Thor starts going to the barber twice a day. He wants smooth cheeks for his baby's soft skin and he isn't entirely certain when the little one will arrive.
Loki wants to know why he wasn't offered the same consideration all along and was instead forced to endure the itching sting of whisker-burn. Thor opens his mouth, but finds no explanation forthcoming, so he apologizes instead. Loki tsks and then smirks.
Vali is the name they agree on, regardless of the baby's shape. Masculine and feminine mean little to magical beings that live millennia.
Loki knows the sex, but won't tell his brother.
“One of us should still get a surprise every now and again,” Loki says, and Thor nods, sad that Loki always has to see too much of what he doesn't want to know.
Loki weathers the bulk of the contractions in the privacy of their bed, but after midnight they grow stronger and more frequent so he relinquishes comfort and has Thor carry him to the healer.
Thor is holding Loki's hand and mopping sweat from his brother's brow. Smiling brightly and biting his lip in excitement.
Loki wants to pinch the tip of Thor's prick, or possibly punch him in the testicles; Loki's labor started thirty six hours ago, and it's is going to get worse before it gets better. Eir has only just begun to allow him to push.
When Eir calls for Thor's help, Loki gets frightened - Thor, too.
Loki watches as the worry on Thor's face melts into joyful tears. It soothes his nerves.
“The head is almost through,” Thor says, thickly.
Eir is leaning in, ready with a little thing like a bellows to clear the baby's nose.
“Push like you mean it, boy,” she laughs, and Loki's face twists to show all his teeth.
The stretch between his legs is awful, but abruptly ends.
“Push,” Eir says again, and Thor cries out, delighted.
And then the air is filled by the lungs of a tiny baby, loudly proclaiming its displeasure at having been evicted from the warm dark quiet of Loki's womb.
“She's a girl,” Thor says.
“I know,” Loki chuckles wetly, crying now too.
Loki sees Eir reach down with a knife and a thread to sever the cord, and then Thor stands.
Loki's eyes go wide.
The baby in Thor's arms is blue.
That's why Eir needed Thor's help, Loki realizes. She would have been burned.
Loki breaks out in a cold sweat, but he has recovered by the time Eir is finished cleaning him up.
Because Thor is sporting the most brilliant of his smiles. The one he wore the first time Loki kissed him. Wore for a week straight after they finally made love.
Thor has Vali held to his chest, resting on his forearm with his fingers curled over her head.
“Are babes always so small?” Thor marvels.
“Almost always,” Eir answers. “You, however, were far too large - still are, for that matter. Frigga broke all four fingers on Odin's left hand as she held it while she passed your fat head.”
Loki snorts and then squawks as the placenta passes.
Thor's tunic seems to have absorbed the bulk of the mess that Vali was born with. Thor lifts her higher, to a dry spot up on his chest. He has her right under his chin with his head dipped down to breathe her in.
It looks to Loki as though Thor might eat their daughter. He is definitely sniffing her: Loki can see Thor's nostrils flaring to catch the scent of her wispy black hair.
And then Loki sees Thor's tongue dart out to take a taste of her right temple.
Loki sits blinking and wondering, with mingled horror and fascination, what else is going to end up in Thor's mouth over the course of the coming years.
But Thor merely wants to know what it was like to live in Loki's body for nine months. He'll learn it any way he can before all the evidence is gone.
A bit like the sea, Thor decides, rolling the taste over on his tongue.
Vali is panting and squirming against Thor's throat, bathing in the warmth of his breath. Thor's right hand is hooked beneath his left arm and then up over her tiny body. She is battered and exhausted from passing through the birth canal.
Got out the same way you got in, Thor thinks, smiling at the memory.
“If we keep on like this you'll be pregnant by morning,” Thor had whispered that night in warning, with Loki's thigh over his hip and Loki's arms around his neck.
Thor knew Loki was ovulating.
Loki knew it, too.
Thor saw the wild look in Loki's eyes. And all the want that went with it. The need.
Loki rolled onto his back and spread his legs wide.
Thor's blood flooded with adrenaline the way it would before a battle.
He burned it off by kissing his way up and down Loki's body so many times he lost count.
“Thor,” Loki had whispered, hips lifting and patience lost.
Thor was giving Loki time to change his mind.
But Loki didn't, which moved Thor to the verge of tears.
Thor was both gentle and relentless.
