As he aged, Loki had come to love fall. After all, he no longer had to report to school regularly and his life went on much the same through summer. So he learned to enjoy the way the leaves turned and t-shirts gave way to soft sweaters and his black boots emerged again from the closet.
He could admit now, very quietly and buried very far down, that he liked the plaid shirts Thor pulled out of the depths of his closet. They were worn soft things that were pulled idly over t-shirts then thermals as it got colder. Long locks of blond hair draped over the pilling fabric and it made him seem much more approachable. As one of the class mother’s had said wistfully, unaware that Loki was in hearing range: ‘A Farmers’ Market DILF’’.
With the children occupied through the summer, they’d spent more time together. They made budgets, discussed the vagaries of conveying morals to their clan, and went grocery shopping ad nauseam. It was a new kind of closeness, not just the reassembling of the ruins of their brotherhood from the first half of the year. They were building a partnership though Loki hadn’t quite dared to put the name to it yet.
And the day Sleepy had broken his ankle, Loki had rushed there, heart in his throat. But...but he’d known. Known with surety that Thor would be there, taking care of his child as tenderly as his own. It had been a long time since there’d been anyone else that he could trust with his children and it felt more precious than gold.
Even now as they went about the tedious process of lawn care, bedding down the garden for the winter, his eyes tracked his brother.
Around them, the world was getting ready to sleep. The last garish display of color would give way to the comforter of white pulled tight around it’s chin. The house would be very warm with it’s new boiler and the fireplace in the living room.
“I’m going to go split logs,” Thor announced, pleased with the axe he had in hand.
“Well, you’re dressed the part,” Loki grinned.
“I’m a lumberjack and that’s okay. I sleep all night and I work all day...” Thor sang with a laugh, winding his way down to the fallen tree in the backyard.
If Loki had needled him that way when they were children, it would’ve been a brawl. How good it was to have grown past that. To be easy as old shirts together. He shook his head at his own sentimentally, pruning down the rose bush.
“Daddy!” Hel appeared at his side, “Can I help?”
He handed her the smaller shears, showing her how to make the cuts. She and Magni had taken to braiding each other’s hair, long straight lines down their backs now that Magni had grown it out long. She looked older, her features sharper. He had one of those weird wavering seconds, where he could imagine her a grown woman.
“What’re you doing?” Modi wandered up, abandoning whatever he’d been doing with Thrud and a pile of sticks.
“Pruning down the bushes. They’ll grow back bigger next year,” Hel explained haughty as if she hadn’t just been told that herself. They were ever his children, with all his strengths and flaws on display.
“If you have a moment, I could use help pulling up the dead vegetable plants,” Loki offered and Modi, surprised to be asked, nodded.
They worked together down the long rows. Loki glanced up occasionally, catching the spot of red and black, Thor’s shirt fluttering out behind him as he chopped.
The dogs were chasing each other and Thrud and Sleepy through the messy fields. They’d all have to get checked for ticks by the end of the day.
Thor carried up an armful of logs and began stacking them neatly into the tiny woodshed that leaned up against the house. Red leaves fluttered around them as the wind rushed in. Modi pulled to hard on a plant and landed on his butt with a laugh.
When they went back in, Loki drew out the big slow cooker and filled it with meat, potatoes, carrots, and soup stock. Magni ran back outside and collected up the last of the fresh herbs, sprinkling them in amid the vegetables with bitten lip concentration.
The woodshed filled steadily, dirt and sweat streaking Thor’s face and doing little to diminish his clear exuberance. Eventually Fen wheedled him into letting him hold the axe over Loki’s loud objections.
“He’s stronger than we both were at his age,” Thor assured him.
“That’s not saying much on my part.”
Fen ran all the way back up to the house to show Loki his first perfect split,
“See, Dad! I can do it!”
“I see,” he looked at his half-grown boy, a leaf stuck in his dark hair and his smile the match of Thor’s. “Good job.”
That night after the stew was consumed by the hoard, Thor showed Fen how to stack their wood in the fireplace and let him light the tinder. The fire blazed to life to the cheers of the little ones. It was a little early in the season for it, but Loki heated cider and passed around mugs for all.
“You know,” Thor sat beside him on the couch. He smelled of sweat and woodsmoke, still unwashed from his days work. His hands were cupped around a thick clay mug that Hel had proudly produced the week before from her art class.The handle was too small for Thor’s fingers, but he accepted it with pride. “That this was the same time of year we met up again.”
“It was only a year ago, my memory hasn’t gone that soft,” Loki said wryly. He nudged Sleepy away from the fire with one foot over the boy’s laughing protests.
“It’s been a good year,” Thor helped him make a leg barrier as Sleepy tried to vault over Loki’s calf.
“Yes, it has,” he took a sip of his cider.
“We should celebrate.”
“We don’t have enough holidays and birthdays around here?” Loki raised an eyebrow. “With Thrud’s party next week, Halloween after that, then Jojo and Hel’s.”
“And yours,” Thor reminded him.
“I’m too old for birthdays.”
“You’re younger than me.”
“My point stands.”
“Shut up,” Thor elbowed him, then reached out held out his hand so Sleepy fell into his palm. “Enough, pup, go play cards with your sister.”
“Aw,” Sleepy pouted, but was quickly folded into a game of Go Fish with Hel and Modi.
“Anyway, I’m older than you and I still like birthdays.”
