His blood is late.
Six weeks late, to be precise, with not even a foreboding cramp to suggest its impending arrival.
This is not the first time something like this has happened. Whenever Loki is away from Asgard or the steady, predictable phases of a ruling moon, his cycles are thrown into irregularity. The time he spent in Chitauri Space was particularly gruesome; he bled the entire duration of his stay and by the time he arrived on Earth to fulfill his end of the deal, he was a gray, irritable, sickly shadow of himself, tortured by cramps and a terrible complexion, ready to destroy anything that stood in his way.
They are between realms now, scudding through space in a two-million square-foot Sakaarian lunch box, so Loki tries not to be too alarmed by the absence of his triannual visitor. He will bleed eventually, he tells himself. There is a logical explanation for all of this. He has been very stressed lately and the artificial gravity probably isn’t helping—getting slammed out of the Bifrost by Thor’s psychotic sister might have something to do with it, too—oh, and Sakaar. Of course. Time passes very differently there, so perhaps that is the chief reason his cycle is off.
Wait a moment. If being on Sakaar disrupted his natural rhythm, could he have been in season when he and Thor first . . . ?
No, that would be impossible. Out of the question. His fertile days are always very apparent, marked by stark changes in mood and appetite and libido. He would have noticed if he were uncontrollably, sexually attracted to someone.
You couldn’t resist your brother, a cold, slithery voice whispers to Loki.
Yes, but it isn’t just feelings. There are all the physical reactions as well; the wetness and the flushing, the trembling, the deep ache in his—
Thor had you every day for a solid month, sometimes twice a day. You didn’t yearn for intimacy because you were getting it, you fool.
Ridiculous. The implications, the very idea, simply preposterous. Beyond absurd . . .
Stress. Stress is a powerful stimulus. It’s responsible for veritable rash of ailments and disorders, therefore it makes perfect sense: he is not cycling because he is terribly, terribly stressed, and worrying about it makes him even more stressed, which delays it even further, and being trapped on this tedious voyage with no way to alleviate his boredom just adds fuel to the fire.
Norns have mercy. When his cycle finally starts, it’s going to be the Chitauri Bloodbath all over again. Loki is nauseated just thinking about it . . . or perhaps that’s just the ship’s food disagreeing with him. It’s already made him vomit three times this week. He should mention something to Thor about it. Anything that will turn a Jötunn’s stomach cannot possibly be good for their people.
The people, Loki corrects himself.
On the other hand, perhaps he ought to just keep quiet and endure like everyone else on this wretched ship. Thor is already aware of how much he despises their rations, and as for his reproductive issues, well, that’s none of Thor’s business anyway. It will sort itself out eventually. It always does. It always has. It surely will.
Everything will be alright, Loki assures and reassures himself. It’s just a little irregularity, a brief hormonal adjustment, no need to panic. Besides, he would know if there were something . . . growing inside him. He would feel it. He would have symptoms. He would just know. In fact, he isn’t even certain he can get pregnant. He’s possibly most likely undoubtedly and definitely maybe sterile, and there is absolutely no reason for him to be worrying like this. None at all.
It’s very difficult for Loki to lie to Thor now—at least without having some sort of amusing prank waiting to unfold later on, and especially since they seem to have turned over a new leaf together—but for three weeks he finds himself doing precisely that. He tells Thor it’s “that time of the year” and pretends to be grouchy and crampy, afflicted with cravings and irritating little headaches. It works, proving once again what a superb actor he is, and he hopes that Thor will just back off and leave him alone. It is rather a nasty process after all, he tells him. Bad luck, dirty blood, menfolk beware and all that.
But Thor, in complete defiance of every one of Loki’s expectations, draws even nearer to him. He gazes at him with reverence and concern, asks him how he’s feeling, if he’s sleeping well, if he needs anything. He takes time out of his busy schedule to search the decks for Loki with the singular purpose of spending a few minutes in his company. He gathers technical manuals and interactive holotablets full of instructions on proper ship maintenance and deposits them in Loki’s stateroom.
“It is not the most interesting material,” Thor admits after he finds Loki earnestly poring over three texts at once, “but I know how fascinated you are by foreign languages, and there are a few in these manuals that I’ve never seen before. Perhaps you might figure them out and educate the rest of us.”
All Loki can do is utter a touched, tenuous, “Thank you.”
It doesn’t stop at mental and emotional support, though. Thor, who has never in his life given less than 110 percent and commits himself wholeheartedly to any task, offers to rub Loki’s shoulders and massage his belly to relieve his cramps—he does have a healing touch, Thor reminds him—and brings him cool, damp rags whenever Loki complains that his head hurts.
Loki is too stunned by these selfless overtures to refuse them. For the greater half of a month he spends his evenings in Thor’s suite, sprawled on his bed and guiltily enduring the sweetest, tenderest care Thor has to offer. Whether it’s a long, lazy foot rub or the warm press of Thor’s hands on his abdomen, it soothes Loki to the point of utter fatalism. A monstrous asteroid is headed straight for them? Must be their time to go. Thanos appears out of nowhere and boards their ship? Oh well, it was nice while it lasted. A black hole is slowly drawing them into its crushing embrace? At least they’ll die together.
It’s profoundly intimate without being sexual, this private conference they share at the close of each day. Thor tells Loki of his successes and screw ups, his daily struggle as both captain and king, his ideas and plans for the future. Loki cannot resist commenting and occasionally finds himself engaged in deep, intricate discussion about politics, society, and history—subjects that, until very recently, he believed were lost on his brother.
