The first thing Thor thought when his brother entrusted their son into his arms was… nothing. Just plain nothingness. So perhaps Thor's actual first thought had been that this was the first time that Loki allowed him to see their son up close, and that maybe there was a very real possibility that Thor might drop him. Although, that might have come a few seconds later when Vali raised his head to look at Thor, and Thor thought, He has my eyes. And that's when Thor feared he would drop Vali. Then, the fear morphed into panic when Vali's lower lip began to tremble and his arms shot out in search of Loki, and all Thor could hear was a babble of “Mama, don't go.”
Two realization hit Thor at once. First, Thor had never heard his son speak before. Second, Thor had no idea what he was doing and no help would be forthcoming from his brother. In fact, Loki raised a brow before taking Vali back into his arms, and Thor swore he saw amusement dancing in his brother's emerald eyes.
“Hush, darling. I'm not leaving. We came to spend the day with uncle Thor, remember? You and I.” A grin spread across Loki's face. “In fact, I think uncle Thor's chambers could use some paintings. Wouldn't you agree, brother dear?”
Thor took a look around and gulped. For once, Loki's meaning was perfectly clear to Thor.
“Should I look for crayons?”
Loki's grin seemed impossibly wider. “So kind of you to offer, Thor, but I can conjure Vali's crayons. We wouldn't want Vali to get bored.”
And as matter of fact, Thor was surprised to note that Vali was fussing in his mother's arms, struggling to be put down. Loki complied and placed a small worn rectangular box in Vali's waiting hands. Then, Vali looked at his
father uncle with questioning eyes.
“We could use that wall over there.”
Thor pointed to the only wall in the room that was not covered by shelves presenting some old, long-forgotten trinket acquired during this or that quest. Or by the short collection of books that had fallen out a quarter of the way through despite Thor having done his best to please Loki.
Vali set out in the direction of the wall, and Thor watched him go with melancholy constricting his chest. Thor didn't envy his brother's life except where Vali was concerned. What good was it that Loki had given Thor a son if Thor would never hear the word “father” roll off his son's tongue and have it directed at him? Thor couldn't deny that watching his son brought a sense of detachment. Vali was his, Thor had agreed with that years ago. But knowing that Vali was his son was not the same thing as seeing Vali as his son. Today was the first day that Thor felt the weight of his son in his arms, that Thor heard him speak. But as things were, Thor had still not spoken to his son. Not since Vali was still in Loki's womb and Loki too consumed by sleep to protest.
“Are you not going to join him?” Loki asked.
“Are you?” Thor retorted but moved to sit on the floor next to Vali.
He looked back at his brother.
“Ask him what he's drawing.”
Thor swallowed. “What do you have there, Vali?”
Thor stared transfixed as Vali's mouth began to move in order to form words. There was nothing extraordinary about it. Everyone could speak, and Thor had heard from their mother that Vali could form sentences for some time now, but Vali had never before spoken to Thor. Most likely had deemed Thor unimportant as he barely spared a glance for his father.
Vali thrust a yellowish crayon into Thor's hand.
“No, you see, I can't draw,” Thor told Vali.
Vali gave Thor a fairly unimpressed look for his young age.
“Oh, don't be like that, Thor. I'm sure you can manage something,” Loki said as he sat next to Thor with a leg pressed against one of Thor's.
Thor gave his brother his own version of Vali's look and drew a few squiggly lines and half-circles while looking at him.
Loki snorted. “What's that even supposed to be?”
Thor returned to Vali. “See? It's ugly.”
Vali grumbled, climbed into Thor's lap, and began drawing over Thor's mess.
One of the things that bothered Thor the most about his situation was that all too often he felt that Vali did not care much for his authority. According to Vali, because Thor was his “uncle,” Thor couldn't make decisions that involved Vali. Thor gritted his teeth when his son made such comments. The urge, the need, to tell Vali that he was his father boiling in his mouth, and there were times when the words had threatened to finally burn him, Thor's earlier conversation with Vali being one such example. For a moment, Thor thought that this was finally the day he told Vali that he was his father, but instead Thor had ended up reminding Vali that his mother was dead. If the Lady Darcy had not dragged Thor and Vali along to the ice cream parlor, Thor thought, then perhaps Thor wouldn't have lost the nerve he had struggled to build to tell Vali the truth. But as things were, Thor had lost any and all determination to follow through as he and Vali accompanied the Lady Darcy back to her dwelling.
Thor was kidding himself. There was a reason why one didn't fall in love with their cousins or siblings. Vali wouldn't understand. If anything, Vali would think that Thor was butchering his mother's memory. And in a way, Thor supposed he was.
Travelling to the top of the Avengers Tower was almost instantaneous with the aid of the Bifröst. Unfortunately, Vali was not used to this means of travelling. Fortunately, after making the same mistake with Loki more than just a couple times, Thor knew to leave Vali to it. In another time, Thor might have patted his back in sympathy, sent him stumbling to the ground, and received a glare in response to his apologies. But that had been a long time ago when fears of Loki dying young were but rain clouds obscuring the far horizon.
The Man of Iron was not at the tower at the moment, JARVIS, who Thor had no hope of understanding, informed him. If Thor were not used to his brother making him feel stupid, a flush might be working itself up to his face. Before Thor took Loki back to Asgard, Stark had told Thor to not look at the ceiling when he spoke to JARVIS, but Thor raised his head anyway. It was strange, and it left Thor staring around like an idiot. Loki would have liked that. Would have adored both the intimate complexity of JARVIS and Stark and how very out of place Thor was here.
Loki would have loved this.
