Okay, so this chapter's a bit long compared to the rest in M&M, but not long enough to warrant splitting what is really one scene I think. So...that means this is it! Wow, I get to figure out how to mark it as complete, exciting. You don't know how exciting.
I may as well be more up-front at this point, this story was specifically written to enable me to explore (initially for my own purposes, to support my main story, Beneath), "where did it all begin to go wrong?" and the family dynamic that underpins this. And I didn't think it should be something explosive (because while that's very movie-like it's usually not very actual-life-like). And even here, of course, is not literally where the very first tiny thing goes wrong, and it's still not anything inevitably going wrong. But it's the first time Loki doubts things he's never doubted before. The first tiny cracks in the family, you might say. The first time Loki really feels that he is somehow different from Thor, not just in superficial ways like their hair color. There are many, many little, mostly very subtle statements I've gone for (maybe too subtle, to the story's detriment, but that's really the way I wanted to try to do it, so...ah well), and it's excited me each time you've let me know in a review that you caught one of them. And of course there's tons of foreshadowing, for the movies as well as for Beneath and the other stories I have tumbling around in my head.
I heard more stories-to-come ideas from jacquelinelittle and Mr. God of Mischief himself (I'm probably in trouble if I ignore those!), and there are real gems there! Thanks! If I use any of them...and assuming these stories get written it's pretty much a given I will...I will be sure to publicly thank you for your input.
And without further delay (I am as hesitant to click off on this as I was with the first chapter of Beneath I put up!), here's the final chapter of Magic & Mead, "Suspicions & Swords" (I also can't believe I actually managed to keep up the "A&A" "B&B" thing). Thanks for reading, thanks for reviewing!
Magic & Mead
Chapter Fifteen: Suspicions & Swords
Loki stared at Frigga; Thor glanced back and forth between Frigga and Odin.
Thor spoke first, wrinkling his brow and asking a stunned "What?"
"You heard correctly, we're having a baby. You're going to have a little brother or sister in about eight months. I know it's quite a surprise. That's why we wanted to be able to talk it over with you before anyone else knows."
"I don't suppose we have any say in it," Thor said with a frown.
Odin laughed as Frigga answered with a teasing smile. "You're old enough to know it's a little late for that. We're very happy about it, Thor, and I hope you will be, too. Both of you."
"You both need to congratulate your mother, boys. And you'll need to be well-behaved for her, and assist her with anything she asks of you."
"Congratulations, Mother," both boys said, Thor chiming in just a second after Loki, and both also assured her they would help with whatever she needed.
Odin began to explain their new plans to announce the pregnancy at another feast in a few weeks, and how Thor had best not tell anyone before then so King Gullveig would not think this news had been withheld from him. Loki was barely listening. He kept glancing back at his mother, who sometimes looked his way as well and smiled warmly at him. Why does she need a baby? She already has two of us, why does she need a third? Aren't we enough? Aren't I enough? She won't call me all those names she calls me anymore. I shouldn't have told her to stop calling me her baby.
These thoughts continued and built up inside him, and soon Loki's chest was rising and falling rapidly and he looked to be on the verge of tears. Frigga said his name, then repeated it before he noticed and turned her way.
"This will be a big new responsibility for you. You'll be someone's big brother. Do you think you can handle it?" she asked gently.
Loki nodded automatically, and then began to consider that. He had always been the little brother, and it never occurred to him that he could be anything else. He looked over at Thor. Thor was a pretty good big brother, most of the time. He could do that, look out for someone younger, play games, give advice.
"It's not all that great of a job, Loki, don't get too excited," Thor said, seeing his brother's opinion on the matter change before his eyes and thinking of recent events.
Loki started thinking of recent events, too, and thought, I can do better. I would take care of my younger brother, and I would definitely not trick him into getting drunk because I needed a laugh. He thought the last so hard, eyes squinted and bored into Thor's, that he hoped his big brother could somehow hear them.
Conversation drifted from babies to the meal they were eating to King Gullveig and his entourage, but Loki said little, immersed in his own thoughts about what it would be like to have a little brother around. The Aesir were long-lived but usually had few children; babies were not born every day, and the birth of a child was a much-celebrated event. Loki had only seen a few babies in his life.
Thor had been distracted by the conversation to a greater extent, but he too had not stopped thinking about the announcement, and suddenly in a lull he declared, "I hope you have a girl, Mother."
