- Text Size +

Story Notes:

I know it's been a while since I updated this series, so if you need a refresher, here is a calendar of events of everything that has taken place since Ragnarok. I hope you enjoy this story--and don't worry, this isn't the end! There is still a lot more story to be told. HJB

“You’re looking better, your highness.”

Loki drags his eyes away from the flight manual he’s reading to see Brunnhilde sit down across from him with her breakfast tray.

“Thank you for noticing,” he says. “It doesn’t make me at all self-conscious. Really.”

Brunnhilde gives him an unimpressed look and stirs her bowl of instant porridge.

It’s early, and the cafeteria on A Deck is not yet crowded as it will be in another hour. Right now there is only a scattering of elderly Asgardians and young insomniacs to be seen among the tables. The smell of rehydrated grains and the bitter, nutty aroma of the slag known as Sakaarian Medium Roast Coffee wafts through the large, brightly-lit room.

Loki has already finished his meal and is attempting to do the same with the chapter on the ship’s auto-navigation system. It’s not the most thrilling reading material—no, far from it—but the familiar weight of a book in his hand helps settle the emotional discomfort he’s been wrestling with ever since this voyage began. He turns his eyes back to the text, hoping the Valkyrie will say nothing further.

For a while she doesn’t. She sprinkles a flavor packet onto her unappetizing-looking cereal, stirs it some more, and digs in. As she eats she studies the tray sitting at Loki’s elbow: a porridge bowl that has been scraped clean. Two torn vita-pack wrappers. Four empty cartons of milk, partially crumpled. Loki is working on the fifth one, sucking its contents through a narrow straw as his eyes drift back and forth across the page. He isn’t wearing his usual form-fitting green tunic; it’s been replaced with a loose, comfortable linen shirt. His trousers are also unfamiliar, a baggy pair of dull-colored things that don’t quite match his green and black jerkin, the latter being the only familiar article of clothing on him today.

Brunnhilde quietly absorbs and reflects upon these details, gulping her juice straight from the carton and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “When my sister Björna was pregnant with her first child, she craved milk, too.”

Loki goes absolutely still. He lifts his gaze over the edge of the manual. “I beg your pardon.”

Brunnhilde continues to eat her breakfast as though she’s said nothing out of the ordinary. “Her next child, though, she craved fruit. That one was a boy. Or was it a girl? I can never remember. But Björna swore the old tales about cravings determining the baby’s sex were true. I never believed it. It’s a lot of superstitious shit anyway. Every pregnancy is different.”

Loki narrows his eyes and blinks, feigning confusion. “I’m… sorry, why are you telling me all this again?”

She tilts her head and gives him a half-lidded glare. Loki breaks into a broad white grin, though the illusion of its amusement doesn’t quite reach his nervous eyes.

“Oh my, you. You think I’m pregnant?” He laughs a little too forcefully. “My dear Valkyrie, you’re either a hopeless fool or utterly deranged, though I suspect you may be a little of both. I am a man, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“You’re also a sorcerer.”

“And you think I would waste my precious powers on such a painful, gruesome undertaking as childbearing?” He tilts his head, one of his eyes almost winking with amusement. “Really, now.”

She shrugs. “Some people find it worth it. My sister certainly did. She was expecting her fifth when she and her husband emigrated to Vanaheim.”

“Bully for her. I’m sure she and I would have got on terrifically. I’ve always thought backaches and morning sickness and swollen ankles were the most splendid things.” Loki shakes his head and goes back to his book. “A pregnant, shape-shifting sorcerer-prince. Do you have any idea how absurd that sounds?”

“Sure. Almost as absurd as twenty percent of this ship’s passengers being pregnant is.”

The grin drops from Loki’s mouth as he raises his eyes again.

Brunnhilde pushes her tray aside and leans across the table. “I know, it makes no sense,” she mutters. “Your brother has more raw energy in one of his hands than I do in my whole fucking body, but that doesn’t mean I’m totally useless, nor does it mean I’m absolved from my responsibilities to protect the throne and the royal family. It’s my job. It’s what I trained for all my life, and if there are any special cases or new faces appearing in that family, I need to know so I can adjust my defenses accordingly.”

“You have completely lost your mind if you actually think I am pregnant.”

“I know you are. And I know whose it is.”

Loki goes from abject denial to barely contained fury in approximately half a second. “You are treading on very thin ice, Valkyrie, so choose your next words carefully.”

Brunnhilde is unfazed. “Relax. I know he’s not really your brother. You’re not even Asgardian, are you? Where are you from originally? Vanaheim? Alfheim? One of the outer realms?”

A poisonous scowl is Loki’s only answer.

“You’re right. It doesn’t matter. He’s the king, you’re the prince, and what you do behind closed doors is none of my business. But it is my business to protect this ship, your brother, you, and any heirs that may be arriving in the future.”

“Oh, is it really? My my, that’s a tremendously noble attitude you’ve adopted, Hilde. Whatever became of the nihilistic drunkard I met on Sakaar, I wonder?”

“I wonder the same about the ruthless, backstabbing cunt I met on Sakaar, but I suppose we’ll never know.”

For a few moments the two glare at each other across the table. Then Brunnhilde twists her mouth into a frown and pulls her tray back in front of her. “Fine, fuck it. Do what you want. Serves me right for trying to be civil to such a prickly, rotten person as you.”

Loki’s anxiety-fueled anger dies down to a smolder as he watches her pick up her spoon and resume shoveling the bland, pasty oatmeal into her mouth. His heart unexpectedly begins to soften.

He recalls the last time he and Brunnhilde spoke plainly to one another: the incident with the malfunctioning ion drive in the engine room two and a half months ago. He remembers her tenacity and dedication to fixing the problem, her frustration, her fear of stranding them all in the middle of space. It’s no different than what Thor and the rest of the council are doing: pulling in tandem, striving toward a common goal, doing the best with what they’ve been dealt, making do, sacrificing, helping each other, seeing to the needs of their people. Brunnhilde didn’t ask for this, to become a ventilation technician, a weapons advisor, a flight engineer, a bodyguard, a custodian, or the dozens of other hats she now wears. None of them did. But she accepted the burden of her responsibilities without complaint, understanding that they must be done if they hoped to survive.

Loki is suddenly very aware of how little he has contributed since this journey began, and a creeping sense of guilt is what ultimately compels him to say something.

He shuts the manual and lays it aside with a sigh. “I apologize. I’ve not been having the best of days so far. I’m afraid it’s just...” His face pinches with discomfort. “Between sharing a bed with the god of slumber and this morning’s four o’clock vomit blitz, I’m not feeling very sociable right now. Surely you can sympathize even if you can’t understand.”

Brunnhilde goes still and looks up at him. “I sympathize.” She smiles faintly. “How far along are you?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Are you seeing a healer?”

“I will today.”

“You haven’t been to one yet?”

“I saw Doctor Banner two months ago and it wasn’t exactly the pleasantest of experiences,” he says, a vague note of annoyance in his voice. “In fact, things have been rather unbearable for me lately and I’ve only just begun to pull myself back together in the last week, so if we could postpone this interrogation until next Wednesday, I would be very appreciative.” He punctuates with an acidic smile.

Brunnhilde shifts in her seat. “Sorry. It’s just you’ve been looking… well, we’ve all been concerned.”


“The court. Me, Korg, Bruce. Heimdall doesn’t say much, but he doesn’t have to. And Thor, gods! He’s looked fucking awful. I don’t know what was going on between you two, but I hope it’s over.”

Loki takes a slow breath. “I think it is.”

“Good.” Brunnhilde pulls her lips into an awkward smile.

Loki returns it with equal awkwardness.

“So,” she says, stirring her porridge again, “will you be joining us for the assembly this morning?”

“It’s the only reason I crawled out of bed.” Loki pauses before adding, “Aside from the urge to throw up. But I was planning on attending anyway, so...” He shrugs, sighs.

“Oh. Well… that’s good. I’m sure everyone will be glad to see you.”

Loki stares. “Fuck me, darling, you’re an even bigger liar than I am.”

Brunnhilde snorts and covers her mouth. Loki tries to keep a straight face and fails. A second later they’re both chuckling and chortling and doing a poor job of concealing it.

It’s a small improvement over the start of the day.

The regular members of the court aren’t happy to see Loki—not in the sense of smiling and cheering and throwing roses—but they are surprised, especially Bruce. His head swivels back and forth between Thor and Loki, a crooked, nervous grin on his unshaven face. He sidles over to Thor while everyone waits for the rest of the council to arrive.

“Loki’s here,” he whispers.

Thor looks up with a smile. “He is.”

Bruce’s face is simultaneously perplexed and happy. “Wow, this is… good. I mean, you’re actually in the same room together. And he’s looking a hell of a lot better than the last time I saw him. What happened? Did you two make up or something?”

“We had a long overdue conversation.” Thor flashes a cryptic grin.

Bruce’s eyes widen. “Yeah? Hey, that’s great. That’s a start. Communication is… really important. Opening up and talking, it’s great to be able to do that. So are things, like… okay between you guys now?”

“For the moment, yes.”

“Good, good.” Bruce nods and shoves his hands furtively into his pockets and tries to look at Loki as accidentally as he can. “Hey, listen, I don’t wanna push my luck or anything if you two just… I mean, if things are still a little ‘iffy’, y’know. The last thing anyone wants is to be poked and prodded and asked all sorts of questions after being severely depressed for the last two months, but Loki could probably stand to have an examination. That’s totally on him, though. I don’t wanna force him to do any—”

“We planned to ask if you would be available to do that after the meeting, actually.”

