What Dreams May Come
Those who love us never truly leave us, they are always watching from beyond.~ Loki
When they finally arrived back at the campsite, everyone was tired, hungry and thirsty. Loki started coffee brewing and the kids all went to use the bathroom and change. It was getting on to dusk and the weather had turned muggy, which meant the mosquitoes came out in full force. Soon clouds of the annoying insects were hovering over the campsite and biting everyone with a vengeance.
"Help!" Serena yelled. "It's attack of the cloned mosquitoes!"
"Dad! Where's the OFF? I'm being eaten alive!" Samantha cried, and batted at her arms and legs.
"Get away!" Nate yelped. "I'm not your dinner!"
"Yeah well, we kinda are, bro," Vince reminded him, scratching frantically.
The mosquitoes seemed to like Thor best, however. Soon the Mighty Avenger was covered in red welts and muttering angrily about bugs that needed a good beatdown.
Loki took one look at him and burst out laughing.
"By the Nine, brother!"
Thor scowled. "Why aren't they biting you, Loki?" he grumped.
Loki just shrugged and looked smug. "Because I guess they don't like frost giant blood." He was the only one besides Max not bothered by the pesky bugs. "But you, on the other hand, you're like the all-you-can-eat buffet!"
He cracked up again.
"Sure, go ahead and laugh," Thor growled. "Well, I know one way to get rid of these nuisances." He picked up Mjolnir.
A crack of thunder shook the sky and lighting flashed as rain clouds gathered.
"No, Thor!" Loki shouted, his green eyes wide in alarm. "Don't do it!"
"Why? The rain will wash them away," objected the Thunder God. Mjolnir was glowing and spitting small lightning bolts.
"It'll also bring them back in droves once it stops. Mosquitoes love rain and damp," the Mischief God pointed out.
Thor groaned. "Sweet Valhalla on a ski sled!" He put Mjolnir down. "So how do we get rid of them?"
"Insect repellent, citronella candles, and some herbs I'm going to throw on the fire," Loki told him.
They sprayed the repellent all over their tents and the bathrooms and also on whatever parts of themselves weren't bitten. The girls lit citronella lanterns and hung them over the trees and Loki fished in his magical pouch and retrieved herbs that would drive insects away and threw handfuls into the fire. It created a pleasant smelling smoke that hung over the campsite and the mosquitoes fled.
"Okay. Let me get out the cortisone cream and the Calomine," sighed the Asgardian and he pulled his first aid kit out of the tent and set it up on the picnic table. "You first, Thor."
Thor came and sat down, scratching miserably. "Brother, I itch all over."
"Stop scratching," Loki ordered. "You'll make it worse." He began dabbing pink lotion on Thor's face and arms.
"Okay! I'm going as fast as I can!" Loki objected. He put lotion on all the bites he could see. "You have any somewhere else I can't see?"
Thor squirmed. "Umm . . . my back."
Thor shifted on the bench until he was facing away from Loki, and pulled up his shirt.
More bites decorated his back.
Loki put lotion on them.
Thor sighed in relief as the irritating itching and burning ceased.
Thor nodded rapidly.
The Avenger flushed beneath his pink dotted face. "No! I'm fine!"
"Okay. You're done! Next victim!" Loki called.
Serena came over.
When all his kids had been doctored, Loki was about to put the first aid kit away when he noticed Thor leaning against a tree and trying to rub against it unobtrusively. Loki frowned. "Thor, what in Nine Hells are you doing?"
"Nothing!" his brother said swiftly. "I'm just leaning against this tree . . . and . . . err . . . looking at the sunset. Why don't you cook dinner, Loki?"
The God of Mischief raised an eyebrow. He could plainly hear the deception in his brother's tone and asked softly, "Why don't you quit lying and tell me what the heck is wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong," Thor insisted, shifting against the tree.
"Oh, so nothing is making you squirm like you have ants in your pants," Loki drawled, getting up and moving to stand close to his brother.