It’s a much more stimulating way of spending an evening than loitering belowdecks and throwing daggers at Sakaarian cockroaches.
“. . . so Korg held the duct aloft while Val climbed into it,” Thor continues, “and she was able to squeeze through the diffuser, get Miek unstuck, and replace the filter. Her cursing, however, that was the most amusing part of this whole ordeal. Did you know that Kronans could blush? I didn’t. It was like watching rock turn into lava. I halfway expected his face to melt off.”
Lying on his back with his eyes closed, Loki smirks. “It sounds as if the Valkyrie could stand to have her own filter replaced.”
“Well,” says Thor, stretched out on his side next to him, “she curses more when she’s sober, you see, but I didn’t want to send her into the ventilation system blind, staggering drunk.”
“A fire hazard for certain.”
“Undoubtedly.” Thor chuckles. “I’d rather have her punishing our ears instead of her liver, but in any case, she got the job done. Asgard’s first royal bodyguard and HVAC technician.”
“You have a most interesting retinue, your majesty.”
“That I do.” Thor lets out a contented sigh and goes back to gently kneading the belt of bare skin below Loki’s navel.
They are both dressed comfortably tonight: robes and lightweight smocks, trousers and jerkins, slippers and bare feet, no armor or weapons to be seen. The dark green tunic Loki wears is pulled up just enough to reveal his slim, flat midsection.
Well. Mostly flat. It’s just typical end-of-the-day bloating, totally normal, probably those awful meat pies they had for dinner earlier. At least Loki has managed to keep all eight of his down.
“Feeling any better?” Thor asks.
“Mm,” Loki murmurs drowsily. “Yes, much.” One arm is folded beneath his head, the other resting against Thor’s chest, fingers nestled under the soft whiskers of his chin. He is warm and relaxed and feeling spectacularly spoiled right now. Perhaps he should lie about feeling unwell more often—look at what it gets him.
Thor smiles and spreads his fingers, continuing his caresses. “You seem to be thriving. That makes me happy. I was a little worried for you at first.”
“On Asgard. When you finally revealed yourself. I thought you looked a bit diminished, to be honest. You were alright, I suppose; you seemed hale and strong enough, just a little on the lean side.”
“Lean? Are you serious? I’d been living like a king.”
“You looked smaller than I remembered.”
“You hadn’t seen me in four years, Thor, and I was practically on holiday the entire time.”
“Are you saying you shrank?”
Loki manages to roll his eyes even though they’re closed. “I’m saying I had been taking it easy. I hadn’t been fighting my way across all Nine Realms like you. Imagine my shock when you showed up completely unannounced, looking like some sort of swollen, hairy, disgruntled beast with the corpses of your enemies strapped to your back.”
Thor grins. “Was it not an arousing sight?”
“No. I was quite startled, actually, especially since you weren’t expected back for another year.”
“Oh, well, I am very sorry for that, brother. I shall try to do a better job next time.”
“Of announcing yourself?”
“Of startling you.”
An amused huff escapes Loki’s lips.
Thor continues to rub his brother’s abdomen, tracing the gentle contours of his hip bones and massaging the soft little swell between them, attempting to erase a pain that doesn’t exist.
“I’m just glad you’ve put on weight since then. You’re looking much better.”
Loki’s eyes snap open, his brows drawing down at a sharp angle. “I’ve what.”
“Y-you’re not fat or anything,” Thor adds hastily. “Because you’re not. Definitely not. You’re a slim, trim . . . weasel, er, a strong mink-like creature. Very sleek and, you know, fighting fit. Agile? You look good is what I’m trying to say. Fuller, healthier.” He nods crisply. “Your skin is radiant and your eyes are bright and your hair is simply—”
“Thor, I have been living on the bleeding edge of sanity since Ragnarok. I haven’t had a good meal in months. I’ve lost all semblance of a normal sleep cycle, and I know for a fact that my hair has never looked worse . . . Well, except for when I was on Earth. That was the worst it’s ever been.”
“No, I mean it,” Thor insists, “you truly are flourishing, Loki. I don’t know how you’re doing it, but you are. Adversity usually deteriorates most people, yet you grow lovelier every day.” His lips curve slyly and his hand dips low enough to brush the coarse hair in Loki’s pants. “You are irresistible. I only wish you weren’t feeling so poorly. I would make love to you right now, just as you are.”
He leans down and kisses Loki’s brow, and Loki can’t deny that a shudder of desire flares through him at the sound of Thor’s low, lush promise and his warm breath on his skin. But more powerful than these pleasant things is his concern over Thor’s earlier words. It’s suddenly all he can think about.
He reaches down and gently lifts Thor’s hand from his belly with an apologetic look. “Well, I’m feeling a bit tired now . . .”
“I’m not starting anything, Loki, I promise.”
“I know, but I very nearly fell asleep earlier”—that is true, at least—“and you did a marvelous job of curing my pains, so I think I’m ready to retire for the evening. I might even be able to fall asleep at a decent hour, you’ve soothed me that much. Thank you for your services, brother, now if you’ll excuse me . . .” He doesn’t wait for a response before he starts sliding toward the edge of the bed.
Thor launches upright. “You’re welcome to spend the night! I won’t crowd you, I swear. You’ll have plenty of room, and I’ll sleep on my side so I don’t snore.”
Loki stands and tilts his head, gives Thor one of his heavily-used you-can’t-be-serious faces. “You do not want to share a bed with a bleeding Frost Giant.”
