REBIRTH AND RIPPED GOWNS
I held my dress against my swollen belly, pressing my hands against its shape. The baby inside moved, my skin stretching to accommodate it.
“You know they want to kill you.”
“Since when has that been news?” I tossed a crumpled robe at Thor. “When does the Æsir not want to dispose of me in some terrible fashion? It’s a little harsh, isn’t it? After all, don’t they think this punishment is sufficient?” I poked my belly. “Must you watch me dress? It’s rather...creepy, you know.”
“It’s a fun hobby,” he grinned over his ever-present horn of mead, “besides, you make a stunning lady… albeit a well-rounded one.”
“I bet you say that to all the girls.” I batted my eyelids, then clutched my back. “Pregnancy isn’t meant to be this difficult. Even this late into my term. ”
It shouldn't have felt so odd, but this pregnancy was different to my earth-bound ones. I supposed a horse’s offspring might take a different form. Alongside my family — long passed now — on Midgard, I had two other sons: Fenrir, the great wolf, and Jogunmandr, the world snake. A female shape had seemed most appropriate to keep during my term.
“Well, you’d know.” Thor’s eyes twinkled at me across the room.
“Tone down the charm, would you? It’s positively incestuous.”
“We’re not related,” he reminded me.
“May as well be.” I gripped the end of the day bed Freya had been kind enough to lend me. “God’s balls. The other eight weren’t this difficult.”
“Is it coming?” Thor tossed his horn aside, its dregs coating the glass window that overlooked the city. Asgard had expanded past what anyone had expected, developing into a nation in its own right in the few short months since the giant’s defeat.
“That eager to become an uncle? Cousin— oh, whatever,” I groaned, leaning over the blue velour and hoped I wouldn’t ruin it with birthing fluids.
“Frigg!” Thor bellowed, leaning out the doorway. His voice echoed throughout the palace, finding it’s victim, as always. Footsteps echoed along the long hall outside my rooms. I cringed.
“Keep it down, please,” I begged as another contraction curled me into a ball, stealing my words and breath along with it.
“Stop your whinging, woman,” Thor ground out, tapping his foot impatiently.
“Can— can I help?” A soft voice stilled the panic in the room. Not chaos; because that was my strength. No, this was simply panic, mostly from the untried god in the room. And she calmed it.
Another contraction wracked me. I grabbed Thor’s hand, forgetting the voice.
“You- you’re going to have to do this.” I collapsed on my back, my sweat-soaked robes hanging between my bent knees.
“What? Oh, Hel,” Thor crouched, lifting the hem of my dress. He frowned.
“Oh for pity’s sake, this isn’t a time to be fragile,” I snapped, huffing between contractions, “you’re married to a beautiful woman. Surely you know what a- oh, fu-”
Thor rocked back on his heels. “It’s not that, Loki. It’s just, um…”
“The head comes first.”
“No, it’s not that.”
“Then the butt. Or the feet, perhaps.”
“No, it’s not that, either.” The god peered up my dress.
Pain shot across me, ripping me from breast to arsehole, a great tearing that would surely split me. The world went white and I forgot to breathe.
Small hands gripped mine and a dark head I didn't recognise for a moment bent over mine. She pressed a cool hand to my forehead, stroking the hair from my eyes. I held hers, a magnificent translucent amethyst would with the gold thread of fate itself. I wondered, yet again, how many times I would fall in love in this world.
My mind whispered her name, though my lips forgot to say it. Or maybe I just wanted to keep it to myself. A secret, between just us for that moment.
My stomach contracted again. I lay back, panting. Her hand started on my arm, and I was able to breathe.
One breath. That was all I got.
Movement struggled, pushing into my spine, then nothing.
I panted, blinding white coming into focus as my gaze fixed on a scalloped section of ceiling above my head. The room was void of sound, and my heart hitched.
“It’s alive? What is it? Is it alive?” I craned forward but my ruined muscles refused to allow it. “Thor?”
“It’s alive.” His voice was thick, dull.
“What’s wrong with it?” Hel above, I really was becoming a snarking woman. “Tell me.”
“He’s beautiful.” I took the awe in her voice as a positive, her fine features at this close range, even as I strained to see my son.
“Well, its, uh…” He dropped a bundle of cloth into my arms, sharp points sticking out at all angles.
I frowned, trying to unwrap it but the cloth got tangled. Folds knotted with slippery fluids wrapped around tiny limbs. Increasingly frustrated but also desperate to see my baby, I tore gently at the cloth with shaking hands. Adrenaline coursed through me, bringing the point of panic closer.
When I thought my heart would erupt in my chest, the cloth finally parted to show me a slimy face, delicate and new. Tiny eyes barely opened stared back at me as I cradled the creature to my breast.
“You’re perfect,” I cooed, snuggling the tiny baby in my arms, echoing Sigyn’s earlier comment. Fur plastered with birthing fluids, it nuzzled my skin. Swiping the gunk from its face, pale fur emerged. I stroked it in the right direction, marvelling at its beauty.
“Sleipnir,” I murmured. The tiny horse nuzzled, a choking whinny rumbling inside its fragile neck. “I think you need to stand, little one.”
“Stand?” Thor’s strangled voice brought me back. “How will it stand?”