Thor glanced frantically about but luckily all the kids were occupied doing other things. He blushed. "Umm . . . well . . . umm . . .the mosquitoes bit me on my ass, Loki." He whispered.
"Oh for the love of frost!" Loki shook his head. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because!" Thor snapped.
"Come on. Let me get the lotion and we'll go in the tent and I'll put it on. Next time don't play hero."
"There is nothing heroic about mosquitoes biting your ass," Thor muttered, and followed Loki into the tent.
Loki lit the lamp hanging on the tent pole with a quick spell then said, "Okay."
His brother swore under his breath and removed his pants. "Hurry up, Loki! Before someone sees!"
"Oh hush!" his brother giggled. "There's no one here but me!"
"Loki, quit it with the butt jokes!" Thor groused. Then he yelped. "Loki, that's cold!"
"I had it in the ice chest. Don't be a baby," Loki began dabbing it on all the bites. "Norns, they really went and had a feast with you! You have polka dots like you caught chicken pox!"
"A pox on these lousy mosquitoes!" his brother growled. "Are you done yet?"
"Almost. You do want me to make sure they're all covered, right?"
"Yes," Thor sighed. "How many were there?"
"Enough. Okay, done. I'll put some more on before we go to sleep."
"I'll just get drunk," Thor told him. "I won't feel anything then and it's less humiliating."
Loki just rolled his eyes. "Like I haven't seen your naked ass before, brother. You flashed everyone in my house when you ran down the hallway during the bubble incident."
"I was two!" Thor grumped. "That was different!"
"Only difference is now it's bigger," Loki drawled.
"Shut up, Loki!" Thor fixed his clothes. "What are we having for dinner?"
"I thought we should have smoked pork butt with beans." Loki smirked.
Thor glared at him. "Very funny. I oughta beat you."
"You do and who's gonna put more lotion on your butt?"
"Never mind! When the kids go to sleep, I'm breaking open the other keg!"
"Don't drown your sorrows too much. We have to get up early to go riding at the stables," Loki reminded him, then went outside to start dinner, which was a simple beef stew with bacon, vegetables, and flatbread. He made caramel popcorn for dessert.
As promised, Thor did open the next keg of mead once all the children had gone to bed. Loki shifted into his owl form and went flying while the Thunder God sat by the fire and drank, gazing into the flames sleepily. As sometimes happened, he began to sing a few old drinking songs from Asgard.
Luckily he sang them in Norse so none of the kids could understand the naughty lyrics.
Aleta woke up to use the potty and on the way back heard Thor singing. "Uncle Thor, what's that song?"
"Just a song about a maid and a soldier," Thor replied, gazing at her blearily.
"How's that go again?" she asked, curious.
Thor sang the line again, and drank some more mead.
Aleta frowned and repeated it. "Like that?"
"No, like this," Thor corrected.
They sang the same line over and over until Aleta yawned and said, "I'm tired, gonna go back to sleep. Nite!"
Aleta trotted off to her sleeping bag, leaving her uncle beside the fire.
Loki returned from his night flying to find his brother snoozing by the embers of the fire. "Thor! Wake up!"
Thor muttered something, lost in an alcoholic haze.
Loki tried to wake him up again without success. The half-Jotun sighed. "Really, brother?"
He took the empty glass from Thor's hand, cleaned it with a spell and sent it back into the tent. He made sure the keg of mead was closed, then he lifted Thor over his shoulder and carried him back into the tent.
He set Thor on his mattress, pulled off his boots, and rolled him onto the mattress. He positioned the Thunder God on his side, just in case he woke up sick to his stomach.
"Sweet dreams, brother."
Then he sought his own bed, falling asleep almost instantly.
He dreamed he walked through a forest covered in snow. The trees were burdened with the glistening white powder and the frost left icy trails in the bark and coated everything with a brilliant sheen. He gazed up at the stars as he walked and to his astonishment saw a star fall to the ground.