He spilled no less than a dozen times, but made sure to give his brother even better. And Thor was whispering things that kept making Loki wetter. They drove Loki all the wilder for their rarity – Thor had said little in bed before that. Thor's voice alone was doing wonders, but the endearments were so delicious they had Loki whimpering.
When Loki woke the next morning, he felt like his skin was on backward. His stomach couldn't settle on whether it wanted to be full or empty. The bottom of his belly felt foreign.
When he leaned over the edge of the bed to vomit bile onto the floor, Loki realized that he was, indeed, pregnant, and promptly burst into tears.
“I told you this would happen,” Thor said, laughing and holding Loki close while Loki sobbed and kicked and cursed.
“I liked it better when you were always wrong,” Loki blubbered.
“No you didn't.”
“Thor,” Loki says, with an edge in his voice and one black eyebrow arched in expectation.
Thor shakes himself and hands Vali over.
“Hello darling,” Loki purrs, and lays her across his chest to put her head to his breast.
He's surprised and slightly worried.
“She's warm,” Loki says.
Thor touches her hand.
“No warmer than she was when she came out of you.”
Eir comes over, curious, and sets the back of her little finger to Vali's leg.
She sustains no injury.
Loki makes a surprised sound. Thor does not.
When Loki shifts Vali's skin with seidr to turn her Aesir, the infant kicks and quickly turns blue again.
Loki does it again.
And again she sheds it.
Thor is laughing. Loki is making a face like he's just been bitten by a bluebell.
“Should I stop?” Loki asks.
“I suppose so,” Thor answers. “Though I'm eager to see what she'll do if you keep pissing her off.”
The brothers giggle.
She sleeps between them in their bed. Loki casts a ward to keep the child from being crushed on the off chance he rolls over on her, but he suspects she's of sturdy enough stuff that it wouldn't actually matter. And anyway, Thor is always there to watch her.
Thor can tell the scent of her fathers soothes her. On the rare occasions when they set her in her crib, she squirms and fidgets for many minutes before settling in to sleep. But, in their bed, she drops off as swiftly as Loki, whose consciousness of late has all the integrity of a candle flame in a hurricane.
All Loki read and heard those nine long months was a variation on the theme kiss your sleep goodbye.
Loki sleeps like a stone.
Thor, however, seems not to sleep at all. He also appears to be entirely unaffected by the lack – seems, instead, somehow to thrive on it.
At the first shifting of limbs or hint of a whimper, Thor has Vali up in his arms, or out for a walk, or held to Loki's breast, or off on a table to change her.
“You're spoiling her rotten,” Loki says.
“I'm not doing it just for her,” Thor answers, and Loki ends up crying all over his breasts and kissing his brother for almost three hours, grateful for the ease of his existence.
Loki is exhausted. Thor couldn't be happier to help.
She's growing too fast.
Thor can see it. Another reason he won't sleep. He can't spare the time.
He can see the changes daily. Smell them. Fading from milk and sea to oil and animal.
Only a baby once, and for barely two years. Odin used to take naps that lasted longer than that.
She will grow as fast as a mortal. But afterward she will be as slow to age as the Aesir. Especially after she eats the apples. Thor intends to give her plenty of those once she's grown.
Thor knows himself well enough to know how much he'll miss this. The impossible mix of strength and fragility in her. How she is helpless but full of purpose. So small he can hold her easily with one hand, but her power over him is just like Loki's: effortless and absolute. She cries and Thor comforts her. Makes a mess and he cleans it up. Smiles and erases the realms. The joy in her face when she looks at him is addictive. No doubt or hate or disappointment. Just delight at her silly father's funny face as he presses messy kisses to her tummy and mouths her tiny toes.
Thor won't waste his wildest dreams by sleeping.
Thor saves her first soiled diaper.
Loki gapes when he discovers the thing later, hidden in a drawer with the linen shirt Thor was wearing the first time he held his daughter, each item stained and stiff.
When Loki asks Thor about it, Thor goes a bit pink, but holds his ground.
“When we're three thousand years old and she's long grown we'll be happy to still have those.”
And Loki can't argue, because he knows it's true. It's merely that, at the moment, a filthy little diaper is something of which he has seen more than enough.
Thor, on the other hand, seems to regard each of his daughter's excretions as a tiny triumph, and congratulates her accordingly: “That'll get you a pony when you're three,” and, “That, my love, was worthy of a queen,” and, “I wager you could put Volstagg to shame.”
