Capes, Cups, and Glittery Things @potionmistress95
The River Wild

31

The River Wild

Sometimes life is like a river, one minute you're gently swirling along the next you're in rapids and drowning! ~Loki

Loki crept through the underbrush, silent as a stalking cougar, his feet making no sound on the forest floor. He had learned over years of hunting wild creatures as well as becoming one himself how to move through the woods like a ghost. Indeed, that was what he intended to do to punish the poachers who had scared his family and could have even shot one of his children if their shots had gone awry.

Like he had done to Jorunne back in Niflheim, he was going to scare the crap out of them.

The wind changed as he caught the scent of something which made his stomach turn. Blood.

"No!" he thought as he moved faster and heard the frightened growls of the cubs.

He moved by the trees while the cries grew louder and he snorted air through his nose.

"Did you get it?" a voice asked when he came to a clearing and kneeled in the underbrush.

"I got the big one. The cubs are in the tree," the other voice said.

Loki swore savagely in Old Norse as he saw the mother bear lying still on the ground, blood leaking sluggishly from a wound in her shoulder. Her twin cubs were bawling up in a sycamore tree.

The poachers crouched just beyond the clearing on the opposite side, wearing camoflage leggings and jackets and caps. They had sniper rifles in their hands.

He watched the men as one of them pulled out a silver flask and took a long drink. Loki slowly stood up when his body shimmered and he changed into a large black bear. The fur was long and shaggy and the claws were blood red with jagged edges. Two long fags poked out from the upper lip.

He looked at the world through blood red eyes and tilted his head back, roaring.

"What the hell was that?!"

Casting a protection spell around himself, the mama bear and the cubs, Loki stormed out of the underbrush and the poachers gasped.

'Stan, do you see that?!" one cried.

"It's-it's a ghost come back from the dead!" yelped Stan.

Loki snorted and growled as he clawed deep gouges in the ground and Stan swallowed hard.

"No. That's no ghost. That's a-a-a-a demon bear!"

"It's prolly got rabies!" cried his companion. "Let's put it outta its misery!" He raised the gun and shot at Loki.

"Nice try," Loki thought as the bullets pinged off him and he roared.

The poacher gaped in disbelief. "It-it bounced off! Stan, it didn't even hit it!"

Stan reloaded the rifle then took aim, but Loki saw Stan's hands were shaking. He also heard the little cubs calling for their mother and he glanced at them.

"Fear not, Little Cubs. I'll make sure Mama will be alright," he growled at them and the cubs blinked.

"Promise?" the smallest cub, whose name is Naru, asked.

"Yes, I promise."

Look out!" the larger cub, whose name was Benha, shouted and Loki looked at Stan.

"Shoot the damn thing already!" the other poacher yelled and Stan fired. The bullets ping off Loki as he roared and stood up on his hind legs. He stood over twenty feet in height and he flexed his claws.

Stan panicked upon seeing the monstrous bear ready to strike. He dropped his rifle and screamed in terror. "Run! We're gonna die!"

He tripped over his own feet and the foul stench of urine filled the air. Loki snarled and snapped the air just before the man's head.

"Yes! Bite him!" Naru shouted.

"Bite their butts!" Benha shouted and Loki laughed.

"You sound like my cubs," Loki said.

"They shot Mama with thunder sticks," sniffled Naru. "They deserve to be bitten!"

"Don't worry. They will pay for what they did," Loki said as he stalked toward Stan and Stan swallowed the bile in his throat.

"N-nice bear. You wouldn't hurt me, would you?" Stan said and Loki lowered his head until he was face to face with him. Stan could smell the brimstone smell coming from Loki's breath as Loki snorted and Stan fainted.

The other man lifted his rifle and fired again, but as before the bullets bounced off Loki's shield.

"Leave this place and never return!" Loki growled the words in a deep evil voice.

"You can talk?!" the man asked.

"Yes! I am the Bear King! All who dwell here are mine and under my protection. If your kind return here, I will destroy you!"

Stan woke up and he looked at Loki as Loki glareded down at him and roared.

Stan quickly got to his feet and he ran to his friend and they sprinted for the underbrush. Loki watched them leaving then he changed back to his normal form and cautiously walked to the mama bear.

"Easy, Mama," Loki said then looked up at Naru and Benha.

"You can come down now. They're gone."

"Is he a changeling?" Naru asked.

"Like in that story Mama told? Maybe," Benha said and slowly climbed down. Naru followed her brother as they walked to Loki and Naru nudged her mother's front leg.

"Mama? Wake up! A changeling sent the bad people away."

The mama bear stirred, groaning. "Hurts . . . can't move my leg."

"Don't worry, Great Mother. I'm here to help you," Loki said and she looked at him.

"Who are you?" the mama bear, whose name was Rula, asked.

"He's a changleling, Mama!" Naru said, lightly bouncing around on her paws.

"Are you?' Rula asked, her brown eyes filled with curiosity despite the burning pain. "The thunder stick has left one of its burning pellets in me. Can you remove it?"

