Author's note: Behold, my first serious attempt at yaoi! I should warn you, though, that there will be no smut, probably not even implicit sex scenes.
A Helping Hand
He was at the Agency again. Yamino could hear his boisterous voice all the way from the kitchen, which, considering the size of the house, was a remarkable feat indeed. He was always yelling, even when there was no good reason for it. As if his voice weren't already naturally loud, as if everyone around him were deaf.
His visits were becoming more and more frequent. Yamino tried to avoid him, but that would no longer be an option if he began to hang around all the time. Yamino needed to attend to Master Loki, after all; it wouldn't do to leave him alone for long.
How ironic that his worst enemy would also be his father's best friend – and how very inconvenient, too.
For a while, Yamino could only stand before the closed door which led to Master Loki's study. From this close, that voice – that horrible voice – was like thunder, loud and blood-chilling. Frozen to the spot, Yamino took deep, slow breaths and tried to stop his hands from shaking so much, as it was making the crockery on the tray in his hands rattle. There was no need to be afraid, he told himself. Master Loki would be there with them; he would never allow anyone, not even his best friend, to hurt Yamino.
Having calmed down a little, he swallowed the lump in his throat and quietly opened the door. His eyes immediately locked on the figure who was sitting casually on the couch as if he owned the place.
"Good afternoon, Narugami," he said meekly as he walked past him and headed towards his father. "Master Loki, here's your tea and—"
"Ooh, biscuits!" exclaimed Narugami. "Good thing you brought them; I was starving here!"
"Er..." Yamino watched in mild horror as Narugami shoved a calloused hand into the plate on the tray and grabbed a handful of biscuits. Delicious chocolate biscuits that Yamino had spent the better part of his day baking just for Master Loki. "E-excuse, but those are for—oh..." More than half of the biscuits were gone now. Yamino tried to hold the tray out of Narugami's reach, but it was proving to be a rather tricky task, what with Narugami's persistence and having to avoid spilling the tea.
"Narukami, do control yourself," said Loki, sounding only a little annoyed. "Yamino, I think you should bring more biscuits."
There were no more to be brought. All that was left were the few biscuits that had escaped from Narugami's grubby, predatory hands and now rested on the almost empty plate. But, if Master Loki wanted more, he would have more. Yamino would make more, and he would do it on record time, for he knew his father disliked to be kept waiting.
"Yes, sir," he said, mournful, then set the tray on the desk and discreetly threw Narugami a resentful look. Why someone as intelligent and high-class as Master Loki would want to be friends with such a brute, Yamino would never understand.
As if reading his mind, Loki gave him a small, almost apologetic smile and shrugged.
Weeks later, Loki was having a walk outside, eyeing all the pretty girls he found on the way and inwardly cursing the fates that he could no longer have as much fun with them as he used to. Though they still thought he was cute, it just wasn't the same thing. They didn't drop what they were doing to drool at his attractive features, nor was the sparkle in their admiring eyes quite the same. They might as well be looking at a fluffy kitten. Alas, that was what Loki had to content himself with, now. The specific look he wished they would give him was usually directed at Yamino these days.
Outshone by his own serpent of a son. How humiliating was that? He could almost hear Odin laughing at him.
So lost in his thoughts and ogling, Loki almost didn't see a very familiar figure lying in a heap on the pavement, not too far from the Agency. He did a double-take. No, he was not seeing things. It really was Narugami who lay there, as still as a corpse. With a twinge of worry, Loki hurried over to his friend and knelt down next to him.
"Narukami?" he called out, giving him a once-over. He didn't look hurt, just filthy and emaciated. Loki wrinkled his nose at his friend's condition and shook him. "Narukami, what the hell is wrong with you? Have you been drinking?"
At last, Narugami stirred and opened his eyes a slit.
"L-Loki..." he whispered. Loki was glad that he seemed lucid, if nothing else.
"Damn, Narukami, when was the last time you took a bath? And why are you lying on the street? What are you now, a beggar?"
"Pretty much," replied Narugami, his voice getting a little stronger, and with Loki's help he sat up. "You know how I lost my job some time ago?"