He trotted through the trees, heading towards where the star had fallen, until he emerged into a meadow which was dotted with blue frost flowers. In the middle of it was a woman upon a thick white fur, holding a goblet of fine craftsmanship which steam curled from.
Loki halted, saying softly, "Hello. May I join you?"
The woman looked up with a smile gracing her face, and he felt his breath stutter in his chest.
For she had dark hair the color of a moonless night that tumbled in riotous curls past her shoulders and eyes that were the same emerald green as his own. She was dressed in a gown that seemed to glimmer like starlight and the moon illuminating her skin made her appear to glow slightly.
She gazed at him silently and in her eyes was warmth and love such as he had never seen in all his life.
"Hello, Loki." Her voice was soft, like velvet, and he could swear he had heard it once before, long and long ago.
"Do I know you?"
"No, but I know you. Mine was the first face you saw when you opened your eyes the day you were born."
He gasped for now he knew why she seemed so familiar. She was the portrait he carried in his pocket and he bore the same hair, eyes, and mouth.
"Yes, Loki. I am your mother, Astra." She patted the fur. "Come sit beside me, my son."
Loki felt his feet moving, but it was almost as if he were sleepwalking. He sat down next to her, realizing he was taller than she was. "You're here!"
She laughed softly, the sound like bells chiming. "Yes, I am." She gazed at him, and her eyes glowed. "Let me look at you. The last time I saw you, you were blue and crying with hunger. I had no time to feed you, because I needed to send you away to protect you."
"Protect me? But I ended up in the temple as a sacrifice. Odin said so."
Astra sighed. "Odin, my old friend, does not know everything. You were never intended to go there. I sent you with one of my handmaids to hide you. But Kythra, the High Priest, intercepted her and took you. I could not stop it, I was fighting for my life against the Aesir soldiers who had invaded my home."
"Was that how you died? I always thought you had died in childbirth."
"No, Loki. Your birth did not kill me. A mage's Final Strike did. I sacrificed myself to keep you and my handmaid Vika safe. I died as I had lived, a war mage and the last Archmage of Asgard, Queen of Jotunheim. Odin found me as I lay dying on the battle field and I made him promise to find you and raise you as his own."
Her hand reached out to stroke his cheek and a crystal tear fell from her eye.
"He kept that promise, in his own way . . . but not as I would have liked . . ."
"No," Loki said, tears glistening in his own eyes.
"I am so sorry, Loki! If I could have, I would have required him to swear it on his magic but there was no time. My soul was drifting to Valhalla."
His hand closed over hers. "You have nothing to be sorry for, Mom. It wasn't your fault. You did what you could. At least I didn't die. He did save me. And I was raised a prince. The least prince, but still . . ." He told her what Odin had confessed to him at Easter and how he had apologized.
"That does not change what was done. But at least you have forgiven him. Now you can begin to heal."
"I have already begun to," he said sincerely. "How are you here now? And why did you never come before?"
She smiled at him, her smile bright as the sun, like the stars at midnight. "I never came before because it was not allowed. I had to earn my position as a Star Watcher and that took many long years. But I have always watched you, Loki. You could not see or sense me, but I was there. As for why now, because it was time. I could finally walk your dreams here, in this place of peace, and bring to you a measure of comfort."
She held out the goblet to him.
He took it and sniffed the aroma. "Peppermint hot cocoa. My favorite!"
"I know," she laughed, and a second goblet appeared in her hand. "It is mine too!"
They toasted each other and drank.
Loki's tongue licked the last bit of cocoa from his mouth, and giggled to see his action mirrored by his mother's. "You are a lot like me."
"I think you have that backwards, son. You are like me," Astra grinned, her emerald eyes dancing.
"Um . . . okay," he agreed. Then he just gazed at her, as if trying to memorize her features in his mind forever. "This is . . . I never expected . . ."
