This is a gift-fic for Neferset! She asked me, "What would Loki give Taryn for their first Christmas together?" And my plot-bunnies set to work immediately. The way it came out wasn't their first Christmas, but in another way, it sort of is. Also, for those of you reading After The Fall and Mirrors and Shadows, yes, it is the same 'verse and the same characters but I'm not certain M&S will actually end this way. Consider this an AU fic for that 'verse, okay?
And thanks again to Neferset for the idea! I hope you like how it came out! *mwah*
Winter in Asgard wasn't winter at all, in Loki's opinion–most days as warm as spring in Vanaheim, flowers still blooming, trees proudly displaying leaves and fruit in all but the depths of the season. Snow was as rare as a diamond in a waste heap and never occurred in the city itself. Asgard was a blessed realm, just as Odin had wished, a sun-kissed paradise without hardship or discomfort.
As a child, Loki had read tales about snow. The idea of it caught him, fascinated him, and he wanted for it with a hunger he hadn't understood then. Now he did, and only recently had accepted the need for what it was. No matter what he looked like, he was a frost giant, and frost giants needed the cold as the Æsir needed the sun. Midgard sufficed well. The realm was as cold as he could wish, without all the emotional baggage of Jötunnheim. Each winter Loki would travel alone or with Thor, ranging free through snow-covered fields and white-capped mountains, embracing the frigid air, restoring his strength. Every winter he allowed himself these moments to be what he was.
But this winter, Loki did not roam through the realms. For nearly a full year it had been this way. Thor smiled knowingly at him and bounced his infant sons on his knees and said nothing, only took any necessary trips out of Asgard alone with a murmured, "I can handle this one, brother, no need to trouble yourself." And Loki, never one to shirk his duties as king, simply nodded and stayed in Asgard, his chronic wanderlust giving him not so much as twinge.
For no miracle in all the Nine Realms could tempt him to miss a moment of watching his wife grow round with their child.
He had never seen anything so beautiful or more amazing in all his long life. Taryn laughed when he said it, but liar that he was, Loki spoke the absolute truth. He had witnessed the wonders of the universe, had fallen naked through chaos in all its wild glory, had twisted life and magic and impossibility to his will, but this simple, almost mundane miracle had the power to render him speechless and awed. Never in his life had he been so happy.
So when Taryn's smiles began to fade and sadness entered her eyes, Loki could not stand it.
"It's nothing," she said when he asked her what was wrong, and this smile she gave him was real and sweet. She kissed him as he held her close in their bed and cuddled against him. "It's just a case of pregnant-woman silliness–not worth your time. Don't worry about it."
His mouth tightened at that dismissive excuse. Pregnant-woman silliness? Nothing that made her sad was silly, nothing that made her sad was beneath his notice. She carried his child–did she not realize that made him her slave? "Why don't you let me decide if it is worthy of my time or not?" he said softly, but she laughed and shook her head.
"Because I already decided for you," she replied smartly, and then she was kissing him again, distracting him from his thoughts as only she ever could, and it was only later he frowned and brooded on it again.
Stubbornness could be a virtue. Loki believed that, and this was clearly the time to exercise a little virtue. So he didn't question Taryn again–not directly–but he watched, and he listened, and when that gained him no information, he cornered Jane and demanded answers.
The little scientist-queen laughed when he asked what was wrong with Taryn, and that wasn't a reaction he particularly appreciated, but he was willing to overlook it when she shrugged as though the answer was obvious. "Do you know what time of year it is on Midgard, Loki?"
"Winter," he said, because usually he would be there in the snow, letting Taryn teach him to make snowmen and cheating at snowball fights with her.
"Not just winter," Jane corrected him. "Christmas." She saw the realization on his face and smiled a little wistfully. "I remember my first Christmas here in Asgard when I was carrying Magni and Modi, when I couldn't travel by Bifrost to visit Earth because it might hurt them. It felt so strange to know that all my friends and family were decorating trees and singing carols and I wasn't."
"What can I do?" he asked, thinking of years past, going with Taryn to see Midgardian homes lit up brilliant and sparkling. Thinking of snow.