Thor hoped Vali would at least like their new arrangement and did not lose hope when Vali didn't show interest to look around. His son often refused to leave his side unless encouraged by their host. Vali would not have gone inside Jane's home if Darcy had not guided him inside, and Thor suspected that was the case now. Until Vali met the Man of Iron, he would refuse to make himself comfortable or allow his gaze to roam freely.
In any case, this was temporary, Thor told himself. He would have to keep that in mind. There was no assurance that this would work. Thor's heart pounded at the thought, weight shifting with restless energy. There would be no assurance that this had been the right choice (or wrong choice, for that matter) until years after the fact. And Thor knew very well that Vali depended on him and his (terrible) decision-making abilities. Thor couldn't afford to make any big mistakes (not now, not again), but staying in Asgard couldn't be an option.
Although the dislike of Loki himself was a thing of recent years, that was not the case for Vali. Since the day it became clear that Loki hadn't been cursed, that Loki could naturally bear children, the court had asked for both Loki and his child to be sent away. Their father denied the court, and the court fell silent for years. But instead of being charmed by little Vali, they had brought forth more insistent petitions for the child to be removed. Like their father, Thor had believed that the king’s will would be enough, but that proved not to be the case when Vali asked Thor, a few months after Loki's first death, what the word “bastard” meant. Thor's anger crackled. Thor had often thought of Vali as his bastard, and he knew Loki had done the same, but it was a whole different case when other people did.
The resentment Vali suffered was Thor's fault. Asgard expected Thor to at least think about getting a wife as his coronation draw nearer. Instead, the heir to the throne had been worrying over his brother's bastard. But what else was Thor supposed to do? Loki would have been all too happy to get Thor out of their child's life, so what was Thor supposed to do? How could it be that Loki had wanted to give their child away as if Vali were nothing but an old cloth or a rusty sword? How could it be that after been at his brother's beck and call for the last months of his pregnancy, Loki hadn't thought that Thor might want to keep their child?
In the end (until a few years ago, anyway), Loki had proven to be the best he could for Vali, but Loki still had denied Vali his father. Childish didn't even cover what Thor had decided in retaliation, but Loki wasn't supposed to die anytime soon. For years to come, guilt would eat away at Thor for having denied Vali one last chance to see his mother, but neither Vali or Loki deserved that. Vali, in all his innocence, didn't deserve to see his mother chained and muzzled like a wild animal to be contained, didn't deserve to relate the one who had provided nurture and care for so long with subjugation and genocide. Loki didn't deserve the chance to weave some great lie that would turn Vali, and all the great love the child held for his mother, against Thor. Didn't deserve to see Vali again after… after what he had said about their son back on that cliff on Earth. And, well, that Loki got to feel, short-lived as it was, what Thor felt for years was just a… bonus.
And that wasn't right.
Vali, just like Thor, needed to leave that behind. Even if his young eyes couldn't see it. Like his mother, Vali was leaning towards the study, if not the practice, of seiðr. And like his mother before him, Vali was dubbed ergi. Even if their escapade could last no more than a few years, even though getting the study materials Vali needed would be an arduous process, Thor would not make the same mistake twice. He would not put his son through that.
And what was left in Asgard for them? Asgard would not accept Vali as heir and future king. Many, meaning practically all, didn't believe that Vali could be Thor's son and thought Thor bewitched. Vali had never stopped being Loki's bastard and with Loki's last actions, none were happy with Vali being Thor's heir. Vali didn't even understand what was his position in Asgard, and Thor supposed it was for the best. Yes, it was true that Jane was part of the reason why Thor had decided to move to Earth, that it was rushed, but it was also true that Asgard wasn't the right environment for Vali, and that Thor had no desire to take the throne.
Not without Loki whispering and hissing things like “Oaf” and “Idiot” in his ear.
A light weight sunk in the space next to Thor and a soft poke brought Thor out of his contemplation.
“Was it because of me?”
Thor rubbed an eyebrow. “Pardon?”
Vali let out a huff of breath and pressed his hands between his legs. “About your girlfriend, you know?”
“No, I'm afraid I don't follow.”
Vali's face scrunched up. “Did she leave you because you had to bring me along?”
Thor scrutinized his son. “It was because of adult things, mongrel. Nothing to do with you.”
“Maybe you shouldn't tell people I'm your nephew.”
Thor closed his eyes. “Do you not want me to?”
Vali fidgeted. “It's not that I don't want to, but people tend to get the wrong idea. They think you're doing it out of… obligation, and maybe it's just better if you say I'm some random kid you picked out.”
“Why would you suggest such a thing, Vali?”
“Because I know I'm right,” Vali said. “Your girlfriend was looking at me all weird, and on top of that, people always look at me weird when I say my mother was a he. And I can't call my mother ‘father.’ So maybe let's just not mention my mother?
Thor paled. What had Thor done to make Vali believe that he wanted him to deny Loki?
“No, Vali. I know that I don't like to speak about my brother with you, but not because I think we should forget about Loki.”
“That's not what I meant!” Vali exclaimed. “I'm not… I'm not ashamed of my mother. It's just that I think… I don't think they like my mother here anymore than they did back home, do they?”
Thor's expression softened. “I'm afraid not, mongrel.”
“See? You shouldn't say I'm your nephew.”
“I am not saying you're just some kid. You're my… nephew.”
Vali lifted a shoulder in a half shrug.
Thor swallowed and took a few deep, calming breaths to slow his galloping heart.
“… I could say that you're my son.”
Vali rested his head against Thor's arm.
“No, that will make people see me as more of a burden than before.”
Thor nodded slowly. “Why didn't I think of that?”
Vali snuggled closer. “You and I, uncle.”