"Yes, I can. And I am Loki Laufeyson. As for me being a changeling, I can change my shape, but I am mostly a wizard."

"Show Mama what you changed into. Please, Master Loki?!" Benha asked. Nodding. Loki changed into the demon bear and Rula's eyes widened.

"You changed into the Bear King!" Rula said. Loki was a little stunned over there really being a Bear King and he changed back, giving her a smile.

"I hope he doesn't mind me doing that," Loki said.

"He would be honored," Rula said then moaned.

Loki set his hand upon Rula's shoulder. "I need you to stay still. My magic can find the bullet, but if you move it might harm you more. Once I find it, I can remove it. You'll feel a brief sting and that's all."

"I will stay perfectly still," Rula said.

Loki wished all patients were as cooperative as the large black bear. He cast a spell to find metal objects, and soon located the slug buried in the muscle of the bear's shoulder. Luckily it had hit nothing major.

He concentrated his magic as the bullet slowly moved back the way it entered her shoulder then tumbled into Loki's hand.

"There! Now let me clean this and I can heal it." He cast a spell to block pain next and then summoned a bottle of yarrow wash and threw it on the wound. It bubbled and then settled, cleaning the germs from the wound.

That done, he placed his hand on her again and chanted a quick healing spell. The bear's shoulder was healed in an instant.

"Are you better now, Mama?" Naru asked, gently nudging her.

"Yes, I am fine," Rula said and slowly stood up.

"Thank you, Master Loki," Benha said.

"You are so welcome." Loki said then looked toward the trees. "Now, I have to go. My cubs are waiting."

"Be careful," Rula warned. "There may be others around. And sometimes snakes sun themselves on the rocks."

"I will be careful," Loki said with a nod.

"Can we go see his cubs, Mama?" Naru asked.

"Would that be alright?" Rula asked.

"Yes. My cubs would like to meet you." Loki agreed, thinking this would be a vacation to remember all right.

He placed his hand on Rula's shoulder as he led them into the trees and the cubs playfully romped around them.

"Be careful," Loki said and the cubs fell in beside them. They walked down the path when Loki saw his children and Max's eyes went wide.

"Look! Papa found the mama bear and her cubs!" Max said.

"Why is she slightly limping?" Vince asked.

"I think she's hurt," Lucy said.

Rula looked at the children then at Loki and he saw the surprise in her eyes.

"Are all those cubs yours, Friend Loki?" she asked.

"Yes," he said with a nod.

"Daddy!" Aleta cried. "Can I touch the bear?"

"Yes, Spark, but remember to be careful. They've had a bit of a scare," Loki said.

"So that was gunfire we heard?" Sam asked and he nodded.

"Did the mama bear get hurt?" Max asked as he walked to Loki and Loki lifted his son off the ground.

"She was shot, but I was able to heal her," Loki said and Naru sniffed Aleta's feet then Aleta gently patted Naru's head.

"Hi! I'm Aleta! Wow! Your fur is really soft!"

Vince rolled his eyes. "They can't understand you, Aleta. Only Dad can 'speak to them 'cause he has the gift of tongues."

"Hi! I'm Naru! Want to play with me?" Naru asked.

"That one is Naru," Loki said. "She wants to play with you."

Belle cocked her head, finding she could almost understand what the cub called, but not quite.

"Are you alright, Little Raven?" Loki asked, placing Max down so he could go pet Naru.

"I can almost understand what Naru said," Belle said

"Your Lorekeeper talent can decipher animal speech if you listen long enough,' Loki told her.

"Cool!" Belle said and Loki placed his arm around her shoulders.

Benha sniffed Max's feet when Max reached over and patted the soft fur. He smiled when Benha barely nudged him and Sam used her phone to take photos of her younger siblings and the cubs.

"Are they going to be alright now, Dad?" Hunter asked, watching Max and Aleta chasing the cubs and Rula went to rest on her stomach.

"Yes, they're going to be fine. I'll also report those poachers to the rangers once we get back to camp," Loki said.

Vince went right up to Rula and held out his hand for her to sniff.

The female bear gently smelled him and allowed him to place his hand on her face and stroke the fur there.

"This one is bold, Friend Loki."

"Yes, he is," Loki said with a grin. "He is a regular risk taker."

"Why is one of your cubs not standing?" she asked while looking at Nate in his wheelchair.

"His legs don't work."

"Then why hasn't he died? He cannot hunt or defend himself."

"He doesn't have to. That is my responsibility. "

"You are a great father, Friend Loki," Rula said as she walked over to Nate and Nate carefully patted her nose.

Thor nearly dropped his string of trout on the ground when he arrived from the lake, his pole over his shoulder. "Odin's Eyeball, Loki! That's a bear!"

"Yes, Brother, this is a bear and these are her cubs," Loki teased as Thor walked closer and Benha and Naru looked at him.

"Who is he?" Benha asked as he sat next to Loki.

"This is my brother, Thor."

