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Thor returns to Avengers Tower.

He makes sandwiches, and delivers them to Bruce and Tony in the lab, before Tony can sweep them up in a project so they forget to eat. He gives Clint and Agent Romanoff a pleasant greeting when they pass him down the hall on their way to a sparring session. He goes to his room, and spends long minutes staring at Mjolnir before Steve finds him and drags him out. Thor politely declines a sparring session of his own, so instead he and Steve walk the familiar way up to the Park, Steve talking and Thor making the best answers he can.

"Hey," Steve says, when Thor waits a beat too long before saying that he is not in the mood for cotton candy today, "are you okay?"

"Yes," Thor says. He is afraid to speak too loudly; lodged in his chest is an animal scream or a storm of sobbing or even precise words of confession, and he cannot let those escape. "Your pardon. It has been a difficult day."

Steve nods, accepting this. It is fortunate that Thor's friends are used to his quieter moods.

Thor stares out at the trees of Central Park, listening to not a word Steve is saying, and thinks again of Mjolnir. The hammer was where he left it. It looked the same as it always does; it looked easy enough to lift. He remembers, vividly clear, Loki's half-veiled admiration the day Thor first raised Mjolnir. He remembers his brother's eyes growing wide as Thor shared tales of violence and war their elders had not deemed Loki ready for. That memory is very old. Loki soon outstripped Thor in the telling of tales.

"Thor?" Steve asks again, gently.

"Oh," Thor says, looking in surprise down at his hands, clenched into shaking fists. Perhaps merely saying that today was difficult will not be enough. Loki's favorite trick was always half-truths. "I visited Loki today," Thor tells Steve quietly. "It did not ... go well."

"Why don't we go back and watch a movie?" Steve suggests. "Get you out of your head a little. How about The Wizard of Oz? There's flying monkeys."

Thor shakes himself. "Yes," he says. "I should like that very much."

*

Three days after the visit with Loki, Tony comes to Thor's room, carrying chicken salad and a mildly anxious look. "You're not eating much, buddy," Tony says. "Doing okay?" Thor had not noticed the loss of appetite. He smiles, makes excuses, thanks Tony for the food. Eats, and feels his stomach turn.

*

Memories clatter back into his awareness, unforgiving and relentless. When sparring with Loki -- or even fighting him, for this was true too in the Battle of New York -- Thor's breath would catch up under his ribs as if in a moment of freefall, and as soon as he landed a blow, it would feel as though he had just avoided impact. He had not known what that meant; he had never considered any impulse to violence as a substitution for something else. But he remembers too the odd, inarticulate satisfaction he would get when he left sparring bruises on Loki when they were young. He remembers precisely the bright pleasure of seeing the edge of a mark he made against the collar of Loki's shirt. He remembers how Loki would wince, bumping a lightly injured arm against a table, before throwing Thor a laughingly annoyed look, and how it would warm Thor from the inside.

It had all seemed entirely unremarkable. But Thor remembers these things, and every moment of warmth or satisfaction comes back to him like an echoing bloom of want. Thor inwardly recoils from himself. He did not have the courage to confront this for what it is nor uproot it when he was much younger, and so it has taken hold.

Sitting in the rec room, watching Lady Pepper surreptitiously tangle fingers into the hair at the back of Tony's neck, Thor recalls his habit of doing the same to Loki in their early adolescence. Shortly after, Loki began to wear his hair as he has done since -- slicked back, neat -- and would chide Thor for mussing it. Loki must have known, even then, what Thor did not. Perhaps Loki did not know fully, but it was enough that he shed his childhood instinct to trust fraternal affection; enough to find ways to insinuate himself away from his brother's touch.

Now that he has discovered this in himself -- now that it is too late -- it's terribly obvious. He has always appreciated Loki's cleverness and the way Loki moves, always been entirely aware of where Loki is in a room; and now this has translated into a desperate desire to hold Loki down and learn every inch of his skin. Thor wants to believe it is sudden, wants to believe it is new, some awful trick of Loki's; that he is but having a moment of confusion. But he remembers so many times, with sudden painful clarity, when they were young and Loki would smile and come in too close; Thor would laugh and shove him away, and he was always panicking just a little.

