loki is nearing sleep.

He opens his eyes. "But I did."

"Was it because she was coming?"

Loki watches Valdis. He isn't sure anymore. He was planning to leave that day, to go back to Thor. He's sure he would have done it. But then she came, much earlier than he expected. It started with a dull pain in his stomach, and then it grew to an intensity he could not bear within a matter of minutes. Loki was terrified by it. The only thought he had to was to find Thor, because above all, Thor would help him. Save him. Didn't he always?  

"Go to sleep, brother," Loki says, and Thor says nothing more about it.

--

Thor has to help him to the roof. Even though Loki insists he can do it himself, Thor won't let him go, especially since Loki refuses to let Valdis out of his arms for any extended length of time. Thor doesn't understand it, and how could he? He wasn't the one who endured her. He even wanted them to stay a few more days, let Loki heal, but he wouldn't even hear of it. Loki is anxious to go home, and he knows Thor is as well. When they make it to the roof, Thor's comrades are waiting for them. Loki tightens his hold on Valdis as they approach, wide-eyed. They've yet to see Valdis, no one would dare go near their chambers while Loki was healing. But babies make people weak, and they watch Valdis as if they've never seen a child before.

Steve asks if they can hold her and Loki just hisses.

"Do you honestly think—"

"Brother," Thor says, leveling him with a stern look. "They have been kind, have they not? Bruce Banner even healed you when you could not do so yourself."

Loki's eyes flicker to Bruce. He did figure as much, considering the mortal approach to medicine. Without their assistance, he would have most likely died.

"By crude methods," Loki says, but hands Valdis to Steve anyway. "Do not falter with her in your arms, Captain Rogers, or I will have your head as a trophy."

Steve doesn't pay much attention to him at all. He smiles down at Valdis, rocking her gently in his arms.

"She's big already," Tony is saying. "I guess that makes sense, Asgardian god and all…"

Natasha holds her next, though she's awkward about it at first, she relaxes moments after. Loki watches them all with intensity, waiting for one of them to slip up.

"What's her name?" Natasha asks.

"Valdis," Thor says, eyeing Loki from the side.

"Is there something wrong with that?" says Steve.

"In your tongue, it translates to goddess of the dead." Loki grins. "Thor finds it too dark."

Thor bristles. "I did not say—"

"I think it's beautiful," Natasha says.

Loki smiles quietly at her.

They finally give Valdis back, and Loki is all too relieved by it. He truly does not like letting her go—his hands shake without her. He can tell Thor's friends don't want them to go at all, the fools. Midgard is no place to raise their child, and Loki knows that staying with them any longer than necessary might cause him to commit murder. It's been far too long since he's created any mischief, child excluded.

"Maybe you should stay a bit longer," Bruce says.

"I'm afraid that's not possible." Thor exchanges hugs with each of them. "We knew we would have to return to Asgard at some point, and it must be now."

He steps back with Loki and there is an awkward moment where Loki fears they think he is going to hug them. Instead, he bows with his shoulders, Valdis moving with him.

"I owe you thanks, and you have it."

"Well, damn," Tony says. "Don't get all emotional on us now."

"You're sure this is a good idea?" Bruce says. "Loki still seems…I mean you went through a heavy operation."

Steve nods and then points up. "Also, you know."

What they know of Odin is limited, just the rumors of mythology, the words from Thor himself. But the Allfather has gone softer in his old age. Thor smiles at his friends, a hand on Steve's shoulder to comfort him. Are they sure? No, but even they know Thor cannot remain on earth forever, no matter how precious it is to him.

Loki smirks. He certainly won't miss this place, but it will be…different without it. He holds Valdis with both arms as Thor wraps his own around him, glancing upward. He is nervous, he won't admit it, but he is. Loki has waited so long for this, and now he is close to having it. No matter what happens after, he has this.

"Ready?" Thor says, and Loki nods.

He lifts Mjölnir and the sky cracks.

