It was unclear how their arrangement came to be and neither of them would be able to recall it until the day they faded to dust. Nonetheless, if they were forced to admit it, both would agree that it started after what should have been nothing more than a brawl between siblings. But then, they could not agree on how the brawl had started.
They were at an impasse.
Thor remembered pinning Loki's arms high over his head to prevent him from moving, not that it stopped his brother from squirming in his grip. Thor remembered staring at Loki's parted lips as he panted beneath him before crashing their lips together and sinking into the demanding kiss.
Loki remembered glaring up at Thor as his body was rendered immobile and opening his mouth to protest before being silenced by the other's lips on his. Loki remembered a tongue slipping into his mouth and drawing a noise from him that he would never admit of making, nor the noises that came after.
They both remembered pulling at each other's clothes before Loki whisked them away, enabling them to run hands over bare skin. They both remembered Thor entering Loki, thrusting into him, drawing illicit moan after moan. They both remembered agreeing to never speak of that night.
Except that was not the only time it happened. A week, a month, a century later. Again and again, the brothers tumbled into bed together.
Knowing he could become pregnant for most of his life did not ease the impact of the news of his state. Or at least, Loki thought he was with child. There were many other things that could be causing his affliction, and if Loki were to go to the Healing Rooms, he could be free of doubt, but that wasn't an option. And anyway, there were not a lot of things that could be draining Loki's seiðr. Perhaps it shouldn't be that big of a surprise, but how could it not be?. Loki had been careful to avoid this, but more importantly, the rare Æsir hermaphrodites were supposed to be barren. And perhaps that's precisely why it shouldn't be a surprise. Loki had slacked in his cares thinking that, despite his parents’ early warnings, he couldn't actually become pregnant, and this were the results.
Loki was with child.
And it was his brother's.
For centuries, Loki and Thor had been in an open relationship. Thor had his lovers and Loki had his, but at the end of the day, it was each other they put above the rest. Thor had his fair amount of admirers, but Loki didn't doubt he was the only male lover Thor had taken to bed. Loki, in contrast, didn't discriminate between male and female, nor was Loki fond of one stands. Sex, for Loki, was an art. Seeing people fall apart from his touch made Loki giddy in a way that he would exchange for almost nothing. With one stands, Loki could never quite learn the kinks he loved to exploit. The issue was that, when Loki took someone to his bed more than twice, they expected him to make commitments. But they, especially men, had never understood. No one could own Loki.
And that’s how Loki knew the child was Thor's. For almost a century, Loki had not exposed himself to anyone but his brother. But Thor wouldn't believe that, so Loki refrained from sharing the news until he could no longer hide the growing child within him.
It was a lost cause.
Loki wanted a child, albeit perhaps a little later in life and, of course, under more ideal circumstances. He was still young, true, Loki would be the first to defend that, but not so young that he couldn't care for a child. Sacrifices, Loki knew, would have to be made. A lot of sacrifices, truth be told, but Loki had always known that. The upside, in a way, Loki thought, was that he would be the one to carry the child, which would increase the chances of the child preferring Loki's seiðr over the inferior seiðr of whoever Loki's father had planned Loki to marry.
It's a shame his plans won't come to fruition, Loki thought with a curl to his lips.
It didn't mean Loki was happy. He dreaded the upcoming months. There was no doubt Loki would be disowned nor was Loki looking forward to the jeers and insults that would follow him through his pregnancy as his belly, swollen with his brother's child (not that people would know it was Thor's), made it clear to everyone that Loki had submitted to another man. Loki was also well aware that his child would be treated no different, well aware of the cruelty of wittingly exposing his child to such derision. So perhaps this is where Loki's selfishness came into play. Loki could rip Thor's seed from his body if he so wished, walk away and pretend it never happened. But the child wasn’t just Thor's, it was his. It was Loki's, and Loki had no intention of getting rid of it, even if it meant he would have to leave his life of luxury behind simply because he was not letting them take what was his. Even if it meant cutting ties with Thor.
Thor, who had accused Loki of whoring around the night he discovered Loki's pregnancy.
His brother had left on a quest with his idiotic friends for which Loki was grateful for once. It had given Loki time to decide that yes, this is what he wanted. His situation had looked more complicated when Thor was in the palace, seeking pleasure at night and jokingly pointing out to Loki that he looked bloated, and after Thor left, Loki realized that Asgardians wouldn't know his child came was a result of sleeping with his brother unless he or Thor told them. By the time Thor came back, Loki had almost reached his fifth month. Loki's slim figure made his bump more noticeable than it should be in Loki's opinion and his seiðr was been drained fast; Loki could no longer sustain a proper glamour and had no choice but to come out with it.
That night, Loki had been supporting a book on his protruding stomach and reclining against a few pillows as pain radiated down his back and legs when Thor entered his chambers with a broad smile on his face and air of triumph that Loki thought wasn't warranted. “I'm back,” Thor boomed and Loki chuckled when Thor crawled into bed. Having recognized the lust in Thor's eyes, Loki spread his legs on instinct for Thor to settle between them. They were about to bring their mouth together when Loki remembered a slightly important detail and placed a hand on Thor's chest to push the other back.
Loki scrutinized Thor's frowning face and swallowed thickly before admitting, “I'm with child, Thor.”
Thor's frown morphed into more of a scowl. “What? What do you mean you're with child?” Loki thought what he had said was pretty self-explanatory. Thor pushed the forgotten book out of the way as Loki tried to move back and stared down at the mound that was Loki's belly.
Loki's breath hitched. “It's yours, brother,” he whispered.
Thor shook his head and chuckled. “No, you're not pinning this on me.”
“But it is,” Loki insisted.
Thor shook his head more vigorously. “No, I know not with whom you slept, but you're not holding me responsible.”
Loki clawed at Thor's tunic. “Thor, brother, you know I've only been yours for a century.”
“No, I don't,” Thor denied. Loki pulled at his brother's tunic as Thor tried to pull away and Thor sneered at him. “Get your hands off me, you little whore.”
Loki did as asked, reeling back as if slapped. He had expected disbelief from Thor, but of all the scenarios Loki had envisioned, he hadn't imagined his brother would react this strongly. Tears stung Loki's eyes as he watched Thor leave his chambers, but Loki reminded himself he had prepared for this. All the same, as he cradled his belly, Loki couldn't stop himself from whispering, “It's yours,” at the closed door.
Thor would admit that in the beginning, when he had tried to get away from whatever his thing with Loki was supposed to be, he'd had other lovers aside from his brother. That had changed. It wasn't fair when Thor knew he would always choose Loki. Thor couldn't remember with precision the last time he had lost himself in pleasure with someone that wasn't Loki. His brother, however, still offered himself to whoever caught his fancy that day. Thor told himself he didn't care. Loki was free to bed who he wished for they had never agreed to be exclusive. And yet, when Thor saw his brother leave with some stranger, the itch to reclaim Loki was unbearable.
It should have been a warning sign for Thor that something was amiss when Loki stopped initiating their encounters and insisted Thor be gentle with him, something that Loki had never requested before. Quite the opposite, actually. Thor had feared his brother was losing interest in him, but if that had been the case, Thor didn't doubt that Loki would have made it clear as day. That hadn't been the most reassuring. Thor wanted Loki to be his and no one else's, but it was no secret to Thor that that desire was what made Loki discard people as if they were nothing more than old, worn clothes. And yet, when Thor first noticed Loki's bloated stomach, Thor couldn't help but think that if Loki's belly were to swell with his seed, at least one part of his brother would be his.
It was deprived of him to wish to make a child with his brother, Thor knew, to imagine Loki growing fat with his child so he could stack his claim over the rest. Nonetheless, it was an idea Thor couldn't stop toying with during his quest. Thor's friends had remarked that he had been distracted, and it was true. Thor hadn't been able to take his mind away from Loki. From the thought that his brother was letting himself be taken by some lowly guard. That if he had gotten Loki with child, he wouldn't have to worry about this. That despite the interest it sparked in him, Loki would never be able to give him a child.
It was a lost cause.
They were brothers. Even if Loki agreed to give Thor a child, Asgard would never accept it. Just the fact that they had slept together would be enough to disown both of them. Thor would have to content himself with their continued arrangement for as long as it could last.
It didn't mean Thor had thought about it for long. It was a recent development, something that occurred to Thor a couple months ago when for whatever reason his brother's abdomen wasn't as flat as it used to be (and Thor should have known then that Loki was pregnant). It wouldn't do Thor any good to get a child from his brother, anyway. Their illegitimate child would never get a chance to be Thor's heir, if it even had something to inherit. Loki would never be Thor's and Thor would never be Loki's. Not in the way Thor wanted; as more than brothers, more than forbidden lovers. Thor had always known that.
Thor had been looking forward to seeing Loki again after returning to Asgard. Now that Thor was back, he would be able to ensure Loki had only time for him and to remind his brother of why he kept coming back to Thor, and so he entered Loki's chamber with one of his beaming smiles, confident that he would wash away the stench of whoever had dared to touch his brother. Loki had readily spread his legs for him and Thor had thought that was invitation enough. But apparently not. Loki pushed him back and Thor conceded, looking down at Loki with a frown.
Fear crossed Loki's face and Thor saw him gulp. Whatever it was, it must be of grave concern. His brother never hesitated. But then, the words that Thor thought he would never be able to hear from Loki came out of his brother's mouth. “I'm with child, Thor.” Thor's pulse speeded up. That couldn't be. Loki would never permit someone to get a child on him. His jokes about his brother's stomach came back to haunt Thor. Loki tried pull back from Thor as Thor's eyes roamed his body and Thor's temper sparked. Thor pushed away what was obscuring his view of Loki's abdomen with no amount of gentility.
Loki's whisper of, “It's yours, brothers,” made Thor's blood boil. If Loki's bastard were truly his, Thor would have known long before Loki's skin began to be pulled taut. Loki's insistence that the bastard was his were a mockery of Thor's dream, as if Loki knew Thor had been wishing for a child from him and was mocking Thor for it.
“No, I know not with whom you slept, but you're not holding me responsible.”
“Thor, brother, you know I've only been yours for a century.”
If Loki had remained faithful to him, he would be clutching at him for a completely different reason, Thor thought, because what Thor knew very well was that Loki had not stopped his dalliances even though Thor had dedicated all his attentions to his brother for centuries. It was audacious of Loki to claim different when Thor had seen him leave with an ambassador of Álfheimr at the last feast. For all Thor knew, the hybrid growing inside his brother was just that ambassador’s. The hands that Thor had praised countless times in the past for their skill and grace aroused revulsion in him as they tried to keep him there, so close to the womb where only Thor's children should be allowed to grow. “Get your hands off me, you little whore.”
Loki recoiled from Thor; Thor's eyes widened. Thor hadn't meant that. Those words were never supposed to leave his mouth. Norns alone knew Thor loved his brother too much to ever think of Loki in such a way. Thor resented Loki for sleeping with whomever he pleased and Thor would never forgive Loki's transgression, but Thor could not for a moment think of Loki as a… as a whore.
Loki's face was turned sideways, raven hair falling like curtains around his face, as if Thor had dared raise a hand against his porcelain skin. For a moment, Thor was tempted to caress his brother's cheek, but then his eyes strayed to Loki's bulging stomach and Thor remembered how they had gotten here. Loki's eyes burned into the back of Thor's head as Thor left his brother's chambers and heat crept up Thor's neck and face. His turbulent mind was screaming at Thor to go back, but it was Loki who tore them apart.
That night, Thor shifted around in his too large bed, sheets tangling with his limbs, as his hand reached for a body that was not there.
Same old thing. Nothing to see here. Should I continue, though?
10/5/19: Alright, you guys win. With any luck, next chapter should be up by next week, and thanks for your support!
He wasn't a coward. Loki wasn't scared of monsters lurking under his bed or of Jötnar waiting to eat him. Those were not the reasons why the raven-haired boy tiptoed through the golden palace’s halls in the dead of night, body pressed against the gilded walls as the hissing wind wormed its way through whatever crack it could find, trembling hand held out in search of his brother's chambers. It was the cold. The crippling, bone-shilling cold. The cold that no blanket, no quilt, no fur could cure. It was not inside his head, much less was Loki inventing stories so he could scuttle into his parents’ chambers. They didn't have to look at Loki as if he were a liar, as if he should be exempt from the cold. If they went to the boy's chambers, they'd see that it was cold in there. But Thor understood.
His brother understood.
Thor's door was pushed open just far enough for Loki to scurry into the room. The path to his brother's bed was threaded with light steps, slumped shoulders, and fidgeting hands. Loki placed a knee on the bed and used both hands to shake his brother by the shoulder. “Thor. Thor, move over.”
Thor pulled the quilt over his head, his response coming out muffled. “Go away, Loki.”
Loki sat on the bed's edge. “I'm cold, brother.”
Thor groaned, rolled over, and raised the quilt with an arm. Loki hurried to get into the bed and settled against his brother's chest. Thor let his arm fall over Loki and, fogged by sleep, said, “You can't keep coming here.”
“You know why.”
Loki frowned. “Since when do you care about what father and mother say?”
“Let me sleep or go away.”
Loki huffed, burying deeper into Thor side all the same. His brother was radiating warm that didn't take long to make Loki squirm in an attempt to get away, to find a cooler spot on the bed, but Thor's voice and firm grip on him stopped Loki on his tracks.
“When we grow up, you will still come here, won't you?” Thor whispered.
“Of course,” Loki responded haughtily.
“You'll stay with me? Like mother and father?”
Thor pulled himself up by the elbows and kissed Loki's forehead. One of the many innocent kisses they had shared as children.
“We'll be together forever.”
Loki might have been right about his brother's reaction, but not about Odin's and Frigga's. Thor hadn't hesitated to reject their child and after last night's experience, Loki thought the best thing he could do was to get this over with as soon as possible.
It happened at breakfast. Loki's glamour had been back in place the moment he stepped out of his chambers and not long after entering the Great Hall, Thor's eyes were traveling up and down Loki's body, searching for signs of the child Loki could tell his brother resented. Loki's hand twitched with the urge to cover his abdomen from Thor's view. During their meal, Thor joked, talked, and pushed food into Loki's plate as he would on any other day until Loki slammed his hands on the table and pushed his chair back. Thor's hand froze in midair where it had been in the process of transferring more food into Loki's plate and his father's cutlery clinked as it was set on his plate. Loki drew in a long breath before repeating the words that had destroyed his more intimate relationship with his brother. “I'm with child.”
“We will discuss this after we have finished our meal,” his father responded before resuming his breakfast, indicating to the rest of them to do the same.
Loki gaped and his eyes glistened, as if all the tears that had burnt tracks down his cheeks the night before were not enough. Their indifference… Was it possible that they already knew? That Loki had not been as meticulous as he had thought and his family had been humoring him during all these long months? Or had, perhaps, his brother informed them of his state? Yes, it all made sense now. Why Thor was treating Loki with (brotherly) affection, like nothing had changed between them, when mere hours ago Thor had called Loki a whore and looked upon him with disgust. As the cold metal of the cutlery pushed into his skin, Loki hoped his misfortune was enough to satisfy Thor, who apparently didn't realize Loki was aware of every look sent his way. It was torture. Plunging in the knife and slowly slicing down the length of his body, their eyes glinting with curiosity of when he would break.
Loki's leg jerked when Thor placed a calloused hand on his knee. What was Thor playing at?
The silent walk to his father's private study was not a pleasant one, just like the conversation that laid ahead on them. Loki walked past his father's impassive mask keeping guard at the door and sat in the chair he usually occupied when called to his father's study. Loki seemed to be in a staring contest with his father's calculating gaze until Loki was forced to look away by his mother's disappointed face coming into view. Loki gripped the arms of his chair to prevent himself from doing anything that could give away his feelings on his circumstances.
“We can work around this,” his mother murmured.
His father nodded to himself. “Yes, there are alternatives.”
“Like what?” Loki asked with a curl to his lips.
His mother shook herself from her thoughts. “You're not obliged to go through with the pregnancy, Loki.”
Loki let out a harsh breath. “What?” Loki had imagined his father would suggest it but never his mother. This was precisely what Loki told himself he wouldn't do, and anyway… “I think it is a bit late for that.”
His mother frowned. “Why would it be too late?”
Thor, who Loki had forgotten entered the study with them, shifted on his feet as their mother knelt in front of Loki and forced Loki to let go of the chair to clasp Loki's hands within her own. Loki shook his head as his mother tried to explain why it was alright to go with their plan of action, that no one needed to know.
“You don't understand,” Loki said.
“What am I not understanding?” his mother asked with a sweetness bordering on exasperation.
Loki breathed in deep, fighting the urge to cover his stomach as a green shimmer ran through his body, leaving his red eyes and paler-than-usual face for all to see, but more importantly, putting his bulging belly on display. “I have been pregnant for five months,” Loki told his wide-eyed mother. His voice, which never wavered, threatened to fail him now.
Flesh hitting wood made Loki jolt upright in his seat and pull his hands out of his mother's grip. His father was glaring at Loki while grinding his teeth. “The sire, Loki. Give me the name of the sire.”
Thor took an aborted step forward than to anyone but Loki would look like the protection of an older brother, but Loki, in fact, knew better. Thor's eyes, directed at Loki, were pleading, and Loki didn't doubt Thor feared Loki would utter his name, claim Thor as the father of his child once more. Oh, and how wonderful it would be to bring the golden son down with him, the disgrace.
“I know not,” Loki said.
“This is no time to be stubborn. Out with it, boy!”
“I can't even recall his face.” And Loki wished it was true.
His father gripped the oak table with enough strength to turn his knuckles white. “I trust you're aware of what will happen if you don't give me a name?”
Loki placed a hand over the curve of his belly. “I would think so.”
His mother grasped Loki's other hand. “Loki, darling, just give your father a name.”
Loki refused. Perhaps this would be enough for his brother.
“Out,” his father growled. “I want you gone by the morrow. Go live with the wretch to whom you submitted.”
But Loki wasn't disowned nor was he forced to leave the palace despite the threats that were thrown around. On the contrary, Loki was confined to the palace with the occasional visit to his mother's garden. Loki's punishment (or rather his child's) was not the customary abandonment but the knowledge that his child would never get a chance to inherit a single thing from him no matter what Loki did, as decreed by the king in front of Loki's gaping face after forcing his way into Loki's chamber. Whatever Loki managed to achieve with his bastard trailing behind him would belong to Thor and subsequently any children he might produce. After recovering from his shock, Loki was on the verge of laughing into hysteria. It was the most ridiculous thing Loki had ever heard, almost as ridiculous as thinking he would be free of his brother's presence. Asgard would crumble without Loki whispering his honeyed words in Thor's ears and his parents knew it. They also knew they couldn't lose one of the most powerful mages in the Nine Realms. Of course they would prefer to put up with Loki's child than actually letting Loki leave.
Loki hung his head in his hands. Why did he think informing his parents was a good idea? Loki could have been in another realm by now if he had just taken his leave. But at the end of the day, Loki's true punishment was having to serve Thor's other children while the one Loki had produced for his brother was treated as nothing more than a servant of his half-siblings. Loki's blood boiled, his anger only held back by the panic that his parents’ suspicions of his relationship with his brother was what made his father go back on his word. Why force Loki to stay instead of forcing him to leave like any normal person?
Loki's pregnancy seemed to bring him more shame than it did his family who, after a week and with the exception of his mother, had no trouble ignoring his pregnant state. Laying in bed, Loki's heart had leapt to his throat the first time his brother returned to him during the night after his confession just to pummel into his stomach when Thor dropped a mountain of papers on Loki's desk. They appraised each other, Thor studying the changes forced upon his brother's body as Loki rubbed his child swollen belly, wondering whether or not he should open for Thor. Chest rising and falling with little hitching breaths, Loki decided to part his legs thinking it was what his brother was waiting for. Thor snorted in Loki's direction.
The brothers didn't speak to each other after that night even though Thor continued to go in and out of Loki's quarters.
The guards who had once raffled off Loki between themselves as Loki raffled them in turn with a cup of wine held up to his lips to hide his smirk had no quarrel with approaching Loki in the halls, caging him against the wall, and placing a heavy hand over the place where Loki's child rested before saying, “Sure it isn't mine, princess?” with a smirk of their own. Loki thought their little game was over after he almost clawed out an eye. But then the game changed.
It was one of the days Loki was allowed to visit his mother's garden. The humid air of Asgard’s afternoon made Loki's clothes cling to his sweaty skin and the soft breeze of late summer messed with the curls framing his face. The thought of going back to his chambers was pushed away in favor of curling his hands into the grass and pulling it gently. Loki sighed. In retrospect, sitting on the ground, head resting against a tree trunk, wasn't one of his brightest idea. Loki doubted he could begin the walk back to the palace even if he wanted. In any case, there was no need to do so just yet. Having the garden all too himself was not a common occurrence, so why not enjoy it a little longer? Loki imagined he would be bed bound soon enough with how heavy the child was getting, so yes. Loki would enjoy this for…
“Your presence is being requested.”
“You can tell whoever requests my presence to come look for me here.”
“…It's urgent, my prince.”
Loki's hands curled tighter and he pulled a few strands of grass over his pants. Loki huffed as he pulled himself to his feet and cupped his belly before snapping at the guard who had disturbed him. “Lead the way then!”
The guard gave a curt nod and turned to guide Loki through the palace’s corridors. His swollen feet and two well-aimed kicks to his ribs didn't take long to make Loki snappish again. Loki couldn't help but notice that the guard had not mentioned who was asking for him or where they were headed, and Loki was ready to point out as much when his back hit a wall, making him wince. Loki's arms were pinned over his head and Loki arched an eyebrow at the guard staring transfixed at his bump.
“Yes, I am quite sure it isn't yours.” The guard's head snapped up to Loki's face. “As a matter of fact, I-"
Loki was silenced by the guard crashing his lips against his, seeking entrance into Loki's mouth, which Loki refused to give. The guard pushed his body flush against Loki's and Loki's eyes widened. This was the farthest a guard had dared to go during the last months. None of them had tried to kiss him, much less rut against him.
“What do you think you're doing?” A voice rang through the otherwise empty corridor.
Thor, Loki's mind supplied with a flicker of panic tangled with relief.
“Get away from my brother!”
The guard did so with not a second more of delay, turning the corridor in a sprint.
“Thor.” Loki swallowed heavily. “I swear that I-"
Thor's lips drew back in a snarl and his finger pointed at the corner where the guard had disappeared while his other hand gesticulated towards Loki's middle. “You claim to carry my child and yet this is what you do with your time?”
Loki's eyes blazed, molten anger rolling through him. “Oh, so it's your child now?”
Thor stormed towards Loki, pinning him in the same way the guard had. “Only I get to do this.”
Loki sneered. “Get your hands off me.”
Loki arched forward and whispered in Thor's face. “Careful, brother. You don't want people to see you be tainted by this whore.”
Thor ground his jaw but released Loki, glaring at his brother as he left the scene.
Loki raked his fingers through his hair. How dare Thor call Loki's child his? Thor was unbelievable. The child was Loki's and only Loki's, Thor had made that clear from the beginning. Why change his mind now? Because some stranger was about to fuck Loki against the wall? That was none of Thor’s business. His brother should know that he had no say in Loki's sex life. Not since Thor called Loki a whore. All was made worse by the knowledge that everything Loki did would go to whatever get Thor had with the shallow woman he would take as a wife. Not to his own child.
That night, Loki opted to skip dinner, going straight to bed even though hunger gnawed at him. He couldn't stand to look at his brother at the moment. Despite the sharp pain radiating through his body and the child wiggling in the cramped confines of his womb, sleep claimed him. Loki managed to sleep until a heavy weight settled beside him on the bed, drawing a groan from Loki as he struggled to level himself up from the bed.
Loki froze. “What are you doing here, Thor?”
“I was cold.”
Loki chucked sleepily as he curled on his side, pressing his cheek against a pillow. “You should know by now that my room is colder.”
“Not at all,” Thor murmured. He slipped under the quilt and pulled Loki’s back against his chest. Loki's breath quickened as Thor’s hand traveled down his body, stopping to spread his fingers over the curve of his belly. Possessive.
Loki sucked in a sharp breath, becoming more awake by the moment. “What are you doing, Thor?”
In response, his brother buried his face in his hair and pressed a growing erection to his backside.
I don't know. Please don't mind me.
The wet towel hit his face with a pang of relief. The sun was scorching on his skin, beads of sweat clinging to him, his muscles burning with exhaustion. Dust stuck to Thor's clothing as much as it stuck to his mouth, dry with thirst. Thor groaned as he was forced to soak the towel into cold water once more before slapping it on his skin. As much as he would like to, Thor couldn’t stop now. His first tournament was fast approaching and it could not end on anything else than his victory. Thor would not disappoint his father. Thor would prove to his father that choosing Thor to represent their house had not been a mistake. Thor would make his father proud.
“My, aren't we excited?”
Thor's face broke into a smile. “Loki!”
Loki crossed his arms over his chest and kicked the ground. “Who else?”
Thor walked towards him with arms outstretched.
Loki glared at him. “Don't you dare touch me.” Thor let his arms fall to his side as his smile collapsed and Loki scoffed. “Anyone would think you haven't seen me in ages.”
“It's been long enough,” Thor said.
Long enough since Thor was chosen as his father's champion. Long enough since it was determined that, despite being of age, Loki's body would not be able to stand against the other competitors’ brute strength. His brother would sooner collapse from heat stroke than from a well-aimed blow. Thor, within the safety of his mind, would admit that the only problem he saw was Loki's hurt pride. And don't get him wrong. Thor knew his brother. Loki wasn't interested in battling as a sport. His brother only presented himself to training out of obligation and because he could see the usefulness of it. The true problem was that the “inadequacies” of Loki's body had been pointed out to their father even though Loki had not expressed interest in the upcoming tournament. Loki admitted as much.
“Clean yourself. Then, you may touch me,” Loki said.
Thor bobbed his head and went back to washing the sweat out of his skin, his brother's emerald gaze following his movement. “You know father doesn't favor me for being bulky, do you not?”
Loki snorted. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
Thor glanced at Loki. “Do you not?”
“Of course.” Loki directed his gaze downward. “Your golden hair also has a hand in that.”
“Loki,” Thor complained.
Loki hummed. “I suppose we could add your being his first-born to the list.” Thor made a move to protest but Loki shushed him with a dismissive wave of his hand. “All parents have a favorite child, brother. I have made peace with the fact that I will never be mine's.”
Thor tossed the towel aside and strode to envelop Loki in his arms. Loki made disgusted sounds as he tried to get away. “You never tire, do you?” Thor asked.
Loki snapped at him and pushed against Thor's chest. “Oh, let's face it! My confounded body is nothing more than another disgrace.”
Thor squeezed him. “You will find something right for you.”
“…I already have.”
Thor entered the Great Hall and took in the sight before him. People's chattering was loud enough to strain the ear as hearty plates went from one hand to another and back. There were no hands covering whispering mouths, no talk of his brother. When the doors opened to admit Loki inside the Hall, slender and immaculate as always, Thor told himself that perhaps he had dreamt the night before. Or that perhaps it had been a joke after all. A very cruel joke. With Loki's clipped greeting, Thor prepared to do his job of making sure his brother ate enough. Breakfast appeared to be what it always was, so Thor followed Loki's lead and did what his brother wanted.
Act normal, you fool.
Thor froze when Loki slammed his hands on the table. Had he misunderstood what was expected of him? After Loki blurted out the news of his pregnancy for all to hear, Thor was sure his brother and father would descend into a shouting match, but his father uttered a simple dismissal that made Loki hung his head. Thor's hand found his brother's knee. It wasn't a conscious movement, not something Thor did to get on Loki's nerve. It was just what Thor always did when Loki and their father butted heads. Thor offered comfort, as little as it was worth, anyway.
Thor had entered his father's private study with his only expectation being that this would be his final goodbye with Loki. Even if both of them were disowned for loving each other as more than brothers, Thor didn't dare hope that Loki would let him stay by his side.
“We can work around this.”
Thor frowned. Loki wouldn't abandon his child and Thor wasn't so sure he could live with the knowledge that Loki's child would be somewhere out there. Not that his opinion mattered. Thor's jaw went slack at his parents’ alternative. Their solution was to rip his child from Loki's delicate body. No, not Thor's. Loki's. Loki's and someone else's, Thor reminded himself. But it didn't matter. That wasn't happening. It wasn't something Thor should worry about. Loki was too far along for that to be a possibility. The child would live.
Thor's pulse quickened as his mother knelt in front of Loki. It hadn't occurred to Thor, not in a coherent way, that his parents were not aware of the child, and how stupid was that? The realization that his parents did not know Loki was at least halfway through his pregnancy didn't slam into Thor until his mother tried to convince Loki to abort their child. No, not his. Just Loki's.
Thor massaged his temples.
“The sire, Loki. Give me the name of the sire.”
Thor startled to attention. What would his brother say? Would Loki say Thor's name? Should Thor step up as the father? Thor didn't know. Did Loki even want Thor to claim the child? After last night… Thor didn't think he had the right. Thor's pleading gaze met Loki's hardened one.
Please tell me what to do.
“I know not,” Loki said.
Thor deflated, shoulders slumping. No, of course Loki didn't want Thor claim the child after Thor called him a whore.
“I want you gone by the morrow. Go live with the wretch to whom you submitted,” his father said.
Loki rose to his feet and Thor followed the movement of Loki's hand sliding over their child. Thor groaned and shook his head. Why couldn't he make up his mind already?