Loki hesitated and nodded. He remembered Narugami telling him about it in passing about a month ago, as well as that he had been having a hard time finding a new job – which, incidentally, was why his visits to the Agency had become so numerous; the poor bastard had just been too desperate for food.
"Well, I haven't found a new job since," slurred Narugami. "I'm broke. Can't pay the rent, can't buy any food..."
"Good grief, Narukami," said Loki, massaging his temple in exasperation. "It takes natural talent to be as pathetic as you, did you know that?"
"It's not my fault!" whined the god of thunder. "I've gone through so many part-time jobs already, I sort of ran out of options!"
"It's a very big city. I'm sure you can find a new job, sooner or later."
"Yeah, but until then, I'll starve."
"What, did you just find a piece of your lost pride that now prevents you from letting me share some food with you?"
"At first, yes... But then, I figured, pride won't fill my stomach, and I was on my way to your house, when... um... I ran into a bit of a problem."
"You mean you passed out from malnourishment?" Loki's lips twitched. He didn't know whether to feel sorry for his friend or terribly amused. Anyone else might have thought, this would be comical if it weren't so tragic, but Loki still found it too comical to take it entirely seriously. Nevertheless, he made an effort to keep a straight face (and almost succeeded). "Come on, I'll give you something to eat – under one condition."
Loki smirked. "You have to beg. After all, you are a beggar now, aren't you?"
"Loki..." Narugami growled lowly. "This isn't funny, you know. Stop mocking me and either help me or leave me alone."
"Just kidding, just kidding," said Loki, unable to hold back a chuckle any longer.
"But still, I don't feel right begging you for food all the time," said Narugami as Loki helped him up. "It doesn't matter if I actually beg you or just show up at your place asking what's for dinner. I want to earn my own money and buy my own food. I don't want to rely on you for any favours."
"I understand," said Loki, regarding him thoughtfully. A new, unorthodox idea was already cooking in his head, though he wasn't entirely sure of its wisdom. Then again, since when had the god of trickery and mischief ever cared about wise ideas? In fact, the more mayhem it created, the more fun, right? And if it actually helped a friend in the end, all the better.
"Say, Narukami..." he began, slowly. "Would you like to work for me?"
"What?" Even as weak as he was, Narugami still managed to muster shock at Loki's suggestion. He looked at the little god as if the latter had just grown an extra head, and then burst into laughter. "Funny, Loki. Very funny."
"I'm serious," said Loki, no trace of amusement in his voice or expression. "Yamino could use some help. The Agency is pretty big, and he has to clean it all by himself, on top of cooking, doing the laundry, and so on. In exchange for your services, I'll give you free boarding. There, that's fair, isn't it? Then you shouldn't feel like you owe me anything."
Narugami was staring at him, unblinking.
"You really are serious about this, aren't you?" he asked, still a little wary. Loki supposed he was a little unnerved and still half-expecting him to say what the catch was or that, yes, he was really joking and Narugami was an idiot for believing otherwise even for a second.
"Of course I am," assured Loki, with a shrug. "You told me to be serious and help you, so that's what I'm doing. I don't see what the big deal is. This isn't supposed to be a permanent arrangement, you know. It's only until you find a new job."
It didn't escape Loki that his son was none too pleased to see a haggard, filthy god of thunder set foot in their home yet again. However, Yamino was much too polite to say anything about it or even openly show his true feelings; instead, he gave them a forced, thin smile, welcomed them in, and easily obliged when Loki ordered him to make lots of food.
Yamino should really get over this irrational fear or grudge or whatever it was that he had against Narugami, anyway. Especially since they would be living in such close quarters from now on.
Speaking of which, it was time to break out the news. Now that would be fun.
"Yamino," he began, affecting boredom, while they watched Narugami vacuum a plate clean with inhuman rapidity, "Narukami is our new assistant. He's going to live with us and help you with the chores."
Yamino just blinked and stared at him in apparent incomprehension.
"I beg your pardon, sir?"
"You heard me."
Another blink. Yamino seemed to be waiting for something. The punch line, perhaps. He looked quite unsettled when Loki just stared back at him levelly, and Loki could see the growing dread in his eyes.