Her hand reached out and cupped his chin. "You are everything I had hoped for. You are handsome and strong and yet you know enough to laugh at yourself and to make others laugh. It seems you have inherited both my magic and Laufey's. The best of both worlds. Frigga taught you well."
"I certainly got your brains and your wit," Loki remarked. "Or so said Odin."
"He is right. You did." Her eyes twinkled. "You have done some troublesome things, yet your heart is good. I am proud to call you my son, Loki."
"You are?" for one moment his voice quivered, the lost child seeking approval from a missing parent.
"Always, my little mischief maker," she murmured, then her arms were around him and holding him close.
He surrendered to her embrace, to the touch he could barely recall, to the warmth with a kiss of frost, that filled him with love and a peace such as he had never known. He rested his head on her shoulder, breathing in her unique scent—of strawberries, honey, and frost.
Astra hugged him as if she would never let him go, as she had longed to hug him for fifteen hundred years, her slender fingers carding his silky curling hair. Her lips close to his ear, she began to sing an old lullaby—the same one she had sung to him on the night of his birth.
"Sleep, my little one sleep, count the stars in the sky, watch the snow fall, and know that I love you best of all. Dream, my little one, dream, of mystic shores and musical scores and remember my magic protects you. May you always know laughter and always know love, and my arms shall hold you safe from above, this is my wish, forever for thee, my sweet baby Loki."
Tears streaked her face and fell upon his hair, like rivulets of starshine.
Loki's own eyes were wet, and he patted her back and whispered, "Don't cry. I'm here. Don't cry."
"Starseekers, I missed you, Loki!" Astra crooned. "How I envied Frigga that she could hug you and I could not."
"Now you can."
"Yes, and this one hug, I hope, has made up for all the others I could not give you."
They remained that way for long moments, each reveling in the touch of the other, until at last Astra reluctantly let her son go.
She sighed and said, "My time here is short, my son. Much as I would like to spend hours with you, I cannot. So I will tell you a few things you might find useful to know. The first is that your youngest son will surprise you one day with an unexpected gift. The second is that the one who shall be your true love awaits you somewhere over Bifrost. And last is that I am not just your Star Watcher, but your children's as well. I am, you could say, your guardian angel. I spoke for you when you came to be judge before the Powers That Be, and I argued for your redemption."
Loki's eyes went wide. "You did all that?"
"I did. It was not just because you were my son, but because you deserved it." She kissed his forehead. "You deserve any happiness that comes your way. You simply have to be bold enough to reach out and take it."
"You were watching over my kids too?"
"Yes. And by the Nine they need it! Especially your daredevil son, Vince! I swear that child is going to drive me into a second afterlife!"
Loki laughed. "I'm surprised my hair isn't white by now."
"No, but I do poke you when he's about to do something insane, so you can stop it."
"The eyes in the back of my head," Loki realized.
"That is me, my son! Because you need an extra set with your mischief makers!"
"May I ask you a question?"
"Odin said Laufey stole you from Asgard when the Jotun invaded. Is that true?"
Astra shook her head. "That was how he saw it. Because I was his chief advisor and the Archmage of Asgard, and he didn't wish me to leave and become a wife or the queen of Jotunheim. He believed I could do better than Laufey. He wanted me to choose an Aesir man. But I am a Seer and I knew that Laufey was my destiny and my heart. And I have always followed my heart."
"Then you did love him and he you," Loki repeated, heaving a sigh of relief.
"Oh yes. Odin did not approve, but he knew better than to forbid the marriage. He knew that if he did so I would cut all ties with him forever, and he valued my friendship. I was the one person besides Frigga who was not afraid to stand up to him in a temper and tell him he was being an utter ass."
Loki started laughing. "Oh Norns! So that's where I get my boldness from."
"Now your father was no shrinking violet either, but yes, Odin always said I was the only woman crazy enough to stand atop a bridge, while the wind buffeted it from two sides, and challenge the lightning and spit into the eye of a storm and still come out with everything intact and a smile on my face. Astra Wildcat, he called me."
