Authorís Note: This was written as a RPG (roll playing game) between co-authors Hope1iz and BlackFox12. Set after the season one finale. Thirty-third in the Redeeming Grant series.
Summary: Thor takes his brothers to Asgard.
Disclaimer:
We don't own anything from the television series Agents of SHIELD and Avengers movies and we're not making any money from this fic.
Warning(s): Spanking; spoilers for Agents of SHIELD Seasons one and two; spoilers for all Avengers movie to date.
Co-Authorís Website:BlackFox12's fanfiction.net page



AN ASGARDIAN FAMILY


It didn't take long to make arrangements for Thor and his brothers to visit Asgard. They didn't need to pack a whole lot, since most of what they needed was on Asgard. Thor looked around at Loki and Mack, making sure they were ready, before he called out to Heimdall. He'd already warned Mack to brace himself for this mode of transportation, but he knew it might still be difficult and automatically shifted himself closer to his youngest brother... just in case.

Mack smiled crookedly at Loki and Thor, not saying anything about Thor shifting closer. Truth be told, he was relieved his brother was prepared to keep him from face-planting in front of the Asgardian gate-keeper...and whoever happened to come out to meet them. Without realizing it, he moved even closer yet to Thor so that their shoulders were touching.

Thor hadn't been wrong. Even bracing himself hadn't fully prepared him for the dizzying, disorienting, and rather abrupt form of transport. If he hadn't been close enough to Thor, when he staggered he would have fallen flat on his face.

Thor wrapped his arm around Mack's shoulders, drawing his younger brother in close so that he could be certain Mack would keep his balance. He placed his other hand on Loki's shoulder, indicating to everyone just where his priorities were.

If Heimdall thought anything about the three of them, it didn't show on his face or come through in his voice as he spoke. "Thor. Your friends are on their way." He nodded to Mack and to Loki.

Loki found himself moving closer to Thor as well. Even though he knew Heimdall and the gate-keeper was as stoic and non-committal or judgmental as he could be, Loki could never quite get over the feeling that the older gate keeper disapproved of him. And he knew Thor's friends didn't like him. The fact Thor had shown his support to him visually helped as well.

When Sif arrived, leading the other three warriors, she couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at the tight formation Thor, Loki and Mack made. There was plenty of room to stand, yet all three were touching; Thor in the center and slightly in front of the other two. While Loki and the unknown mortal were standing tall and appearing like they were in complete control of themselves, it was very apparent that they had deferred to Thor and were following his lead. Sif would never have believed Loki would submit to anyone, let alone his brother. She couldn't help but be suspicious of the trickster's behavior. "Thor, it is good to have your presence home. You have been missed. Who is your companion?" She glanced at Mack; not ignoring Loki exactly, but making it clear she didn't care about his presence.

Hogun had noticed something Lady Sif had not. While she had noticed Mack and Loki's deference to Thor...he also noticed Thor's protectiveness toward the other two. It wasn't just a case of Loki submitting. It was a case of Thor accepting the submission and placing the younger prince under his protection. As such, he was willing to give Loki the benefit of the doubt until proven wrong. He nodded at Loki; his face as stern as always, but his eyes were welcoming.

Loki smiled briefly at Hogun, appreciating the man's understated support. Knowing at least one person on Asgard, other than his brothers, was not against him helped calm him significantly. He was able to straighten up and step away imperceptibly, giving Thor room to greet his friends without Loki hanging off of him.

Mack, not knowing anyone but Thor and Loki, stayed uncertainly next to Thor. He didn't know if his stepping away would be perceived as threatening or not and he didn't want to risk creating an inter-dimensional incident by doing the wrong thing.

Volstagg grunted as he took in the sight before him, as observant as any warrior... even if he didn't seem the sort of person to be so. He stepped forward and clasped forearms with Thor, nodding slightly to the two others. When he spoke, his voice carried a gruff note of amusement. "It seems you all have your limbs intact."

Fandral smiled in greeting at the three of them, including Loki in that. Although aware of Loki's actions, he'd never held any animosity towards the younger prince... and he could see that the two had reconciled their differences. "It's good to see you," he said, also glancing curiously at Mack.

Thor smiled at his four friends, happy to see them... even if he noticed the guarded way Sif was acting. Although moving to clasp forearms with his friends, he still stayed between his brothers as he introduced Mack. "This is Mack. He is brother to Loki and myself." Thor didn't place any emphasis on Loki's name... but the tone still indicated that he viewed Loki as his brother as much as the way he stayed close to both of them.

Loki couldn't help but smirk at Volstagg's comment....or smile at Fandral. He relaxed as he realized that the only one who was openly distrustful of him was Sif...and considering their history, he supposed that wasn't a surprise.

Mack nodded at the new arrivals with an uncertain smile, not sure of how to greet them.

Sif frowned slightly, but said nothing about Thor's apparent reconciliation with Loki; or his mortal brother. "Odin awaits you..." she said and turned on her heel, expecting to be followed.

Hogun's face betrayed nothing, but his eyes were amused as he watched Sif charging forward.

Not wanting either of his brothers to be uncomfortable, Thor didn't wrap his arms around their shoulders (even though that was what he wanted to do). Instead, he placed a hand on each of their shoulders, offering the support without making it look like he was waiting for either of them to lean on him.

Fandral and Volstagg walked with the three, Fandral commenting on how things were different in Asgard... explaining the situation so that Loki would be prepared, even if he didn't outright say that was what he was going to do.

Loki was thankful for Thor's reticence. He knew his brother wanted to protect both of them, but was refraining from doing what had started to come naturally to him. Loki knew if Thor gave in to his impulse, it would only cause those who already distrusted or disliked him to use it as evidence of Loki's manipulations and inherent differences. He didn't know if his true heritage had been made known in the kingdom or not, but he wouldn't doubt if anyone had discovered it past his immediate family, it would have been spread.

Mack wasn't sure if Thor was holding back due to believing Mack would want him to, or because he didn't want Mack to look weak in front of his friends and country. In any case, he went along with it. He didn't pull away from Thor's hand, but at the same time, he ignored his inclination to press even closer to his brother; even if instinct was urging him to do so. Mack wasn't weak by any means; but he knew that compared to Asgardians, he was like a toddler on the battlefield. Their experience alone far outstretched his own- and who knew what foreign ways of fighting they had that he did not know how to defend against? The only way to earn their respect was to stand on his own two feet and Thor was allowing that.

Loki listened carefully to what Fandral was explaining, thankful that the man was willing to give him preparation; why else would he be explaining things that Thor shouldn't have been surprised by, given the fact he had been speaking with Asgard even when living on Midgard?

Sif smiled crookedly at Mack. "The All-Father has been most anxious to meet you..." she said off-handedly, not making it very clear if it was in a good way or a bad way.

Mack couldn't help but swallow hard.

Thor was quiet as Fandral talked, but his eyes shifted to Sif as she spoke. Although he didn't outwardly comment, he squeezed Mack's shoulder gently, silently reiterating what he'd already made clear... that if either of his brothers were too uncomfortable, they didn't have to stay.

But despite what his fellow Asgardians might think of Loki... and the two of them with a Midgardian brother... Thor was fairly certain his father wanted to repair things with Loki. Although Odin had never said as such, Thor knew that their mother's death had caused him to see things differently... and his mother would have wanted Odin and Loki to repair things, as much as they could.

And she would have liked Mack. Thor was certain of it.

A slight smile touched Thor's lips, gone when they reached the palace doors. He wasn't nervous... not exactly... but he wasn't entirely sure what to expect.

Hogun quite unapologetically walked over and stood next to Loki as they made their way to the court. Those who wished to look unfavorably on the younger prince would assume it was because the taciturn man was prepared to guard him and stop him from mischief should Loki try anything. The tiny not-smile he gave Loki and Thor should have given them the realization that he was willing to protect Loki with Thor if needed. Hogun glanced at Volstagg to indicate he should stand to the other side of Mack for the same reason; and he was fairly certain that Fandral would follow behind, protecting the party's flank. Sif sniffed at Hogun's actions, turning to lead Thor and his brothers to Odin's throne-room. He hadn't bothered trying to give her directions; he knew she only followed orders when in a battle, or when the king gave them. She'd never considered herself a part of the Warriors, even if she was constantly with them.

Loki found himself relaxing slightly at Hogun's actions. Of the Warriors Three, Hogun was the one most likely to distrust and be antagonistic; it was just his nature to be paranoid and pessimistic. If Hogun had decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and actually protect him...he had no doubt the other two men would give him a chance, too; Fandral and Volstagg were both more forgiving and accepting. Sif...not so much. But then, she had disliked Loki since they were children and he had played that rather mean prank on her. He could admit he'd been a bit of a brat at times. If he thought it wouldn't go amiss, he'd apologize now.

Mack smiled at Thor, nodding to show he'd understood Thor's unspoken words. He would be alright and didn't need to leave. Not yet. But he'd remember the option was there if needed.

Fandral was much more subtle than Volstagg, whose glare indicated that no Asgardians should try anything as he moved to Mack's other side. Thor gave his friends a grateful smile, but still didn't make any verbal comments about their actions.

Even if those actions did indicate clearly where the lines were drawn.

Thor held himself tense as they entered the throne room and saw Odin. No one bar his brothers and closest friends would realise he was anything but relaxed and at ease, though.

Loki felt Thor's tension and, as a result, found himself tensing up also. A quick glance at Mack and he could tell their youngest brother was feeling the same and doing his best not to tense up. Mack was normally so easy going and calm; the fact that he was noticeably (at least to his brothers) fighting nerves didn't help Loki calm at all. Add to that the fact that he wasn't as certain of Odin's welcome as Thor was and the only thing keeping him from bolting was the fact that Thor's friends had surrounded them in a protective circle. Loki looked towards Odin briefly, but then found himself unable to face the all-father...all the wrong deeds he'd done engulfing him like flood waters engulfing a bridge. Thor had punished and forgiven him, but that did not mean Odin had forgiven him (and he had a hard time believing the All-father had, despite Thor's protestations to the fact), or that he wouldn't want to administer his own punishment for Loki's actions.

Mack saw Odin and his eyes fell to the floor for another reason. He wasn't as certain as Thor was that the Asgardian king would welcome a mortal man into the family so readily. He was afraid that he wouldn't. But Mack didn't want Odin to see the fear in his eyes...Asgardians prized bravery and if Odin saw Mack was afraid...he might attribute it to the wrong reason and might never respect Mack or accept him. Mack found that he wanted Odin's acceptance...if only for Thor and Loki's sake.

As they approached the throne, Thor took a step forward, though he still stayed between his brothers. "AllFather." His tone was respectful, but rather than addressing Odin as his King, his tone was that of an equal.

Odin stood from his throne, his face impossible to read. "Thor. My son." His gaze shifted to Loki and, for a brief instant, hope flashed across his face... gone as suddenly as it had appeared. "Loki." There was a wealth of emotion in that one word and, abruptly, Odin no longer looked like the powerful King of Asgard... rather, a man who had seen and experienced a lot that was bad... and was tired of the conflicts between him and his family.

Loki had been watching Odin closely for any sign that the older man distrusted him or had ulterior motives for allowing him to come to Asgard...so he saw the look of hope, however brief it was. When Odin spoke, Loki had to swallow hard; wanting to believe, but afraid to believe that it was genuine love in Odin's tone. He found himself answering in a way that he hadn't planned, the emotion in Odin's voice breaking through and inspiring a reaction in him that he couldn't stop. "Father....?" He stopped abruptly, swallowing again and looking at the ground. What had he been thinking, addressing Odin as father? Loki had done everything in his power to distance himself from the man ever since finding out the truth and Odin had seemed to agree with him- Loki wasn't his son. So why would he go back to calling him father, just because of a tone in his voice? He hoped that Odin would forgive the presumption, but prepared to be excoriated for it.

Mack, realizing the importance of this meeting between his brother and Odin, kept quiet.