Loki wrinkled his nose in confusion and a bit of distaste. "Why?" He wasn't feeling particularly disposed toward girls at the moment, in the aftermath of what had happened with Ranka. It hadn't really even occurred to him that he could have a sister.
"Because I already have a brother. I don't see any need for another one," he declared confidently.
Loki broke into a grin; Thor had a point there. "Me either. You're right. We want a girl, Mother."
"Duly noted, but unfortunately you don't have a say in that, either," Frigga said.
"A little girl would be lovely, but she would have to grow very strong to survive these two for brothers. I had two brothers, and the three of us went on many a grand adventure together," Odin said.
"Loki and I already go on grand adventures. We don't need another brother for that."
Loki slid down in his chair a little, stretched out his leg, and kicked at Thor's feet. He wasn't supposed to advertise their "grand adventures," some of which had been made in secret.
Thor jerked his head toward Loki and glared at him. He knew better than to mention Svartalfheim. It wasn't like they hadn't done anything else or been anywhere else. Sometimes Loki really treated him like he was stupid, and sometimes that got old.
"So you would prefer to bring a sister with you on your adventures?" Frigga asked.
"No!" Loki declared immediately. He didn't really want anyone tagging along with them. He remembered Birna, the girl who'd first caught Thor's eye, and how she'd wound up driving Loki out of their new threesome and replacing him. And he didn't like it when Hogun or Fandral joined them, either.
"It would be all right. Sometimes, anyway. Not all the time. We could show her how to be a warrior," Thor said, picturing some little long-haired girl, blond like him or raven-headed like Loki, trying to hold a sword while he taught her how to use it. He thought it might be fun, and at the very least good for a few laughs.
"Girls aren't warriors," Loki asserted.
"Perhaps they could be, if they wanted to. And you two will make superb teachers, for a girl or a boy," Frigga said.
Loki fell into his own thoughts again. He could teach a little brother everything. Everything he had learned, everything he would learn. Everything Eir had just taught him. And he would make sure his brother never felt bad about being younger or smaller.
"None for me," Odin said when their lunch plates were removed and a strawberry tort offered.
"Me, either," Thor chimed in. "Can we have a swordfight?"
Odin chuckled. "If your mother approves."
"Go ahead. Just be careful."
"I was talking to your father."
"I defeated the Frost Giants just fourteen years ago. I think I can handle this youth."
"You know what I mean."
Loki listened to the exchange, while biting into his tort – it was delicious and Thor really shouldn't have skipped it – then angled his head off to the right, to watch his father and brother, even as he felt the weight of his mother's gaze on him from his left. Every room in these chambers held a ceremonial sword, each special in some way, many of them gifts from other realms. Thor drew the one mounted on the wall in this room – Vanaheim had provided it on the occasion of Thor's birth – while Odin retrieved one from the next.
He didn't understand Thor sometimes – he was acting like he'd never heard their mother say she was going to have a baby, like it wasn't some monumental event that would deeply affect them both. Loki was still trying to convince himself it was real; right now it still felt more like something he'd just dreamt up in his imagination.
"Look at this, Father!" Thor said, hefting the sword in his right hand and flexing his muscles. "Look how strong I've gotten. Remember when I could barely lift one of these?"
Odin placed his left hand around Thor's arm to feel the muscle. "I see. You must have been training hard. But when were ever unable to lift a sword? I think you emerged from your mother's womb grasping for one and lifted it toward the ceiling as soon as one was given to you."
"Ewwww. Don't talk about that."
"How is your speed?" Odin asked, his hand darting forward to tap Thor's chin with his fingertips before he could pull back. "I see how strong you've grown, but you still have things to work on. Swordfighting isn't just about strength. You need speed, reflexes, anticipation. You must think about your opponent, and his strengths and weaknesses.
Thor batted for Odin's chin but Odin easily avoided him. And the game began, the swords soon replacing hands.
"He's right, you know. Like I said, there are other forms of strength."
Loki glanced toward his mother, but he felt uncomfortable with her now, whether from their earlier conversation or the unexpected news, he didn't know. He wasn't really worried about strength anymore, anyway. He was going to train harder than he ever had, harder than Thor ever had, now that he knew what to do. He popped a whole strawberry in his mouth and thought about Eir, about how perhaps he should apologize for being rude to her.
"Milk, please," Loki said, and one of the servants brought over a pitcher and filled a glass for him. He washed down the last of the tort, wiped his mouth with his napkin, placed it over his plate, and sagged back in chair, tired and pleasantly full.
