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(Just a warning up front — this is fanfiction…not the normal thing I’ve used this blog for! It’s the first chapter of a story in my head that I’m not certain I’ll ever actually write. I’m putting it here — one of three actually — for those folks who are reading the main story I have going on ff.net, as a convenience to share it, without committing to necessarily finishing it, which is what putting it on ff.net would signify to me. I am here on ff.net.)

In this story, Loki is 34, Thor is I suppose 35, and Baldur is 18 (at least in the beginning). It takes place about a thousand years ago, going by what appears to be the Marvel movie timeline for them. There are a couple of later very short excerpts from this story on my profile page.

Eighteen

Chapter 1: [Not yet titled]

Loki slowly lifted his head.

The moment stretched into eternity. The silence was thick and smothering. No wind even to rustle the golden leaves of the birch trees nearby. The trampled grass beneath his left knee was still damp from morning dew that was seeping through the old leather he wore; autumn chill crept up while the late morning sun blazed down. The fingernails of his right hand bit sharply into his palm through the bright yellow cloth wadded tightly in his hand. His right knee pressed into his chest. The strong scent of lavender assaulted his nose but did not entirely mask a faint coppery smell.

When his gaze reached high enough, it drifted from person to person. All eyes were riveted, most of them on him, it felt like. Eyes wide, eyes blinking heavily, eyes shiny, eyes dripping tears. Eyes surrounding him in an endless thick circle he could not see beyond. Those eyes that did not fall on him fell not far away, only a little lower, on the ground.

A child began to cry; Loki’s head snapped to the right and found him. A dark-skinned boy of eight or nine, barely recognizable, standing still, face contorted, pointing at the ground in front of Loki. The name floated up through the stagnant air and his sluggish mind…Stali. Loki was friends with his older brother, Varr. Arms snaked around the boy’s waist and lifted him. Loki followed the arms and saw Varr, whom he hadn’t noticed before. He hadn’t noticed anyone before, only their eyes. Varr rubbed a hand over Stali’s back, but his dark eyes still bored into Loki’s.

A shuddering breath filled Loki’s lungs, pushing his chest up from his knee. He let his head fall and his eyes close. He wasn’t sure how long it had been since his last breath.

————

“What do you think is going on?” Loki whispered.

“I don’t know!” Thor whisper-shouted back. “For the fiftieth time. And I don’t want to know.”

“Then what are you here for?” Loki asked smugly.

“I want to know when it’s over.”

A throat cleared behind them and both boys jumped up from where they’d crouched on the floor. They mumbled apologies to the servant woman and moved away from the closed door to let her pass through. A moan and low-pitched words they couldn’t make out reached the boys’ ears.

“But…do you think she’s all right?” Loki asked once the door was closed again and they were settling back down on the floor.

“Of course she’s all right, Loki. Women have babies all the time.”

“They do not have babies all the time. Mother’s only done it twice in her whole life, and she’s very old.”

“Be quiet. I can’t hear anything with you yammering the whole time,” Thor said, a little more harshly than he meant to. He wasn’t mad at Loki, not even annoyed, really. He was nervous for his mother, and didn’t want to admit it. Loki could be the worrywart; he would be the older brother who didn’t worry about or fear anything.

A sharp cry made both boys’ eyes widen. Loki reached instinctively for Thor’s hand; Thor took it and held it tightly.

“Loki…”

“What?” Loki asked, keeping his eyes on the door as though if he looked hard enough he could see through it.

“I think I’m going to be sick.” Thor clutched his free hand over his stomach.

“Go, go! I’ll stay here.”

Thor ran off, the hand that had been in Loki’s now over his mouth. Their mother had talked to them both more than once about pregnancy and childbirth, and Loki had found a book in the library with illustrations. He’d shown it to Thor, who’d vomited a minute later. Well, it was kind of gross, Loki thought, not really blaming Thor, though he’d made fun of him for it at the time, long enough that they’d gotten into a fistfight over it afterward. Loki had won that round, though Thor claimed it was only because he was weak from getting sick. “Excuses won’t get you anywhere on the battlefield, Brother,” Loki had laughed, while Thor sulked. Victory had been sweet.

Loki smiled even now from the memory, but another cry yanked his attention back to the present and wiped the smile from his lips. Mother hadn’t been making sounds like that before, and now twice. A minute or two later and it came again, this time even louder, with something muffled at the end. If he could just hear a little better… He pressed his ear directly against the door, but it was solid and thick and nothing comprehensible made it through.

His left hand, the one that had grasped Thor’s, curled in on itself, feeling very empty.

Another minute or two passed, during which Loki stayed very still, bit his lip, and pressed his ear to the door. Then his eyes went wide. He wasn’t certain, but he could swear he heard a baby crying beyond the door.

Then the door opened and he tumbled forward.

“Thor, Lo-“ one of the healers began just before Loki banged his head into her shins. “Where’s Thor?”

Loki ignored her, scrambling up to his feet.  His parents’ bedchambers were large, and he could make out no detail of his mother other than the fact that she was there in the bed on the far side of the room. “Mother?” he said, his voice full of nervousness and hesitation.

“Come in, Loki. Come meet your new little brother.”

Loki’s face lit up. “A brother! I knew it!” He raced across the room and came to a sudden halt at the bedside. His father sat up on the other side of the bed, back against the dark wood of the headboard. His mother sat beside him, not quite as straight, her head resting on his chest, looking more tired than he’d ever seen her. In her arms she held a bundle of cloth and fur that hid the crying baby.

“Come on up beside me, Loki. Where is Thor?”

“Gently, gently,” Odin said to temper Loki’s eagerness as he climbed up on the bed.

He tried to move slowly and carefully, and eased up beside his mother to crouch on his knees, completely forgetting he still had his soft low boots on. “He got sick,” Loki said, staring down at the baby, who was growing quiet now. He was wrapped tightly in linens the color of the late afternoon sun, then more loosely in a rich brown fur. His face – all that Loki could really see of him – was tinged red and slightly misshapen. “Is something wrong with him?” he asked quietly, something going cold in his stomach.

“No, no, Loki,” Frigga said, taking her left arm out from underneath the baby to wrap it around Loki’s shoulders and give him a reassuring squeeze. “He’s just new. Sometimes babies look a little strange when they’re first born, after coming through the birth canal. Being born is no easy task.”

“For either of you,” Odin said with a chuckle.

“Did I look like that?” Loki asked, staring hard at his brother. His brother! His baby brother. He’d known it all along, but now he was looking at an actual baby, with tiny closed eyelids and lashes, a tiny nose, and tiny lips, instead of an ever-growing, squirming lump in his mother’s belly.

“Yes, Loki, you did,” Frigga said, hazarding a quick glance at Odin. “And Thor had a birthmark the size of your thumb on his forehead when he was born.”

Loki looked up at her to see if she was jesting, then laughed when it seemed she wasn’t.

“You never told me that,” Odin said.

“I didn’t want you to worry. He was fine. It was a very long labor. His head was pressing against me for a long time. And by the time you were able to come home the birthmark was gone and I suppose I’d already forgotten about it.”

“May I touch him?” Loki suddenly asked.

“You may. Careful of his eyes.”

Loki leaned in closer and reached out with his right hand to brush his index finger lightly across the baby’s cheek. “His skin is so soft,” he whispered.

“Mm-hm. Thor, come in.”

Loki’s head snapped up. Thor was standing just inside the doorway, looking a little pale, and a little upset. His mouth was hanging slightly open.

“It’s a boy, Thor, I told you! I win!” Loki called.

“Shhhh, not so loud,” Frigga said.

“Thor, come on over here. Sit on my lap,” Odin said.

Thor sighed dramatically and finally started forward. “That’s ridiculous, Father. I’m much too old to sit on anyone’s lap.”

“Well, unless you prefer to sit on Loki’s lap it’s the only place for you to see your little brother for now, so come on.”

“You aren’t sitting on me, Thor, don’t get any ideas.”

Thor stuck out his tongue.

“Thor, honestly…” Frigga said, but she was too tired to bother with anything else.

He crossed to the other side of the bed and climbed up, then onto his father’s lap with a huff.

“Oh! You’re right, you’re far too old for this. I may not ever regain the use of my legs afterward,” Odin said in mock complaint.

“Faaather,” Thor said, twisting around to grin at Odin, who wrapped an arm around his waist, since his position there was actually a bit precarious; he was sixteen, almost as tall as Odin, and definitely too big for sitting on anyone’s lap. He leaned over toward his mother and new brother, who was angled more toward Loki. “He looks funny,” Thor said, wrinkling his nose.

“It’s just because he’s new,” Loki said. “You looked much worse when you were born. You had an enormous, horrible birthmark on your forehead.”

“I did not,” Thor said, indignant.

“Did too,” Loki said.

“Did n-“

“Boys. Enough. Thor, you were born with a birthmark, but it wasn’t enormous, and it wasn’t horrible. You looked just as adorable with it there as you did once it went away,” Frigga said. Sitting as they were, Thor was a little taller than her, and she stretched up a bit to reach his forehead, where she planted a kiss right above his left eyebrow. “That’s where it was. I kissed it every time I picked you up.”

Thor smiled, but it was an uncomfortable smile. He wasn’t quite sure what to think of the whole birthmark business. He wasn’t even quite sure it was true. He silently vowed to take a close look in a mirror first chance he got. He looked back down at the red-faced baby with the elongated head and sighed.

“Are you all right?” Frigga asked him.

He nodded, then sighed again. “It’s just that I missed it,” he said dejectedly, then shot a look of annoyance at Loki, who looked back at him in confusion.

“Thor, there’s no reason to think that,” she said, pressing her head to Thor’s neck as she hugged Loki to her side. “You haven’t missed a thing, sweetheart. Baldur’s life has only just begun.”

———————–

“Baldur!”

Loki’s head jerked up. He still couldn’t see through the crowd surrounding him, but now he was reminded that the world outside it existed. He knew that voice. He would know it anywhere.

He released his grip on the soft yellow shirt and stood on unsteady legs, stepping blindly backward. Someone brushed his arm and he reflexively pulled away, turning to see who it was, certain he was about to feel hands clamping down on him. It was no one, though – a woman with big haunted blue eyes. He vaguely recognized her, a friend of Baldur’s probably.

The crowd parted for him as he continued his path backward, trying to melt into them, to fade from view…from existence. But he drew stares all the way. He could see them, and far worse he could feel them – daggers slicing through his armor and piercing his flesh. He wanted to strike down every last one of them, just to stop the stares. Instead, he kept pressing back. And soon the stares all fell on someone else.

————————

Loki watched the proceedings with great interest – or at least great effort – from his assigned spot on one of the golden steps that led to his father’s throne. He watched them without moving his head or anything else but his eyes. He tried to watch them without even blinking, but that was proving harder than anticipated.

“Stay there and don’t move a muscle,” one of the women from the protocol office had barked at him, wagging a finger in his face. He’d wanted to create one of his little glowing balls and send it skittering along her feet to make her stumble as she walked away, but this was Baldur’s big day and he didn’t want to do anything to ruin it.

So he tried the Loki-Statue game instead. But as the minutes passed and no one noticed him and his perfect stillness amidst what was still a fair amount of chaos, he admitted to himself that this was quite possibly the most boring game he’d ever invented. If he strained his eyes as far to the left as possible, he could see Thor talking animatedly with one of the Einherjar, who was trying to both do his job keeping watch over the throne room and listen to whatever exaggerated story Thor was telling. No one had wagged a finger in Thor’s face.

Loki decided he’d had enough of being an unnoticed statue. He sighed and relaxed his posture – or tried to. The updated version of his formal attire he’d received on his fifteenth birthday had for the first time included a breast plate between his thick green tunic and dark gray undershirt. Slouching wasn’t quite as easy as it used to be.

Loki tried to catch Thor’s eye, but he was too engaged in his storytelling. Before boredom could tempt him again to mischief he would have to resist, a hush fell over the throne room like a wave racing for the shoreline, spreading from behind Loki to the barely visible public entrance. Servants who’d been polishing every surface in sight for the umpteenth time disappeared between the orange sheers, taking care not to bump the gleaming golden posts holding up the red velvet ropes that marked the receiving line. The source of the sudden silence was exactly what Loki expected – his parents had entered the room with Baldur, two nursemaids trailing behind them.

All eyes fell on Frigga, who hadn’t been in public in a month. She’d appreciated the time outside of the public eye, and taken to dressing casually and letting her hair fall straight down her back or gathering it in a simple clasp at her neck. It had been strange, seeing her like that, so different, like other mothers instead of his, instead of the queen, but also nice. She was tired but more relaxed than he’d ever seen her, and he’d spent almost every free moment in her chambers with her and Baldur. He’d learned to bathe and dress and burp his little brother and even change his diaper; Thor had thrown up the first time he’d seen and smelled Baldur’s dirty diaper and had made a point never to be around when he needed changing after that. His mother didn’t actually need any additional help – she had six nursemaids assisting her in eight-hour shifts so two were on hand at all times, but Loki liked doing it.

Loki was mesmerized now. He’d forgotten how beautiful his mother was. She wore an elaborate layered gown of pale green and gold, the gauzy green embroidered with little flowers, and her golden hair was done up one of those styles he figured only women could properly understand, with gathered strands disappearing under other gathered strands and winding up who knew where. He realized now that all this, her attire, her hair, her perfect posture and regal air, was a role she was required to play, and not really who she was.  The natural and occasionally even silly woman she’d been for the past month was the real her. She was no different from him, in that regard. He stood here in this heavy attire forcing him up straight as a board because he had to, not because he wanted to. If he could wear whatever he wanted, he figured he’d stay in his nightclothes all day. They were comfortable and soft and lightweight.

He glanced toward his father, standing next to his mother and conferring now with Eir. Odin had kept almost to his normal schedule after Baldur’s birth. If Loki hadn’t seen him on rare occasion in nightclothes he would’ve thought his father wore his armor to bed.

The few other people in the room were also gravitating toward his parents, and their attention was now all on the squirming bundle in his mother’s arms. Baldur hadn’t been seen in public at all, per tradition. The vulnerability of children and especially infants was deeply felt among the Aesir, who achieved near invulnerability to many things around age twenty, give or take a year or occasionally two, as they reached adulthood. An illness that would not cause even a sniffle in an adult could kill a infant; an impact that would not bruise an adult could break a child’s bone.

Thor, having finished his story to the Einherjar whose name he’d asked but already forgotten, watched the small crowd around Baldur and his parents for a moment, then made his way up to the dais and Loki’s side. He was bored already and the ceremony hadn’t even started. “This is going to be the worst day ever,” he complained to his brother.

“I bet you whined and cried the whole time during my Welcoming ceremony,” Loki said, remaining on his designated step.

“No, Brother. I whined and cried for them to put mine off so we could have ours together.”

“Thor, you idiot. I wasn’t born yet when you had your Welcoming.”

“But I knew you were coming. That’s how smart I was.”

Loki scrunched up his face, then rolled his eyes and smiled. Thor knew he wasn’t making the slightest bit of sense anyway, and as usual, Thor didn’t care. He had a point to make, and he made it. As much time as Loki – and Thor as well – spent with their little brother now, they had also begun spending extra time, almost secret time, holed up in various places they told no one about, practicing on some weapon or with some fighting technique, horsing around, exploring, or just talking. By unspoken agreement, no other sibling, no matter how much they both loved him – and Loki positively doted on him – would ever lessen their bond or come between them in any way.

“Prince Thor, to your position, please,” the protocol woman said, rushing past to make a small and likely unnecessary adjustment to the position of the cradle of pure gold Baldur would be placed into, the same one that had been used for Thor when he was one month old and – Thor’s illogical story aside – Loki ten months later.

Loki scowled as Thor meandered over to his spot, one step higher and several paces over. No “don’t move a muscle” for Thor. No “please” for Loki. No acknowledgement that he’d actually done as he was told and stayed in his position this whole entire time.

Frigga and Odin moved into their positions, at the foot of the stairs directly in front of the throne, the golden cradle before them. Frigga placed Baldur into it, and Odin smoothed the yellow blanket around him. She looked up at Thor and winked.

Thor beamed back at her. He was mostly dreading this whole ceremony, but for a few minutes it was kind of nice. Unlike Loki, he enjoyed dressing in his formal attire and seeing everyone else dressed in theirs. He took the weight of his leathers and armor and decorative embellishments as a challenge to his strength – although he did make some allowances for certain circumstances – and the desire to show that he’d met the challenge made him stand even straighter. He enjoyed positioning himself “just so” and the effect it had on others, especially in the last couple of years, as he’d grown bigger and stronger.

Frigga then caught Loki’s eye, rolled her eyes upward, and blew a section of hair up off her eyebrow.

Loki broke into laughter, and his mother turned away holding back a laugh of her own.

The protocol woman went back up to him and hissed his name.

Not even a title for Loki. Thor started to laugh and he didn’t get his name hissed at him. Loki decided he didn’t like this woman. Of course, he’d already decided he didn’t like her; more accurately, he decided to do something about it. If she would just stay still for a few minutes…

The ceremony dragged on for four hours, with two breaks for Baldur to be fed and changed, Thor to challenge an Einherjar to a mock battle, and Loki to snap the heel off of the protocol woman’s shoe and make her stumble backward and barely avoid falling. In the meantime, it seemed as though all of Asgard filed through the throne room, welcoming Baldur into the Aesir and wishing him health and strength and happiness, and leaving single flowers from which servants formed bouquets to line the steps to the throne room.

When it was over Thor wanted to explode and Loki wanted to collapse.

Thor was at Loki’s side as soon as the last citizen was outside and the ceremony was officially declared to be complete. “Let’s go see what’s going on at Central Market. People will be celebrating.”

Loki frowned and Thor groaned before he even said anything; he knew what was coming. “I thought we could go up and change and stay with Baldur until dinner.”

“Loki, come on!” Thor cried in exasperation. “You keep saying you’ve gotten so much stronger and you’re still complaining about the clothes? You do realize you’re going to be wearing things like this every single day when you turn twenty, don’t you? Toughen up, Brother, or you’ll have to have a pair of Einherjar prop you up everywhere you go when they set a helmet on your head.”

“We’ve been wearing it and standing up constantly for five hours, Thor. Are you seriously going to tell me you’re not the slightest bit tired?”

“Well…I didn’t wear the breastplate.”

Loki’s eyes almost popped out of his head. “You what? You aren’t allowed to just…to just… You should have told me,” Loki finally finished. Because if he’d realized he could get away with that he would’ve done the same thing. In fact, he was a little annoyed with himself that he hadn’t thought of it first.

“I just did!” Thor declared with a laugh and a big grin. “Come on, let’s go. We’ll find some pretty maiden to help prop you up. Baldur’s going to be there tomorrow.”

Loki muttered about Thor and his pretty maidens, but he went. He always did.

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