--

If Odin had any fury, it's lost the moment Thor and Loki are escorted into the throne room. He rushes forward from the throne, faster than Loki has seen in a long while, robes fluttering behind him, and then he stops a mere foot in front of them, staring hard at Valdis in Loki's arms. She's nothing more than a bundle of green cloth, tucked protectively against Loki.

"Father," Thor starts.

"Let me hold her."

Loki steps back. "For what purpose?"

Odin stares at him, wounded, but Loki cannot afford to be trusting.

"She is my granddaughter, future heir to the throne. I would hold her in my arms with your permission."

His permission. Loki waits a beat before stepping forward, closing the distance between them. Valdis is not asleep but staring open and curious at the room around her. This is different from Midgard, this is her home, her birthright. She catches Odin's gaze and keeps it, not at all worried by him, and that's enough for Loki. He hands her over to Odin and he cradles her in his arms, the lines in his face seeming to smooth out the more he watches her.

"You are both such fools," he says, looking at Valdis but speaking to them. "Such fools."

"But you do not deny her," Thor says.

"How could I," says Odin sharply. "She is of my own blood. Did you really think me so cruel?"

"Yes," Loki says. He itches to take Valdis back into his arms. Is it normal, to feel so anxious for her? To feel divided without her? He breathes in. "I felt your fury from Midgard the moment you knew it to be true."

"I was furious at your actions, yes." Odin strokes the line of Valdis's forehead. "But I would not punish her for that now. You lied to get your way, tricked your own brother, never mind the ramifications this will cause when the people find out who her parents are. Do you think her life will be easy?"

"Who intends to make it difficult?" Loki wants to reach out and take Valdis back. He wants to snatch her from Odin's hands and leave with her, but that would solve nothing.

"Do not insinuate it would be I," Odin says. "Though you must have known the difficulties this would cause when you forced this pregnancy on yourself."

Loki stares, Thor assuming the same expression from beside him. Just how long had the Allfather been watching them?

"You knew of this," Thor says. "For how long?"

"Since I sent the ravens to watch you."

Loki barely manages to keep the surprise from his face. He had truly underestimated him. Thor's face twists from where he stands, obviously displeased, unsure of why Odin knew but would not say anything. He let them play it out.

"Why," Thor says. "Why would you not tell me?"

Odin finally, finally hands Valdis back to Loki. He takes her close and she reaches out to grab his shirt, hand so tiny, yet incredibly strong already.

"You made a decision," Odin says. "You are an adult, not a child. You left to take care of this on your own, and I let you. If after all that had transpired, you still found it in your heart to forgive Loki, then I knew I would not have to intervene at all. Would it have changed your mind if I did?"

Loki can't help the laugh that comes from his mouth. Even Valdis gurgles against him, as if she heard as well. Thor is standing slack-jawed, most likely torn between anger and frustration. Perhaps both, and perhaps Odin's decision would have come back to bite him, but it seems to have worked out well enough. While they were on earth, the Allfather was watching, wise to Loki's scheme nearly the entire time. But he wanted to see what Thor would do. Loki cannot tell if he's disappointed or not. Maybe he no longer cares, now that he's held Valdis.

"No. No, but you could have told me from the beginning," Thor says. "Rather than let me be blind to it for so long."

"Then you would have learned nothing."

The doors to the throne room open once more and Loki's heart clenches when he sees Frigga walk in, eyes already glossy with tears.

"My lady…"

"I should strike you, I was so worried," she says, but she merely pulls him to him in a hug that makes Loki go stiff but does not pull away from.

"Perhaps, given the conditions, you might not." Loki offers her Valdis. "Would you like to hold your granddaughter?"

She can only nod. Loki hands Valdis to her, and it's much easier. Frigga's touch has always been gentler. He notices now, how weary Frigga and Odin look. They've been worried, probably, about the difficulties they would have to face when Loki and Thor returned with a child undeniably theirs. He knew they wouldn't deny her. They're too soft, much too soft for that.