Frigga stood up and walked over behind him, grasping his left hand. "Come over here and keep me company," she said. "I find swordfighting dull."
Feeling a bit of reluctance, Loki got up and let her lead him over to the heavy wooden bench against the back wall, opposite the throughway where his father and brother dueled. "Do you really find it dull?" he asked as they settled there, his mother's arm wrapped around his shoulder. The two servants meanwhile descended on the table and Loki continued to watch what he could of the swordfight, in glimpses through the servants scurrying between the table and the serving carts and buffet console. "You said you studied it, right?" He liked training on the sword, but he knew Thor liked it much more; Loki preferred playfighting, growing bored when the training dragged on and was all rote, memorized moves.
"I did. I studied every weapon I could before I married your father. I wanted to have a better understanding of who he was and what his interests were. I hope those days of war are now behind us."
"Because Father defeated the Frost Giants?"
"Yes. And because he defeated others or else convinced them to end their aggression. All the Nine Realms are now at peace with each other. That state of affairs has been all too rare."
There was always something strange in it, when his mother spoke about war. Loki had only ever known peace, but lived with constant reminders of war. His own birthday coincided with the annual festivities marking the victory over the Frost Giants. Yet despite what his father and others who'd fought in that war said, it was hard for him to imagine that Frost Giants actually even existed anymore; he'd certainly never seen one. They seemed more like mythical creatures made up to scare children into being good, or just to torment them for no particular reason at all.
"Did you ask your father why the Frost Giants started the Ice War?" Frigga asked a few minutes later.
Loki shook his head. "I haven't had the chance."
"Perhaps once this war is over," she said, cringing as Odin's blade stopped just in time and left a flap of cloth hanging from Thor's shoulder. "You don't have to see that his clothing is repaired, Odin," she said in a loud admonishing tone. "That was far too close. You must be more careful," she was really saying.
Odin heard both messages and nodded, and no more need for mending appeared.
"You and Father could help us with our new assignment," Loki said eagerly when the idea came to him.
"I'm sure we would be glad to. What is it?"
"Thor!" Frigga shouted. He'd just spun around and sent her heavy red drapes tumbling to the floor – or a quarter of one panel anyway.
"Out, both of you! Go into the corridor, and have the guards remove the statues and vases. And don't forget that glass sculpture from Alfheim."
"Yes, Frigg," Odin said in unison with Thor's "Yes, Mother."
The two disappeared into the next room and Loki watched as his mother leaned back again, after leaning forward to scold Father and Thor. His eyes fell on her stomach. It looked the same as always. He hadn't been around many pregnant women, but he knew more or less how the whole thing worked, and he knew she would soon look like she was about to erupt. "Does it hurt?"
"What? Oh, the baby? No, Loki, it doesn't hurt. I feel tired sometimes, and a little nauseous sometimes. And I can hardly stand to brush my teeth," she added with a laugh. If there was one symptom she could get rid of, it would be that one.
"Why? What do your teeth have to do with it?" Loki said, looking up at her with wrinkled brow.
"I really don't know. But I feel sick every time the toothbrush touches the back of my mouth. It happened with Thor, too." It had lasted the whole of her pregnancy; she hoped she would fare better this time.
Frigga stiffened for an instant; such a slip was extremely rare for her. She realized she would have to be much more careful about such things now that there would be more talk of pregnancy and babies. "No, my darling boy, you never made me sick at all," she said, gently squeezing Loki's shoulder.
Loki stretched, then let himself lean into his mother. He liked that idea, that Thor had made her sick but he hadn't. He sighed deeply and his neck angled downward, his gaze again falling on her stomach. "Mother, don't tell Thor I said so, but…"
"What?" she prompted.
"You won't tell Thor?"
"Not if you don't want me to, unless it's something I think he needs to know for his own safety."
"It's nothing like that. It's just…I know Thor wants a girl, but I hope you have a boy."
A smile spread across Frigga's face. "Really?"
Loki nodded into her chest, just below her collarbone. "I think it could be nice to have a little brother. I can take care of him and protect him and teach him everything he needs to know. And he'll listen to me and look up to me."
"Like you look up to Thor."
Loki scowled for a moment, but then stretched his neck up awkwardly to grin at his mother. He didn't necessarily always like to admit it, but he did look up to Thor, and he did think it would be nice to have someone look up to him for a change. "How big will he be when he's born?" Loki suddenly asked. He realized he was picturing a child, not the screaming baby his little brother would start out as.