“Loki,” Thor whispered as his brother passed him on his way to the door. Loki jerked his arm away, ensuring Thor couldn't grab his wrist and sending a heated glare Thor's way. But no. Loki couldn't leave. He was Thor's little brother. Thor was supposed to keep him safe.
“What about you, Thor?” his father asked. “Have you, perhaps, impregnated some young maiden?”
Thor bunched his fists on his pants as the door closed behind his brother. “Not precisely,” he responded. His father's lip thinned but all Thor could think about was how much his brother would hate him for this. “I’m the wretch that got Loki pregnant.”
Thor's father looked about to throttle him but his mother sighed, sat in the chair Loki had previously occupied, and waved his father off.
“This is no news, Odin. We always suspected this would happen,” his mother said.
Thor gaped at his mother. There was no way they could know. The brothers had been far too careful. “How?” Thor demanded.
His father's shoulders sagged. “The lingering looks for one.”
Thor's face heated. Perhaps he had been to generous in his worship of Loki's body. “And yet you let it happen.”
“There was no reason to stop it,” his mother said.
“No reason to stop it?” Thor asked in disbelief. “I made a child with my brother!” And Thor had wanted it so badly, it was perverted. “What if the child comes out deformed?” Oh gods, Thor hadn't thought about that before. Had Loki even considered that possibility? “And I called,” Thor stumbled with his words. “I called Loki a whore.”
His mother stood up. “Thor, darling, you need to breathe.”
“Loki is not your brother.”
Thor's head snapped to his father. “What?”
“He is a Jötunn, Thor. Not Æsir like the rest of us.”
“What?” It seemed that was the only word Thor's brain could formulate.
His father sighed and collapsed in his chair. “The child should not be born with deformities. When I brought Loki to Asgard, your mother and I hoped we would be able to marry you to each other.”
“But then you confused Loki with a brother,” his mother said. “I didn't have the heart to take away from you the sibling I always wished I could have given you. But I never stopped hoping.”
Excitement flushed through Thor's veins. This changed so much. “So I can claim Loki's child as my heir?”
“No,” his father responded.
Thor's hands clenched again. “Why not? You said-"
“I said no,” his father repeated sternly. “Loki must learn responsibility. He should have admitted the child is yours.”
Thor lowered his head. “That's because I denied our child.”
“I care not. Until Loki does not admit it, you will not claim the child as your own, understood?”
“But what if he leaves, father?”
His father stood from his chair and spread his arms wide. “Look around you, boy. We live in a palace made of gold. What makes you think Loki would leave this behind?”
“And I imagine he does not wish to give birth alone or he would have left already,” his mother said with a thoughtful frown.
His father nodded absently. “You will wait until Loki comes to us.”
Thor frowned. “Loki will not do that. Not after how I have treated him.”
“Then, he will need an incentive, will he not?”
An incentive Thor did not agree with. If anything, it seemed to have pushed his brother farther away from him. At the moment, Thor could not see the wise king he had believed his father to be. Thor understood what his father was thinking. That if only Thor's children were able to inherit, but not Loki's, then his brother would confess who the father of his child was in order to secure his child their rightful place. Thor could not see Loki doing that. His brother was by far the most prideful creature Thor had ever met. Loki would never do that, and Thor was all too aware that it was his fault. Perhaps, if he found a way to apologize…
Thor suspected the only reason Loki still allowed Thor to fill his plate was out of centuries of tradition. At least that Thor could still do for his brother with Loki avoiding him at every corner. But Thor's love for his brother only seemed to grow, becoming consuming even, as he was forced to watch Loki's body change to accommodate their growing child from a distance. The way Loki caressed his belly, the way he whispered to the child within when he thought nobody was near… it was a tenderness Loki had never offered to Thor.
Loki had always helped Thor with paperwork and that was the excuse Thor used to visit his brother. Thor felt light-headed when his brother's door opened for him. Thor had expected Loki to guard the place against him as Loki did with everyone else, but Thor wasted no time in crossing the distance to Loki's desk, where his galloping heart had Thor rooted to the spot. It was the first time Thor would be alone with his brother since coming back to Asgard. No one to listen raptly at every word exchanged with Loki. No need to keep his eyes in check. Thor didn't know how to proceed, what would worsen things between them. Loki was rubbing his stomach and, as Thor often did when he glimpsed his brother shift on his seat or wince before pressing a hand to his belly, Thor wondered if Loki was feeling their child move. Thor couldn't hold back a snort when Loki spread his legs with a hesitation that had never been there before. Was that all Loki thought Thor wanted from him? If that was the case, then Thor had dug himself a deeper hole than he had thought.
Loki pursed his lips and moved his head to the side. “I'm sorry. I don't know what I was thinking.”
Loki shook his head. “It's quite alright. I understand.”
Thor huffed. “If you would just listen.”
“Same goes for you.”
Thor walked to sit on the edge of the bed with tentative steps. “You have not given me the chance to say I'm sorry.”
Loki lifted his shoulder in a half shrug. “For what?”
“That night, Loki, I… I didn't mean what I said.”
“What night?” Loki asked with feigned disinterest. “The night you called me a whore? If that is how you see me, Thor, I'm afraid I can't change that.”
Like he did on the night in question, Thor crawled closer to his brother. “I didn't mean it, Loki. I didn't mean anything of it.” Thor brushed his fingertips over Loki's bump. “About the child-"
Thor's head snapped to meet his brother's glazed eyes. “Loki, I have-"
“You may touch me anywhere you want, but my belly is off-limits. That is my condition.”
Thor, who didn't want to anger Loki any further, complied with his brother's demand and snapped his mouth shut.
The day they found out that a group of guards had been crowding Loki in the corridors, that they had dared place their dirty hands on Loki (on his belly no less), thunder had rolled in the distance. Thor had burnt with the knowledge that they probably had felt his child move inside Loki when not even he had been granted that privilege. Thor's chair had flown backwards as he stood up and called Mjölnir to his hand, ready to pummel the trespassers’ skulls into the ground, only to be held back by his mother. Loki could solve it himself and if he had not come to them, then help would not be appreciated. Thor sat back down with slumped shoulders. He supposed that if Loki could barely stand his presence, then his intervention would be rather unwelcome.
That proved to be true when Thor couldn't stop himself from coming between a guard and his brother. Thor's first reaction had been to stop dead in his tracts. Loki had promised Thor that this time they would be exclusive, that there would be no one between them, and Thor had itched to tell Loki their father's condition then before being silenced each and every time. Silenced like Loki was now being silenced by someone that wasn't Thor. It had ended on an argument, of course. Despite telling himself he would do as Loki wished, Thor had tried to get a word in with Loki but, once given the chance, those words proved to not be what Thor had been burning to tell Loki. Precisely.
“You claim to carry my child and yet this is what you do with your time?”
Thor kicked himself mentally but once one was on the war path, one was always on the war path. In retrospect, Thor should have apologized right after that or after Loki said, “Oh, so it's your child now?” at the latest instead of trying to argue that point with his brother once more. But then again, war path. “Careful, brother. You don't want people to see you be tainted by this whore.” Nonetheless, Thor knew when he had pushed too far. Thor was walking on thin ice with his brother again, so Thor didn't try to stop Loki from leaving instead of wrapping his arms around Loki like he longed to do. Perhaps shout to the world, and thus to anyone that would listen, that it was his child in his brother's belly.
Thor banged his head on the wall. It seemed he could not stop digging.
Thor had walked to the Great Hall that evening knowing that Loki wouldn't show up to dinner but waiting for his father's order to take food to Loki all the same. But Loki's chambers were bathed in darkness. Of course Loki had gone to bed early. Thor shushed his brother as he tried to get up from the bed and slipped under the quilt with the rustling sound of Loki shifting. Thor didn't think twice before pulling Loki against his chest in their usual position.
“What are you doing, Thor?”
Thor sighed into his brother's hair. He had thought, hoped, really, that Loki would allow him closure for just a little, that perhaps a shared childhood memory would do the trick. For old time's sake, if nothing else. Thor removed his hand from Loki's belly, unintentionally making his desire known to his brother as he moved away if the sharp intake of breath was anything to go by. Thor hastened to apologize.
“I'm sorry, Loki. I can't help it, but I assure you, brother, that's not why I came here,” Thor stammered.
Loki sighed. “Why, then?”
“You promised you wouldn't skip any more meals,” Thor mumbled.
“Ugh, why do you even care?”
“You can't keep doing this, Loki. You have to be-" What? Responsible? Thor swallowed. “I have always cared about your eating habits.”
Thor imagined Loki rolling his eyes.
“I imagine there's food waiting for me outside?” Thor nodded before remembering Loki couldn't see him in the dark and responded in the affirmative. “So bring it in.”
Thor hurried to do so as Loki's witch lights illuminated the room. Thor's brow knitted together as he watched Loki eat; he have keep a closer watch on his brother. Thor gulped, preparing himself to tell Loki what their father had actually said despite having sworn not to do so. “I have something I must confess to you.”
“Is that so?” Loki's eyes were gleaming. “Well, I have something I must ask of you.”
Thor's breath escaped him in a rush. “Anything.”
“You know I love your company and you know I don't mind your coming to my chambers.” Thor nodded but Loki held out a finger. “But, you see, once my child is born, I don't want you anywhere near us.”
Thor's world screeched to a halt.
Where do we go from here?
Once oblivion was upon them, the agreement that they were both each other's downfall would be met. But before that time came, blame would be freely given. Whether they blamed themselves or the other… well, that depended on their mood.
It was customary for the father to choose the name of the child, but Loki had stood tall and immovable. Thor was not to be involved in his son's life, not to be involved with Vali, the name Loki had chosen for their son. What little precious memories Thor had of Vali's first years were whatever Thor could scavenge from his son's public appearances, but never something private, something including Thor. Waiting had gotten him nothing. As Loki had said, the exile from his son's life quickly spread to his brother's as Vali required more and more of Loki's care. His love, which perhaps had never been more than earthly desire in the first place, evolved into resentment. Ever since the first time his eyes fell upon the tiny, chubby, dark-haired creature nursing at his brother's breast was etched into Thor's brain, irremovable.
Loki had not deigned to spare Thor a glance.
“I would think I made it clear that I do not want you near us.”
He had made it crystal clear.
He had done what he needed to do.
A mother's love, they said, was innate, but as far as Loki was concerned, it was something one learnt. When the screaming infant was presented to him for the first time, Loki thought it was the ugliest thing he had ever seen. That opinion had lasted long into Vali's first year. His love for the creature he had nurtured with his body, Loki had feared, was nothing but a distorted reflection of his desire to tie Thor to him, to have control over the golden son for just a little, and there were times in which Loki thought he would end up going back to his brother, who was determined to claim Vali as his, just so Vali could have a chance to know a parent's love. But he had learnt. Loki had learnt that all those whispering maids claiming to have loved their children the moment they set eyes on them were all liars, that barely being able to look at Vali was not out of a lack of love.
It was guilt.
It was failure.
It had always been his mother and him. They only had each other, his mother used to tell Vali when he would ask why he didn't have a father even though both of them knew that wasn't an answer at all. But Vali had learnt early on not to push things with his mother if he wished to see his uncle. Vali had also learnt that asking too much questions lead to changes even though he was encouraged to ask questions.
One of Vali's earliest memories was of him hiding behind his mother's legs as he was forced to go through all the process of listening to boring people droning on and on about their boring problems while other children played in the gardens. One of the most important house rules was that Vali was absolutely forbidden from being on his own as his mother often said during his frenzied states after Vali managed to escape his sight. What his mother had neglected to say unless Vali made him really mad was that what that actually meant was that Vali was not allowed to go anywhere his mother couldn't see him. At all times. His uncle's supervision, or his grandparents' for that matter, did not count.
“You listen to me, Vali.” His mother gripped his shoulders. “You will not do that to me ever again.”
“But, mommy, I was just out in the gardens,” Vali complained, his mother shaking his head all the while.
“We've gone over this, darling. They'll take you away from me, and you'll never see me again. Is that what you want?”
Vali shook his head, throwing himself into his mother's arms, thinking his mother was making things too big.
His mother picked him up before continuing his scolding. “I want you to play with other children, Vali, but not unsupervised. I said you could not come outside today because-"
“Hi!” Vali greeted the guards with a wave of his hand as they passed through the palace’s entrance, interrupting his mother. One of the guards gave a small bow with a smile that Vali returned.
Vali widened his eyes at his mother. “What?”
“We do not greet the guards. They will think you're becoming familiar with them.”
Vali rolled his eyes and settled his head against his mother’s shoulder as he droned on and on like the boring people in the big room where his grandpa sat. Was he or was he not supposed to greet people? Was he or was he not supposed to ask questions? His mother didn't seem to make up his mind. Kind of like his uncle. There were days in which Vali would jump into his uncle's arms, and his uncle would raise him high in the air and spin him around, huge smiles on both of their faces. There were other days in which his uncle barely spared Vali a glance.
One early memory of his uncle went like this: Vali had been trotting beside his mother after his lessons on their way to their rooms, occasionally tugging at his mother's hand and waving his free hand at all the guards and maids they passed, waving more cheerfully after his mother said, “Please stop that,” with a sigh. Standing in front of their door was his uncle, and Vali didn't think twice before dislocation from his mother and throwing himself at his uncle, who smiled at Vali as they looked eye to eye, replicas of each other.
His mother pursed his lips. “Brother, I do believe I gave you an specific time range of when you could visit.”
“Yes, well, plans change,” his uncle replied. “The little mongrel is happy to see me, aren't you?”
Vali nodded vigorously.
Vali couldn't remember what he did that afternoon or why his uncle had been waiting for them. Vali's time with his uncle included animated recounts of his uncle's and mother's adventures, animated stories of Vali's own, demonstrations of what he had learnt recently, and whatever game crossed through his uncle's head that day. His mother's eyes tracking their interactions weren't all that unusual. But the times after his uncle and mother locked themselves in mother's room, Vali would watch his uncle storm out of their rooms or leave with hunched shoulders that could never be linked with defeat though Vali's idolizing eyes. The latter would sometimes be accompanied with a, “Come here, darling,” from his mother as Vali stared wide-eyed at his uncle's retreating back who left without saying goodbye.
Vali also remembered having once asked his mother, “Why don't you love uncle?” as he sat in front of the hearth, working. His mother had not wasted a second in turning his attention to Vali.
“Is that what he said?” Vali frowned, shaking his head. “Of course I love your uncle.” Vali gave his mother a look. “If you had a brother, you would understand.”
“Why don't I have a brother? Everyone seems to have one.”
“Because I don't have any more children.”
“So why don't you have more?”
“It doesn't work like that, Vali.”
His mother offered Vali a smile. “Do you want a brother?”
Vali shrugged. “A sister would be okay, too, I guess.”
His mother chuckled and shook his head before returning to his boring papers. Vali hoped on a chair, rested his head upon his arms, and sighed. “Why are you my mother?”
His mother jolted upright. “I'm sorry?”
Vali tilted his head. “You look more like a dad to me.”
His mother opened and closed his mouth before replying. “I bore you, Vali. That makes me your mother.”
“Shouldn't that also make you a she?”
His mother's face contorted. “Some of us are built… differently.”
“Why don't you go see if any of the maids’ children are free, hmm?” his mother asked after ruining his hands through his hair. “And please be more careful with your words.”
Vali jumped out of his chair and ran as fast as his legs would allow him with the promise of going outside, ignoring his mother's final comment. His grandpa didn't like it when Vali played with the children of maids and guards but the children that, according to his grandpa, were of his station called Vali names that Vali wasn't so sure he understood. Their favorite was “bastard.” Vali had never gotten the hang of that word and his mother's answer, “Just an old word. It means nothing,” didn't sound quite right. Mother always ignored grandpa, which was another thing Vali didn't understand. Grandpa was nice. Always had a lecture on the tip of his tongue, but he was nice. It was grandpa and uncle who took Vali to see the horses, and grandma always had sweets with her that she would sneak to Vali behind his mother's back, bringing a finger to her lips when Vali giggled. His family was nice, Vali decided, and they loved him.
… didn't they?
Mother loved him, so where was he? Where was his mother? Vali's grandparents had no answer for Vali apart from a simple, “Loki will be back soon,” as his mother's most trusted maid, Ingrid, took his hand in hers, steering Vali away from his home. As he entered the unknown house, Vali repeated to himself over and over that his mother would come for him soon, that this was just a scare for having run off from his mother again. But days turned into weeks and he knew. Vali knew his mother wasn't coming in search of him this time.
Things were supposed to have been getting better. Although Thor kept believing in their father despite his brother's scoffs, Thor had stopped pushing Loki to talk to their father. Their new agreement, after years of shouting at each other with only a wooden door between them and Vali, was that Thor could see Vali whenever he wanted under the condition that he stopped his nonsense about claiming Vali as his heir. There had been no way to make Loki see that their father would follow his word. Thor now knew it was because his brother had not known they didn't share the same blood, something that had never occurred to Thor before. In any case, it was Loki himself who had sparked hope in Thor. Just to stomp on it minutes later, Thor admitted begrudgingly.
It happened at a feast. Voices growing ever louder assaulted Thor from every direction and countless cups of mead sent a pleasant hum through his body. Thor leaned against a wall, arms crossed over his chest, the message that he wasn't in search of a bed warmer clear to everyone around him, when Loki appeared at his side and mirrored his position.
“I think Vali wants a sibling,” Loki said.
Thor swallowed. “Indeed?”
“He asked me why I don't give him one.” Thor shifted from one feet to the other and Loki held up a hand. “No, we are not making that mistake again.” Loki took his own time to swallow before continuing. “When I was deciding whether or not to keep Vali, I think I told myself so many times that it was what I wanted that I actually believed it.”
Thor wanted to scream at Loki. Why in the Nine Realms were they going over this?
“I don't think this is an appropriate conversation for us,” Thor said.
Loki shook his head. “Even under different circumstances, I would not go through a pregnancy again. Towards the end… and after Vali's birth… gods, when I had to nurse him…” Loki shoved his hair out of his face. “I realized that perhaps keeping Vali was a mistake after all.”
“Loki, please, I do not want to hear this.”
“I have never felt so disgusting.” Thor met Loki's gaze, pleading him to stop whatever this was. “But I do love Vali, Thor. Truly, I do.”
“You never told me what changed your mind.” Thor's gaze turned curious. “About Vali's parentage?”
Thor sighed, glad that the conversation seemed to be taking another route. “After I left your chambers and you had your talk with father, I realized you wouldn't lie to me about that.”
Loki smirked. It was hollow, as every token between them seemed to be. “If that soothes your mind."
Loki pushed himself of the wall and Thor watched him disappear into the crowd.
Disappear into nothingness.
The courtiers’ calls for Vali to be taken far from the palace had made Loki paranoid to the point that he could not trust their parents lest he be separated from their son. Thor had known that. Loki forcing Vali to stand through the petitions of the citizens instead of letting him in the care of their mother when none of his trusted maids, lately occupied with coronation preparations, were available was proof enough. Earlier attempts to dissuade Loki had only strengthened his brother's belief that they wanted to send Vali away. But Thor hadn't realized how desperate Loki was becoming. Thor would not hear a word said against Loki for he knew it all had be done for Vali. It was the only explanation. There could be no other reason why his brother had chosen to betray him, to leave their son behind.
It was nonsensical. Just like Loki himself.
It took Thor a week to realize Vali was gone from the palace. Loki would be hysterical if he knew it took Thor another week to get Vali back. It was not something Thor was proud of and the week spent in a haze did not mean Thor wished Vali gone. On the contrary, the fact that Vali was Loki's son gave Thor all the more reasons to want Vali back.
The formalities and procedure to get Vali recognized as his heir gave Thor a headache as he was buried under old laws and decrees, making Loki's absence all the more noticeable in the royal household. His father had opposed Thor at first, but a shouting match made Thor's position clear. Thor was Vali's father and although it was late to make that claim, it was Thor's right and duty to care for Vali in the eventuality that Loki were… absent. Even if Loki had left clear instructions of what was to happen to Vali in his absence, they meant nothing to Thor. It was Vali's right to exploit all the luxuries Thor had grown with, and despite the scandal it naturally caused, Vali was legally recognized by Thor's father as Thor's heir.
After the paperwork was done and opposing parties subdued, which unfortunately had included Thor's friends, Thor did not take an hour longer than what was strictly necessary before marching down to the citadel and threatening to break down doors if his son was not handed over to him at once. The thought that this might have been excessive did not occur to Thor until he was presented with his son's scared face. Thor apologized to the cowering maid and her family before making his way back to the palace with Vali alongside him.
Thor placed a heavy hand on Vali's shoulder as the child made to walk in the direction of Loki's chambers and Vali turned to look at Thor with a frown.
“We are not going that way,” Thor said.
“But that's where mommy's rooms are,” Vali said with a pointing finger.
Thor's hand twitched. “You'll be staying with me for awhile. Won't that be fun?” Thor attempted a smile.
“But…” Vali fidgeted and looked hesitantly towards where he had been headed. “Doesn't mommy want to see me?”
All pretends of a smile collapsed at the doubts in Vali's voice.
“Oh, I'm sure mommy wants to see you very much, but he is not here at the moment.” Thor patted his son's bony shoulder and found that, in a rare moment, the lie came easily to his tongue. “He'll be back soon.”
“That's what grandma said but mommy never came. Even though I was a good boy. You can ask.”
“I know you are a good boy, Vali, but you must wait a little longer.”
A little longer, Thor reminded himself. A little longer and Thor would learn that that's not how Loki tucked Vali into bed, not how Loki read bedtime stories, not how Loki dressed Vali, not what Loki made Vali eat, not what Loki made Vali do, and not who Loki wanted Vali to play with. Everything was wrong. Nothing was how Loki did it. Everything made Vali sniffle and tear up. Nothing made Vali forget that Loki left him behind.
It was bedtime again, and about a year since everything went wrong. All of Vali's possessions had long since being moved to Thor's chambers, and Thor was sure he had finally gotten the art of tucking Vali into bed right. Yes, it was finally right.
“You did it wrong again.” Thor huffed. He had done it exactly as he had done it the night before. “The soft side has to look up.”
Thor gave a strained smile in the dim light of the room. “Mongrel, both sides are soft.”
Vali scowled and brushed his hand over the side of the quilt looking down. “This side is softer.”
Thor imitated Vali's actions. “They are equally soft.”
“They're not.” Vali fixed his eyes on a spot over Thor's shoulders. “Mommy would know the difference.”
Thor hung his head in his hands. He suspected they would need new training dummies by tomorrow's afternoon.
“Uncle?” Thor raised his head with apprehension, ready for the usual questionnaire of Loki's whereabouts. “Did mommy left because of me?”
Thor stiffened. “What?”
“Mommy doesn't love me anymore, does he? He left because I didn't listen to him.”
“What are you talking about, mongrel?”
“He told me to stay in my room, but I didn't listen. I went out to play anyway, and then a maid took me away.” Vali sniffled. “Mommy said that if that happened, I wouldn't see him again.”
“No, that's not what happened.” Thor ran a hand over his son's hair. “Sometimes, people have to leave because… because they are busy.” Thor nodded to himself. Yes, that was it. “But Loki will be back as soon as he is done.”
“But that's what you always say! Soon, Vali, soon. But I don't want soon. I want my mommy now!”
Thor sighed. Years ago, when Thor had rushed his brother to the Healing Rooms as Loki was assaulted by the early pains of labor during the night, Thor had not thought that Loki was serious about keeping him away from Vali, and as the years progressed, Thor had no reason to suspect that one day he would be Vali's sole parent, evading the truth that was Loki's death. Vali's questions, Thor's replies, Vali crying for his mother to come back. It was all part of their routine. As much a routine as were Thor's trips to the rebuilding Bifröst, questions about a certain mortal woman masking his relieving of his brother's last moments. All because Loki had never understood. All Thor had wanted was for Loki to be his as much as he was Loki's.
I did a terrible job. I know. I'm sorry. Feel free to yell at me.
10/18/19: So it seems a new chapter will be coming after all. I would like you to know that it will be from Odin's point of view and probably shorter. A lot more shorter, to be honest.
So turns out that the chapter is much longer that I thought it would be. Lucky you.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
By all standards, it was a perfect day on Asgard. The summer was making way for a cooler season although Asgard could only be described as a land of eternal summer. The real difference was a less humid air and stronger breeze for not even days seemed to be shorter. The sun was not shining with all of its splendor, sweat did not cling to the skin making all the unnecessary ceremonial armor more of a nuisance than it already was. It was perfect for a walk around the palace, which seemed to get scarcer with the passing years. His own palace, which he could not enjoy to his heart's desire. It was perfect for children to play outside. Odin did not expect to find either of his sons inside until he stumbled upon one. Quite literally.
“Loki, I do believe we don't sprawl out on corridors where people must walk through.” Loki pulled his legs close to his chest and sent as heated a glare a boy his age could muster without the fear of retribution. Odin frowned down at his son as he rubbed the spot Odin had tripped over. “I imagine you must have a reason?”
“No,” Loki grumbled.
Loki rose to his feet and a book of wards fell to the ground. Odin ignored it.
“I'm sure your mother will be delighted to hear you are putting your chambers to good use.” Yes, Frigga would be delighted to know their son had been falling into undignified sprawls for all too see.
“Father,” Loki called. “I'm not scrawny, am I? You said I'm right for my age.”
Odin sighed. Not this again. “You must stand your ground, Loki.”
“But father, Thor keeps trying to feed me as if-"
“And he will not stop. That's what older brothers do.”
Loki's shoulders slumped. “The others have begun to call me ‘princess.’”
Odin held back a sigh. “Yes, I have thought your title suits you ill.”
“Father!” Loki gaped.
“Respect is earned. I cannot fix your problems for you nor interfere every time you disagree with your brother. Retaliate. You have the means to do so, and I am giving you my express permission to make use of them.”
With an arched brow, Odin watched his son nod slowly. By the next week, some lower lord was standing before Hliðskjálf as Odin's lips curled into a pleased smile at the news (complains, more like) that Loki had set the wolves loose on the man's son.
When one lived for thousands of years, memories tended to blend and merge together. This was the case for Odin when he tried to remember when his suspicions that his sons’ relationship was not entirely brotherly had begun. Centuries, that Odin knew. Centuries of looking sideways at his wife, wondering if she was seeing what he was seeing, fearing that confessing what was eating away his mind would eat away his marriage too. Odin could not divulge such depravities to his wife and not expect Frigga to see him through different eyes. The realm would not stand with such division at its center. Nor would their family. It wasn't until Odin grew accustomed to his wife's apprehensive face when watching their sons leave after a “brawl" that Odin unburdened himself with Frigga.
They both shared the same fear.
They both thought it a fact.
Sitting in his study in the dead hours of the morning, Odin thought that if Thor had not mistaken Loki for a brother as a boy barely out of his infancy, that if Frigga had not refused to straighten the fact that the boys were intended for each other, then this would have been a problem easily solved. It would not be a problem at all. It mattered not. Odin did not wish to oppose his wife, and they had decided not to interfere. Tempers in their family sparked easily, and it would not do to push their sons away by trying to take away the person of their adolescent lust or whatever it was they had between them. That confrontation would lead to regrettable decisions. Odin's own youthful misadventures were present in his daily life despite being locked away and painted over.
Loki's different physiology had been explained to him since the dawn of adolescence. Frigga had taken the initiative. The boys’ physical differences began to be pointed more and more often as they progressed in their battle training and Loki, who had not been an outgoing child to begin with, started to have his reservations with them. It became imperative to explain to Loki why he could not achieve the muscular mass of other warriors somehow without revealing all of the truth. Not yet. They had time still. They needed that time for Asgardian prejudices against the Jötnar to quiet down. It could wait still.
The explanation of their son's female parts had been taken over by Frigga. Odin was sure they both agreed that Frigga could do a much better job there and that Odin did not need to be involved in that conversation. Even so, Frigga's tenderness could not completely lessen the impact. At their age, neither of them had been naïve to hope otherwise. The conversation did help, all the same. Loki stopped pushing himself to his limits playing catch-up in the training hall. He pushed himself just hard enough to become proficient.
It was all Odin asked.
Thor's first tournament had been a setback. The trainer's insolence had woken Odin's anger. It was largely and well-known that the second prince had no interest in such things, but Loki's stiffened pride was enough to send them back to the beginning.
As Thor and Loki came closer and closer to youth adulthood, the conversations began to include Thor and be less centered on Loki. Thor was not shy about the maidens he pursued, but Loki was another case. Odin and Frigga had been prepared for the eventuality, but they had hoped that with Loki being exposed mainly to Asgardian culture, this wouldn't have come to pass. Loki had been interested in a few maids in the past, but it was not secret to Odin and Frigga that lately their son was more inclined towards the male sex despite Loki's attempts to hide it. And the court had noticed too. The large of Asgard’s population did not seem to have a problem with same-sex relationships, Odin knew, but things were different at court, where heirs were required. That was not a problem for Loki, of course, but the court would not be privy to that detail for centuries to come. In short, the court did not agree with Odin's decisions regarding his younger son. Despite their displeasure, Odin and Frigga had supported Loki's pursues, including that of seiðr. However, more private conversations with Loki had ensued. They needed Loki to understand that they did not mind who he took to a bed as long as there were no pregnancies, something they had also drilled into Thor separately.