For a moment Bruce is stunned. “Today? Really? I mean, sure, yeah. Absolutely. That’d be fine, I can do that, no prob. I’ll… wait, we?” The smirk comes back and he ducks his head like a schoolboy passing notes in class. “You’re both coming?”

“That’s not a problem, is it?”

“Huh? No. No, it’s good, it’s fine. Just don’t… you know. Violate each other with my equipment is all I’m asking.” He wags his finger warningly. “Behave yourself.”

Thor puts his hand to his heart. “On my oath, Banner.”

“No shenanigans?”

“Not a single shenanigoat, I give you my word.”

Bruce chuckles. Then a low, smooth voice murmurs over his shoulder, “Doctor Banner,” and he jolts like a squirrel on an electric fence. He turns to see Loki staring at him coolly, if a little concernedly.

“You really should switch to decaffeinated coffee, Bruce. I think it might be helpful.”

For a moment Bruce looks like he’s about to burst into hysterical laughter, but he takes a deep breath and manages to refrain from further embarrassment. “Yeah. Yeah, good idea. I’ll take that into consideration. Thanks.”

Loki’s gaze drifts to Thor. “Did you ask him?”

“Yes. He will be able to see you after the meeting.” He pats Bruce’s shoulder. “If he’s still up to it, that is.”

Bruce waves and nods his head, incapable of communicating in anything but coughs and nervous stutters.

Loki relaxes a little. “Good.” He places his hand on the concealed bulge of his belly and stalks past them. “Then let’s get this damned thing over with.”

The meeting isn’t quite the intolerable agony Loki predicted it would be. His eyes only glaze over a couple of times, mostly during discussions about new committees and boards that were formed to address the passengers’ mental and emotional well-being, especially that of the expectant mothers. All 391 of them. He brightens up considerably when Heimdall announces that, according to their current course and calculations, they should be arriving at Midgard in roughly 65 days. An excited murmur rises from the table, smiles shared all around.

Heimdall’s golden eyes meet Loki’s briefly, and though his face doesn’t shift from its typical serene expression, Loki senses his gentle compassion quite clearly.

He puts on a tight smile and nods his thanks.

Sixty-five days. Just over nine weeks, about two months. Then they’ll be on Earth again. The thought stirs feelings of both relief and anxiety in Loki’s belly.

Oh. Wait. That’s not emotion stirring in his belly. That’s—

Loki opens his mouth and takes a slow breath inward, and presses his hand to his stomach.

That’s the baby. His child. His and Thor’s son. It’s the first time Loki has ever felt him move. It’s a fluttery sensation, light and insistent, like large bubbles popping deep inside him.

He suddenly recalls one of the first ever transmutations his mother taught him: liquid into air, in the form of bubbles. It took him several tries but eventually he emptied the entire basin of special practice water and filled the hall with bubbles. Small ones, giant ones, interconnected ones, all rolling lazily through the air, ready to move at Loki’s command.

Thor had been studying in a nearby room as this was going on. He glanced out the door and into the corridor, let out a whoop, and bolted from his desk. After marvelling at the hundreds of bubbles summoned by his little brother, he began popping as many as he could.

Loki had screamed at him to stop—he hadn’t, of course—and then Frigga whispered a suggestion in his ear. Loki grinned wickedly. A moment later a cloud of bubbles overtook Thor like a swarm of bees, mobbing him, popping against his squawking face in effective retaliation.

That same thing feels like it’s happening inside him now.

Loki’s vision abruptly begins to blur. His throat tightens into a knot. Heat rises to his face and congestion follows. He presses his lips between his teeth, trying to keep himself together.

How he misses those innocent, ignorant, happy days. He misses his mother. He misses Asgard, the palace halls, the library, his bedroom. Hundreds of years of memories, familiar smells, textures, tastes. Those things are all gone now, turned to ash, with no evidence of their existence but what few items he has in his possession. His child will grow up knowing nothing of his parents’ home, nothing of his grandparents except what he and Thor can tell him.

Perhaps it’s for the best, Loki thinks morosely. Asgard was built on lies, secrets, undeserved valor. Easier to let it burn. Start over. It’s what they’re doing now, isn’t it? No choice but to keep moving forward.

But it was still home.

He sniffs and raises his head and discovers Thor staring at him concernedly. Are you alright? he seems to ask.

Loki nods and shifts in his seat, blinks a few times to clear his eyes. The bubbling sensation continues, though he can’t feel anything beneath his hand. The movements are deep and secret, known only to him.

He wonders if the baby will arrive before they reach Earth. He wonders what will happen once they reach Earth. He will surely be recognized. Every human knows his face, is aware of his crimes. With no magic or illusions to veil himself, he will have to find some other way to escape notice. Maybe he could employ a temporary disguise until his magic returns. Perhaps he will have to go into hiding.

Another thought occurs to him, one that thrusts a cold dagger through his heart:

That his child, this oblivious little thing growing inside him, will be just as hated and despised as his mother. And why not? The fruit is as cursed as the tree from which it falls, isn’t it? He can see the angry throngs now, armed with signs and torches. Candles lit in memory of dead loved ones. Tears on hostile, twisted faces. Burning effigies of horned helmets and green cloaks. Thousands of voices chanting justice, justice for those slain at the cruel hand of Loki the Invader. There is no place on Earth for him or his wicked whelp.

The tears come back with reinforcements. Loki makes a show of pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, sniffling, rubbing his nose, and muttering about allergies and dry, recycled air. Thor sends him another worried glance, but Loki just shakes his head and pretends to be focused on the speaker.

At last the meeting adjourns, but not everyone leaves immediately. Only those with other obligations and pressing appointments make their way from the conference room. Brunnhilde is one of the latter; she slips away while Loki watches longingly, wishing he could do the same. This is one of the most maddening parts of these weekly assemblies, when Thor is approached by several individuals and pinned down in conversation for the next twenty or thirty minutes to discuss less court-worthy matters or personal concerns. This is what he’s doing now, patiently answering questions and listening to each person, constantly nodding his head. But his eye keeps flitting over to Loki, fidgeting in his seat, and he eventually begs his leave.

“My brother and I have an important engagement to keep,” he says, side-stepping the small group orbiting his person. “Heimdall will be able to help you in the meantime. All other matters I will hear later. Thank you.”

He pats a shoulder or two before finally breaking away and goes to Loki’s side. Together they escape the conference room.

“I need to stop by the lavatory again,” Loki informs him.

Thor touches his elbow gently. “Are you still sick?”

“No. It’s the baby.” Loki’s voice is low, his eyes darting around, searching for any potential eavesdroppers. “I felt him move for the first time today and I think it might be affecting my bowels.”

After a few blank seconds, Thor’s face is suddenly glowing. “He—you felt him move? You actually felt our baby m—”


“Sorry.” He drops his voice to a whisper, his eyes gleaming with joy. “You felt him move? Can I feel?”

“I couldn’t feel anything from the outside. I don’t think he’s big enough yet.”

“Can I feel anyway?”

Loki rolls his eyes but smiles his assent, turning and unfolding his arms from his waist to give Thor access. Thor’s large, gentle hands slip beneath the halves of Loki’s jerkin to frame the bulge in his belly.

Loki’s eyelids flutter as a sensation of peace and contentment flows through him, as warm and strong as Thor’s own hands. He suddenly wishes there was nothing between them, no royal obligations or further appointments or even clothing, and that they could lie together in a dim room and sleep until they reached Earth. Loki might even take off all of his clothes, providing the room is dark enough. He’s painfully aware of how ugly his body has become in the last few months, but the thought of feeling Thor’s bare skin against his own, holding him, stroking him, lulling him to sleep, is something he suddenly craves more than the finest meal of long-gone Asgard.

He lifts his face and Thor sees the naked desire in his eyes. He slips his arms around his brother and pulls him closer, until the swell of Loki’s stomach is pressed snugly against his hard abdomen. Then he leans down and kisses him.

Loki wants to push Thor off and remind him of where they are, that anyone could simply round the corner and see them like this, but it’s only a fleeting impulse; a second later he’s leaning into the kiss, his hands moving up to cup Thor’s head.

Thor exhales warm breath against Loki’s cheek, pulls back for a moment, then tilts his head and moves in again, breathing deep. Loki’s mouth melts into his own, their tongues licking lightly against one another.

It’s been so long since they last made love. So long since they have enjoyed one another’s bodies and indulged in intimate pleasures. Since before they found out Loki was pregnant. Over two months. It feels like two years. Time is beginning to lose its meaning out here.

With great reluctance Loki breaks the kiss. He rolls his lips inward, savoring the tingle and the taste that Thor leaves behind. He meets Thor’s eye, so fond and full of warmth, and slides his hand down to pat the broad expanse of leather that covers his chest.

“Let’s not keep the good doctor waiting.”

Bruce is puttering around the infirmary’s main room when the door whooshes open and Thor and Loki walk in. He welcomes them with a broad grin and a more relaxed demeanor. He is, after all, in his element.

“Hey-hey, perfect timing! I’ve got everything all set, so if you wanna help Loki up onto the table there, we can go ahead and get started.”

Loki doesn’t need assistance climbing onto the examination table, but Thor helps him nonetheless. He grunts as he seats himself, a pinched look on his face. He straightens his back and puts a hand on his belly.

“Everything alright?” Thor asks.

Loki gives him a thin smile. “Fine. It’s just I’m a little bigger than the last time I was here.”

Thor returns the smile, the skin around his one eye crinkling, and squeezes Loki’s hand.

Bruce appears on the other side of the table. “Okay, let’s get your weight and vitals first, make sure everything’s good.” He taps on the instrument panel mounted at the foot of the table and frowns at the readout. “Uh, Thor, you might wanna…”

Thor realizes he’s leaning on the table and straightens up, reluctantly releasing Loki’s hand.