They’d celebrated Thor’s forty-fifth birthday in April with a cake loaded down by candles and many handmade presents from the kids. Loki had silently presented him with a classic Gameboy, very like the one Loki had accidently dropped in a puddle while ‘borrowing’ it when they were children. Thor had been delighted and hugged him so hard his ribs ached afterwards.
“I like them, I’m just not interested in my own.”
“Is it because of your eighteenth?” Thor asked quietly.
“Let’s not have that conversation and say we did,” Loki said firmly.
Eighteen meant you were a legal adult. Eighteen meant all the creeping suspicions of youth confirmed when you sent away for your birth certificate and the state came back empty handed. Eighteen meant yelling and recriminations and adoption papers dug out from locked boxes with tears running down his mother’s face as he packed his bags. Eighteen was a long time ago.
“All right,” Thor sighed. “But I do think celebrating our family can’t be a bad thing.”
“How do you do that?”
“Sound so sincere? It’s an unbelievable talent.”
On Monday, Loki took an early lunch break and went to therapy. He went only every other week now and looked at it as maintenance rather than improving at this point. Dr. Lewis’ office was small and didn’t have a proper waiting room, just a chair in a hallway shared by other offices. Loki had long ago memorized the cracks in the paint and usually amused himself by imagining the walls finally splitting open, and what sorts of things might come tumbling out.
“Come on in!” Dr. Lewis called when the hour ticked over.
The room was small, but filled with light and plants. Dr. Lewis always sat in a chair that was far too big for her. She was young, though not as young as she’d been when they first began, with dark hair, cat eye glasses, and an amused tilt to her mouth when it was at rest. When they’d met she hadn’t had a Ph.d, she was just finishing her masters and willing to give a break to clients to begin her practice. That had been nearly fifteen years ago. It was the longest relationship of Loki’s adult life for better or for worse.
“Good morning,” she said cheerfully as he folded himself into the couch. It sagged in a familiar way beneath him.
“Good morning,” he smiled at her. “I see you re-potted the jade plant.”
“You were right, it was getting a little crowded,” she laughed. “I think I could hear it sigh in relief once I moved it.”
“Having more room to grow seems an apt metaphor,” he folded his hands into his lap. “It seems that I may have reached a point of decision.”
“About Thor?” She guessed, folding her legs neatly. She always wore tight pencil skirts and white button down shirts that strained decorum, but Loki found it a charming quirk rather than an annoying affectation.
“It seems I must...do something. Say something. Shouldn’t I? Otherwise, we’ll just keep going as we are and never talk about it and that’s never ended well for us.”
“But you’re worried.”
“If I’m reading it wrong then I have good reason to be.”
“Not arguing there.”
He stared out the window over her shoulder. There was only parking lot there and more squat office buildings. He thought about plaid shirts and woodsmoke.
“He’s my brother.”
“Yes,” she agreed.
“If one of my children were to approach another like that....it’d be horrifying. I’d do everything in my power to stop it. To keep them safe from that.” He had to squelch down nausea even saying it.
“So would I,” she said strongly. “I’m not saying that I’m exactly happy to cheerlead incest at any age, but you are both grown men. That makes it a little different. And your relationship has always been...unorthodox.”
“Codependent and unhealthy, you said.”
“Yes, when you were still children,” she agreed.
They’d talked over it a thousand times. His father’s demands unmatched with any visible pride or affection, the encouragement of violence as a show of masculinity, combined with their mother’s confusion over her unorthodox child had isolated Loki early. He idealized his brother, crushed every time Thor was not who he expected him to be. There’d been no physical indulgence in his fantasies then and they had quickly turned from love to curdled violence in any case.
Now though. Now there was warmth. Loki had risen from the ashes of his own fires for the sake of his children. He wasn’t a violent man anymore than Thor was now.
“And now,” she sighed, “now I can’t think that you could make room in your life for anyone else. So you might as well do what makes you happy.”
He waited on that. Waited out the week of homework and bedtime and rushing between work and school. The house heaved with life, mess spilling out where it had only just been contained.
On Saturday, Loki made a cake. Alone. He took his time and built it out of a dozen layers. He alternated them with food colored. Red. Yellow. Green. Yellow. He frosted it chocolate and garnished it with strawberries. He lit no candles. He made no explanation when he served it after dinner.
But Thor knew and touched his hand feather light,
“Happy Anniversary, Loki.”
That night, Loki did his usual walk on the second floor, checking that every bed was tucked full of a sleeping child. He smoothed down covers and rescued stuffed animals from the floor. He turned off reading lights until the house was silent and dark. He went halfway up the attic stairs,
“Good night, Fen!”
“Night, Dad!” Fen pushed down his headphones. “Asleep by eleven, I promise!”
“Mmhm,” he said doubtfully, but the headphones were already back on, blocking out all outside intrusions.
He went down to his room. He looked at himself in the mirror. He was still handsome, in his own way, he thought. Tall and slim with broad shoulders and clear eyes. His hair was still mostly dark, laced through only a little with silver, and the single dark green streak that needed the roots touched up.
Maybe there was someone else out there for him. Someone sly and funny and not his brother. Loki peeled off his sweatshirt, stood there in his bare feet and loose t-shirt that was probably Thor’s to begin with.
He gave himself a wry smile.
He slipped into Thor’s room and shut the door behind him.