Loki has kissed him, and Thor does not know how to shut it out. Loki has kissed him, and Thor kissed him back; and already it feels not like a single bad decision, but like a huge and terrible secret that Loki tore from him because Thor did not know enough to arm himself against it.

*

Thor eats when the others do, and smiles when he should. He is unfailingly helpful. He spars with Steve, and manages to hold his own; he engages with the stories on movie nights, and laughs along with the others. If sometimes he cannot quite meet their eyes -- if sometimes he feels his mind slipping for a moment into horror -- he is still doing everything he can to let his single mistake remain so.

"Thor," Steve says.

Thor and Bruce look up from the laptop in front of them. Bruce is giving him a lesson in navigating the internet, but most of it is running through Thor's head like water, and he does not mind the distraction. "Yes?" Thor says.

"When's the last time you went to see Loki?" Steve asks.

Thor ignores the lance of fear and shame that goes through him at his brother's name. It has been six days and two hours. "A week, perhaps," he says.

Steve and Bruce exchange a look. "Listen," Steve says. "You've been ... pretty out of sorts since then. Want to talk about it?"

"No." Thor attempts a smile. "And I thank you for the concern, but the matter between us is between us." He turns back to Bruce. "Explain to me again how to filter search terms?"

It is a small incident, but it concerns him. He knows he has failed to conceal his distress. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot forget the feel of Loki's mouth, of Loki's body. He is beginning to fear he will go mad; plainly something needs to change. No matter how he dreads it, he must see Loki. He must apologize and swear never to do anything of the kind ever again, not only for his own sake but for Loki's. Jolted for a moment from panic, Thor realizes that Loki has every reason now to believe he has been used and abandoned.

So Thor will go back to Loki, to end this madness.

*

"How is he?" Thor asks the guard anxiously.

"Same as ever." The guard shrugs. "Better behaved since you and Romanoff started visiting. He has a few books now."

"Good," Thor murmurs, gazing at Loki upon the screen. His brother looks composed, sitting folded up on his bed, reading. He looks so entirely ordinary that Thor thinks for a wild moment that he must have imagined their frantic kissing a week ago. "Thank you," Thor tells the guard. "I will see him now."

His heart is pounding so hard as he goes down the hall to Loki that it seems to shake his chest. Thor takes a deep breath and goes in, open-handed, terrified.

Loki looks up from his book. Thor lets the door thump closed behind him. They stare at each other for a long, breathless moment. I'm sorry, tangles in Thor's throat, but before he can speak, Loki smiles. It is a soft, slow smile, of a kind Thor has not seen in an age, and he knows with bright terrible clarity that he did not imagine kissing Loki after all.

"I thought you would not return," says Loki, quiet, a simple awful statement of fact.

"I would not leave you," Thor tells him. It comes out cracked, and Loki's smile grows wider. Thor cannot stop staring at the curve of Loki's mouth. This is much worse than he thought, though he is a fool not to have anticipated how unbearable it is to be in the same room as Loki now. He takes a deep breath and tears his gaze up to Loki's eyes. "I am -- sorry. I am sorry I took advantage as I did --"

"What," Loki says on a rueful laugh, setting his book aside, "you would take responsibility for my transgressions as well as my salvation?"

It is very odd; he says it not with venom but with exasperated fondness.

This is not going how Thor expected. He fumbles, but says, "No, I -- please hear me, Loki, I have done an unforgivable thing but I will not do it again, I swear it. I will do right by you, I -- I will be a good brother --"

"No," Loki says.

Thor chokes on whatever words remain to him. He stares at Loki.