The lines on Bruce’s face smooth out. “Ah, that’s more like it.” A moment later the lines return. He taps out another sequence. “Okay, so… you have… actually lost weight since the last time you were here. Not ideal, but it’s known to happen. Nothing to be too concerned about. Some anti-nausea pills before meals might do the trick if you’re still having trouble with the food around here.”

“I seem to be getting better,” says Loki softly. “Mornings are the worst.”

“They typically are. All those hormones build up while you’re sleeping, that’s the reason behind that. The artificial gravity makes it even worse. I’ve seen some pretty bad cases. Even people who don’t usually get morning sickness are experiencing nausea. It’s lasting a lot longer, too. Most of the time it’s gone by the second trimester.” He turns and presses keys on another terminal. “Okay, I’m gonna need you to lie down so I can run a full head-to-toe scan. Thor, you might wanna take another step back. This thing is a small quantum field generator, so the electro—”

“—electromagnetic fields of living creatures will interfere with it at close range. Yes. Mine probably more so.” He takes a generous step backward and flashes Bruce a smile. “God of thunder and all that.”

Bruce titters and returns to the table’s control panel.

Loki rests his arms at his sides and takes a breath, blinks, fidgets. Clearly nervous.

“Hey.” Bruce’s calm tone draws his gaze. The doctor’s eyes are soft and sympathetic, so unlike the monster he becomes when he’s angry. “Relax. You’re gonna be fine. You won’t feel a thing.”

“I know,” Loki huffs, settling himself as the apparatus mounted on the ceiling hums to life. “We’ve been using similar technology on Asgard for hundreds of years. We call tables like these soul forges.”

“Soul forges, huh?” Bruce pecks a series of buttons and a thin wall of glittering blue light descends, falling across the top of Loki’s head. “That’s a hell of a lot more poetic than ‘quantum field generator’.”

Loki grins without realizing it. Bruce initiates the scan.

Thor stands by with his bare arms crossed, watching the blue light glide down Loki’s body, reverse at his feet, and glide back up. Loki keeps his eyes shut as the light travels across his face, opening them once the device finishes. The light blinks off. Thor returns to his place at the table and lays a gentle hand on Loki’s shoulder.

Bruce turns to a nearby screen and examines the readout as it appears. His head bobs as he mutters under his breath, tapping a stylus against his lips. “Okay. Everything looks pretty normal, but uh… I don’t exactly know what’s normal for frosty folks like you. Your blood is a little different from the Asgardians’.” His fingers rake over the keyboard and a new window pops up, showing another dataset. “Some different proteins and stuff like that. Hopefully this is normal for the Yoto. Yet… Yetnin?”

“Jötnar,” Loki corrects.

“Jötnar.” Bruce enunciates the unfamiliar word as well as he can. “Jötnar. Thank you.” A short pause as he studies the datasets again. “Hm. Your cortisol levels are pretty high. Blood pressure and heart rate are slightly elevated, too. I know you’ve been under a lot of stress lately, but now that you and Thor are, uh”—he turns and smiles awkwardly at his patients—“hopefully back to whatever’s normal for you guys, you should try to take it easy, avoid stress and stressful situations as much as you can. It’s the best for both you and the baby.”

“Easier said than done.”

“Man, don’t I know it. I have a printout of all the things you can do to help manage stress and anxiety: breathing techniques, light exercise, stretching, self-massage, hydration, meditation, all that stuff. I’ll give you a copy before you leave, okay?”

Loki doesn’t think it will help at all, but he mumbles a soft, “Thank you,” anyway.

Bruce goes back to the screen, swipes through a few windows. “How are you feeling, by the way?”

“Fair, all things considered.”

“Any new problems lately? Questions, concerns? No unusual discharge or soreness? Headaches? Food sensitivities? Mood swings? Aches and pains? Anything like that?”

“I… well.” Loki balks, then spits it out: “I've been sore. My chest has. Is.” He grimaces. “My breasts hurt.”

Thor straightens, an alarmed look on his face.

“Oh. Okay. Is this the first time you’ve noticed any tenderness?”

“No. It’s happened before. But now it’s… everything is very sensitive. Almost all the time.”

“Okay. That’s not uncommon. Probably just your hormones changing, sending signals to the breast tissue to, um… start preparing. Let me check the soft tissue scan.”

Bruce swipes and taps until he finds the data he wants. A long pause follows as he studies the screen. Machinery hums in the silence, cooling fans whirring steadily.

“Alright, your progesterone levels are definitely elevated. That’s the hormone that causes your milk glands to enlarge and makes your breasts hurt. I can give you an anti-inflammatory to alleviate some of the discomfort. Are you planning to breastfeed?”

Loki’s face twitches. Suddenly he sees himself—with astonishing clarity—propped up in a comfortable, sun-dappled bed in the not-too-distant future, cradling a warm little bundle in his arms. Thor is hovering beside him, smitten and smiling as he watches their baby nurse. Loki sees himself look up at Thor and grin, eyes sparkling.

Look! I’m doing it, Thor. I can do it.

His voice sounds like a child’s, high and bright. Like he’s in the hall again with his laughing mother, making bubbles dance and flow. Look, Mumma! I can do it!

He sees daydream Thor lean down and kiss the top of his head. Of course you can, Loki, he says in their mother’s voice. I always knew you could. I never doubted you for a moment.

Loki blinks and the vision vanishes.

It comes upon him suddenly—a surge of emotion that rises up and crashes soundlessly on top of him.

This is really happening. He’s going to have a baby. He’s growing a completely new person inside him, and that little person is going to remain there, getting bigger and bigger, until he can no longer fit. And then Loki is going to push him out and give him life independent of his own. He’s going to feed him with his own body and be able to hold him, smell him, feel him. He will have to nurture him, protect him from danger, from an entire world of people who hate him and everything associated with him—

“I…” He gives his head a little shake, trying to find the present again. “I expect so, yes.”

“Okay, good. That’ll take a little pressure off me,” says Bruce. “Right now I’m having to mix a formula using dry milk and vita packs for a couple new moms who can’t lactate, so if you can use what nature gave you…”

“I understand.”

Unable to stay silent a minute longer, Thor steps close and whispers to Loki, “Why didn’t you tell me you were in pain? You know I can help you.” He holds up his hands emphatically. “You were so willing to accept my help before. What changed? Are you—”

“Not now, Thor.”

Thor draws back, chastened.

After a moment, Loki softens his expression. “I’ll explain everything later. Right now I just want to get this over with.”

Thor nods his head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”

Loki sighs and extends his arm. Thor immediately clasps his hand in both of his own and gazes at Loki with fear in his eye; the fear of screwing up again, of making a fool of himself. Loki reassures him with a gentle squeeze, and the fear drains away, replaced with a meek, lopsided, utterly devoted smile.

Bruce sits at his terminal and recites a few more observations—all organs fine, temperature fine, hormones amazingly balanced for a person possessing both male and female reproductive systems. “They seem to be working in tandem with each other. Other than being stressed, you’re in optimal health.”

He then concludes the general examination and picks up his 3D scanner. “Okay, moving right along. Mother is good, now it’s time to take a look at Baby… uh.” His optimism deadpans and he glances up at Thor. “You guys do surnames, right? With the royal thing? Is it Odinson?”


Bruce and Thor turn.

Loki’s expression is calm and serious. He regards them for a moment before lowering his eyes. “It’s the best choice, I think.”

Bruce smiles, charmed.

Thor, on the other hand, looks almost woeful. He reaches out and touches Loki’s cheek, lifts his chin. “Are you certain?”

Loki gulps, the tendons in his throat anxiously flexing. “No one will question a child named after the mighty Thor, beloved Avenger and hero of Earth. But a child who carries the name Lokason…” He tries to grin and fails. His eyes gleam wetly in the room’s sharp white light. “It may as well be a curse.”

Thor rubs Loki’s cheek with his thumb, close to tears himself.

Beside him, Bruce stands with his scanner in hand and a pained look on his face. “Alright,” he says quietly. “Baby Thorson it is.” He switches on the device and motions for Thor to move aside.

Thor shuffles over to the head of the exam table and rests his hands on Loki’s shoulders, rubbing them comfortingly.

The holographic screen flickers to life, showing an empty three-dimensional cube. Bruce positions the scanner directly over Loki’s belly and holds it still, giving the instrument time to lock on and acquire the proper signals.

This time Loki’s eyes are open, nervous but steady. There’s a flash, a flicker, and then there he is, mapped out in blue light. A tightly-curled infant filling the entirety of Loki’s uterus.

Thor lets out a soft, astounded laugh. The love in his voice is raw and unmistakable.

Another wave of emotion pours through Loki’s heart. He reaches up and lays his hand on Thor’s. Maybe it’s the hormones—maybe it’s the joyful sounds above him, or the picture of the little person-to-be before him—but Loki is almost certain he has never loved Thor more than he does at this very moment.

“Looks like he’s grown a bit, that’s a good sign,” Bruce narrates, reading the output on the scanner’s tiny on-board monitor. “Heart rate’s good. Weight is up. And now I finally have a second reading to compare to the first one, so I oughta be able to tell you how far along he is and when he should be due. That’ll help me figure out where he’s supposed to be developmentally, too, ‘cause right now we don’t know squat.”

“How long will it take to run those calculations?” says Thor.

“I can have them for you in a few minutes. Let me just… make sure I get a good reading and reduce the error margin a bit…”

Thor looks down at Loki—his face is relaxed, his gaze fixed on the holoscreen—and bends to kiss his brow.

Loki flinches. “Oh, Thor, please, not in front of the doct—oh.” His eyes go wide.