"There is much we need to discuss," Odin says, watching Frigga as she fauns over Valdis. Loki wonders if they acted the same way over him and Thor as babies, chubby and innocent, so wide-eyed and curious.

"Later," says Frigga. "Loki looks paler than death itself and Thor is no better."

As she says it, Loki feels it. The journey back was not difficult, but his body is still drained. Thor looks, for the first time in all the months they've been gone, like he is able to relax and get a full night's rest. Odin appears hesitant to release them, but he ultimately does, with one last look at Valdis before they go.

There is a cradle brought to Thor's chambers. Loki isn't asked if he wants to stay in his own room, though he supposes there isn't much need to, now. The cradle is encased in gold, satin lining the insides, the walls of it decorated in mythical beasts. It's new, and by the craftwork of it, Loki is sure it was built by Odin himself.

Thor examines it himself anyway, deeming it sturdy enough to lay Valdis in. She takes to it immediately, seemingly exhausted herself from the journey. After she shuts her eyes, Thor sits on the bed, hands folded in his lap. Loki sits next to him. They don't speak. It's a strange silence, because Loki can tell Thor has something to say, he just won't. Maybe he's thinking about what Odin said. About Valdis not having an easy life. Loki honestly hadn't thought much about it until recently. He'd only been thinking about himself, because that was what he did best. But it's different now, and he can't deny that. Loki can't deny much these days.

A chambermaid knocks before entering their chambers, a towel folded over one arm. She walks towards the cradle like she intends to pick Valdis up, and Loki is standing before she makes it another foot, fists clenched, anger spreading up from his belly into his throat. The chambermaid stares at him, obviously frightened, but she says nothing. Loki looks down at her.

"What are you doing?"

"I was instructed the child needed a bath."

"No," Loki says, stepping between her and the cradle. "Touch her and I will strip the marrow from your bones, do you understand me?"

"Loki," Thor says.

He grabs his arm to pull him back, but Loki won't move. He's seeing red, he's seething. Panicking. It isn't so much as the thought of someone else touching Valdis, it's the thought that she might be taken away from him. The thought is irrational, unwarranted, Loki knows that but it doesn't stop him from feeling it. The chambermaid looks between them, shaking.

"I…Lady Frigga instructed me—"

"It is all right," Thor says, keeping his voice soft. "We will see to it ourselves. Thank you."

The chambermaid bows and then leaves, door shutting tight behind her. Thor pulls Loki back to him by his arm.

"Brother," he says. "What was the meaning of that?"

Loki isn't sure how to explain it, so he doesn't try.

"I don't know. Leftover adrenaline from dealing with Odin, perhaps."

"Enough," Thor says. "We are home now, there is no threat present. Our daughter is safe, and you are still ill. Sleep now, please, so that I do not have to worry over both of you."

Loki wants to open his mouth and argue it but he is still tired, wants nothing more than to crawl into the bed and sleep for days. So he agrees without another word, following Thor to the washroom.

Only he doesn't sleep. Thor passes out almost immediately, snoring softly on his back, but Loki stares at the ceiling in the darkness and nothing comes. His stomach hurts from the staples. He still hasn't tried healing, or using any magic at all, really. Loki shuts his eyes again, trying to force himself to sleep, but his mind won't be quiet. He slips out of bed without rousing Thor, tip-toeing to Valdis's cradle. She's asleep, breathing tiny and even and perfect. Loki lifts her from the cradle without waking her, resting her head against his shoulder before leaving the room.

Asgard is much more beautiful at night—less humid, quieter, the golden air of it no longer stifling and blinding but calm and understated. Loki likes this Asgard much better. He walks the grounds with Valdis, stepping silently through the halls and gardens, watching the stars. Thor doesn't understand it, but Loki can't fault him for it, not really. Valdis is here, alive and healthy, but Loki still feels like one of his organs was ripped away from him too soon. Loki sits on one of the stone benches, watching her as she sleeps.