"No," Loki repeats. He laughs again. "You can't," he says, soft and matter-of-fact. "It will never again be something you can escape, now that you know it, no matter how badly you want to be the perfect son and brother you were taught to be." He will not look at Thor now, instead gazing down at his fingers interlaced in his lap.

"I will," Thor says, hardly knowing what he's saying but knowing that he must, "I have to."

"No," Loki snaps, looking up at Thor again. His face is all sharp angles. "No, you will not take this from me."

"What?" Thor is getting that familiar horrible sinking feeling of being on untried ground.

Loki rises. Thor stays against the door, but Loki does not make any move towards him. He simply stands there, still with tension, and says, soft and vicious and precise, "I know your secret, brother. I know you desire me; for all your vaunted perfection, for all your nobility, you would throw me down and take me in a prison cell because, dear Thor, you too are a monster."

The breath leaves Thor's body in a rush.

For a moment he thinks it is because Loki has finally said something too terrible; but what he is feeling is not rage but relief. From across the room Loki is watching him as though he actually cares what Thor will do, and Thor knows, sudden and swift and terrible, that he has Loki back.

"I do not wish to do this to you," Thor whispers.

Loki still makes no move towards him. He simply says, with open face and open posture, "Please."

Thor shakes his head, helplessly.

Now Loki does approach, with his familiar cautious steps, and puts his hand up to Thor's face. Thor cannot find it in himself to flinch away. "Please," Loki says again, in a near-whisper. He tongue flicks out briefly over his lips, and Thor can't stop staring. "It is all right, Thor," Loki says, still soft and earnest. "I wish you to do it."

Thor knows, scrabbling for any purchase, that Loki is fully aware of what to do to make Thor yield, and this is it. Thor tries to pull himself far enough away that he cannot feel their breath entangling. "Loki ... no."

For a moment Loki's face starts to shift back to anger; then he pauses, and though Thor can see the calculation, there is still nothing he can do against it when Loki looks at him, eyes bright, his voice catching ragged when he says, "Do you know how long I've wanted this?"

It slides like a dagger under Thor's ribs. They meet in the middle. Loki's mouth is as hungry as the last time, and though he is not tearing at Thor's clothing, Thor feels as though his heart might beat out of his chest.

This time, because he has had far too much time to think on it, Thor knows exactly what he is doing. This is your brother, he thinks, his whole body flooding hot with shame, and the worst of it is that this does nothing to stop him. Loki's hands are clenched tight in Thor's shirt as though he's terrified Thor might try to break away; but Thor is afraid nothing could make him leave now. He slides his hands into Loki's hair, cool and fine between his fingers, distractingly lovely even with Loki pressing urgently into his mouth. It's too much at once, and Thor is unsure how long he will be able to stand it. They are both shaking, wrapping around one another slow and certain. This is your brother, Thor thinks, and this time cannot stop a low helpless noise of wanting.

Loki echoes it, gripping more tightly at Thor's shirt, and the dizzy arousal that follows does drown Thor's thoughts. He bites at Loki's lower lip and Loki keens, surging up against him; Thor cups the back of Loki's neck, holding him in place, kissing Loki thoroughly while Loki makes soft ragged whimpers into his mouth.

Your brother winnows through Thor's mind again, but the shame is still a goad rather than a deterrent. His hands slide over Loki's shoulders and to the hollow of his throat. Loki shivers, breaking the kiss and tipping his head back a little, and that -- the pale column of Loki's throat -- Thor is not going to be so foolish as to leave any marks. He swallows convulsively and instead undoes the top button of Loki's shirt.

He stops. This is something else again.

Loki meets his eyes. "Yes," he says.

So Thor undoes the second button, and the third, slow and careful; he can feel a rising jittery urgency, but if he gives in to it his hands will be useless. He hesitates at the fourth button, looks up at Loki again. One side of Loki's mouth lifts up into a smile. "Yes."