It was surprising, years later, when the boy who had squirmed before them when presented with the possibility of becoming pregnant had no qualms with being open, perhaps too open, Odin thought, about his preferences on partners. Thor was no different. Thor was also one of those who had issues with Loki's behavior despite there being nothing wrong with it. Odin and Frigga recognized that their younger son's unusual preferences for a noble had long since labelled him, but there was no way to address it when young men his age acted in the same way. It mattered not. Courtiers had already developed a distaste of Loki since his affinity for seiðr became obvious from a young age, but it was not a view the rest of Asgard shared.
That would change the moment Thor's and Loki's relationship became known.
Odin and Frigga trusted their sons would know when to stop, but they didn't. Once again, Odin was reminded of how young his sons were by Loki's pregnancy.
Rage gripped Odin the moment Loki announced his pregnancy in the Great Hall, where anyone could have heard. So unlike Loki. Even if Loki had failed to prevent this, to be careful, after all their warnings, Loki could had at least have the sensibility to inform them in private. Like he did on the rare occasions when he admitted his mistakes. So rare, that Odin believed he could count them on one hand. Somehow, that helped Odin get through his meal. Loki's abrupt movement had drawn enough prying eyes.
Except that Odin was wrong. This was not a confession from Loki. He was barely informing them of his condition as if it mattered when he must be halfway through his pregnancy. It had been Frigga who proposed an abortion, who chose to be the stronger of the two by proposing what was not condoned in Asgard, who dared offer Loki the option he surely wanted. But Loki was right: it was too late for that. Odin only hoped that Loki knew he couldn't go back, knew he would have to carry the child to term. Odin hoped Loki knew he could not get rid of the child now. What Odin didn't understand, what Frigga surely didn't understand either, was why Loki chose to keep the child when he had always tried to ignore his female parts. Had it occurred to Loki that it would become public knowledge if he was seen now? Odin could not fathom that could be what Loki wanted.
Odin had tried to take a calming breath, but that had been impossible with Loki's refusal to give him the name of the child's sire. It was clear to Odin that his son had no plan or idea whatsoever of what he was doing. Could Loki not see that a marriage could salvage this? That he would not have to leave if he legitimized his child? Odin had already shown himself to be too lenient towards his younger son by allowing him to practice seiðr and chose whoever he pleased for a bed warmer, be it woman or man, things that the people knew Odin would not allow any other courtier. Odin could not bend the rules for Loki this time. It was either marriage… or exile.
But what a pleasant surprise it was to find that the sire of his younger son's child was actually his older son. Thor, as was his wont, could not watch Loki take the fall. Just like Loki. But Odin was tired of his sons covering the other's mistake. The fact that it was both their faults didn't change much. Once again, Loki had refused to give Thor his part of the blame. Odin was tired of this. And he was not in the mood for Thor's stupidity. What if the child was born deformed? Ridiculous. Why, Odin wanted to know, had Thor not thought of that before making a child with his brother? His own brother! The situation did not even arouse as much disgust in Odin as it would in others for Odin had lived in a time in which incest had been a common practice in noble families. It had died for a reason. It mattered not. Thor and Loki did not share the same blood.
Odin had told Loki to live with the child's sire, and Odin intended to follow his word. Loki would remain in the palace. More accurately, Odin did not plan to let Loki leave the palace, but that was not enough for Thor. Nothing Odin ever gave his children was enough. They always wanted more and more of him, and in this case, Thor wanted to make his child with Loki his heir. Odin could not allow that. Asgard would not allow that and neither would his pride and anger.
A condition. A silly condition was the solution. Thor was yet young and easily distracted; he would forget about this desire to claim the child. Unfortunately, Odin feared that Loki, too, would grow bored of the child. All Thor needed was to believe that it could happen even though Loki's child could never be his heir. Loki's pride would not allow it. Not if Thor had called him a whore and rejected the child. Loki would never meet this… imaginary condition. Thor knew it. Odin could pretend that Thor didn't, but Thor knew it. Even so, if it wasn't Loki's pride, then it would be his distrust. Loki would never believe that things could be this simple, that telling the truth for once could solve his problem.
Thor would forget it if Loki stayed. And Loki would stay. Odin had no doubt of that despite his wife's reservations and Thor believing otherwise. As Odin had told his older son, Loki was not one to leave luxury behind.
It had been a mistake to seek Loki. Deep in his mind, Odin had known that, but the same fear that haunted Thor and Frigga came to haunt Odin as the day progressed. Loki was perfectly capable of leaving. Believing otherwise was foolish. Odin had not planned on breaking through Loki's wards, but there was no assurance that the voice answering him from the other side was actually Loki's. His son had been trembling with rage at Odin's trespassing, but Loki forgot it had been Odin who helped him place the wards in his chambers in the first place. Things had escalated from there. Loki was not the only one that knew how to twist his words, nor was Loki as smart as he thought, Odin thought with a twinge of regret. With all the knowledge Loki claimed to possess, Odin would have thought that his son would realize that his child could not inherit for being illegitimate and with Thor being his next in kin, it was only reasonable that Thor's other children would be the ones to inherit. It would be different if Loki had legitimate children in the future, which Odin doubted would happen. It had not sounded like that when it came out of Odin's mouth, of course. It had sounded quite different, but Odin was too proud to try to fix that, and Loki was too proud to give him the chance.
That proved to be true when Loki continued to assist to family meals in the Great Hall but refused to exchange words with Odin. All the same, Odin talked to Loki as if they were engaged in conversation.
The first real time Odin spoke with his son was after the child was born, when Loki and Vali were moved to Loki's chambers. Thor's visit had been unwelcome and Odin was aware his would be received no different, but it was pending.
Loki was lying down on his bed, reclining back against his pillows, with his eyes closed and tunic open as Vali nursed, his suckling filing the silence of the room. Odin cleared his throat and Loki jolted, drawing a sharp cry of protest from the previously nursing infant.
“Father,” Loki said with a huff of breath. Loki looked down at himself with reddening cheeks and fumbled as he tried to get Vali to latch on again.
“Son,” Odin replied, mouth twitching.
“Is this the moment I'm thrown out on my arse?”
“No, that's not what I had in mind.”
Loki's face hardened. “No, of course not.”
“You must understand my position.” Odin could not bend more rules for his sons.
“Oh, but I do, father.”
Odin shook his head. “Your mother tells me you're thinking of giving Vali away.”
Loki's face contorted. “It would be for the best, would it not? Vali needs a mother at the very least. I cannot be that for him.”
Loki huffed. “If this is some kind of game, father, I am not in the mood.”
“I bring no such things. It is common knowledge that you have birthed a child, Loki, although admittedly most believe you were cursed. There is no point in separating Vali from his family now.”
Loki's movements were tense and almost jerky as he shifted to burp Vali, the opposite of the grace Odin had come to expect from his younger son. “I don't think I love my child. Mother was quite cross with me, in fact, when I told her Vali has nothing that can be considered beautiful in him.”
Odin chuckled. “I remember saying something of the like about you and Thor.” Loki scrunched his nose. “Frigga slapped the back of my head.” Odin sobered, his gaze losing all signs of amusement. “You will learn, and Vali will live within the palace’s walls until he is old enough to decide otherwise. My grandson will be a prince in everything but title.”
The conversation had ended with Loki asking if Frigga had forced Odin to go through with this talk, and Odin had responded truthfully. Half was Frigga’s nagging and the other half was just him. His wife had worried that Loki would get rid of their grandson. Feared, really. Odin couldn't say it didn't trouble him too.
The matter appeared to be settled until years latter when a practically inconsequential noblewoman, pregnant out of wedlock, thought that Odin would allow her the same leniency he did Loki. Naturally, Odin did not, and that's when it began. The people's, the court's specifically, displeasure made itself known. Odin, who had been seen as a fair king for longer that even he himself could remember, was rumored to be losing his objectivity. Some had dared say Odin could no longer be trusted to uphold traditions. It was squashed easily except in those who had become more arrogant that was usual for someone of their status. However, what truly mattered was how Loki clutched at Vali when the courtiers’ insistence became too loud to ignore. They were right, after all. There was a bastard in their court.
Odin did not permit anyone to refer to Vali as such after suffering his wife's wrath for it.
But Odin nor Frigga had ever expressed a desire in sending Vali away. He was their grandson. The only reason they attempted to approach the subject with Loki was because what their son was doing was not healthy. For starters, Loki was skipping meals again, or forgetting to eat. Why he did it had never been clear to Odin. And as he did since he was a child, Thor began to once more hunt Loki down to make sure his brother ate enough, but Thor and Loki had never agreed on how much food was enough. Then, there was the absurdity of forcing Vali to go through the boring meeting that had taken Odin centuries to get used to. Nonetheless, what topped everything else was what Frigga had heard Loki tell Vali.
“They'll take you away from me, and you'll never see me again. Is that what you want?”
It had broken Frigga's heart.
Odin knew that sending Vali to live with one of Loki's maids after the battle at the Bifröst was not helping their case, but it was temporary. Never meant to be permanent. Odin had never understood his sons' relationship after Vali's birth. Odin knew that they had gone back to sleeping together since before Loki had reached his third trimester, but Thor was not allowed near Loki's chambers after Vali's birth until Vali was about three years-old if Odin remembered correctly. And even so, Thor was nothing but an uncle to Vali. After Loki betrayed them, Thor had not spared Vali the most minimum of attention or responded to any attempts of discussing what would become of Vali without Loki. Odin and Frigga hadn't seen any other course of action other that giving their grandson to whom Loki wanted to take care of Vali.
And then Thor had snapped out of his trance and demanded his son back. More importantly, Thor had demanded Vali be made his heir. Odin was weary and being what Odin deemed to have started the problems to begin with, he conceded. The rest of the realm did not follow so readily. Asgardians reacted in the same way they had when it was rumored that Odin had brought a Jötunn babe with him to Asgard at the end of the war, but worse, yes. But neither Odin or Frigga had the strength to deny Thor. It wasn't easy, nor was it taking care of Vali. Thor had no experience in parenting and the strain showed in his sagged shoulders and dulled expression. It wasn't easy getting close to Vali after the stunt they pulled. It wasn't easy to face Loki, his younger son, the mother of Thor's heir, the boy who wiggled between him and Frigga in their bed due to the cold that he should have been incapable of feeling, before him as a war criminal, muzzled and in chains.
Also terrible, yeah. Anyway, the weirdest thing happened to me. I was writing a paragraph for this chapter and I realized I had a dream about it. I realized I dreamt about writing this chapter and it was the weirdest thing. That's what happened.
Well, I still don't know where this is going, but here is another chapter.
Loki bounced Vali on his hip as he walked towards Thor's chambers, his son doing everything in his power to ensure that Loki's attention was on him by pulling at his tunic and shoving his stuffed animal on Loki's face. It was fine, Loki reminded himself. As soon as Vali was back on solid ground, there would be other sources of entertainment. Why had he agreed to do this? Loki didn't know.
Vali was a handful. All children were a handful, a fact that Thor, in all his blissful inexperience, seemed to ignore. It was even harder on Loki. There seemed to be no balance between his duties and his time for Vali. There were maids who could care for Vali, true, but Loki wanted to do it himself. He needed to do it himself. Was it truly so hard to understand that Loki wanted to have a hand in raising Vali? Other lords, who were nowhere near his position, would brag to Loki about how they had plenty of time when they didn't have near the same amount of duties Loki did. They had wives who took care of their children and they forgot (intentionally, Loki didn't doubt) that Loki was different. Loki was not a father. He was a mother, despite how much the idea made him squirm with passing time. Loki could not drink himself stupid, safe in the knowledge that someone was there for Vali. As if the idea had ever appealed to him. Yes, the lords loved to point out the differences between themselves and Loki as if they could change his father's views.
Thor insisted that it would be easier if Loki allowed him to be part of Vali's life, ruining whatever semblance of brotherhood they had been able to construct, reminding Loki of his mistakes. How could his brother expect Loki to receive him back with open arms after breaking his promise? That just because Thor had changed his mind about Vali, Loki would forget it ever happened. That Loki would play house with Thor, give Vali the illusion of a father figure just to rip it away when Thor choose a wife to have heirs with. In short, Loki disagreed. With valid reasons.
Loki knocked on Thor's door, prepared to prove his point.
The door opened in an instant to reveal Thor's wide-eyed expression, and Loki wondered if his brother had been pacing while waiting for them.
“Hello, Thor. As you well know, this is Vali. Your nephew.” Loki ran a hand over his son's hair who now had a hand bunched in Loki's tunic and the other hand clutching his toy close to his chest. “Darling, say hi to uncle Thor. He'll be taking care of you today.”
Vali tried to snuggle closer to Loki, and Thor's face fell. Loki held back an eye roll.
“He's a little shy around strangers,” Loki told Thor, watching him nod slowly. “As promised, I will permit you to care for my son under my surveillance. But make one mistake, Thor, just the one, and it is over.”
The ghost of a smile appeared on his brother's face.
“You won't regret this, brother,” Thor said as he opened the door wider, inviting them in.
Loki was sure he would.
For a creature who found the very idea of being owned loathsome, who had proved to himself, if not to anyone else, that he couldn't follow the road, the sound of rattling chains around his own wrists and ankles was oddly satisfying to his own ears. Constricting? Yes. Insulting? Certainly. Gratifying? Apparently. It was the strangest sensation Loki had experienced in the past year.
It had begun simply and innocently enough. Or, well, as innocent as Loki could be. But it had been there, taunting him with the promise of being displaced. Thor could babble all he wanted about recognizing Vali but the truth, as Loki had always known it, was there, taunting him. With Thor's rise to the throne, there was no doubt that Thor would soon be wed. And if Thor took a wife, he would have heirs. And if Thor had heirs, where would that leave Vali? His son might not even be allowed to remain in the palace for much longer. At the moment, Loki had made peace with his and Vali's situation, but that didn't mean Loki was ready to let go of the makeshift family Thor had forced them into.
He hadn't had the strength to make the sacrifices he had known he would have to make when he chose to keep Vali. Loki couldn't bring himself to leave despite what staying meant for his son. Where else would they even go? How else would he be able to provide for his child? Loki had rejected Thor in the same manner Thor had rejected them, strong in his belief that at least this he could give up for Vali.
Loki had been wrong. Their relationship had turned intimate again.
The night Loki told Thor to stay away from them had shocked Loki, who had expected everything but for Thor to nod along dumbly. But in truth, Loki didn't know what he had expected. Later, when Loki was sure he was going into labor and Thor ready to take him to the Healing Rooms, Loki had expected the promise of keeping their relationship strictly brotherly after Vali's birth to be the end of it. But years later, Thor's constant nagging had lead Loki to bend the terms a little, and then a little more. Thor's attempts to care for Vali had made Loki think of Vali as theirs one more instead of just his. Future attempts to distance Vali from Thor were futile. Thor had, somehow, filled the void. The name “uncle" meant nothing. In his own way, Thor had stepped in as Vali's father as he should have done the moment Loki told him of Vali's existence.
So, originally, all Loki had intended was to delay Thor's coronation. Get them a little more time in that place behind closed doors where there were no whispering maids or smirking guards, no cocky children or conceited courtiers. A little more time until Vali was old enough to understand that as much as Thor pretended to love him, he was not part of their real world. Old enough to understand that the king could not be seen carrying his brother's bastard child around.
But that didn't matter anymore. Loki now knew why Thor had foolishly believed that Vali could be his heir, that there had ever been an “us.” And it didn't matter anymore.
Then, a magical thing happened. Thor was banished to Midgard and although that had not been Loki's intention (a bit of the opposite, if Loki thought about it), this was the perfect opportunity for him and Vali. Loki knew he had been accused of arranging Thor's banishment, of usurping the throne, of doing it for his bastard son, but Loki had not thought about that before Frigga placed him on that very same throne and Heimdall disobeyed his orders.
That's when the game changed. That's when the innocent wish of keeping his imaginary family as it was went over the edge of the bridge. What did it even matter when Loki and Vali had already been replaced?
It could have worked. It could have been alright if just… if just so many things hadn't gone wrong. And of course it burnt to know that centuries of being “together,” that giving Thor a son didn't change Thor like a mortal woman could in a couple of days. Of course it burnt to know he had failed his child yet again. Of course being forgotten was worth it if it meant his child would be spared for his failures.
But then, the void had not brought what Loki expected.
It wasn't a time worth thinking back on. It wasn't a time Loki's mind seemed to be able to make sense of. Furthermore, his brief time parading on Midgard seemed to be nothing but a tangle of half formed plans, jumbled memories, and cursed sentimentality. Thor's pleads to come to that non-existent home, to think of “their” son as if Loki had been content to leave Vali behind, were easier to remember than the wretched invasion Loki knew he had led. Loki told himself he had moved on so long ago and even he could see the stupidity of what he had done. He couldn't answer Thor's questions on their way to his execution. Loki just couldn't. The muzzle kind of obstructed speech, if anyone remembered. Thor had accused him of being shameless, remorseless, but he was ever so wrong.
A glimpse was all Loki was allowed of his son after over a year of being apart. It had been accidental, on top of that. Vali had been in the process of showing something to his caretaker as children were bound to do when the woman began ushering Vali aside after having spotted the procession of the damned. It must speak volumes of his shame, Loki thought, if he was grateful that the woman had turned his child away from him.
It didn't escape Thor's notice where Loki's eyes had come to land and he yanked Loki forward by the elbow.
“No, you don't get to see him.”
No, I didn't think I would, Loki thought and didn't protest. As if he could.
Loki hadn't dared hope that Vali was still living in the palace despite Thor's momentary assurances that he was.
And then the muzzle was removed and Loki was standing in front of Odin, clanking his chains as he stood with his feet pressed together and back straight. Once more, that conversation, if it could be called that, should have been the end of it. What did they think would happen when they removed the muzzle? That Loki would fall to his knees and beg for forgiveness? Oh, please. Why couldn't they be conventional for once and send him to his death? That… that would be mercy. Not keeping him away from Vali, locked away for eternity until he truly went mad. To add insult to injury, Loki was imprisoned behind energy barriers that he had helped improve throughout his life.
How wonderful that all it had taken for Vali to be given his rightful place was Loki's supposed death. For now. Thor could have named Vali his heir but the moment Thor had children with the mortal woman, that would change and Vali would become nothing but Loki's bastard yet again. Thor would forget Vali in favor of his possibly mortal children, and what would become of Vali?
“Rest assured that in your absence, the child will want for nothing.”
The silent implication that with him out of his child's life Vali would have everything Loki couldn't give him weighed Loki down far more that any chains ever could. Loki had failed Vali. He knew it. They didn't need to remind him.
They didn't need to remind Loki that one day, as Loki rotted away in prison, his child would be abandoned, left on his own and doubting his mother's love after they made him believe that one day he would be king. And Loki would not be there to comfort him. Would Vali even know that his mother was on the floors just below him? Loki wondered. But Loki would wait for the day he got to see his son again, even if he never saw Vali's innocent smile or threaded a hand through his son's dark hair again. Or heard his incessant talk for that matter.
So it shouldn't have come as a surprise when, after all prisoners were freed except himself, Loki couldn't hold back the impulse to have the final say. Or as much as one could when talking to a beast. A beast that, like so many in the past, saw Loki as useless, worthless. A failure.
But not her.
She was never supposed to die.
“Did you know that in your beloved Midgard, convicts are allowed to see their children?”
Faint breathing filled the dark-bathed room, silence buzzing in his ears. Just like his brother liked it. Thor crawled into bed, mindful of where he put his weight to not wake Loki again. He assumed his previous position, chest pressed against his brother's back.
For awhile, Thor had feared that the night would end with him being kicked out of his brother's chambers, so he nodded along to whatever Loki said without listening. That afternoon had been a mistake, the implicit accusation that Loki had been whoring around hitting too close to home. For both of them. As suggested by their mother, Thor had not pushed Loki. Their mother had warned Thor that Loki's temper might spark with even more ease than usual, so when Loki declared that he did not want Thor near their child earlier that night, Thor had strived against what his mind told him to do. This was a passing thing. When Loki was calmer, he would see that Thor's anger had not been directed at him. And it must have worked for Loki did not ask Thor to leave. Instead, Loki had whined in protest when Thor stood from the bed.
“Where are you going? I didn't tell you to leave now.” Loki frowned, pushing his food around with his fork.
“I don't see the point in staying if you do not want me near you or the child.”
A little snort escaped Loki. “Don't pretend to care for the child now, brother.” Loki's brow furrowed further. “We both know what this is about.”
Thor took a deep breath, trying not to snap at his brother. Did Loki know, though?
“And you forget, brother dear, that I do not like the smell of food in my bedchamber.” Loki brought a piece of meat to his mouth and chewed slowly, watching Thor with his puckered brow.
Thor relented. It was his duty to ensure that Loki ate enough, and… Thor had the rising suspicion that this was the most he had spoken with his brother in months.
When Loki declared he was done and Thor deemed it good enough, Thor took the food tray from his brother and left to hand it over to a maid. But not before watching Loki sink back into his collection of pillows and place a hand over his rounded stomach with a contented sigh.
His brother was beautiful like this, splayed out on the bed, raven hair tousled from sleep, pale lips parted, and belly swollen with their child, but ever so stubborn.
When Thor returned to the room, Loki was back to being curled on his side. Thor, convinced of his Loki's deep sleep, brushed his fingers over his brother's abdomen. He didn't believe he would have the chance to feel the child move despite how big Loki had grown. Instead, it was those filthy, vile…
Thor pushed the quilt away from them and brought his face as close to his brother's middle as he dared. “I wonder what Loki speaks to you about,” he whispered and felt heat rise up to his face. It was the first time Thor spoke to the child within his brother's womb, and if Loki woke, Thor would never live it down. “I have nothing to tell you.” Thor's fingers began stroking. “But you're mine, mongrel. Despite the displeasure I have caused your mother-" Thor cut himself off and frowned. “No, perhaps Loki will not let you call him ‘mother.’” And then Thor's eyes widened. Could that had really been a poke from inside?
Thor poked back.
A groan startled Thor and then his head was being pushed away by his brother's hand.
“Not again, Thor,” Loki said on the verge of sleep and struggled to get the quilt back over himself.
Thor hurried to lay back down, heart racing from being caught red-handed, but hand still pressed to Loki's belly. Of course Loki hadn't been as deeply asleep as Thor had thought.
He was so stubborn.
“Did you know that in your beloved Midgard, convicts are allowed to see their children?”
Admittedly, Thor didn't know how the Midgardian prison system worked nor was he interested in it, but he doubted that any human in recent years had attempted to do what Loki had. The Avengers had tried to explain it, but Thor would have none of it. His brother would have his trial on Asgard and complete his sentence there, where their father could hopefully pass a more lenient sentence than that one dealt by the humans. But that leniency did not extend towards having visits from Vali. Asgard’s dungeons were no place for a young child. Moreover, Vali believed Loki to be dead, and Thor preferred their son to remember his mother as he was before than how he was now.
But, could Thor say that the Loki presented to him now amidst a destroyed cell, more unkempt than ever before in their lives, and bleeding from a foot was not the Loki from before? It seemed his brother was aware of their mother's death, and it was something. Just something… good. Because this was not about them or Vali as things had been for years now. It was about their dead mother and the Dark Elves responsible for her death. And Loki seemed to understand that.
His brother seemed to understand that it was not Thor's fault, accepting Thor's offer to extract revenge. Thor needed Loki to get off Asgard, true, but this was also
his their chance to act like brothers, be brothers on a shared quest like in the past for one last time. This was what Thor needed to move on.
While his brother had been gone, railing up an army, Thor had been left behind to care for Vali, a child to whom everything in the world was wrong unless it was Loki who did it. Visiting the Bifröst, or what remained of it at the moment of his visits, gave Thor a reprieve from his constant mistakes fueling Vali's displeasure. Thor had missed Loki, perhaps not to the extent their son did for it was an altogether different kind of love, and found that the visits to the Bifröst, the monitoring of its reconstruction, was a necessity of sorts. A need for what, Thor didn't know. What Thor did know was that as much as he loved Vali, as much as he was grateful for his son, he only missed Loki as a brother, no longer as a lover. His few days spent banished in Midgard had helped him break away from the cycle that was his relationship with Loki with the help of Jane. Jane, whose determination reminded Thor of Sif’s own to become a warrior, and yet they were so different. What was it about Jane that so captured Thor's attention? That left in him genuine curiosity, a need to know what she was up to? Could it be Jane's own curiosity for the worlds beyond her little blue planet? Yes, her search for knowledge that was almost…
Jane was wonderful, indeed. The way she spoke to his father… no one on Asgard or on any other realm would have dared do the same. And it wasn't from lack of information, no. Even knowing that he was the king of Asgard, Jane did not cower from his father. It was a feat worthy of admiration. The memory brought a fresh smile to Thor's face.
But it wasn't Jane standing by his side right now. It was Loki with his wonderful and not at all distracting commentary as Thor flew the Dark Elves' ship out of the citadel. It caused Thor no small amount of satisfaction to throw Loki out of the ship. And his brother wasn't even mad about it. Just like he didn't try to snap Jane's wrist after she slapped him. Instead, Loki had proclaimed that he liked her. It was almost like having the old Loki back.
Almost like when Sif used to pin Loki to the ground after a sparring match and Loki would crane his neck up and say, “I like you,” or whisper, “Beautiful” with awe in his voice or “Again” with a smack of his lips.
Almost, because Thor could have continued to pretend that this was like old times, that Loki hadn't tried to conquer Midgard, that Loki hadn't tried to destroy Jötunheimr, that Loki had never gotten pregnant, if Loki had refrained from asking his one simple question.
“Do they know?”
Thor looked at the desolate landscape of Svartálfheimr before looking at his brother. “Know what?”
Thor knew, of course, what Loki was talking about, but he wouldn't admit it.
Loki rolled his eyes. “About Vali?”
“And who would be ‘they?’”
“The Warriors Three, Sif, the Avengers, Lady Jane. Do they know that you had a child with your brother?”
“Vali is just my nephew as you wished.”
“Oh, really?” Loki arched a brow. “I was told that you made Vali your heir. Or was that a lie? Or perhaps you have changed your mind already?” Loki gave a tight-lipped smile and muttered, “Norns forbid that the child of a Jötunn whore sits on the throne of Asgard.”
Thor stared at his brother. “I have apologized countless times for calling you that, Loki.” Thor hunched his shoulders and rubbed his hands together. “You have not asked the right questions.”
“Which would be?”
“How about, how's Vali? Is he alright? Was he harmed during the attack?”
Loki did not blink before replying. “Have I reason to worry?”
Thor frowned. “As always, you miss the point, brother.”
“So…” Loki inclined his head towards the sleeping form of Jane. “Does she know?”
Thor didn't reply.
“I shall take that as a no.”
No, Thor had not told Jane he had a son. He might have made a passing comment about having a nephew; Thor wasn't sure. But if that was the case, then the humans surely thought that Loki was Vali's father. Thor's comment, “My nephew Vali. He misses his mother,” to someone in response to something couldn't possibly have led the humans to think Loki was Vali's mother, much less make the actual connection between Thor and Vali. Yes, the humans must have thought Loki a father for Thor had also said, “No, it is just Loki and me,” when asked if he had any more crazy siblings to worry about.
No, Loki wouldn't shame Thor. Not like this. It was Loki who had wanted it to be this way, so who was he to shame Thor? And the conversation could have ended there, but Loki began meddling with that which did not concern him. Primarily, Jane's lifespan. That was for Thor to worry over and only Thor. And bringing their mother into this? That should be a low even for Loki who, as always, blamed everyone but himself.
There was no point in pretending.
Sometimes (more like often lately), Thor thought that his brother had no regards for his own safety. Loki had often chastised Thor for barging head-first into battle, but Thor thought that Loki's mentality of ‘come what may’ was more worrisome. His brother would shrug and push onward, heedless of the consequences. Naturally, Thor was grateful that Loki pushed Jane out of harm's way, but Loki, trained in the ways of battle all his life, should by now know how to make decisions in the crux of the matter. It was as if his brother couldn't care to react to potential harm, as Loki proved latter when he let himself be impaled by the Kursed.
Loki could have moved out of the way. He could have done one too many things he never cared to do. Thor knew it.
“Tell… tell Vali I'm sorry.”
Yes, Thor could do that. He could grant Loki this if nothing else. Loki had died with honor, but there was no funeral to be held. They had to keep moving, and carrying Loki's body, which once held enough life to create another, would slow them down. They were short on time and Malekith had the Aether as Jane reminded Thor. They didn't have the time to stop to carry Loki's body. At least, Thor thought, he could find solace in the knowledge that Loki would now be with their mother.
Vali would have no such luck.
Their son thought Loki to be dead for months now, that much was true. An unbidden thought entered Thor's mind. Had Loki known that Vali thought him dead? He must have. Their mother had had no option but to explain to Vali what it meant to be dead after weeks of Vali's pleading to be moved back to Loki's chambers.
Thor frowned on the way to his chambers after following through with his decision to abdicate the throne. Surely, he couldn't have been doing that poor of a job as a father. Even though his decision to relocate himself and his son to Midgard was doubtful at best and mad at worst. Vali was displeased, of course, throwing a fit as he was wont to do when forced to move to a different realm. But it was for the best. His father would be better left to mourn on his own as he preferred, and what better way to move on for Thor than by moving to Midgard? It wasn't the safest of the Nine, but that's what made it perfect. Thor could honor his oath of protecting the realm and Vali would learn to value the humans and their ideals, their resilience. Moreover, they would not be starting from scratch (Nor being reminded of mother or Loki at every turn of the corner). Thor trusted that his new comrades would help him with the process and when presented with how adorable Vali could be when he wished, they would overlook the fact that Vali was Loki's son.
But would Jane be able to overlook the child attached to Thor?