Odin's face seemed to soften at Loki's term of address. Taking the last of the steps, he stopped in front of Loki... and then reached out, simply to draw the trickster into his arms.

Loki was in too much shock to even think about trying to struggle free from Odin's grasp...and by the time the shock wore off enough that he could have fought the embrace, he didn't want to. Barely stifling a whimper, he wrapped his own arms around Odin, letting his head drop onto the older man's shoulder and hiding his face from the view of everyone else. He was ashamed to find tears streaming down his face and couldn't face anyone else, let alone Odin, knowing how weak he must appear. Odin's affection had completely unraveled him.

Odin held Loki tight, not saying anything... but there was almost a desperation in the tight way he held Loki. He wasn't the AllFather right now... he was just a father; one who'd missed his son terribly.

Thor had moved away from Loki just enough to allow his father access to his brother... but he still stayed close, gently squeezing Mack's shoulder to ensure his youngest brother knew he hadn't been forgotten.

Hogun, seeing what was obviously a family moment occurring, glanced at the All-father, asking with the nod of a head and a raised eyebrow for permission to leave the throne room.

Sif, feeling uncomfortable in the face of the family reunion, waited for Odin's response to Hogun, planning on going with him.

Mack moved closer yet to Thor, a tight feeling forming in his throat as he watched Loki and Odin's reunion. He didn't want to interrupt; it was obvious his brother needed his father's forgiveness and his affection. Loki was holding on too tightly and pressed too close to the other man for it not to be obvious.

Loki, for his part, held on as tightly as Odin was holding him. He tried to fight the tears...but finally gave that up as a lost cause, focusing more of his energy on trying to make certain that the tears didn't become vocal. Not with Thor's friends in attendance.

Odin didn't release Loki, but he gave his permission with a nod to Sif and the three warriors.

Volstagg clapped Thor on the shoulder with a little more force than truly necessary. "It's good to have you here for a visit... all of you," he added, including Loki and Mack in that, before he left the throne room.

Fandral simply clasped forearms with Thor, nodded to Mack and followed his friend.

Hogun nodded at Thor, Mack and Odin, realizing that Loki would not see. Turning, he followed his two brothers in arms out of the Throne room.

"I will speak with you later..." Sif said to Thor, before giving Mack and Odin a nod and following behind Hogun.

Biting his lip and giving Thor an uncertain glance, Mack said, with some sympathy, "It's just us now, Lok's...."

Hearing his younger brother's words, Loki gave up fighting his emotions and allowed his tears to fall freely and vocally. "F...father...I...I'm so sorry..." he finally choked out, his whole body shaking from crying.

Thor placed his free hand gently on Loki's back, trying to offer his brother a source of comfort. He'd been aware of the probability of emotions running high... but it was still difficult to hear and see Loki break down in this way.

Odin allowed his hand to rub gently over Loki's back, even as his embrace tightened... not to the point of hurting Loki, but tight enough that it was clear he didn't intend to just let him go. "I forgive you, my son." His words were plain, but rang with truth.

Gradually, between Odin's words of forgiveness and the gentle affection (and tight hugs), Loki was able to calm down. Finally, his tears spent, he reluctantly pulled back from Odin and looked at his feet, embarrassed and ashamed at how he'd lost control.

Mack bit his lip, not wanting to interrupt anything; uncertain if Odin was through speaking to Loki, but also anxious to find out if he would be allowed to stay, since he was mortal.

Odin slowly released Loki when his son stepped back, even though he was reluctant to do so. Allowing Loki time to gather himself, he turned his attention to Mack, taking in how close Thor was standing to the Midgardian, before focusing entirely on Mack. "And you must be the Midgardian my sons have adopted as a brother." His voice was calm... more accepting than anything else.

Mack straightened without even thinking about it, wanting to give as good an impression as possible. "Yes, sir. I'm Alphonso Mackenzie... but everyone calls me Mack...." His tone was low, soft and respectful and his smile was friendly. He came across every bit like the 'gentle giant' that so many got from a first impression.

Loki quickly wiped his eyes and straightened up himself, swallowing. "He is a brave and good man, father." He smiled at Mack, his eyes thanking the younger man for being there for him when he was weak.

Odin looked at Loki as he spoke, making it clear that he valued his other son's words. "I have no doubts that he is, since you and your brother have taken to him so easily." He nodded to Mack. "You have a place here... with your brothers."

Thor smiled, relaxing, even as he kept his hands gently resting on his brothers' shoulders.

Mack hadn't even realized he was tense until he suddenly wasn't any longer, Odin's words of acceptance flooding him with relief. "Thank you, sir...." he finally was able to say, his smile growing bigger.

Loki wiped at his eyes again; having his father's attention and tacit approval (even if it only was for becoming brother to a man like Mack) was making him feel overwhelmed again. He'd believed for so long that Odin couldn't possibly want him and wouldn't ever forgive him that the proof of just the opposite left him floundering confusedly. "I missed you, daddy..." Loki blurted out, feeling the need to admit it. Then, his eyes went wide as he realized he'd just called Odin, King of Asgard, a childish term for father only found on Midgard (and a small segment of Midgard at that). He'd definitely been patterning his behavior after the rest of the family a lot more than he had realized.

Odin's one eye softened even more, if that was possible, and he reached out to once again wrap his arms around Loki. The more childish form of address might not be used on Asgard, but he still recognised it for what it was. "I missed you, son." His words were soft, but still sincere. "Your brother telling me about you wasn't the same... I'm glad you chose to come here, even if only for a visit."

"I'm glad I came, too..." Loki relaxed into his father's embrace, hugging him tightly. A lot of the fears he'd held about Odin wanting him or wanting him to visit evaporated as he soaked up his father's attention.

Mack's smile grew even bigger, if possible. As uncomfortable as he felt, being the outsider, he was glad he was able to witness his brother reconciling with his father. Loki may not have realized it, but anyone who cared about the younger Asgardian had been able to tell that Loki was missing something (or someone) in his life that was very important. Maybe this reconciliation was what was needed for Loki to finally move beyond his past completely.

Odin hugged Loki tightly, gently stroking his son's hair. Since Frigga's passing, he'd become much more comfortable with touching or hugging Thor... and he didn't even need to think about doing the same to Loki.

Thor squeezed Mack's shoulder, smiling at him, though he didn't say anything.

***

Sif glanced around the hall, noting everyone sat at the various tables and eating the finest choice of meats from the hunt. Loki and Thor were next to their father, one on each side. She would have gone to sit at Thor's other side, but that mortal man- Mack, she believed he was called- was sat next to Thor. And Hogun had already taken the spot next to Loki...not that she would have sat there had it been available. Everyone else might have forgiven Loki and decided to give him another chance, but she would never trust him. Sniffing slightly, she went and sat down next to Mack.

Loki glanced around the hall, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells. He had a large leg of some type of fowl on his plate and several heaping ladles full of vegetables that could only be found on Asgard. He didn't think he could eat that much, but his father had taken such glee in piling the food onto his plate that he hadn't had the heart to stop him; and so now, he had more on his plate than he knew what to do with.

Hogun, catching Loki's expression, snorted but didn't say anything.

Mack had been circumspect in how much he was taking; since he didn't recognize a large amount of the food in front of him, he didn't want to put too much on his plate. He glanced at Sif as she sat down.

Volstagg had taken his place next to Hogun, while Fandral had seated himself on the other side, just happening to place himself next to one of the young women, who he was currently regaling with tales of his exploits... even if it was obvious, to anyone who knew him, that he was still as much on his guard as he ever was.

Clapping Mack gently on the shoulder, Thor leaned in close to his youngest brother, pointing out what dishes he thought Mack might prefer... and which were closest to those usually found on Midgard.

Odin seemed happy... relaxed... more so than he had been in a long time. He'd already made it clear the feast was to celebrate his reconciliation with Loki... as well as to welcome his sons' new brother to Asgard.

Mack was grateful for Thor's help in choosing food...some items he might have never tried until Thor pointed them out had been very good; and despite all the differences, there were enough similarities that he didn't feel like he was eating anything too terribly exotic. It enabled him to enjoy his food without focusing on it over much...and so he was able to focus on the conversations around him more easily.

Those at Odin's table were courteous and welcoming...even if Sif was a bit aloof. But Mack could hear murmurings from other tables and some attending the feast weren't as quiet as they had thought they were. He could hear things being said about and against Loki...and he knew from the look on his brother's face that Loki could hear them as well. The younger prince tried to act like it wasn't bothering him, but Mack could tell that some of the remarks had hurt.

Loki was doing his best to focus on the positive; Odin had forgiven him and had welcomed him home. Odin loved him and considered him his son. Even so, some of the remarks being said at the other tables were biting...and undermining his confidence. Especially since he wasn't entirely sure some of the remarks weren't true. Remarks such as, 'Odin's forgiven and accepted him back only because of Frigga...' and, 'the first mistake Loki makes and he'll be sent back to Midgard where Odin doesn't have to deal with him.' He didn't want to think unfavorably on his father any longer; he'd been honest when he'd said he missed him. And he loved his father. And he wanted his father to love and care about him. But deep down, Loki knew he was a monster and forgiveness and acceptance didn't necessarily translate into love or caring. What if they were right? What if the first 'mistake' Loki made, he was sent away again? He knew he would be able to survive and he had Thor's, Mack's and the rest of the family's love and regard. But it was Odin's love and regard he wanted. He wasn't sure what he'd do if Odin washed his hands of him again. Shaking himself out of the negative thoughts, Loki took a drink of mead before Odin or Thor could notice his subdued behavior and ask about it.

Sif attempted to engage Mack in small talk once he had a plate of food. "How is it that you became close enough to Thor to become his brother? Did you fight together?"

Mack swallowed his bite of food, then slanted his head and grinned, "It was actually a camping trip...."

Thor wasn't ignorant of the whispers regarding Loki. If he'd been able to pinpoint exactly where they were coming from, he would have responded to those. As it was, he very simply reached across his father so that he could grasp Loki's forearm, squeezing it gently so that Loki would know he had his brother's support... even as he addressed Sif. "Where we reside on Midgard, there has been a whole family forged together by choice. We are bound together by trust and love."

Sif looked curiously at Thor. "A family of choice? How did you grow to trust and love each other to form such a family? Bonds like that are usually forged through hardship and trials...." She had recalled that Thor was in a battle recently on Midgard, fighting creatures called 'robots'. She knew he fought with his Avenger friends and had assumed that they were the chosen family he spoke of. But she didn't recall Mack being part of that group when she did her 'research' about Midgard.

"Some of those bonds have been formed through battle... fighting alongside each other," Thor answered. "Others have been formed due to spending time together while not in battle... seeing the good that does exist on Midgard. The family has grown a great deal, but I do not believe any of us regret it."

"A lot of us wouldn't be as well-adjusted as we are if it weren't for the 'family'..." Mack admitted with a huffed laugh.

Loki couldn't help but smile at that comment. He took another sip of his mead. "I have to admit, a lot of my... 'new attitude' has come from observing the rest of the family interact. They helped me realize a few things...."

Hogun raised an eyebrow in inquiry, though he didn't actually voice a question.

Loki elaborated anyway. "Some of the other members have had issues similar to my own...I was able to observe how they reacted to those issues- often in very similar ways to how I reacted- and how their parent handled the situation.... it is a lot easier to see the entire picture as an observer than it is when you are an active participant and comparing their situation to mine..." He shrugged slightly, an embarrassed smile on his face. He didn't say that the easy acceptance of the family helped him most of all; he'd never truly felt accepted on Asgard by anyone but Frigga, Thor and Odin. After his horrendous actions when he'd found out he was adopted, he hadn't been certain of acceptance by anyone but Frigga; and after her death, Thor. Now, it seemed Odin accepted him, but Loki was afraid to believe too strongly in that. It was much easier not to say anything about how he felt accepted on Midgard.

