[Loki might have stirred if he had the ability to. He might have forced himself up on his palms, but the blood loss had him weak and pathetic. He ached all over. However, the opium that he had been made to inhale, thanks to the healers, had helped him with the pain and enough to cloud his mind into making him docile. Anyone who knew him would have been able to anticipate him disregarding his wounds and racing off into the night to his death if it meant finding his son.]
I want him found. And when he is, I want whomever was foolish enough to take him found. And I will not… hesitate the way that you forced me to with Karnilla.
I will have blood. And death.
[Talking in such a way had worked him up into a state of tension that aggravated his health, sending him into a fit of coughing and agony.]
[He shushed his lover, taking a goblet of water from the nearby table and helping Loki to take a long sip. Water dribbled down his chin and neck and disappeared into the bedding where it met his chest, and Balder dried his face with a bit of cloth from the sheets. He would not fail his lover the way he had last time, when it had nearly been too late. He would not disappoint Loki again…in anything.]
Aye. And I shall let you have your day. Whether it be blood or flesh, it will be yours, drop for drop and pound for pound. I promise.
[He kissed Loki’s forehead, staying for a moment before launching to his feet. With a stern look he ordered the healers to care for Loki, and see that he came to no further harm. Two guards were spared for the entrance to the healing chambers, in case the attacker was working with another.]
[Lying on his front with his eyes closed, it took Loki a moment to realize that Balder had come to see him. His eyes fluttered open and he did not quite grasp the depth of what Balder had said. Sigmund couldn’t be gone. Loki had failed, yes, but Balder would find him. Balder had found him. He must have.]
I… I don’t understand… Why are you here?
[The poultice on his back stung and the air in his lungs was a labor, and due to the loss of blood, he was lightheaded and feeling feverish in faculties, not entirely lucid.]
[He grimaced, because he knew Loki would ask him this. Of course he should be leading the search parties, because it was his son that was missing. Of course he should be out there in the night, hunting through brush and glen, tracking, questioning, overturning house and home until Sigmund was found…
But he wasn’t.]
I had to come see you…I needed to know you were safe.
[He touched Loki’s cheek with a warm hand, thumbing his skin gently. He’d be damned if something happened to both his son and his husband in one night.]
[He ran into the healer’s chambers, and into one of the rooms that was secluded from the rest. There his husband rest, on his stomach for fear of aggravating the nasty wound upon his back.
Balder excused his presence to the healers and knelt by Loki’s side, taking one of his hands in his.]
I cannot find him, anywhere. ‘Tis possible he has cleverly hidden himself, but…I have sent search parties throughout kingdom and the surrounding lands.
Thor organizes his men and the Warriors Three make good use of their tracking skills.
We will find him, I swear it.
A while ago, Loki would have died before leaving his son alone without so much as Balder to rear him. But now? Now he was all but fleeing the poor child. Reflection upon the issue turned Loki’s stomach and served only to throw him deeper into misery — deep enough, that is, to find himself resigning. It made him almost need to retch from all the weight that rested on the shoulders of his dread.
“Perhaps… Perhaps I ought to stay,” he breathed, eyes going glassy. “I’m going to… going to stay.”
“You have said that would not be wise,” Balder frowned. “You said you must leave, or else you will wither away.”
He squeezed Loki’s knee and tried to think of something else to say. Loki had purpose and was driven, and he had passion…but he was also shackled by crippling self-doubt and something else that Balder could not understand. His brother was a mystery to everyone but himself. Balder wanted nothing more than to reach inside Loki and find whatever it was that made him so conflicted and tear it out. He wanted his husband to be well.
“He loves you,” he reassured. “He loves you whether you stay or go.”
Little Sigmund, all folded up and warm as younger of his parents. He was beautiful. Like the brightest star during new moon — positively remarkable and absolutely blinding. Loki was hesitant to take him from his brother’s arms. Perhaps that was because he was afraid of finding some detail to his face that he had forgotten in the time they had spent estranged, or perhaps it was because he was afraid that if he did, he would never want to let go and stay there in peaceful quiet until he went insane. All the same… he did reach out to take his son and he did cradle him in such a way that had his head against his chest, just below his father’s chin, and his little body underneath the furs and huddled up atop his father’s lap.
“I do not want to leave him… or for him to feel I am not present for him,” Loki murmured, inhaling his boy’s scent from his mop of dark hair. “I am failing him already and he’s not even old enough to hunt.”