The Bifröst touched down on Jane's terrace and Thor lost no time in bringing his lips to hers and a hand up to caress her cheek. Behind them, Vali cleared his throat, and Thor turned to see his son shifting on the ball of his feet, looking away from them. The perfect picture of innocence. Thor removed his hand from Jane's cheek, who was looking at Vali with wide eyes and open curiosity, to gesticulate towards his son.
“Jane, this is Vali. My…” Nephew? Son? “Nephew.”
Yes, nephew. This was another, final thing that Thor could grant his brother: Loki's last won battle.
Still drifting. Next chapter might be a little different, I think.
“Are you sure we have to do this, uncle?” Vali asked as he watched his things being removed from a corner of his room.
“Would you not prefer to have your things at the ready?”
Vali frowned. “Mommy isn't going to be happy when he comes back.”
His uncle placed a hand on his shoulders. “We'll move everything back once your mother returns.”
Vali scrutinized his emptying room, the desire to shout at everyone to stop growing stronger. That's not what his mother would do. But this was his room. None of this men had any business in taking his things away. His bed, his toys, even the clothes Vali wished his mother had lost forever ago. They were his and belonged in his room. Except the parchment. They could take away all the parchment. But his mother wouldn't even be happy if the men took with them the stupid parchment. His mother would be really angry when he came back.
Vali made a sound of protest at the back of his throat. “Can't they leave the table behind? The chairs?” The bed?
This didn't seem- what was the word? Tem-po-rar-y.
“You need your desk for your studies, Vali,” his uncle replied.
“I can just come and do it here.” In my room.
His uncle shook his head.
Vali crossed his arms over his chest. “But I don't get it!”
His uncle glanced over at his mother's maid, who Vali eyed with distrust.
“I told you, mongrel. You're staying with me. Therefore, your possessions must be moved to my chambers.”
“No, you told me that mommy is coming soon, and I told you that he will be angry if he doesn't find things in their places.”
His uncle rubbed his hands over his face. “While Loki comes, which will be soon, you and your things must be moved closer to me where I can keep an eye on you.”
“But why?” Vali stomped his foot. “Why do I have to move?”
“Just because you want to parade around Midgard doesn't mean that I have to leave, too.”
His uncle sighed. “Who will care for you if you stay?”
Vali kicked out his legs and hunched his shoulders, hands resting on the edge of the bed. “Some maid. There are plenty of them. Perhaps Ingrid. She was loyal to mother; she won't mind.”
“You loathe Ingrid, mongrel.”
“That's because she tried to take me!” Vali frowned. “And for two weeks, she succeed.”
His uncle's forehead creased. “She did so on your mother's orders… although she should have checked in with me.”
Vali rolled his eyes and flopped down on his bed. If his mother were here, they wouldn't even having this conversation. But he had been gone for a long time, and what did Vali want his mother for, anyway? He was useless, dead as he was. Wasn't that what other children said? “Crying for your mommy again, huh? You think all your baby tears will bring the witch back? Pfft.” His uncle wasn't much help either. Scolding those children, as his uncle called it (although Vali preferred to call it threat-en-ing. Threatening), only made things worse. Now, Vali had the word ergi to add to those words he didn't know and people refused to tell him about. Not that bastard was still one of those words. Sort of. But those stupid children weren't enough of a reason for wanting to leave.
At least back then, his grandmother had still been alive. And his mother.
“Do you want to leave because grandma is dead?” Vali asked.
His uncle sat down beside him. “It's part of it, mongrel.”
“I don't think we should leave grandpa alone.”
“That is quite noble, Vali, but grandpa is better left to mourn on his own. It is what he prefers. Remember how we spoke about people's preferences?”
“Remember when we spoke about how I prefer Asgard?”
“You have not given the humans a chance.”
“That's not true. They're noisy and live all bunched together. I like my space.”
His uncle placed his head in his hands. “You can't know that although it is true,” his uncle muttered.
Vali placed a hand around his ear. “What was that?”
“We are moving to Midgard because that's what I have deemed best for us. And before you ask, you're coming with me because you will not be raised by some maids.”
Vali ground his jaw. “Why not?”
His uncle blinked. “You're my nephew, Vali. I'm not leaving you behind.”
“So? That doesn't mean you have any duties towards me.”
His uncle scowled. “Who said that?”
His uncle's eyes widened for a moment before returning to their normal size. He cleared his throat. “Your mother didn't always tell things as they were.”
“So he was a liar,” Vali stated blankly.
“I didn't say that.” His uncle shifted his position under Vali's stare.
Vali sat up. “I'm just your nephew and you took pity on me. I know that. But that's all you are. My uncle. You don't get a say over my mother. He wanted me to stay with Ingrid, so that's what I'm doing.”
His uncle clenched his jaw. "That is not true. Moreover, with whom you stay is for me to decide. Not your mother.”
Vali's eyes flashed. “My mother-"
“Your mother is dead, Vali. He left. Now, please do as I say before I lose my temper.”
Vali's eye's welled up and he roughly wiped his face. Not again. He probably looked like a little girl to his uncle, crying, again, for someone who didn't care enough to stay. His uncle was right about one thing. Who cared about what his mother had wanted? Hadn't his mother wanted to move to Midgard, too, anyway?
“He's sorry.” Vali gave his face one final wipe before looking at his uncle, who patted his back. “Loki would have wanted you to know that.”
He wouldn't be dead if he had stayed, Vali thought.
“I don't want to leave. This is my home.”
His uncle reclined back on the bed. “Asgard will always be our home, and we will visit, Vali. My father is an old man. He can use the occasional visit.” He stretched and rose to his feet. “And speaking of your mother, Loki did know how to appreciate changes.”
Vali watched his uncle exit the room with narrowed eyes. Once the door closed shut, Vali stood up and kicked the furniture nearest to him: his bed. Later on Midgard, as his uncle asked the chatty woman to bring Vali inside the house of his- what had they said? Girlfriend? Vali thought he could kick something again. And ew, couldn't they have done that before smashing their faces together?
“So you're Thor's nephew, eh? That makes you his brother's kid. Loki's, right?”
Vali tilted his head. Maybe he would like this one. “He was my mother, yes.”
The woman (Darcy, Vali reminded himself) gave him a playful punch on the shoulder. “Ooh, a joker. I see.”
Yeah, this one seemed alright.
Loki walked with measured steps towards his chambers. It was still early by his standards but that was likely not the case for his son. Vali might have already cried out once or twice for Loki, who bit his bottom lip at the thought. He wasn't trying to avoid his infant son, but… perhaps he was. Just a little.
Loki hurried his steps, rubbing his hands together.
He was almost back to having his usual routine, but Vali didn't seem to need him any less than he did a month ago, refusing to be bottle-fed and rarely being content to accept solid food. Instead of grinding his teeth like people imagined he did when Vali cried, Loki feared he would dissolve into tears of his own. Resignation and defeat. Tears of resignation and defeat. Loki had passed the trials of learning how to get Vali to latch, how to bathe Vali, and just the general of how to care for a babe. But when presented with the new trial that was leaving Vali in the care of one of the maids, Loki feared he would finally come up short. More than he already was. It was not the one thing. It was the little things that the one thing brought.
Months before, lost in the fog of sleep, Loki believed he had heard his brother tell Vali that Loki would not let Vali call him mother. Naturally, Vali had no hope of understanding, if it had been more than a dream. It was not something Loki had thought about even though he understood that was what he was. Even if Loki had preferred to go by ‘father,’ it was not an option given to him. When Vali was still being held in the Healing Rooms, the healers had cooed over him and tried to draw some similarity between him and Loki, calling Loki his mother. It was absurd, but it was what he was. Vali's mother.
That word. ‘Mother.’ It did not have quite the same impact it did when screamed by his son to keep him from leaving. To be precise, Vali's first word had been a screamed ‘Mama.’
Loki had been standing outside his door, back pressed to the wall and eyes looking down at his body while listening to Vali's screams. And Loki could see it. Despite the door keeping them apart, Loki could perfectly see the image of his son's watering eyes and full use of those lungs he had undoubtedly inherited from his father in his mind's eye. Loki bunched his hands in his pants before barging through the door. Vali tried to turn his head in the direction of the door and extended his arms without a thought in a silent plead to be picked up at the sight of his mother. And that's when Loki heard it.
Loki strode over to the maid, who had been gently trying to shush Vali, and snatched up his son from her arms. Clutching at his mother, Vali's sobs turned into hiccups. And then Loki heard it again.
Loki slid a hand behind Vali's neck and guided his son's head to rest on his chest. “No, darling, no. Mama is not leaving.”
To think he had planned to give his son away.
That had been another day that Loki postponed his duties. And how Loki wished today had been yet another of those days.
As he approached the door to his chambers, Loki heard no cries from his son and, thinking that Vali was asleep, took care on how he opened the door. But what Loki found inside was Vali playing on the carpet, smashing two wooden blocks together, and the maid, Ingrid, if Loki remembered correctly, watching Vali with a beaming smile.
“My prince!” The woman squealed in unison with Vali. “You just missed it!”
Ingrid nodded with great enthusiasm. “Your son walked, my prince.”
Loki stepped further into the room and slid a hand across a table. “Yes, he has been holding on to people's legs and furniture to bring himself to his feet and take a few steps along it.”
She shook her head. “No, not like that. He actually took two steps forward without any help before falling on his bottom.”
Loki watched Vali making grabby hands towards him. “Without help, you say?”
“Indeed, my lord. He held on to a table as you say before letting go and attempting to walk towards me. He didn't get far, of course, but they were little steps all the same.”
Loki blinked. “But… but those must have been his first steps.”
Vali whimpered. “Mama…”
“He hasn't… hasn't done that before. Not in front of me, at least. I…”
“Oh.” Ingrid was suddenly nodding in understanding.
Could he… could he have really missed…
Could he have really missed Thor’s meaning? No, that wasn't possible. Thor had made no mention of Vali. The oaf had expressed his disinterest in the throne, his desire for the Lady Jane, but in no moment had Thor said that he was taking Vali with him. And what in the Nine could Thor possibly want with Vali? He had his woman and he had his freedom. Thor was free to wander the Nine Realms, Hel, the whole universe if he wanted, so why had he taken Vali with him? No, kidnapped. By the Norns, his son had been kidnapped from Loki right under his nose. Had Loki really grown so rusty? How was Loki supposed to know that Thor intended to take Vali away? That by letting Thor leave on his merry way, Loki was also giving up his son?
By Odin's beard (his own beard, Loki supposed), what had happened to Vali's things? Moved? Moved where?
“To Thor's chambers?”
Ingrid sighed. “My lord, if you must yell at me, then I must ask you, with all due respect, that you do so in your own form.”
“I know not what you mean.” Ingrid gave him a pointed look. “Am I that obvious?” Ingrid raised her shoulders and moved her head from side to side. “It's the stress,” Loki concluded, obliging the maid.
Loki lifted an eyebrow. “Well?”
The woman sighed again. “I took your son with me as you ordered, but your brother, excuse me, prince Thor threatened to break down my door if I did not hand Vali over. And as I recall, my prince, or must I say ‘my liege’ now? You claimed that the prince would not have the slightest of care for your son. What other option did I have but to care for the child in prince Thor's chambers?”
Loki clenched his hand around Gungnir. “You have become too familiar with me, woman.”
“And I would have thought that you would hold more respect for the queen’s death.”
Loki cocked his head. “I beg your pardon?”
Ingrid looked downward. “Taking the king’s place… queen Frigga wouldn't have wanted this. If it's any consolation, I don't think anyone but me has noticed the change.”
Loki pressed his lips together and looked away. “Well, she's not here now, is she? She's dead.”
Dead because of me. Or shall I say because of the mortal woman? Perhaps, but Loki was not above admitting that Lady Jane was not what he had expected. Mocking her didn't sit right with him.
“You understand, Ingrid, that I cannot allow you to leave, do you not?”
If she had pretended not to know, then perhaps… perhaps Loki could have allowed her to leave unscathed.
Ingrid wiped at her face. “So you are happy with this, my liege?”
This woman. What was she trying to do? Well, Loki mused, there had to be a reason why he had liked her. Speaking of which, why was he stalling? The sooner Loki dealt with her, the sooner he could get to plan how to get Vali back without rousing anymore suspicion.
“Your child cried himself to sleep because of you many a time. This I did not see for myself as I had to care for my own children. They're still young, you know? But the pain you've caused that boy is known to all.”
Loki gave her a razor sharp smirk as his fingers curled and uncurled around Gungnir. “Woman, do not provoke me. As you might have noticed, my child, who you so often and carelessly mention, has just been kidnapped.” Loki placed his other hand on Gungnir and inclined his body forward. “Now, are you quite sure you saw Thor leave with my son?”
The chapter was getting too long, so I cut it in half, but I had more things in mind for this chapter.
So I'm back with the rest of the chapter. Before we begin, I'd like to say that this first flashback takes place (mostly) after Loki leaves Odin's study but before Thor goes to Loki's rooms in chapter three.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
As he sat near the hearth in the fire-pit room, close enough to feel the flame on his skin, Thor placed his elbows on his knees and head in his hands. The last couple of days had been one mistake after another. Speaking to Loki would become impossible, Thor didn't doubt, and so far all their father had managed to do was anger Loki further. What they had shouted at each other, Thor didn't know. Had telling their parents that he was the father even been the right choice? Could Thor, after only a day of thinking about it, honestly say that the child was his? There was no point in thinking about such things now. The news of Loki's pregnancy had spread like wildfire after Loki left their father's study. It was a topic of great debate.
“Loki has been cursed,” Volstagg shouted.
“I'm telling you he has lady parts,” Fandral shouted back.
Thor grunted. “How do you know that?”
Sif shook her head at them.
Fandral cringed. “Now, don't get mad, my friend, but you should know that men have certain needs and…”
“And?” Thor pressed, ready to jump from his chair.
“And it is perfectly normal to help each other with those needs,” Fandral concluded.
Although he had known it was coming, Thor jolted upright, sending his chair to the floor on principle. “You have lain with my brother?”
Thor had not heard of it before. Then, could the child be Fandral’s?
“That was a long time ago. A century, at the very least,” Fandral said taking a step back.
Volstagg’s lips curled. In contrast, Sif's and Hogun's expressions were blank.
“A century?” Thor asked remembering what Loki had said the night before.
“Thor, brother, you know I've only been yours for a century.”
Fandral nodded. “Your brother has not allowed anyone into his chambers for over a century. Be it man or woman. And I would know. I was one of his favorites.”
Sif signaled at Fandral to stop talking. Thor looked down at his hands and realized they were clenched into fists.
“The theory that Loki has been cursed cannot be discarded,” Sif said. “Loki has played with what he shouldn't have for far too long. I'm surprised it took Loki this long to anger someone powerful enough to retaliate.”
Oh gods, could Loki have lain with Hogun too? No, they weren't compatible.
“How else would you explain the sudden swell of his body?” Volstagg asked.
“An illusion,” Hogun replied.
“Or a glamour,” Sif added.
Only Loki knows the difference, Thor thought.
“I say the child was conceived through natural means,” Fandral said.
“No, there is no child. It has to be a curse. How many times must I say this?”
Thor sat back down in his previous position and raked his fingers through his hair. There couldn't be any doubt now that the child was his, could there? Fandral had echoed Loki's word and what reason could Fandral have to side with Loki? And hadn't Thor agreed that Loki wouldn't lie about this?
“Now, listen here. We all know-"
“Enough,” Thor boomed and all talk came to a halt. “It is my brother of whom you speak, and to finish this conversation once and for all, I can assure you that Loki does indeed have lady parts.”
“How do you know that?” Fandral asked.
Thor's face reddened but he sat straighter in his chair. “None of your business, but if you must know, I claim Loki's child as my own.”
Sif gave Thor a pitying look. “Oh Thor, you're not helping your brother like this.”
He was not? Then what was Thor supposed to do? But, of course, then Thor realized that Sif had not understood his meaning. It was not something Thor cared about until years later when he was finally going through the process of making Vali his heir and no support was forthcoming from his friends. Especially not from Sif.
“Thor, have you gone mad? He's the son of a traitor, a Jötunn. Not even your brother.”
“Sif, I realize I have not made myself clear and I do apologize, but Vali is my son. He's mine as much as he is Loki's.”
Sif stared aghast; the Warriors Three standing silent and grim behind her. “You have lost your mind or you have been bewitched. That child is your nephew, Thor!”
Thor shook his head helplessly. “Vali is my son, and I am his father. I'm sorry.”
“I forgot Loki had a son,” Jane said as she and Thor watched Darcy take Vali inside.
Yes, Thor supposed it was easy to overlook with how Loki had behaved during the last few years. But it made sense now. It had been Selvig who asked about his family relation. Thor had told Selvig, Darcy, and Jane that he had a nephew. That seemed to fit.
“But he looks a lot like Loki,” Jane said.
“He does,” Thor agreed. Vali truly did look like his mother.
He was perfect.
“So… did he tag along or did you forget to tell me we would have a visitor?”
Thor sighed. “There are many things we must discuss and many things I have neglected. I fear I have not been completely honest with you.”
Jane pursed her lips. “Just now you notice?”
Thor shifted from one foot to the other. “No, of course not.” Thor cleared his throat. “I should begin with I'm Vali's guardian.”
“Vali's guardian,” Jane repeated. “Guardian…. What happened to his mother?”
Jane's eyes widened. “How did she die? Was it recent or did your brother raise Vali?”
“Poor kid,” Jane muttered, looking inside at where Darcy was showing Vali… cereal?
Thor pushed the palm of his hands against his eyes. He could leave like it this; Jane didn't need to know everything. Thor huffed. No, just because Vali didn't know the truth didn't mean others shouldn't. Right? Perhaps the problem wasn't so much that Loki had gotten pregnant but that Vali knew Thor as his uncle.
“Jane, how I came to be Vali's guardian…”
“Things work different on Asgard.” Jane nodded. If there was something Thor had learnt about the humans, it was that they would accept a lot of what Thor did as long as he pretended it was normal. “For starters, Loki was Vali's mother, his bearer.”
Jane sputtered. “Excuse me?”
Could this talk be any more uncomfortable?
“Well, Loki carried and birthed Vali and such.”
Thor screwed up his face. “If you could stop repeating my words?” Jane nodded, brows drawn together and hand waving at Thor to continue. “So, Loki was his mother, and his father, well, that's where things get complicated. You see, Loki and I were in an engagement of sorts.”
It was more or less the truth. Or at least it had been the truth. Over a millennia ago.
Jane massaged her temples and nibbled at her bottom lip. Like how Loki used to when working through an advanced spell. “This is not going where I think it's going,” she muttered under her breath.
“And we produced a child. Vali. But then, this-" Thor waved his hands around “-engagement was broken off, and we remained brothers. Vali is my nephew, but he is also my son.”
Jane's expression morphed into one of disgust. Thor glanced at the buildings stretching on around them, the breeze brushing his hair out of his face. Jane's reaction mattered not. Thor had been expecting it. Hopefully, the Avengers would be more understanding.
“Why did they force you to go through that?”
Thor's head snapped to Jane. “What? No, no, you misunderstand. Loki and I… we did it willingly. Nothing was forced.”
The thought that it could ever have been forced was the most repulsive thing to Thor.
Jane placed two fingers on her forehead and looked down in an expression that reminded Thor of when Loki pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation. She muttered something Thor interpreted as, “Why couldn't he begin with that?”
Because I knew you would be disgusted, Thor thought. But that was something one learnt. Why hadn't Thor thought about that before? Disgust for such relationships was learnt. Perhaps there was still time. Vali was young still. Vali would undoubtedly be confused at best, but perhaps… perhaps he wouldn't be disgusted. Would Vali be able to understand, though?
Vali raised his head from where he had been concentrating on the rudimentary illusion of a dragon, Darcy urging him on, to look at Thor through the window. Thor beckoned, his excitement subdued when Jane said, “I need… I need time to process this.”
Thor's shoulders sagged and he sighed. “Of course. I'm sorry I did not tell you sooner, Jane. My understanding is that incestuous relationships are rather unappealing here on Earth. It's fine. Take all the time and space you need.”
Jane shook her head softly. “I'm… I'm sorry.”
Thor waved more insistently at Vali who mouthed, What?
Come, Thor mouthed back.
Vali rolled his eyes, pushed his chair back, and dismissed his illusion to Darcy's protests.
“I understand. Vali and I will be staying on Earth for some time. Do you think we could at least be friends?”
“No, I just need some time. You come from a different culture, and I need to understand that.” Jane whirled around when the door to the terrace opened to reveal Vali and Darcy. “Send me your contact info when you have one, and we'll go from there,” Jane told Thor before trying to greet Vali with a smile.
“Thank you, Jane,” Thor said before directing himself to Vali. This was the most he could ask for. After all, they were not talking about Thor's past relationship with his brother, but the fact that Thor came with baggage. Thor frowned; he wasn't fond of that expression. “Come, mongrel. It's time for our next stop.”
Darcy pointed a finger between them. “Leaving already?”
Thor raked his fingers over Vali's hair and nodded.
“But you just got here.” Darcy snapped her fingers and gave Thor a knowing look. “Has Vali tried ice cream?”
“What's ice cream?”
“Perfect,” she piped up. “Let's go."
Grains of sand dropped to the ground from between his fingers, falling one on top of the other, the mountain steadily growing. Vali dug his hands into the sand from his crouched position and watched it fall to form his mountain again. A scream coming from his right had Vali craning his neck to better see the thing he now knew was a called a swing. The girl who had told him so was now sprawled on the ground, the knees of her pants painted green and her hands too. She blew at her hands a few times before smiling at Vali. “I'm still trying to get it right,” she told him.
Vali returned the smile. Even if he had no idea what the girl was talking about. Or her name for that matter.
“Wanna give it a try?” the girl asked.
Vali grimaced at the swing before looking back at where his mother was sitting on a bench and encouragingly waving a hand at him. “I don't know how to swing back and forth,” Vali admitted.
The girl blinked. “Oh, well, that's easy.” She rose to her feet and walked to the swing to grab its chain, wiggling it around. “Come. I'll show you.”
Vali took one final glance at his mother before dusting himself off and walking to seat on the swing seat.
“Okay. What we're gonna do is that I'm going to push you first.”
“For impulse, silly.” She pointed at the sky and drew an arc with her finger. “What you wanna do is extend you legs when you're coming forward, but bend them at the knee when you're going backwards. Got it?”
Vali closed his eyes and waited for a push that would send him sprawling to the ground despite his mother's many warnings that these children were not as strong as those found back in Asgard and that he should be careful with his own strength. And so that push never came. It was more of a light touch at the center of his back, but enough to make the swing move.
“Now do what I told you.” The girl stepped out of the way and watched as Vali picked up speed. “Then, when you're going really fast and you're getting close to the ground, let go.”
Let go? But that would send him face first onto the dirt. But if he didn't let go, then the girl would stop talking to him. For a moment, a rush coursed through Vali's body and he was falling, falling, and then-
His feet buried themselves into the ground. “I can't.”
“Yeah, it's probably better if you don't. Mom is always saying I'm going to break my arm one day.” She wiggled her arms. “How weird would that be?”
“What's a broken arm?”
She smiled. “I know, right?” She blew out her cheeks. “Do you ever come here with your mom? I've only ever seen you with your dad.”
“Yeah. That man sitting over at the bench. Oh, he's gone. Wasn't that your dad, though?”
Vali followed the girl’s finger. Where had his mother gone to? “No, he's not my dad. He's my-"
“Vali, darling, time to go home.”
Vali looked at the girl, who was probably just as surprised as Vali as his mother sudden appearance, and waved goodbye with the promise of coming back soon. Nearing the end of the park, Vali asked, “Why do we have to leave so soon?”
His mother hummed. “There's a business down this street that sells this cold, creamy sweet. It is hard to describe, but you will like it.”
“Is that why we're leaving?”
“Just wait until you try it. It might make you look forward to live here.” His mother grasped his hand. “You're already making friends, so wouldn't you like to live on Midgard? You would have more time to play in the park.”
“Would uncle be coming with us?”
His mother sighed. “No, darling. I've told you before. Your uncle lives a life separate from ours.”
Vali jumped over a crack. “Then nope!”
Frigga took a few deep breaths, hand clutching at the cloth over her galloping heart. This child just had to be like Loki, scurrying away from his caretakers.
… like Loki.
Frigga fell to her knees in front of Vali, hugging her grandson close to her chest. She couldn't lose another one.
“Grandma, you're choking me,” Vali said.
Frigga ran a hand through Vali's locks, breathing him in, hugging him tighter. Shifting steps approached them and Frigga recognized the heavy hand on her shoulder as that of his husband’s.
She let go, instead gripping Vali by the arms as tears threatened to spill down her cheeks. “Don't you ever do this again, Vali. Have you any idea how many people were looking for you? Any idea of what time it is?”
Vali looked down at his feet, sniffled, and said, “You scared me.”
Odin's hand squeezed her shoulder. “You did almost send the door flying from its hinges.”
Frigga turned to glare at her husband, the orange, pink light of dawn entering unbidden through the wide open for making her vision blur. A sharp cry diverted Frigga's attention to the babe been rocked on his mother's arms, whose tired face was highlighted by the bags under her eyes. If only they had thought to ask Ingrid sooner.
“Your Majesty, it is not a rare occurrence to find the young prince in his mother’s chambers. It offers him comfort. If he ever goes missing during the night again, you must only look here.”
Vali stuck out his tongue at Ingrid and Frigga barely had the strength for a light scold.
“Mother, if you could let Vali go?”
Frigga's attention was once again redirected as she became aware of the slumped figure of his older son, the only son she still had, and complied with the request. Vali immediately sprinted to Thor and clung to him. Thor picked him up and looked at his mother with glazed eyes.
According to Ingrid, it was common to find Vali in Loki's chambers, but Odin, Frigga, nor Thor could remember finding Vali here before. Hence, it had not occurred to them to look here or to order to any guard to do so when the search for Vali had taken them to the border of hysteria. Frigga and Odin would wear the loss of Vali heavily, but Thor would not be able to bear it. Vali was the only pure thing they had left of Loki, and what would Loki think of her if he thought she hadn't taken good care of his child? Frigga thought it was rather interesting how Vali clung to Thor now after running away from him. They had not known Vali was missing until Thor crashed into their bedroom, pretty much in the same way Frigga had into Loki's minutes ago, to tell them that he couldn't find Vali. For the first time, Frigga was grateful of Thor's obsession of checking on Vali every couple of hours during the night.
“Why did you run away, mongrel?”
Was it something I did? was left unspoken, but Frigga heard it in his son's voice and posture all the same.
The little bag left forgotten at the foot of Loki's bed, filled with Vali's clothes and a few toys, was ignored.
“I didn't run away. My place is here,” Vali responded. “You keep saying mommy is coming back soon and that he's busy, so he'll be tired when he returns, and I want to be here when he does.” Vali sniffled. “I want to be the first thing mommy sees, so he doesn't forget me.”
“Would you like to sleep here?”
“We'll wait for him together, then.”
Frigga shook her head. “It's time, Thor.”
Her son sighed; Frigga accepted her husband’s hand to help her to her feet.
“But he's so little, mother.”
Alarmed, struggling to be put down, Vali asked, “Time for what?”
“There are times, my dear, when our loved ones cannot come back to us,” Frigga began after both men in the room cringed away from the subject. Great men, they were. “Even if they wanted to, they cannot.”
Vali stopped struggling in Thor's arms, lip quivering. “Is mommy so busy he doesn't have time for me anymore?”
“No, darling. Remember when we saw the Bifröst been destroyed? You were holding my hand as we watched from the balcony. Do you remember that?”
Thor tried to angle his son away from her.
“I'm afraid your mother fell into the void, Vali. No one has survived that before. Your mother is no different.”
Vali's brow snapped together. “What does that mean?”
“Your mother is dead, my dear. It means he is never coming back.”
“Oh, that's ice cream? I thought it was called yogurt,” Vali said as he pressed his face to the window, peering at the people inside.
His uncle did the same, bringing his hands up to frame his face, and the woman behind them, Darcy, asked, “You know yogurt, but not ice cream?”
“Yeah, I used to come to one of this with my mother like every week or so. It was close to where he wanted to live.” Pulling his face away from the window, Vali shrugged. “But that was towards the end.”
Once again, his uncle followed his actions and frowned. “I never thought Loki would want that.”
“Yeah, well, he did, I didn't, we stayed. And we know how that turned out for mother.”
His uncle ignored his friend Darcy and all the people around them with the strange rectangular thingies up to face level. His expression softened and he placed a hand on the window panel.
“… did your mother like it here?” he asked.
“Very much,” Vali replied.
I know it's weird that the last flashback was from Frigga's POV since she's dead, but it seemed like the most appropriate. Which leads me to this question: would it be preferable if I take some time off to try and work the flashbacks into their more or less corresponding chapters or should I continue as I have been doing?
Oh, I almost forgot. It totally escaped my notice that in previous chapters I didn't mention that Sif and the Warriors Three know that Thor is Vali's father, but now you know. They know.
And hey, Thor did tell Jane about Vali. How about that?
Lastly, back to the last flashback, I imagine it takes place shortly after the end of chapter four.
So I guess I'll just continue as I have been doing.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“You are delusional,” Loki said as he splayed his hands over the wooden table.
“And you are not listening,” Thor replied with an exasperation that rivaled Loki's own.
Loki shook his head, eyes roaming the twisted lines of the wood. “Are you even listening to yourself?”