“Oh, no. Gods, no. But you’re a miniature Frost Giant, so I don’t mind.” He grins brightly.
Loki, determined to leave the room now or die trying, goes for the jugular: “I’ll bleed through the sheets and ruin your mattress.”
“We can put down a towel or something.”
“I’ll bleed on you.”
“It’s only blood. I’ve been covered in blood before. My blood, my comrades’ blood, the blood of my enemies, dragon’s blood, troll’s blood, acres and acres of bleeding entrails, it doesn’t bother me. It’s practically my natural state.”
“Loki.” Thor raises both eyebrows seriously. “There is nothing about you that I find gross or unattractive . . . well. Maybe your attitude on occasion, but physically, you’ve got nothing. If you would rather sleep in your own bed because you get better rest there, I understand, but don’t recoil because you think I am offended by a little blood and tissue. I’m not. I wasn’t joking earlier, I really would lie with you right now.” His mouth twists comically. “In fact, I’m getting hard just thinking about it.”
Loki raises his hand and turns to leave. “Good night, brother.”
“No, really, hear me out, I think it’d be sexy. You, me. A bed with white sheets. My cock all shiny and covered in your—”
“Good night, brother.”
Thor tumbles off the side of the bed and sprawls to the floor just as the door whooshes shut. He pulls himself up and winces, hissing through his bared teeth.
“Yeah. Should not have said that. Ngh. Damn it.”
Mirror. The nearest mirror. He must find a mirror.
This is the only thought possessing Loki’s mind as he hurries down the corridor. He knows there is one in his suite, and while he has an overwhelming desire to put as much distance between himself and Thor right now, the need to perform a quick self-examination overrides his isolationist compulsions.
He enters his quarters and locks the door behind himself, then makes his way to the bedroom, stripping off his clothes and tossing them carelessly to the floor. In a few moments he is standing nude before the large mirror on the wall—the same one that, on several memorable occasions, he and Thor have made love in front of. But he tries not to think of that now. He’s already spent the better part of the evening half-hard and mostly moist; the mere thought of sex lately is enough to send both of his systems into overdrive.
He puts his hands on his hips and looks at himself head-on, eyes darting back and forth, up and down, searching for discrepancies in his usual appearance. He spends a considerable amount of time staring at his midsection, comparing it to recent memory. He leans in, studies his face, leans back. He turns to the side, sucks in his stomach, relaxes, sucks in again.
“I’ve not changed,” he mutters. “I look the same. Exactly the same.”
But his eyes say something different. They say, no, you look better. You look healthy. Thor is right. (Never mind that little lump down there.) You’ve lived like a king for four years. You’re just soft. We all get soft as we age. (Don’t stare at it, that’s how you become obsessed.) Your face has never been clearer. See? You’re glowing. Isn’t that amazing. Usually your complexion is sick and pasty, but that’s what happens when a Jötunn wears another’s skin after all. This is a pleasant change indeed. A major one, most profound. A happy accident. A pleasant side effect of being—
“I am not pregnant.”
The words are thick and sour in Loki’s mouth. He stares at his tiny paunch, even dares to put his hand on it. He presses carefully, expecting to feel . . . he doesn’t know. Something squirming inside him? Pain? Nausea? A voice bellowing from the caverns of his soul, THOU ART WITH CHILD, LOKI, SON OF ODIN?
But he feels nothing. Just flesh, fat, and muscle. No movement. No weird bumps, lumps, or knots. No baby-shaped outlines. There is nothing in him. Absolutely nothing.
Which is exactly how much you know about Jötunn reproduction, you blithering idiot.
No, his womb is empty as it always has been, as it always shall be, because he is a freak of nature, a barren, fruitless abomination, the last and only one of his kind, thank mercy for that, the end, matter resolved, now get dressed and pull yourself together. You’re being ridiculous.
Loki turns from the mirror and swipes his pants from the floor.
“Madness,” he mutters. “Total madness.”
Loki’s primary method of dealing with unpleasant life situations—which have lately been increasing at an exponential rate—is to willfully and purposely ignore them, hide his debilitating anxiety behind a smile, and pray that time will eventually heal all wounds.
Gods, he truly is his parents’ child.
The Ark is now almost six months into its voyage and Loki’s blood is two months overdue. His powers have been sporadic or entirely absent for over ten weeks and he’s had no fewer than three panic attacks in the last month. His self-control is gone. The smallest hitch in his day-to-day routine can either plunge him into a black depression or catapult him into a fiery whirlwind of impotent rage. His appetite is mercurial; his stomach oscillates between being a bottomless pit and a shrunken, sickly little pocket, and not even his hoarded stash of special treats agrees with him anymore. When he’s not hunched over the toilet in his stateroom lavatory, he’s either sleeping in four-hour intervals down in his nest or riding his brother like he’s going to war. Even the Valkyrie would have been impressed by his horsemanship.
“Loki, please,” Thor gasps between kisses, “I can’t—I haven’t the time for this.”
They are bumping along the wall of the control corridor, pawing and tugging at one another ravenously, as if it has been months and not hours since their last coupling.
“It won’t take long,” Loki whispers, his face flushed and his eyes dangerously dark. “I’m already halfway there.”
“I have a. Have a meeting . . .”
“I have a need. Let them wait. I cannot.”
They spill onto the empty flight deck in a tangle of arms and leather. Thor blindly slaps at the control panel until the door shuts behind them. Loki keeps his lips locked to Thor’s as he begins to rip off his outer garments. Thor unfastens his trousers with one hand and cups Loki’s face with the other, holding their kiss together. Loki urges Thor backward across the carpeted floor until he falls into the pilot’s chair, then he sinks to his knees and inserts himself between Thor’s thick thighs.