Brushing a stray little curl away from his sweet forehead, Balder could only smile at the sight of his husband and child cuddling. It had been far too long since they had last spent time together like this, and in a burst of affection Balder ran his hand up Loki’s leg.
“He thinks no less of you,” Balder said, quietly. “I have made sure to keep him occupied, and though he misses you, he understands. He is a very bright boy, Loki. He has your wiles, and I have no doubt that he has my heart—please do not fret. He will love you unconditionally, as do I.”
Sigmund took that moment to wake a little, as though he sensed his father’s presence and wished to bask in the love offered him. “Fava,” he murmured sleepily, sneaking an arm up around his neck. Balder smiled and reached out to stroke his cheek.
“He grows to look more and more like you everyday,” he said.
■ It's a hoary-gory queue.
A night of tossing and turning and general sleeplessness left Loki feeling grimy and stretched, overwhelmed by how underwhelmed he was and all the discomfort in between. There was a lump in his throat and a pit in his stomach and a nervousness on the fringe of his mind that kept it active and unstoppable, like a berserker hitting the front lines of battle and tasting first blood. All he could think of was Balder and Sigmund — their faces, their disappointment, and their shame. So preoccupied was he, in fact, that not a single wink of precious sleep touched him from sun down to sunrise, and even as the sun just barely touched the horizon, he was still so preoccupied that he did not notice as his husband left their bed to retrieve their son.
In fact, it was the groggy little groan that escaped Sigmund’s throat that drew Loki out of his reverie. That beautiful little stranger with bright blue eyes. Looking at him made the Trickster’s heart ache.
“Is this an ultimatum?” Loki whispered, already mired in his own anger. “Stay or suffer the knowledge that your son is suffering your absence?”
“Of course not,” Balder whispered. “I would never do that to you. I am simply asking you give your son your love before we leave. I have made the necessary arrangements, and Astrid will care for him while we are away.”
Sigmund made another sleep noise and turned from Balder’s neck, uncurling his arms and clutching them to his chest instead. Balder took a seat on the edge of their bed, curling a leg beneath him as he leaned in Loki’s direction, offering their boy. Perhaps it had been some time since Loki had last spent time with Sigmund. Balder did not pretend to know the specifics, or Loki’s reasons, but he knew that it was unhealthy.
“Here,” he said, “take him. He has missed you dearly and will love to hear your voice.”
Sleep was an elusive creature that night—not for lack of trying on his part, because Balder felt his body falling into that peaceful, near-oblivion that he desired. The only thing that kept his eyes from closing was Loki’s restlessness. He made little noise, but the subtle movement of his legs and the shifting his body made against the bed was more than enough to deprive him of the pleasure slumber offered him. It was that very reason that caused him to rise early, while it was still dark, and seek his son.
Sigmund, the only bright light left in his life, it seemed. He was still a babe, though he had grown a great deal and was much too big to be called a toddler anymore. He was asleep in his little bed, built close to the ground in case he rolled out, and Balder had to pause in the doorway to just observe him. Poor thing, tuckered out from his day of play, lie face down in his pillow, clutching a stuffed animal to his chest, and made faces in his sleep.
Loki claimed him a stranger now, but Balder knew such was not the case. Sigmund loved his father, and asked about him constantly, and while Balder tried to pacify him with stories and excuses, nothing was as good as the real thing.
This prompted him to untangle his son from his furs and sheets and carry him back to the conjoined room where Loki still lay in bed.
“I have brought you someone,” he whispered, as Sigmund wrapped his arms around his neck. “Someone who has missed you a great deal.”
“I find it curious how you are the only one in Asgard to think so,” Loki replied, forcing a laugh. “Or, perhaps, rather that you have changed your mind into thinking thusly, as I cannot ever recall you complimenting me before you decided to go mad and fall in love with me like a fool.”
Arms coming down, he rested his wrists against Balder’s thighs and traced his fingers lightly along the backs of them, barely enough to be felt through the fabric of his trousers.
“Convince me of your sincerity. Farmboy.”
“Take me to bed and I shall,” Balder laughed, getting to his feet again, this time setting his hands on his hips and waiting for Loki to join him. “I’ll not be kept waiting,” he said, raising a brow. “You have waited far too long and I am surprised that you have forced yourself into celibacy just to teach me a lesson. Up with you, and let us take to the warmth of the furs. I want you.”