His brother shuffled closer. “It is not fair that you get to experience everything.”
Loki flopped back on a chair with a dry chuckle. “Well, I had no idea changing dirty nappies and been woken every couple of hours during the night was such an honor.”
“I would have helped you, Loki. You know I would. But must I remind you that I was kept away from my son because you decided it so?”
“Do not call Vali your son. I'm not in the mood for such sentimentality today.”
Thor's shoulders slumped. “You never are.”
Too little, too late. Wasn't that the expression?
The scraping of a chair across from him brought Loki's attention back to the problem at hand. “I believe that I have bended my arm enough for you, brother dear. Has the time that I've been offering you with my son not been enough?”
Thor folded his hands on top of the table and glared at Loki. “You very well know it isn't. That's why you have allowed it.”
“You think quite poorly of me, do you not?”
Thor huffed. “Why must you be so difficult?”
An evasion. Loki should have expected that. He glanced up at the ceiling and wrapped his arms around his frame.
“What do you want from me?”
“Nothing, brother. Nothing except that you consider what I've said.”
Loki's hands spasmed and bunched in the fabric of his tunic. “Once again, brother. You are delusional.”
Thor rubbed his hands over his face. “Why, Loki? For wanting to be part of my son's life? For wanting to be by your side?”
“Yes,” Loki hissed, slamming his hands on the table. “How many times must I tell you to not call Vali yours? You denied him, Thor. You have no right over him. Or duties towards him if that’s what this is about.”
Thor didn't waver, reaching across the table for Loki's hands. Loki would pull them away if he thought it would deter his brother in the slightest. But the warmth… he had missed the warmth.
“What must I do to earn your forgiveness? Tell me and you shall have it.”
Nothing. There is nothing you can do, Loki thought. It had been years since Thor called him a whore, but what were a couple of years to long-lived creatures such as them? It wasn't the word what Loki resented. He had been called a whore by many in the past, was used to it, but Thor promised, a long time ago when their relationship was still young, that he would never be one of those many. And he had broken that promise.
“Brother, I have begged you since our child was still inside your belly to let me stay. I ask you, how much longer?”
Loki attempted to free his hands. “The Mighty Thor never begs,” he said in an imitation of his brother's voice.
“No! Stop it.” Loki gave one final tug of his hands. “I am your brother!”
“No, Loki, listen-"
“Stop, I said. We knew we were making a mistake when we began sleeping together, did we not? Did we not try to stop? Yes, we did. Because it's wrong. You will get me banished if you keep insisting I tell father you sired Vali.”
“Listen, you fool-"
“No,” Loki shouted. “Who do think will be punished for this? It was me who was claimed, not you.” He drew in a long breath. “I have nowhere to go. No place where I can trust Vali will be safe, no means to provide for him. So I ask you to cease this nonsense.”
“You don't know-"
Loki surged forward and Thor rose to meet him, the grating of the chairs resounding in their ears. Their lips smacked together in a messy, not well-coordinated kiss, but it was effective nonetheless.
Loki pulled back and patted Thor's upper arm. “There. That's better.”
Thor groaned. “Loki.”
“Tell you what, brother mine. I never hear of this again and you get to see Vali as often as you like. How about that?”
“…it will do for now.”
For now. Loki could accept that answer. As long as he wasn't bothered next week, or next month with any luck, it was acceptable. Except that months rolled into a year and Loki never again heard talk of the possibility of Vali getting his rightful place. Apparently, his bull-headed of a brother had given up. Just that easily.
For a moment, just a brief moment, Loki thought that this had been his worst mistake thus far. But that point was arguable. His mistake could have been letting Ingrid go and subjecting himself to more stress, but at the end of the day, who would believe the woman? That was not to say that Loki hadn't been very tempted to get rid of Ingrid, going as far as blasting the wall next to her when she had been so daring to suggest that she would be needed when Loki had another child. The situation had only turned more irksome when the woman had not even flinched. Instead asking, “Are you quite done, my lord?”
Loki had dismissed her.
Just as easily, his mistake could have been removing Heimdall from his post. The former gatekeeper (and wasn't Loki giddy at that) would have suspected Odin was no longer Odin regardless of what Loki did, so why not carry out his will? Moreover, Loki's decision to replace Heimdall was not baseless, and Loki wasn't talking about his own personal reasons. The former gatekeeper had disobeyed Odin's orders, and would the real Odin stand for such disobedience? Loki didn't think so. Nonetheless, how many were displeased with his actions, Loki couldn't tell. Loki hardly dared believe that any could be supportive of his decision. Heimdall had been Asgard’s gatekeeper for a long time, after all.
Still, there had been no uprisings, minor as they could be. It should be a good thing, but it only served to put Loki on edge. Heimdall's lack of action, his all-seeing gaze, and no uprisings, no protests. Waiting. Heimdall was waiting for Loki to trip and fall once more.
This could be his worst mistake, yes. In retrospect, Loki's best option had been to keep Heimdall right where he had always been, right where he was less of a wild card. But no. That wasn't the problem. It was all the precious time Loki was wasting in listening to all the oh so great qualities of the men who thought they were worthy of the position of Asgard’s gatekeeper.
Nails scraping against the cold metal of the armrest, Loki had told the first in line, “Why do you think you are the most suitable for the job? You have five minutes.”
The man’s lips had curled down in a scowl, most likely having planned a full recount of his battle progress. Pity. Loki didn't have time for that. Nor was it what he was looking for. Heimdall would not be replaced by some brute. An uninteresting one, anyway.
“My liege? Have you come to a decision?”
Loki turned Odin's wizened gaze on the… advisor, the man's aversion of his gaze filled Loki with renewed interest for the day’s proceedings.
“No, this is something that requires great consideration. But tell me, Gorm, what do you think?”
In truth, Loki had spaced out after number four.
“Number twenty-seven could be a great candidate with a little polishing. He is loyal to the realm, sire.”
Loki narrowed his eyes. To the realm, Gorm said. Not Odin, not him. Interesting word choice considering why Heimdall had been removed, Loki thought, but after another day of the same dance, twenty-seven it was. Loki was not looking forward to spending more hours of listening to people babble about themselves when there were more pressing matters.
Like getting Vali back.
So for a moment Loki thought that his worst mistake had been impersonating Odin. If Loki had just went directly to Vali instead of fulfilling his wish to see Odin's reaction at the news of his death, Loki would have his son by his side right this moment instead of trying to solve a dispute over the ownership of some little parcel. And as Odin, Loki could not demand his son back without giving himself away as had already happened with Ingrid. He had worked too hard for this to give up so soon.
But then Loki reached the conclusion that his worst mistake had been getting pregnant. Or more specifically, allowing Thor's seed to grow inside him. That's when life began going downhill. Vali was his weakness. It was as simple as that. Here Loki was, sitting on the highest throne, and yet he was not satisfied. All because a small (well, not so small anymore, Loki reminded himself) child was missing. His child. His, dammit. Thor could very well go and get himself another one if a child was what he wanted. Loki no longer cared from where Thor got his children as long they weren't Loki's. As long as they weren't Vali. But the vicious voice at the back of his head telling him that he refused to leave his post because Vali was Thor's was ever-present.
Loki was running out of time, the day he would see Vali again was no nearer, and Asgard was not as impenetrable as he had been led to believe.
After they agreed that twenty-seven, whatever his actual name was, would replace Heimdall and relations akin to stable were reestablished with other realms, Loki turned his attention inwards.
The first action Loki had taken was to improve the energy barriers. That one, unlike the many other little things, was personal. The energy barriers were Odin's, of course, but they were also Loki's personal project. It was impossible to tell how much was Odin and how much was Loki's. It had been shocking, not even outrageous, to see the barriers he had strived to improve since his youth being so easily destroyed. The fact that they failed to keep in the monster that had killed his m- Frigga was a personal failure. And at the moment, what better thing could he do?
Loki's first night as a free man, or as free as he could be under the guise of an old man, had been no easier than his first night in the dungeons. Standing amidst an empty room, surrounded by his son's doodles, Loki had cursed his stupidity a million times until the sun set low and he could no longer keep himself on his feet. The guards outside must have found it strange, but that was not something that occurred to Loki until much later on when he realized he needed to stop visiting his old chambers. For the sake of his disguise and for his new found sanity. Unfortunately, retiring for the night meant going to the chambers that could not be called anything but his parents' despite Loki's many attempts to rename them. They were foreign and instilled in him the same mixture of anxiety and comfort they had when he was a child, albeit with a special bitterness brought on by adulthood. They also contained many trinkets that Odin and Frigga had no right to have kept, many that Loki recognized as his own, and many that were undoubtedly Vali's.
If Loki had to decide between sitting at the foot of the bed, contemplating past memories and questions without answers, and putting his extensive magical knowledge to use, improving Asgard’s safety and thus his own, Loki would choose the latter. As was the case, but as always, there was no pleasing people.
“Hmph. Are you sure, your Highness, that you are spending your time in the right matters?”
Loki parted his gaze from a hologram of the palace, face masked by an impassive expression. “My noble lord, are there any pressing matters of which I'm not aware?”
“I merely ask after your well-being, my king. I fear you're being consumed by this,” the man said with curled lips and a careless wave of his hand towards the hologram. “There are people waiting for your guidance.”
Murmurs rose around the room.
“There are people expecting to be kept safe,” Loki replied curtly.
“If I may, my king, I think you should worry more about rising the people's spirit with, ah, say, a tournament. Not matters of seiðr. We all know what that practice does to men.”
The murmurs morphed into a clamor, urging the speaker, demanding a tournament. Loki watched the scene with cold detachment until whispers of his name hit his ears. Loki's eyes widened for a fraction of a second and then he understood, he realized, really, that his f- Odin had never used his seiðr in front of the court.
Three taps of Gungnir against the floor was all it took to silence the crowd. Momentarily.
“I remind all of you that we have not held a tournament in decades due to the strain it places on the merchant and agrarian population. If a fight is what you seek, then you might as well join the Einherjar in the training grounds. I also remind you that it has barely been a year since the queen’s death. A tournament should be far from our minds.” Loki paused to take a breath as his eyes threatened to glisten with the memories dancing before him. “I ask, who do you think raised the barriers in the first place?”
The man blinked. “The women, of course.”
“The women,” Loki echoed, laughter bubbling up in his throat. “Where is your wife, my lord? I do not see her.”
“At home. Caring for the children. Where else would she be?”
Loki fought down a smirk that would no doubt look manic in Odin's face. From the corner of his eye, Loki saw the crowd sink into themselves, remembering their place. It filled Loki with satisfaction, pleasure even.
It made Loki feel like himself again.
“If the women are secluded to taking care of their children, without the time or means to learn the intricacies of seiðr, then pray tell, my lord, how did they design the barriers?”
And for his first real change, on a whim, really, Loki banned tournaments to a room exploding in uproar.
So... do you think Ingrid knows that Thor is Vali's father?
I will admit that I'm not too happy with this chapter, but you know. Here I am.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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.”
I guess that was boring, I don't know, but I thought we could look a little more at Thor's thoughts.
Anyway, in case you're curious, Vali isn't sure how Loki fell off the Bifröst and hasn't asked. He just knows that Loki fell, and that's one of the reasons why Vali doesn't like travelling via the Bifröst. Also, and this will come back in later chapters, one of the reasons why Loki doesn't like thinking about what happened on Earth is that he didn't say the nicest of things about Vali.
“Gods don't get drunk on mortal stuff,” Tony said in a deep voice, a rough imitation of Thor's.
It had taken pretty much all of his liquor stock, had to order some barrels, but he had done it. Tony Stark had gotten a god drunk. A self-proclaimed one, anyway. But seriously, this was an achievement that should go down on the record. If only Pepper would let him.
Thor gave a rueful snort, sagging in his chair. “It was good stuff, friend Stark.”
Tony bristled. “Course, it was. Who do you take me for?”
“Apologies. I meant no offense.”
Tony slipped an arm behind his head and passed Thor another bottle. “Whatever. If we're all gonna die tomorrow, might as well enjoy it.”
Thor patted Tony's shoulder, suddenly serious. “We shall be victorious, my friend, and I shall take my brother back to Asgard.”
Tony shrugged his shoulder free. “Family, man.”
Thor took a long, drawn-out swing and stared down the bottle neck. “I cannot give up on Loki. He… he's my brother.”
Tony groaned. Great. Now he had a sappy drunk on his hands.
“Loki has given me the most precious of things, and I… I can't…”
Tony jerked forward. “Shit, did you hear that?”
Thor frowned, probably straining his ears, and shook his head.
“That was totally Rogers.”
Tony had proven his point, but he was not interested in Thor's family drama. Nope.
Tony stood, stretched, and said, “Have you seen that blond?” Tony fought down a laugh at Thor's confused expressions. “Wonder who pissed on his breakfast.”
“You know what? I'll go see what he wants, deal? Deal.”
Tony had already turned his back when Thor's hand shot out to grab him, knuckles white and eyes blown wide.
“I must take Loki back alive.”
Tony sighed. Why didn't he see that getting Thor drunk was a bad idea?
“Look, man, I get that he's your brother, but he's the enemy.”
Thor flinched. “I need to take him back alive. Our son will never forgive me if he knows I let his mother be killed.”
Thor retracted his hand. “Apologies, friend Stark.”
“Sure, whatever. I'll go see what they need me for.”
Thor nodded and Tony strutted out of the room.
“You brought the kid along,” Stark said as he walked out of the elevator.
Thor looked up from where he had been brushing Vali's hair out of his sleeping face with a frown.
“I still don't get it, though. Is he supposed to be your son or nephew? ‘Cause let me tell you, I thought he'd be more bulky.”
Thor's brow knitted together as Stark came closer into view.
“He favors his mother,” Thor said.
Stark pointed a finger in their direction. “You should check that.”
Thor had half a mind to protest, to say that he was sure Vali was his, but what was he doing? Why were they talking about Vali as if he were Thor's son?
“I'm not judging,” Stark continued. “You can keep your weird, alien ways to yourself.”
“What are you implying?”
Vali's head lolled forward, and Thor rearranged his son's position.
“Like I said, not judging. We used to have incest too, but like…awhile ago.” Stark shrugged after slipping behind the counter of the bar. “Not my problem.”
Thor's eyes narrowed. “What?”
Stark drummed his fingers on the table. “You actually came at a good time. I wasn't sure you'd take up my offer with you being future king of faery land or whatever.”
Thor cleared his throat. “Things changed.”
“Yeah, well, not all people are happy with the alien attack in London, so at least with you here, Fury will hopefully crawl out of my ass.” Stark spread his arms. “So welcome home, Point Break!”
“Stark, I a-"
“But don't get exited just yet. We have to run it through Pepper first.” Stark squinted with a finger held out. “You are good for public relations, aren't you?”
Vali shifted and snorted. “Everyone loves my uncle,” he said groggily.
Thor's stomach did a somersault. For how long had Vali been awake? How much had Vali heard? Not much, surely
“Vali, you are awake.”
“Yeah.” Vali rubbed his eyes. “I don't like naps.”
“Pepper and I designed a floor for each of the Avengers. Only Bruce has agreed to move in so far, but you can take the kid to yours. It's furnished.”
“We'll talk about this later,” Stark assured.
Thor hesitated for a few seconds before moving to present to Vali the wonders of the elevator.
“We're high up here,” Vali said after pressing his face to the window of the room JARVIS had directed them to.
“Indeed, we are,” Thor responded with a smile.
“I'm not sure I like heights.”
Thor walked to the window. “I suppose you could keep the curtains closed. Light will still enter, I think.”
“I'm not sure I like your friend.”
Thor sighed. “His name is Tony Stark. What's wrong with him?”
Vali skipped to the bed. “Nothing.” He blinked as he brushed his hand over the sheets. “This is really soft.”
Thor chuckled, scrutinizing his son. “Stark is being quite generous by taking us in, Vali. We owe him much.”
“You make that sound as if we didn't have a home.”
In a way, they didn't. The only thing left for them in Asgard was Thor's father, and he wasn't what one would call a ‘Family man.’
Thor shifted his weight and fidgeted with his vambraces.
“I was thinking that we might make a trip to Asgard in a few weeks. Or perhaps we should take a trip to Álfheimr to find some seiðr master that can make a study plan for you.”
Vali leaned forward. “You would do that?”
Thor's hand twitched as he pulled on his right vambrace. “I could try.”
“But… but what about the Midgardians?”
Thor vacillated. “I would like you to interact with them, with people of your relative age, but I won't force you. No, I will not force you to get attached to people you will outlive. It is your choice.”
Choosing for Vali was pointless, Thor couldn't force his son to make friends and what Midgardian children learnt in their schooling was completely different to what Vali had been learning on Asgard. Thor hoped, wanted Vali to choose to try to learn with and about Midgardians, but the glint in Vali's eyes told Thor that that was not going to be the case. And it was true that Vali would outlive any Midgardian he met, but for how long was yet to be seen. Vali was growing faster that the average Asgardian child. It was not Thor's imagination. Vali would not have an Asgardian lifespan. His would be shorter, and that made Thor wonder: how much younger had Loki actually been?
Thor's breath caught in his throat.
Vali didn't know that he was half-Jötunn.
“I would like to go to Álfheimr. I haven't visited in awhile,” Vali said.
Thor didn't panic. He would find a more permanent solution.
“You won't have to worry about anyone looking down on you here, Vali. Stark might be interested in studying your seiðr, but that's because he will be curious. I shall talk to him about finding you a place to practice.”
Vali looked forward to where the curling and uncurling of his toes were discernible.
“Uncle? How will you repay your friend?”
Thor thought it over. “With service to the realm and an institution called SHIELD. Back when L-" No, that wasn't the right place to start. “As you might have guessed, Vali, there is a reason why the realm harbors a dislike for your mother. When I met Stark, and various other humans, I was offered safe passage on Earth if I worked for SHIELD. Loki was trying to conquer Earth and we worked together to stop him. Later, Stark offered me a place to stay.”
“When was this?” Vali demanded with a look that clearly said he thought Thor was lying.
“Years ago.” Thor moved away from the window. “It's not a good story about your mother, mongrel.”
Vali shook his head. “Why didn't I know of this?”
The mattress dip down where Thor sat next to Vali, who barely seemed to notice. Thor hated how Vali's eyes glistened when he discovered something new about Loki, and all those discoveries would be coming from Thor from now on. Thor hated that too.
Thor gave Vali a quick embrace.
“I promise that one day, I'll tell you everything I know about Loki. But as of now, you're too young, mongrel. Too young.”
And as of now, Thor needed to find a way to tell Vali that he was a half-Jötunn without making him believe that they were not blood-related.
Hours later, when the light entering the room was no longer clear but tinted with yellows and oranges, Vali's stomach made itself known with a loud growl. Vali looked sheepishly at Thor from where his head was resting on Thor's shoulder and said, “I'm hungry.”
Thor couldn't stop the smile curling at the corners of his mouth, nor did he want to. They had spent the day sharing stories like they used to when Vali was younger, and after hours of talking, Thor was hungry too.
“Should I inform Mr. Stark?” JARVIS asked.
Vali jumped and Thor laughed, delighted that he wasn't the only one. Then, unsure of what to do and knowing that JARVIS was waiting for an answer, heat rose up to Thor's face.
“Mr. Stark will skip dinner if not reminded.”
Thor stammered an affirmative, for a moment not understanding why dread was flowing his veins until he remembered. Loki was dead. And Thor had not reminded his brother to eat in years.
“What was that?” Vali asked.
Thor frowned. “The same thing that greeted us.”
Vali's eyes darted across the room. “I didn't know it could hear here too. Can it also see?”
Thor rubbed his beard. “My understanding is that it works all over the tower.”
“But what is it?”
“An AI,” JARVIS spoke up. “It stands for ‘artificial intelligence.’ I was created by Mr. Stark and can indeed see into all rooms of the Avengers Tower.”
Vali shuddered. “That is disturbing. What about the bathing chambers?”
“No, those areas are not included.” A beat. “Mr. Stark would like you to know that he has ordered pizza for dinner. You will be informed when the food arrives.”
Vali's eye's sparkled with poorly veiled curiosity that slowly shifted into perturbation.
Dinner was a short affair. Stark had gasped in mock indignation at the news that Vali, who smiled shyly, had already tried pizza. Thor, on the other hand, was less surprised after finding out about Loki's and Vali's regular escapades to Midgard earlier that day. Nonetheless, Vali took each bite as if it were his first.
Stark had spoken with the Lady Pepper, who Thor was yet to meet, and they had agreed that Thor could indeed be good for public relations. According to Stark, “Most people are happy that they got to see you waving around that big hammer of yours. Pepper thinks that a toy line could be a good start.” Before continuing, Stark accompanied Thor and Vali back to their floor in order to explain to Vali how the television worked and how to use the Starkpad. Vali's face had literally lit up with the artificial light of the tablet as he tapped at different symbols. As Stark and Thor exited the room, Stark commented, “You should find something to keep the kid distracted.”
Thor explained his plan to travel to Álfheimr as soon as possible.
Stark nodded. “Makes sense. Things like algebra and U.S history will be worth shit back in faery land. Although you should talk to Fury first.” Stark gave a lopsided grin. “He might not be happy to have your crazy brother's offspring learning magic and running around on Earth.”
Thor's expression turned apologetic. “I'm sorry about Vali. I know we barely discussed my coming here, much less my bringing a child along.”
Stark shrugged. “’S fine. You couldn't leave him with your brother.” Stark raised a hand to his ear, pinky and index finger out. “Tell Reindeer Games to give me a call when he's not bent on world domination.”
“Oh, well.” Stark looked to where Vali was enraptured by the tablet. “Didn't know him,” he said flippantly.
When Stark began to walk away, Thor called out, “Vali doesn't know I'm his father.”
And Thor wasn't quite sure how Stark had reached that particular conclusion.
Stark pivoted and, walking backwards, ran his fingers across his mouth. “Not judging.”
Two weeks later, sitting in front of the director of SHIELD, Thor thought that he understood that thing Banner and Stark had mentioned about a ‘pulsing vein.’ As had been predicted, and quite understandably, Fury was not happy with the news of Vali. The director tried to stare Thor down, and Thor tried his best to appear meek. Thor feared that the director would demand that Vali was sent back to Asgard rather than risk the small child and his volatile seiðr going rampant on Earth, the chances of which Thor knew were non-existent. So once again, Thor found himself explaining Vali's origins.
“He is my son, director,” Thor concluded.
Fury's blank expression broke into one of exasperation as he pushed his chair back.
“Oh, to hell with it! He's just a kid.”
Another two weeks later found Thor and Vali touching down in Álfheimr. Thor brought a hand up to cover his eyes from the sun as his other hand moved to accommodate the bag strapped across his back. Meanwhile, Vali was already skipping along the road traversing the small, green pasture leading to the closest town. Thor promised Vali that they would try to find the best they could, and being Loki's son, Vali would know what was the best. Thor could only hope, on top of a well-covered layer of fear, that the elves wouldn't try to cheat them. Not that Thor thought that the elves were dishonorable, but he was conscious of the dislike the elves harbored for him. Loki had always been the elves' favorite.
All in all, it took them yet another week to find someone who was willing to instruct Vali from a different realm. But to be fair, it took them the better part of two days to find an elf who didn't outright laugh at them. And yet, when they had found an elf who didn't think they were joking, the little shit had still burst out laughing.
“The Mighty Thor? Looking to be instructed in seiðr?” The elf cackled.
“No, it is for my s- nephew. Vali. The son of Loki.” As if the bastard needed clarification.
The elf fell silent, considering. He waved Thor away. “Bring him to me.”
What had truly saved them from having to start the search again, Thor didn't doubt, were Vali's curious, persistent questions. Apparently, the elf cherished being annoying as much as he cherished being annoyed.
Making their way back to the pasture, Vali stopped at a merchant's tent. He picked something up and showed it to Thor, who didn't regard it with much interest.
“I know Midgardians have telescopes, but I think your girlfriend will like to figure out how these work, especially since they're so small compared to Midgardian ones.”
Thor's brow knitted together. “That's sweet, Vali, but-"
“Just buy it, okay? She'll like it, I promise.”
Thor huffed as he paid for the telescope, but perhaps this would give his relationship with Jane a proper ending if nothing more came out of it. Thor's mouth twitched.
The next day, after a goodnight's sleep back on Earth, Thor asked Banner for help in sending Jane an email since it had been agreed that giving Thor a phone was not the best idea. The email began with a simple greeting, a simple apology, and concluded with an even simpler farewell. Oh, and a picture of the telescope Vali had insisted Thor bought for Jane.
I apologize for contacting you after all this time, but most importantly, for dumping news of my son/nephew on you so suddenly. I hope for your continued well-being and friendship. During a recent visit to Álfheimr, Vali picked out a gift for you. We both hope it will be to your liking.
Jane's reply went like this:
It took you long enough, but thank you for emailing me. I'm sorry about your mother's and Loki's recent passing away, and that I couldn't be very supportive about you having a son. I imagine it's been hard on Vali, and I understand that he requires most of your time. Still, I'm willing to give us another try starting with an actual date. Despite what Darcy might tell you, I'm not being bribed by the alien telescope.
So I think this chapter takes place before Loki removes Heimdall from his post. But Loki comes very close to seeing Vali again if Vali hadn't decided to go to Álfheimr. Loki knows the Bifröst is being used, but he doesn't imagine that it's Thor, and Heimdall feels no need to tell him.
The other thing is that since Thor doesn't elaborate on how Loki "died, " Tony thinks that Loki was executed. He doesn't regret sending Loki back for obvious reasons, but he does feel a bit guilty about depriving some kid of his mother.
Also, I can be very forgetful at times, so if I'm missing something big, which I'm sure I am, feel free to let me know.
Loki wasn't sure if they were plotting against him. Loki wasn't sure if he thought they were plotting against him because he would be plotting against them. The fact being that they were displeased. Predictably so. Tournaments were an Asgardian tradition older than Loki cared to remember. But Loki was not unreasonable. He could see the benefits of holding a small scale tournament. Sometime in the far future, that was. Asgard was rebuilding, after all.
Loki was sure that the uprising he had been expecting would finally occur, but curiously enough, a guard had stepped forth in Loki's favor. “We have plenty of space for you at the training ground, my lords. We are always open to new shield-brothers,” he said.
“Hear, hear!” other guards shouted.
Loki squinted at the first guard. He looked familiar, certainly, but not familiar enough for Loki to think him close to Odin. He couldn't be more than an ordinary guard, so why break from his role? And what was that? The guard nodded in what Loki supposed was acknowledgement. No one would do that to Odin.
Well, if they came at him, Loki could always slip through a crack after giving off some pretty lights.
The lord who had suggested the tournament pulled at his vest and stomped out of the room. A few followed, some stayed. Loki rejoiced in both. At last, something interesting.
Loki's eyes darted around the room and widened at the realization that a little over half of the council had stayed. None of the guards had left. The real question now was: did they think that Odin had gone mad in his grief, or did they suspect that Odin had been replaced?
“Shall we continue?” Loki asked.
Loki received nods from all around the room, some more reluctant than uncertain. It was harder to tell with the guards. It was easier to tell with the council. Loki found he didn't much care. Posing as Odin without anyone (else) noticing the change would be a great achievement, but perhaps posing as Odin until Loki was presented with the awaited rebellion would be more satisfactory. Not that Loki would purposely drive the people to chase him out of the palace. But what did the majority of the populace think? They could hardly be sad to watch the tournaments go. The merchants would need a replacement, some celebration that wouldn't end with their merchandise being smashed by drunk warriors or over-excited ones. And regarding the agrarian population, well, they were on Asgard. There would always be a buyer in case of a surplus, which where rare, anyway. They couldn't regret the ban over the tournaments. And the guards didn't seem to care, either.
It was hard to tell, and Loki didn't care enough to decipher their thoughts.
Similar to how Ingrid didn't care for Loki's wishes.
Two months later, after yet another day of listening to the people's petitions, Loki retired for the night to Odin's chambers, as he had managed to rename them, in the way that had become his routine. The desk that Odin had kept in his chambers was piled with papers. As a boy, Loki thought it strange that the desk at Odin's study was more organized, less cramped than the one in his chambers. But when Loki assumed Odin's guise, Loki hadn't cared to go through the papers. If they were at that desk, then they couldn't be important. Which proved to be true when Loki ran a hand over the desk and a paper slipped out to the floor. Loki's lip curled at the sight.
It was a family tree. One that, like all others, went from Búri to Borr and Bestla to Odin and Frigga. One that, like every other, showed Frigga's deceased sons alongside Thor and Loki as sons of Odin. Except that Loki had not seen a family tree such as this one before. There was a line that connected Thor and Loki, a line additional to the one that marked them as siblings. A line that marked them as married, Loki supposed. And then, to make it a sight to behold, another line led to Vali, marking him as the son of Thor and Loki. With Odin's seal at the corner of the paper, which meant that this family tree was the official one. Not the one that Loki was used to.
Ah, so Asgard did know about it. Loki hadn't been quite sure. No mention of it had reached his ears, and all Loki was told was that Vali was Thor's heir. Not if there had been an explanation as to why that was the case.
Loki stepped over the fallen travesty and pulled back the chair to sit at the desk. His hands grabbed the closest group of papers and his eyes moved from left to right. They were nothing but legal documents and letters from other noble families inquiring about the royal family's sanity. Too formal, too well-phrased to be amusing.
A food tray was placed in front of Loki, and Loki propped his chin on his hand.
“What is this?” Loki asked.
“Food, my lord,” Ingrid replied over Loki's shoulder in clarification.