Odin had been watching Loki as his son spoke, focusing his attention entirely on him in a way that he knew had been sorely lacking before. No more. Now, when Loki spoke, Odin gave him his full attention... indicating just how much value his son's words had to him. "It seems you are happy on Midgard." He didn't say it, but he thought Loki was happier there than he ever had been on Asgard. It was sad to know his sons both preferred a different realm... but if they continued to come back to visit, he would content himself with that and making himself available to them.

Loki looked at Odin, noting his attention and feeling warmed by it. "I am, father..." he admitted softly, uncertain if it would please Odin or make him unhappy. Loki was loathe to make his father unhappy; for the first time in many years, he didn't want to hurt his father.

Mack smiled as he watched his brother and Odin. "I know we are happy he is there..." He put in his own opinion, wanting to show support for his brother.

Sif frowned slightly at Mack's words. "Even after everything he did to your realm, you are happy he is there?" She was confused that Loki would be forgiven so quickly.

Mack shrugged. "Our lifespans aren't as long as yours. I suppose it seems like a short amount of time to have forgiven his actions, but he was truly sorry for what he'd done and has done much since then to help. Our life is too short to hold grudges and hate; that only hurts the one bearing the grudge and doing the hating. And we've all done things we aren't proud of so.... Besides, I've found Loki to be an awesome brother..." The grin he shot in Loki's direction was fond.

"I wish you had found your happiness here," Odin said, his words honest, but not accusing or angry. "But I am glad you are happy. That you feel accepted. I just hope you will continue to visit here."

"Loki is a good person," Thor said. "Losing his way for a while does not change that." He hadn't told anyone apart from Odin about the way Loki had been tortured... forced into working with those who wanted to destroy Midgard... and he didn't intend to now. He'd told their father in the hopes that it would help Odin understand. He was relieved to see that their father was doing more than just understanding.

Loki was so focused on Odin that Sif's words didn't bother him like they once would have. The fact both of his brothers had defended him helped as well. His smile was uncertain and hopeful when he answered his father's question. "I would like to continue to visit, if you really wish it."

Sif frowned irritably. She didn't say anything, however. It was obvious Loki had convinced his father and both his brothers that he had reformed and they were taking that belief and running with it. She'd continue to keep a healthy amount of skepticism and when Loki proved himself unworthy, she'd point it out and save them from themselves.

Mack's eyes narrowed slightly as he watched Sif. He wasn't certain what she was thinking, but her face was plotting. He'd have to keep an eye on her and make sure she didn't do anything to Loki.

Hogun saw Loki with Odin, seeing Loki's hopeful uncertainty and Odin's reflective caring. He also saw Sif's distrust and Mack's worry. Sighing internally, he resigned himself to watching the royal family and friends so that he could hopefully derail any future problems that were bound to occur.

***

It was later in the evening the next day and following Odin's suggestion, the group of them had retired to one of the smaller dining halls to eat together on their own. Thor was somewhat relieved by that, since he'd been able to see and hear how much the other Asgardians refused to trust his brother.

At least the Warriors had made it clear they were willing to give Loki another chance.

Odin checked to make sure his sons had enough on their plates and then addressed Loki. "Your brother has not told me much about what you have been doing on Midgard..." He spoke to try and learn more about his younger son, wanting to learn as much as he could about Loki's life.

Loki felt much more at ease with just his father and brothers in attendance...it surprised him, because he had truly thought he'd been handling the negative talk and glances better than that. He hadn't realized how tense the situation had made him until he was no longer in it. He smiled at Mack. They had spent the day exploring the royal residence and on a few occasions, Odin had managed to take a bit of time to walk with them and explain things to his younger brother. Loki wasn't certain, but it appeared that not only had Odin accepted Mack as Thor's chosen brother (he still had a hard time accepting that Odin had welcomed him back into the family with open arms), but if necessary, Odin might wish to adopt Mack. He'd said as much to the quiet mortal, but Mack had just given him a look that showed plainly his disbelief of that assertion.

Turning toward Odin, he tried to answer his father as truthfully as he could, uncertain if some of what he had done should remain secret or not. It wasn't like Odin couldn't find out if he really wanted to know. "How much is much?" he teased gently, giving Thor a questioning look. "I hope he has left out the times when I have behaved foolishly...."

Thor smiled at Loki, nudging his younger brother with his shoulder. "Your times of behaving foolishly are few and far between, brother. In fact, compared to many of the rest of our family, I believe I am fortunate to have two brothers who are good at staying calm and out of trouble." He grinned at said brothers, making it clear he was teasing.

"I understand you became a child again for a time." Odin had been informed of the situation... not of everything that had happened. "But I have mostly heard that you are much happier and at peace."

Loki glanced down then looked back up at his father, giving him a genuine smile. "I am at peace and I am very happy." He bit his lip before continuing, "A lot of that is a result of becoming a child again. Before, Thor had forgiven me...and the others had been treating me well, but part of me never felt fully at ease. I remembered what I had done and I had a hard time believing they could forgive such actions. When I became a child, I did not remember anything beyond what I had known as a child and Thor...and everyone else...took care of me. By the time I was adult again and realized that the horrible nightmares I had been having were my memories, I felt accepted by everyone and was able to handle everything much better. Did Thor tell you that I asked for you? When I was young again?" He glanced at Odin from the corner of his eye.

Odin nodded and spoke plainly, not wanting Loki to think he hadn't wanted to bring him to Asgard... or see him. "I wished to see you, too, but I didn't want you to be uncomfortable here... and I know, even as an adult, the words of many of the Asgardians here are upsetting you." He frowned, knowing he couldn't change people's views of Loki... even if he could, and had, addressed the comments they made. "Coming to Midgard has not been... feasible." He sighed. "There has been much that has needed to be rebuilt."

Loki's smile grew. "Thor said as much..." He wasn't upset about it. He was relieved that Odin hadn't tried to spin his reasons to make them sound better, or to try and spare him. After being lied to for most of his life about his true origins because Odin wanted to spare him, he was leery of being lied to again under the guise of 'protection'.

Mack cleared his throat. "Everything I have seen is beautiful...you and your people must have been working very hard for it to look like this if it had been destroyed so badly...."

Odin turned his attention to Mack as the third brother spoke to him. He'd found himself growing as fond of the Midgardian as his sons clearly were... and he was glad he had the chance to meet this man he had begun to hope to draw into his family. "We have had to work hard to rebuild Asgard," he agreed. "Not just here, but many of the other realms were damaged as well." He smiled. "I am pleased you find Asgard so beautiful." Again, there was sincerity in his voice.

Thor looked down to hide a smile. It was clear, to him, that his father had grown to like Mack... and nothing would make him happier for both of his brothers to be welcomed by Odin here.

Mack nodded, a sad smile on his face. "I saw the destruction in London from the Dark Elves' visit; and it was not even close to what I was told occurred elsewhere. I am glad you were able to rebuild."

Loki didn't look down. His smile was open and unhidden. "Mother would have been proud of the people..." he said softly; then cleared his throat from sudden emotion.

The look that came over Odin's face was sad, but he still placed a hand on Loki's shoulder, squeezing gently. "She would have been proud of you, son, too." He looked at Mack, a slight smile touching his face. "And she would have liked you."

Loki couldn't stop the tears that ran down his face at his father's words. He'd known Frigga loved him, despite everything he had done. He'd wanted to make her proud, though; and his father saying she would have been was like a balm.

Mack blinked. Then,giving the older man a sad smile, he spoke. "I know I would have liked her...."

Odin wrapped his arms around Loki, unable to help but respond to his son's tears. He knew how close Frigga and Loki had been... even when he himself had pulled away from Loki; which he could now admit had been a mistake.

Loki pressed against his father, wrapping his own arms around the other man. Thor had done much in restoring Loki's self-esteem and believing he was loved...but having his father show physical affection and love eased a part of him that he hadn't been willing to admit was lacking. The fact that Odin seldom was physically affectionate made the healing even more pronounced; his father had to care about him, if he was willing to hold him like this, right? Loki wondered how long the love and caring would last- if it would disappear the first mistake Loki made- but he didn't voice those fears or doubts. He just soaked up the affection while it was being given.

Odin hugged Loki close, not seeming ready to let go of him any time soon. "Is there anything you'd like to do tomorrow?" he asked, wanting to spend the time with his sons... and he was including Mack in that already.

Loki muttered against his father's shoulder, reluctant to step away to answer the question, "Not in particular...I figured we could show Mack around the countryside, since he saw the palace today...."

Mack grinned sheepishly. "I have to admit, after hearing Thor talk about Bilgesnipes so many times, I'm curious to see one for myself...."

Odin nodded. "I have a lot of tomorrow free. Perhaps we could take a picnic with us."

Thor smiled. "There are lots of other things to show you as well."

Loki finally pulled away, though he kept close enough that his arm was brushing against his father's arm. "I think a picnic would be enjoyable. Mack will get to see his Bilgesnipe, as well as some of the other animals and plants that aren't on Midgard...."

"Now that's what I'm talking about...." Mack's grin grew.

Smiling, Thor poured them out some more mead each. "We should retire early, then. I will arrange the food for our picnic." Since he had a good idea of what they all liked. He looked happy and contented... more so than even on Midgard, because he could tell there wasn't any conflict right now with his family.

***

Arranging the picnic hadn't been too hard. The four of them had taken horses and done a bit of exploring before settling down to eat. Thor had been amused by Mack's almost childlike fascination with everything... but the three Asgardians had thoroughly enjoyed showing their Midgardian family member everything there was to see.

Mack was just about to take a bite of the food he'd put on his plate when something in the distance caught his eye. "What's that over there?" he asked curiously.

Loki glanced over toward the mountain range Mack was staring at. "That is where the cave is located..." he said, glancing at Mack. At Mack's confused look, he elaborated, "The cave of time...."

"A place that is very dangerous to try to visit," Odin said. "Not everywhere on Asgard is as safe as here or the palace."

Mack looked disappointed at Odin's words. "Even if we didn't go into the cave? It must be very interesting to see...." he said softly; not exactly asking to be taken there, but if any of the other three men took it as a hint, he wouldn't be upset.

Loki wrinkled his nose. "There isn't a guardian there...most of the people avoid the area like the plague, though. I'm not entirely certain why.... I have to admit, I never had the inclination to go look...."

"The cave has a dangerous reputation and there have been tales of Asgardians wandering in there, only to find themselves lost in either the past or the future," Odin said. "Even to explore the surrounding area could be enough to have some effect."

"I too have heard the tales," Thor agreed. "Perhaps some are merely stories... but many legends contain a slim note of truth."

"Oh....Ok." Mack shrugged, but it was obvious he was disappointed. Shaking his head, he smiled. "Forgive me...I don't mean to act like a thwarted toddler..." He chuckled in embarrassment, before taking a bit of food.

Loki watched his younger brother; then, shrugging slightly, began to eat. He didn't think Mack had behaved badly at all; truth was, he found himself just as curious about the cave now that Mack had shown an interest. But Odin had warned against it strongly, doing everything but actually forbidding them to go there. May as well think on something else.

"There are plenty of other things we could do instead," Odin said. "I'm sure I could take enough time away to go camping, for instance."

"I do love camping..." Mack said with a chuckle.

"I think we all love camping..." Loki gave his family a fond grin. "When are you proposing that we go camping?" he asked his father curiously.

"I thought perhaps the day after tomorrow," Odin answered. "That will give us enough time to arrange what we need and for me to make sure the person I leave in charge knows what's going on."

"That sounds good..." Loki agreed, glancing at his brothers to see what they thought.

Mack nodded. "I'm looking forward to it...."

Thor nodded his own agreement. "It will be good to spend more time together... just us." Especially in light of how the other Asgardians had been treating Loki.

"Looks like we have a plan, then..." Loki grinned. "Now...what did we bring for dessert?"

***

They'd finished their picnic in high spirits, Mack telling Odin a bit more about himself and his life. Loki had listened intently, finding out information he hadn't been aware of before and filing it away for future use if needed. Eventually, they'd finished eating and packed up to head back to the palace; and when night fell, had retreated to their rooms.