Jane smiled at him, a touch of Taryn's sadness is her eyes now. "Nothing," she told him. When he frowned, she laid a comforting hand on his arm. "She'll be fine, I promise. Don't worry so much. This is home now, and Christmas isn't an Æsir thing. You have Jul, and the Wild Hunt, and Winternights. It's just different, Loki. It takes getting used to. I adjusted–she will too."
And that simply wasn't good enough. Loki watched his wife, the way she walked through the blooming gardens, touching the flowers and sitting in the sunshine. He remembered the trips to Midgard, all the things that had made her smile that had seemed so very strange to him–white-bearded fat men in red, fake trees with trinkets hung on them, real trees sprayed with a potion to mimic the snow that fell around them, a million tiny lights and red-striped crook-shaped candies and socks hung before the fireplace to be stuffed with treats. That last, at least, was similar to what Æsir children did for the Wild Hunt, leaving out their boots stuffed with straw and sugar for Sleipnir on the night Odin led the hunt. But the rest… well, it made his lady happy, and that had always been all the explanation Loki needed for anything.
So Loki hatched a little plan.
Jane and Thor were busy with their twins and Sif would probably say something about the glory of Asgard and the dignity of the palace, so Loki chose the Warriors Three for this little venture. He needn't have worried about their acceptance. Fandral only laughed and asked if he could bring Darcy along, while Volstagg was always up for any adventure. And of course Loki asked Hogun to take care of the more death-defying aspects. Hogun looked at Loki as though he was crazy–like he'd never received that look before–but when the warrior agreed, there was an expression on his usually-grim face that was almost a smile.
When Loki joined her in their chambers that night, Taryn immediately demanded to know what he was grinning about, and that only made him grin wider. He'd spent a hundred of her lifetimes fooling everyone around him and still couldn't fool her for an instant. "I always smile when I'm with you, my lady," he said smoothly as he knelt at her feet and pressed his cheek to the curve of her belly, wanting to feel their child kick.
His excuse didn't satisfy her. "Yeah, but it's usually the happy dad-to-be smile, or the I'm gonna get some tonight smile. Not that smile," she said, eyes narrowed and suspicious. "That's the someone's gonna get pranked smile, O mighty God of Mischief."
Loki laughed against her, then again when the baby thumped his cheek–he liked to guess, and he thought that time it felt like an elbow. "You've named my smiles?" he asked, pressing the little lump back down, heart leaping in wonder when it pushed back.
Taryn rolled her eyes but laughed, and Loki wondered if anyone had ever told her how rare his smiles had been before she'd come into his life. "Don't change the subject, Trickster," she warned, but she stroked his hair and smiled as he played with their child– "ooh, you two, this isn't the practice fields!" she gasped when Loki provoked the baby into a particularly strong kick.
"A new hero for Asgard," Loki teased, rubbing the spot, a thread of magic easing it.
"Sheesh, already with the fighting! At least you have to wait until he's born to arm him," she returned, and Loki raised an eyebrow thoughtfully as though considering possibilities.
"You don't think maybe just a little morning-star–" he said, green light playing over his fingers.
She punched his arm. "Not funny!"
But his teasing distracted her, and then he eased her out of her dress and distracted her more, and there was no more talk of his mischief that night.
The next day, Taryn was quiet and contemplative during the breakfast she and Loki always shared with Thor, Jane, Frigga, and the twins. Loki tried everything he could think of to tease a smile out of her, and while she tried for him, it was clear she didn't really feel it. Glancing at Jane, he saw her mouth the words, Christmas Eve at him and sighed silently.
"Brother," Loki said when the meal was finished and all were sipping their coffee, "I am afraid I will be unable to join you at Grand Council today. Hel has requested a meeting and this one I must attend to personally."
Thor frowned and Taryn glanced up, clearly worried. "Are you sure I cannot see to this for you, Loki?" Thor asked with a quick look at Taryn. Her long pregnancy, fifteen months instead of nine, was very near its end, and Loki hadn't so much as left the palace grounds in days just in case she went into labor. To leave Asgard now clearly shocked all. "Allow me to meet with Hel in your stead. Surely she will understand that your place is here with your lady at this time."