Suddenly Thor cannot remove Loki's shirt fast enough. He scrambles through the last few buttons, managing to undo them without tearing them off or ruining the fabric. He slides the shirt from Loki's shoulders. Loki helps, moving sinuously against him, laughing, low and lascivious, "Yes." He tilts his head back again and this time Thor must: he curls over Loki, pressing his mouth to the hollow of Loki's throat, lapping a trail from the center of his collarbones to the tip of his shoulder, and Loki says, "Yes, Thor."

He kisses Loki's mouth again, though not to stop the words; he finds he loves how Loki says his name, half-shocked and warm, loves it so much it makes him dizzy. Loki returns the kiss fierce and hungry. Thor pulls him closer, hands on Loki's back, at the dip in his spine. Thor already knows what Loki's skin feels like, of course, he's known for years, but still this feels new and precious and terrifying. Loki shifts, leaning into the touch, and his hands come up to hook into Thor's belt loops. Loki pulls Thor's hips firmly flush against his, and Thor bites down involuntarily on Loki's lip.

Loki laughs, soft and delighted, rolling against him. Thor can feel Loki's back muscles sliding under his hands, and Thor remembers that his brother is no longer young, no longer a fragile mage and scholar; he is a powerful man who has grown into a force that can barely be contained.

He is subtly unbuttoning and unzipping Thor's trousers, so quick and deft that it takes Thor a moment to realize.

Thor startles at that, and pulls back to look at Loki. Loki looks back at him, eyebrows slightly raised, looking amused and sure. For a moment Thor thinks it would be easy to forget his surroundings, to pretend this is like so many other trysts he's had, with confident, noble sorts of people -- albeit with an added edge of danger. He knows that is foolishness (this is your brother) but he cannot stop the slow grin that rises in return, battle-happy and fierce. "You first," he says.

Loki regards him, long enough that Thor's grin begins to falter; he has overstepped some bound, much too late, without meaning to; Loki is going to laugh and mock him. But Loki does none of these things. Instead he simply raises his brows a little higher and says, "Very well."

Then he turns toward the bed, pulling the drawstring on his trousers. He drops them, steps out of them, and sits down on the bed to look at Thor. Thor's mouth has gone entirely dry. It is one thing to think of Loki in pieced-together memories, quickly shoved aside; it is another entirely to see his brother, lithe and graceful and entirely without discomfort, naked before him on a bed.

Loki's expression turns to haughty command. He raises his chin a little, and says, precise and sharp, "Undress and come here."

Thor does not think of arguing. He goes to Loki, stripping off garments as he does so, and shoves Loki backwards onto the bed. Loki goes easily, sprawling under him, and Thor cannot bear Loki's easy confidence when he still feels halfway to terror. He braces his hands on Loki's shoulders, pinning his brother to the mattress, and Loki --

Loki does not fight. The laughing confidence fades from his face; his eyes flutter near-shut, and when he looks at Thor again, they are fathomlessly dark. He brings his hands up slowly, tracing the braced muscles of Thor's arms, down Thor's chest, fingers following ribs, thumb tracing a muscle on Thor's stomach. Thor trembles over him, surprised and unsure.

He meets Loki's eyes again. Loki gazes up at him, looking stunned, and under Thor he shivers, just once, as shocked and helpless as Thor feels. Thor does not stop to think; he has never needed anything as much as he suddenly needs to be as close to Loki as he can. He settles his weight onto Loki, and Loki's legs fall open, fitting them perfectly together, skin to skin.

They both moan. Loki's hands are bruisingly tight on Thor's hips, his legs wrapping around Thor's thighs. Thor kisses him, helpless, drowning in it. This is your brother, he thinks, but the words are flooded with joy and awe and affection now, useless as a defense. This is Loki writhing under him, mouth hot and sure; Loki gasping, "Thor, yes," when Thor breaks away to kiss the line of his jaw and down his neck; Loki growing aroused against Thor's thigh. Thor is beginning to have trouble thinking of anything but how very much he wants to touch Loki's cock.

