Brooding 9

What?!” Loki shrieked, his voice an octave higher than normal. “A… A child? B-But that’s impossible!” He looked wildly back and forth between his mother and the healer. Both women were scrutinizing the projected image and, apparently, coming to the same conclusion. “How can there be a child in me?” Loki continued, his breathing turning ragged as his heart rate (visible as throbbing in the projected arteries) sped up. “It’s just not possible! Is it?!”

Frigga pursed her lips for a moment before answering quietly, “Loki, dearest… we know very little about Jötun physiology. It may very well be that all Jötun males carry their young, or perhaps a select few are able to when certain conditions are met.”

The chief healer was startled to hear the Queen’s explanation, but she remembered her place and continued examining her find. “The fetus is suspended in a sac filled with fluid, which is being fed by the bloodstream near the main intestinal tract,” she informed them. “It seems to be functioning as a womb. From the size of the fetus, it must have been growing for some time – perhaps two months or so – and appears to be doing well.”

“Two months,” Loki murmured to himself. It was now just over two months since he had been captured and brought back in chains to Asgard. He swallowed hard, then immediately regretted it, as the infusion had replenished the fluids in his body. Wrenching his hand out of Frigga’s grasp, he rolled onto his side and heaved over the edge of the bed. Green bile spewed from his mouth, spattering Thor’s boots and making the thunder god turn almost as green as the phlegm; to his credit, however, Thor only grabbed a handful of Loki’s hair to keep it out of the way. Once Loki had finished emptying his already starved stomach, he curled back into himself, lying on his side, and squeezed his eyes tightly shut.

“This can’t be happening… This can’t be happening…” he mumbled, like a mantra, as though that would dispel everything as a bad dream. While he lay still, the healer reconstructed the projection of his internal organs.

“Here,” she pointed, indicating two small, elliptical lumps attached to either corner of the transverse colon. “These look like ovaries. They do not exist in Æsir males, at least.”

“Do they seem to be well formed?” Frigga asked.

“Yes. They are proportional and symmetrical.”

“So perhaps they are a natural, normal part of his anatomy.” Frigga combed her fingers through Loki’s hair as he continued to repeat his phrase under his breath. “Loki… Loki, my darling, do you know who the father is?” she prodded. “It may help us to know… what races the child is comprised of.”

Loki ceased his mumbling and stared unblinkingly at the space before his eyes.

“Clint Barton,” was his stoic answer after an agonized silence. “A Midgardian soldier… a mortal.”

He spat out the last word. As though it were not humiliating enough to be found pregnant with another man’s child, to admit that said other man was a mere mortal was… mortifying.

After a minute to absorb the shock – both of his brother’s condition and the person who had partially caused it – Thor recovered and cleared his throat. “He is a good man, a skilled archer,” he said for Frigga’s benefit. “He fought well to defend his world once he was freed from Loki’s control over his mind. But, Loki… if this child was conceived while Barton’s allegiance was coerced… you have more transgressions to pay for than we had already supposed.”

“It wasn’t like that,” Loki retorted without moving or looking up at Thor. “He wanted it. I would not have bent his will to mine on such a matter.” His voice had died down to a whisper by the end so that Thor could hardly catch what he said. Frigga continued to stroke his hair in an effort to give him what comfort she could.

“If the child is half Midgardian, at least we have some idea what to expect,” she said to the healers. “We must research all the information we have on the Jötun race for the rest. I can supply the rate of growth for a Jötun child after it is born, for I recorded every detail of Loki’s development. And we know that the Frost Giants’ children are not always as large in comparison to us as their adult counterparts.”

Loki gave up a small, wordless cry of dismay and turned to his mother.

“How in Hel am I supposed to birth it?” he asked, panic seizing him.

“We will find out, my dear,” Frigga soothed, patting his cheek. “There is plenty of time before the child will be born. We will know enough by then to keep both of you safe. Do not worry.”

 


 

It took three whole days for Loki to regain the weight he had lost, but the healers were finally able to make him comfortable by siphoning off the green bile that accumulated in his stomach – a byproduct of his body changing to accommodate the child – at regular intervals. He still had no appetite, but he was at least able to keep down what he ingested.

Frigga had insisted on placing drapes around his cell for privacy, realizing that his condition would soon become noticeable to the other inmates. Odin’s injunction against visiting her younger son was cast aside with scorn; she would not let anything come between her and her child when her grandchild’s wellbeing was at stake. After the initial shock had worn off and Loki had gazed at the creature growing within his belly often enough to admit that it really was a child, he expressed some doubts as to whether it should be allowed to live.

“Loki!” Frigga scolded. “This child is a gift! Look at how his heart beats in his tiny breast – how perfectly his fingers and toes are forming! Do you not feel any sense of care for this new life, which is not only a part of you now but also a piece of you that will take on its own life and destiny?”

“You mistake me, Mother, if you think I said so for my own selfish reasons,” Loki replied with unwonted sobriety. “I only know what this child will have to endure if it lives. I know what ridicule and suspicion will dog its steps, just for the fact that it is mine – let alone half Jötun! It is half monster, half mortal… born into a land of gods. How can it even begin to find happiness? It is the only one of its kind, and I, its only parent, an outcast condemned to this prison. What sort of existence can it hope to have?”

“You do not give our people enough credit,” Frigga insisted, although her eyes were saddened as well. “No child is responsible for its own parentage. And I give you my word that I will care for him as I did for you. Is that not enough?”

A faint smile flitted across Loki’s lips. “He, or she, will have the best mother in all the Nine Realms. That is more than enough, and I thank you. But I… I worry for what may be in its future.”

“Then you have truly become a parent,” Frigga said gently.

A looming shadow fell upon the white curtains before the barrier was lowered for Thor to enter the chamber.

“You are looking better, Brother,” he observed with relief.

“I will not besmirch your shoes again soon, I don’t think,” Loki said dryly, “although I would give anything to have seen your face when I did.”

Frigga patted the edge of the bed next to where she sat, and Thor settled there, taking care not to jostle Loki.

“Now that you are well again, there is a matter I wished to speak to you about,” Thor began.

Loki paled, thinking his brother might bring up the brief and forbidden dalliance of their youth. Though he loved his mother dearly and trusted her implicitly, Loki had never confided in her about it, and he did not intend to now. But he need not have worried.

“How are you going to tell Clint Barton?” Thor asked.

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