"You dared much then."
"I always did. I never took the easy path, Loki. I was independent and stubborn and I vowed no man would ever tell me what to do. I would do what I wanted, and that scared half the men of Asgard spitless. But not Laufey. He loved me for all that I was, and that was worth more than all the gold in Odin's vault. Is there anything else you would like to ask me, Loki?"
"Just this. Will I see you again?"
"I shall come to you in dreams when I am permitted. I love you, Loki." She hugged him again.
"I love you too, Mom."
"Remember, even the darkest night has stars. And you are loved more than you know. Look at the stars, Loki, and know that I am looking back at you."
She released him then and faded into twinkling motes of stardust, until all that remained was a faint glittery residue upon the thick fur.
Then Loki woke, opening his eyes and looking around the tent.
Thor still snoozed on top of his sleeping bag and everything was quiet.
Loki slipped like a ghost from his tent and gazed up at the last stars glittering in the evening sky. Then he blew a kiss towards the brightest one and whispered, "Good night, Mom."
Then he returned to his bed, and as he drifted off to sleep, he could hear a voice singing from far away, "Sleep, my little one, sleep . . ."
His mouth curved into a sweet smile as sleep embraced him.
The next morning, Thor was shocked to discover he was awake before Loki, though his brother looked so peaceful lying there he didn't have the heart to wake him. So he tiptoed from the tent and went to start the fire and make coffee.
As he poured himself a cup and drank it with some sugar black, Aleta emerged from the bathroom and pattered over to him. "Morning, Uncle Thor!"
He turned and greeted her with a kiss on the cheek. "Hey, spark! How did you sleep last night?"
"Good. Hey, Uncle Thor, remember the saying you taught me last night?"
"Saying? What saying?"
"This one." And she repeated the line they had sung together in Norse.
Thor spit out his coffee all over the ground. "Aleta, don't say that!"
Nine Hells, Loki is going to kill me! He thought frantically for a moment. "Uh . . . because nobody here will understand you."
"But what's it mean?"
"Uh it means . . . hello and how are you in Norse," Thor fibbed. "You want some breakfast?"
Aleta nodded. "Where's Daddy?"
"Sleeping. I can get you some cereal," Thor suggested. He pulled down the plastic cooler containing their dry foodstuffs. "Look, we have Cap'n Crunch, Honey Bunches of Oats, Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, Cocoa Puffs—my God Loki what did you do, bring half the grocery store?"
"Apple Jacks!" Aleta yelled.
"Okay. Shhh!" her uncle remonstrated, putting a finger to his lips. He took the Apple Jacks from the cooler and some milk.
The cereal was in a plastic bowl, so all he needed to do was pour milk in it and give Aleta a plastic spoon.
"What kinda cereal are you having?" the little girl asked.
"Uh . . . I think I'll have Cocoa Puffs," Thor decided, and took a plastic bowl with the cereal in it and poured the milk in.
Aleta watched him eating it and said candidly, "You're gonna need another two bowls."
Thor chuckled. "What are you saying? I eat too much?"
"No. But you're gonna need more," Aleta predicted.
"That's because I'm bigger than you," her uncle grinned. He finished the first bowl, then got another one, this time of Corn Pops.
"Toldja," his niece said triumphantly.
"You are too smart!" the Thunder God laughed. "Like your dad." He saluted her with the bowl. "Now remember, no repeating that phrase unless you're on Asgard."
"Okay. I'll remember," she promised.
Thor breathed a sigh of relief, thinking he had dodged that bullet quite neatly and she would probably forget about it by the time she ever saw Asgard.
"Are you all set to go riding today, spark?" he asked his niece.
Aleta nodded eagerly. "Uh huh. Daddy says he'll make sure I get a nice pony."
"I'm sure he will. Your dad is a good judge of horses," Thor told her.
"Did you have a horse on Asgard, Uncle Thor?"