Taking a shuddering breath, Thor disentangles as best he can, rising to his hands and knees over Loki again. Loki makes a choked-off keening noise at the loss of contact and glares up at Thor. "What --"

"Loki," Thor says. His voice cracks with desperation. "I -- I want to --"

"Anything," Loki says, quick and sharp and terribly honest. It pools in Thor's belly like a benediction; he shivers, and wraps a hand around Loki's already-slick cock.

Loki arches into it bow-taut, with a noise only slightly too teeth-clenched to be a scream. Thor can feel the throb of his pulse, and he simply holds Loki for a long moment, barely breathing, nearly too heavy with want to move. Loki does not seem to mind. He trembles under Thor, eyes unfocused. With idle fascination, half to see what Loki does and half for the feel of it, Thor thumbs the head of Loki's cock; Loki's eyelids flutter and he moves, a slow, hypnotic roll of his hips. "Yes."

It is so lovely that Thor leans down and kisses Loki again, soft, slow kisses that Loki returns in kind. This is, Thor realizes dazedly, already so overwhelming that to ask for more might be madness.

Loki breaks the kiss. His hands ghost over Thor's face, thumbs brushing his cheekbones. He gives Thor a slow, knowing smile, as though he can read Thor's mind. More than once, Thor has sincerely hoped otherwise; but now it might be a boon. "Loki --"

"You want to fuck me," Loki says, low and matter-of-fact.

Thor had been unsure; he wants more, yes, but that more had been a hot uncertainty. It crystallizes now, so sharp he cannot for a moment breathe. "Yes."

"Did you bring anything to ease the way?" Loki asks. Thor blinks at him, and Loki actually rolls his eyes. "No, of course you didn't; you came here pretending you did not want this. No matter: I have made do before. Give me your hand."

Thor obeys, and it is only when Loki's mouth is sliding hot and close over his fingers that he realizes what Loki meant. I have made do before. Were Thor capable of any real thought, he might have reacted better; as it is, he grabs at Loki's hair with his free hand and shoves Loki's face down on his fingers as though that might drive away the memory of Loki making do with anyone else.

Even as he does it Thor regrets the violence of the response, but Loki, far from trying to get away, makes a soft strangled noise of pleasure and sucks hard on Thor's fingers. Surprised arousal spikes through Thor. He grips Loki's hair harder, pushing Loki down onto his fingers again, and this time Loki claws at Thor in obvious desperation, his eyes falling shut and his cheeks flushing. Thor is riveted.

The desire to bite down on the junction of Loki's neck and shoulder, hard enough to leave a bruise, washes over Thor so strongly that he nearly does it before remembering where they are. Instead he says, low against Loki's ear, "We would be discovered, were I to be as rough with you as I wish. But I do wish it, Loki."

Loki hisses softly, biting down a little on Thor's fingers. They both shiver. This is more strange and wonderful than Thor might have imagined; this is where finally they are speaking to the same purpose. Thor wants to tell Loki how good that is, no matter how obviously foolish the words would be; but Loki saves him from speaking by lapping his tongue along the underside of Thor's fingers. It spikes through Thor again, the desire to hold Loki down and take him.

Thor swears, pulling his fingers from Loki's mouth. Loki's legs spread obligingly, and Thor is already starting to work his way in before Loki laughs and says "Slowly! Slo -- oh." Thor freezes at the same time that Loki grabs his wrist. Their eyes meet again. Loki grins, bright and fierce, and moves himself down on Thor's fingers. His mouth goes slack.

Far too late, Thor realizes that he must somehow survive this. He has two fingers inside his little brother. His brother, who is hot and tight around him; his brother whose face is relaxed, transported; his brother, making small high noises of surprise and delight, still rolling his hips minutely, hand tight on Thor's wrist urging Thor on. Thor feels a pressure in his chest halfway between joy and panic. He should go; this is a terrible mistake; he knew that the moment he walked in the door and the moment Loki kissed him and even the moment he pressed his fingers inside Loki, and he will not go because there is a look on Loki's face like dazed bliss and Thor is the one who did that.