He didn’t know what else he could say, apart from ‘please lay me down and take me’, which was too forward, even in their married life. Besides, the teasing was arousing. He enjoyed their little games, almost as much as he enjoyed the end result of those games.
Two things calmed Loki beyond measure: tea in the dark, and hands running through his hair — consensually, of course. He all but purred at the feeling, even as those hands moved down the sides of his face and touched his scarred and grotesque mouth. A warm thumb grazed over his lips and he flinched a little, eyes fluttering open in that aching sort of surprise that never seemed to go away ever since he had gotten those scars. Immediately, he felt his pride take another blow to the gut and he tried to play it off as if it hadn’t happened. But it had.
“I…” it felt forced, but if Balder was going to lavish him in attention and sit in his lap, why not force it. It was just the two of them. He could afford to be pathetic if they were alone. “I think you prefer it long because it offers something upon which to pull in the dark.”
“Details,” he chuckled. “I recall only how many times you would wake to find Sigmund has claimed the end of your braid with his mouth, and how pleased he was.”
He kissed Loki again and ran his tongue along a thin lower lip that felt rough with scar tissue. Scars did not matter. He possessed his own fair share, more than most could boast of. It shouldn’t matter to Loki, but it did. Balder had not known him to be exceedingly vain, but he supposed every man had his vice. Pressing a thumb once more to Loki’s mouth, Balder stroked one of the longer scars that reached up nearly past Loki’s nose.
“You are beautiful,” he reaffirmed. “I do not know how you cannot see it. There are days when I catch sight of you and just a glance takes my breath away.”
Well, that was unexpected. Not at all unpleasant, given the heat that Balder radiated and the warm press of his body against his elder brother’s, but unexpected. It gave Loki cause to laugh quietly as he found suitable spots for his hands upon the Bright One’s hips. Like putting his hands in hot water… it was so soothing. A pity that his hands were so cold. It was no doubt a discomfort to whomever he touched, be it Balder or otherwise. Offhandedly, he wondered if it was a discomfort to Sigmund. Ah. Right. Misery and dread. He swallowed it and kept his mind on the task at hand, though. He would save it — age it like bitter, bitter wine and keep it until it turned into anger for something else more productive.
Now, there was the god of beauty sitting in his lap wanting for his attention. And by all the stars in the sky, Loki wanted to give it. It was just a matter of setting aside his wounded pride — which, for the Trickster was a formidable task indeed.
“I thought you liked it longer,” he replied quietly, hands creeping up Balder’s back to rest on his shoulder blades as he tilted his head back and closed his eyes.
“I like you,” Balder replied, curling his fingers against the back of Loki’s head. “I like you with long hair or short hair, it matters not. You could be bald, or even flame-haired and I would love you all the same.”
He leaned in and kissed Loki’s brow, roving his gentle touch down to his brother’s scarred mouth. He loved to kiss Loki—he loved the uneven texture of his lips and how unnervingly shy he could be at times. Alternatively, he enjoyed it when Loki knew exactly what he was doing with that wicked, silver tongue of his. Balder kissed Loki’s lips and and settled his arms around his lover’s shoulders, relaxing in his lap and in his arms. Even if they didn’t use those sashes that night, he would at least prove to Loki that he was no frigid spouse.
“I think you should grow it out again,” he said, pulling away. “I like the look of your hair when it hangs low against your back. I like it when you wear it in a braid.”
In response to Balder’s unbreakable willingness to supply sexual favor in exchange for his elder brother’s emotional relief, Loki finally looked to him, but not in reciprocation of his present demeanor. In fact, the Mischiefmonger’s face read something akin to exasperation, battling with his ability to stay patient, though the consequences of losing that patience were unknown to him. He certainly wasn’t angry.
“You oaf,” he exhaled, pinching the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. “You spread me so thin sometimes. Like butter over too much bread. Come here.”
“I do not mean to,” Balder said, standing. “I want you to be happy. I do not always know how to do that, especially when we fight, but I feel I am learning. Please do not be cross for tonight. I do not want you angry, or sad. I want you at peace.”
He refused to let Loki up, but instead moved to straddle him. So close to Loki he could feel the chill of his breath against his stomach, so close he could catch the scent of peppermint on his lover’s breath. He slid his fingers along Loki’s temples and buried them in his hair, pulling it back.