Sometimes when she fusses, Vali is content to be held close to Thor's face, cradled in his collarbone, where she can feel the buzz of his voice against her skin. On these occasions he often sings to her in Gaelic, for its mellow tones seem not to disturb Loki's dreaming. The language is all but dead now, living only on the tongues of a few scholars and an odd Norse god who stubbornly refuses to lose the things he loves. Thor likes these nights best, because he doesn't have to leave Loki, who is boneless beside him and breathing slowly.
They lost each other so many times before arriving on good terms. It's hard for Thor to turn his back on his brother now that he has even more to lose.
But needs must, for on many nights the baby will not settle for the soft sadness of Thor's singing, so Thor takes her out on moonlit tours of her midnight realm.
On most of these nights Loki merely rolls into the warm spot vacated by his brother, stretches his arms and legs wide, and falls asleep again. But, every so often, Thor's absence makes Loki itch, so he sets out in search of the blond and the babe.
Tonight Loki finds Thor walking through their mother's gardens, baby held to his breast, murmuring to Vali as he goes. Telling her how sad and sorry he is that two of the most important people in his life will never get to meet. Telling her how grateful he is that parts of his mother and brother live on in his little girl. That he had always hoped that Loki's loveliness would find a way to remain on the realms. That he hopes someday Vali finds love and is blessed with babies – bundles of them – and that he will be happy to watch them whenever she's busy - and even when she isn't. That he loves her so much it frightens him, and she has to promise not to be a reckless little fool like her fathers were in their youth. That he couldn't live through the loss of her.
Thor brings warm rain and very slowly pulls down a storm. With every flash of light and roll of thunder, he covers his daughter in kisses and then coos at her, making her happy, so that every storm after will remind her of pleasure.
Loki walks, weeping, in his brother's wake, and finds it funny that he sheds more tears now that he is happy than he ever did when he was heartbroken.
And he remembers that Thor's heart was broken, too.
And he remembers the desperate determination in his brother the night they conceived this child. A fertility god finally allowed to ply his trade. Fearful it was the only chance Loki would ever grant him and wanting to make sure it didn't go to waste.
But Loki was every bit as desperate. Wanted to bind himself to his brother. Pair their love and set it loose on the realms, freed from all their hurts and history. Them, but better. New. Wilder.
“It's a shame these are all meat instead of milk,” Loki murmurs the next morning, tracing Thor's left pectoral and teasing the nipple. “I know you'd love to nurse her.”
Thor nods. He's holding Vali's head to Loki's breast instead.
“What's it like?” Thor whispers.
“Rather exactly as you'd expect, oddly enough,” Loki laughs.
Thor had worried that Loki would be jealous of the way he's always wandering off with Vali. How he rarely relinquishes her. How they spend hours in a heap at the foot of the bed, trading grins and gurgles and grabbing at each other.
But the fear was unfounded.
Because Loki had nine months with their daughter in a way that Thor never will, and it wounded Loki deeply to see Thor left so far behind. The first flutters of the babe in his body were felt only by Loki, too faint to pass through the sturdy walls of the womb. Later, when Loki's belly began to swell, Thor would wrap his arms around it and press his cheek and ear to it, desperate to feel the child kicking and hear its heartbeat.
Loki has had plenty. Thor still needs his fill.
So Loki can only beam as his brother burps their baby into his own blond hair.
Marvel at Thor's fondness for even the foulest of Vali's evacuations.
Make a game of counting how many times Thor has to change his tunic each day: because he didn't want to make their baby wear a diaper and she shat on him; or he opened a diaper too fast and the cool air was a surprise, so she shot him with piss; or he burped her without a rag again and his shoulder got covered in spit-up; or he tried to feed her mashed peas and she sneezed halfway through so Thor got covered in the slimy green stuff. It's never less than three. Thor keeps Asgard's launderers busy.
“She doesn't look anything like you,” Loki says, when Vali is a year old and one can see such things.
“She's got my eyes,” Thor says, and Loki looks at Thor like he's gone mad.
“Her eyes are red and the same shape as mine.”
“Not there,” Thor answers, as though that should be obvious. “Her skin. Exactly the same color as my eyes.”
Loki walks Thor over to the window and looks back and forth between the babe in his brother's arms and the blue orbs in his brother's head.
And Thor is right.
Loki can't believe he didn't see it first himself.
The same shade of blue.
And the black of Thor's lashes caps their daughter's tiny skull.
Loki hums and wonders what the next baby will look like.
And the next.
And the next.