"You should be asleep."

Loki doesn't look up as Odin joins him, but he does tense.

"I am a little too old for that, am I not?" he says.

Odin stands next to him, looking like he wants to sit, but he remains upright.

"You aren't well."

"I haven't been for some time."

"You know what I mean," Odin says, and sighs. "Weariness surrounds you."

Loki shifts as Odin sits, finally making the decision to. He considers getting up, but he remains seated next to him, eyes focused elsewhere.

"Your compassion comes too late, Allfather."

"Yet you seek it. What did you expect, when you came back here? A celebration?" Odin sighs again and shifts next to him. "Or were you expecting me to cast you back out? I cannot read you, Loki."

"I expected nothing. Only to know that my place here is now secure."

He looks at Odin, eyes searching his face for an answer. Thor had his own ideas, but what would Odin do? The Allfather stares at him, stone-faced, hands braced on his knees.

"It always was," he says.

Loki hisses. "Do not lie to me. Is it?"

"I am not the one who lies." Odin's tone grows darker but his voice remains quiet. "You were never in danger of losing us, any of us. It was you who abandoned us first."

"I was not—"

Valdis cries out and it startles them both, her voice piercing the tension and causing Loki to jump up from the bench. He looks over her, checking for something wrong, some sign of injury. There is nothing. She watches him as if she understood their entire conversation, which is ludicrous, Loki tells himself. She is days old, not capable of understanding—at this point, Valdis shouldn't even be able to understand her own being. He can't help staring at her and wondering. There's never been anything like her before, not really. A child conceived of magic, born of two races. The daughter of gods.

"You made your decision, and Thor stood by you, as I will stand by you," Odin says. "I hope you have no regrets, Loki."

He stands from the bench without another word and begins to walk away, head held down.

"Wait," Loki says.

Odin turns and looks as if he already knows what Loki is going to say. Loki struggles for the words anyway, tongue dancing behind his teeth but still finding itself without a rhythm. But then the words come tumbling out without his permission. 

"That is all you have to say? I tricked Thor, I desecrated your bloodline and made a mockery of this realm. And you say this to me, now, after all that has happened. You stand by me."

"I do," Odin says.

He opens his palm like he's going to offer it to Loki, but it sits there open and untouched.

"You have punished yourself more than enough," he says, and keeps walking.

--

Thor waits sitting upright in bed for Loki to return. He forces himself not to look for him, just tries to settle his growing panic. Even if Loki left once before, Thor tells himself he won't leave again. Loki has been strange since he came back that night, nearly dying from the force of labor. Thor can't describe it, but he seems less sure than he ever has, and watches Valdis with an intensity that is frightening. It must be odd for him to hold her in his arms rather than his stomach. Maybe, Thor thinks, he is lost without her. Maybe the reality of her being is too much for him.

He straightens as the door creaks open. Loki slips inside silently, eyes on Valdis rather than Thor. Even in this light, Thor can see how awful he looks, weak and yet he won't sleep.

"You look worried, brother," Loki says. "Did you think I'd left?"

Thor stands from the bed and goes to him, arms outstretched to take Valdis. Loki lets her go without argument.

"Were you planning to do so again?" Thor places Valdis back in her cradle, covering her with blankets. "You have been queer since your return, Loki. I demand to know what is going on."

"Nothing."

Thor turns on him, gripping Loki's shoulders to shake him, hard. He hasn't dared do this since he knew Loki was pregnant, and Loki looks shocked by it, eyes widening until Thor can see the whites of them.

"Do not lie to me again! You came back and gave me no reason for it. How am I to be sure you won't leave again? Tell me now: did you return simply because you were in need of help?"

When Loki still doesn't speak, Thor squeezes, fingers digging into the meat of his shoulders in frustration. Then Loki finally snaps.