Loki squeezed Taryn's hand and smiled for both of them. "I will ensure that the meeting is as short as possible," he said, shaking his head, "but you know Hel, brother. She will not take kindly to having her wishes ignored and we cannot lose her as an ally."
Taryn gazed at him for a moment but then nodded. "Besides, I can always call for you if I need you," she said, reaching up to touch the Oroborous at her throat.
"And I will come at once, that I promise you, my lady," Loki agreed. He kissed her lightly and then, reluctantly, released her and stood. He gazed around the table. "One day," he reassured them as his family frowned. "I am certain you can manage without me for that long. Mother, weren't you saying just yesterday that I am too much underfoot these days?"
Frigga blushed but shook her head. "I take it all back." She bit her lip. "Would Hel agree to me as an emissary, my son?" she asked, hesitantly, because she knew too well the longing of a parent to be reconciled with a resentful child.
Loki crossed to her and kissed the top of her head. "You are generous, Mother, but no," he declined gently. "Truly, I am certain it will be fine."
Thor crossed his arms over his chest. "I do not like it," he announced, eyes narrowed. "Hel knows that your child will be born any day now, and she calls you away at this critical time? I do not like it," he repeated. He stood, staring stubbornly at his brother. "I will not ask you again not to go, because I know your decision is made. But I will ask that you not go alone. I still do not entirely trust Hel's changed heart. Forcing you to miss your child's birth sounds like the kind of revenge she would plot."
Loki sighed but didn't argue. "I will take the Warriors Three with me, then," he said, even though his tone made it clear he thought it was unnecessary. When Thor nodded, Loki swept his gaze around the table again. "Have I covered all your objections? For the sooner I leave, the sooner I may return."
Taryn stood and went to his side, awkward with her huge belly, and embraced him. He held her gently and rubbed the small of her back where he knew it ached all the time now. "Don't birth our child without me," he murmured, smiling down at her.
"Oh, trust me, I won't," she replied, giving him a narrow-eyed glare. "You won't get out of it that easily."
Thor and Frigga laughed as Jane blushed. All remembered the tiny scientist's screaming abuse of Thor during her own labor. Thor Odinsson, King of the Æsir, wielder of Mjolnir and mightiest god in Asgard, had cowered before her fury. "As I have suffered, so shall you, brother," Thor laughed, bouncing Modi in his arms with an enormous grin.
"I look forward to it," Loki said, meaning it, and then with one last kiss to his wife, he left.
Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg awaited him before the rainbow bridge. Loki handed Volstagg a large sack. The enormous warrior frowned when he glanced inside it. "You're certain this is right, Loki?" he asked, poking at the contents. "It seems so… bright."
"It's meant to be," Loki reassured him, clasping his shoulder. Then he turned to Fandral and Hogun. "Are you ready?"
Fandral was grinning hugely and even Hogun looked less grim and serious than usual. "Lead on, my King," Fandral said with a flamboyant bow. "I cannot wait to see what Darcy has prepared for us."
"You cannot wait to see Darcy, full stop," Volstagg teased, and the blond didn't deny it.
Loki led them Hogun and Fandral into the Bifrost chamber as Volstagg rode back to the city to make his own preparations. Heimdall climbed the steps and inserted his sword into the mechanism. "I take it you are not going to Helheimr," the Guardian said.
Loki allowed himself a grin of his own. "Midgard, if you please," he said, and let the Bifrost sweep him away in a blaze of light.
Taryn spent the day with Frigga, Jane, and the twins. It was odd how strange it felt to know Loki wasn't on Asgard now, and she belatedly realized how much Thor had done to keep her husband with her throughout her pregnancy. She tickled Magni's belly, delighting in the baby's laugh–she and Loki had dubbed it the mind-control giggle, as it had the power to reduce the strongest warrior to a slave, ready to do whatever it took to recreate the sound–and smiled at Jane. "I haven't thanked Thor for taking on so many of Loki's off-realm responsibilities. I owe him, and you, too."
Jane shrugged as best she could while changing Modi's diaper. "It's nothing," she said, just as Taryn was certain Thor would have. "He would do anything for his brother, you know that."