Onscreen the baby wriggles, stretching out one long, tiny leg. Five little toes no bigger than beans flex and then curl up again.

“Loki!” Thor cries, and Bruce jumps at the volume of his voice. “Did you see that?”

“Yes.” Loki can’t help but smile at Thor’s infectious delight. “Saw it and felt it.” He looks over at Bruce. “He was doing this earlier today.”

“Who, Thor?”

It takes a great deal of restraint for Loki to keep him from rolling his eyes. “The child, Doctor Banner. I felt the movements for the first time this morning.”

“Oh. Well, that’s good! Really good, actually.” Bruce turns a small dial on the scanner and a gold outline surrounds the baby. “Movement will help in getting a more accurate measurement. Try talking to him again. See if you can make him wiggle. I’m pretty sure he can hear outside voices now, and—”

“Really?” Thor interjects.

“Sure. A fetus will typically start hearing its mother’s voice around the eighteenth week or so. This one is obviously much further along than that, so he can probably hear a lot more than—”

“Hello, baby,” Thor coos, stroking Loki’s belly while staring at the screen. His eye is shimmering. “Hello there, little one. How are you? Is it getting tight in there? Is that why you’re stretching? Loki, are you seeing this?”

“Yes, Thor, I’m seeing this.”

Thor’s mouth widens into a toothy grin. When he blinks, a tear rolls halfway down his cheek before drying out. “Banner, will he… does he recognize my voice? Can he hear music? Does he understand song better than words? Should I sing to him instead?”

“Please don’t,” Loki utters.

“Oh, he can hear a lot of things now,” says Bruce cheerfully. “Babies in utero are known to react to the sound of their parents’ voices. Heart rate increases, movement increases. Yeah. They hear low-frequency sounds better, so just talk in a deep voice. Shouldn’t be a problem. You’re like”—his dark eyebrows quirk—“thunder and testosterone personified.”

Thor suddenly pulls his gaze away from the screen and looks breathlessly down at Loki, his expression sobering. His cheeks are flushed, the corners of his mouth wavering unsteadily. Loki can almost hear his thoughts, so powerful are the emotions radiating from him right now.

I love you. I am in awe of you. You’re amazing. Thank you. I am with you. I am for you. I love you.

Maybe mothers aren’t the only ones who experience pregnancy hormones, Loki thinks.

“Okay,” Bruce chirps, “got some good news for you guys!” He’s staring at the readout on one of the nearby holoscreens. “I just finished compiling these numbers against the last reading, and it looks like we’ll be meeting Baby Thorson in about four more months.”

“Four more months?” Thor repeats excitedly.

“Four more months?” Loki repeats wearily.

“Yep. Which, based on the information you gave me last time, makes a gestation period of about”—Bruce tilts his head from side to side—“fifty-one weeks and some change. That’s roughly twelve weeks longer than a typical human or Asgardian pregnancy, or about a year total. Does that sound normal for jötnar?”

“I have no idea,” Loki says. “I know almost nothing about my people.”

“Oh. Right. Uh, well… at least everything looks good, developmentally speaking.” He offers up a hopeful grin. “Baby’s the size of a small melon right now, weighs 903 grams, close to two pounds. He’s about 30 centimeters long, but I imagine he’s gonna start really growing in the next few weeks. According to the numbers, you’re in the final quarter, comparable to about six or seven months for everyone else. Basically that means all the important stuff has been formed and now it’s just the finishing touches. Eyelashes, eyebrows, those kinds of things. Eyes might be opening soon. He’s gonna start packing on the weight now as he gets ready to enter the world. Nothing left to do but grow and prepare at this point.”

Thor moves his hand slowly and reverently over the soft linen tunic covering Loki’s belly. He looks down at him and swallows thickly. “I love you.”

Loki glares up at him. “You’re a sentimental fool, do you know that?” But he purses his lips, and Thor accepts the invitation, giving him a quick peck.

“So, uh”—Bruce stretches his face and pretends he didn’t just see what he saw—“names! You guys thought of any names yet?”

“Names?” Loki repeats the word as if it has not occurred to him before this moment.

Thor is similarly caught off guard. “Er, no. None at all.” He looks down at Loki. “Do you have something in mind?”

Loki’s face twists like he just got a whiff of something bad. “I really don’t think I should name him. The naming of a child has always been the father’s task on the day of birth.”

“That was an archaic tradition, Loki. Our people stopped doing it centuries ago.”

“Well, I say that it’s time it made a comeback.”

“You cannot possibly want that. I am shit at naming things.”

“You’re only saying that to get out of—”

“When I was a young boy, I had a stuffed snake toy named Fluffy, as you may recall. It was a four-inch wide cloth tube.”

“You were a child. Children are nonsensical.”

“My first horse was named Wolf and my favorite sword was named Mace. And most recently I named our little team the Revengers. I ask you again, Loki, are you certain you want me naming our child?”

Loki’s face is trapped somewhere between disbelief and pure horror. “I thought you were being intentionally ironic.”

“I wish.”

Bruce, wholly absorbed in analyzing the scan, cuts in. “Hey, uh, I know nobody asked me, but I’ve got a suggestion. It’s the name of the greatest hero from one of Earth’s most renown legends.”

His patients perk up.

“He was kinda like you guys,” Bruce continues. “Had a strong hereditary ability to telekinetically influence and alter matter. One of the greatest sorcerers to ever live, to put it one way. He fought against an evil, tyrannical family member and won the war, saved the galaxy, just like you did with your sister. He was the symbol of a new hope for the future.”

“Do the people of Earth love him?” asks Loki.

“Oh, yeah. Totally. Most beloved protagonist of any genre.”

Thor’s grin is almost blinding. “Well, out with it, Banner! What is the name of this heroic sorcerer?”

“Luke Skywalker.”

Loki’s eyes fall half-closed. “Luke.”

“Skywalker,” Thor hums, rubbing his beard. “I like it.”

“We are not naming our child Luke Skywalker.”

“How about just Skywalker, then?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Not even as a byname?”

“Not even as a chance.”

Bruce amends, “You could always just… y’know. Name him after Odin or something.”

Loki makes a face he hasn’t made since his attack on New York City. At a higher concentration it would be positively lethal.

“Uh, j-just a suggestion,” Bruce squeaks, and dutifully resumes his visual analysis of the fetal scan. After a moment he makes a confused sound. “Huh. That’s odd.”

“What?” Loki props himself up on one elbow, his eyes suddenly wide and fearful, as if he’s been waiting for this moment all day. “What is it?”

“Probably nothing, but… let me just zoom in and make sure.” Bruce frowns and enhances the image. The projection enlarges, the resolution focusing to maximum depth, and reveals faint lines on the baby’s head and arms.

Loki stares at the hologram, his face slack with shock.

“Hm. I wonder if this thing is malfunctioning.”

“It isn’t.”

Bruce looks up.

“I don’t know what they are exactly,” says Loki softly, “but all frost giants have them. I think they might be hereditary markings.”

“Oh. Well. Neato. Looks like the baby is gonna have them, too.”

Suddenly all of the warm, rosy, positively-charged emotions that have been coursing through Loki go cold and jagged, like rocks and broken glass. He shuts his eyes. Dismayed. Defeated.

“He’s going to be beautiful,” Thor insists. His voice is rough. “A little half-jötunn boy. And he’s healthy and growing. That’s the important thing.”

Bruce catches on. “Y-yeah. Yeah, very healthy, growing like a weed. All limbs and digits and organs accounted for, no glitches detected in the genetic programming, nothing to worry about. Right on track for a normal, healthy baby.”

Loki nods, eyes still closed. “Right. Of course.” When he opens them, his tears are barely contained. “Thank you, Doctor Banner.”

“Sure. Yeah. Hey, no problem. Just, y’know. Part of the job.” Bruce shuts off the scanner and lays it aside. “Listen, I’d like to schedule to see you again in four weeks, if that’s okay.”

With Thor’s help, Loki clumsily pulls himself into a sitting position. He smoothes his clothing, runs a hand through his hair. “Yes, that’s fine.” He’s barely holding himself together, and Thor and Bruce both see it.

“Okay. If you have any problems or concerns before then, just let me know. Oh, that reminds me. Let me put together a wellness baggie real quick. Just gimme a minute here.”

While Bruce putters around the infirmary, gathering medication and vitamins and information cards about dealing with stress and managing pregnancy symptoms in artificial gravity, Thor takes Loki’s arm and guides him off the table. The distressed look on his face is gradually getting worse. Thor wants to get him out of here as quickly as possible. He massages the back of Loki’s neck, easing away the tension there.

At last Bruce holds out a small paper bag containing everything Loki needs. Loki accepts it with a breathy word of thanks. Thor flashes a smile, thanks Bruce for everything, and tells him to keep up the good work. Bruce gives them a meek wave as they leave.

They exit through another door a short distance down from the infirmary’s entrance. The hall was empty when they first arrived; now a small queue of Asgardians are patiently waiting outside. Those who are old, infirm, or pregnant sit in chairs along the wall. They all turn their heads at the sudden change in scenery, but Thor and Loki hastily turn away—Loki hiding both the bag and belly with his jerkin—and hurry off before they can be hailed.

“They’re going to start talking, you know,” Loki mutters as they round a corner. “And I can only hide my condition for so long. We’re going to have to tell them eventually.”

“That is another matter for another time,” Thor says. “Let’s not trouble ourselves about it just yet.”

“When are we going to trouble ourselves about it, then?”

“When it’s time to be troubled.”

“There’s no time like the present.”

“There is also a time and a place for everything, and this is neither the time nor place for worrying.”

“Well, you know what they say: never put off until tomorrow what can be done today.”

“And I say never do today what can be put off until tomorrow.”