"A-are you serious, Master Loki?"
Loki let out a heavy sigh. "Yes, for the last time, I'm serious. Even I can be serious once in a while. Shocking though it may be."
It was a subtle change, but it was there; Loki saw the flash of fear on his son's face, which went a shade paler, the wide eyes that looked at him as if for the first time, the knuckles turning white as he clutched the tray in his hands, the air catching in his lungs. However, he quickly recomposed himself, smiled as if Loki had never said anything, and calmly excused himself from the room, muttering about having to do the dishes.
As Loki watched him leave, he actually felt a little sorry for him, as well as a twinge of guilt, even though he was also rather amused. The prospect of seeing how these two could cope with living under the same roof was still very promising, indeed. Oh, the chaotic possibilities! Loki couldn't help it; it was in his nature to take pleasure in causing mischief, even at the cost of his own son.
After leaving Loki's study, Yamino sauntered to his bedroom, looking the very picture of equanimity. He stepped in, closed the door, and leant his back against it. Then, with a whimper, he slid down to the floor and curled up into a foetal position, quivering and clinging to the tray in his hands as if it were a security blanket.
This had to be a nightmare. A horrible, horrible nightmare. Narugami – Thor – his greatest fear, his nemesis, working for Master Loki alongside him, living in the same house as him! It hurt to even think about it.
How could Master Loki do this to him? Yamino didn't normally question his father's judgement, especially where it concerned Yamino himself. He was Loki's son and eternally loyal servant, and as such he must always submit to whatever Loki decided to throw his way. But this – this was cruel and unusual punishment. What on Earth was Master Loki thinking? Didn't he realise what a disastrous mistake this whole thing was going to be? He knew how Yamino felt about the god of thunder. Did he just not care at all? Was he doing this on purpose? For his own amusement? After everything Yamino had done for him, how could he be so—
Yamino shook himself, trying to get rid of such alien, abhorrent thoughts. He should not think that way about Master Loki. How could he? After everything Loki had done for him! Loki had saved him from the bottom of the ocean, given him humanity, allowed him to live with him and assist him, allowed him to cook, to clean, to do the groceries, and everything else that Yamino enjoyed so much. He had given him life. And for that, Yamino would be eternally grateful. He had no right to be anything but. Master Loki deserved no less than the highest regard and unwavering loyalty and obedience.
It seemed that Narugami's proximity was already having a negative effect on Yamino and his thoughts. He couldn't allow this to happen again, especially if they were going to be living in the same house now.
Maybe he was worrying for nothing. Narugami might be a little bossy and rough, but he'd never done anything to actually harm Yamino. Then again, he didn't know who exactly Yamino was; he still believed that Yamino was just some human assistant that Loki had happened to find in Midgard. But if Narugami found out the truth about him... He might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but there was no way he wouldn't figure out that something was off, eventually. It was just a question of time.
But if and when he found out the truth, certainly Loki wouldn't let him do anything about it, right? There was nothing to fear, as long as Master Loki was there to protect him. Then again, wasn't it Yamino who should be protecting Loki, who had been reduced to the form of a helpless child and whose powers were severely weakened? No, Yamino couldn't rely solely on his father's protection. Maybe Fenrir... No, no, he would probably just laugh at him.
A long time ago, his brother had told him he should fight his own battles. Yamino wasn't sure he was ready to face the god of thunder, human form or otherwise, so he would do the next best thing; avoid him like the plague and maybe carry some kind of weapon with him at all times, just in case. A small knife, or the tonfa, or – or pepper spray. Anything to defend himself in an emergency.
Well, he couldn't hide in his room forever. He would have to go out there and face his fears. Master Loki needed him. He had to keep his cool.
He carefully stood up, smoothed his clothes down, straightened his tie, took a deep breath, and schooled his features into blank neutrality. His composure regained, he quietly opened the door and made sure no one was around before leaving and making his way back to Loki's study.
"Ah, Yamino, how nice of you to join us," were Loki's greeting words.