No; he will not go because Loki loves it, but that reason still speaks to Thor's nobility, and it is entirely clear that he has none. The truth is that he will not go because it is good beyond the telling of it to do this to Loki, and because Thor wants nothing more than to take his brother wholly, wants it so much that it hurts.

Thor takes a dragging breath. "Are you ready?"

It takes Loki a moment to focus. He blinks up at Thor with dark eyes and says, "I thought you'd never ask."

The tension in Thor's spine comes undone. He cannot help the snort of laughter. Apparently his wretch of a brother does not stop being irritating for anything in the universe.

Loki hisses a little when Thor pulls his fingers out. Thor has a brief flash of worry -- he was a fool, he is going to hurt Loki -- but Loki is still watching him, halfway between impatience and boneless readiness, and there is nothing for it; Thor takes hold of Loki's hips, angling them, and presses into Loki, agonizingly slow.

Loki's body bows, and he keens, pulling Thor closer with scrabbling hands. Thor wants to take a moment to pause, to hold himself still and feel how good it is to be seated inside Loki like this; but he is in freefall, can hardly breathe, is so far gone with pleasure that he has nothing left with which to protest when Loki rolls against him. "Thor," he says, and Thor cannot keep still. He moves, seeking more; not just the friction along his cock but against his belly, around his hips, the impossible tightening of Loki's fingertips on his lower back in a grip that would hurt were it not drawing them closer together.

Thor snaps his hips harder to see the shifting look on Loki's face; but he is not prepared for Loki's gasp, sudden and stunned, "Brother."

After that there is no question of control. Thor grasps Loki's shoulders more than hard enough to leave bruises, rutting into Loki with desperation. Loki twists under him, making a choked-off noise that sounds like it wants to be a scream, spasming around Thor, and Thor thinks, dazedly, Loki, before his orgasm crashes over him, so hard that his arms give out and he moans, shaking all over, into Loki's shoulder.

They lie very still, entwined and trembling.

At length Loki smiles hesitantly at him, a stray hair sticking to his forehead. Thor remains still, feeling as though a small supernova has taken place under his skin. The tingling subsides only a little if he breathes deeply, and he is already panting.

Loki's quick huff of breath might be a laugh, or just the release of his last pent-up tension. He lines up his hips and waist to resettle neatly under Thor's, and the fit of him there is unbelievable.

"We were not meant to see how well we -- how well this feels."

Loki's fingertips slide up Thor's biceps, and rest there. "No," he agrees simply, lightly. "You found it good, then?"

Good. Not at all. Terrifying, certainly, and wonderful beyond measure. But Thor does not want to explain his horror, nor his joy. Instead he pulls Loki close and kisses him, soft and slow and thorough.

*

"So it went okay?"

"What was that?" Thor asks absently. Steve is unwrapping the tape from his knuckles, a towel slung over his shoulders; Thor feels pleasantly loose and alert. This was perhaps the best sparring session they have had yet.

"Your visit with Loki," Steve says. His focus is still on his knuckles, and he fortunately misses the momentary look of panic that Thor cannot stop from crossing his face. "You don't look like you're having the worst week of your life anymore."

"No," Thor says. "No, it has ... improved. We have moved past the worst of his silences, I think."

"Well," Steve says, looking up with a grin, "I don't envy you the task, but I'm glad it's going better."

"Yes," Thor agrees. He wonders whether it is a lie. But things do seem to be going better; at the very least, he has passed straight through his guilt and terror and come out the other side into a strange sort of clarity. He is not who he thought he was. He is not Asgard's sole defense, nor Earth's, and this is fortunate, because the only thing that Thor knows he is, with certainty, is a man who will lie with his brother and love every moment of it. He is not sure what that makes him; a little like Loki, perhaps.