“This evening would have been more ideal,” Thor says, watching Loki’s slim, talented fingers dive into the front of his pants and scoop out some of his best parts. “We could have gone slow and taken our—”
“I can’t wait that long. I need this from you now.”
Thor grips the arms of the chair as Loki sucks him, his wicked tongue tickling Thor’s crown and teasing his foreskin, his lips making rude smacking sounds as he gulps him ever deeper into his throat. Thor’s head falls back and he utters a low, lusty moan.
Too desperate for stimulation to care about dignity anymore, Loki begins to rub himself against Thor’s boot. He’s hard, he’s wet, and he needs to get Thor in a matching state of arousal as quickly as possible because there is only one thing capable of quenching his thirst, and that is his brother’s cock. Not his fingers, not his tongue, not even his likeness in wood. He craves the fullness only Thor’s flesh can provide him. That first uncomfortable stretch as he is entered and spread open. Those first two or three strokes, oh, Loki loves them; when he’s still tight and the feeling is fresh and new, that low-level electric surge that blooms through his belly and wakes everything up. And then how his body adjusts to the slow glide of Thor’s manhood, his muscles relaxing and his sheath pouring out slick to coat them both. He wants to have Thor throbbing deep inside him, as deep as he can possibly go. He wants to feel him as he crests, that foreboding little twitch just before it all spills insi—
Loki is coming before he knows what is happening, half-dressed and wholly mindless, drilling himself into Thor’s boot like a dog. He drags his mouth off of Thor’s erection and shuts his eyes, uttering a series of soft, short little gasps:
“Ah! Oh, Thor! Brother, yes—”
Hands reach out and touch his head, stroke his cheeks, guide him through his jerky, jolting orgasm. But before the last tremors are even over, he finds himself being dragged to his feet by Thor, now sitting on the chair’s edge and working with inordinate haste to discard whatever clothing still remains on Loki’s body.
“You’re so impatient,” he mutters, his movements sharp and rough. “Can’t even”—rip—“wait two minutes, you impetuous”—flap—“insatiable little . . .”
Loki doesn’t wait for Thor to finish stripping him; he crawls into his lap with one leg still trapped in his breeches and settles into position. Thor reaches down and finds him with his hand, cupping and caressing his hairless vulva, feeling for its opening. Three large fingers slip up into Loki, and he moans as Thor begins to work him open.
“You’re so wet,” says Thor raggedly, and it’s true. Loki’s juices are dripping out of him, his lips slippery and engorged, hot to the touch. “So sloppy. I’ve never seen you like this.”
Loki takes his brother in his hand and guides him into place. Thor leaves off his current task and grasps his cock, holds it up for Loki to mount. Loki aligns himself and sinks down onto it with a fluttery sigh and a faint upward twitch of his eyebrows, relishing the sensations that only the first penetration will bring him. His sheath is swollen almost completely shut from his earlier climax, but it’s no match for Thor’s organ; it pries into him slowly, dragging against his tight, silky walls and spreading him apart.
Thor pulls Loki close and looks up at him with his single dark eye. His face is red, searing with heat. “Do I still please you, Loki? Am I still your man?”
Loki smirks at the vulnerable note in Thor’s voice. He drags his fingers through Thor’s short, shaggy hair and pets his bristly cheek. “You please me, brother. You are the only man for me.”
Thor growls happily and squeezes a handful of Loki’s haunch, then they begin to thrust and grind against one another. Their movements are limited by the confines of the chair, but somehow that just increases their enthusiasm.
Loki leans back in his brother’s arms and bounces up and down on his cock, panting in steady rhythm, his hands gripping Thor’s shoulders for support. When he needs a break from the constant thrusting, he simply straddles Thor’s thighs and rolls his hips—slow, sensual, serpentine circles that make the wettest, most indecent little noises. Thor loves it, if the guttural moans and heavy breathing are any indication.
The relative stillness allows Thor to take advantage of Loki’s other parts that aren’t quite as accessible when he’s riding at full tilt. He supports Loki’s back with one hand while the other reaches out to squish one of his breasts into a soft mound. He ducks his head and latches on to a nipple, sucking it hard, pulling the bud gently between his teeth and stroking it with his tongue. Loki groans and practically smothers Thor in his arms, never ceasing the motion of his hips.
“Ah, yes, Thor. Nhh, Thorrr . . .”
Thor switches sides and clamps his mouth onto the other breast, giving it the same treatment, until Loki moans long and loud and comes with a violent shudder.
Thor keeps moving, fucking Loki through his second orgasm while Loki clings to his neck and digs in with his fingernails and utters some of the dirtiest, most exciting things Thor has ever heard. The lap of his trousers becomes damp with Loki’s discharge, though neither of them notices until after Thor climaxes, raging and roaring, and Loki screams his way through his third and final orgasm.
In the aftermath they sit panting for breath in the chair, sweaty and ruffled and sated. They share a devilish grin and lean their heads together, breathing each other’s hot exhaust. After a minute or two, Loki lifts up just enough to allow Thor to slip out of him. Rivulets of semen follow, trickling down the insides of his thighs and soaking into Thor’s already ruined pants.
“It’s all coming out of you,” Thor murmurs, looking down at their mess. “I thought it usually stays in. I haven’t hurt you, have I?”