The next day at breakfast, they had eaten in the family quarters again, no one having the desire to put on their 'public' manners...although Loki was positive it was mostly so he wouldn't have to hear the rude comments said just low enough that those saying them could claim they hadn't meant him to hear should someone complain. Afterwards, Odin had gone to the throne room to take care of matters of rule... and the Warriors had come to drag Thor away for some sparring... which left Loki and Mack alone and trying to decide what to do. Loki had already shown Mack his laboratory, where he studied the more obscure arts that enabled him to do his 'magic', as mortals termed it. They were trying to find something else that would occupy them and be interesting to both.

"I'd really be interested in seeing those caves..." Mack sighed. "Too bad they're so dangerous, your father forbid it."

Loki slanted his head. "He never actually said we could not go see them..." he reminded. "Just that they were very dangerous."

Mack straightened up. "You're right. I don't know why I assumed that meant he was telling us not to go.... If we don't actually go into the caves, it shouldn't be as dangerous, right?"

"I would not think so, no...." Loki hesitated, but seeing the excited look on his younger brother's face- and wanting to explore the caves himself...it was one area of Asgard he hadn't been- he made a quick decision. "Let us go! We will stay outside of them and just explore the outside. We will be fine."

Mack's grin widened, though he did glance toward the door, as if he expected Odin to walk through and put an end to their plans at that very second. "You sure Odin won't be mad at us?"

Loki frowned. Odin probably would be upset...but would he be mad? "I...I do not think so..." His voice was hesitant enough that they both paused right before stepping out of the room. He gave Mack a look that was clearly telling the other man if he wanted to back out, Loki would not argue.

Mack frowned as well. "Well...he never said we couldn't go...so...better to do and ask forgiveness later than to ask and be told no?" His grin wasn't quite as confident as Loki would have liked.

"I will agree with that..." Loki gave the same smile back.

By the time Thor finished sparring and went looking for his younger brothers, they had left the city proper and were well on their way to the caves.

***

Odin had taken care of the matters he needed to and approached Thor as his oldest was searching frantically for his brothers. "Thor? Where are your brothers?"

"I cannot find them," Thor admitted. "And none who I ask know where they are. Or, if they do, they will not tell me." He was troubled, worried that Loki had been upset and had left the palace... and that Mack had gone after him.

Odin's own worry was obvious. "We will go and speak to Heimdall," he decided, leading the way to the gatekeeper so he could question Heimdall.

Asked to seek out Loki and Mack, Heimdall zeroed in on the two brothers. "They are on their way to the cave of time," he stated.

Odin tried hard not to show his worry and fear as he turned to Thor, knowing his eldest needed him to stay strong. "We need to have someone fetch two horses from the stables." Heimdall could see and hear anything he chose to... but he could also send messages to people. Odin requested that the gatekeeper do so and within minutes, two horses were brought.

Odin and Thor mounted and rode in the direction Loki and Mack had taken.

***

Loki and Mack had been walking for a while...not rushing to reach the caves, instead taking their time and observing everything around them as they walked. Even so, they had almost reached the caves by the time Heimdall had given their location to Odin. They stopped several yards short of actually reaching the caves, however. There was an odd mist rolling outward and by unspoken agreement, they were reluctant to let the mist touch them. Unfortunately, they hadn't been paying attention to what was behind them. When they turned to head back to the palace, having decided they'd seen enough, they discovered the mist had surrounded them, except for a very narrow swath on the most dangerous part of the mountain.

"Can you teleport us away from here?" Mack asked nervously.

Taking Mack's arm, Loki attempted to...his eyes widening when it didn't work. "Something here is blocking my abilities..." he admitted, with more than a hint of worry.

***

Thor and Odin reached where the mists were swirling. Thor immediately swung down from his horse and strode forward, though he was careful not to allow the mist to touch any part of him. Drawing Mjolnir, he began swinging his hammer... hoping to cause the mist to disperse; at least long enough for him to grab his brothers.

Loki and Mack were slowly but surely being crowded by the mist onto the steep, rocky cliff side. Soon, the only choice would be to fall, or to allow the mist to catch them. They were so focused on remaining out of the mist and not falling to their deaths that they did not notice Thor and Odin's arrival.

It took a while (the mist was stubborn), but Thor was able to clear it enough so that he could see his brothers. He dropped his hammer and ran through the path in the mist so he could grab them both and get back out before it re-formed.

One minute, Loki was attempting to find some way down the cliff side that wouldn't involve Mack and himself falling to their deaths; and the next, he was being dragged out by his older brother; who somehow still retained his abilities. If Loki hadn't been so grateful to be out of the mess he and Mack had got into, he would have pouted at the unfairness of that fact. But...he was grateful.

So was Mack apparently since, as soon as they were free of the mist, he threw his arms around Thor and began thanking him profusely. "How did you know...?"

Thor hugged both his brothers, a look of relief on his face. "I am glad you're safe..." he said softly to them.

"When we realized you were gone, I asked Heimdall to find you." Odin sounded calm... but the look on his face made it clear he'd been as worried as Thor. When Thor finally released his brothers, Odin stepped forward to hug both Loki and Mack... having worried greatly over both of them.

Loki felt a surge of guilt washing over him as he realized how worried he'd made his family. He honestly hadn't thought just looking at the outside of the caves would be dangerous, especially when they'd stayed further back...but he'd been wrong. And his father had known immediately that he would be wrong in his assumption and Loki had actually worried him and Thor. Swallowing thickly, Loki held onto Thor tightly; and then when Thor had released him, quickly held onto Odin just as tightly, trying to apologize through physical affection. He honestly didn't think saying sorry would be enough. Even so... "I'm sorry," he whispered sadly.

Mack was in much the same boat as Loki, a wave of unexpected guilt flooding him. Unlike Loki, who had years of mastering his expressions so that his face was a blank mask- even when he didn't necessarily mean for it to be- Mack wasn't able to hide his feelings. He looked every bit the guilty child. He hugged Thor just as tightly; and when Odin included him in his embrace, he held on tight. "I'm sorry, too..." he finally said, his voice catching.

Odin held them both close, trying to calm down from the scare. After all, he wasn't a young man anymore. "We're going to go back to the palace." He spoke calmly, but it was clear he intended to talk with both of them. "Where are your horses?" Even when he wasn't hugging them, he kept a hand on each of their arms... almost as if afraid they would disappear if he didn't keep them close.

"Uh....." Mack stepped back just enough to be able to look at Loki with a startled, 'what do I say?' expression on his face.

Loki winced. "We walked?" he hesitantly admitted, pretty certain his father wouldn't like them walking back (since they'd been at the cave long enough for it to begin getting dark out and neither of them had dressed for a night time trek).

Odin sighed, but didn't start scolding either of them... even though the look on his face indicated he might have some very choice words to say. "Loki... can you teleport?" He was fairly certain that Mack and Loki being trapped within the mist had meant it had affected Loki's powers, but he hoped that was only temporary.

Loki focused; but only a few seconds and he knew. "I...I cannot." He tried not to sound too worried and didn't let on that he was actually a bit scared at the fact that he couldn't access his powers like normal. Whatever the mist had done had separated him from that core part of himself; he felt like he'd lost a part of his body.

Mack didn't bother trying to hide his worry. "I thought the only reason you couldn't before was because the mist was surrounding us...." His tone was stressed.

"I thought that as well...." Loki admitted hesitantly, but didn't say anything else. He had no clue what the mist had done to affect him...or how far out the mist would affect himÖ.Or how long.

Odin exchanged a worried glance with Thor, but when he spoke to Loki, his voice was quiet and reassuring. "It is likely only a temporary loss, but I will still ask one of our healers to examine you. You are not going to be able to walk back, though, so we will share the horses."

"Father, I..." Loki started to protest, but then realized he wasn't sure what he was protesting. It wasn't like he wanted to walk back to the palace in the dark. And having a healer check him out would probably be a good idea. One should probably check out Mack as well, since he was mortal and if the mist had affected Loki, who knew what it could have done to the younger man? Slumping slightly, Loki continued. "...Do you want me in front or in back?" he finally asked, suddenly feeling a bit childish.

Mack glanced at Thor, giving him a crooked smile. "I guess I'm 'sposed to ride with you?" he asked uncertainly.

Thor nodded, giving both of his brothers a tight hug again. "I am glad we got here in time." He smiled at them, pretty relaxed now that they were both out of immediate danger... even if his own worry about Loki was pretty clear. It was also clear, at least to Thor, that their father planned to address what had happened... which meant that he didn't have to force himself to be the stern, authoritative big brother. He brought both of the horses over.

"You can ride behind," Odin replied, knowing that in front would probably be more embarrassing... and he wasn't planning on making it obvious two of his sons were in trouble.

Mack found himself relaxing at Thor's own relaxed tone. He'd been expecting Thor to be sterner with them...on Midgard, he certainly would have been letting them know in no uncertain terms how foolish they'd been. Mack never even suspected that the reason Thor wasn't being sterner was because Thor knew his father was going to be taking charge and would be stern enough for both of them. He waited until Thor had remounted and then jumped up behind his brother, locking his hands onto Thor's waist.

Loki didn't relax. He knew Odin was going to be the one to address their actions. He wasn't certain what Odin would do; he knew what Thor would have done and what Odin would have done in the past, but that did not mean Odin cared enough now to handle things in the same manner; not knowing was often worse than knowing for certain. He nodded gratefully when Odin told him where he would ride...he knew if he'd come riding back to the palace in front of his father like a small child who needed to be held onto the horse that the people would be talking about him even more than they already did. At least he would be spared that embarrassment. Waiting until his father had remounted, he climbed up behind the older man and hesitantly held onto his father's waist, not wanting to look like more of a child than he already felt.

Thor made sure Mack was secured and then started the horse off in a brisk trot. He lightly patted one of Mack's hands, indicating, through touch, that he was relieved his brothers were safe and hadn't been harmed.

Odin set his horse trotting after Thor's, gently grasping one of Loki's hands for perhaps a second or two. He wondered if Loki's actions hadn't just been about showing Mack the cave... if there was still a big part of his son that found it difficult to trust his father and had been testing him.

Mack relaxed even further at Thor's show of affection, clenching Thor's waist gently to acknowledge the unspoken words of relief. He found himself leaning forward until his head was pressed against Thor's back. He suddenly felt so weary, the adrenaline of having been trapped by the mist finally wearing off.

Loki couldn't help it; he grasped his father's hand back, reluctant to let go. It was only now just hitting him how foolish he had been, going to see the caves, even if they hadn't gone inside and had tried to avoid going too close. Just because he hadn't been told specifically not to go, he should have understood it as an unstated order. He knew that's what Odin had meant in his words. Had he just managed to undo any progress he had made in regaining his father's love? He'd also allowed his own need to push boundaries place his younger brother in danger. He glanced toward Mack, noting the other man leaning on Thor with closed eyes. If anything had happened to Mack, he would never have forgiven himself. Swallowing thickly, he found himself pressing closer to Odin; needing comfort, but positive he didn't deserve it. His own weariness caught up with him and despite his desire to not look like a child, he found himself laying his head against his father's back, his own eyes closing.

Thor kept his horse close to his father's, feeling the need to make sure that his younger brothers were safe and well... even if the danger was passed. He didn't say anything to Mack, but kept hold of his brother's hand. He felt when his youngest brother leaned against him and slowed the horse enough to make sure Mack wouldn't fall.

Odin was as aware of Loki as Thor was of Mack. Transferring his grip on the reins to one hand, he reached back with the other, gently gripping Loki around the waist. He couldn't hug his son... but he did his best to get close enough.

Mack was a specialist and professional enough to keep himself awake, even though something was making him so very tired. He had a feeling that was one of the dangers that Odin had been worried about; that he and Loki had dismissed as only being relevant if they actually went into the cave or near the mist. He felt like a fool...it was going to give Odin a wonderful impression of him; he'd be lucky if he was ever allowed back into Asgard again. Only the fact that he could see the older Asgardian giving him worried glances eased his fears that he would be thrown out immediately.