"He has fish!" Naru cried, heading for the string of trout and pawed at the trout.

"Hey! Those aren't yours," Thor said, laughing.

Rula gave a soft grunt, gently reprimanding her cub. "We don't steal another's cache! We are Ursus not Corvidae, Naru."

"Sorry, Mama," Naru said and Thor reached down to pat her head.

"Where did you find them?" Thor asked and Loki told his tale about how he met Rula and her cubs. Thunderclouds rolled over Thor's face as he balled his hand into fists and looked toward the trees. "Are you sure it was wise to let them go?"

"Yes, they were so frightened, I don't think they'll come back," Loki said.

"I still think you should tell the rangers."

"I have already sent a text to the ranger station," he said and showed Thor the text on his phone.

Nodding, Thor went to clean the fish as Loki went to start dinner and Max ran to him.

"Daddy, are the bears staying for dinner?" Max asked.

"Well, we really don't have enough to feed them, Max. Unless I replicate fish like crazy."

"Oh," Max said while Rula walked to Loki and lightly nudged his leg.

"I am afraid we need to go, Friend Loki. It is getting late and we have a long walk home," she said and he nodded.

"Have a safe journey," he said then look at the children and Thor. "Alright. Come and say good-bye to Rula and her cubs. They have to go home."

The children and Thor came to give the bears a hug and one last pat as Rula growled and Benha and Naru followed her into the forest.

"Are they going to be ok, Dad?" Sam asked.

"

"Yes, they'll be fine," Loki said then rubbed his hands together. "Right. Who wants to help me make dinner?!"

'I will!" Sam said. "I want to learn how to cook over a fire!"

"Me, too!" Hunter said.

"I want to learn, too," Aleta said, but Loki shook his head.

"Sorry, Spark, but I don't want you that close to the fire," Loki said.

"You can help me set the table," Belle said and Aleta took her hand as they went to the large picnic table.

"Okay. Thor, did you clean those fish?" Loki asked his brother.

"Yes," Thor said.

"Good. Otherwise, we'd have to," he explained to his children. "You can't cook fresh fish without taking out the insides. But since your uncle's done that for us, here's what we need to do."

Loki started by gathering some sticks and made a tepee shaped pile at the center of the stone fire circle.

"Don't you need to add some kindling?" Vince asked.

"Yes, but I need to put in a little dry grass first," Loki said and piled some grass around the sticks.

"Do we have any kindling?" Nate asked looking around.

"Get me some leaves and any dead branches you can find. I'd use newspaper, but we didn't bring any." Loki told them.

The kids went to get some dry leaves, though Lucy screamed when a spider crawled out from under the leaf she picked up and ran to Loki. He held his frightened daughter as the other kids placed the leaves and dry branches on the pile and Thor walked over.

"What happened?" he asked.

"Lucy saw a spider," Loki whispered and handed Lucy to him. Loki removed a box of water proof matches when he motioned for them to move back and lit the match.

"Careful, Daddy," Aleta said.

"Yeah, remember, only you can prevent forest fires," Max said and Loki laughed.

"I'll be careful," he said and placed the lit match against the sticks. He lightly blew on the fire when the sticks, leaves, dry grass and branches burst into flames and the kids cheered.

"Well done, brother!" Thor said.

Loki chuckled. "I'm going to go down in history as the guy who started a campfire." He gently began to feed the flames with some dead branches and dried leaves until the flames burned steadily.

"Now what do we do?" Nate asked.

"If we were home, we would stick the fish on the end of sticks and cook them over the fire," Thor said.

'True," Loki said. "But here we'll do it a little differently. First we'll put some butter in this cast iron skillet and melt it over the fire. Then while its heating, we season the fish with some salt, pepper, garlic, parsley, and marjoram."

He got out all the spices and sprinkled each fish with them and rubbed them into the sides with his hands. "This can get a little messy but just wash your hands afterwards."

The kids enjoyed helping Loki season the fish then washed their hands afterwards and Loki checked to see if the skillet was hot enough. Carefully, he placed the fish in the skillet as the fish made a soft hiss and he smiled.

"Now we put the fish in the pan and we cook them. I like to add a little wild onions to them also." He proceeded to chop up three scallions and added them to the fish.

"While your fish is frying. now we make flatbread."

He summoned a bowl and put flour, water, a little baking soda, a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar, garlic power and parsley in the bowl. Then he stirred it till it was blended.

"Now we put butter on the griddle and put it on this weird metal tripod. It's called a spider." He put the griddle on the spider and pushed the spider over the other half of the fire.

"Then we take a spoon and drop the batter on the griddle, like a pancake. When you see bubbles, you flip it with the spatula."

Loki placed a spoonful of batter as he placed the batter on the griddle and it made a soft hiss. The kids watched when the bubbles appeared and he used the spatula to flip the batter over. He repeated the process a few more times as Sam held the plate with the bread on it and she tried hard not to sample one.

'Mmm! They smell so good!"