Loki is fully aware that he’s leaking everywhere, having felt it before he could even see it. He gulps down his alarm and flashes Thor a disingenuous smile. “I’m fine. I suppose you just bring out the best in me.”
That seems to be enough of an answer for Thor, still rosy and somewhat dazed from the intensity of their lovemaking. He hugs Loki in his arms and purrs, “No, I believe the best is still in you.”
It’s an innocent comment, probably more to do with integrity than an actual physical presence, but the combination of Thor’s tender tone and all of his recent worries turns Loki’s heart into a block of ice. He dismounts awkwardly and begins to gather his clothes.
“You should get going,” he says. “You’ll be late for your meeting.”
“I can’t meet anyone looking like this.” Thor gestures to the front of his trousers. “Do you think you could—oh, right. You went for a double on that last one, didn’t you?”
“I’m afraid so,” says Loki apologetically. “No magic right now.” The fact that he had no magic beforehand is something he deliberately omits.
Thor makes a pained expression. “Damn. My room is on the other side of the ship. I’ve got to walk all the way there looking like this. Everyone will think I wet myself. I can hear it now: King Pissy-Pants, what a leader!”
Without warning, Loki bursts into laughter. All of his uncertainties and self-absorbed concerns are temporarily forgotten, and for a few wild, lovely seconds the only thing that exists in his world is Thor. His simple, silly, sweet-hearted brother, whose smile is more brilliant and precious than sunshine in Jötunheim. In those few seconds Loki loves him with a fervor and fierceness more powerful than anything he’s ever felt, and before he knows it, he is crying. Tears roll down his cheeks in hot, salty lines but he forces himself to keep laughing even though his amusement is long gone.
Perhaps Thor notices the subtle change in pitch because he rises from the chair and goes over to Loki, takes him in his arms, and kisses his face.
“I do love the sound of your laughter,” he says warmly, “even if it’s me you’re laughing at.”
Loki swipes away his tears and puts on a weak grin, keeping his gaze lowered. He doesn’t want Thor to see what might be lurking in the shadows behind his eyes.
“Are we still on for this evening?”
“Of course.” Loki nods and sniffs. “Dinner and a game of Xandarian chess, which I am going to win again, by the way.”
“Probably. But winning isn’t everything.”
“Winning is the only thing.”
Thor smiles at him kindly and plants a kiss between his eyebrows. “I shall see you this evening then. Perhaps we’ll be able to keep our clothes on a little longer.”
“I wouldn’t count on it.”
Thor laughs, kisses him one last time, then slips from the flight deck with all the careful haste of a lifelong inmate breaking out of a maximum security prison. Loki shakes his head at the ridiculous sight before turning his attention to getting dressed.
As he pulls on his breeches he feels the sticky residue of their union coating his inner thighs, and his thoughts begin to wander to a cold, dark, unpleasant place, one that he has been spending a lot of time in recently. By the time he slips his boots on and adjusts his jerkin, his features are bent from the weight of his distress. Without Thor’s warm, protective presence, all of Loki’s demons come slinking out to torture him, jabbing their spears of doubt and insecurity into his oversensitive faculties. He combs his hair from his eyes and wanders over to the pilot’s chair, lowering himself into it as if he were an old man. He slouches back, his legs outstretched and his fingers tapping nervously against the arms.
He knows. He knows and yet he doesn’t. There can be no other explanation. This is the third time it’s happened, his body rejecting Thor’s seed by not staying tight. It doesn’t happen if he climaxes with nothing inside him, or if Thor spills on his belly or his back. It’s only when he does it inside. And deep down, Loki knows why.
You don’t need his seed anymore because it’s already done its job, that familiar, slithery voice whispers to him. You’ve got a baby in you. Thor’s baby, which he planted many weeks ago. And you let him, you negligent slut.
Loki balls his hands into fists and goes to war with his own thoughts.
I don’t know for sure. I don’t know. No one knows—
You do know. Stop denying it.
It could be a benign growth. A cyst. A hernia. A neoplasmic aberration.
It could be your child. Or children. A lovely pair of twins, one for Thor and one for—
No. I need confirmation. I need a healer.
You need a midwife.
I need someone who knows about these things, who can tell me for certain.
Then you know what you must do. Go, coward. Go visit him. Ask him to take a look at you and tell you what you already know.
I know nothing.
You’re fucking right you don’t.
And then, mercifully, the ugly voice speaks no more. Loki’s body relaxes and he slumps down even farther. His eyes are a million miles away, yet lost inside himself. His hand unconsciously drifts down to his belly. It’s not very noticeable now, sitting all squashed like this, but when he lies flat on his back or raises his arms above his head, it can be seen. The lump. The thing he’s been staring at for the past month, watching it grow more and more prominent.
After nearly ten minutes of some of the deepest contemplating he’s ever done in his life, Loki pulls himself out of the seat and takes a slow, steady breath.
He may not be ready, but he must know for certain.
There are many canteens and cafeterias on the Ark, at least two for each deck, but it’s the one marked DJs Only (Starboard) where Loki finds him.
He sits alone at a small table by the window, legs crossed and boots propped up on the adjacent chair, eating a cup of Sakaarian pot noodles with a pair of chopsticks. He stares out into the measureless sea of stars and raises another tangle of soggy pasta to his mouth.
“I saw you coming,” he says before taking a bite.
Loki scowls at Heimdall’s back. “I wasn’t trying to hide.” He pauses and wrinkles his nose. “How can you eat that slop? It’s disgusting.”