Loki let his arm fall to the side and tilted his head back. “How many times must I remind you that you no longer work here?”
“I work in the kitchens.”
Loki lifted an eyebrow. “Do you now?”
“Am I to believe that the sudden improvement in the kitchen staff’s performance is related to you?”
“Quite frankly, my lord, without me, you wouldn't be eating.”
“And the kitchen staff consists mostly of maids. Let it not be said that we are ungrateful.”
Ingrid sighed. “You don't know what I'm talking about.”
“I'm afraid not.”
Ingrid gesticulated for Loki to start eating. “I suppose you can't see the big picture despite having experienced something… similar. I remind you, and don't get mad at me, that I was your son's nanny. Because of me, and women like me, you were able to continue studying seiðr. We don't get that chance.”
Loki eyed the tray, some broth, and waved at her to continue.
“We know you were talking about yourself-" Loki snorted “-and most of us, the women, are not interested in seiðr to the same length as you, but we appreciate it nonetheless. Don't mistake it, most women find what you do distasteful, but they appreciate that you acknowledge that they could do more than stay at home. Many young girls would like to follow in Lady Sif's footsteps.”
“She's such a good role model,” Loki said as he stirred the broth with a spoon.
“The point is, your Highness, that they wouldn't mind if they knew it is you who sits on the throne.”
Loki choked on a laugh. “That's absurd. If they knew, they would demand Thor's return. Now, whether they would try to strike me down themselves or wait for Thor to do so, that's the question.”
Ingrid huffed as Loki brought a spoonful of broth to his mouth. “Perhaps the rich people would. But believe it or not, we the common folk don't care much for who sits on the throne as long as we aren't dying of starvation.”
Loki gave her a disbelieving look.
“We'd prefer prince Thor, true. He's more charismatic.”
Loki grabbed the hand closest to him and patted it. “Be honest with me, will you? How many people have you told?”
“Enough to know I'm right,” Ingrid replied without hesitation.
Loki hummed. A mistake, indeed. So the questions now were: how many knew that Odin had been replaced, and how many were either suspicious or oblivious?
Loki faced away from Ingrid as his eyes unfocused. “Be a dear and inform me when they are coming.”
“No one will come after you as long as the council is kept at a distance.”
Loki scoffed. “You and your friends might no be interested in pursuing me, but that changes nothing.”
Ingrid shook her head. “You are the mother of Thor's heir. The loyalty that once belonged to queen Frigga is now yours.”
Loki gripped the arm of the chair. “Ingrid, enough. I have given you a simple instruction. For once in your life, just follow it.”
“But, my lord-"
“I have been disrespect by all of you for as long as I can remember. I remind you that I was molested by guards in the corridors while I carried Vali, so don't tell me that it matters now.”
Ingrid fell to her knees. “They thought the child had been sired by one of them. They didn't know that the babe was Asgard’s future king.”
Asgard’s future king, Loki repeated to himself. How absurd.
“If you wish me dead with such a passion, you should try poisoning my food.” Loki leaned toward Ingrid. “Here's a secret: I never check,” he whispered.
“Stop being dramatic,” Ingrid whispered back.
“The only reason you are still alive,” Loki informed her, “is because you amuse me.”
“That is high praise, my lord. I do try my best.” She rose to her feet before curtsying. “I shall strive to present you with substantial evidence, my liege.”
As he watched her go, Loki thought that he should try blasting her again, but Gungnir was too far away. And it would be pointless. Ingrid never learnt and killing her would deprive Loki of his most reliable source of entertainment. And who knew? Perhaps Vali would miss her when he came back.
Ingrid’s “substantial evidence” made itself known months later after her promise had slipped from Loki's mind. Ingrid had continued to bring Loki food to Odin's chambers, albeit silent, despite Loki knowing that he should be attending the feasts in the Great Hall, and Ingrid had learnt that, if Loki was nowhere to be seen upon entry, Loki was sure to be found in the bedchamber, having shed his disguise. Likewise, Loki had come to expect Ingrid and not any other maid. He wasn't sure when he had stopped, but Loki didn't react to someone entering the room any longer. The afternoon the “substantial evidence” was sent to him, Loki was more unfocused than usual after being engaged in a day-long debate with himself on whether or not he had heard a group of men whispering like gossiping ladies, asking themselves why Loki kept pretending.
Loki was curled on top of the quilt facing the door, half expecting Ingrid to appear, half wishing she would not, when the door creaked open. Loki blinked.
This woman was not Ingrid.
His speeding pulse faded into the background as his eyes tracked her movements: each step that took her closer, the lowering of the food tray, the turning of her head. Her expression seemed almost bored as her eyes met Loki's wide ones. It couldn't have been more than a second before she turned away, not even bothering to do a double take of the person laying on the bed. She had expected to find Loki, not Odin.
She curtsied. “Forgive my delay, my liege.”
“You may go,” Loki stammered as he pulled himself up by the elbows.
There were many others like that woman, whose name Loki never knew. They saw Loki, and they acted as if it were one of the most natural things in the world. Some didn't look at him, some stared at his face, and some didn't have qualms with scrutinizing his body. Now that Loki was discovered (by most, anyway), Loki could leave his charade behind. And yet, Loki found himself masquerading as Odin every morning to discard it in the afternoons. It reached a point in which Loki thought himself to be some boring, old beast that had surpassed its years of exhibition until Ingrid deemed to return.
But before she did, there were two other encounters aside from the first one imprinted in Loki's mind. In the first one, a young girl squeaked upon seeing Loki, dropping the food tray and all its contents to the floor. She dropped to her knees and began a litany of apologies that soon jumbled together. Loki swung his legs over the edge of the bed and waved his hand. In a flash of green light, the mess was gone.
“It's quite alright, my dear,” Loki assured her.
The girl shook her head and her eyes flooded with tears. She was young, indeed. Couldn't be but a few years older than Vali.
Loki didn't know the how or the why, but soon enough he was kneeling on the floor too. She flinched and tried to scuttle away. Again, Loki didn't know why his reaction was to embrace her, to stroke her hair, to rock her until she calmed down. By the end of the ordeal, Loki couldn't tell who of the two of them was more embarrassed as he felt the heat on his face spread all the way to his ears. No wonder they regarded him as effeminate.
The second incident occurred when Loki, after weeks and weeks of being driven up the wall by curiosity, asked an elderly woman why they tolerated him. Without missing a beat, she sneered and replied, “Between you and a mortal woman, we would much rather pick you, my liege.”
Loki hummed. “I see. I thank you for your honesty.”
After that, Loki had thrown caution to the wind and moved back to his own chambers. Without Thor and Loki coming in and out, that wing of the palace was deserted except for the occasional patrolling guards, who Loki supposed hadn't changed. And he was right. If it hadn't been because he needed to burn a need from his system, Loki might have stayed in Odin's chambers. Even so, Loki was sure that he wouldn't run the risk of bumping into a courtier, for they had no business in that wing of the palace.
Despite knowing that the room was barren, Loki stopped at the frame of the door, expecting to see Vali running at him with some new drawing, or perhaps just for a greeting hug. But, Loki mused, as much as he loved to imagine it, he would never get those years back. And yet, that didn't mean Loki couldn't pretend that he was still loved by his son. Perhaps even that he wasn't the only one left. So, under Odin's mantle, Loki ordered Vali's things to be moved from Thor's chambers to his old room. If Thor had any plans to visit Asgard, he would have already done it.
Before the last man excited his chambers, Loki called him back. “Yes, sire?” the man asked. Loki didn't respond, instead striding toward the man as his illusion faded away. He stopped a little less than a foot from the man and whispered, “Fuck me so hard I won't remember my name.”
The man squeezed Loki's ass, pulling Loki flush against his body. “So we really have a whore for a king, huh?”
Loki arched a brow. “Are you complaining?”
No, the man didn't complain. Remembering how Loki wanted things done, the man got on with it, out the door when Loki was still panting, body sprawled out on his bed, and staring at the ceiling.
And of course that was the moment Ingrid chose to return. And somehow, she managed to sound as disapproving as his mother.
“I thought you ordered your child's things moved because you were finally up to the task of bringing him back.”
Loki swallowed. “Who says I'm not?”
Ingrid didn't offer him a reaction.
Loki winced as he pulled himself up. “Please, woman. I haven't done this since Vali was what? Four? Five? Do I not deserve some time for myself?”
“You've had months to yourself. Almost a year,” Ingrid snapped.
“And I have thought about it, have I not?”
“That is not enough. How can I help you when you go and do precisely what makes people disrespect you?”
“How, precisely, have you done so?” Loki flipped to the side and extended an arm to grab his discarded clothes. “I am not some maiden for Thor to marry, and I am not in some competition with a mortal woman to be-" Loki sneered “- Thor's wife.”
Ingrid's nostrils flared. “Perhaps not, but you are a mother, and you should know by now that's a full-time job.”
Loki grinded his teeth. “As a mother, I'm sure Vali is better off with a woman filling that role.”
“You're abandoning your son, is that it?”
“By the Norns, Ingrid, look at me!”
“No, thank you. I have a husband.”
Loki huffed as he thrust his shirt over his head and scavenged for his pants. “My point is that I was not made to be anyone's mother.”
Ingrid’s eyebrows climbed up her forehead. “Really? Is that why you were inquiring after your son's favorite colors, books, food?”
Loki turned red and hid his face in his arms, his voice coming out muffled when he answered, “What do you want me to do? Thor will not give me Vali's custody, and he swore to kill me if he saw me again. I can't risk Vali witnessing that.”
Ingrid gave a pronounced sigh. “For starters, don't fornicate with the guards again. Second, prince Thor could never kill you. He has mourned you enough.” Loki scoffed. “And thirdly, sent Thor a letter from king Odin. Tell him that king Odin grows weary, and that he wishes to see his grandson.”
Loki rubbed his forehead against his arms. “Thor will come, too. And I don't want to see Thor. I don't want to share Vali with him.”
“It is that or nothing, my lord. I suggest you send your father's ravens.”
But would they listen to him? After Loki had gotten rid of their master, would they still… like him? This could be the easiest way to get himself killed, and yet Loki wandered to his desk, the one Loki felt he hadn't used in eons, and did as Ingrid told. But better, obviously.
So, I thought I should add this after all. Ingrid hasn't asked about Odin's whereabouts because she doesn't believe that Loki would seriously harm him. She has wondered where he is or if he is in the Odinsleep, but she is not pushing Loki there. Other people have asked Ingrid about it, one of the most common questions she gets about their situation, and she replies that Odin fell into the Odinsleep after Thor abdicated. Not all believe her, but most are willing to wait to see what Loki does, and Loki wants to see where this goes. Curiosity killed the cat, right?
Anyway, if you would like to take a closer look at this, feel free to let me know.
Thus far, after being exposed to Midgard's people and technology, at what Vali continued to gape was Midgard's seasons. It was true that his mother tried to bring Vali to Midgard at least once a week to play in the playground, but sometimes it took months before they could visit again. Now that Vali lived in Midgard, he realized that he had not experienced the Midgardian season known as “summer.” It was bright, hot, and sticky. Vali had no other words to describe it, and he doubted that a trip to a beach would help expand his vision. Although a description of a beach did help expand Vali's idea of Midgard as a planet. Apparently, the ocean did not fall away into the cosmos, because apparently, Midgard, or Earth as everyone else called it, was not flat. And apparently, sea monsters did not exist.
In any case, what Vali had learnt about the beach from his uncle's friends’ descriptions and the rectangular thing called a Starkpad didn't seem to paint the beach as less hot than the street. And it was pretty hot on the street outside. And it was a lot warmer at a beach with nothing to protect him from the sun blinding his eyes. It couldn't be warmer than Asgard, Vali supposed, but it didn't feel that way. Maybe it was because Vali got used to the A.C. while in Asgard every room was about the same temperature, his uncle suggested. All Vali knew was that he wasn't going outside the tower.
Plus, his uncle was acting weird. He was an animated person, but lately his expression looked dull to Vali. Even more worrying was that his uncle’s spirit wasn't lifted by hugs, and he didn't seem excited about going to the beach either. His uncle loved everything that could be an adventure, and yet he had told his friend Stark that it was better if they stayed at the tower. Stark hadn't seemed to mind either way, and the other man, Banner, warned about the risks of a heat stroke, which sounded gross to Vali.
A couple of months had passed since they visited Álfheimr, and Vali was reluctant to admit that he hadn't advanced much in his studies. In the beginning, things seemed to flow smoothly until Vali found himself reading the same line over and over again. He blinked; he grabbed the book by the cover and read it. And so it was. It was the same book that his mother had preferred for their early lessons. Suddenly, the book didn't catch Vali's interest.
His uncle granted Vali a break of a maximum of three months, which Vali accepted even though he had the uncanny feeling that his uncle knew more than he was letting on. Those three months were almost gone, so Vali returned to his book and the elf's detailed notes. Speaking of the elf, Hemmir, Vali was supposed to travel to Álfheimr again in October, and Vali was determined to show Hemmir that he could go above and beyond. More of a reason to study with renewed fervor.
There were not many activities that Vali could do, anyway. His life mostly consisted of the room his uncle had showed Vali their first night at the tower, for Vali didn't like to venture outside. Stark was a great host, sure, and had tried to couch Vali outside under the excuse that confining himself to his room wasn't healthy, which was only a repetition of what his uncle told Vali everyday at breakfast. Point was that Vali wasn't excited about interacting with his uncle's friends. They were nice people, but they tended not to like Vali, so why bother? And again, it was warm outside, so why not take advantage of his free time to study?
His uncle seemed to be taking a similar approach at their situation. Maybe his uncle thought that Vali hadn't noticed, but Vali knew that his uncle only went out to eat and to fight whatever threat popped up that day. He didn't talk much to his friends, who also kept to themselves most of the time. So, if his uncle wasn't out or in his room, he was in Vali's room. Vali had never before spent so much time with his uncle, not even when they shared the same chambers. They didn't even talk. Although together they tried to learn about Midgardian culture, Vali was focused on his book while his uncle was focused on his own thing. When they did talk, they shared whatever story came to mind, and his uncle had many even though he was careful to not mention Vali's mother. Vali noticed.
He noticed many things except that his uncle didn't go out with his girlfriend until he met the famous Natasha after months of hearing her name in conversations that didn't involve him. It was the sudden presence of a woman, Vali thought.
It was a few weeks before the awaited visit to Álfheimr when days were getting cooler, and Vali had spent the day before studying late into the night. He was sleepy, his movements groggy, and the sunlight made his eyelids feel like they had been pasted together. By the time Vali walked into the kitchen in search of his uncle, the rest of the tower’s inhabitants were engaged in conversation. Vali walked to his uncle and rested his head against his arm, and he gave Vali a one-armed hug.
“I'm hungry,” Vali said.
His uncle chuckled. “Well, hello to you, too, mongrel.”
Vali looked at him and gave a bashful smile. “Food, please?”
“There is someone you should meet first.” His uncle nodded towards the other side of the table where a red-headed woman sat with a watchful gaze. “This is the Lady Natasha.”
Vali snuggled into his uncle's side when the woman smiled. It was a sweet smile, but it was the kind of sweet smile that Vali had seen his mother give to people he disliked. It was the kind of sweet smile that hid some unpleasant thought.
His uncle got the cue and cleared his throat. “Is cereal alright for today?”
Vali nodded and looked at the people sitting at the table. Banner was shifting in his seat and Stark was swiping away at a Starkpad. They hadn't minded if Vali was present for adult conversations before. Had Vali done something wrong?
His uncle passed a bowl of cereal to Vali and ruffled his hair. “I'll see you after I'm done, alright?”
Vali shifted on his feet before agreeing. He knew it was wrong to eavesdrop, but it wasn't his fault that the adults didn't realize that he was in hearing range. And okay, Vali still shouldn't have stopped some feet from the kitchen, but he heard his mother's name, and he wanted to know what they were saying about his mother.
It was Natasha who spoke.
“I'm sorry about this, Thor, but you understand why your nephew can't know, don't you? We are close to locating Loki's scepter, and we can't jeopardize the mission.”
Vali left without hearing his uncle's response. Whatever it was, of course it was related to his mother.
Vali pulled a box from under the desk and rummaged through it, his fingers bumping against a few things until he found the chess board he had been gifted. He brushed his hands over it.
“JARVIS, where is my uncle?”
“He's currently in the living room, and yes, he is free.”
“Finally,” Vali said. He placed the chess board under his arm and skipped to the living room, where he pushed the chess board on the coffee table in front of his frowning uncle and sat cross-legged on the floor. “What are you thinking about?”
His uncle's brow knitted together. “Nothing,” he answered.
Vali propped his chin on his hands. “I have two questions. Well, three. One more important than the others, but you have to answer all three of them.”
His uncle rubbed his beard before nodding.
“Okay. First, if mother and I had moved to Midgard, would you have come with us?”
“No, I would have not,” he replied wearily.
So mother had been right, after all.
“I would have followed you and taken both of you back to Asgard.”
Vali shrugged; he didn't have anything else to add. “So what about your girlfriend?”
His uncle grunted. “What about her?”
“Didn't she write back? You said she did, but you haven't visited her, have you?”
He shook his head. “I have talked with her, but she is occupied with a new study. Her experience with the Convergence is promising for her field.” He rubbed his hands together. “But you shouldn't be worrying about that, mongrel.”
Vali grimaced. “But it makes me feel bad.”
His uncle sighed. “I will be occupied with a new endeavor soon, Vali. I won't be able to give Jane the time she deserves.”
“That's what makes me feel bad.”
“It has nothing to do with you,” his uncle assured.
Vali knew that. It had to do with his mother, but that didn't change the fact that Vali felt guilty about his uncle having to care for him. Or that Vali resented that people thought he was taking advantage of his uncle.
“Last question,” Vali said. “Want to play chess with me?”
His uncle's shoulders sagged with relief. He offered Vali a small smile and placed the chess board flat on the table.
Autumn was a season Vali felt comfortable with and one he had many memories of. But when red, orange, and yellow began to fall to the ground, Vali watched the naked trees with admiration. Asgard didn't have such a season, or the other realms for that matter. Asgard, for once, only had a warm season and a warmer season. The others realms only varied in that they had a chilly breeze during the night. Or at least the few that Vali had visited.
His visit to Álfheimr clashed with the celebration of Halloween. When he was younger, Vali had wished to experience the celebration. But now, Vali had no interesting in going from door to door asking for candies when his uncle would want to tag along, and then people would swarm them once they recognized his uncle. And Vali was not interested in that. But Vali was not about to tell his uncle it was because of him.
It took some coaxing, but Vali managed to send his uncle on a date with his girlfriend. Vali hadn't known that's what that adult meeting was called, but it seemed worth it. Or, well, his uncle seemed happier for it. He hadn't snapped at Hemmir for giggling at him for most of their time in Álfheimr. But maybe that was because his uncle hadn't noticed the color change in his hair.
His uncle had gone in another few dates with Jane after their return.
As quickly as autumn came, winter took its place, bringing a whole new fragile world coated in white. Vali had seen layers of snow covering the usual green grass before, but not the snowflakes falling from the sky. During this season, despite the heavy clothes he was forced to wear even though it wasn't that cold, instead of arguing with Vali to get him to go outside, his uncle and his friends asked him to “Please get in the car. I don't trust what Thor says. I'm not getting my ass kicked if you get sick.”
Vali dropped to his knees and crossed his arms over his chest. “But you're always bugging me to go outside.”
“That's when it's not freezing cold!” Vali stuck out his tongue. “Oh my god, why did I agree to babysit you? Nobody pays me for this. Nobody ever pays me for anything. It's always ‘Tony do this, Tony do that.’”
Vali giggled as he made a snowball, preparing to aim.
“I'm serious, kid. I'm not chasing you.”
Stark sputtered as the snowball hit him right in the chest. Determination flashed through his face as he bent down to make a snowball of his own. By the end of the day, all the tower's inhabitants were sitting in the living room watching a multitude of videos of the famous Tony Stark and Thor's nephew rallying allies to their side in a snow fight. The other kids had been all too happy to participate. His uncle's face was flushed as he apologized, Vali pressed to his side. Banner pinched the bridge of his nose while Stark sat with his elbows on his knees, chin resting on his clasped hands as he stared at the T.V. Lady Pepper scrutinized the videos before declaring that there had been a sudden rise in Iron Man toys' sells.
Then came the celebration of Christmas, which revolved around family and friends. Vali thought he would have to participate in that one, but to his surprise, his uncle spared them from the celebration under the excuse that they had lost family members too recently to partake in that celebration. Stark and Lady Pepper had a party to attend, anyway, so his uncle and him spent Christmas watching movies about, well, Christmas.
And it would have been a perfect Christmas if it had been his mother, his uncle, and him. Watching old movies and drinking hot chocolate. Together, the three of them.
Very few patches of snow remained amidst the sea of green grass, a few clouds marring the sky. It was a clear day, and the cold breeze flapping his hair made Vali hum in delight. He pulled at his scarf and skipped ahead of where his uncle was talking with Jane, little pieces of conversation reaching his ears.
“I have to go. It's my fault… think they're close… bases were easy… might be… I don't know what to do with Vali.”
Vali’s eyes widened and he stopped on his tracks, pivoting to see Jane standing on tiptoe to kiss his uncle’s cheek.
“Darcy and I can take care of him for a few days while you get back. I used to babysit when I was a teen. It'll be fine.”
“Uncle?” Vali called.
Both of them turned to look at him, and Vali looked around for something to say, for something that wouldn't make him sound like he had been eavesdropping again. Vali spotted it, or well them, perched at the low branch of a tree. Two ravens.
Vali pointed at them. “Don't they look like grandpa’s ravens to you?”
His uncle blinked, a quick bark of laughter escaping his throat.
It was true that Thor had a routine correspondence with Jane, and it was also true that at the moment, she was focused on a study. Likewise, Thor was focused on Vali and the potential rediscovering of Loki's scepter. Having let the scepter in the humans’ hands eat away at Thor at night. It had been irresponsible of him, and if only Loki were here… it seemed that time wasn't done with Thor. But Thor and Jane had talked about going on a date together. It was something that stretched into the indefinite future.
Vali was not content with that answer. Was that how it had been on Asgard? Was that why they had clashed so often? Thor's chest constricted. There was a great difference between pitying Vali and loving him. At least for Thor. And of course Vali required much of Thor's time. As much as liked to pretend he was not, Vali was still a child.
It had not occurred to Thor that the humans would be enthusiastic about figuring out what was the relationship between him and Vali. When they had managed to get Vali outside before winter, when it was impossible to get him inside, Thor acted with the same familiarity of everyday. Sometimes ruffling Vali's hair, sometimes hugging his son. Then, video footage and stolen pictures of them began appearing in the news alongside questions of who was Vali and where did he come from. They had gotten one thing right, and that was that Vali was Thor's son. But they also thought that Sif was Vali's mother, and the idea was as outrageous for Thor as it was for Vali. And then there was the problem that Vali thought Thor his uncle, so once more Thor found himself saying, “No, Vali is my nephew” because his brother would have wanted it so.
Jane made no mention of it except for a few inquiries about Vali's welfare. And Thor remembered. He had to remember that mentioning Vali made conversations uncomfortable. But it might as well have been their situation. Thor, in all his long life, had never courted someone. Loki would not allow it despite how much Thor wanted to shower his brother with love tokens. Gifts were part of a courtship ritual, Thor knew, but he didn't know where humans went for their dates. Thor had hated having to ask Stark, Lady Pepper less so. But Vali beamed at Thor when he was sure that Thor had enjoyed his time with Jane, and Thor would trade his son's bright smile and Jane's soft touches for almost nothing in the universe.
In times like this was when Thor thought that his father truly knew everything, for he had sent his ravens at just the right time. Lady Natasha was confident that they had located Loki's scepter and that it was time to strike. Thor was ready either way, but there was Vali to think of. Thor couldn't leave Vali in the tower while he chased after Loki's scepter, but he couldn't tell Stark that he didn't trust his tower's security.
Thor rubbed his face. What was his father's actual state if he was “weary” enough to request to see Vali? And there was still Jane and HYDRA to worry about. Thor continued to rub his face.
He sent back his father's ravens without a reply. Even if Thor sent Vali to Asgard, Thor would have to stay on Earth. Did Thor really want to do that? Could Thor really entrust Vali to Jane? No, Thor couldn't entrust his brother's child to anyone. It would be safer to take Vali to Asgard where Ingrid could take care of him. At the Avengers Tower, Thor's reassurance was the surveillance of JARVIS and whoever Lady Pepper employed to care for Vali. But again, Thor was not letting his son in the hands of anyone. So when the date for their raid was set, Thor acceded to sending Vali away. Fortunately, Vali seemed happy to visit his grandfather. It should only take a day or two, Thor assured Vali in the throne room. Vali's face had gone from excited to confused. Thor fared no better. His father had moved Vali's things back to Loki's chambers, because they now belonged to Vali. Thor frowned at that decision, but he supposed it was preferable if Vali inherited his mother's chambers instead of them being used for something else. Even so, Thor's hands clenched at the knowledge that his father had trespassed into his brother's sanctuary.
Thor embraced his son, perhaps squeezing too much, before turning his back on his father, red cape billowing behind him.
Thor had intended to keep his promise of returning in a day or two, but once the scepter was back in what should have been trustworthy hands, Stark thought it wise to experiment with it. And now there was a new threat to fight back. Their first attempts to do so resulted in utter failure, leaving most of the team out of commission. What was worst, Barton had a family, he had children. But that wasn't the problem, was it?
During their youth, Thor, alongside his friends, had often mocked Loki for being the envious little brother. That was before many things changed between Thor and Loki, when Thor had no reason to think that in the future, it would be him who was envious of another. Because he wanted this. Because Thor wanted to see Vali rush out to greet him alongside a little girl and call him father. When he had been the Crown Prince, Thor hadn't imagined having a girl, but he found that he wanted one. And perhaps… perhaps see his lover standing at the door, heavy with another little one on the way. Thor had always wanted a brood. And yet, it was not Jane of whom Thor thought. But of Loki.
Loki paced the length of his room, chewing on a knuckle and brow knitted together. How much longer could Huginn and Muninn take to return? Not much, Loki found as the flapping of black wings had him racing to the balcony. Loki pressed his palms against his eyes and swallowed a sob.
Thor had not replied. Neither Thor nor Vali were coming back.
“I'm sorry, my liege,” Ingrid said behind him. “I was sure it would work.”
Loki curled his hands around the edge of the balcony. “And I told you it would not.”
Ingrid didn't respond, nor did Loki add anything further. He didn't have anything else to say to her. She had gotten his hopes up for nothing.
Loki wished he could wipe that grin off of Ingrid's face after news of Number Twenty-Seven barging into the throne room to announce Thor's imminent return spread through Asgard. While the courtiers whispered amongst themselves, the guards looked at Loki with curious gazes. Loki rose from the throne, excused himself, and rushed to his chambers where he could panic in peace. That's when the grinning face of Ingrid appeared into view.
“It did work!” she proclaimed.
Loki covered his ears and shut his eyes closed as he breathed in through his nose and out through his mouth. Ingrid’s incessant babbling had Loki seated in the throne once more in a matter of minutes, ready to greet Thor and, hopefully, Vali.
The doors were pushed open and in came Thor with Vali walking by his side, one hand enveloped in Thor's larger one. A rush of pleasure cursed through Loki's body at the sight of Thor. Loki was not the only one that had aged. Thor, too, was lined with stress.
Thor fell to one knee before him with a fist placed over his beating heart, and wasn't the sight beautiful? Only heightened by the clumsy attempt of his son to mirror his father's position.
“Thor, my son, I did not expect to see you.”
Thor rose to his feet, tugging Vali up with him. “My apologies, father.”
My apologies? Was all Thor had to said after making Loki believe he was not bringing Vali?
“How long will you be staying? Surely, you do not plan to leave your father so soon.”
Thor shifted his weight from foot to foot. At least Loki could replicate Odin's stare. “Not long, I'm afraid.” Loki's heart plummeted, his gaze straying to his son, his baby. “I have compromises I must fulfill, but… I was hoping Ingrid was available for Vali.”
Loki leaned forward a fraction and waved at a guard to fetch Ingrid. Vali was frowning, Loki noted. “She was transferred to the kitchens, but she will soon he here to direct Vali to his chambers.”
Thor grimaced. “The kitchens? His chambers?” Thor questioned.
Vali was no less confused.
“I am an old man, Thor. I have no need for her. And yes, his chambers. It is high time Vali has one of his own.”
Vali chewed his lip as he looked at Thor, who sighed.
“Where are these chambers?” Thor asked.
“Vali will be taking over Loki's old chambers,” Loki replied. How weird to talk about himself in third person.
Vali took a step back while Thor's mouth fell open before it clicked shut. He cleared his throat, voice falling to a volume Loki could barely hear. “I won't take long, alright, mongrel? A day or two, and I will be back.”
Vali nodded as Thor dropped to his knees to embrace him. Loki shifted in anticipation, his heart threatening to break from its cage. Admittedly, part of him was warmed to see Thor display affection towards Vali so openly, but most of him was screaming at Loki to tear Vali away from Thor. But Loki could wait a few more seconds.
Thor gave a curt nod to Loki before pivoting and taking his leave.
Finally, Loki breathed. He would think about the ‘a day or two’ later.
Loki was beyond desperate to reach Vali, to remind his son of how a mother's touch felt like, but Loki could wait. There were courtiers in there, and Loki could not be affectionate in front of them. Maids and guards were fine, but not courtiers. Loki even took care to descend the stairs leading to the throne as if the Odinsleep was truly upon Odin. Loki passed his son and waved at him to follow, by force of will Loki kept his hands to himself.