Loki grinned. "They taste even better with this fish," He turned the fish over with a pair of tongs. "You want the skin to get crispy on the outside and flaky on the inside."

"Daddy? I'm hungry!" Aleta whined.

"Me, too," Max said.

"The fish is almost done."

"Here. Have some apple slices," Lucy said and handed them the plastic container with apple slices inside.

"What smells so good?" Serena asked.

"Dad's cooking fish and flatbread," Vince said,

"Oooooo!" she said and sat next to Belle.

Loki poked the fish with a fork. "This is done." He flipped the last flatbread over. "And this is done too. Okay guys. Bring your plates up. Dinner is served!"

One by one, the kids walked to Loki as he placed a piece of fish and a piece of the bread on their plates. He used a little magic to make more fish to pile onto Thor's plate and some bread and Thor smiled.

Loki made some more fish for his plate then placed the bread on top and went to sit next to his brother.

Thor took a bite of his fish. "Loki, this is very good!"

"Yeah, Dad, this is really good," Vince said and was about to wipe his mouth with his sleeve then used a napkin after Loki glared at him.

After the fish and the flat bread were eaten, the kids placed the dishes in the plastic container and Loki placed some water in the plastic container then some dish washing soap.

"Now, whose turn is it to do the dishes?"

Vince, Belle, and Serena held their hands up as they walked to the plastic container and started washing the dishes.

Thor patted his stomach. "That was so good, brother, I am full."

"For now!" Loki chuckled. "I have s'mores for dessert I can make."

"What are s'mores?"

"They're graham crackers with marshmallows and chocolate squished in the middle," Sam said.

"Yeah, they're really good!" Lucy said.

"They're also very messy," Loki said.

"That's the fun part, Daddy," Aleta said.

"I just like the graham crackers and chocolate part," Belle said.

"Then it's not a s'more!"

"Aleta, if Belle likes to eat it that way, it's fine," Loki said,

"Sometimes you can eat what you want, and other times you eat what I want you to," Loki recited. "This time you can eat what you want."

"Sorry," Aleta said and Belle gave her little sister a hug.

"Dishes are done, Daddy," Serena said as he went to check then nodded and placed the dishes away.

"Alright, time to clean up the camp. We don't want any wild creatures coming into camp for scraps," Loki said and the kids went to clean up, "That goes for you as well, Brother."

Nodding, Thor went to help clean up and Loki placed some more wood on the fire.

The sky grew darker as Loki looked up and saw the first stars coming out. He wondered if Heimdall was watching over them as he blinked and Thor walked closer, looking up at the sky.

"It is a nice night," Thor said,

"Yes," Loki said with a nod.

"I am sure Heimdall has told Father and Mother about what you did this day."

"I hope so."

"I also wish they were here to enjoy this. I'm sure Mother would love to try a s'more."

Loki smiled. "She would. She loves sweets as much as I do."

"Then make some when we go to Asgard."

"That sounds like a great idea."

"I do have them, you know," Thor said with a smug look and Loki laughed.

When the sky became an inky blue/black color, Loki, Thor and the kids sat around the fire and Loki started making the s'mores. He had handed out wet wipes so they could clean their fingers after eating and Thor told stories about his adventures. Sam wanted to tell ghost stories, but she knew Max and Aleta would get frightened and waited until Loki and Thor put the toddlers to bed before telling the others the stories.

One by one, the kids went to bed after giving their father and uncle a hug and Thor saw Loki looking up at the stars again. He knew Loki wanted to fly and he nudged him but Loki shook his head.

"As much as I would love to fly, I am exhausted from having to heal Rula and frightening off those poachers," Loki sighed while leaning against his brother, closing his eyes. Smiling, Thor helped his brother to his feet then led him to their tent and Loki was asleep as soon as Thor had zipped his sleeping bag shut.

"Sleep well, Brother," Thor whispered then climbed into the other sleeping bag, zipped it closed and shut his eyes, drifting off to sleep.

Max dreamed he was back in the Dark Place. Where his Mommy was always mad and always smelled of gross things, like cigarette smoke and stale perfume and sweat. She yelled at Max for saying he was hungry, and grabbed a coat hanger from the closet to beat him with. Max ran out of the room, crying, "Noo! Don't hurt me! I'll be good!"

He ran down the hall and his Mommy ran after him, calling him an evil demon who needed the devil beat out of him.

As Max ran it began to snow, huge snowflakes drifting through the hallway.

Max kept running . . .

"Daddy! Daddy! Help!" Max screamed and Loki's eyes snapped open. He didn't really remember going to bed as he unzipped the sleeping bag, got up and opened the tent flap. He ran out of the tent and over to the boys' tent Max shared with his brothers and opened the tent flap. "DADDY!"

"I'm here, imp," Loki said as he unzipped his youngest son from his Loki sleeping bag and lifted him into his arms.

"Dad, what's wrong?" Hunter asked in a sleepy tone.

"Max had a bad dream," Loki said as he left the tent and tried to calm his son down.