"No," he says, even though it looks like his mind his screaming at him to lie. "It was because I wanted to, you fool. A thousand year's time spent at your side and I still seek you out. Why do you think I got pregnant in the first place, you half-wit."

Thor pulls him into a hug, fingers winding into Loki's hair and holding. He nearly startles when Loki returns it, arms wrapped around Thor's neck and resting there without any purpose other than to touch. When Thor finally pulls away, he keeps an arm around Loki and starts to lead him to the washroom. Loki follows easily, standing and watching as Thor prepares him a bath.

"Into the bath," Thor says. "Now."

Loki stares at him. "Why?"

"Because you have not bathed since Bruce healed you, and you are starting to smell ripe." Thor laughs. "Truly, Loki, you haven't rested once since we returned. Step into the bath."

Loki strips, annoyed and mumbling. Thor frowns when he sees the wound on his stomach, still held together by staples, red and caked with dried blood. The bath is hot as Thor knows Loki likes it, and his brother sighs when he slips into the water, eyes fluttering closed. Thor sits on the lip of the tub, watching while Loki submerges himself, water cleansing his skin. The room goes silent, no sound but the water and Loki's breathing as he shuts his eyes and leans back against the tub. There's a grunt from him after a moment, and when Thor looks down he can see where Loki is starting to heal himself, staples being forced out from the wound and floating toward the drain. Loki's eyes open when the last staple falls out, a shaky breath escaping from him.

"Do you think I punish myself?" Loki says, voice strangely quiet.

The wound from where Thor sliced him is still red and irritated, but it's starting to turn white the more Loki heals it. Thor looks at the staples collected by the drain, stained with blood. He nods.

"I do not understand why, though."

He initiates the kiss, but Loki is the one who pulls him closer, loosely gripping Thor's hair. He slips a hand into the water without thinking, searching out Loki's thigh and stroking. His thigh shakes as Thor's fingers dip toward his pelvis.

"No more lies," Thor says, mouth hovering over Loki's. "Do you hear me, brother? Look what you have gotten yourself because of it."

Loki's breath is cool on Thor's face. "A daughter."

"You know what I mean." Thor lets his hand drift to Loki's cock, half-hard under the water. Loki shifts into the touch, hips canting upward. "I would have never left. I love you, Loki, do you still not believe that?"

"Yes," Loki breathes. "Yes, just—"

"I want to hear you say it."

Because he truly didn't believe it, before, and Thor won't keep doing this if he won't admit it now. Thor strokes him under the water and Loki goes hard for him, growling stubborn.

"I believe it, damn you," he says. "Thor, what are you doing?"

Thor strokes him faster. He knows the way Loki likes to be touched there now. Loki squirms and his hands grip the sides of the tub tightly, water spilling over. He bites his lip bloody.

"Say you won't forget it."

"How could I with you constantly badgering me," Loki says, panting now, toes curling under the water.

Thor slows his movements. "Loki."

"I won't." Loki pushes into his fist. "I won't, Thor. Brother."

He comes a few strokes later, knuckles white against the tub. Thor watches him through it, hand still submerged under the water. Things will be different now. He helps Loki from the tub and lets him dry off, goes to check on Valdis in her crib. She is asleep still, barely moved from where Thor placed her. They'll have to announce her to the people soon, and Thor is a little wary of that. Odin's reaction was one thing, but not everyone will be so forgiving. Thor isn't sure if everyone is even aware that Loki is not his brother by way of blood. It doesn't matter though, not really. Thor will make sure she's welcomed. There is nothing he will let change that. He leans down and kisses her forehead gently before returning to bed. Loki finally emerges from the washroom, redressed in his nightclothes. He looks finally ready to sleep. He checks Valdis quickly, face softening immediately as he looks upon her.

"I do not regret it though," Loki says, climbing into bed. "You should be thanking me for giving you a daughter."