Frigga took her hand from Loki's shoulder and held both out in front of them. "Mmmm, about like this."
His eyes widened. "Was I that small?"
"You were. Thor, too. You were a little taller."
Loki nodded. He hoped it would stay that way. "Did Thor like having a little brother, when I was born?"
Frigga thought back. In the very beginning, that first night, Thor hadn't liked him much at all. But Loki didn't need to know that part. "He didn't know quite what to make of you at first, but by the second day he was fascinated with you and by the fourth day he cried if we separated you from him. He liked you very much. But he made it very difficult to feed and change either of you."
"Thor always likes to make things difficult."
"You do have your moments, too, Loki," she said with a laugh.
"Do not," he said with a pout followed by another of those grins that melted her heart.
Frigga laughed again and draped an arm over Loki's chest, tickling his side and making him squirm against her. She stopped and let him catch his breath. "Your little brother, or sister, is going to be very lucky to have you for a big brother."
"Oh!" Loki exclaimed, suddenly pushing himself upright and off of his mother.
Frigga bit back a grimace; he'd pressed right into her stomach without thinking about it.
"When he's born, I'll be fifteen. And that means when he starts his lessons, I'll be twenty. I'll be done with lessons, so I can take him to his, and he won't have to go alone like Thor did before he started taking me with him."
"I'm sure he would like that," she answered, falling into Loki's pattern of referring to the baby as "he."
"I can't even imagine what it'll be like to be twenty," he said, his eyes growing unfocused as he tried to picture it. Tried to picture himself taller, stronger, with a gleaming helmet and all of that extra armor, spending his days in the training arena instead of the classroom, but able to take a day off if he wanted to, to take his little brother to his lessons and stay with him, on the first day at least, and then for as long as his brother needed him to. It was hard to envision; his imagined self looked rather silly. It was much easier if he pictured himself the same as he was now, and then he could easily picture a younger version of himself holding his hand as the two walked down the palace stairs through its corridors and out toward the same classroom that he and Thor now used.
"I can hardly remember what it was like to be twenty," Frigga said wistfully a moment later.
Loki's face drifted into a frown. Twenty seemed a lifetime away; he truly couldn't imagine what it was like to be as old as his mother. But he'd said something like that once and quickly learned not to do so again. He sighed and leaned back on the bench. As much as he longed for adulthood, sometimes he wished everything would stay exactly the same as it was now. A baby meant it could not. "Everything will be different, won't it? Everything will change."
"Not everything. There will simply be one more person to love. And a lot of diapers to change."
Loki wrinkled his nose, preferring to think of his little brother after that part was over and he could walk around and Loki could plan little games to play with him. One more person to love. "But it won't be like it is now. Like this. You won't…you'll be busy with the baby."
"Oh, Loki," Frigga said, hugging him once more with her right arm, then turning them both so she could look him in the eye. She hadn't been sure what to expect from Thor, and she would have to ask him about it later, but this was exactly the reaction she'd expected from Loki, and she was glad Thor and Odin were out spending time together, giving her this moment to speak with Loki alone. At a slight flick of her wrist even the servants left. "Do you think that you have half of my love and Thor has half? Love doesn't work in fractions. It doesn't get divided. You have all of my love. And Thor has all of my love. And this baby already has all of my love, too. Time is a little more difficult. The baby will need a lot of my time. Just as you did when you were a baby. Just as Thor did. But if you help me with the baby, and if we find things we can all do as a family, then we'll still have plenty of time together." She cupped his chin in her right hand. "And I will always, always, make time for this."
Loki smiled and Frigga pulled him into a hug. She knew he would need a lot of reassurance, and that words wouldn't be enough. But they were a start, and there would be plenty of time to make sure he and Thor both understood they would not be pushed aside to make room for their new brother. For this Frigga also knew, through magic she couldn't explain, just as she'd known with Thor. She was expecting a boy.
M & M
M & M
"You were saying something earlier about a project for your studies. Something you needed your father's and my help with?" Frigga asked a few minutes later.
"Oh, I forgot! We have to research and present a report on some part of the Ice War. And I thought, especially since Thor…well, since he can't go outside very much, that we should make it more fun and put together a drama. We're going to re-enact the final battle between Father and King Laufey. And we want to plan it with weapons like they really used, and…what?"
Frigga knew her face had paled and she hadn't hidden her dismay. She took a quick breath and tried to clear her expression. "I would rather you not do that."
"I don't want you and your brother playacting something that was so real. And so painful."