Loki was very weary as well, but when his father wrapped an arm around him, inadvertently tugging him closer, it gave him the mental strength to resist sleep. He couldn't help but shift his hands so that his arms were wrapped around his father completely in a firm hug. If any of the people saw him, they'd likely come up with something negative to say; but they were going to do that anyway. He may as well allow himself his father's affection for as long as he was able to get it. After such a blatantly disobedient act (even if it hadn't been an actual order), he had no doubt that he would be told he needed to return to Midgard, where Odin would not have to look at him.

The thought made him very sad and he found himself reacting to the thought before he could stop himself. "I'm sorry, daddy..." he whispered against Odin's back, then blinked at the fact that, for the second time since he'd arrived back on Asgard, he'd used the Midgardian childish term of endearment. Had even phrased it like a Midgardian would have. His time on Midgard with his chosen family had caused him to let down his walls and barriers; and he was surprised to realize that, even if he was still nervous around Odin, he hadn't fully replaced all the walls and barriers that he'd put up against the older man over the years while he was still on Asgard. He was vulnerable and weak and....and a child next to the Asgardian king. He bit his lip in a bit of nervous anticipation, assuming that Odin would view Loki's openness as a negative thing and waiting for recrimination.

Thor couldn't twist round on the horse to watch Mack, but he did move one hand back so he could grasp his brother, unwilling to let Mack slide off the horse even if he did know that Mack was unlikely to fall asleep. His worry grew as he hoped the healers would be able to help his brothers.

Odin responded by gently squeezing Loki's waist. When he responded, his voice was quiet... but no less sincere. "I love you, Loki. I will not send you away."

Mack chuckled softly, giving up and wrapping his arms around his brother's waist, much like Loki had done his father. "Maybe I should have ridden in front after all... It can't be any more embarrassing being handled like a child than it would be to fall asleep and fall off the horse completely." His tone was teasing, though and he was holding tightly. He thought he could hold out till they reached the healers.

Loki blinked back sudden tears at his father's words. How long had he wanted to hear his father say such? And now Odin was saying it...and Loki believed it...and Loki was just as believing that he didn't deserve it. He tightened his hold without thinking and took deep breaths in an effort to not begin crying outright, his body shaking minutely from the effort.

"How can you not hate me?" he finally whispered. All the guilt that he felt for what he'd done in the past (even if Thor had punished and forgiven him) bubbled up and weighed him down. "I have been a horrible son..." His voice was tight and so low only Odin would hear...and all the guilt he felt laced every word. "I disobey even the simplest requests...I hurt everyone I love...." It went unsaid, but was still clear Loki included Odin among those he loved.

"I won't let you fall, brother." Thor's voice was soft, but no less sincere. "It will not be long before we reach the palace... and then the healers can examine you and Loki." The worried note in his voice was obvious.

Odin gripped Loki's waist, a poor substitute for holding his son in his arms... but he resolved to do that the moment he had a chance. "I would never be able to hate you, my son. I have been sorely mistaken in many of my dealings with you and acted in ways you do not deserve." He spoke honestly, his regret clear. "I do not wish to lose you. Not again."

"You never do..." Mack responded confidently, if softly due to his weariness.

"Maybe I deserve to be lost..." Loki whispered forlornly, not expecting that anyone would hear him. The mist had somehow managed to dredge up every horrid feeling he held about himself in the past, feelings that he thought he had addressed and taken care of. He himself hadn't even realized that he still felt that way. But now the feelings had risen to the surface and he didn't know how to handle them; it would have been difficult even if he hadn't been half-drained and wholly unprotected.

Thor gently patted Mack's arm, even as his worried gaze tracked over to Loki. He couldn't hear what his brother was saying, but he recognised the look on Loki's face.

Unwilling to ignore how his son was feeling, Odin brought the horse to a stop. Twisting round in the saddle, he wrapped his arms tightly around Loki. It was awkward to do... but Odin was still able to hold onto his son.

Mack had noticed his brother's continence as well and couldn't help but say worriedly, "The mist...it affected him worse than me, I think...will he be alright?"

When Odin had turned and tightly held him, Loki could no longer control himself. A tiny, choking sob escaped him and once it had escaped, it would have been like trying to hold back flood waters to keep from crying. Hunching forward into his father, he lost all control, his entire body quaking from the emotions that were trying to drown him. He couldn't say anything; at least nothing intelligible.

Thor brought his own horse to a halt. "The healers will examine him." His voice was worried as he watched his father with his other brother.

Odin wrapped his arms tightly around Loki, his own worry growing rapidly, as he held his son tightly. He gently stroked Loki's hair as he spoke quietly to him. "You are my son, Loki. That will not change any longer. Your mother may have passed, but you still have myself and your brothers."

Mack swallowed uncertainly. He was tired because of the mist too, but his weariness wasn't affecting him in this manner. "I don't understand why the mist would have affected him this way when it hasn't me...." he whispered.

Loki wanted to believe so badly...but he also knew what he was and he didn't know how it could be possible. "...Monster...I'm a monster...." he protested through his tears. He didn't pull away, though...his father's arms the only thing keeping him from running.

"It is possible you are affected differently due to being from Midgard," Thor replied. "But I could not say for certain." He just hoped that both of his brothers could recover from this.

Odin didn't so much as loosen his hold on Loki. "You are not a monster," he said firmly. "You have never been a monster." He tugged his son closer. "I cannot lose you, Loki. Not again."

"Either that or...or he was hiding a lot more than he let on and the mist wore him down enough that he couldn't hide it anymore...." Mack muttered, looking away from Loki, knowing that Odin had his brother safe in his arms and not wanting to witness the other man falling apart.

"It was my fault...." Loki sobbed. "It was my fault...."

Thor placed a hand on Mack's shoulder gently as he turned away to give his father and other brother some privacy. "Loki still carries a lot of pain within him," he said softly.

Odin drew Loki in closer. "What do you blame yourself for, son?"

"M....mother died...and it was my fault...they...they wouldn't have gon..gone that way if not for me!" Loki went limp, waiting for Odin to realize what he was saying. He couldn't face his father, or his brother. The guilt and anguish he'd been able to push down while on Midgard had always been in the front of his mind once he'd returned to Asgard, walking and seeing the places that his mother had walked and seen. He couldn't push it down here and now he didn't even have the strength or will to try. He was a monster and as soon as Odin realized it... Loki didn't want to be lost and alone, but he feared that was what he deserved most.

Odin looked sad, but he didn't pull away from Loki or push his son away. Instead, his embrace tightened and he pressed a kiss to the top of Loki's head. "Your mother acted to protect someone who was innocent, son. Even if you hadn't told them which way to go, there's no guarantee they wouldn't have found her anyway. It was not your fault... and you know she would never have blamed you."

Loki shook his head, unable to accept forgiveness that easily...even if he knew his father was right and his mother would never have blamed him. He blamed himself. "If I hadn't said anything...if I'd just stayed in my cell and ignored them...they were going to where the guards were fighting...the guards may have...might have...I was so angry, but I never wanted...I never meant...." he choked out.

"They were looking for Jane Foster and they would have died in the pursuit of that search," Odin said. "Perhaps the guards might have been able to stop them... or perhaps they would have been overpowered and slain as well. There is no way to be certain of what might have happened... only that you are not to blame for this. You had suffered wounds none of us had been able to see. Locking you away was never the answer and I should have seen that earlier."

"I deserved to be locked away like the monster I am..." Loki disagreed vehemently- his voice hoarse with tears. "I deserved to be punished...even if I wouldn't admit it then, I know it now."

Thor couldn't bear listening to his brother's pain any longer and he guided the horse closer to his father's, reaching out and placing a hand on Loki's back. "You are not a monster, brother."

"Being a Frost Giant does not make you a monster," Odin said. "Monsters do not feel remorse for their actions. They don't know love. Only hate. You have done much good. You are a good person, my son. Each of us here sees that... as does your family on Midgard."

Loki didn't know what to say to his father's words. He didn't know how to explain his guilt or his fear or his self-loathing...so he only said one thing. "It hurts daddy..." he admitted in a tiny broken voice.

Odin responded by hugging his son tighter. "I know," he said, his voice soft. "But you are not alone to deal with the pain. And you won't be left alone to try and heal. No matter what happens... your place in my family, as my son, is secure."

Loki held onto Odin tightly, trying to calm down and regain some form of equilibrium. When he finally was able to stop crying, his weariness was even worse than before he'd started, his strength nearly spent. "I'm sorry..." he finally whispered; although it wasn't entirely clear if he was apologizing for his emotional break down, if he was apologizing for being unable to hold himself up without help, if he was apologizing for every wrong thing he'd ever done... He hugged Odin tightly, then attempted to straighten himself and sit up so they could finally reach the palace. He felt like a burden to his family and that and what little shred of pride he had left kept him from admitting that he was about to fall over asleep.

Mack noticed that Loki wasn't going to be awake much longer. "Would your people look down on me and find fault with you if I were to sit in front instead of behind?" he asked Thor, loudly enough that Loki would hear. He figured he was capable of holding himself on the horse, but he feared Loki wasn't able; maybe if Mack sat in front of Thor, Loki would be willing to sit in front of Odin....

"It is not unusual for a one person to sit in front of the other on a horse," Thor replied. "It is no business of theirs... and I care not if they find fault with me. My family is my concern." His voice was simple and sincere. He knew Mack was asking more for Loki's sake... but he still meant every word he said.

Odin glanced over towards Mack as his third son spoke. Even though Loki was sitting up straight, his hand remained on his middle son's shoulder... though it was more to comfort than to hold him in place.

"Well, if you don't think it would look bad for you... I am a bit tired and I'm worried I might fall asleep despite my best efforts...it might be easier for you to catch me, should I fall asleep, if I am in front...I'd hate to fall off a horse in front of all of Asgard. At the same time, I'm certain they already view Midgardians as hopeless wusses and if Loki is strong enough to keep himself awake and ride behind, then I should be able to. I don't want them to view me as even more pathetic than I'm sure they already do...." He glanced at Loki through the corner of his eye.

Loki frowned and gave his youngest brother a grumpy look. He knew he was being manipulated; Mack wasn't even being subtle at it...but if there was even a small grain of truth to Mack's words, Loki couldn't in good conscience let the younger man continue as he was just because he wanted to 'be strong' like his brothers. Huffing and rolling his eyes, he shook his head, wiping at his eyes to clear the remainder of tears from them. "If you need to sit in front, brother, do not hold yourself back on my account; but if it will make you feel better and less 'weak', I will ride in front as well, if it is alright with father...."

Thor snorted softly. "Surely it is better to avoid falling and harming yourself than to be concerned with wounded pride?" Even if he was replying to Mack, his comment was addressed to both of them. He carefully slid off the horse, so that Mack could move forward and he could swing back up behind his brother.

Odin gently rubbed Loki's arm. "That will be easier for me to assure myself of your safety," he said, putting it on himself so that his son needn't feel embarrassed. Like Thor, he dismounted to allow Loki to move forward.

Mack smiled amiably and scooted forward so Thor could remount. "You are right, brother."

Loki glanced at Odin, then nodded, sliding forward so his father could ride behind him. "I am sorry that I did not think of your worry sooner," he said softly.

Thor took position behind Mack, reaching for the reins. "It will not be long now."

Odin took up his own position behind Loki. "I am glad to have you safe," he said softly to his son. "You and your brothers. I promise that there is nothing you could do to persuade me to give up on you."

Mack agreed. "Now there is no reason to hold back..." he said with a grin and leaned back into his brother.

"You've forgiven so much..." Loki said. "I thought you hated me...." he admitted softly. "I am so sorry for everything..." He leaned back against his father. He'd already shamed himself by breaking down so spectacularly. His pride was at an all time low and he was worn out. Yawning, he slumped down, nearly snuggling.