“You will be needing another cut soon,” he murmured, “if you want to keep it short.”
It was hard for Loki not to let some kind of emotion out into the cold and taut planes of his face when Balder spoke so intimately about him and his hardship. It was difficult for him not to flinch or look away or compulsively scratch at his mouth as he sometimes did in the throes of nightmare and dream, trying to pull out twine that was no longer there. Sometimes he could still feel the tugging feeling — just before he tore them out and shredded his lips into abominations. Immediately he swallowed the lump in his throat and shook his head, but he could not contrive the strength to look Balder in the eye.
“Let us go to bed. We can discuss my perversions and how you will supplicate for them in the morrow.”
Balder nestled closer to Loki, settling between his legs and smiling up at him. He sounded so sad all of the sudden. He usually was, whenever Balder tried to console him. He didn’t understand his husband, even after knowing him all his life. He had a feeling he never would. He ran his hand up Loki’s thigh, trying to regain his gaze.
“Tomorrow, my love?” he asked, voice husky. “Must we wait so long?”
He sat up on his knees and moved to touch his brother’s face, stroking his cheek. His skin was smooth and soft. Balder had fallen in love with the way his skin felt.
“And you have learned how to flatter and appease with that slow and stupid tongue of yours,” Loki replied with a short, self-deprecating laugh.
Untucking his opposite leg from beneath him, he sat with knees spread and fingers woven with his husband’s hair. What a position of power it was, too — as a king would sit while being doted upon by a consort — and yet he felt quite a lot smaller than that. Perhaps that slow and stupid tongue was indeed too slow and too stupid for lies. Perhaps he honestly did think so highly of his beloved. It did give Loki’s pride a bit of sustenance on which to feed and become, if only, slightly less withered.
Closing his eyes and relishing in the sensation of Loki’s cold fingers dragging along his scalp, Balder tried to think of other kind, true things to say. He did not wish to inflate Loki’s already insatiable ego, but showering him with flowery words was no crime. He imagined he could sit there all day and do so, if it meant seeing his Beloved smile.
“I think you are handsome,” Balder said. “You do not see it, and I understand why. We are always our own worst critics, and you still bear the shame of what happened that day. I wish you would not, but…well, that is not for me to decide. I love you the same, scars or not. You are…undeniably beautiful.”
He meant every word, and if all of Asgard might one day laugh at him for hearing such things spread publicly, then he would hold his head high, proud that he loved Loki as he did, and unashamed to say so.
Pursing his lips, Loki couldn’t quite overcome the fact that literally every aspect of this was his fault. It ought to figure, too. Of all people in the realm, if one person would fail at marriage, it would be, and had been, him. Guilty and self-conscious, he shook his head as Balder kissed his knee. Anxiety was starting to settle in and his stony, angry exterior worsened as a defense of it.
Teeth setting and jaw going rigid, he averted his gaze and preoccupied himself with trying to be a bit less pathetic. He couldn’t rightly help it, though, when Karnilla was mentioned. The thought of what she did to Balder gave him memories of what she had Balder do to him in the privacy of that poor Trickster’s dreams. Instinctually, he reached up and covered his mouth with a hand, not paying it any more thought than the wave of dread that washed over him.
“Forgive me. I am a weaker man than you if two years time is enough to give you relief from what transpired.”
“Nay,” Balder said, looking up to Loki. He frowned when he saw his brother covering his mouth, as if to shield his mangled lips from view, and he reached up to pull that cool hand away.
“I am insensitive to your own hurts,” Balder said as he kissed the back of Loki’s hand. “I did not seek to ask because I feared causing you more pain, but I begin to think now that I was wrong to assume. You have been patient with me, and I appreciate it…you deserve more than my love has to give.”
He kissed each of Loki’s knuckles and his wrist, imagining the sight of his own scars marring those perfectly pale digits. The shadows of old wounds had never disgusted him, and even Loki’s torn lips could not hope to turn him away. They were simply memories, carved into the flesh, and left as physical reminders of their strength in overcoming. Repeating that thought to himself had been one of the reasons he had been able to overcome his tendency to conceal his wrists and the scars that encircled them.
“You are one of the strongest men I have known,” he added as he lay his cheek against Loki’s leg. “You have overcome so much more in your lifetime than many could ever fathom.”