“They say hunger is the best spice.” Heimdall slowly lifts his feet from the chair and sets the cup on the table. He dabs at his mouth with a napkin, then turns to regard Loki with his stern, unwavering gaze. “What do you want?”
Loki is too agitated to care about the bluntness of the question or the fact that he was not properly addressed. If his fears prove to be correct, he’s going to find himself occupied with much more serious matters.
Like backaches and displaced organs and excruciating pain and torn flesh and gouts of blood and tiny, screeching wails—
He shuts his eyes and steps forward, restlessly picking at his hands. He had been rehearsing how he was going to say this during his long search through the ship, but now his mouth is dry and his silver tongue is—well, that is a moniker he hadn’t exactly been living up to these last few years. Anything silver of his is surely tarnished beyond recognition now.
“I know things haven’t always been amicable between us,” he starts in a cool, diplomatic tone, “especially of late, but I think the time has come that we cast off the shambles of the past and forgive each other for the numerous mistakes that were made—in haste and anger, I should mention, and while under extreme duress—and embrace the future together as friends.” A charming smile punctuates his preamble.
Heimdall blinks tiredly. “This is not why you’ve come here.”
Loki’s smile flatlines. “No, it isn’t.”
“Then what is the real reason?”
Loki rolls his lips inward and stares down at the floor. After a moment, he sighs and raises his head. “I need you to look inside me.”
Heimdall cocks an eyebrow. “I have the Allsight, highness, but even I cannot see into a person’s thoughts. I am not a mind reader.”
“It is not my mind I want you to look into.” His fidgeting hands settle on his abdomen, just below the barely-noticeable bump in his tunic.
Heimdall is quiet for a long while, neither blinking nor seeming to breathe. Then his eyes turn downward.
“I have seen things on this ship,” he says slowly, “that would make the eyes of mortal men bleed. I have heard that which would sicken the hearts of Asgard’s most shameless sinners and cause fathers to curse their heirs and mothers to fall to their knees and wail in despair. I have seen abominations and perversions and wickedness that would destroy all vestiges of brotherly love and poison the very roots of Yggdrasil if it were allowed to spread.” Heimdall lifts his eyes again. “But these things I have not seen in the love you share with our king.”
The humiliation and horror that had been burning on Loki’s face abruptly twists into something almost resembling relief. Tears spring to his eyes as he swallows the knot in his throat.
Heimdall beckons to him: “Come, highness. Let’s have a look at you.”
Loki collects himself and approaches Heimdall like a timid child. He stops within arm’s reach and waits awkwardly, his hands fretting at his sides.
“It is difficult to see through flesh,” says Heimdall gently. “The fewer layers, the better.”
With great reluctance, Loki lifts the hem of his tunic and pushes down the waist of his trousers, exposing a strip of pale skin.
Heimdall slides forward and very slowly, very carefully lays his large, warm hand on Loki’s belly. His eyes darken from gold to sunset-orange as they focus on something that is much nearer than he is accustomed to gazing.
Loki’s heart is beating so madly that he’s sure Heimdall must feel it. He watches his face for clues as to what he might be seeing, but the former gatekeeper remains expressionless. His eyes flit back and forth, refocus, settle, and move again.
Almost a full minute passes, though it feels like hours. Then Heimdall lifts his hand away and his eyes return to their normal color. He looks up at Loki.
Loki goes blank with shock. His color drains to ashy white. He suddenly feels wobbly and faint and he paws at the air beside him in search of the other chair. Heimdall takes his arm and guides him to the seat. Loki collapses into it heavily and sits there without blinking, without moving—just breathing.
“So I’m pregnant,” he says at length.
Heimdall doesn’t respond. His silence is confirmation enough.
“Is it one, or . . . ?”
“Just one. A small thing.”
Heimdall stiffens his lip and considers for a moment. Then he makes a fist and holds it out. Loki stares at it numbly.
“Does it look like me?” he croaks. “Is it a mon—a monster?”
“Monsters are not born, highness. They are made.” Heimdall’s voice softens a little. “The child is small but well-formed. Not a monster.”
Loki screws his face into a grimace and presses his fist to his lips, fighting back his tears. “What am I going to do?”
Heimdall is silent.
Loki’s features bend with anguish. “Heimdall, what should I do?”
“That is not something I can answer.”
“I’m open to suggestions.”
“It is not my place to suggest.”
“Surely you have an opinion!”
“It is my job to see, not interfere.”
“Damn you, you contrary—!” Loki cuts himself off and takes a deep breath, closes his eyes. After a moment he speaks, this time more levelly:
“Heimdall. I have failed in everything I have ever done. Every attempt to do right. Every effort to succeed, to make others proud. I have failed as a son, I have failed as a brother, I have failed as a prince and a king and a sorcerer and a Jötunn and an Aesir, and I certainly have failed at being a good person.”
“And now you think you will fail as a parent?”
Loki shakes his head. “I know I will.”
Heimdall leans back in his chair. “Then you are greater and more powerful than me, if you can see that far into the future.”
There is a momentary lull as Loki wrings his hands and tries to gather his wits. “Do you think I should I tell him?”
“That is none of my business.”
“Do you think I should I keep it?”
“Again, that is none of my business.”
The tears flooding Loki’s eyes finally break free and go skidding down his cheeks one after another.
“However,” Heimdall amends, “if I may lend an observation? You made this child together, did you not?”
Loki doesn’t answer, but it seems like a rhetorical question anyway.
“If a decision must be made, it would be best if both parents were in agreement. This is something I have seen time and time again, over many thousands of years. But as I have said, it is only an observation.”