Max shivered and wrapped his arms about Loki. "Daddy, she's coming for me!" he sobbed against Loki's shoulder. "With the hanger!"

"Who is?" Loki asked.

"Mommy! Mommy is coming!"

Loki had thought Max had stopped having nightmares about his mother a year ago. He sighed and rubbed small circles on his small back.

"No, she's not. She's dead. She can't hurt you."

"Why is it snowing?" Max asked and Loki blinked.

"It's not snowing."

"It was snowing in the hallway."

"It was?" Loki asked and Max nodded.

"This is new," Loki thought and started pacing. He started singing the lullaby while Max placed his cheek against his daddy's shoulder and his eyes slowly closed.

Loki looked at Max then he smiled and walked back to the tent. He placed Max back to bed then returned to his tent and saw Thor awake and eyeing him.

"What happened?" Thor asked.

"Max had a nightmare," Loki sighed and got back in the sleeping bag.

"What was the nightmare about?" Thor asked.

"He was being chased by his mother and she was weilding a hanger."

"Why would she do that?"

"So she could beat him with it. Max said she told him she needed to beat the evil devil out of him."

Thor stiffened. "That's crazy!

"I know."

"What happened to her?"

"She died of an overdose."

"May the Norns forgive me, but good. She did not really do that to him, brother?"

"Yes, she did. It took a long time before Max would let me touch him after I adopted him and the nightmares were nearly every night."

Thor looked repulsed. "That is just disgusting!

"Yes, but what I wonder why he is having nightmares now."

"Maybe he overheard one of Sam's stories. Those were rather disturbing."

"We waited until he and Aleta were asleep before she told them."

"Do not dwell on it, Brother. Go to sleep."

Loki watched Thor close his eyes when he sighed and looked at the top of the tent. He tried to calm his thoughts when his mind relaxed and he went back to sleep.

The next morning Loki woke early and contacted the ranger station for an update on the poachers. He was told they had been apprehended. He heaved a sigh of relief. One less thing to worry about.

He blurred into falcon form and flew for ten minutes, enjoying the solitude. He flew down to the river, observed the water wasn't too high and then flew towards the canoe rental station.

Shifting into human form, he spoke with a gray-haired man named Steve about renting the canoes, the rapids, life vests, and so on, setting up a time of mid-morning to return with the family.

Then he returned to his camp sight and relit the fire to brew coffee. While it was brewing, he got out bacon, eggs, and mixed pancake batter. After fixing himself some coffee he relaxed at the picnic table, watching some birds chase each other and two squirrels arguing over a nut.

He pondered the fact that Max's nightmare had changed while admiring the serenity he found himself in. That thought bothered him, because in all the years Max had the nightmare, it had always been the same. He couldn't figure out why the dream had altered. What was the significance of the snow? He chewed his lip, knowing somehow deep inside the snow mattered. Joanne, he thought. I need to talk with Jo when we get back home. I could send her a text now, but she's probably busy with patients. And unless Max has another dream, it can wait.

Jo was his cousin on Frigga's side, the daughter of Idunn, Lady of Apples and her mortal husband Louis Ferrara, a deceased Army physician. Jo was a doctor too, a gynecologist, and also an Empathic Healer. She lived in New York also and ran her own practice. She was half-Aesir, and so had the Aesir longevity, but she had spent most of her life in Midgard, only going to Asgard for summers to be trained in her wild Gift by Idunn and Loki as a teenager. Loki trusted her implicitly with both his own past abuse and that of his children. She looked to be in her early thirties, she was actually over a thousand by Asgard reckoning. If anyone could decipher the snow riddle, Jo could. She was also the Avengers and several other superhero groups doctor, as she could be trusted to never reveal their true identities and could treat those with different physiologies.

Thor came out of the tent yawning and stretched mightily. "Morning, Loki. You're up with the birds again, as usual."

"Why laze around in bed?" he responded, smirking.

"Sometimes I just do not understand you," Thor snorted, then took his shaving kit and a plastic container into the bathroom.

The girls exploded out of their tent, all eager to start the new day, and Lucy, Aleta, and Sam all make a beeline for the bathrooms. "C'mon, we need to get there first!"

Belle followed more slowly, reciting something to herself.

Serena, of course, was still asleep.

Then Hunter, Max, Nate, and Vince emerge from their tent. Max still looked sleepy, and Nate guns his chair towards his bathroom, which Thor is currently using. Hunter went towards one of the other ones and groaned.

"Shoot! The girls got there first! Now it's gonna take forever!"

"If they ain't outta there in two minutes, I'm gonna use a tree," Vince declared.

"You'd better not, mister!" Loki snapped.

"You pee anywhere except the potty, Dad'll put you in time out," Max stated.

"I'm too old for time out," Vince scoffed.

"You want to make a bet?" Loki threatened.

"Dad, I'm almost eight!" his son protested. "You can't!"

Loki raised an eyebrow. "Really, Vince? Try me."

Lucy came out of the bathroom. "Here, Max!"