Thor responded by gently drawing Mack in closer and tighter to him, even as he ensured the horse moved at a steady pace, rather than too fast.

Odin also made sure his horse went slow enough to be comfortable for his son. He wrapped an arm around Loki's waist. "I do not hate you, son. I love you. I'm sorry you had so much cause to doubt that... but I promise you will never have that cause again," he whispered.

Mack relaxed and let Thor decide the speed with which they went. He attempted to keep his eyes open and he mostly managed, although he was blinking repeatedly by the time they reached the city gates and were on the road to the palace.

Loki was too weary to succeed. By the time they'd reached the town, he was completely slumped against his father, eyes shut, sound asleep. It wasn't a peaceful sleep, unfortunately; the pained look on his face made it seem to anyone who saw the quartet pass that Loki had been wounded, cutting short any words of gossip they might have made at the fact the two younger members of Odin's family were being escorted like children. Instead, rumors began as to Loki being ill.

Thor and Odin rode in silence, only stopping when they reached the healing houses. Thor dismounted and helped Mack down, wrapping his arm around his youngest brother's shoulders for support.

Odin didn't concern himself with trying to wake Loki. He dismounted and then lifted his son from the horse, calling a servant to take care of the animals as he and Thor guided the younger members of their family to the healers.

Mack looked in concern at Loki as Odin carried his brother into the healing house. He knew if Loki hadn't been so badly affected by the mist, he would never have suffered being carried in such a manner; he was always so mindful of trying to remain in control of himself. The fact Loki didn't even wake as Odin carried him was frightening to the young Midgardian. He pressed closer to Thor, nervously waiting for the healers to tell him what to do, although he didn't really want to leave his brother's side.

Loki only murmured slightly, but he didn't wake.

The look on Thor's own face was worried and anxious, though he kept his arm wrapped around Mack's shoulders. When one of the healers came to examine Mack, Thor led him over to sit on one of the beds, but still kept in contact with him.

Odin carefully placed Loki on one of the other beds, as if worried his son would break if handled too roughly. He took one of Loki's hands in his, even as he gestured for one of the healers to look over his son, unwilling to entertain even the slightest delay in checking them over.

Mack cooperated as much as he could, answering all the questions put to him about himself and about Loki, since Loki would not wake up. By the end, the healers had relieved looks on their faces, even as they hesitantly went to give Odin their news. Mack moved closer so he could hear as well, thoughtlessly pulling Thor with him, as he didn't want to lose contact with his older brother.

"There is nothing wrong with either of your sons that a good night's rest and a good meal will not take care of," the head healer finally reported. "From what we are able to determine, there is nothing physically wrong with either of them. You were able to get to them in time to prevent the mist from actually harming them; although had they been there for ten minutes longer, the outcome might have proven different. The mist was drawing energy from them to power itself. It must have chosen to draw more from Prince Loki over his younger brother because somehow, it sensed that Prince Loki had more energy to draw from...which indicates that the mist is sentient...or seems to be. Something which we had not determined before...." The healer wasn't sure whether to be excited at having learned something new, or be worried that something that had seemed mindless actually thought. "That is the only explanation we have for the fact that the Prince is so much more affected than his younger Midgardian brother. It is either that, or Midgardians have a strength we were not aware of previously...."

Odin couldn't quite hide his relief at the healers' words... although it was very worrying that the mist was apparently sentient, rather than just acting without purpose. "We will have to make sure the cave is better guarded," he said out loud, resolving to contact the guards and make sure they included the cave of time in their shifts. Looking at Thor and Mack, he added, "If both of you are agreeable, I'd like to have the four of us stay in one set of quarters." He didn't say it out loud, but he needed to reassure himself all three were safe and well.

Thor didn't have a problem with that, but he looked to Mack, not wanting to speak for his youngest brother if he felt uncomfortable.

Mack nodded quickly, "I am agreeable. I've stayed in the same quarters as Thor and Loki before and if you want for me to do so again, you won't be getting any argument from me..." he said. The truth was, now that they knew that nothing truly serious had occurred, he was beginning to feel guilty for having encouraged Loki to go to the cave, although he knew Loki would view it as him having done the encouragement. The fact was, neither one of them had argued very hard against it, even though they both knew the intent behind Odin's warning. Mack bit his lip, then looked up at Odin hesitantly. "I'm sorry to have caused so much trouble," he said, quietly but firmly, willing to accept his part in the blame for what had occurred.

"We will be discussing, at length, what happened tomorrow," Odin said, his voice firm. "For tonight, you and Loki need to rest. And I would rather be certain that all of my sons are safe and well." By saying that, he was indicating how he'd come to view Mack. Not just because Thor and Loki had adopted him... but based on how Odin felt about him, too.

Mack looked up at Odin, startled, then looked at Thor, uncertain if he had understood Odin's implication correctly. Swallowing hard, he looked back at Odin and nodded nervously. The truth was, he didn't know if he could sleep, knowing what he had coming; if Odin's insinuation was what Mack thought. But he couldn't very well request that they 'talk' now, either. Odin and Thor had to be tired- it had been a long evening and he knew he and Loki had worried them both greatly. A night of nervousness was the least of what he deserved in this situation. He had to admit feeling very much like a little boy that had no voice in the matter. He was glad he'd be in the same room as his brothers and...father.

"Yes, sir..." he finally answered softly, his voice a mixture of shame, nerves and a childish need to get approval by his obedience.

Odin placed a hand gently on Mack's shoulder, squeezing a moment. "I will bring Loki. You go with Thor." As he reached out to carefully pick up his middle son once more, he asked, "Have you eaten?" He knew he had not and suspected Thor hadn't, either, both of them too worried about their family members.

Mack glanced at Odin, even as he moved close enough to Thor for his oldest brother to wrap an arm around him and direct him. Swallowing, figuring this was another misdeed to add to his list of 'crimes', he answered truthfully, if hesitantly, "No, sir...Loki and I have not eaten since we had breakfast together this morning...."

Thor wrapped an arm around Mack's shoulders, guiding his brother after their father as Odin carried Loki from the healing houses and to the palace.

"I will have food brought to the room for you to eat," Odin said. "And have some more set by in case Loki does wake." He sighed. "Did you bring anything with you?" It was more of a rhetorical question.

Mack visibly winced. As a specialist, his decision not to take any supplies or more than a rudimentary weapon was a glaringly stupid decision in hindsight. He wasn't sure why they had done it, other than the fact gathering supplies would have drawn attention to their plans. "No, sir..." His voice was tiny and almost childlike in its sheepish 'I know I'm in trouble' tone.

Thor gave a slight shake of his head, but said nothing. He was relieved that both his brothers would recover... but he was disappointed that they hadn't thought about supplies. Or much of anything, really.

"I see." Odin didn't say they'd discuss it in the morning, but the implications were clear. As they entered the palace, he requested a couple of servants to bring food, before making his way to his quarters.

Mack couldn't help the wince that crossed his face and looked at the ground, unable to face Odin; a man who he was rapidly beginning to look on as a parental authority figure, even if Odin hadn't said he viewed Mack as a son. The more he thought about everything he'd done wrong, either in action or poor decision, the more guilt he felt. His stomach twisted up and he wasn't sure he'd be able to eat, though he knew refusing to eat wouldn't fly. "I'm sorry...." he said again, his voice tiny and small. The growing guilt was obvious in his tone, as was the regret.

"I know you are, my son." Odin addressed him in exactly the same way he had (and did) address Thor and Loki. "Tonight is for resting and eating. I am relieved both of you will recover... but we will discuss this in more detail tomorrow."

"Yes, sir. I will try my best..." Mack said quietly, not certain how much food he could stomach or how well he'd rest, but he'd at least make the effort.

By that time, they'd reached the door to Odin's quarters. Thor stepped forward to open it, guiding Mack through and holding the door so that Odin could carry Loki inside.

After making sure the door was closed behind them, Odin carried Loki over to one of the couches. He could have taken him straight through to the bedroom, but he didn't want his son to wake up and find himself alone.

Mack went and sat on one of the other couches, not able to face Thor or Odin. He looked toward Loki and slumped even further, feeling more guilt about his actions.

Soon, there was a brief knock on the door and then a servant was bringing in food and placing it on a nearby table. Waiting just long enough for Odin's dismissal, the servant left as quietly as they had come in.

The smell of food wafted through the room and shortly, Loki began to stir, his stomach grumbling. "I fell asleep?" he asked in confusion.

"The mist took a lot of your energy," Odin said. "But there will not be any lasting damage. You need rest and food." The look of concern on his face was obvious as he watched his sons.

Thor gently nudged Mack. "You need to eat." He looked at his father and other brother. "We all do."

Loki slowly sat up, then stood and walked to the table without argument, making himself a small plate.

Mack stood as well, doing the same before walking back to the couch he'd chosen and sitting to eat. He had to force himself to eat, but he did so knowing that Thor and Odin were worried. He didn't want to cause any more stress than he had.

Loki looked at Mack, then at Thor and Odin, wondering what had been said to cause his youngest brother to look so depressed.

When Thor retrieved his own plate of food, he sat down next to Mack, wrapping his arm around his youngest brother's shoulders and hugging him close a moment or two.

Odin took his own plate of food and sat down, looking at all three of his sons before speaking. "I plan to address what happened today tomorrow... or later, depending on how well you both recover. What I will say now is that I have the feeling one or both of you feel I would send you away. That will not happen." His voice was quiet, but firm. "I have made mistakes... errors of judgement..., in the past. The one thing I regret the most is that only Thor has felt comfortable enough to visit until now." His eyes lingered on both Mack and Loki. "I hope you both will come to understand that there will be a place for you here, whenever you wish, and that nothing will take that away."

Loki noticeably relaxed. While Odin had said as much to him on the way back from the caves, he'd been too distraught and weary to truly believe it. The short rest he'd had gave him just enough strength to allow himself to believe.

Mack hadn't been certain of his own position...he wasn't officially Odin's son, after all...but being included in the decision Odin had made went a long way to reassuring him. He had to ask, though (even if he suspected the answer). "H...how will you address our actions, sir? If I may ask..." His question was nervous.

"I plan to address your actions using a family punishment." Odin suspected that Thor had used that same punishment on Loki, but it was an unspoken rule between them that punishments were not discussed outside of those they involved.

"You're going to spank us...?" Mack's voice was quiet and calm. The only reason he even asked for clarification was he wasn't sure if there wasn't some other type of family punishment Odin had in mind. "Thor's...uh...had to do that with me before...." he admitted sheepishly.

"My understanding is it is a family punishment in use also on Midgard," Odin said. "I am going to spank you. I consider you my son, Mack, as much as Thor and Loki. Facing the prospect of losing either of you is unbearable."

"It is..." Mack admitted, again sheepishly. "It is one the family uses rather frequently, unfortunately..." Mack bit his lip, then gave Odin a hesitant smile. "I do not know whether to show my happiness and relief that you consider me a son and don't want to lose me.... or my complete mortification that I've managed to make it necessary for you to punish me so soon after becoming your son." He sighed.

"You made a mistake, but that is all," Odin said. "We will deal with it and then move past what happened. And neither of you will need to feel guilty or ashamed." He watched all of his sons closely, to make sure they were eating enough.

Somehow, knowing what was going to occur (even if he didn't want it to occur) and knowing that he hadn't managed to make Odin want him as far away from his family as possible helped Mack's appetite to return and he began eating more eagerly.

Loki, assured that he wasn't going to be sent into exile and forgotten about, also was able to eat plenty.

Soon, both younger men were satisfied...and yawning.

Thor and Odin ate their food fairly quickly as well. Seeing his two youngest yawning, Odin stood and wrapped an arm around each of their shoulders, as Thor collected the plates.

"Bed, I think," Odin said firmly.

Mack didn't know if they would be sharing a room or not...didn't really care, to be honest. He was so tired...and Odin's affection and care eased a part of him that he hadn't even realized was missing anything. He could see Loki was just as tired as he was. He didn't say anything, just meekly let Odin lead him.