(It was a difficult thing, to leave Loki. They both dressed again as best they could, but Thor's skin was singing with the need to touch Loki still, and Loki did nothing to dissuade him. "I will return as soon as I am able," Thor told him, and Loki twined around him, kissing him and kissing him until Thor's joints were loose and he was half-hard again. Then Loki laughed and let him go; every time Thor thinks on that moment again, his lips tingle and his chest feels tight with warmth.)

He wonders that Steve cannot see that he is wholly different. But what Steve saw in him, it seems, was a strange melancholy and a return to equilibrium, and Thor is not going to disabuse him.

Their Starkphones ping. Steve fumbles his out of his jeans pocket. "Code green," he says. "Tony says Agent Coulson wants to catch up on what we've been doing as a team." He looks over at Thor. "Should I have a briefing ready?"

"A code green sounds informal enough," Thor says, smiling.

Everyone comes for code green calls, now. Of course, today they all came because it was Coulson’s summons, but it's more than that: they have all grown comfortable with one another. They no longer sit always in the same configurations -- in the beginning Clint and Agent Romanoff would always sit together, Tony and Bruce, Steve and Thor. But on this evening Thor tells Coulson of their latest battle strategy, assisted by Clint, while Tony argues about something to do with his company with Lady Pepper, and argues with Bruce about something happening in the lab, and argues with Steve and Romanoff while they discuss the ongoing problem of assisting in the rebuilding from the Battle of New York.

"Look, I am the champion of multitasking," Tony is saying, "considering I'm doing the clean energy initiative and the upkeep on the suits and coordinating the Avengers while also getting in personal time with Pepper and hooking up with Bruce, so don't tell me I'm not on top of this."

Surprised silence ripples out around him. Bruce stares at Tony. "Careful of my heart rate," he says, very mildly.

"Look," Steve says, "it's long past time we coordinate with local -- Wait, what?"

Thor is quite good enough at idiom now to follow, but he thinks feigned ignorance might diffuse the situation. "I must ask your patience again, friends, but what is 'hooking up'?"

Clint gives a snort of amusement, but no one else responds. The silence stretches awkwardly until Lady Pepper huffs quietly and says, as though to herself, "'I am Iron Man'." That draws a laugh from the whole table.

"Thank you," Tony says, pointing to her. "Pepper is right, that was so much worse, and on the bright side here Bruce just totally kept his cool, which he is by the way very good at, we've had zero Hulk incidents in the bedroom." He grins at Bruce, who is gaping at him. "I know this is a little TMI, but Bruce, honey, I think you deserve some recognition, and you need to get better at accepting compliments, and since I'm on a roll anyway --"

"Tony, no," Bruce says quietly but firmly over him. Tony stops mid-word, as though Bruce has flipped a switch.

The silence is rather more stunned, but much shorter; Clint, recovering first, says, "Actually, I think that was more TMI."

"Move to adjourn," Agent Romanoff says. Clint looks as though he's stifling laughter, and Agent Coulson looks as though he has several strategies to rethink. Thor smiles down at the table and reflects that it seems all entanglements have their complications.

*

"Can I ask your advice?" Steve says that evening.

They've taken pizza and beer to the roof again. Clint and Agents Romanoff and Coulson disappeared some time ago, presumably for a SHIELD briefing, around the same time that Tony, Bruce, and Lady Pepper vanished in another direction, hopefully for affection rather than recriminations. The sky is clear tonight and Thor can see one or two distant faded stars.

"Of course," Thor says to Steve. He takes the last slice of pizza.

"This thing with Tony and Bruce," Steve says. "It has me thinking. I thought, fraternization within the team, probably a bad thing, especially because -- I know there's no official team leader, but it does feel like Tony and I have taken point on that." Steve takes a deep breath. "But I think I've taken a shine to Natasha.”

Thor is not quite sure what he was expecting. He blinks, but answers readily, "A very worthy subject for your affections. Do you believe she feels the same?"