Yamino discreetly surveyed the room, looking for Loki's companion, but there was no one else in sight. When he turned to look at his father, his gaze fell on the black puppy on the boy's lap, and he couldn't hold back a sigh of immense relief at the realisation that Narugami was indeed absent from the room.
"All right, Yamino?" asked Loki, the barest touch of concern in his voice.
"Yes, sir, thank you," replied Yamino, his polite smile already in place.
For a moment, he just stood there, looking at Loki, who seemed to guess he wanted to say something and looked back at him expectantly. Yamino's smile faded and he drew in a deep, slow breath to speak, but it lingered in his lungs as he hesitated. He longed to ask, Why, Master Loki, why are you doing this? He wanted to speak his mind, tell Loki how he felt about this new arrangement. Loki might be his master, but he was also his father. Children should be able to voice their opinions to their own parents, right? Wasn't that what they said on TV? Surely Loki would understand.
The utter silence of the room buzzed on his ears, punctuated only by the grandfather clock.
The air escaped his lips silently.
"Is there anything I can do for you, Master Loki?" he finally asked, the smile back.
Hopeless, he'd always been hopeless. A coward.
"As a matter of fact, there is," replied Loki, with an arched eyebrow. "Narugami has just gone to take a bath. I want you to bring him a towel and a change of clothes."
Yamino's smile fell just a little, just for one second. "Yes, sir." He bowed and began to turn around to leave.
Halting, he looked back over his shoulder.
"Yes, Master Loki?"
Loki was frowning, his eyes drilling into Yamino's as if he could see into his very soul.
"I know what I am doing. Trust me."
Not for the first time, Yamino wondered if Loki could read his mind. But, no, he supposed the trickster god was just that sharp. A little too sharp, maybe. It was quite scary sometimes.
"I do, sir!" he said, with a grin. "I trust you with my life."
"Narugami!" he called out, knocking on the bathroom door. "I have brought you a towel and clothes!"
He expected, perhaps a little naïvely, that Narugami would behave like a normal, dignified person and shout out a word of thanks, possibly tell him to come in and leave the towel and clothes on the plastic stool next to the door while he, Narugami, remained modestly concealed behind the bath curtains or immersed in the water.
That the door burst open instead would have been surprising enough, but to see Narugami standing right there before him, dripping wet, flushed from the water's heat, and stark naked, was too much. Yamino nearly dropped the towel and the clothes, his eyes going wide as sauces.
"Thanks," said Narugami in a casual tone, seemingly oblivious. He snatched the towel and the clothes from Yamino's hands and slammed the door shut on his face.
Yamino did not move for a while. Although his unblinking eyes still stared, unfocused, at the closed door, the image of Narugami in the nude was imprinted on his brain, burnt into his retinas. Unbelievable. He had tried so hard to keep his cool, to be reasonable about this whole situation, to play his role as a civil, collected butler. But he had not been ready for this. Definitely not. Never, not even in a million years, could he have ever been ready to deal with such a thing as getting an impromptu eyeful of the thunder god.
He jumped two feet in the air when the door burst open a second time, his heart jamming in his throat. Fortunately, however, Narugami was fully dressed this time. The green pyjamas that had once belonged to Yamino were perhaps a little too tight around the waist and the shoulders while the sleeves and the legs were too long, but it should do well enough for one night.
"Are you still here?" asked Narugami, giving him a curious look. Even he could see how flustered Yamino was. "What's your problem? That was nothing you haven't seen before, right?"
As usual, Narugami had missed the point spectacularly. However, Yamino had no wish to argue with him. Anyone else might still have frowned to show their annoyance, but Yamino's automatic response was an appeasing smile and changing the subject.
"Actually, I am here to show you to your room," he said, glad that his voice sounded perfectly calm and neutral, even though his face still felt a little warmer than usual. He stepped aside and beckoned at Narugami. "If you would please follow me this way."
"You talk so funny, Four-Eyes," remarked Narugami.
Yamino would have liked to point out that this "funny" talk was called polite speech, though, of course, he didn't expect one as uncouth as Thor to be able to grasp such a concept. However, Yamino was too polite and fearful of Narugami's reaction to say what was on his mind, so he simply pretended not to hear him.