Silence descends in the little café. The ship hums steadily as it continues on its charted course. On the other side of the window, stars and space flotsam drift by so slowly that they seem almost stationary.
After several minutes, Loki sniffs, stands, and faces Heimdall resolutely. “Thank you for your help.”
A vague look of surprise crosses Heimdall’s face. “I did not see that coming.”
Loki tries to look friendly but doesn’t quite succeed. “I would be very appreciative if no one else were to find out about this.”
Heimdall gives him a slow, respectful nod. “Understood, highness.”
Loki returns the gesture and leaves the room, his hurried footsteps fading down the corridor.
Deep in the belly of the ship, Loki closes the hatch to his room and takes a seat at his makeshift table. He leans against the spool with his clasped hands pressed tightly to his mouth and stares blankly at the wall.
His mind cannot get past that word; it has completely frozen all rational thought processes. He wants to think of options, scenarios, try to gauge reactions and come up with a plan, but it’s impossible. His brain is running a circuit around that powerful, terrifying descriptor, and he’s suddenly aware of every muscle, nerve, and fiber in his body.
He can feel it now. His . . . the thing inside him. It has mass and weight, a distinct and undeniable presence. Small in all regards, yes, but now that he knows for certain, he can’t believe he ever thought he wasn’t pregnant. Was his mind really so powerful that it kept him from feeling such tangible evidence?
And then, like a golden phantom rising from the graves of the past, he hears his mother’s voice.
You’re always so perceptive about everyone but yourself.
It comes to Loki as both an insult and a tender prophecy, hitting him like a fist in the stomach. His face crumples and he bends over the table, burying his head in his folded arms. He shudders and shakes and pours his tears onto the spool’s rough plastic surface. He can see her warm, loving smile. He can feel her gentle fingers on his face. He aches for her company, for her mere presence. The scab that she left on his heart is suddenly ripped off and the wound begins to bleed afresh.
She would have be able to help him now. She would have understood, would have known what to do. She was the Allmother. She was his mother. She still is, dead or alive, yesterday and tomorrow, and Loki loves her and misses her so desperately that it feels like his chest is nothing but a raw, gaping hole.
“Oh, Mother,” he sighs in the humid darkness of his arms, “I wish you were here.”
The chattering of many small, moving parts suddenly rises from the table, followed by a soft whirring. Loki’s head snaps up and he sees his Sakaarian music box opening like some kind of bizarre, cuboidal flower.
“Abort,” he orders, panic in his voice. “Cancel. Override command! Turn off, you bloody—”
A large holoscreen leaps into view, accompanied by a cheery jingle. A second later the screen flashes and Loki recoils as a real-time image of the Grandmaster fills the frame. He appears to be luxuriating at an indoor spa, if the towel on his head and blue mud on his face are any clue. He snaps to attention the moment he is onscreen, which sends the cucumber slices on his eyelids rolling down the front of his bathrobe.
“Oh boy, a distress signal,” he mutters, tapping at something on the screen’s edge. “Uh, yeah, hello? Who’s this?”
“Sorry!” Loki cries, hiding his face with one hand while the other frantically jabs at the box, trying to turn it off. “Accidental communique, terribly sorry for the confusion, must be a malfun—”
“Is that you, Lucky?” The Grandmaster’s face enlarges as he leans closer. “It is! Wow, hey, I thought you were a-goners, kid! What happened? Did that Lord of Thunder kidnap you, too? He did, didn’t he. I knew it. Jeez, I, I’ve been trying to figure out why you just suddenly took off and disappeared without leaving a note or anything, but now it all makes sense. Are you okay, bubby? You in mortal danger or something? Do I need to send out my homicide squad?”
Attempting to process this much unmitigated insanity is impossible, and between this and his preexisting state of heart-rending grief and horror, Loki is very close to losing what’s left of his mind.
“No, thank you, I’m just pregnant. I mean fine.” He blinks. “I am pregnant, though.”
The Grandmaster’s eyes widen until they are nothing but two white circles in a patch of azure clay. “Oh shit. Did . . . was it me?”
“What? No. No, you. We never—” Loki can’t believe he’s having this conversation right now. His will to live is diminishing by the second.
“Oh, okay. Phew.” The Grandmaster chuckles and pretends to wipe sweat from his brow. “Dodged that paternity suit. Shucks, I guess this calls for congratulations, doesn’t it? I think it does. So, hey”—he spreads his hands open and beams—“mazel tov! No, really, I’m happy for ya, this’s great. If the kid’s anything like you, it’ll be a gift to the universe. So, uh, so when’s this little bundle of joy gonna make an appearance, huh?”
“I don’t want it.”
The Grandmaster’s smile fades. “Oh. Um. That’s, uh.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“Neither do I, this is really awkward.”
A breath, and then the words are pouring from Loki’s mouth: “It was an accident. I never meant for it to happen. I didn’t think it could, I’ve never been . . . I don’t know what to do. I only found out a few moments ago and the f”—he struggles to say the word—“the father doesn’t know, either. I’m . . . I should probably keep it that way, I think.”
“Huh. I see.” The Grandmaster purses his lips thoughtfully. “Are you still with her? Or him? It? Look, I dunno how it works with you guys, your folks, the, uh. The Yodels, is it? Yokels?”
“No, it’s something else. Yonkers. Yottabytes? Wait, no, that’s an ancient unit of measurement.”
“Jötnar,” Loki repeats uselessly. “Plural of Jötunn, which is what I am.”