Loki stops in his tracks and turns to Thor, his face twisted into an anguished, teary snarl. “It’s so easy for you, isn’t it? Burying your head in the sand. Ignoring everything that’s happening around you—”

“It isn’t ignorance, Loki. It’s a conscious decision not to allow the stresses of—”

“Oh!” Loki throws open his arms and laughs scornfully. “Wonderful! I’m so glad you get to decide what bothers you and what doesn’t! Others are not so lucky, brother. Others have no choice but to endure each miserable moment and feel every ounce of terror that comes with it, unable to shut it—”

Thor steps forward and wraps his arms around Loki, pulling him close. Loki clutches at the leather armor, finding nothing to grasp. He buries his face against Thor’s shoulder and, in the warm darkness there, releases his tears.

Thor holds him and says nothing.

After a few moments, there comes a muffled warble: “Our baby is going to be ugly.”

“He is not.”

“He’s a jötunn.”

“It doesn’t matter. He is ours and I already love him. The same as I love you and everything that makes you you. Even the parts that you hate. I love all of you.” He kisses the edge of Loki’s ear. “We will get through this. It’s going to be alright.”

“Is it?” Loki pulls back. His pale eyes are bloodshot, red-rimmed, his face blotchy pink. He presses his lips together and more tears tumble down his cheeks. His eyebrows bend upward into a look that reflects his worst fears. “In two months we’ll be on Earth again. I have no magic to conceal myself. I’ll be recognized. Ridiculed. Scorned. Me and our child.”

Thor shakes his head. “I will not let that happen.”

“How? How, Thor?”

“I don’t know just yet. But I will not let you be harmed or harassed, Loki. This I swear.” He gathers Loki’s hands into his own and kisses his knuckles. “I will protect you. Trust me. Please. I need this from you.”

“I want to. I’m trying to, but…” Loki shakes his head, closes his eyes. “I just want all of this to be over. This voyage, this pregnancy. I want to go to sleep and wake up in a place where I… where it doesn’t matter. Someplace safe. Someplace with you.” He lifts his gaze to Thor and stares needfully. “I want to feel you in me again. I want… want your hands on me. Make me forget everything that’s happening. Help me get away from myself. Just for a little while. This is what I need from you, Thor. More than that, it’s what I want. Please.”

Thor’s nostrils flare. His breath deepens, his face already reflecting his arousal. He slides his hands up Loki’s arms, firmly and fondly. “I will contact Heimdall and Korg and clear my schedule with them. Then we can…” He swallows. “The rest of the day will be ours to spend as you wish.” He reaches up and thumbs away a stray tear on Loki’s face.

Loki smiles and exhales shakily.

Relief. Comfort. Sex. Rest. All that he wants, and he’s actually going to get it.

“Excuse my intrusion, your majesty,” says a new voice from down the corridor, and Thor and Loki turn to see the familiar figure of Lady Eir, the former head of healing in the palace of Asgard, gliding toward them.

Loki takes a step back to put a more appropriate distance between himself and Thor.

Thor does not move. “My Lady,” he greets, though there’s a note of weariness in his voice. “How might I help you?”

“‘Tis not I who needs help.” She draws close and nods to Loki. “Highness.”

Loki returns the gesture. “Lady.”

Like many of their leaders, Eir looks tired. At the beginning of the voyage she declined a roomy suite on the main deck to live among the commoners in one of the smaller rooms on the lower decks. It’s a much less glamorous position than what she is accustomed to, but one that she insists is more conducive to emergency aid, something which constitutes more than half of the cases she deals with. Healers and apothecaries are in short supply aboard the Statesman, and wherever there are children, there are going to be accidents and illnesses.

At the sight of her, Loki’s guilt bears down on him once more, reminding him that he has done nothing, contributed nothing, and helped no one since Ragnarok. How will he be remembered by their people in the years to come? When Asgard’s need was greatest and her people clinging to the shreds of hope, where was Loki? Selflessly working alongside the king and his retinue? Helping the ill and the elderly? Sacrificing his own comfort for the sake of others? Providing entertainment for the children in the form of stories and magic tricks? No. He has done none of these things. Asgard will have no kind words to speak of his character, no defense to offer him, when the citizens of Earth come clamoring for his head.

Loki the Useless. Loki the Leech. These will be his titles. This is how he will be remembered. A failure. It’s the story of his life, a path he has forever been unable to escape.

He turns his head so that Lady Eir cannot see his face.

“Master Hávarr’s condition has worsened,” she says to Thor. “He never fully recovered after the first epidemic and the second one only weakened him further.”

Loki raises his head. “There was an epidemic?”

Eir gives him a confused look. “Er, yes, my prince. Two of them. The first was spread by the rats and the second was caused by the contaminated drinking water. ‘Tis been the topic of many a council meeting. You were present for many of them, were you not?”

Yes, Loki thinks, but only in body. He winces. “I’m afraid I might have been dealing with other matters at the time.”

“What is his condition?” Thor cuts in, aware of exactly what is happening and trying to spare Loki from any further torture. “Is he stable? Is he in pain?”

“He is stable and his pain is minimal, but he is fast fading.”

Thor rubs his hand over his face, strokes his beard meditatively. “If we attend to him daily, do you think he can last two more months?”

“My king, I do not think he will last two more days. He has been fighting for far too long, and his body can endure no more. The medicines have ceased to affect him.”

Thor looks down at the floor. Clenches his fists helplessly. “You are certain of this?”

“He is nearly six thousand years old, my lord. Blind and bedridden. He himself has said he is ready to pass.”

Thor heaves a sigh and shakes his head as if in denial. To a stranger he would appear angry, but Loki knows what he is seeing. This is Thor at his most helpless and heartbroken. Not even the god of thunder and the king of Asgard is able to waylay death.

“I wanted so badly for him to see Earth,” he mutters. “To breathe fresh air one last time, to feel the sun and the grass.”

“As did I, Thor. I have done all I can, but Hávarr’s time is come. His family are already preparing for his passing.”

Thor sighs again, nods, then raises his head to Loki. “I’m sorry, brother, but I must attend to this. I promise, once I am finished—”

“I’ll come with you.”

Thor is visibly surprised. “That’s… fine, of course, yes. But I think it fair to warn you that Hávarr is very old and frail. He’s been in poor health for many months. You may find this to be an upsetting situation, and you should be trying to reduce your stress… for everyone’s sake.”

“I know,” Loki says sharply. “But I am your right hand, aren’t I? I should be with you. And in any case, I should pay my respects to this venerable elder. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Thor clearly sees what Loki is doing, but he cannot contest the reasons for his sudden interest in the “common folk” with Lady Eir standing here, watchful as a hawk.

After a few moments Thor finally relents. “Alright. Follow me.”

Hávarr Holgurd is ancient, thin, and blind. His once-blue eyes are now milky white with cataracts and his head is entirely bald, wrinkled, and speckled with age spots. His chin is barely holding on to its few thin silver whiskers.

Sitting beside him is his elderly daughter and either his grandson or great grandson, already gray-haired and wrinkled. Around the edges of the room sit a number of his descendants, twelve in all, though there are likely more elsewhere on the ship. Like most Asgardian families, their numbers are much fewer since Ragnarok.

Thor enters the room, the thump of his boots muffled by the carpet. He smiles at the old man even though it will not be seen. “How are you this day, Master Hávarr?”

Hávarr’s leathery lips pull back into a near-toothless grin. “Still dying, my king,” he says slowly, his voice like a breeze whispering through a dry, dusty chimney, “but glad that thou art with me.” He stretches out a bruised, skeletal arm. His shaking hand with its arthritis-twisted fingers are unable to fully straighten. “Come. Sit. It is an honor to entertain the sons of Odin in my final hour.”

Loki, who is following close behind and has made no indication of his presence, leans toward Eir and whispers, “I thought you said he was blind.”

“He is,” Eir answers. “But who knows what one can sense when treading the bridge between life and death.”

Something about her words causes Loki’s skin to prickle eerily.

Thor takes a seat on the unoccupied side of Hávarr’s bed. The old man continues to smile and beckon. “Yes, thou as well, my prince. Please come.”

Loki swallows and moves forward, sitting down beside Thor. Hávarr’s gnarled hand finds his own, and Loki winces as brittle bones and sinew clasp his fingers in a surprisingly strong grip.

“Ah!” the old man creaks joyfully. “A new life! How wonderful. I am happy for thee, Loki-Prince.”

Loki frowns and opens his mouth to speak, then the baby suddenly flutters inside him. The movement is strong, acute—as if he has been deliberately woken. Loki utters a gasp and barely manages to stop his hand from falling to his belly.

Hávarr’s chuckle sounds like a rock falling into an abyss, hitting every crag on the way down. “May thy mischief and cunning live ever on in thee and thy children. There are so few like thee anymore, sorcerers of the old magic. Keepers of the ancient ways. Like thy mother. So few now… and none like thee. Thou must keep it alive, the fire. The flame which she passed to thee. It is the legacy of our people.”

“I…” Loki can find no words. His pale eyes gleam with unshed tears. “I will try.”

Hávarr grins, then erupts into a fit of coughing.

Thor reaches out and grasps his skinny arm, helping him sit up, while his geriatric daughter offers him a cup.

“Drink, Father,” she bids.

But the old man shakes his head. “Nay, dear Hábera. It is almost done. I see the Gates in the distance now. No elixir can restore me, nor even the healing hands of our king.” He lies back down with Thor’s help. He has the attention of every eye in the room. Not a single one is dry. “Thor-King, god of thunder and storm, I would ask one last favor of thee.”

“Name it,” Thor says.