Max ran inside.

Then Nate returned with Thor and Vince went in.

Finally Sam emerged with Aleta.

"Took you long enough," Hunter groused.

"Oh keep your shorts on, Sam shot back. "If you get really desperate you can use a tree."

"Hey! What am I raising here, a pack of wild things?" Loki queried.

"Looks that way, brother!" Thor chortled.

Loki shook his head and muttered, "I live with a zoo," then drained his coffee cup.

"What's for breakfast, Dad?" Hunter asked.

"Bacon, pancakes, and eggs. Fried or over easy, those are your choices." Loki announced.

Loki laughed when he went to wake his little sleeping beauty, but Serena had just opened her eyes and smiled up at him.

"Well, look who finally decided to wake up," Loki teased.

"I smelt breakfast," she said and he led her out of the tent.

The kids all requested different eggs, so he made mental notes and then cooked the bacon and pancakes first, then did everyone's eggs. He did his own last, making a fried egg and maple bacon sandwich rolled up in a large pancake.

After breakfast was eaten, the dishes were washed and the camp was cleaned up, Loki and Thor led the kids into the forest and they headed for the canoes. A small stream was to their right as they walked down the path and Sam lightly nudged Hunter as she pointed to the large rock at the middle of the stream. The water rolled around the large rock and the sunlight shimmered on the water.

"Hey, Dad, would it be okay if we went to look at that rock?" Hunter asked and Loki looked at the water. It didn't seem too deep, but the idea of having several wet kids made him sigh and he shook his head.

"No, Wolfling, I don't think so," Loki said.

"But, Daddy, we'll be careful," Aleta said.

"What about Nate? He can't go."

"I'll carry him, Brother," Thor said and Loki glared at him.

"Don't you start."

"Please!" the kids said at once and Loki rolled his eyes.

"Alright, but you are only to go look at the rock. No jumping off," Loki said. He watched the kids and Thor heading into the stream and Thor carried Nate as though he weighed nothing. The older kids got to the rock first while Max and Aleta walked with Thor and Nate and Thor smiled down at them. He didn't feel the slippery rock under his foot until it was too late and lost his balance.

"By the Norns!" Thor shouted as he fell and launched Nate into the air. Loki waved his hands as Nate stopped and he moved back toward the wheelchair.

"Are you alright?" Loki asked, a little breathless.

"Yeah, Dad. That was so cool!" Nate said.

Loki looked at Thor as Thor stood up and looked at a wet Max and Aleta. The toddlers were laughing as he shrugged, reached down and picked up the smooth black and brown rock. With a small grunt, Thor tossed the rock onto the opposite shore, picked the toddlers up and headed back to Loki.

"Brother, I am so...," Thor said when they heard splashing and saw the older kids jumping off the rock into the water.

"What did I say?!" Loki shouted and Sam laughed.

"Hey. Fair's fair!," she said,

"Yeah, how come Uncle Thor can jump in the water and not us?" Hunter asked.

"I tripped on a rock," Thor said with a smug look.

"Get over here. Now!" Loki said. The kids headed for shore when he looked at all of them, sighed with a small eye roll, and waved his hands. With everyone dry, he softly laughed and they headed down the trail.

Soon they reached the canoe rental place, and Loki rented four canoes. The first canoe was larger than the others, and he would put Nate, Aleta, Max, and himself in that canoe. It had one large double paddle and one smaller one that Nate said he could use. Aleta and Max got children sized paddles, even though they really wouldn't be doing much paddling, since Loki would do it all.

The next canoe consisted of Sam, Lucy, and Serena. Sam assured Loki she would be fine in the rapids, she had gone rowing before she had become an orphan.

The next canoe had Thor, Hunter, Vince, and Belle. Thor looked uneasy, but said nothing, he didn't want to seem like a wimp.

The last canoe contained their lunch and extra clothes and shoes bundled under waterproof tarps. It was tied to Loki's canoe and would follow his.

The sky was clear and blue and the water sparkled in the sunlight as they started off and the canoes lightly bounced on the water. Nate helped Loki paddle while Aleta and Max watched the water going by and Max leaned over to touch the water.

"Careful, imp," Loki said and Max nodded.

"Row...row...row your boat," came from the canoe behind them as Sam, Lucy and Serena sang and Loki softly laughed.

Hunter, Vince and Belle joined in the singing as they continued downstream, but Loki winced when Thor's slightly off key singing filled his ears and Loki sighed, shaking his head.

"Uncle Thor really can't sing, can he?" Nate asked.

"No, he can't, but it doesn't stop him," Loki said.

"Daddy! Look!" Aleta said while pointing to some small rapids in front of them and Loki held onto the handles of the oars tighter in his hands.

"Hang on," Loki said as the canoes moved toward the small rapids and Aleta and Max held onto each other. The canoes hit the rapidly moving waters as Loki, Hunter and Sam steered through them and Aleta and Max giggled while their canoe went up and down.

"This is so much fun!" They yelled.