“Is it the Yokos? Hey, there’s a goddess of music called Yoko, didja know that? She can’t sing at all, ironically. Nice lady, though.”
“Jötnar. That’s the name of my peop—”
“Ah! I got it. The Yo-Yos.”
Loki plants his forehead into his palm.
The Grandmaster preens. “Yeah, see, see, I knew it’d come back to me. Haha. Okay, so lemme get this straight: this Yo-Yo baby daddy doesn’t know you’re pregnant, and you’re not sure if you wanna keep the kid, amirite?”
“Right,” Loki sighs. There’s no point in arguing. It won’t do any good.
“Yeah, well, I think it’s pretty obvious what you need to do.”
“And that is?”
“Uh, tell the FATHER, YOU YUTZ.”
Loki flinches as the Grandmaster’s mud-caked visage fills the screen. It’s a more terrifying sight that the blue bogs of Svartalfheim.
“I mean, for crying out—how, how else were you planning to handle this, huh? What, you, you were just gonna chuck yourself down a flight of stairs and and and and and pretend it never happened? You can’t go behind her back like that, honey. If she finds out, she’ll never trust you again. It’ll ruin your relationship, it’ll ruin you, and you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. No. Just—any way you slice it, no.”
Loki sits on his medical box chair like a scolded child.
The Grandmaster’s fierce expression softens. “Aw, hey. Look, that doesn’t. I’m not sayin you gotta keep the baby or anything—that, that is totally your choice, totally up to you, I’m not imposing anything—but you have to tell the father, Loki. If you feel anything for her at all—really, if you’ve got just one teeny-tiny drop of love in that little blue heart of yours, you’ll let her know. And hey, maybe she’ll support your decision. Maybe she’ll dump you, who knows, I don’t, but no matter what happens, at least you won’t have to walk around with that chip on your shoulder for the rest of your life. And believe you me, bubby, chips like that only get heavier with time.”
Loki shakes his head, unable to believe that he’s actually considering taking the advice of a complete lunatic. Finally he sighs and gives a helpless shrug. He doesn’t know what else to do.
“Alright. Alright, fine, I’ll tell him.”
“Him? Oh, so it is a him. Okay. Well, you tell him then”—he wags his manicured finger at the screen— “you tell that daddy, get all that drama and baby business taken care of, then you call me, alright? Really, just, just use your little audio cube there. It’s voice-activated so all you gotta do is say help me, Obi-Wan or put me through to the Big G or something like that, ah, it’s easy, you’ll figure it out. But you let me know when you’re coming back to visit, okay? I’m not kidding. Things are kinda lonely here with Topaz being gone and I miss having you around. Not many people can do ten shots of tequila and cardice and live to tell about it. You are, heh, you are a rare treasure indeed, boychik.”
The corners of Loki’s mouth twitch reluctantly.
The Grandmaster grins and points. “Aha. I saw that. You almost smiled. Game over, I win. I am the championnn, my frie-eend . . .”
Loki does his best not to laugh at the omnipotent, blood-hungry madman in front of him, but it’s slightly impossible.
The Grandmaster finishes warbling and straightens the collar of his bathrobe. “Okay, listen, kiddo, I gotta get this cack off my face before it dries, so, uh, good luck with big reveal and everything. Hope it all works out for ya.”
“Thank you, Grandmaster.”
“Oh, please. That’s just a title. You can call me En.”
“Yeah, En. En Dwi Gast. Pick a syllable, I answer to any of ‘em. Use all three at once and I’ll answer a lot quicker.” He smirks, which makes the mud on his cheeks crack. “And if you’re in the market for baby names, hey, it doesn’t get much classier than this.” He gestures toward himself with a flourish of painted fingernails and no small degree of narcissism.
Loki shakes his head. “Yes, well. I’ll certainly take that into consideration.” He gives the music box in front of him a desperate look. “Alright, how exactly do I turn this thing off?”
“Just tap that little blue button on the front there. It’s recessed. Y’see it?”
“Oh. Yes, thank you.”
“Hey, no prob. Talk to ya later, Lucky.”
The Grandmaster’s face vanishes with a blip and the holoscreen goes blank. Loki gives the blue button on the cube’s front side a careful tap. With a whirr and several insectile clicks, it refolds itself and returns to its inactive state.
Loki puts his trembling hand to his forehead and heaves a massive sigh.
Gods, this was the last thing he needed right now. A heartfelt chat with the imperial tyrant of Sakaar who would very likely send him into the next life as a screaming puddle of melted flesh if he ever found out his “boychik” was responsible for his ships getting stolen. And his beloved Champion disappearing. And the whole planet rising up in revolt. Betraying the Grandmaster’s hard-won trust had never been Loki’s intention. He has quite enough mad, murderous, all-powerful beings breathing down his neck as it is.
Loki stands up weakly and plods across the room to his bed-nest, dragging his feet. He is exhausted. Physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Wrung utterly dry. All he wants to do is sleep for the next twelve hours. Forget dinner and a game of chess. He can’t bear to look at Thor right now anyway.
He almost lets himself fall face-first into the pillows until he remembers his condition; his left foot shoots out and stops him from toppling forward at the last second.
See? says that smug, slithery voice. Already thinking like a mother. Good job.
“Shut up,” Loki mutters, and crawls carefully into his bed. He wrestles his boots off, but that is all the undressing he does. He curls up on his side and pulls a large green pillow over his head, hiding from the world and all but one of its myriad, merciless torments.
You think today was bad? Just wait until tomorrow. It’s going to be the worst day you’ve ever lived.