“I served under thy grandfather Borr, and then thy father Odin, as a member of the Einherjar. I have fought many battles, but never did I fall. I would wish to die as I was meant: a warrior, not a cow lying warm in the straw.”

Across the bed, the elderly Hábera lifts up a cloth-wrapped item. She unties it, revealing an old sword. No doubt she was long aware of her father’s last wish. She holds the blade out to Thor with both hands, her face pleading on her sire’s behalf.

Thor bows his head, shakes it in refusal.

“Take up my blade, Thor son of Odin, son of Borr. Allow me to pass into Valhalla with dignity.”

Silence falls. Hávarr’s family waits, handkerchiefs held to their faces. At last Thor sighs and accepts the sword from Hábera.

Loki makes a strangled sound and lurches to his feet, flees the room. There is the sound of retching in the corridor, and Lady Eir hurries out to help him.

With tears in his eyes, Thor lays the sword upon Hávarr’s chest and folds the old man’s fingers over the handle. “You need not die a hero to be remembered as one, Master Hávarr.” He carefully grasps the blade and slides his hand down its length, leaving behind a crimson smear. “Your sword has tasted blood again. Go in victory, my friend.”

Tears leak from the wrinkled corners of Hávarr’s eyes. He smiles up at the ceiling, his milk-white irises trembling as they behold something unseen by the living.

“They are opening,” he whispers. “I can see…”

His chest rises once more, falls, and then goes still.

Hábera folds herself over her father’s lifeless body and weeps. The room is silent save for the sound of weeping and consoling murmurs.

Thor stands, wipes his eye, and sniffs. “I shall contact the Valkyrie.”

Whenever a passenger dies on the Statesman, there is very little time for ceremony. Funeral rites are performed shortly after death and then the body is jettisoned into space. To a populace long accustomed to the burial or burning of their dead, the relinquishing of a loved one’s remains to the cold, empty black of space is almost sacrilegious. But in their hearts the remaining Asgardians understand that these are not normal times, and their leaders do not do this out of a lack of sympathy or respect. The ship’s air filtration system cannot handle organic decomposition for very long, nor do they have an airlock in which to store the corpses for proper send-off later. It is a ship designed to preserve the living, not the dead.

They began the journey with 1,998 souls. There are now 1,979. Thirty-one have died, mostly the old and invalid, and twelve have been born in the eight months since they first set off from the ruins of Asgard. It’s a delicate equilibrium to maintain. They are endangered now. Every death is counted a tremendous loss.

The funeral is carried out in a cargo hangar that has been cleared specifically for this purpose. Mourners glide past Hávarr’s cold, motionless body—which has been arranged on a cloth-draped stack of crates serving as a bier—to pay their respects.

When the last mourner has passed, Thor says a few words over the old man’s body, highlighting his long career under the rule of two kings, his bravery, his spirit, his good humor.

Loki stands by his side wearing his blue and yellow Sakaarian attire, his posture unnaturally stiff as he sucks his belly in and tries to pretend that everything is alright. As if the last three hours of his life haven’t been a nauseating pendulum swinging between fear and love and despair and desire and relief and misery.

There are too many people crammed into this hangar and there is no climate control. It was cold at first, but now it’s hot, humid, and smelly. His feet are swollen. His vagina aches. His back hurts. His breasts are sore. He’s riddled with grief over a man he never knew and feels guilty that he never bothered to know him. He’s terrified about arriving on Earth, about the state in which he’s going to arrive on Earth—weak, heavy with child, powerless, completely dependent upon Thor and their surviving people to vouch for him. Thor certainly will, but why should the Asgardians? What has Loki ever done to deserve their thanks?

The funeral draws on. Thor is making some sort of speech now, but Loki can’t focus on it. Death is the only thing on his mind now. He hates it. He doesn’t want to think about himself lying cold and stiff and rotting while his tragically ugly son weeps over his corpse. And that’s if he’s lucky. If the Titan has forgotten about him. If the people of Earth have forgotten about him. If everyone is willing to turn a blind eye to what he used to be and let him try to become something new, if such a feat is even possible.

He twitches. Fidgets. Sweats.

He wants to live. He wants to breathe. He wants to eat, drink, be merry. He wants to fuck. He wants to come. He wants to feel the sun on his skin, fresh air in his lungs, earth beneath his feet. He wants Thor around him and inside of him, sheltering him, protecting him, filling him with love and goodness and honesty and all of the things he was never capable of developing on his own, the things he was never given a chance to develop. He is suddenly glad to have this child growing inside him. It is the antithesis of death and ending and destruction. He wants to birth this poor, ugly little thing and see what kind of person he becomes. See if he can do something right for once. He wants to live.

Thor steps aside and Brunnhilde, wearing the uniform of the Valkyrior, brandishes the Dragonfang over Hávarr Holgurd and bids him to take his place in Valhalla. Then she locks the tube down, releases the hatch, and jettisons the body into the empty blackness of space.

Loki breaks away and exits the hangar, his eyes streaming. A choked sob is heard in the corridor outside.

For a moment Thor is torn between closing the ceremony and running to Loki’s side. Heimdall sees him struggling and lays a hand on his shoulder. “Go where you are needed most. I will finish things here.”

“Thank you,” Thor says. Then he dashes out into the corridor, his footsteps ringing on the metal floor.

He finds Loki leaning against a large vertical pipe, weeping like Thor has never heard him weep before. Great body-wracking sobs fueled by emotions that have been pent up for too long. Feelings that have been smothered but not extinguished, and have now grown into a conflagration that is consuming him.

He gently lays a hand on Loki’s shoulder. Loki turns and throws his arms around his neck.

“Come,” Thor whispers. “Let’s get out of here.”

Returning to the stateroom is like entering a sanctuary. Cool and quiet. Dark. Peaceful. Familiar smells and textures, a place of rest. Though he came here briefly to change clothes before the funeral, Loki hadn’t been able to linger and appreciate the ambiance. Not with such an urgent, unpleasant duty before him.

Upon entering, however, he is instantly put at ease. His shoulders relax. He lets out his stomach with a grateful sigh. The leather goes tight over his bump. He can breathe again. His posture softens from its rigid hold. Here he is safe. Here he is protected, hidden, loved. Separated from reality and all of its sharp-edged unpleasantness. Now there is only himself and Thor, just as he wants.

The door whispers shut behind them and Loki turns to face his brother. He knows he looks terrible. His face is swollen and sticky from crying and he doesn’t even want to think about how bad his hair must look. But he needs Thor, physically and emotionally, and his craving for intimacy is strong enough to override his self-consciousness just for this moment.

He unfastens his cape while Thor stands there and watches, his eye dark and glittering.

“Come and bathe with me,” he says.

Thor follows him to the bathroom, discarding his armor, boots, and underclothes along the way.

Loki sheds the last of his sweaty, too-snug layers in the bathroom and tosses them to the floor. He deliberately avoids looking at Thor as he turns on the water and grabs two towels from the rack. He doesn’t want to know what Thor must be thinking about his changed body: the bloated, unattractive bulge of his belly; the marks on his stretching skin; his rough complexion; all the little flecks and flaws that are screaming out for attention.

But when he turns, he is shocked to find Thor flushed and fully erect, his muscles tight and his fists clenched as if restraining himself.

Loki raises his eyebrows. “Are you… really…?”

Thor steps forward and takes Loki’s face in his hands. “Yes. You are the most beautiful, desirable creature I have ever seen, and I want to ravish you.” He leans in, brushes Loki’s ear with his lips. He presses their bellies together so that their baby is nestled safely between them. “Every inch of you I love. Every inch of you I want to kiss and touch and worship.” He brings both hands to Loki’s shoulders, squeezing and kneading, sending euphoric waves of relief into Loki’s muscles. “Let me do these things for you, Loki. Please.”

Loki’s eyes fall half-closed. He nods mutely, unable to speak.

Thor removes his eyepatch and they step into the stall together.

It has been eight days since Loki moved into Thor’s stateroom. Though they sleep side by side each night, there have been no romantic overtures apart from a few kisses and chaste touches.

Loki is ready to change that.

They kiss beneath the patter of lukewarm water—a slick, gentle brush of lips and tongues. Rivulets run across bare skin and hair and beard, drip down chins, cling to eyelashes and brows. Wet hands explore territory both familiar and transformed with an appreciation they have never held before. Loki traces Thor’s scar with his lips and presses a kiss to the damp, fuzzy blond caterpillar that is his eyebrow, and wonders vaguely why he finds Thor’s imperfections so much more beautiful than his own.

Though they could have spent the better part of an hour simply standing beneath the soothing stream and getting reacquainted with one another, water is still being rationed and they are compelled to abandon sensuality for the sake of efficiency. They wash their hair, lather each other’s bodies in soap, scrub, rinse, and step out with only a few words spoken between them. They are each lost in their own thoughts.

Loki hangs up his wet towel and walks nude to their shared wardrobe. Thor stands in the bathroom doorway and watches keenly, his wilted erection springing to life once more. Loki selects a short dressing gown from the wardrobe, slips it on, and ties the belt loosely under his protruding belly. Thor wanders across the room to join him, removing his towel and tossing it over the back of a nearby chair. He approaches Loki from behind and sweeps the wet black coils of glossy hair over his shoulder, baring his neck for a kiss.

Loki tilts his head and welcomes the warmth of Thor’s face against his nape. “I want to go slowly,” he murmurs. “I want to feel you move in me for hours.”

“That might be difficult,” says Thor with a note of amusement in his voice, “but I shall give it my best attempt.”

“That’s all I want.” Loki turns in Thor’s arms and leans in for a kiss.

It’s like drinking from the purest spring; quenching a dry, burning thirst with cool water. At first Thor gives and Loki receives. Then Loki begins to give back, pressing himself into Thor, returning his love, and a harmonic cycle of exchange is established. And once their thirst for each other is finally slaked, they move to satisfy their hunger.