Thor eyes him from the side. "I am glad you don't regret it. Once you realized all was for naught, I was afraid you'd abandon her."

"No." Loki settles against the pillows and then his eyes travel to the crib. "I wanted to, at first. I wanted to hate her. But such a thing is not possible."

"You watch her sometimes as if she is missing," Thor says.

He isn't sure how else to communicate it. He shifts closer to Loki, who's already half-asleep, sinking deeper into the bedding. But Loki hears him, he blinks, still staring at the cradle.

"It isn't something I can explain," he says. "She is missing, in a way. She is no longer with me."

Loki looks like he's trying to grab the meaning from his mind. He pauses, forehead wrinkling.

"I cannot protect her and I feel…empty."

Thor feels bad for not understanding. In a sense, he does: Loki carried Valdis for eight long months, knew her every move and emotion. Now he isn't so close, it must be different. But Thor can't really understand it, not personally, and he feels bad for it. He slings an arm over Loki, fitting his body to his, still getting used to the fact that Loki's belly is no longer round, but flat once more. They lay like that, still and sleepy, until there's a sound from Loki like a sniffle. Thor peaks over his shoulder, and sees him crying. It's not the sobbing, wild sort of crying that Thor witnessed when he found Loki in the bathroom the month before—it's quiet and beautiful. A relieved sort of crying.

Wisely, Thor says nothing about it, but he holds Loki until he falls asleep, and then Thor starts to drift off, too.

Then there's crying. Valdis wakes, for what reason, Thor doesn't know. Loki shifts awake as well, sitting upright in bed too fast. Thor puts a hand on his shoulder.

"Relax, she merely woke," he says.

Loki starts from the bed. "She doesn't want to be alone."

Thor pulls him back down, and Loki looks at him like he's just tried to dishonor him greatly. His eyes are wide, mouth set firm, hair a little wild from the pillow.

"I'll take care of it," Thor says. "Go back to sleep."

Loki's expression shifts to shock. It's like he hadn't even thought of that, or perhaps the idea of it is absurd to him.

"But she is my—"

"Our daughter," Thor finishes. "I can soothe her back to sleep, brother. Relax."

He doesn't try and get up again, but Loki looks the opposite of relaxed. Thor gets to the cradle and picks Valdis up from it, rocking her gently as she cries. After Bruce stapled his stomach, Thor let Valdis stay next to Loki nearly the entire time. She screamed and cried when he tried to move her away from him, so Thor left her next to Loki's sleeping body. So yes, he's nervous about trying to comfort himself, but he wants to try this. He's a father, now.

"Thor," Loki says, sitting up in bed again. "Support her neck when you hold her."

"I am." Thor turns his back. "Lay down."

There's a long moment of hesitation, but Loki does finally lay back down, pulling the covers over himself. Despite that, he still watches Thor with both eyes, just in case. Valdis stops crying after a few minutes in Thor's arms. She very nearly snuggles into him, into the warmth of his bare chest as Thor holds her, rocking and murmuring soothing nonsense. He wants her to be happy. He wants to give her everything in this life, more than he's ever wanted anything before. It terrifies him to think he may not be able to protect her always. This must be what Loki is feeling right now. Thor holds her closer.

"It will be all right, little one," he says.

It's not so difficult, Thor thinks, taking care of a baby. Once Valdis falls back to sleep, Thor places her in the cradle before going back to bed.

Two hours later, she wakes again. And again.

"I do not understand this," Thor says, rocking her in his arms once more. "Surely she is exhausted by now. You have fed her?"

"Yes," Loki says. He beckons with his hand. "Bring her to me."

He doesn't seem at all annoyed by the constant interruption, which surprises Thor, but he supposes it shouldn't. What else would Loki be besides a fierce mother? In his arms, Loki whispers an enchantment, and Valdis slips into unconsciousness for what Thor hopes will be the final time that night.

"Stubborn thing," Loki says, and lays back down.