“As you would, I imagine, if you would get off my legs,” I snapped.
Sigyn silently collected the filthy rags and towels, dropping a kiss first on my forehead, and then my child’s.
“Congratulations,” she whispered, vacating the room in silence. I couldn’t even hear her footsteps leaving the hall, this time.
Thor removed himself from my lower limbs, circulation returning in a rush. Pins and needles shocked my system but I ignored it, staring at my baby.
“Time for you to get up, little one.” I murmured.
“But Loki,” he whispered, “it has eight legs.”
“Very observant,” I growled, not letting a small thing like four extra appendages ruin my post-birth experience.
I changed back to myself, glad to let my stomach muscles return to their usual state, though the exhaustion remained. Then I remembered I had to feed the small beast and returned to my feminine form. Fortunately, the changes remained. Shape shifting only covered so many bases; I still had to deal with the strain on my body as well as the mental fall out.
The peace of a completed birth not yet set in, I craved contact. Looking over to Thor, I shook my head, wishing with a sudden, deep-seated need, that Sigyn hadn’t left the room.
I placed the tiny stallion on the floor. Quivering beneath his own weight, he stood on two legs, the rest a tangled mass beneath him.
Reaching into the mess of bones and slop, I began to straighten them out. Each limb was slippery as a kraken’s tentacles, and sorting them into order was too much of a challenge for my fatigued mind. I got four in a row, all lined up, but one slipped and they collapsed, tangling in on themselves.
“Help me,” I gasped hoarsely, “please.”
Thor’s hands shook as much as the poor creature but after a few minutes, the legs were where they were meant to be.
“Is that right?” Thor crawled around to the other side, peering between a cluster of hooves.
“I think so,” I sat back, studying my offspring critically. I’d only birthed human babies before, and they were much easier to work out. “First time for everything,” I muttered to myself.
Sleipnir took tiny steps, his entire body vibrating, and worked his way around the room.
“Let’s not do this again,” Thor moaned, stretching prostrate on the floor. Birthing fluid coated his arms and chest. I grinned at the sight of the glorified god brought low by such a tiny being.
I shook my head. “Not a chance.”
He turned his head to the side, grinning, and held his fist out, curled into a ball. I stared at it, open mouthed.
“What do you want me to do with that?”
“You hit it.”
I shrugged, preparing to slap his hand to the ground. “Okay.”
“No! Not like that. Like this,” he mimed pressing his fists against each other. “See? You bump them.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Like this? Is there a point to it?”
“You’re the one who told me to spend more time on Midgard.”
“I think you took me far too literally.”
The door creaked open. Several gods peered in on us, taking in Thor and I stretched out on the floor, our chests still rising hard. My skirts dangled limply between my legs, and I remembered far too late that my hoo-haa was on display. I needn't have worried; every eye latched firmly onto my child.
“Loki,” Odin stared at the creature, disgust and his usual dose of disdain warring across his features. “What have you done?”
He expects me to fail. Every time.
Thor stared at me askance, then buried his head face first in the carpet, groaning when birthing fluid slipped down his ear to puddle around his nose.
“Sorry, did I say that out loud?” I made the remark light, though emotion roiled in my chest. I’d never fit in with them, thanks to my birth to a giant mother and a mortal father, not just flashed into existence like the exalted Pillars of the Cosmos. I snorted.
“Maybe just a little.” Thor’s muffled voice rang loud in the strained silence of the room.
Well, I got raped by a stallion saving your broke asses.
Another face appeared amongst the gods, though she wasn’t always counted as one.
Another on the outskirts. Like me.
“Come to join the party, Sif?” I rolled my shoulders back and quirked an eyebrow before I remembered I was wearing a dress. She ignored me, and headed directly for Thor. Sif, goddess of reproduction, was notoriously straight and rather boring.
I followed her across the room with my eyes alone.
“Lady Sif.” Thor scrambled to greet his wife, rising as her hands curled around his shoulders.
“Are you okay, my lord?” she whispered in a meant-to-be husky voice that stirred me, regardless that I wasn’t the one she addressed.
“Of course.” Thor rolled onto his back. She fussed at him, golden hair falling in a curtain between us, shielding him. The ends dangled in the red and purple goop he was covered in. I eyed her golden tresses, wondering if I could find something alike as a gift for Sigyn in thanks.
Sleipnir nudged her elbow. She looked about, then cowered into Thor’s chest while he explained the situation with one, large hand pressed to my baby’s rickety chest. I hoisted myself to my elbows, ready to pounce should anyone attempt to hurt my child.
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Thor murmured into her hair while I stared on, an island in a room of eyes. “It’s just him, kær, it’s always just him.”
I managed to keep my mouth closed. Even Frigg looked at my horse with a hand over her mouth. My teeth ground together, and I half expected one to shatter with the force.
“Well. I guess that’s done, then.”
And before I could argue, Odin grasped Sleipnir around all eight of his hooves, turned him upside down, and carted him out the door.
I screeched, Frigg’s arms wrapping around me tight, cooing something useless in my ears. But nothing stopped Thor’s bellow following Odin along the halls, booming in its path.
“Do you have any idea how long it took us to put that thing together?”