"But Father won. What's so painful about it? Besides, it was ages ago. What's the big deal?"
Frigga gave a rueful little laugh. "It wasn't ages ago. You're young, you don't remember it."
"How could I? It was already over when I was born."
"Yes, that's right. But that wasn't so long ago at all, Loki. It was a difficult time for me. It was difficult for all of us. I was alone, trying to balance ruling a realm and raising a baby, waiting for your father to come home. It's easy to look back on it as something glorious, but it was ugly. Terribly ugly."
"Well…you can help us make it more realistic, then. But…we just want to show that one battle. Not the whole war. Oh. Is it because of Father's eye?" Loki asked, remembering that his father had lost his eye near the end of the war. Loki had never known him to look any different, and it didn't bother him at all. But his mother had known him when he had two eyes. Maybe that was what was so terrible about it for her.
"No, it's not about his eye. It's…it's about the whole thing. The whole of a long and costly war. And…Loki, I…I don't want you pretending to be a Frost Giant."
"I'm not going to be a Frost Giant," Loki said, shaking his head. "I'm going to be Father, and Thor's going to be King Laufey."
"Thor agreed to play Laufey?"
"He hasn't agreed yet. I haven't even told him yet. But he will." Loki gave a sly smile, full of the promise of mischief. "We have an agreement."
Frigga wanted to say something more, to somehow put an end to this, but her sons had grown up with tales of this war and she knew it was inevitable no matter what she said. "Frost Giants versus Aesir" was a popular mock battle among all the boys of Asgard. It was unrealistic of her to expect anything different from her own sons, and in fact she'd already come across them carrying out this battle several times, but had always managed to redirect their energy when she realized what was going on. She wondered about this "agreement" as well, but decided it was something between brothers and she should perhaps not interfere. "Do I want to know, Loki?" she finally asked.
He hesitated and pressed his lips together to one side while his eyes lifted up and to the left; she could tell he was doing it purely for dramatic effect. "Probably not."
Frigga sighed and shook her head but let it go.
Loki knew Thor would agree to his plan, but he did wonder how long he'd be able to get his way in everything before Thor started responding with his fists. "Will you help us, then? You can practice with us," he said, turning back to the matter at hand.
"Mmmm, in this case, no, I'm sorry, I don't think I can, Loki. But your father probably will. If he makes it out of his battle with Thor. You can ask him when they get back."
Loki nodded. They sat there a while in silence, and Loki wondered just how long it would be before they did come back. And then he recalled he still had that other question to ask his father, about why the Ice War started. It wasn't always easy to get time with his father. He was the king, the All-Father, and he was always busy. He fixed his eyes on the door his father and brother had gone through. He isn't too busy for Thor, he thought, remembering the last few days. His father had drawn Thor aside, included him on things Loki was excluded from. And then, when they both got punished, Thor got the worst of it – as he should have – but still got to stay by Father's side, while Loki was again excluded from it all. He blinked heavily as events suddenly fell into place in a new way before his eyes. Thor had gotten him excluded. Thor had gotten him drunk on purpose. Thor knew he didn't want to be left out; Loki had told him so. Thor hadn't come to tell him what was going on, and had let him make a fool of himself in front of Father, while Thor stood there in the thick of things about to meet with King Gullveig. Thor had betrayed him, from start to finish. And his father didn't seem to mind.
He took a shaky breath as his mother stroked his hair, oblivious to the turn his thoughts had taken.
Loki had only one question on his mind now. Did he do it all on purpose? His stomach knotted painfully at the thought.
He wasn't able to dwell on it for long, though.
"Loki, I need help!" Thor shouted, bursting into the room, sword in hand and at the ready.
Loki shot out of his seat, eyes wide, heart pounding. "What happened?!"
"Hergils said he has to defend the king or he wouldn't be First Palace Einherjar anymore. I need you to distract him so I can go after Father. Come on!"
Quickly realizing there was no actual emergency, Loki hesitated about as long as it took to blink, his question already forgotten, his anxiety along with it. He glanced back at his mother.
"Go," she said with a smile on her lips and laughter in her eyes. "Take the sword in the antechamber, the one in honor of your birth. But treat your father fairly if you defeat him."
Loki nodded eagerly and Thor fled the room; Loki took off after him full of enthusiasm, barely breaking stride to wrench the sword free of its scabbard before going on the attack. Defeating a king would be a grand adventure indeed.
M & M
Or...More Accurately...To Be Continued in Approximately One Thousand Years