Valdis is still with him, but Thor says nothing about it. He comes back to bed and they sleep the rest of the night entwined as one.

--

Breakfast is spent with a quiet nervousness between everyone. Loki feeds Valdis milk mixed with a drop of his own blood for extra nourishment, and she squirms in his lap as she drinks, legs kicking. Thor barely eats. He exchanges glances with Odin and Frigga, everything unsaid on their lips. When Valdis finishes eating, Loki gives his attention to them, calm and quiet. He doesn't seem as worried.

"Technically, we have broken no laws."

Odin nods. "A point I am well aware of. But laws are not always binding for everyone. You know that revealing yourself as Valdis's mother will also reveal your true parentage."

Loki's silence is answer enough. Of course he knows that, Thor knows he thought about most aspects of this. And he is right—there's no law in Asgard against incest, pseudo or otherwise. There isn't even a law that an heir must be fully Aesir, only that they must be the rightful child of the king, or future king, in this case.

"I think they will be less concerned with my…heritage, and more concerned with my daughter," Loki says. "The reveal of that does not concern me in the least."

Thor smiles at him, at Valdis. Rumors are already circulating of Thor and Loki's return and the strange baby that came with them. It is only a matter of time before they all know, and Thor has no intentions of keeping it a secret any longer.

"They all love Thor," Loki says, and there's no mistaking the bitterness in his voice. "I think they'll find a way to accept it, in time. If not, I can hold no responsibility for my actions."

"She is an heir to the throne of Asgard." Frigga reaches out, stroking the wisp of hair on Valdis's head. "There will be a celebration for her, not an uprising. Have more faith, Loki."

He scoffs. Thor knows about Loki's faith in others, it's minimal. But he will risk the bad reaction because he wants them to know. He wants to rub it in everyone's face. Thor is not entirely sure he can blame him, but he will stop him from any unnecessary gloating. Loki rises from the table, motioning to Thor.

"Come, brother. Valdis requires a bath."

Thor follows with light steps.

--

It isn't until later that he runs into Sif. Loki is still reluctant to be away from Valdis for more time than is strictly needed, but Thor convinces him to rest, assuring he will take care of things.

"I can see you are still weak." Thor manhandles him to the bed, Loki wrestling him the whole way. "Sleep for a while, I will look after Valdis."

"You say that but I don't believe you." Loki shoves Thor's hands away, refusing to be thrown into the bed. He climbs in himself. "Let no one else hold her. No one."

"Of course," Thor says. "Sleep now, brother."

Loki says something biting on his way out the door, but Thor doesn't pay it any mind. Valdis is awake and smiling in his arms.

He takes her to the library, first. He wanted to take her to the weapons vault, but he knows if Loki found out about that, he'd probably skin him for it. Thor wants to show her everything. She will have the best of both of them, he hopes—Loki's cunning wit and magic, and Thor's honor and strength. She will be, without a doubt, beautiful. She is already is. Valdis doesn't understand much of what Thor shows her, she simply stares at her surroundings, taking everything in. For being so young, she's already very aware, very strong. Thor wonders if it's to do with the magic. Guards watch as they walk, noticing Valdis, this tiny bundle against Thor, and stare with suspicion. They must have some idea already, but nothing concrete. Not until tomorrow when they announce her.

Sif rounds the corner then, and when she sees Thor she stops in her tracks. It looks like she might turn the other way and bolt. Thor is no fool, she's been avoiding him since his return. But when Sif sees Valdis in his arms, she seems to reconsider.

"Thor," she says. "Is that…"

"This is Valdis, my daughter." Thor walks to her, presenting Valdis but heeding Loki's caution not to let her out of his arms. "You heard we had returned?"

There is a slight wince.

"Yes, and I apologize, I did not seek you out right away."

"You are still angry," Thor says.

Sif watches the floor, struggling. "Not angry…confused. I know how much you want this Thor, but I can't help being wary."

"There is no need to be wary of Valdis. She is perfect."