Vali hesitated until he realized that Loki (or Odin, as Vali perceived him) had no intentions of waiting, which was true, and that Loki expected no other outcome than to be followed, which was also true.
Their walk to his chambers, Loki decided, was a more efficient form of torture than anything he had experienced in the last years.
The doors to Loki's chambers opened without protest; Vali didn't note its importance as he stared at his feet. Vali walked to his room, Loki following some steps behind, barely making a sound as he closed Vali's door.
“You will make yourself comfortable, won't you, darling?”
Vali froze, not daring to look glance behind. “What did you call me?”
Vali was unhappy, Loki could tell. Loki's heart pounded impossibly faster, his pulse rushing in his ear. Loki swallowed as his seiðr raced down his body, and the next time Loki spoke, his voice was his own.
“Darling. What else would I call you?”
Vali swirled around. “Mo-mother?”
Loki gave him a shaky smile. “Who else would I be?” He spread his arms. “Come here, baby.”
Vali didn't think twice before throwing himself at Loki, the air rushing out of Loki at the collision. Vali buried his face in Loki's stomach. “Mommy?” he asked, voice trembling.
A tear slipped down Loki's cheek. Instead of wiping it away, Loki used one hand to caress Vali's head while the other ran up and down his back. “I'm here, darling. I'm back,” Loki replied, voice quivering as much as his son's.
This wasn't his mother. Vali knew that. He didn't know who this person was, but his mother was dead and his grandfather wouldn't pull this joke on him. His mother was dead, and this person was not his mother. But he had his smell. If asked a day earlier, or maybe just an hour, maybe even a minute ago, Vali wouldn’t have been able to recall his mother's smell. Until now, Vali hadn't realized that he had a particular smell that said Mother (minty, with a bit of lavender, maybe). And this person certainly looked like his mother, but that didn't mean he was his mother. His mother was dead. Although, Vali supposed whether or not this person was his mother didn't matter if he focused on the hand running through his black hair and the comforting weight on his back.
An unbidden hiccup made its way up his throat, and Vali snuggled closer to his maybe-mother. “Mommy?”
That was the second time Vali asked; Vali doubted the answer would change even if this person wasn't him. Vali didn't want it to.
“Hush, now. I missed you, too. Did you know that? Did you know that I missed you?” the wavering voice answered. To Vali's silence, he replied, “Why don't you let me take a look at you, hmm?”
The soothing hands stopped their work in favor of trying to pry Vali off, which only made Vali cling tighter. He whimpered. “Mommy, no.”
“No?” His mother chuckled. “I don't think I can carry you any longer.” He grabbed Vali's chin and tilted it up, so Vali was looking at his mother's tear-stained cheeks. “You have grown so much, darling.” He caressed Vali's cheeks, wiping away Vali's own tears and giving another chuckle. “You have your father's eyes,” he whispered.
Vali sniffled. Never before had his mother mentioned his father. Vali wasn't sure his mother remembered him.
His mother lowered himself to his knees and kept examining Vali's face, the length of his hair, the quality of his clothes. “Don't cry, baby. You're making me cry, too.”
Nor had his mother ever called Vali ‘baby’ before.
Maybe this was his mother, maybe it wasn't. Did it matter? Not really. Not at the moment. This could be a dream, for all Vali knew. It happened sometimes. He dreamt of being back in his room (although he had rarely slept there, it was always his room), of his mother’s voice and words beyond his grasp, of unclear stories he could barely remember upon waking. They were weird dreams. This was a weird dream.
His mother's seiðr hit Vali like a cool breeze, grounding him as his face was cleared of the tears. It was all the proof Vali needed.
Vali latched on his mother's arm as his mother rose to his feet. “Please don't leave me again, mommy.”
His mother smiled.
Loki couldn't believe it had been that easy. It was anticlimactic, really. Thor had waltzed into the throne room, handed Vali without complain, and left without worry. That easily. All the time Loki had paced, worried, pulled at his hair was for naught. All Loki had had to do was ask and Vali was back by his side. Ridiculous. Could Thor really care so little? But if Thor knew who laid behind the wrinkled face, white beard, and golden eyepatch, then Vali would have ceased to have a mother. Again. Loki hadn't forgotten that.
Vali's chest rose and fell with even breaths; Loki's lips curled up in a smile at his son's slack face. It had been difficult to make Vali let go of his grip, and Loki's attempts to dislodge him had only being half-hearted. Loki was in no rush to go back outside, but Loki feared he might cry in earnest if Vali continued to ask “Where are you going?” every time Loki went near the door. Now, in sleep, Vali had relaxed his death grip, but one hand was still bunched in the front of Loki's tunics, his head using Loki's chest as a pillow. Loki didn't mind. But after having the whole bed to himself for a year, the position was uncomfortable. Even more so if Vali insisted on sleeping under his ribs like before, but according to Ingrid, Vali learnt to sleep on his own after he was moved to Thor's chambers.
How strange that after years of trying to ban Vali from scurrying into his bed, Loki felt conflicted about Vali sleeping by himself. Even though it was for the best. Loki's nights could be troubled on occasion.
Loki rubbed Vali's arm when the door opened to admit Ingrid with the food tray inside. She had learnt to value silence (Loki's kind of silence, that was, since she seemed to have a different definition for just about everything) during the last weeks, so the clanking around of the tray's contents caused Vali to stir was intentional.
At Ingrid's smiling face and glinting eyes, Loki said, “Do not say it.” He held out a finger. “I'm looking at you. Don't say it.”
“When can I expect the other one?”
“Out.” Loki shook his head at Ingrid's protests. “Out. Now.”
Ingrid shrugged as she placed the tray on Loki's desk, threw in a quick curtsy, and let the door fall shut behind her, uncaring of Loki's glare. Softening his expression, Loki returned his attention to his son. Loki did a double take. When earlier that day his son's eyes had been wide with shock, they were now narrowed with unease.
“Bad dream?” Loki asked.
Vali grunted and rolled to the other side, shrugging off Loki's hands. “I'm not a baby anymore.”
The corners of Loki's eyes crinkled. “I didn't say you were.”
“Then what do you need her for? I can take care of myself.”
“Well, unfortunately, I cannot do the same for myself, Vali. She is here for me as much as she is here for you.” Loki swallowed. “I would have thought you missed your nanny.”
“You called her because you're leaving.”
Loki shook his head. Hadn't they established, before Vali laid down for his nap, that Loki wasn't going anywhere?
Loki sat up in the bed to take a better look at Vali's face. “She came to bring dinner, Vali. You slept through the afternoon, and Ingrid has wanted to see you since your return was announced.”
“And where were you?”
“Right here, of course.”
Vali shifted to lay on his back. “No. I mean, where were you during the last years?”
“In a variety of places.”
“You can't do that anymore, mother. I know that's not an answer.”
Loki grimaced. He had hoped that Vali would wait until tomorrow at the very least. Wait until Loki prepared a better story to tell, one that, through omission, didn't involve too many lies. But where to start?
And since when did Vali call him “mother?” So formal.
“The food is getting cold. Why don't you eat, get reacquainted with your room, and we talk about this tomorrow?” Loki asked.
Vali sat cross-legged atop the bed and warily eyed the food tray on Loki's desk. “If you're hoping I will forget by tomorrow, it won't happen.”
Loki tilted his head. “I know you won't, darling, but I don't want this talk to ruin this day. Would you rather not wait until tomorrow?”
Vali frowned. “Having you back is not as great as I thought it would be.”
Loki's breath hitched. This had been a mistake. No, Vali did that sometimes. Didn't realize that how he said things hurt. This time, as Vali's eyes widened, Loki knew his son had caught on.
“Mommy, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that. You know I didn't.”
Loki watched Vali's eyes glisten and opened his arms for his son. Vali didn't hesitate to snuggle against Loki again. The difference between Vali and his father, Loki thought, was that Vali realized what he had said was wrong. Thor didn't. Except… sometimes.
“What do I always tell you?” Loki asked as he held Vali's head against his chest.
“To be careful with my words,” Vali replied without hesitation. But that didn't mean the previous topic was forgotten. “But I have the right to know where you were. You know that my uncle took me in because he pitied me?”
“Who told you that?” Loki demanded as anger welled up in his chest. “Did Thor say that? Or was it Odin?”
Stupid. Of course Thor hadn't taken good care of Vali. No, instead he filled his son's head with… with this! Unbelievable. And if Loki found out it had been because of that woman, then-
“It wasn't them.”
Vali fought to free himself from Loki's arms, but Loki tightened his embrace. “Don't lie to me,” he said.
“I'm not. You're choking me.” Vali met Loki's glare, still struggling. “It was the other kids, okay?”
Loki's lips pressed into a thin line. He let Vali go despite suspecting that Vali was covering for Thor. Who knew what else Thor could have told Vali? Then, there was Loki, who, after seeing Thor embrace Vali, assumed Thor had remembered his role of father. But no. Thor thought that because Vali thought him his uncle, he got a free pass. Sure, why not?
“Stop that.” Loki looked at Vali. Stop what? “I swear, it was the kids. You can stop that.”
Loki didn't know what Vali was talking about. Instead of asking, Loki crossed his arms over his chest and said, “The food must be cold.”
With a little shrug of his shoulders, Vali slipped to the floor and crossed the distance to the desk with measured steps. He uncovered one container and said, “Oh, it's roasted boar.” Vali looked back over his shoulder. “I don't mind that's it's cold.”
Loki swung his legs over the edge of the bed and shook his head. A wave of his hand could fix that, but that wasn't the point. Thor had given Loki two days with Vali, who didn't appear to have realized that Thor didn't know Loki was alive. Loki wanted to keep Thor that way, but Vali wouldn't understand that. Vali would ask questions, such as Odin's whereabouts, and Loki would have to be careful with his answers. There was no room for honesty here. Vali was too young for the story Loki had to tell and too young for the reality of his family. For now, Loki could keep pretending for Vali, but Loki knew that the day he could no longer use that excuse would come, and Vali would know the truth about Thor, Loki, them. It didn't matter. For now, Loki could inquire “Do you know what is your position?” and receive a confused tilt of the head from Vali in return.
“My… my position?”
After Ingrid returned for the empty food tray, it did not taken much of a stretch of silence for Vali to begin talking about his time on Midgard. He had met an elf, which didn't make much sense to Loki until Vali's eyes flew open with the realization that he was supposed to meet the elf in Álfheimr in a week. Vali had only met a handful of Thor's mortal friends and had not interacted much with them from what Loki gathered. It was impossible to know if they knew the full truth of Vali's parentage and asking was not an option. It would bring Vali's attention to it. In any case, Loki thought it safe to assume that Thor had made some kind of omission that made his comrades friendly toward Vali. Gods knew the Lady Sif and Warriors Three hadn't been. Then, to Loki's horror, a lump formed in his throat when Vali mentioned Thor and Jane. It was the stress, Loki concluded.
“I don't think she liked me at first,” Vali said. He pointed to his mouth. “She had one of those smiles that look kind of forced. The ones you say aren't real. I think she knows you, which is pretty weird considering uncle has only talked about her after you… left. And people didn't use to know who you were before. They seem to do now.”
Vali raised his head to look at Loki with hopeful, expectant eyes, but Loki wasn't sure what Vali was asking for. Loki could guess and suspect, but Odin had said that Vali would hear none of that. It couldn't be that, but if Vali was indeed asking about Loki's invasion, then Vali would have already said so. It couldn't be that.
Vali cleared his throat. “So I don't think she liked me even though she offered to babysit me the day we got grandpa's ravens. Uncle didn't talk a lot about her, but I kept bugging him until he went on these ‘dates’ with her. I even convinced uncle to buy her a telescope in Álfheimr. I did well, right, mommy?”
Loki wanted to shake his head and shout that “No, you're not supposed to encourage your uncle's dalliances” and perhaps shake some sense into Vali too, but what came out of his mouth was “Of course you did. That was very sweet of you, darling. I'm sure she liked it.”
Vali smiled for a second. “Mommy… about the Midgardians and… them knowing who you are…”
Ah, so it was about that. Well, it was inevitable with Vali living amongst Midgardians. It was bound to happen.
“There was… an incident with them a few years ago,” Loki admitted.
“An incident?” Vali gaped. “You tried to conquer them!”
Loki sighed. Faintly, he wondered if this was how things were going to be from now on, with Vali sharing more and more of Thor's vision. Loki wasn't surprised. Not about Vali knowing of his invasion nor about Vali jumping to conclusions. It was to be expected. And yet, Vali didn't match with what Loki had imagined.
“I don't understand,” Vali whispered.
Loki glanced at his son from the corner of his eyes, saw him fidget and his shoulders sag. He turned away at the hollow pit in his chest.
“I just don't understand,” Vali said behind Loki, louder. “When did that happen? I don't even know why you left and I… was it something I did? Was it because I didn't listen? Because I was a bad child? Why did you leave me?” Vali paused to take a deep breath. “You're supposed to be dead. I didn't even know that because they kept telling me you were coming home soon, but you never came. And I kept waiting like an idiot. It was grandma who finally told me you weren't coming back.” Vali lifted a shoulder and rolled it. “She's dead, too, in case you didn't know.”
Loki exhaled. “I know. I was there. In a way.”
In a way… in a way…
Vali's head snapped up. “That's a lie. You weren't there. I know because I was holding my uncle's hand when we sent grandma away. We were at the front with grandpa.” Vali looked down to his fidgeting hands. “That's when I saw uncle's girlfriend for the first time. I just didn't know it was her.”
Loki splayed out his hands on his legs. “I didn't mean her funeral, Vali. I was in the dungeons at the time due to what happened on Midgard.”
“Yes, I imagined you didn't know I was there.”
“I have never seen the dungeons before. I don't think uncle would have allowed me to visit.”
Loki smiled wryly. “But would you have wanted to see me?”
Vali blinked, seemingly taken aback. “You're my mother.”
That answered so much in Vali's young mind. But not in Loki's. Loki was the mother of Thor's son, as Loki had often been reminded, but that had not stopped Thor from threatening Loki with death.
“But why didn't you come back for me?” Vali asked. “Please? Why didn't you come for me, mommy?”
Loki looked at his son, at the new tears running down his cheek, at his trembling lower lip. Of all the things Loki had said during the last years, that Vali was better off without him was possibly the truest. It would have been better to let Vali believe he was dead than this. That his mother had abandoned him because of something he had done.
“Do you not remember what I so often told you?” Loki asked.
Vali's face fell. “That I would never see you again if I continued to run off.”
In another situation, the corners of Loki's lips might have tugged up in an amused smile. Now, Loki covered his face with his hands while a sob slipped free. “Norns, Vali, I meant that I love you. I love you. I was dying to see you again. How could you think otherwise?” Vali sniffled and wiped his nose with his sleeve. “I'm not the most affectionate, I know, but…” Loki bit his lip and shoved his hair back. He pulled the quilt back and patted the spot next to him.
Vali shook his head.
“You said you didn't remember who sired me.”
“Vali?” Loki questioned as his pulse raced.
“But today you said I have my father's eyes.” Vali rubbed his shoulder. “Am I asking for too much?”
Loki gulped. “I imagine you must. As you can see, I have green eyes. Therefore, you must have inherited your father's.”
Vali perked up. “They could just be my uncle's.” At Loki's blank look, Vali shrugged. “That's what people always say. You're looking at me kind of funny, you know? That's how most people look at me.”
“How do they look at you?”
“I don't know. Funny. Like you're doing now.”
Loki pressed his palms against his eyes. He had forgotten about what he said earlier that day. He had slipped. Where had that comment even come from? Loki knew his son had Thor's eyes since Vali was a babe. That was no news to Loki, so why had he said that?
“Sorry,” Vali muttered.
Loki looked at Vali through red eyes and murmured in monotone, “I don't remember your father.”
Vali's eyes went round. “That's okay, mommy. Doesn't matter. I mean, it's just you and me, right? I know what ‘bastard’ means now, though, just so you know.”
“Oh, Vali, that doesn't mean-"
“Anything. Yeah, I know. Doesn't matter. They call me ergi now, anyway.”
Loki's head snapped in Vali's direction. “What?”
Vali cringed. “Doesn't matter, right?” he asked shyly.
No, it did matter. It mattered a lot. Thor better not be included there.
Yeah, I don't know.
Loki would admit to occasionally struggling to understand his son's train of thought, jumping from one topic to the next with very little connection. Loki wasn't sure how they had gone from talking about Thor and his partner to how it was not alright to be called ergi. Loki would also admit to enjoying the image of Thor arguing with some children over it. Although, if they were dropping to the children's level, Loki would have preferred to let the wolves loose on them. Vali was not keen on the idea, but Loki could work on that later.
It was late, Vali was yawning, and Loki forgot he had been absent for years. Loki's head was propped up by his hand, elbow digging into the pillow, as he watched his son speak from his cross-legged position, interrupted by increasing yawns. Loki's expression softened. “Why don't we go to sleep, hmm?”
Vali rubbed his eyes. “You're not leaving?”
“Never again,” Loki swore. It didn't depend on him.
Vali nodded and crawled across the bed to wrap his arms around Loki. He kissed Loki's cheek and said, “Goodnight, mommy.”
Loki squeezed his son and had a joke about Vali's bed being extra on the tip of his tongue when Vali pulled away and slipped his feet to the floor. Loki's face scrunched up in confusion. Where was his son going? Vali squinted at Loki over his shoulder and walked out of the room. Ah, right. Vali slept by himself now.
Loki pulled the quilt over himself, rolled to his side, and waved his hand to extinguish the witch lights. He stared at the wall. There was a humming in his ears and his breath was loud enough that he could concentrate on counting every inhale and exhale. Loki had pictured Vali sleeping with him when they entered his chamber hours earlier. Somehow, despite knowing Vali had grown out of it, Loki had expected to fall back into their old routine.
Loki had lost count of his breathing, eyes falling shut, when his door swung open. Loki struggled to sit up, sheets tangled around his legs, to squint at Vali standing in the doorway.
“The quilts are itchy,” Vali proclaimed.
Loki breathed out a laugh. “What?”
Vali shrugged before pushing the door closed. “I don't know. You should look into it.”
The mattress dipped next to Loki, and Loki chuckled as he reached out a hand to rub Vali's back. The only credit Loki would give his offspring was that he never thought of that excuse before.
By the next morning, Loki hoped that Vali was done with asking questions Loki wanted to keep well away from. From the first stages of his impersonation of Odin, Loki decided that it was a waste of time to fix himself if he was going to throw the illusion of an old man over himself. But how to explain that to Vali who was already scrunching up his nose at Loki? Well, Loki supposed that his nagging Vali about making himself presentable wasn't helping his case.
“Hey, mother? Where's grandpa?” Vali asked from where he had his knees up to his chest in a chair.
“Sleeping,” Loki replied as he picked Gungnir from the floor.
“Do you know for how long?”
“No.” Loki turned to face his son, expression dulled. “I need you to listen now, Vali, and listen well. No one can know I'm alive.” Vali frowned, mulling it over in his head. “I will take on your grandfather's guise, and you must refer to me as such.”
Vali screwed up his face, shaking his head. “That's weirder than usual.”
Loki blew out his cheeks. “Your grandfather needs his sleep, and your uncle abdicated. Who do you think must care for the realm?”
Vali wrapped his arms around his legs. “Well, you, but why can't you-"
“Vali, look at me.” Vali did so reluctantly. “I'm supposed to be imprisoned for many reasons you're too young to know.” Resting his chin on his knees, Vali huffed. “One day, darling, I promise. Back to the matter at hand, I assure you that the court won't be happy to know it's me on the throne.”
“What about my uncle? Can I at least tell him?”
Loki swallowed around a lump in his throat as he strode across his bedchamber in search of his boots. “No, especially not your uncle, Vali.”
“But, mommy, he misses you. And I miss spending time with both of you. Together.”
Loki stopped halfway through putting on the first boot. “Has he told you that?”
“Not exactly. Uncle doesn't speak about you, mainly because it's forbidden to speak of you in front of me, I think. But I know it's true!”
“Ah.” Loki slipped on his boot. “No, darling, you shouldn't assume that kind of things.”
“It's not assuming, mother. It's obvious.”
Loki clicked his tongue as he reached for the other boot. “Is it?”
“You're brothers, of course it is! I would miss my brother if I had one.”
Loki's chest constricted. Yes, brothers. For all intents and purposes.
“If you had a brother, you would want to get rid of him at every turn of the corner.”
“I don't think that's true.”
“You will never know, will you?”
“But mother!” Vali whined.
Loki pinched the bridge of his nose, other hand reaching for the doorknob. “By Odin's beard, Vali. We reunited yesterday. What do you want a brother for?”
Vali squirmed. “A sister would be okay, too. I mean, didn't you want a girl?” Loki gave a stern look to Vali, who curled in on himself. “You can't leave if you have a baby, right?”
Loki sighed. “Darling, I love you. I don't need another child.”
“It's not about needing one…”
“Your uncle. We were talking about him. Are we on the same page there?”
Loki yanked the door open but paused after taking one step outside. “I'm sure I can clear my schedule in a couple of hours. I could call Ingrid in the meantime if you would like? She shouldn't take long. We'll have to continue our talk about your uncle when I return, but all you need to know is that we are not on speaking terms, alright? You are always free to wander around.”
Vali scowled at Loki as he closed the door. Once outside, Loki shivered. A baby. Vali had some peculiar ideas in that head of his.
Even if Loki agreed to think about having another child (even though he wouldn't know where to get it from) just so Vali would shut up about him leaving, and Vali agreed not to tell Thor about Loki nor ask Loki about his absence, there was still the problem of Thor and his two days. Two days that were at the brink of coming to an end as the sun sunk down in the horizon. It wouldn't be a problem if they left Asgard, but Vali would not consent to it. From one of the chairs in the sitting room, Loki had asked, “Wouldn't it be wonderful to go on a journey? I used to do so often with Thor and… my father when I was your age.”
Vali scrutinized Loki from his place in the carpet. “I don't have a brother… or a father.”
Loki threaded a hand through his hair. “Well, that is true, but why can't it be you and me?”
“What about the realm?”
“Oh, your uncle can take care of it, I'm sure. How long could it possibly take him to burn it to the ground?”
Vali frowned. “That isn't funny, mother.”
Loki huffed. “Maybe not. But don't you want to spend quality time with your mother?”
Vali wriggled. “But what about my uncle?”
“Your uncle will eventually have a family of his own, Vali. He will have children with the Midgardian woman, Jane, and will no longer be able to care for you as you're used to.”
Vali shook his head. “My uncle isn't having children.”
Loki tilted his head from right to left. “Are you sure about that?” he drawled.
“If you don't need more children, then neither does my uncle.”
“Darling, that's different. Just like you are my child, Thor needs children of his own.” Perhaps if Thor procreated, he would forget about wanting to keep Vali. That was what Loki needed. He needed Thor to procreate. Again. Just not with him.
“It really isn't,” Vali insisted. “It's the same thing. What does he need children for?”
“You said so yourself. It is not about needing them, it is about wanting them.”
“No, Vali, it is not. Pray tell, why can I have children but your uncle cannot?”
“Because it's wrong.”
Loki was about to reply that what Vali was saying was nonsensical when he realized what they were arguing about. Loki rubbed his temples. He must have hit a new low in his life if he was arguing about Thor needing children with their child of all people. Wonderful. By the Norns, why were they even discussing this?
“When's uncle coming back, anyway?” Vali asked while picking up the papers he had thrown across the carpet.
Loki screwed his eyes shut, trying to even out his breaths. “Tonight, probably.”
Loki pried one eye open to glance at Vali, whose expression clearly said, Just you wait. Loki threw an arm over his face and sighed. Why did his son have to be so difficult?
The rustle of hay and creaking boards coupled with a few whinnies and snorts were sounds that had not greeted Vali in over a year. It was difficult to picture his mother here, amidst the manure and urine assaulting their noses despite knowing that he knew about the same as his uncle about horses. The doors of the stable swung back and forth after his mother strode in, shedding his illusion as he walked.
“Happy, now?” he asked with an arched brow.
Not really, Vali thought. His uncle hadn't arrived the night before as promised. He was one day late so far. Could something have gone wrong with his mission?
“I haven't visited grandpa's horse without him before.”
“Me neither,” his mother admitted as he pulled his hair out of his face.
Vali watched him secure Sleipnir. In the confines of his mind, Vali would admit to pestering his mother about seeing his grandfather's horse due to some… disturbing stories he had come across in Midgard including his mother and the eight-legged horse. Distantly, Vali thought that Sleipnir could have never fitted in his mother's belly, no matter that shapeshifting had been involved.
Rubbing his shoulder, Vali called, “Mom?”
“Are you sure I don't have siblings?”
It was a valid question.
His mother finished tying Sleipnir and looked at Vali with a completely not amused expression, letting his arms fall to his side. “I would know if I had been pregnant more than once, don't you think? And I'm telling you it is highly unlikely that I've sired any children. Now, stop.”
Vali fidgeted. “But, mom, about you… and a horse…”
Realization dawned on his mother's face, soon turning into a glare. “I swear to you, Vali, I'm going to kill y-"
“It was a woman, actually. Her name's Darcy.”
His mother gaped. “You can't believe that story. I thought I taught you better.” Vali's cheeks turned pink, but he just had to check. “The horse is older than me!”
Vali's head snapped to where Sleipnir was stomping his hooves and back to his mother. Really? How does that work? “You're pretty old, though,” he said.
“Vali! I am not old,” his mother protested.
Vali shrugged, redirecting his attention to looking for the bucket with the brushes. “When do you think uncle's coming back?”
His mother grumbled to himself. “Look, darling, I don't know. Bring that bucket over.”
Vali swung the bucket in front of him as he walked. “Do you think something happened to him? Like something serious?”
His mother rummaged in the bucket and took out the hoof pick. “He is fine, Vali. He might have…” He bit his lip.
“Might what?” Vali asked, voice rising in pitch.
“Might have been held back by a few things. That's all.” He squeezed the back of Sleipnir's left foreleg. “Up.”
“His girlfriend, for once. She must be worried for him, too, no?”
Vali watched his mother pry out dirt and manure from Sleipnir's hoof. “So you're sure he isn't seriously hurt?”
His mother scoffed. “That's absurd.”
“But how can you be sure?”
His mother hummed. “He's Thor. What could happen to him?” Vali rustled a few mounds of hay with his foot. His mother dropped Sleipnir’s hoof and turned to face him. “Quite frankly, Vali, you're wasting your time by worrying about him.”
Vali froze. “Mother, what are you saying?”
He rolled his eyes. “Thor sometimes takes a few more weeks than expected, and this might be one such case. Take it from me, who spent centuries agonizing over it.”
“Why did you stop?”
“Vali, I told you. He's Thor. What could hurt him? Just give it time.” He licked his lip. “But why are you in a hurry to leave? Surely you have realized that we must part once Thor returns.”
Vali stared. He must have misunderstood, but…“Are you… making me choose?”
One day passed and another, and Thor had yet to return. Vali had refused to sleep with Loki the day before, and Loki feared it would be the same that day, but Vali had not stopped talking to him. That was good. Loki had even hoped that they would get another extra day together, but that was extinguished when Number Twenty-Seven rushed to ruin Loki's day once more. Or what remained of it, anyway. There was no going around it. Loki and Vali had been dining in the Great Hall at Vali's insistence. Everyone heard the announcement. Everyone rushed to the throne room to greet Thor. Vali was one of the first amongst them.
Soon, Loki and Vali were standing before the throne, surrounded by courtiers and Einherjar leaving a clear path for Thor to walk. Loki gulped as Thor's eyes darted across the room, searching for something Loki couldn't understand, before landing on Vali. Thor grinned, strained, and walked forward with open arms.
She was beautiful. There was no doubt about that. It was more than that, though. She was proud, curious, fierce. A wonder. She could have been a good leader, too, if there had been an interest in leading. Or ruling. She could have been a fine queen despite her mortality. But she had something missing. It was not something Thor liked to think about. Didn't like to think about it that way. Of something missing, as if she were not her own person.
She was beautiful. But the downward curl of her lips marring her face was a stain in that beauty. Her mortality, despite how much he wanted to deny it, obstructed their path. One month of hers could be a day of his despite there being no comparison. She understood, she said, that his presence was required, that he had not planned for this. Thor could imagine Vali's whining to stay for at least a month, and how much harm could there be in Thor granting his son's request?
“We'll see,” she replied in a clipped tone before shutting the door.
It wasn't like Thor didn't miss his home, too.
It didn't take long for Vali to drag his uncle to the Great Hall, sitting down at the high table with his mother on one side and his uncle on the other. Vali had thought his uncle would celebrate with the other people first, but instead he asked if Vali had already eaten, and since Vali had been doing just that, his uncle decided to go with Vali first. His mother seemed subdued, but it was more of a feeling than anything else. In Vali's opinion, it should be him, not his mother, who was acting this way. It was his mother who chose to hide, and his mother who was just plain wrong. Vali had heard him speaking with Ingrid the night before, and his thoughts were outrageous. His uncle was incapable of threatening to kill his mother. But Vali wasn't stupid. He might have dropped many things for his mother, but Vali knew his mother was no innocent.
“What have you been doing, mongrel?”
Vali snapped back to attention, eyes focusing on his uncle's smiling face. A look from the corner of his eyes told Vali that his mother was trying to stay out of the conversation. It was disturbing to see the image of his grandfather and yet know it was his mother. Even more disturbing that when Vali discovered his mother wasn't supposed to be a he.