They sink down onto the bed, Loki perched upon the edge with his legs open wide and Thor kneeling between them. When Thor pulls open the dressing gown, Loki doesn’t protest. The cloth slides down his arms and suddenly he is on display, completely naked, his chest and stomach unhidden for the first time in weeks. His nipples have darkened into soft brown discs and his breasts are small and lovely, two plump mounds of flesh that naturally complement his frame. Thor reaches out and tenderly cups one, sweeping his thumb over the smooth white skin.

Loki shuts his eyes as the hot ache that has been needling him all day suddenly begins to fade. He sighs in relief.

“Why did you not tell me your breasts were hurting?” asks Thor as he massages.

The lies are pouring from Loki’s lips before he can stop himself: “It was only a little pain. Hardly worth your time. And they don’t always hurt. It comes and goes and… really, it’s not as if I…” He trails off.

He’s suddenly tired—absolutely sick to death—of lying to the people he loves, to the people who love him, and have always loved him, in spite of his lying ways.

“I was ashamed,” he confesses. “I felt ugly. I didn’t want you to see me. I’m a pregnant, grotesque half-a-man who isn’t even Ćsir, and I don’t want you to think that I love you just because you can ease my pain. That is not why I love you, Thor. I… I’m sorry. I don’t mean to lie. I’m trying not to, but it’s”—his voice cracks—“it’s very difficult. I’ve been doing it for so long, you see. I don’t… it’s a hard habit to break.”

Sympathy flickers across Thor’s face. “It’s alright, Loki. These things, they take time. You have been made to lie all your life through no fault of your own. Our parents, for all their good intentions, failed you. They failed us both. That is why our family fell apart.”

A tear rolls down the side of Loki’s nose. “I don’t want to lose you, too.” He sniffs.

“You won’t, I promise. Relax now, brother. Breathe, be at peace. Let me tend to you.”

Loki closes his eyes and takes a long, slow breath.

Thor leans forward and lowers his mouth to the breast he is handling. He gently takes the nipple between his lips and rolls it, sucks it into his mouth, fondles it with his tongue. The whiskers of his beard brush pleasantly against Loki’s skin.

Loki murmurs wordlessly and basks in the attention, suddenly feeling sexy and desirable, full of life. The last time he felt so spoiled was when he and Thor were indulging their little breeding fantasy several months ago. It feels like decades, a whole lifetime ago.

Loki looks down his chest at the grown man suckling him, and a titillating thought passes through his mind: that of nursing Thor, of clasping his brother in his arms and feeding him with the milk that his body has made. Perhaps they might be able to do that once their child arrives. A dark, velvety flower blooms deep in Loki’s stomach, making his cock grow fat and his quim become wet and engorged.

“Thor,” he utters. “Oh, this… feels incredible.”

Thor looks up at him with his one eye, his face unreadable. He releases Loki’s nipple with a moist smack and moves to the other.

In a matter of moments Loki is fully hard and soaking the covers beneath him. Every atom in his body is alive and singing, his entire existence paring down until nothing remains but the hollow, empty ache between his legs greedily yearning to be filled.

As if reading his mind, Thor slips his hand down below.

Loki spreads his thighs wide and leans back, offering better access. A long, dry finger finds him, circles his slick opening, and slips inside. Loki squirms, working himself around the digit until it’s at a comfortable angle. Then he tightens his pelvic muscles, hugging Thor’s finger, holding him in.

“Gods.” Thor breaks his clasp to lay his head between Loki’s breasts, breathing heavily, the sinews in his arm moving rhythmically as he finger-fucks him. He buries his hand as deep as it will go, his knuckles pressing into the vertical folds. The smack of skin is loud in the quiet room.

“You feel so good, Loki. Like silk and cream. So sweet, brother.” He inhales deeply. “You smell different now. More intoxicating. I am dying to taste you. Would you be averse if I were to—”

“No! Gods, please, for mercy’s sake, eat me.” Loki falls onto his back and reaches between his legs, lifting his testicles out of the way and spreading the damp, swollen lips of his vulva.

Thor takes a moment to admire the glistening pink flesh and dark little hole which will soon be wrapped around his cock, this channel through which he poured his seed eight months ago and planted the child that Loki now carries. A grunt escapes his lips and his hand flies down to squeeze the base of his cock.

That was close.

Loki goes suddenly still. “Is everything alright?”

Thor laughs weakly. “Ngh, yes. I almost came just now, but I managed to stop myself.”

Loki props himself up and looks over the top of his belly. His hair has flopped over one side of his face. It’s an incredibly disheveled, attractive look for him. “Are you serious?”

“Very.” Thor gulps.

“You haven’t even touched me yet.”

“I’m very aroused and it has been a long, long time.”

Loki suddenly laughs, a full, rich, happy sound. He sinks back down and grins up at the ceiling. “Indeed it has been. Let it go then, brother. I want you to be able to fuck me without having to take a ten-minute intermission.”

“Hm. Tongue still eloquent and untarnished, I see.”

Loki snickers, then gasps when Thor swallows his cock and slides two fingers into him at the same time. He grasps a handful of Thor’s hair and grinds himself onto his brother’s face, moaning and groaning as both of his sexes are sucked and licked and fingered and fucked and his juices shine all the way down to Thor’s wrist.

One of Thor’s hands sneaks up over the swell of Loki’s stomach and continues upward. He finds Loki’s breast and lightly pinches the nipple, tugging and teasing. The arousal building inside Loki surges to its peak faster than he is prepared for. He gasps, teetering on the precipice of ecstasy—it’s excruciating, delectable, unbearable—before Thor’s tongue, wriggling against his clitoris, finally sends him crashing down.

He clenches Thor’s hair in both fists, throws his head back, and fills the room with filthy, delicious curses. He arches off the mattress. His cock paints warm white lines on his pregnant belly and Thor’s face. His cunt throbs around the two fingers inside him. He can almost see the gates of Valhalla, but he’s never felt more alive than now.

Thor is not far behind, grunting and gasping into the hot, humid valley between Loki’s legs, consuming everything his mouth and tongue can reach. He grinds his hips into the side of the bed and stains the sheets as he comes untouched. A line of static electricity pops up from his neck and crackles down his spine, his leg, and disappears into the carpet.

Loki heaves himself upright and pulls Thor up onto the bed. He’s shaking and red-faced, starving for more. The moment Thor is safely aboard, Loki is on him, pulling him down into a kiss. Their frenzied pace slows a little as they lick each other’s mouths. Thor’s beard is soaked, Loki’s scent clinging thickly to it. They settle on the bed, lying side by side. Loki throws his leg over Thor’s hip and rocks against him. Thor grasps himself and begins rubbing urgently, trying to work himself to full hardness again.

It doesn’t take as long as he thought it would.

In a matter of minutes Loki is on his hands and knees, waiting eagerly and looking over his shoulder. Thor rises into position behind him and gently guides himself in. His eye flutters as he sinks deep.

Loki gasps. “Slowly. Oh, please, go slowly. It’s been so long. You feel huge to me.”

“Sorry.” Thor places his hands on Loki’s lower back and rubs, then slowly resumes penetrating, listening for any sound of discomfort from below.

It’s like coming home after a long journey abroad; the slick, velvety slide of Loki’s walls caressing his sensitive head; the tight, warm clench of muscle along his shaft; the first long, slow glide out; the cool air kissing his hot skin; returning to the warmth once more; the slippery squelch that follows.

“Gods, Loki, you feel so good,” Thor gasps. It’s an understatement—he could almost cry.

“Oof.” Loki squirms and leans forward, pulling himself partially off Thor’s length. “You’re still too… hn. Ah. H-hold still, Thor.”

Thor obediently goes still. Loki adjusts his height and presses back, impaling himself, then leans forward, dragging himself off until only the last inch remains inside. He reverses again, this time with a contented sigh.

“Oh, yes. That’s better. Give me a few moments to adjust.”

“Take your time,” says Thor shakily. Kneeling here, his cock stuck out and being stroked at whatever pace Loki decides, is a thrill he wasn’t expecting. The memory of their sex slave fantasy flashes through his mind, only it isn’t entirely fantasty now. The fertile prince has been bred. His belly swells with the child his devoted mate has planted.

You shall make a fine mother. You will soften and wax sweet, full of love and nourishment. I will dote on you. Spoil you. I will fall on my knees and worship you, bearer of my children.

Fresh heat flares up Thor’s neck and face. He looks down at the pale curve of Loki’s back, his shapely buttocks, the lips of his vulva spreading and sucking on his cock. The only thing more beautiful than this image is Loki’s own face.

“I want to see your eyes,” Thor says as Loki continues to please himself. “Would you like to change positions?”

“In a moment. Ah.” Loki licks his grinning lips. “This feels very nice.”

“It does.” Thor caresses Loki’s hips, his thighs. “I’ve missed you so much. I’ve missed this, too. Making love.”

“Oh, you have no idea, brother.”

Loki continues rocking forward and back for a few more minutes, his movements becoming harder and more insistent as his sheath grows accustomed to Thor’s shape and size again. At last he pulls himself free and turns, plops down onto his bottom. Thor’s cock gleams and bobs as he gets himself into position. At the sight of that handsome organ, Loki is suddenly possessed by an impulse.

“Wait,” he utters, placing a hand on Thor’s chest. “Wait, let me…”

He ends his sentence with Thor in his mouth. His lips glide over the ridge of his head and down his shaft, mapping the topography he cannot feel in quite as much detail when it’s entering him from the other end. He can taste himself, tart and familiar, as well as Thor’s own musky flavor.