Frigga smiled and took over the tickling as Taryn stretched her back. Right about now she wished Loki would return to give her one of his amazing massages. His touch, perfect in pressure and laced with soothing magic, was the only thing that could make her comfortable lately. Truly, being pregnant for over a year was a trial she wasn't eager to repeat.
Then Magni cooed at his brother, and Modi babbled back, and Taryn knew she'd do it again. The twins were so adorable together. Both blond, strapping, and bursting with energy, they were little mini-Thors to the life. And they were as close as brothers could possibly be, refusing to even nap unless they were placed in the same crib together.
She rested a hand on her stomach where her own baby had just kicked and looked at Frigga. "Have you seen the baby?" she asked, pressing on the little foot–definitely a foot–just as Loki would have done.
Frigga reached out to feel the active baby and smiled when it immediately kicked her hand, too. "You know I cannot speak of what I have or have not seen," she reminded Taryn gently.
"I just wanted to know if he will look like his father," Taryn said softly, still gazing at the twins–now side-by-side beneath their mother's watchful eye, showing each other their toys (little soft hammers and swords, so very Æsir), babbling back and forth as though fully understanding what each brother had to say.
Jane laughed, also looking down at her sons. "If Loki's anything like his brother, the baby will be the spitting image of him," she said wryly. She'd complained teasingly and often that her children hadn't gotten anything at all from her side. "I guess our mortal genes don't stand a chance against godly ones or something."
Frigga laughed. "Those two do look just like their father," she agreed, then leaned forward and lowered her voice conspiratorially. "But between us, I do believe they have your intelligence, Jane. Although I will deny saying any such thing if you tell Thor I said so."
They all laughed, and then it was time for the twins to nap. Taryn left Jane and Frigga to put them down–walking was quite a chore for her as it was, much less carrying a squirming infant–and returned to Loki's suite for a nap of her own. Sighing as she curled around Loki's pillow beneath the covers, she murmured to her Oroborous, "Loki, hurry home. My back needs your magic fingers."
But Loki didn't arrive until late that evening, just after dark. He strode into the family sitting room, looking tired but far too pleased with himself. "All is well, brother?" Thor asked, passing a very sleepy Magni to Frigga so he could rise and clasp his brother's arm in greeting.
"Very well," Loki replied. He went to Taryn and kissed her–she hadn't risen from the low couch to greet him, but by now he knew she could not do so without help. "And you, my lady?" he said, resting a hand on her belly–no kicks now, but a rhythmic little movement that he thought might be hiccups. It brought a wondering smile to his lips.
"I'll be better once this little one stops doing jumping jacks in there," she replied, but she was smiling. "What did Hel want?"
Loki shrugged. "Tedious details, all of which were worked out to the satisfaction of all," he lied smoothly. Then he took Taryn's hands and tugged her to her feet. "But more importantly, there is something I want to show you. Come with me."
Something in his eyes must have given him away because Taryn gave him that narrow-eyed look again. "I'm not the one getting pranked, am I?" she asked, suspicious and not making any move to follow him.
He pressed a hand to his chest, the very picture of injured innocence. "Would I do that?"
"Yes," Thor, Frigga, Jane and Taryn answered in unison, and Loki laughed.
"I'm hurt by your lack of faith," he said, pouting just a little–it was an expression he knew Taryn couldn't resist. She laughed again and shook her head but he knew he had her when she took his hand again. Loki glanced over at Jane and the rest of them. "I would be honored by your presence as well, sister, and my nephews," he added. "Thor, Mother–come with me, all of you. Please."
It was the please that did it. All slightly puzzled and more than a bit cautious, his family nonetheless followed Loki from the room and out to the palace's main courtyard.
Jane gasped and spun around at Darcy's call. "Darcy!" she cried, and then they were hugging and laughing. "What are you doing here?"
Fandral stepped from the shadows and cleared his throat. "Just a little visit," he said, but he was blushing and looked a bit disheveled, and Taryn smirked at the little love-bite visible at Darcy's throat. They certainly hadn't been waiting idly for the royal family to arrive.
Then Fandral lit the torch he held, illuminating what the shadows had hidden, and Taryn gasped and turned sparkling, tearful eyes on her husband. "Oh, Loki," she whispered, staring back at the beautiful sight before her. "You didn't have to do this."