“I slept, drew some, visited Sleipnir… the usual.”
“No visits to the library yet?”
Vali shook his head. “Will you tell me about your mission?”
“I'm afraid not this time, Vali. It is confidential.” His uncle frowned. “The humans sure like that word.”
“What held you up? Can I know that?”
“Hmm, some new threats appeared along the way.”
Vali peeked at his mother. He seemed increasingly interested in their conversation despite himself. This was Vali's opportunity to show his mother that his uncle didn't want children, as he had promised himself he would do.
“What about Jane, uncle?”
“Jane? Jane is fine.”
How to ask, though?
“Have you thought about having children?”
Bluntly. That's how.
Squinting, his uncle looked between Vali and his mother, who was now invested in their conversation. “Yes. Now that you have abdicated, have you perhaps thought about leading a family life?”
Shifting in his chair, his uncle grunted. “What would I want children for?”
Vali hid his face from his uncle's view and mouthed Told you so to his mother, who rolled his eyes, an uncanny look in his grandfather's face. His mother pushed his chair back and rose to his feet. “I wish to retire for the night.” People began rising from their chairs, and he waved at them to sit back down.
Vali tilted his head with a frown. What did he do now?
His uncle squeezed Vali's shoulder. “What's gotten into him?”
Vali lifted his free shoulder in a half-shrug in response. Some lady inclined toward his uncle, one hand in front of her mouth, and said, “Your father no longer attends feasts, my lord.”
His uncle cleared his throat. “Well, I suppose I will be taking my leave then.”
Vali watched them leave in different directions, eyes darting between them. Who to follow? Between his mother and uncle, there was no question.
Loki sighed, one hand picking at loose threads on the chair, the other resting under his chin. The only illumination in the room was that one offered by the crackling flames of the hearth. Vali had turned in for the night awhile ago and refused to sleep with Loki once more, no matter that it was their last night together. He had insisted that he was too old for that, which Loki supposed was true, but what did it matter?
What did it matter?
Thor had no interest in having more children, after all. Why did it matter? There went Loki's hopes, flushed down the drain. Considering Jane's short lifespan, Loki had hoped that she would soon bear Thor a child, preferably a son. Then, Thor would have doted on that child, pushing Vali aside. It would break Vali. Loki suspected that he would be broken too, somehow, but they would have pulled through. The throne would continue to be Vali's, for once. If the people preferred Loki over a mortal woman, then surely they would also prefer his son over any children Thor produced with said mortal. Vali should have learnt years ago that Thor's life was separate from theirs. Vali wouldn't suffer as much. But if this was what Loki needed to regain custody of his son, then so be it.
Why did it matter?
Thor did not want more children.
“Where are you going?” Loki asked, voice barely above a whisper, but it made Vali jump.
“What are you doing?” Vali countered.
Loki looked at him from the corner of his eyes. “Making sure you don't run off into the night, apparently.”
Vali's face blushed. “I'm going to my uncle's chambers.”
Loki raised an eyebrow. “Are you aware that he must be snoring in his sleep by now?”
Vali nodded, rubbing his shoulder. Loki averted his gaze. “Well, can I go?”
“Tsk, I don't think you had any plans to ask me. ”
Footsteps. A door clicking shut. Not Vali's. Tears prickled at Loki's eyes. Where had he gone wrong? Loki bit his lip, hand pulling at the thread with renewed insistence. He imagined Vali walking through the path he had taken so many times before, body pressed against the wall, taking a few corners, the hissing wind.
Loki raced after his son.
The palace corridors were just like Loki remembered. Cold, desolate, windy, in a way. Thor's door even creaked like it had done all those centuries ago. Strange thoughts for someone who was risking everything by asking his son to at least move over. So difficult.
Vali grunted, moving closer to Thor. “What are you doing here, anyway?”
Dumbly, Loki mumbled, “I was cold.” Loki slapped his forehead. What kind of answer was that?
“What happens if he sees you?”
“I'll leave before he wakes,” Loki whispered. Soon, hands were reaching out to drag him down into the bed.
One thing Thor had in common with his son was that he, too, dreamt of Loki. Thor had not conferred that to Vali, for it was possible that he might inquire about Thor's dream, and Thor's dreams were not always innocent. Thor would dare say that sometimes they were nightmares, times when he awoke to his hammering heart and the feel of bloodied alabaster skin under his hands fresh in his memory. But Thor was never aware that they were dreams. At least not until he saw a brunette woman next to him instead of his raven-haired brother, or until he found himself alone with only his son to keep him company. It was not only strange that Thor was aware of dreaming, but that his dreams were never as peaceful as this one.
It was one Asgardian morning, the sun pestering his sleep from where it had full entry at the windows that Thor always neglected to cover. It bothered Loki, it always did. Perhaps that was why they ended in Loki's chambers more often than not, where even if one of them forgot to pull the curtains closed, the sun would not pierce their eyelids, for Loki's chambers faced the other direction. Thor could not remember having such thoughts in a dream before, didn't seem like the type of things one would think about in a dream. His mind was taken off the peculiarity by the rustling of the sheets. Loki was trying to burrow deeper into the bed, to pull the sheets over his head, but most of it was held back by Vali rolled into a cocoon. Thor realized he didn't have any portion of the quilt, was left to the chilly breeze of the night by himself, but Vali… that was another peculiarity.
Loki sighed in defeat, lashes fluttering, and Thor chuckled, moving to close the curtains before returning to the bed. Thor kissed Vali's mop of black hair, then moved to his brother. He brushed a thumb over the line between Loki's brows, kissed his forehead, the curve of an eyebrow, the corner of a cheekbone. Loki's lashes continued to flutter before giving way to emerald irises, ones that weren't glazed by upcoming death. Loki's chest rose and fell with rapid breaths while Thor held his. Thor caressed Loki's cheek. “I love you,” he breathed out. Thor never got the chance to say that to his brother, not truly, but at least the Loki of this dream would know. Like so many before him.
Loki's eyes widened. He placed a hand over Thor's, whispering, “Go back to sleep, love.” Thor nodded, obeying his brother's command. “Careful. Don't squish your son.”
This was by far the strangest dream Thor had ever had. Thor hadn't even known one could dream of dreaming. The next time Thor pried his eyes open, his bed was deserted, and the quilt previously being disputed between mother and son carefully laid over him.
I love you. What did that mean? What was Loki supposed to think of it? That Loki had one chance to run, was that it? No, Loki was probably overthinking it. Thor acted on impulse. If Thor had planned to act on his threat, he wouldn't have gone back to sleep like Loki had asked him, but that was hoping for too much. That was not to say that waking like this couldn't be enjoyable, Loki could get used to it, but it had only happened because both he and Thor had slacked. Loki should have left hours ago.
“Vali, it's time to wake up, darling. Time to go.”
“No, it's too early,” Vali mumbled, burrowing deeper into the quilts.
“We have things to do, Vali. You know how it works. I can't let you sleep with your uncle if you refuse to get out of bed in the morning.”
Vali groaned. “But you slept here, too.”
Loki clicked his tongue. “Now, now, darling. We don't want to wake your uncle, do we? He needs his rest.”
Vali grumbled and struggled to disentangle himself from the sheets to reveal his face distorted by a grimace. He continued to grumble as he stumbled to the threshold, where he looked back and asked, “Aren't you coming?”
Loki scrutinized Thor. “Go ahead. I have some things to do first.”
Vali perked up. “So you're going to tell him?”
Loki frowned. “No! Who do you think I am? I plan to draw on him.”
“Can I do that too?”
A look was all Vali needed to shut the door with one final grumble. Loki sat on his side of the bed for a few minutes, thinking about nothing and everything, before giving in to the impulse. He laid next to Thor and leaned up on an elbow. “You dumb lump.” He licked along Thor's earlobe, causing Thor to give a contented sigh before pulling Loki closer to him on instinct. Loki pulled at Thor's beard. “Only awake when it suits you. But let it not be said that I can't be affectionate.” Loki planted a kiss at the corner of Thor's mouth, pulling away slowly. Then, Loki began the arduous process of extracting himself from Thor's arms, pulling the quilt along with him to fold it and spread it over Thor.
At least in moments like this, Loki could convince himself that he was needed.
If it was said that Odin acted strange at breakfast, then it would be true. Loki couldn't stop peeking at Thor, waiting for Thor to call him out on his act. But Thor didn't. In fact, Thor behaved as if he truly were oblivious to the whispers around him, and Loki knew the people were whispering. Before Loki set out to breakfast, Ingrid warned him that he had been seen entering Thor's chambers, that the corridors were not as desolate as he had thought, that the people who knew were “hoping,” and a lot of people must know by now. But “hoping” for what, exactly?
Thor might have abdicated, but the people weren't ready to accept it. There were the optimists who thought Thor would agree to assume the throne once he knew it was Loki who now occupied it, and the optimistic women who thought Loki would bear Thor enough children to make a hearty household (the fact that it was Loki, a man, carrying the children didn't matter if it meant they would be provided with jobs, especially if said job included caring for the children of the Mighty Thor, as if Loki couldn't do it himself because he was, well, a man). There were the optimists who thought Thor would leave his delusion with the mortal for the mother of his heir, and the optimist women who thought they would finally witness a royal wedding (over Loki's dead body). And then, there were the old farts who couldn't wait to see Loki be put in his place, wherever they thought that was, the ones who didn't believe Ingrid's story that Odin was in the Odinsleep, and Loki temporarily stepping up for him. Good for them.
But next, there was the fact that many had heard Thor say that he didn't want more children, and, apparently, Loki wasn't the only one who had been counting on Thor reproducing. As a matter of fact, three groups of people had approached the high table, with some difficulty, might Loki add, to beg Thor to reconsider his position before Thor dragged them away to where Loki couldn't hear.
Loki had never felt more humiliated in his life. He knew what those people were truly asking for, and it was more humiliating than when he discovered his parents knew his brother had been fucking him silly for centuries.
Even so, there was no assurance that they asked Thor what Loki thought they asked him. After all, Loki was at a loss as to how his life became this. Why did Thor care if someone, meaning Loki, heard their conversation? Perhaps Thor was not as oblivious as Loki thought. The slump to Thor's shoulders had to mean that something was troubling him, but Loki feared he didn't know Thor as he once had. Case in point, that morning's encounter. Loki could ask those people how their conversation went, but he didn't plan to fuel whatever ideas occurred in their twisted heads. Loki would just die of curiosity.
It would have been a waste of Loki's time, for Thor sought him out on his own.
Loki had been standing at a balcony facing the training ground, watching the progress of the nobles with Odin's ravens perched on his shoulders. They seemed to know their master was in a fine state, perhaps sighted him a couple of times, who knew at this point? Banning tournaments had brought a mountain of complains to Loki, but it was by far one of the best decisions he'd ever made. Never before had Loki seen someone fall sprawled on their ass so many times in a single day. It got even better when that someone began shouting at the Einherjar before stomping out of the training ground. The only downside to Loki's pastime was that Odin could not be seen cackling at his court from a balcony. But Loki supposed it would be ungainly of him, too, as Vali expressed when Loki rushed out at the news of a noble at the training ground.
“When I was told tournaments were banned, I didn't dare believe it.” Loki's watched Huginn and Muninn fly away at the sound of Thor's voice with a sorrowful expression. “They never liked me much,” Thor said in regards to the ravens.
Loki gave a little nod of agreement. “There are some traditions better left in the past. Agrarian families are no longer pushed for their harvest, merchants have acquiesced to trade with other realms, and the Einherjar have held feasts of their own to celebrate the end of arranged fights.”
Thor rested his elbows on the balcony's ledge. “Loki always did say they were letting me win. He would have enjoyed this.” Loki glanced at Thor, but Thor was focused on the spars below them. “I had the strangest conversation after breakfast.”
Is that so? Loki wanted to ask, but Thor would speak soon enough on his own. Thor didn't disappoint.
“They were women mostly, searching to know why I don't want children.”
“A man's family is part of his pride, Thor. I don't see why you wouldn't want one now that you don't have duties toward the throne.”
Thor sighed. “I do want children other than Vali, father, but the one who can give them to me is dead.” Is that so? “You were right, by the way. Jane's life is too short lived.” Right. Why else would Thor want to have children with Loki? Well, in case Thor had forgotten, Sif was always available. “Furthermore, I don't believe that Vali would be amicable to having siblings by me.” Oh, yes, Vali wasn't ready to drop that yet. Children. “I still can't believe I missed Vali's infancy. Or Loki's pregnancy, for that matter.”
Loki gave Thor a sharp look. He couldn't help it. Had Thor always confided in Odin? Loki supposed it made sense, but had he? Loki couldn't remember.
Thor's posture hunched. “No, I suppose you wouldn't have anything to say to that. Loki was very good at holding grudges, calling him a whore is one of my biggest regrets. I miss him.” Thor squared his shoulders. “He really was one, though.”
“I don't think I believe in ghosts. Do we have that here?” Thor continued. “I can't imagine Loki being a ghost. That's what the conversation was about. The people asked me why I didn't want to have more children with my brother. Strange, wouldn't you say? It wasn't the mocking you would expect from that kind of question, either.”
“Priorities change,” Loki replied.
Thor shrugged. “But the strangest thing is that they assured me that Loki has being parading around the palace when I told them my brother is dead.” Parading? They couldn't have used that word. “And that's not the only thing, father. I could have sworn that I saw Loki this morning, and the snake told me to go back to sleep, which I did, just so you know.” Thor rubbed his beard. “Loki was a very irksome brother, come to think of it.” Not like you, I wasn't. “He had this thing where he pulled my beard and pinched my skin. Very irksome.” And you chased me until I ate a mountain of food! Thor nodded for a moment before shaking his head. “No, no, the strangest thing is that when I was walking here, I heard Vali complaining about Loki waking him up too early this morning. What say you, father?”
Loki raised a brow. “Are you quite done?”
Thor pulled at his vambrace after giving Loki a once-over. “I could start again if you would like.”
“Is this your chosen method of torture?”
“You would know more about that, would you not?” Loki sighed as he resumed his usual appearance, to which Thor nodded approvingly. “Would you mind stop telling our son that I'm going to kill you?”
Loki raked a hand through his hair. “That depends on what you have in mind. A public or private execution?”
Thor scowled. “I have thought about faking my death, but I fear I would disappoint you, for it would not be as skillful as yours. Moreover, Vali would be the only one who cared, which would make it a further waste of my time."
Loki scoffed. “Thor, you can't possibly think I will go back in that cell.”
Thor's eyes bore into Loki. “I want you to know that I'm very mad, brother, but I'm trying to stay calm for Vali. Your son, in case you forgot you had one again.”
Loki glared. “I have never-"
“‘What makes you think I want to be held back by your get?’” Thor said in an imitation of Loki's voice. Loki clenched his fists by his side. “Ah, I see you remember. Well, then, how about I put this-" Thor showed Loki a pair of handcuffs Loki hadn't noticed Thor had with him “- around your wrists, you tell me how you managed to sway almost two thirds of Asgard to your side, and, finally, you show me where father is?”
Loki thrust out his arms and watched, expressionless, as the cold metal of the handcuffs encased his wrists with a delicacy of which Loki had believed Thor incapable. Loki inhaled deeply and exhaled sharply as Thor cradled his neck with one hand and held him by the waist with the other. Thor kissed Loki's cheek, slowly making a path down to his neck. “Tell me to stop,” he whispered.
Loki licked a tear that had been travelling down Thor's cheek, the salty taste sending a thrill of pleasure through his body. “No, I believe you are giving the people a good show.”
Thor's chest rumbled with laughter. “Am I giving you a good show?” Loki let out a shaky breath and pressed his forehead against Thor's before Thor moved back to hold Loki at arm's length, expression serious again. “I love you, Loki. Perhaps more than I should. I mean that. Please don't disappoint me.”
From now on, this is me giving up. Thank you.
Thor knew that walking Loki handcuffed through the palace was not a wise decision, especially since his brother had miraculously come to an agreement with just about everyone, but it would give the people something to focus on other than their display of affection at the balcony in front of the Einherjar. Thor didn't know if he should count it as a blessing or be alarmed that Loki didn't seem troubled by his situation, or more accurately, that Loki smiled at people when they asked him for directions as if their prince were not handcuffed, people who didn't bat an eye at the fact that Loki was alive. Was Thor the only one that didn't know, that Loki had not planned to tell? And since when were the people passionate about Loki? It was making Thor's skin crawl.
What in the Nine had transpired in Thor's absence?
What Thor had neglected to tell his brother was that he had spoken with Ingrid before going to him. According to her, Loki didn't put effort in keeping his cover as their father, often joking about being killed. Thor could see why she was worried. It was a bit troubling. The point proved when Loki bumped Thor's shoulder to get his attention and asked, “A private execution, I take it?” upon realizing they were headed to Thor's chambers, calm as he pleased.
Thor sighed. “Please tell me you don't speak like that in front of Vali.”
Loki gave him a curious look. “I don't know what you are talking about.”
Thor gritted his teeth and gripped Loki's elbow to make him walk faster. Loki didn't protest. Nor did Loki protest when Thor pushed him inside his sitting room and into the space between his open legs instead of offering a chair. Thor wrapped his arms around Loki's waist and pressed one ear against his chest, listening to his heartbeat, taking everything Loki would allow.
“Taking comfort before handing out punishment, hmm?” Loki teased.
Thor chuckled. “Funny you mention that.” He shifted his head to look up into Loki's angular face. “You are cruel, brother. You scurried into my bed with every intention to leave me believing you dead.” Thor paled at the thought. Would he still have Loki in his arms if he had woken some minutes later? Probably not. Thor wouldn't have believed the rumors. Loki looked back with a blank stare, and Thor reclined back in his chair to play with Loki's long fingers. His brother might think Thor took pleasure in their situation, but nothing pained Thor like seeing Loki chained. “You know I no longer have the right. A duty, perhaps, but it is not my place.” Thor groaned. “I should have known it was you. Father wouldn't have allowed me to leave.”
Loki scoffed, tugging his hands away from Thor's. “Not your place? Then whose is it? Father's? If you haven't noticed, he is not around at the moment.”
Thor gripped his knees, hunching his shoulders. Although he didn't believe Loki had harmed their father, whatever it actually had been, their father must be seething. In a way, Thor knew he was responsible for it. “I don't want it to be father.”
Loki gaped. “The humans? Seriously?”
Thor shook his head. No, not the humans. They would be less merciful than their father. But how willing could their father be to let go Loki's latest deed? And Loki's natural unwillingness to go back....Would Vali understand why he was being separated from his mother after just being reunited? Could Loki forgive Thor for it? The idea was beyond absurd.
Thor froze on the spot at Loki's weight on his lap, legs bracketing his waist, hands keeping their stares locked. “What do you want, Thor?” Leave it to Loki to do everything to make him uncomfortable, Thor thought. Loki's analyzing gaze, and the fact that it was unavoidable, was not helping the matter. Thor could shift away from it, of course, but that would involve losing the contact of his brother's hands framing his face. The little chain threatening to dig into his skin barely kept Thor grounded on the moment as his eyes shone with fresh tears.
“I want us to be a family.”
In another time, less than a decade ago, Thor would have mistaken Loki's expression for fondness. Now, Thor knew it meant Loki thought him the most idiotic creature in existence.
“You know that is not possible.”
“You hate me,” Thor stated in monotone.
Loki bit his lip. “I don't… hate you.”
“Loathe me, then.”
“No, that's not it.”
Loki sighed. “I've been by myself for over a year now. I had time to think. Not being locked away in a prison cell helped me get over a few things.”
“Such as?” Thor prompted cautiously.
“If I weren't a Jötunn, I wouldn't have Vali. Mostly, that means I'm not as disgusted with myself as I was before. I realized Odin-" Loki cut himself off and rolled his eyes at Thor's look. “Fine, have it your way. Father was ashamed of using his seiðr in front of the court, which is humbling, I suppose. Upon revaluation, my memories of him are not that terrible, either.”
Loki looked heavenward, as if it pained him to admit it. “Permitting me to stay despite Vali being a bastard was helpful. He never called Vali a bastard, come to think of it. At least not in front of me. And he didn't plan to send Vali away, did he?”
“No. That one was completely inside your head.”
Loki glared. “Well, you can't blame a mother for being protective.”
“Overprotective,” Thor mumbled.
Loki pinched Thor's arm. “It had solid foundations.”
Thor's heart plummeted. Loki was doing it again. Giving Thor hope just to rip it away. Strained, Thor asked, “About what else have you thought?”
The skin around Loki's eyes bunched. “Having the palace to myself was… depressing, to be honest. I experienced what you must have felt when I didn't allow you to see Vali when he was a babe. I yearned for my son and…”
Thor's pulse speeded up. “And?”
Loki's lips pressed into a thin line. “I'm sorry.”
And there it was. Loki tearing away Thor's hope, perhaps delighting in the desolation crossing his face. What good was an apology? What was the apology even for? For abandoning Vali, for chasing delusions of grandiose instead of coming back to his family, for tricking Thor, for what? What did it say about Thor if he wished the apology was for not missing him?
“That doesn't explain why you don't hate me anymore.”
“Oh, I do hate you.” Thor's fingers dug into Loki's hips. He hadn't noticed when his hands moved there. “But only when I stop to think about it.”
Thor swallowed. “I don't know what that means.”
“Vali was worried about you. He feared you were injured. I used to worry like that, too.”
“If you are going to change the topic, you might as well take me to father.”
Loki eyed Thor warily. “Do you know how much I worried when a few days quest turned into weeks?”
“Brother, I don't follow."
“I didn't want to tell you I was pregnant because I knew you would deny me, but can you imagine my fear that you would never know I was carrying your child because you got yourself killed?”
“I was nervous that night. I was afraid, but I-" Loki thrust a finger into Thor's chest “-hoped. And remind me, what did you do with that?”
“Doesn't matter. While I was told my child would inherit nothing, you were told the truth, but I was left in the dark. You knew. You called Vali ‘mongrel,’ and I never understood why, but as a matter of fact, he is a mongrel. Did I not deserve to know that?”
“Loki, you know I don't mean anything by it. I love Vali as much as you do.” Loki shook his head. “No, listen. I missed everything. Vali's first steps, first word, first tooth, just… everything. I mourned you. Twice. I have hurt, too.” Thor cleared his throat. “But this is something you should take to father.”
Loki nodded with a sigh. “It is difficult to hate you when Vali asks after you all the time.” He chuckled. “And in the end, he is the next in line for the throne.”
“What if Vali does not want the throne?”
Loki shrugged. “Then Asgard’s future monarch won't be part of Búri's direct bloodline. But that is something you should ask father.”
Thor gave an exaggerated sigh and tried to push Loki off of him. His brother didn't budge. The snake knew Thor's legs were falling asleep. Thor didn't doubt it. “So how did you persuade people to your side?”
“Ah, yes. I was wondering when you would ask that.”
Now that the wait was over, it was as if a weight Loki didn't know he had been carrying was lifted from his shoulders. It was stranger than the time Loki found that being chained could be gratifying. This time was no different. Loki had no regrets about being discovered. After all, it had always been a game and a matter of time before Thor found out. Or before someone told Thor. Or both. This way, Loki wouldn't need to worry about Vali feeling guilty for keeping his being alive from Thor, nor wonder how things could have turned out if Thor hadn't gone back to sleep. It wasn't fear that coursed through Loki's body when he thought of the trials ahead, but more of a thrill of excitement. Bordering on fear, true, but not quite. That would change the moment Loki remembered that Thor was taking Vali away from him.
So far, Loki had not told a lie. At the moment, he did not feel hatred for the father of his child nor any particularly strong desire to see him bleed. Perhaps in an hour or two, but not at the moment. Loki couldn't deny that thinking of them as a “family” was temping. More than it should be. It sounded like an offer; it was meant to be tempting. Waking in the same bed as Thor with their child, a sign of their joining, of Thor choosing Loki above everyone else, between them was alluring. But nothing was ever so innocent. If Loki took Thor's offer, because Loki was sure it was an offer, then perhaps his sentence would be lessened, looser. Loki might be able to stay with his son.
But Loki was getting ahead of himself. Thor could want Loki back as his brother, but truth be told, Loki didn't regret not being Thor's brother. It meant he had not produced a child with his brother after all and that was reassuring. It meant Loki could now say he was an unlucky lad without thinking that Vali being born without deformities was lucky enough. Moreover, Thor had relinquished his claim over Loki, leaving him bare before Odin's mercy, which Loki imagined was non-existent after his latest stunt. Thor had no plans to return to Asgard. He had his girlfriend and wanted Loki only as a brother, but that was not what Loki wanted.
In a few hours, all this would look rather silly, anyway. Perhaps Loki wouldn't be executed, but he would be imprisoned, and Vali would think he had been abandoned once more. At first, Loki would be heartbroken. Then, he would be enraged. Loki would not try to prevent his memories from becoming tainted, he would encourage it. Loki would think about how much had been taken from him, would scrub his mind raw with the desire to take back, would actively hate Thor. It was a matter of time before the fire was rekindled.
“Brother? The longer you take to answer, the less willing I will be to believe you,” Thor said, snapping Loki from his thoughts.
“I know not.”
Thor sighed and renewed his attempts to remove Loki from his lap. If Thor truly wanted Loki gone, then Loki would be sprawling on the floor. He didn't voice the thought; he didn't resist.
Loki swiped his hand over a few wrinkles in his clothes and said, “I'm afraid that's a question better suited for Ingrid.” He could answer it, but it would be based on assumptions. Mostly.
“Ingrid?” Thor asked in disbelief.
“Do you expect me to believe this was not a trick of your own design?”
“Oh, no. That's where the fun is. You can believe whatever soothes your mind.”
Thor frowned. He was displeased. Was this what he had meant when he told Loki not to disappoint him? If so, Loki was excelling at it.
“What have you done with your time then?” Thor asked.
Were they back with the personal questions? Well…
“Banned tournaments, heard the people's petitions, assisted council meetings, and wondered what went wrong with my life.” Thor's eyebrows climbed up his forehead. “It was Ingrid's idea to work on my public image. She did it without my permission. I know not her means nor her reasons, but I can tell you that not all are as happy as you think.” Loki paused to take a breath. Thor would not like what he was about to say. “They tolerate me because they don't want a mortal to contaminate Odin's bloodline.
Thor mumbled, “They won't have to worry anymore.”
Fidgeting, Loki allowed himself a few seconds of puzzlement before continuing. “Ingrid said the loyalty that belonged to mother is mine now.” Thor raised his head, frown firmly in place. Loki clarified, “I'm the mother of Vali, the one you named as heir. He is not any bastard, not just mine. He is yours, and, as you can imagine, it counts for something. People want legitimacy, and, if we were to marry, they could pretend.”
Thor laughed. There was something wrong with it, something Loki couldn't quite put his finger on. “And you haven't cursed them yet? Told them they are wasting their time?”
There was something wrong with Loki, too. There was a pit in his stomach, and it couldn't be described as anything other than wrong. “I told Ingrid. She didn't seem to mind.” Thor muttered under his breath. Loki wasn't sure what he had expected. Loki didn't know he had been expecting Thor to say something until Thor jumped to his feet and began pulling him by the elbow. “Thor, wait. What about Vali?”
Thor paused but did not look back. “Where did you sent father?”
Loki struggled to swallow, mouth gone dry. Would Thor not allow him to see Vali one last time? “To Midgard. To a nursing home. His memories were suppressed. Whether or not he has broken the spell, I am unsure.” For a moment, Loki feared Thor would keep on walking, wouldn't care how Vali would feel if Loki left again, even if unwillingly, but the next thing Loki actually knew, he was being pressed against Thor's chest. The embrace was suffocating, forcing the air out of Loki's lungs, not tender like the brief ones Thor offered earlier. Loki's pulse raced with each second he was denied a look into Thor's thoughts.
“What will you do if I remove the cuffs?” Thor asked.
“Are you stupid?” Loki retorted, breath escaping in a rush.
Thor's arms tightened. “Please. Vali can't see you chained.”
“You truly are delusional,” Loki whispered in amazement. Could it be that easy even though Loki had not told Thor much, bordering on nothing?
Thor pushed him away and gripped Loki's forearm, just above his chained wrists. Loki would bruise if Thor gripped him any tighter. “I would rather hunt you down than watch you turn my son against me, but please, Loki, if you intend on leaving, don't abandon your son. Take Vali with you if you must, for I cannot bear to see him cry for you again. But know this: I will find you.”
“You are so dramatic,” Loki muttered as he observed Thor, who eyed him warily, remove the cuffs. Ugh, when did Thor become so sentimental?
The cuffs clanked to the floor.
Thor clasped his hands on Loki's cheeks and leaned forward to say -no, warn- “Last chance, brother.”
Then they were in luck. Loki was not in the mood to push Thor's buttons. Perhaps a little, though. Loki needed his fun; Loki needed to know. Did Thor want him back as a brother or a lover? Loki ran his tongue over his lips. What would Thor do if Loki locked their lips together? Push him away or accept him? It would get rid of Thor's puppy eyes, that was for sure, and of Loki's curiosity. It might even earn him a good hard shove that would send him crashing to the floor.
It was a shame, then, that Vali chose the moment Loki had built his resolve to barge into the room asking, “Mother?” The door banging against the wall had Thor suffocating Loki against him and angling his body away from doorway as if to say mine while Ingrid tried to shoo Vali outside. Loki supposed it was difficult to forget the workings of centuries. Or rather, he knew.