"When are the big ones coming?" asked Vince.

"What big ones?" Thor looked pale.

"Soon," Loki called. "I'll wave my hand when we approach them."

"Loki, WHAT big ones?" Thor bellowed, sounding slightly panicked.

"The Serpent's Slide," Loki called back. "Relax, we have a mile to go before then."

Loki continued paddling easily, letting the current take the canoe. He saw small minnows darting through the water and once or twice a large big mouth bass moving into a pool of quiet water.

"Fish!" Aleta said.

"Yes, I see them." Loki said as he moved the paddle and Aleta leaned over a little to see them. "Careful, spark."

Max squealed when he saw a deer family drinking at the opposite end of the stream. "Look. Aleta! It's Bambi and Faline and a baby Bambi!"

"Aww! I wanna pet them!" the child cried excitedly and stood up in the canoe.

Loki whipped his head around. "Aleta Lenore, you sit your butt down now! You could fall out!"

"But Daddy!" she whined. "Look at Bambi and his family."

"Yes, I see them. Now sit down. You want to tip us over and get swept away?

"It's like goin' on the bus. No standing on the seats," Max informed his sister.

Aleta sat down. "How do you know? You don't go to school!"

Max shrugged. "Lucy told me."

Loki began singing "Proud Mary" in his lyrical voice as he paddled.

The kids all joined in the chorus, "Rolling on a river!"

Thor felt his stomach rolling, but didn't say a word, but was caught off guard when the canoe bounced on one of the rapids.

"Odin's Good Eye," he said and Vince looked at him.

"Hey, Uncle Thor, you okay?' he asked.

"Yes, I'm...fine," Thor said with a big grin.

Nate whooped as the current snatched them. "Dad, are we by them yet?" His hair was sticking up and he looked delighted.

"Almost, Racer," Loki grinned back. "Not scared are you?" His green eyes glowed.

"No way! I can't wait!"

"Good," Loki said and wiped some of his wet dark hair out of his eyes.

"Okay, everyone check your life vests. Make sure they are on and tight," Loki ordered the kids.

He shipped his paddle to reach back and grab three bungee cord tow lines and attach them to Aleta, Max, and Nate's life vest rings.

"There! If you fall you won't go anywhere," he reassured them.

Sam helped Lucy and Serena secure their life vests while Hunter helped Vince and Belle, but Thor was too concerned about not getting sick to check his.

By the Nine! he thought miserably. I'm the God of Thunder. I MAKE it rain! How can I be sick from a little river?

Loki tied a cord around his own vest, just as a precaution, though if he were ever thrown in the river he could shift into an otter or a salmon and swim without difficulty.

The water was growing wilder and rougher as the canoes bounced up and down and Loki watched out for rocks.

"Dad! Look!" Nate said and Loki looked at the Serpent's Slide.

"Nate put your paddle in!" he ordered. "You'll lose it otherwise!" He lifted his hand in the air, it glowed with green light. "This is it!"

Whoa!" Sam said.

"Look at that!" Hunter said.

"Sweet Valhalla," Thor sighed.

Rocks stood out of the churning rushing water as a small mist floated over the water which arched in a serpentine pattern and Loki felt his heart slamming in his chest.

"Great Euripedes!" exclaimed Serena.

"Cool," Vince said.

"Right," Loki said as he aimed the canoe toward the rushing water and started paddling.

"Are you mad?!" Thor bellowed and Loki smiled, remembering the last time he asked that.

"Maybe," he replied and slammed the paddle into the water.

Loki angled his canoe slightly, recalling the instructions of the canoe rental owner about shooting through the Slide. Spray kicked up and soaked his hair.

Hunter and Sam followed their father's lead as the water splashed around them and Thor held on tightly to the sides of the canoe.

The water frothed like a cauldron bubbling over and Loki balanced his paddle on the prow, barely touching it, because the water was going to take the canoe down without any help from him.

"Ready, kids?" he yelled. "For Asgard!"

"For Asgard!" the kids shouted.

The water snatched the canoe in its watery grip and flung it through the narrow passage between the two banks.

Nate shrieked in glee. "Yaa-hoo!"

The other canoes followed suit when Thor yelped and Hunter, Vince, and Belle turned to see him launch out of the canoe and into the water.

"Uncle Thor!" Belle shouted and Loki turned to see what was wrong.

"Dad! Uncle Thor fell out of the canoe!" Hunter shouted.

"Oh shit!" Loki swore under his breath. "Hang on! Let me get to the shallows and ground. Then I'll get him!"

He paddled rapidly into the quiet water at the bottom of the rapids, quickly grounding the canoe. "Nate, Aleta, Max, stay here! I'll be back! I have to go rescue your uncle!"

He untied the rope from his life vest and changed into an osprey and flew over the rapids, his keen eyes seeking his brother.

Thor swore as he tried to stay above water and the water roared around his ears. He knew how to swim in swift moving water, but not knowing where the shore was began to worry him.