Thor groans as Loki opens his throat and buries his nose in the wiry curls of his pubic hair.

As much as he enjoys it, Loki can’t maintain this position for long. Aside from his pregnant belly being in the way, Thor is large and his jaw aches from holding his mouth open wide enough to spare him the scrape of teeth. Not that his teeth can do much to Thor’s flesh; it’s simply a favor Loki grants, one that does not go unappreciated. Thor strokes his face lovingly and murmurs a string of praises.

At last he releases Thor and licks his lips, and then Thor is leaning in to kiss him, gently pressing Loki back into the pillows. Loki spreads his legs, lifts his knees. Thor is mindful not to put too much of his weight on his belly. His arms keep him propped up at an acceptable height, and his knees bear most of his weight.

He nudges his hips forward, seeking Loki’s entrance and amateurishly bumping into thigh and balls and labia. Everything but his target.

A hiss of laughter slips from Loki’s leering mouth. “Forgot the way, brother? Need a map? A dowsing rod, perhaps?”

“Shut up,” Thor mutters, but he’s smiling.

It’s nice to see that Loki’s clever, mischievous personality is still alive and well. So much has changed about him in the last year.

The amusement fades from Loki’s face when Thor at last finds his opening. He slides into him, long and thick and smooth, and doesn’t stop until his pelvis is pressed snugly into Loki’s.

“Oh, yes,” Loki hums. He leans his head back in the pillows and closes his eyes, locks his hands behind Thor’s neck. “Just like this.”

Thor knows exactly what Loki has been craving—a slow union, being filled and stretched over and over in steady rhythm, rocked gently to a state of ecstasy—and is determined to appease him even at the expense of his own needs. Fortunately he doesn’t have to; their needs are similar, and Thor sets to his task with nothing but the greatest pleasure.

His spine becomes serpentine. He moves like a wave licking a strand of seashore, rising and receding. His powerful back arches and flexes, muscles rippling as he rolls his hips into Loki again and again. His hand drifts down to grasp Loki’s hardening cock but is gently pulled away.

“Not yet,” Loki whispers. “The climax isn’t the goal. I want to be loved.” He presses his cheek against the hot, sticky skin of Thor’s neck. “I want your love.”

Something tightens in Thor’s chest. “You have it, Loki. Always.”

Loki closes his eyes and presses his lips to the juncture of Thor’s neck and shoulder. He remains there, breathing onto his brother’s golden skin, feeling his pulse throb against his lips.

They last a surprisingly long time. Thor’s pace only changes toward the end, when he speeds up a little and adds just enough thrust to push Loki over the edge. Loki likes his cervix stimulated, Thor remembers, and he takes a few seconds to do this each time before he pulls out, pressing the head of his cock against the silky little bud that will someday deliver their child. His deep-seated grinding also stimulates Loki’s clitoris, and it isn’t long before Loki is gnawing on his lower lip and groaning, lifting his hips to meet Thor’s. His belly bumps into Thor’s, a constant reminder of what their love for each other has created.

At last it comes, the release Loki needs. He pulls Thor’s head to his chest and cries out, his lower body shivering and shuddering and jolting. Thor groans against the soft flesh of Loki’s chest and jerks hard, a wild animal trapped in a snare. And then he’s coming, bucking as he does, emptying himself—all of himself, it feels; his entire being from the inside out—into Loki’s constricting heat.

After a few moments, they both heave a sigh. Thor goes to move but Loki holds him in place.

“Stay where you are,” he orders. “I’m not done yet.”

Thor smiles and obeys. Loki reaches down between his legs and begins to rub his clitoris. Thor helps him by lifting up a little, giving him better access. He watches Loki’s face below him, admiring the darkness of his eyes, the shape of his eyebrows, his nose, his mouth. He wonders how many of these features will also be on their son’s face. He has never seen Loki’s true form before, he realizes dimly. He’s surprised by how much the thought makes his heart ache. Perhaps someday Loki will trust him enough to show him his real skin, if he’s capable of lifting the illusion.

Loki brings himself to orgasm twice more while Thor is still inside him. When he finishes, Thor pulls out, crawls down between his thighs, and cleans up what he spilled. He even goes a step further by taking Loki into his mouth. He sucks him to full hardness, then to another orgasm. He swallows down Loki’s seed and wonders why it tastes so much better than his own. Maybe it’s the vitamin packets. They’re very fruity.

“Alright, enough,” Loki gasps and lays his forearm over his eyes. His belly rises and falls with every breath. “I’m spent. No more. Come lay with me, and don’t you dare touch anything tender. I’m too sensitive.”

“You have my word,” Thor chuckles. He lays down on his side beside Loki, and Loki rolls over onto his side to face him. “May I touch your belly, or is that a ‘tender’ thing as well?”

“My belly is fine. I only meant my sexual parts.”

“Bellies can be sexual.”

“I think you mean sensual.”

“Same thing.”

“It really isn’t.”

Thor shrugs.

Loki gives him a tired grin.

Thor reaches out and lays his hand on the firm dome of Loki’s abdomen, fingers spread. Just feeling. “Do you think we frightened him?” he jokes.

“If we did, he had better get used to it. I refuse to be celibate for the next four months.”

Thor laughs.

For a while they lay there in comfortable silence, heads resting on pillows, Thor gazing tenderly down at Loki’s stomach while Loki gazes at Thor’s face, trying to remember if there was ever a time when he didn’t love him. Wondering if, had he been given the choice, he would have eventually made a husband and a father out of him, becoming a queen, a mother. So many possibilities. How quickly they can disappear.

“I want to do more,” he murmurs at length, his fingers mapping the contours of Thor’s throat.

Thor sighs and rolls onto his back. “Loki…”

“I want to help.” Loki props himself up with one arm. “I want to be a part of Asgard’s future. I’ve done nothing to help our current situation. I’ve done nothing, ever, period.”

“You were king of Asgard for four years. That’s four years’ more experience than I have.”

“No one knew it was me.”

“Some do.”

“Not all of them.”

“Word spreads.”

“And that’s all it is: words. It’s not enough, Thor. There needs to be action. That is what people understand best.”

Thor shakes his head, smiling bitterly at the ceiling. “If this is about currying favor with our people because you think none of them will stand up for you once we reach Earth, then you are mistaken, brother. You are Asgardian. You are Ćsir. You are their prince. They will not give you up to the gallows, and I will certainly not let anyone harm you. Or our child. I will protect you both. You don’t have to do anything. Just… rest. Recover. Let me do this for you.”

“This isn’t about what you can do for me, Thor. This is about what I want to do for myself.” Loki’s voice is stern and determined. “I want to change. I want to become something better than I… than what I am. Than what I’ve always been.”

“I happen to love what you are and what you’ve always been.”

“You have terrible taste. I’m a trickster and a liar. I’m a selfish, sneaky, untrustworthy, backstabbing—”

Thor turns over, places his hand on Loki’s mouth, and looks him in the eye. “I am not going to let you slander yourself like this,” he says, “so stop. Please.”

After a moment, Loki blinks slowly and nods.

Thor removes his hand.

“But what am I if I am not the god of mischief?” Loki persists, lying back down and threading his fingers together over his bump. “What am I if I am not the god of lies? I am nothing. Everything about me, even this skin I’m wearing, is an illusion.”

Thor lays a hand on Loki’s chest, between his breasts. “This heart beating beneath my hand is no illusion. The child you carry is no illusion. The things you feel are no illusion.” The hand slides up to Loki’s head and begins combing his hair. “You don’t have to be a hero to them, Loki. Just be there. See them. Be seen. Let them into your heart. Then you will find what you seek, I am almost certain of it.”

Loki smiles and, for perhaps the first time since he learned he was pregnant, rubs his hand absently, affectionately over the swell of his stomach. His first truly maternal gesture.

Thor notices but says nothing, not wishing to spoil the moment in case the gesture was unintentional. Instead he reaches over and lays his hand on top of Loki’s, rubbing with him.

Loki’s smile straightens and his eyes suddenly go wide. “Oh.”

“What is it?” And then a look of wonder falls over Thor’s face. “Is he moving again? Can I speak to him?”

“Speak? You don’t have to ask permission for that, you fool. He’s not an emperor.”

Thor slides down and delivers a greeting kiss just to the right of Loki’s navel. “Hello, son,” he murmurs, drawing his hand over the taut skin. “How are you, baby boy? Can you hear me?”

“I think he can. He’s still kicking.”

“Really?” Thor lifts his head, tears in his left eye. Though his right eye is gone and the lids are scarred shut, the duct still works; moisture glistens at the corner. He sniffs and wipes his nose, grinning widely, and lays his bearded cheek against Loki’s stomach. “You were such a surprise to your mother and I, do you know that? But I’m very happy you’re here. I love you, little one. I can’t wait to meet you. There is so much I want to tell you. So many things to teach you.”

Loki’s heart is suddenly aching, his eyes filling with tears. He thinks of everything he’s lost. Loved ones. Homes. People and places and intangible things like trust, dignity, honor. So little is left now. So little remains. What does remain must be cherished, especially the memories, for those that live are their only keepers.

He reaches down and runs his fingers through Thor’s hair. “Sing us a song,” he says.

Thor lifts his head. “I’m shit at singing, Loki. You know that.”

“I know.” Loki smiles. “Sing anyway. For him. He doesn’t know how bad you are yet.”

Thor chuckles, his scar wrinkling. “Alright. Let me think of something.” After a few moments, he takes a breath and begins to sing in a low, deep voice.

Loki shuts his eyes and breathes. Relaxes.

In his mind is a golden hall filled with bubbles, his mother’s laughter, ringing like bells, and the happy voices of two young children.

Enter the security code shown below: