Brooding 10

“Tell him what, exactly?” Loki asked in return, his tone dripping with sarcasm and condescension. “That he has fathered a half-monster child with me while under my command?”

“Yes, if that is what you consider the truth,” Thor replied, the pulsing vein in his forehead belying his calm words. “But the child appears to be growing normally, so there is no need to call it a monster. It does not deserve such derision… let alone from its mother.”

Loki flinched at the last word and responded before Frigga could intervene. “And what, pray tell, dear Brother, is normal for a Jötun half-breed? Four arms and two tails? Fangs as long as an elgroch’s tusks? What may seem ‘normal’ to your Æsir eyes may be a hideous deformity for the Jötun – after all, they have males that carry children!” Loki’s sharp laugh bordered on hysteria. “For all we know, the Asgardian air may be lethal to this creature. And it may never grow to a size that it can be born – however that is supposed to happen! Or it may simply claw its way out of my body, tearing through my entrails, and go on to devour all the Nine Realms entire. So until we know if this child will live and, if it does, if it should be allowed to do so, what is there exactly to tell Clint Barton?”

Frigga had grasped Loki’s hands as he flung himself into his tirade, and now she pulled on them to direct Loki’s attention to herself.

“Oh, dearest… you do care deeply for this child, don’t you?” she said with compassion filling her eyes. “You fear that it will not live. I promise you, even if the air itself threatens to harm it, I will do everything in my power to save it. You know I will.”

Loki swallowed and bowed his head, acknowledging her statement. His ire seemed to have deflated completely.

“I still think,” Thor resumed after a moment, “that he ought to be told. Were I in his place, I would want to know. The child has been growing without mishap all this time, despite your grave illness, so I would consider its constitution to be hardier than most.”

Loki sighed. “And what do you expect the Human to do with this news? Rejoice? He hates me. Once freed from my spell, he tried immediately to kill me. How, then, do you think he will react to learning that he has a child with me? Besides, he is a mortal whose life, at best, will span a hundred years. This child may live as long as the Jötun, or half as much, or only as long as a Midgardian. Its powers may also reflect its Jötun heritage, whether in full or in part, or it may be as weak as any Human. Do you honestly intend to ask Clint Barton to be a father to a creature whose very essence is as yet unknown and may continue to be unpredictable? What if the child comes into its magic suddenly and decides to throw a tantrum at that moment – what would become of its Human father? No. It is only prudent to keep the child here in Asgard, where it can be contained if necessary; but exposing a mortal to it, or allowing it to visit Midgard, would be folly.”

Having observed Loki’s face as he spoke, Frigga realized that he had given the matter much thought already.

“This Clint Barton,” she said, enunciating the foreign name with care, “you care for him, don’t you?”

The flush that spread across Loki’s pale face was all the answer she needed; it caught Thor by surprise.

“He was a useful soldier, nothing more,” Loki lamely replied.

“Tell me more about him,” she insisted, if anything as gentle as her voice could be said to insist.

Loki gazed down at where she was holding his hands while he spoke. “There is not much to tell… He fought with skill and heart when I first infiltrated their fortress, like any good warrior would, but since the other soldiers of Midgard were weak and cowardly, he caught my eye. I needed a decent general to achieve my purpose, so I… commandeered him. As well as the scientist, of course.”

“There must have been more to him that caught your eye than just his courage if you invited him to your bed,” Frigga teased, delighting in the deep hue of red in Loki’s cheeks that betrayed him.

“He is… not unpleasing to the eye… as far as Midgardians go,” he conceded grudgingly. “But I was too occupied with my task to bother looking for a better specimen. I merely wanted to while away the short time it took to make my preparations. He was… adequate.”

“He is an honorable man, stout-hearted and true,” Thor put in, nettled by his brother’s seemingly low opinion of the agent but also feeling strangely upset at how Loki was blushing. “He deserves a better mate than one who would disparage his manliness.”

“He impregnated a Frost Giant – I would think that sufficient proof of his manliness,” Loki snapped back, irritated.

“Was he gentle with you, my dear?” Frigga asked, her eyes wide and innocent.

“Mother!” both of her sons cried in dismay. They realized their mistake when she broke into peals of laughter.

“Oh, my boys! Never fear, I shall not ask for the intimate details of your coupling – with anyone,” she demurely promised, though still stifling a chuckle. “I only wish to know what manner of man the father of my grandchild is. Loki, my dear, if he has earned an ‘adequate’ by your exacting standards, I consider him to be a very good man indeed. In fact, I should very much like to meet him.”

Loki gaped at her, stunned; before he could form any words, Thor revealed his plan.

“I have already spoken to Father about this matter, and he has agreed to let us use the Tesseract to travel to Midgard. He will give you a temporary reprieve from this cell if it is only to inform Clint Barton of your… condition. I will go with you, of course, to ensure that you do not trouble the Midgardians any further. Mother, if you wish to accompany us…?”

“I do!” she responded, a brilliant smile spreading across her features. “I have not been to Midgard in… oh, eons! And I cannot wait to meet your Clint Barton, Loki.” There was a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

“Mother, th-that isn’t… I-I mean, going to Midgard, of all places – it’s filthy and covered in squalor!” Loki stuttered with a stricken look.

“Of course it is, my dear. But I must thank Clint Barton in person for the gift of my first grandchild.” Frigga stood and tossed her hair back over her shoulder, as though preparing to ride. “When do we leave?”

 


 

 

When they arrived on the planet, a host of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents were waiting for them. Thor had managed to contact the Midgardian agency by manipulating an archaic form of communication known as “radio,” so they had arranged to meet the Asgardians in a remote location. The usually blank-faced men surrounding them – Loki pointed out that they could hardly be considered guarding them or protecting them – all seemed to grow speechless when they beheld Frigga’s beauty. It was just as well, for Loki was in a sour mood and any attempt at conversation, even by his mother, only produced more scowls. Their short journey in the armored SUV was noticeably silent.

Nick Fury met them at the entrance to an underground laboratory similar to the one where the Tesseract had been housed. His glare was softened somewhat at the appearance of Frigga, whom he greeted with courtesy, but it quickly resumed boring a hole in Loki.

“Do not fear any mischief from my brother, Commander,” Thor told him. “You see he is wearing chains – they prevent him from using magic. And even he will not do anything to endanger our mother.”

Fury nodded in acknowledgement but did not remove his gaze. “You were pretty vague in explaining why you wanted to visit – not that it’s unwelcome, of course, but I fail to see why it was necessary to bring your brother along. Especially since you’d assured us that he would rot in an Asgardian jail for the rest of his life.”

“There is a… matter of personal interest we must discuss with Clint Barton. Is he here?” Thor asked.

“Yes, as you requested. But as his commanding officer, I hope this isn’t going to dredge up any more bad memories. It took him a while to get his head unscrambled after what Loki did to him.” The glare intensified. “I’d rather not put him through any more trauma, but it was ultimately his decision to meet with you.”

“I’m glad of that. We would not ask him to do anything that he is, uh… uncomfortable with,” Thor replied. He wondered briefly what sort of thing might be beyond Clint Barton’s threshold of tolerance if he had been willing (as Loki claimed) to sleep with his captor.

“Come this way,” Fury said, turning to lead them into the facility.

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