As Thor says it, Valdis grips his finger. Her whole tiny hand barely grasps the length of it, but Thor can still feel her strength humming underneath the skin. Sif smiles, vague.

"I fear Asgard will be more wary of Loki, not Valdis. He has yet to earn their trust."

"He will, in time. That I am sure of. Things have changed."

Sif's smile is more genuine this time. She watches Valdis with an openness, an understanding, but Thor can still see the trouble in her face. Sif and Loki have never gotten along well.

"I'm not sure I trust Loki."

"Then don't," Thor says. "But this is not about him only. We have a daughter."

"And she is beautiful," Sif says.

She leans close, smiling at Valdis, poking her stomach lightly. Sif looks back at Thor.

"What possessed you to name her Valdis?"

"Loki," Thor says, and that is all that needs to be said. He straightens. "Lady Sif, I need to know you stand by me in this."

"Thor," she says. "Oh, you idiot, of course I do. I always will."

Thor hugs her. It's slightly awkward with Valdis in his arms, but he manages it anyway. He needed this. If his friends will stand by him, then all will be well. He wants to tell Sif how good Loki is with Valdis, how utterly different he is around her. He also wants to warn her how fiercely protective Loki is of her. They both are. But Thor decides to let Loki show that for himself.

"I must get back," he says. "But I will see you tomorrow."

"You will," Sif says.

Thor embraces her once more.

Loki is asleep still when he enters their chambers, body curled into a ball on top of the bedding. One hand is placed over his stomach as if he's still pregnant, but he does look more at peace, Thor decides. He climbs into the bed with Valdis, mimicking Loki's position so they are face-to-face before setting Valdis between them. Loki wakes at that moment, eyes barely opening. When he sees Valdis, he pulls her closer to him, gazes upon her.

"You see I have brought her back unharmed," Thor says, quiet.

Loki makes a hum that could be agreement.

"I showed her the library, you would approve. Also, I introduced her to Sif."

At that, Loki's eyes flicker to Thor, curious. He looks somewhat displeased.

"And?"

"She stands by us," Thor says.

"Of course she does." Loki rolls onto his back, taking Valdis with him so she can rest on his stomach. "Sif would be a fool not to."

He doesn't seem very concerned, which makes Thor less concerned in a way as well. He shifts closer to Loki and Valdis, still on his side to be nonthreatening, but he would have asked it regardless.

"And you will stand by us…by her?" Thor motions to Valdis.

"I believe we already had this discussion, Thor."

Calling it a discussion is a stretch. Thor just remembers being desperate for answers, for some sign that Loki had changed even if it was small, for reassurance that they would see this through.

"Yet you did not say much about it."

Loki sits up quick, clutching Valdis to him, eyes bright. He's looking at Thor head on.

"What more would you have me say? Are my actions not enough? I am here, Thor. I am not going anywhere. I refuse to." Loki leans down so that he's pressed against Thor, Valdis between them still. "Would it make you feel better to have me say it?"

"Yes," Thor says.

"Fine," Loki says, even though his lips twist. "I love her. I love you, despite your inconceivable ignorance."

Thor frowns. "Loki," he says, and then kisses him, which Loki ends with a bite.

He stands from the bed, stretching his legs and then his arms, lifting Valdis above his head as he does so. She flails a bit in his arms, almost like she's trying to copy his movement. Loki smiles, and Thor realizes then that they will have the same smile all their lives—bright and brilliant and heart stopping. Thor stands and goes to them, his brother and his daughter, two beings he could never imagine life without. Tomorrow, Valdis won't be just a whisper, but a being known throughout every realm.

"This is the beginning," Loki says, almost too quiet to hear.

Thor kisses his temple. It is the beginning of something, whether good or bad, that he knows Loki will be there for. Despite all else, they at least have that. Thor puts an arm around Loki's waist, fingers pressed lightly into the skin.

They walk out together.