"Yes. My horse was called Hurricane, because he could run like one and he was a big white horse. I used to ride him everyday."
"Did Daddy have one too?"
"Your dad's horse was a black mare, her name was Ebony. And she was fast as lightning and twice as clever. She could open stall doors with her teeth and undo latches. She had to have a special stall with a lock she couldn't manipulate, otherwise she would let herself out and all the other horses too. She was a trickster like your dad. But Loki loved her anyway. He used to race her on feast days, and when he rode Ebony no one could catch him."
"Not even you?"
"Not even me. Loki bred her to my stallion though, that means they were married and Ebony had some fine foals. Her first one was a gray filly called Wind Whisper, and Norns, she was fast as thought! But gentle though. Loki used to give rides to the servant kids with her, because she would never get startled and buck them off." Thor smiled reminiscently.
"Are they still alive?" was Aleta's next question.
"Hurricane and Ebony are, but they're retired and your dad and I ride some of their kids now. My new stallion is called Mercury, he's a red one with a white lightning bolt on his face."
"Does Daddy ride that nice horse called Wind Whisper?"
"No, because she died. She got caught out in the pasture when there was a bad storm and she tired to jump the fence and got caught on a pole and broke her leg. By the time we found her she was almost dead and she was suffering so . . . we put her to sleep." Thor said sadly.
"Couldn't you save her with magic?"
Thor shook his head sadly. "No. It was too late. So your dad chose to end her suffering. He mourned her for a long time. But now he rides her daughter, a dapple gray with a gold mane and tale called Starflight."
"I'd like to see them one day." Aleta said wistfully.
"Well, maybe you shall, when we go to Asgard," Thor reminded her.
"Yay!" Aleta said, then threw her bowl and spoon in the trash and ran and jumped on her uncle.
"Hey! What do you think I am?" he asked, putting her on his shoulders.
"You're my noble steed and I'm the princess!" Aleta grabbed Thor's hair lightly and shook it. "Giddyap!"
Thor tossed his head and snorted, then began to gallop about the campsite, Aleta giggling like crazy.
That was the sound that Loki woke to, and after getting dressed, walked out of his tent to see his brother playing noble steed for his youngest. Loki watched for several moments, grinning, until Aleta saw him and waved.
"Hi, Aleta! Looks like you're all ready to go riding."
"I am. I'm practicing with Uncle Thor."
"I can see that." Loki laughed.
Thor halted, pretending to be exhausted. "Brother, your imp wore me out." Then he swung Aleta down and said, "Why don't you ask your dad to play noble steed now. Especially since he can become one."
Aleta jumped up and down. "Could you? Please?"
"Okay." Loki agreed, then he shimmered into a very rare black unicorn with a golden horn.
"Oh! A unicorn!" his daughter squealed, and went to touch the silky coat.
"Show off!" Thor remarked, smiling.
Loki gently snuffled Aleta's hair, and the child laughed.
"Uncle Thor, can you put me on his back?"
"Sure, princess." Thor scooped her up and set her on Loki's back. "Now you got to squeeze tight with your legs so you stay on, got it?"
Aleta nodded, sitting up and doing as she had been told. She grabbed a handful of the thick silky mane. "C'mon, Eclipse!"
Loki flicked an ear back at the name his daughter had given him.
"Eclipse?" Thor repeated.
"Uh huh. Cause he's black and that was a famous racehorse. Vince told me about him."
Loki whickered, then began to walk lightly about the campsite, careful of the small passenger on his back. His tail and mane flowed like ebony silk behind him and his horn sparkled in the rising sun.
Thor fished his phone out of his pocket and snapped a few pictures, thinking Tony better never let this go viral, everyone will think it's Photoshopped. For such things dreams are made of.
A/N: Sorry for the long wait between chapters but I've been caring for my elderly father who has just started chemo. Hope you all liked this chapter. I felt it was time for Loki to meet Astra. Please review, if you'd be so kind!