Loki not only let his father lead him, he put his head on Odin's shoulder, craving the affection that he had been cut off from for so long.

Odin kept his arms around his two youngest sons as he guided them through to the bedroom. As the quarters he'd shared with his wife, the bed was big enough that the four of them could settle comfortably.

Thor helped his father with his brothers, not surprised to find that Odin planned to sleep between the two younger. Thor himself took the edge of the bed, going on Mack's other side.

In short order, Mack found himself dressed for bed and snuggled between his older brother and... father... without even being aware of what was going on around him. "Good night..." he whispered drowsily and was soon out like a light, one hand grasping Thor's arm while his cheek was pressed against Odin's shoulder.

Loki was in much the same situation, finding himself ready for bed and pressed up against his father before he knew it. He hadn't slept next to his father since he was a young child, convinced that a warrior didn't need comfort at night- at least not from a parent- and wanting to prove he was every bit as much a warrior as Thor and his friends. He had somehow convinced himself that it was Odin that insisted he sleep alone... but the fact that his father had brought him here without even asking indicated that Loki had been wrong. Sighing softly, he snuggled closer, putting his head on his father's chest. "Good night, father..." he whispered softly.

"Good night," Odin whispered to his sons, cuddling them close. His arm was stretched out far enough to be in contact with Thor as well and he closed his eyes, able to relax into sleep now that he knew all three of them were safe with him.

Thor waited until he was certain the rest of his family was asleep before he finally allowed himself to join them.

***

The next morning, Mack awakened feeling rejuvenated, the effects of his trip to the caves gone except for in his memory. Biting his lip, he carefully maneuvered himself out of bed so that he could find the bathroom, hoping that he wouldn't wake his father or brothers.

Odin stirred as he felt the warmth of one of his sons leave him, but although he opened his eye, he didn't immediately get up. His other arm was still wrapped around Loki and he continued to hold his son close, just enjoying his family being with him... where he knew they were safe.

Mack had finished getting ready for the day, cleaning up and finding fresh clothes that the servants had evidently laid out for him. He wasn't sure what to do with himself afterwards, though. He didn't feel it would be right to leave Odin's chambers without the man's expressed permission, especially since he knew they still had a 'talk' to get through this morning. At the same time, he also didn't feel right nosing through the man's personal quarters, even if Odin had all but adopted him. Sighing silently, he went back to the couch he'd sat on the night before and sat again to wait for the rest of his family to awaken.

Loki began stirring shortly after Mack had risen, but he was enjoying being close to his father so much that he didn't want to wake up. Instead, he snuggled closer. Eventually, though, he had no choice but to get up himself. Luckily, Mack was finished readying himself and Loki quickly entered the bathroom and began cleaning up and getting ready for the day himself.

Thor had woken shortly after his father and brothers, but he waited for Loki to use the bathroom first before he entered it.

Odin took his time getting dressed as soon as he was able to use the bathroom. Once they were all ready for the day, he addressed his sons... specifically, his two youngest. "Would you prefer to eat breakfast first? Or get the discussion out of the way first?"

Mack and Loki were sitting next to each other on the couch and at Odin's question, they looked at each other. Loki finally swallowed, then looked back at his father. "We'd like to get the discussion out of the way, please...."

Mack nodded in agreement with his brother.

Thor looked sympathetically at his brothers and stood up. "I will go and see about getting breakfast." He didn't say 'for when it is safe to return', but that was what he meant. He quickly left the quarters, gently patting his brothers' shoulders as he passed them.

Mack gave Thor a chagrined look as his older brother left the room, but didn't say anything. He'd brought this on himself after all.

Loki, bit his lip then looked down. "I know I have already said so repeatedly, but I am sorry for the trouble I caused yesterday..." he said softly.

"I am not concerned with either of you causing me trouble," Odin said. "If ever either of you, or your brother, are in any form of danger, I would do everything within my power to save you." He paused, before continuing, "But you both put yourself in danger. You travelled to the cave, after I warned you not to. You didn't take horses, or supplies... not even food, or warm clothing for the journey back."

"Not a stellar example of my intelligence," Mack muttered with a sigh. "It's a wonder you want me after I behaved like an idiot...."

Loki grimaced at his brother's words. "If you behaved an idiot, then I was the fool who led the way..." He shook his head. "We both know better, knew better. I could not even hope to give you an acceptable or even understandable reason for our actions," he said to his father with shame.

Odin watched his sons carefully. "I do not intend to make any more mistakes or errors in judgement when it comes to my family," he said firmly. "To send you away would be counter-productive, considering I was desperate not to lose either of you." He looked at Loki. "I believe I may have some insight into some of your reasoning. I suspect you acted to test me... to test if I would still claim you my son and still wish to keep you here, even after something like this."

Loki couldn't argue the point and found himself looking down, his face going red with shame and embarrassment. "I...can not disagree with your assessment." His voice was soft and he obviously didn't want to admit to having done such a thing.

Mack grimaced. "Well...that would be par for the course, I guess. I don't know one of us kids back on Midgard, that hasn't tested their parent at one time or another. Although since I wasn't yet your son when I behaved so recklessly, I'm not sure I can use that excuse; well...I guess I won't need to test you in the future..." He shook his head. "...Hopefully..." he added in a soft aside.

Odin placed a hand on each of their shoulders, giving a gentle squeeze. "I know it is hard to think on, Loki, but it is not surprising, given how strained our relationship has been in the past." He looked at Mack. "Even if you do... it won't make a difference. That goes for all three of you."

"So, um..." Mack looked at Odin nervously. "How do you want to...?"

"One of you should wait in the other room," Odin said, leaving it to them to decide who.

Loki knew one of the most difficult parts of a punishment, at least for him, was the anticipation of what was going to occur. He didn't want Mack to have to continue waiting and fretting...especially when they wouldn't be in this situation if he'd been more responsible and not encouraged disobedience. Because of this, he turned to begin walking to the other room. "Let Mack go first, father. And then perhaps he can join Thor while you deal with me...."

Mack looked hopefully at Odin at Loki's last request.

Odin merely nodded, but since he didn't want to cause any of his sons more discomfort, he said to Loki, "If you'd prefer, you can join Thor until I am finished my discussion with your brother... and then he can come and find you."

Loki couldn't help the relieved smile he gave his father as he turned to go find Thor. "Thank you..." he said softly, before exiting the quarters to go find his older brother.

Mack stood still, looking at his feet, as he awaited further instructions.

Odin turned his attention to Mack as he took his seat on the couch. "Come here, son." His voice was calm; the look on his face affectionate as he watched his youngest.

Mack bit his lip before slowly and nervously walking to Odin. He felt embarrassed at how nervous he was; he was a grown man, for crying-out-loud...it wasn't like a spanking was so painful and traumatic that he should be afraid of it. The fact was, though, that he was...he knew the minute he submitted to the punishment, there was no going back; he'd be Odin's son in every way that mattered and he would have conceded that the older Asgardian had the right to correct him. But even that wasn't what made him so nervous. What made him nervous was the fact that he already felt childish and vulnerable- and he knew that was only going to become even more pronounced. He didn't want to start bawling like a baby...but his nerves were such, he was afraid that was exactly what he would do.

Once Mack was within reach of him, Odin reached out and gently grasped his son's wrist. Drawing Mack round to his side, he gently tugged him across his lap and secured him witth an arm wrapped around his waist. After rubbing Mack's back a moment or two, he tugged his son's pants and underwear down.

Mack whimpered. Then he closed his eyes tightly, ashamed that he whimpered. Then he slumped over Odin's, his father's, lap....ashamed that he was in this position. Why in the world had he thought, for one second, that open defiance wasn't disobedience or that it was acceptable? Had he really been that clueless?

No. He hadn't been. Which made his actions that much more shameful. Maybe he'd been wrong and he had been testing Odin too...not to see if he would be sent away and disowned, but to see exactly how far the older Asgardian could be pushed. It was all so very foolish...and childish...and unnecessary...and yeah. There they were. He was already crying and hadn't even received the first smack. His humiliation was complete.

He didn't bother trying to hide his reaction to the position.

Odin rubbed Mack's back a moment or two longer, fully aware of how this position was affecting his youngest. Lifting his hand, he brought it down in the first hard smack, then repeated that. Settling into a pattern of methodical swats, he spoke quietly. "Putting yourself in danger is not acceptable. It's impossible to know what kind of damage could have been done to either of you if Thor and I had been any slower."

Mack's breathing hitched with the first swat. By the time Odin began his quiet scolding, the tears were streaming from Mack's eyes and he was having to think about his breathing so he wouldn't hold his breath or choke on the tears. It made it difficult to respond, but he wanted his father to know he was listening. "No, sir, I know it's not...." His voice was shaky from his efforts not to completely lose control.

Odin continued bringing his hand down hard, going down to Mack's thighs before starting over from the top. "I care about your safety as much as I do Thor and Loki's, which is why, if something like that happens again... so will this." His voice was firm, but not cruel, as he kept the swats at the same force and speed.

"Y...yes, sir..." Mack choked out, before he couldn't help himself and he started to squirm. It was humbling...being in this position. It wasn't that the pain was unbearable, but it was a constant that he couldn't adjust to or ignore, because along with the pain was the feeling that he had let someone down...several someones down...for no good reason. There was also the feeling that he was no longer in control; whatever happened to him at this moment was firmly in the control of Odin. The knowledge that the older man wouldn't harm him, would protect him even from himself...had the dual effect of making him feel valued, but also feeling small and vulnerable.

Odin kept a tight grip on his youngest, beginning a second circuit of swats that were just a little harder. "You have a home here, for as long as and whenever you want it. You are a part of my family. When I realised the bad way you both were in... there are very few times I've been that scared in my long life."

"I...I didn't mean to....I'm sorry...." Mack's remorse was genuine and deep. He truly hadn't meant to scare anyone; hadn't even thought of the possibility that Odin would care that much that he would be scared. He'd considered Thor might be a bit worried- but even then, he hadn't given proper consideration to the fact that what they were doing was so dangerous. He hadn't meant to frighten anyone. If it hadn't been for Odin's tight grip, Mack likely would have fallen to the floor...the harder swats had caused the slow-building sting to turn into a constant burn. That, along with the guilt he felt at having scared his family and the fact he felt like a child, didn't leave him much ability to keep control over his emotions. Especially when he knew how wrong he had been. Slumping, he finally gave up and just lay limply over Odin's lap, tiny little gasps escaping with each smack. "I'm sorry, da..." He swallowed, not finishing the term of address, not certain if Odin would welcome it from him; even if the man referred to him as his son. "I'm sorry...." he sobbed out softly, then just cried quietly and waited for the punishment to be enough.

Odin stopped, because the punishment had reached the point it needed to and he just wanted to hold his son in his arms. He quickly gathered Mack in close, wrapping his arms around his son and holding him tightly. "I am very glad nothing did happen, my son," he said softly to him. "I would not have wanted to lose you."

Mack was surprised at himself; at how quickly he accepted Odin as a father-figure and at how quickly and willingly he gave up acting like an adult when it came to being comforted after being punished. As soon as Odin had him on his lap and in his arms, Mack had wrapped his own arms around the older man and pressed as close as possible, snuggling as tightly as he could and hiding his face against Odin's chest. He loved Thor- they were brothers and he would do anything for the older man... but it was different with Odin. Odin had decided to be his father; and his response to that was to not only do anything for the Asgardian king...but accept his control over everything as well. Thor was his equal with moments of 'being in charge'. Odin was in charge period. It made Mack feel safe, but unsettled at the same time and the only thing that helped with the unsettled feeling was holding tightly to his father. It didn't take long for him to regain control over his tears... but he still didn't let go. "I am sorry..." he finally said in a whisper. "I didn't mean to scare anyone...I...I'm glad you have me now...." he finally said, not sure if that adequately expressed how he was feeling, but not knowing how to explain.