For Fandral had revealed a beautiful, perfectly decorated Christmas tree in the center of the square. A dozen feet tall, the evergreen was bedecked with ornaments of every kind. With a snap of Loki's fingers, it suddenly blazed with a thousand points of light, sparkling and shimmering in every hue, and crowned with what looked to be a genuine star at the top.
Loki lifted her hand and kissed it. "I do what I want, my love," he murmured against her skin. "Not what I have to."
Suddenly bells rang from the sky and Taryn looked up, jaw dropping, as an enormous, bearded fat man in a Santa suit dropped from the nearest roof, bellowing, "Ha, ha, ha!"
"It's ho, ho, ho, you moron, not ha, ha, ha!" Darcy hissed, and Jane giggled.
"Volstagg?" Taryn gasped as the huge Santa bounded over, an equally huge leather sack over one shoulder. The warrior grinned, shouting ho ho ho again as though it were a battle-cry. Loki stared at the joy on her face as Volstagg swung the bag off his shoulder and gave everyone the wrong presents, leading to much laughter and confusion, all punctuated with his loud and belligerent ho ho hos.
Magni and Modi squealed with delight at his antics and were more impressed by the crackling, ripping wrapping paper than the magically animated warriors within it. Cast aside as the twins played with the paper, the little warriors sat together beneath the tree, looking for all the world like they were depressed by their rejection. Frigga smiled tearfully at the jeweled necklace Loki gave her, gold with Odin's symbol as a pendant, and kissed her son's cheek after he fastened it around her neck. Jane literally jumped up and down and clapped her hands at the superpowered laptop computer Loki had created for her, especially when he explained that he'd enchanted it to run without electricity and also to connect to Midgard's internet even from Asgard. Thor had looked doubtful when he unwrapped his gift–a book–but burst out laughing when he opened it and found that it had been bespelled to tell bawdy jokes.
Taryn watched them all opening their gifts, eyes bright with happy tears, holding her own little present in her hands. Loki touched her cheek gently. "Open it, my lady," he urged.
She looked up at him with such love, it stole his breath entirely. "You are the best gift I could ever hope for," she whispered, voice choked with emotion, and he had to kiss her or weep himself.
When he pulled away, he blinked the moisture from his eyes and smiled. "Open it," he repeated. "Please," he added, knowing how she always refused gifts from the gods.
Finally she did, peeling the paper back and handing it to Modi, who promptly tore it in half and gave some to his brother. Inside was a small wooden box, ornately carved. She opened it and revealed a tiny, exquisitely detailed snow-globe. All of Asgard lay within it, down to the smallest detail. "It's beautiful, Loki," she murmured, and gave the globe a shake to swirl the glittering 'snow' within it–
–and suddenly real snow began to fall from Asgard's warm skies, gentle and soft, cool upon her skin, without winter's cruel bite.
At a nod from Loki to someone Taryn couldn't see high above, suddenly all of the palace lit up. Every window was ringed in lights, every tower shone with them, every peaked roof and golden door sparkled in red and green. Hogun swung down from high above, landing light as a cat beside the tree and actually smiling.
It was all too much. Taryn buried her face in her hands and burst into tears.
Thor frowned and Loki pulled her into a tight embrace to cover his own confusion, but all the women were smiling. "Are you well, sister?" Thor asked hesitantly when Loki couldn't find his own voice.
Jane hugged her husband with a sigh. "She's happy, Thor," she reassured him, and still sobbing, Taryn nodded against Loki's chest. "She's very, very happy." She gave Loki an impressed smile. "Good job, Loki."
Darcy grinned at Loki. "You know you're never gonna be able to top this," she warned him. "Ever. You've set the bar so high, nothing you can ever do will compare."
"I'll find a way," Loki promised, and Taryn raised her head and kissed him, still laughing and crying and so beautiful in the snow and lights that she robbed him of thought. "Merry Christmas, my love," he whispered, caressing the tears from her cheeks.
"It's the best Christmas I've ever had," Taryn replied through her tears. "Thank you, Loki." And together the royal family basked in Asgard's first white Christmas.
Admit that Volstagg-Claus is brilliant. You know you want to.