Then Loki spotted Thor's head bobbing up and down. He shrieked in alarm as the head careened into a rock that could only be seen from above. "Thor! Nine Hells!"

Pain! Pain moved through his head as Thor's vision went black and he sank into the water.

Loki dived toward the water, his form a white blue. Just as he hit he changed into a large salmon and went into the churning water. He could just see his brother falling down into the depths. Loki changed into a large otter. He was able to grab hold of his brother then he fought to get to the surface, praying Thor was alive.

Loki's teeth clamped on Thor's life vest and he dragged the limp form through the water, all his muscles burning with exertion from Thor's weight and the pull of the rapids.

"No! I will not let go!" Loki thought, swimming faster. He called upon all his Jotun strength and stubborn as nine hells determination and broke free of the river's deadly embrace.

"Dad! Over here!" Hunter called out after Loki and Thor broke the surface and Loki dragged his brother to shore.

Thor's heart was thundering in his chest, but he wasn't breathing.

"Damn!" Loki said and started preforming mouth to mouth.

C'mon, you stubborn ass, breathe! Breathe for me! he thought, tears trickling down his cheeks.

Suddenly a gush of water filled his mouth as he and Thor started coughing and Loki turned his brother onto his side so he could cough up the water.

"Oh thank Valhalla!" Loki gasped, holding his brother's shoulders. "It's gonna be okay."

Thor made a loud moan while Loki watched Thor's eyes open and gaze at Loki.

"Thank you, Brother," Thor whispered.

"Didn't you ever learn how to swim?" he mock-growled then he hugged Thor to him.

Thor laughed as he hugged his brother and Loki sniffed, rubbing the tears from his eyes.

"Are you crying?" Thor whispered.

"No," Loki lied.

"Are you ok, Uncle Thor?" Hunter asked.

"Well, my head hurts, but I am relatively unharmed," Thor said as he let go

"Let me see. You hit that rock pretty hard," Loki said, and gently checked Thor's head. "Hmm. There's a nice goose egg here."

"Oww!" Thor yelped. "Loki, don't touch it!"

"Hush, you big baby," his brother ordered. "I need to touch it in order to heal it."

A soothing wave of healing magic flowed from the Trickster's fingers and healed the injury in seconds. "There! All done! Want a lollipop?" He held out a watermelon DumDum.

"Thanks," Thor said as he took the lollipop and removed the wrapper.

"Why didn't you fasten the safety ropes?"

"I was... I was trying not to get sick."

"You get sea sick, Uncle Thor?" Sam asked.

"It appears that I do," Thor asked, blushing.

"But you are fine when we use the ski sleds at home," Loki said.

"Aye, I am, but the movement of the water doesn't agree with me."

Loki put his hands on his hips. "And you didn't tell me why? I could have given you something for nausea."

"I thought I would be alright," Thor sighed.

Loki shook his head. "Silly warriors and their pride! Did you think I would laugh at you?"

"Maybe," Thor sighed then sucked on the lollipop. "Sorry."

"Next time say something. It's not worth almost drowning, " Loki scolded. "You'd better get changed, you're soaked."

"So are you, Daddy," Max giggled.

Loki looked at himself ruefully. "You're right." He gestured and his extra set of jeans and a long sleeved pullover flowed onto him. Then he dried his hair with a spell.

Hunter handed Thor a dry pair of jeans and a long sleeve pullover as Thor got dressed then Loki went to check the canoe.

"Daddy, why were you kissing Uncle Thor on the mouth?" Aleta asked curiously.

Hunter, Belle, Nate and Vince softly giggled as Loki knelt down and smiled.

"I wasn't kissing Uncle Thor, Spark. I was trying to get him to breathe."

"How?"

"By blowing air into his lungs."

"And that got the water out?"

"Yes."

"And it was a good thing he did. I would have been teased for all eternity if I went to Valhalla because of drowning," Thor said.

"Where did you learn how to do that, Dad?" asked Sam.

"My cousin Jo taught me. She taught me a bunch of EMT techniques after I adopted most of you. Just in case. She said you never know."

"She's a doctor, right?" Sam asked.

"Yes. She's a doctor who takes care of women and babies," Loki informed her. "But this was the first time I had to use rescue breathing. I'm just glad I have perfect recall and that it worked."

Thor clapped him on the shoulder. "Thank the Norns I have such a smart brother!"

"You can say that again!" Loki laughed. "Okay, let's find a nice spot and we'll have a picnic."

They found a shady spot nearby in a grove of trees and Loki spread out the picnic blanket and they placed the food on it and the thermos of lemonade. Loki watched Thor and saw to his relief he ate like his normal self—which was equivalent to three normal people.

He would give Thor a Dramamine before they headed back, he thought, then settled down to eat his maple bacon, turkey and cheese sub and pickles.

This vacation certainly was turning out full of surprises.

He wondered what tomorrow's outing to the stables for a horseback ride would bring.

A/N: Sorry about the delay, lots of things going on in RL, including my birthday, but hope you like this latest offering, my army!

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