Odin tightened his embrace around Mack. "I know you did not intend to cause fear," he said, his voice gentle rather than scolding. "But that is a part of being a father... of my being your father. But we have dealt with what happened. It is over and there is no need for you to be scolded further."

Sniffling once more, Mack gave Odin one more hug before reluctantly pulling away and standing up. Fixing his clothing, he looked at the floor almost shyly, before looking back up at Odin. "Thank you...I...Iloveyoudad..." he blurted out, with a bashful smile.

Odin stood up, wrapping his arms around Mack in a tight hug. "I love you too, son," he said, his voice quiet and sincere, smiling.

***

Loki was trying not to let nerves get the best of him. His father had said he wasn't sending him away and he believed that...mostly; it was just very difficult not to fear it when he and his father had been separated for so many years due to Loki's own foolishness. Loki could admit that the time he'd been separated from his family hadn't really been Odin's doing, after all. In an effort to control the nerves, he was pacing back and forth in front of Thor.

Thor had gone to the kitchens, but due to his brother's pacing, was more concerned with helping Loki to feel better than eating. He wrapped an arm around his brother's shoulders. "What is it you worry about, brother?" he asked, softly.

"I don't know..." Loki finally admitted. "I know he says he won't send me away...and since the other times I went away, it wasn't because he sent me but because I ran, I have no reason to doubt him. But I'm scared all the same that somehow I'll be... we'll be... that I'll be separated from him again and that it will end up being permanent." Loki ran his hands through his hair, his shoulders tense and visibly upset.

Thor tightened his embrace around Loki. "Father regrets what happened between the two of you. He doesn't want you separated from him again. I know it's hard to truly trust that... but I know how badly these problems have affected the both of you. If Father didn't want you, he wouldn't have been so desperate to make sure you were all right after you and Mack went into the mist."

"I know..." Loki whispered. "There has been so much wrong that I've done, though...wrongs between him and I that I've never... It just feels like everything I've done stands between us and this is just one more obstacle in the way. But I can't undo any of it..." he admitted sadly. "I know he wants me...I just can't understand why he wants me."

At that moment, Mack knocked hesitantly on the frame of the door. He didn't want to interrupt his brothers; it looked like they were having an important discussion. At the same time, Odin was waiting for his middle-son to come to him. "He's waiting for you, Loki...." he said softly. Only the slight rasp in his voice indicated that he'd been crying not long before. He'd washed his face before hunting for his brothers.

Thor pressed a kiss to Loki's forehead before gently releasing him. "It will be all right, brother," he said, his voice soft. "You will talk to Father... and then we can eat breakfast together. As a family."

Loki quickly threw his arms around Thor in a tight hug, then stepped away and headed to face his father. He clasped Mack's shoulder on his way by, quickly disappearing down the hall and to where Odin waited.

Mack gave Thor a crooked smile. "I've apologized several times to father, but I haven't apologized to you. I'm sorry I behaved so rashly and scared you, brother. I really didn't mean for things to...for... well, you know. Needless to say, I will think long and hard before ever doing anything so foolish again."

Thor wrapped his arm around Mack, squeezing him gently. "I am very glad to hear that," he said. "I have no wish to lose either of you... you are both so important to me."

Mack hugged his brother back tightly. "I know...you are important to me too."

***

Loki didn't hesitate to head straight for his father. As far as he was concerned, he had too many strikes against him from foolish actions or outright bad actions he had taken over the years. Things he hadn't apologized to his father for (not directly, anyway). Things that needed to be settled between them before he could ever feel hopeful of things being right between he and his father. Even though he didn't hesitate, he still arrived to the room faster than he'd expected. Stepping into the room, he shut the door, then glanced at his father once before staring at the floor, unable to meet his father's gaze.

Still standing, Odin walked over to Loki and wrrapped an arm around his son's shoulders. "Come... I think we need to talk before we need to move onto what happened yesterday," he said gently.

Loki couldn't help but shift closer as his father's arm wrapped around him. "Yes...I have much to confess and atone for..." His voice was soft, but not hesitant...an underlying pain threading through it.

Odin guided his son over to the couch and sat down, gently tugging Loki down to sit next to him. "Your brother has told me a lot of what happened to you," he said softly, wanting to make it clear he knew and understood.

"I know...." Loki swallowed. "I'm not even thinking about the things I did under compulsion or duress..." he admitted in a whisper.

"Learning about your heritage was hard on you, I know," Odin said. "But I have never considered you less than my son."

"Daddy...I..." Loki swallowed. "I nearly committed genocide and started a war because of a huge temper tantrum...." Loki closed his eyes tightly. "I let my confusion and hurt about finding out the truth from somewhere else blind me to the fact that if all I had been was a trophy or a way to form an allegiance with the frost-giants...you would not have had to raise me as your son to do it. When I was put in the cell...I refused to show any remorse for my actions, even though I truly was sorry about them. You had no choice but to jail me when you could not know that I regretted my actions and had no plans to do them again. And I blamed you for that as well." Loki's voice caught in his throat. "When mother died...because of my own childish actions and desire to...to rebel against you.... There was no time for anything but helping Thor stop the Dark Elves. But after, I should have told you the truth about my being alive. Instead, I let you believe I'd died, shocking you into Odin sleep, then taking your place on the throne. If you had not awoken...I'd probably still be sitting there, letting Thor believe I was dead and festering in my own mistakes and guilt." Loki leaned forward, elbows on his knees and buried his hands in his hair, hiding his face from his father.

Odin kept his arm around Loki's shoulders. "I did awaken, my son," he said, his voice calm and gentle. "And you have not hidden yourself away. Instead, you have worked to make amends. You have joined a family on Midgard... and we have a chance to work on our relationship. You are still my son and there is nothing that could change that."

"How? After everything I did...after how I acted...." Loki finally glanced up at his father with guilt filled eyes.

Odin wrapped both his arms around Loki in a tight hug. "You show remorse for your actions and you have been hurt by those seen as your allies. I love you. I never stopped."

"I love you too, daddy.... and I'm so, so sorry!" Loki said sorrowfully, putting his own arms around Odin and holding on tightly.

Odin hugged Loki even tighter, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. "You're forgiven, my son. Completely. I am just glad to have the chance to hold you again..."

It was all Loki could do to keep reign on his emotions, feeling overwhelmed by the love and support his father had shown him- the care and concern- and hearing the words of forgiveness...he hadn't realized how important it was to him that Odin forgive him until Odin had forgiven him. Loki blinked rapidly to keep from crying and held onto his father more tightly.

When he finally felt more in control of himself again, he sat back far enough that he could look into his father's eyes. "Thank you for forgiving me, daddy. I...I am ready to face the consequences of my folly...." He swallowed hard, then carefully stood so that his father could put him in position.

Odin released Loki so that he could stand up, then gently grasped his son's hand. He drew his son across his lap, pulling him close with an arm around his waist, and then tugged his pants and underwear down. He rubbed Loki's back gently and then brought his hand down in the first sharp swat, before repeating it. "I'm not punishing you for testing me, son. But what you did was very dangerous. I could have lost you..."

Loki couldn't stop the small gasp that escaped when the first swat fell...the difference between the gentleness of Odin's grasp and rubbing his back, contrasted to the hard swat, was marked...but he managed to hold still by reaching down and holding onto his father's leg. "I know, sir. It was very dangerous and unnecessary and foolish. It was bad enough to go there after you'd warned against it, but...we didn't even take supplies.... Not even water. All oversights that are deserving of...of...of a spanking..." he admitted with a tiny sigh.

"You were fortunate your brother and I arrived when we did. If we hadn't, you could have been lost to us." Odin settled into a rhythm of swats, working his way down to his son's thighs before starting over from the top again.

"I....I know daddy..." Loki's words came out in a pained gasp...the swats doing their job in focusing him- but making it difficult to talk. "We...we would have been lost if you had not looked for us... I was unable to get us free." Loki admitted reluctantly- knowing that the words would probably hurt his father.

"I understand that," Odin said. "But the two of you should never have been there in the first place." Although his voice was serious, there was no cruelty in it... though he did start swatting a fraction harder.

Loki whimpered, unable to keep himself from beginning to squirm as the swats intensified and the sting became more of a burning sensation. "I....I know, daddy. I...I was wrong to go...I knew you meant the warning to be direction...I deliberately ignored it...I'm sorry...."

"I know, my son. I do not wish to lose you. Not again, when we have lost so much time together already." Odin's voice remained gentle... a stark contrast to the hard swats he was giving his son.

"I don't want to be lost...I'm sorry I put you through that..." Loki managed to hiss out through clenched teeth, trying very hard to not kick his feet or throw his hand back in reaction to the pain that was building up on his backside.

"It hurts because I love you," Odin said frankly. "Because you are my son." He tipped Loki forward to begin swatting his sit spots.

"D...daddy!" Loki couldn't help the wail of distress as he was shifted. Grabbing onto his father's leg tightly with one hand, he threw the other hand back to try and offer scant protection as the most sensitive areas of his bottom were punished. He also gave several small kicks in an attempt to ease the pain; but it wasn't terribly helpful and only resulted in him falling forward further, so that his sit spots were even more exposed to punishment.

Catching Loki's hand, Odin held it against his back as he began swatting a bit harder and faster... wanting to finish this so that he could move onto comforting his son. "If anything like this happens again, Loki, you will not be sent away. I will not withdraw from you. You will find yourself in this position again... but it will make no difference to how much I love you."

"D...daddy...." Loki gulped back tears, but then gave it up as a lost cause. Going limp over his father's lap, he began to sob brokenly, no longer trying to squirm out of the way of the swats, instead accepting them. "I'm sorry, daddy....so sorry..." he cried, one hand clenching his father's leg, the immobilized hand holding tightly onto his father's hand. "...Love you...loveyouneedyoudonlemmego...pleeease...."

Odin wasted no time in quickly gathering his son into his arms, hugging Loki tightly and pressing a kiss to the top of his head. "I love you," he whispered, over and over again. "You mean so much to me..."

Loki clung to his father desperately. The time separated from the older man had made him feel as if he didn't matter to the monarch...even after Odin proved that Loki did matter to him, the guilt weighing the younger man down had made it impossible for him to accept. The guilt was no longer a heavy weight bearing down on him, though. His father had forgiven him and punished him and while he would always feel some guilt for his actions, he was able to move past the hurt and accept the love he had needed from Odin. He curled into his father, holding onto him tightly. The broken sobs had a different quality to them than his tears from before... there was a hint of hope that hadn't been present earlier; Loki's whole demeanor was at ease, even with the crying. "Love you, daddy...love you so much..." Loki whispered against his father's chest, as he snuggled as close as he could get.

Odin hugged Loki as tightly as he could without harming his son. "I love you. I'm glad you are here and safe with me. I am glad we have a chance to spend this time together... time to be a true family once more."

Loki didn't know how long he remained in his father's arms, but Odin didn't let go of him. Eventually, the tears stopped and his breathing evened out...yet he still held onto his father. It was only when his stomach loudly growled at him that he reluctantly released his death-grip on the older man and sat up, wincing when he shifted onto his sore backside. Carefully standing and righting his clothes, he rubbed gingerly at his butt and gave his father a chagrined look. "I...I guess Thor is waiting for us?" he asked softly.

Odin stood up, wrapping an arm around Loki's shoulders and squeezing him gently. "I am sure he has been," he said. "As soon as you are ready, we can seek out your brothers and all eat together."

Loki shifted closer to his father, reluctant to leave his arms, but also hungry. "Let me wash my face? Then I'll be ready...."

Odin nodded. "We can spend most of today together... I've made sure I don't have many duties for the duration of your and your brothers' stay."

Loki grinned widely at that news, excited at the prospect of spending more time with his father before he had to leave back to Midgard. Quickly giving his father a tight hug, he went to wash his face then returned fairly quickly.

"Let's go tell Thor and Mack the good news then..." he smiled impishly.



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