To his dismay, Narugami wasn't walking next to him, but one step behind. If it were anyone else, Yamino would have just assumed that, since Narugami didn't know the way, he was letting Yamino take the lead. This being actually Thor in disguise, however, Yamino couldn't help being unnerved. He could almost feel Narugami's dark gaze drilling a hole into the back of his head, his hot breath on his neck – here Yamino couldn't suppress a shudder – and the stealthy movements of his arms as they lifted a deceptively small hammer in the air and were about to strike when Yamino least expected it, like so many times in the past. Any minute now, any minute...
"So," said Narugami all of a sudden, his voice sounding unnaturally loud and making Yamino start, "how exactly are we going to do this? Should I help you with whatever it is you're doing, or are we going to divide the chores?"
Yamino half-turned his head to him, his bland, trademark smile plastered on his face.
"I think the latter would be more practical, wouldn't you agree?" Not only more practical, but safer. That should keep their encounters to a minimum.
"I won't have to serve tea or anything to Loki in his study, right? I mean, working for him of all people is humiliating enough, and I'm only doing it because I have no choice and it's temporary, but even I have limits."
Yamino's smile turned a little thinner.
"No, Narugami, do not worry. You do not have to serve Master Loki anything in his study at all. You can leave that to me." That was for the best, anyway. Something about the idea of Narugami tending to Master Loki's more direct needs, even if it was just bringing him tea, really bothered Yamino. That was his job. Loki needed him, not Narugami.
"Agreed. Glad we've got that covered," said Narugami, with a nod, relief transparent on his face. "And another thing. Will I have to wear a uniform?"
"No, Narugami, uniforms are not obligatory here," replied Yamino patiently. "I am not wearing one, am I?"
"Okay, but I don't have to dress like you, right?" Narugami asked, with a look of distaste at Yamino's clothes.
Yamino bristled, affronted by the look and tone of voice. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the way he dressed – which, contrary to what many might think, had little to do with his butler façade; it was his own choice of style. Unlike certain people, he liked to look presentable at all times.
Yamino pushed his glasses up his nose, his face impassive. "You are free to dress however you like, of course, though something proper is highly advisable. We will just have to trust your good judgement on that," he said, more pointedly than he had intended.
"Something proper, eh?" Narugami spoke the words in a tentative manner, as if they were foreign to him. "Okay, gotcha. So, when do I start?"
They had just arrived at Narugami's new quarters. Yamino turned on his heels and regarded his companion. Although Narugami had had an army's worth of food and taken a long, relaxing bath, his complexion had not improved much. His face was pale, there were dark rings under his eyes, which were dull with exhaustion, and his shoulders, thinner than usual, were hunched slightly. Obviously, it would take more than one meal, however big, and a bath to compensate for weeks of extreme poverty.
Yamino's expression softened. He wasn't unkind – it wasn't in his nature to be – not even towards Narugami. He simply couldn't bring himself to take pleasure in another's suffering, or even remain totally indifferent to it. Despite his annoyance, fear, and resentment, he felt a twinge of sympathy for his new colleague, and for the first time today, maybe ever, he was able to offer him a sincere smile.
"We will discuss your duties later. For now, you must rest and recover your strength. Worry about nothing else."
Narugami nodded, his eyes half-hooded. "Okay. Thanks." Then, to Yamino's surprise, he thrust out his hand. "I'm looking forward to working with you."
Taken aback by the sudden, uncharacteristic show of manners, Yamino stared at he offered hand and hesitated for a long moment before slowly taking it. Narugami grasped it firmly and shook it. His hand was warm, rough, and a little on the bulky side – so completely different from Yamino's own. Yamino's eyes darted back and forth between the solemn Narugami and their linked hands. A bizarre, almost surreal occurrence, indeed. But not an unwelcome one, he supposed. When Narugami released his hand, Yamino blinked, feeling as though some sort of spell had broken.
"G'night, Four-Eyes!" said Narugami, slapping him hard on the back as he walked past him. The spell was broken. Yamino flinched and twitched, his teeth clenched and glasses askew.
"Good night... Narugami."
Author's note: The second chapter is already done, so it should be posted very soon.