"Well, that's the thing, it's sort of difficult to get a read on her." Steve mirrors Thor's grin of rueful understanding. "You may have noticed. But like I said ..."

Thor nods. "Having taken up the task of team leader, you feel that as her superior it would not be right to put her in a position where you would show her special favor."

"Or make her uncomfortable." Steve shrugs. "And I don't know whether I feel that more or less strongly now. I mean, Tony liked Bruce a lot already, so them having a thing, not actually much of a change. I guess it's a different situation."

"Perhaps more like that of Tony and Lady Pepper," Thor suggests. "They seem to have found a measure of balance, despite their relative positions in Stark Industries."

Steve laughs. "So we come back around to me asking Tony Stark for relationship advice. He'd never let me live it down."

Thor considers. "We could invite Lady Natasha to accompany us when we go into the city. As you say, it is difficult to read her, and I would very much like to; I believe I would enjoy her company as well. Perhaps you could determine her interest in you."

"Yeah," Steve says, brightening. "If you wouldn't mind, that'd be swell. Thanks, Thor."

"Of course," Thor says, and smiles up at the sky.

*

Later that evening, for the first time since he kissed Loki, Thor dares to touch Mjolnir. He has put it off more than long enough; inevitably the Avengers will be needed for another battle, and if he is to be caught without it he will have to find some other weapons. But the hammer leaps to his hand just as it should, warm and alive and dependable, and Thor breathes out more tension than he knew he had.

Loving Loki does not, then, condemn him. Or those things he does for his friends outweigh it, Thor thinks, but he does not linger overlong wondering at the matter. Mjolnir is still his, and that is enough.

*

The following day, when Lady Natasha cannot be found at the Tower, Steve dithers only a little before sending her a text of invitation, and in the evening she meets up with them, wearing casual Midgardian clothing and a polite smile. They get burgers at a corner diner, at Thor's insistence; he is not yet remotely tired of milkshakes.

"We were just thinking," Steve says, while they wait for their food to come, "a team is only as strong as everyone in it, and since the three of us haven't really --"

"Steve," Lady Natasha says, "it's fine. I like doing normal things sometimes."

"Normal," Thor echoes, swirling his milkshake around with his straw. "Forgive me, Lady Natasha, but I suspect all three of us have very different ideas of what that is."

The corner of Lady Natasha's mouth tilts up. "So tell us your normal."

Thor glances over at Steve, but Steve looks interested, and not at all displeased at this turn of the conversation, so Thor tells them readily enough: summers in Vanaheim, long winters while Odin slept; feasts and storytelling of the old battles and great victories; dusty days in the training yard. They have heard of his grand adventures in other realms already, but not of this, those small things Thor misses constantly, the roar of the ocean over the edge of the world and the sweep of the galaxy's arm beyond.

"So not much like where I grew up," Steve concludes.

"Or where I did," Lady Natasha agrees; the food arrives as she says it, sparing her any elaboration, which seems very convenient timing. Thor suspects she meant it to be.

"Sometimes I think normal is the war," Steve confesses. "Which I know is dumb. I was only in real combat for a year, but ..."

"I'd like to hear it firsthand," Lady Natasha says, leaning forward. "If you don't mind."

"No, not at all," Steve says, smiling at her. "Where would you like me to start?"

"At the beginning," Lady Natasha suggests. "Your rescue of that unit from Schmidt's fortress."

Lady Natasha obviously knows much more about this than Thor does. Thor listens in fascination. His education on the history of Midgard did not go into World War Two in great detail, since Steve knew all the particulars and Thor was content with Steve's summary. He knew already that Steve was -- and is -- clever, brave, a good tactician, and willing to sacrifice himself for his men in a way that would do any Asgardian proud; but hearing the particulars is a delight.

"...whole thing blown up behind us," Steve concludes. "Schmidt escaped, obviously, but the whole unit was recovered."

Lady Natasha whistles softly, obviously impressed. "Not that I thought the SHIELD dossiers were exaggerating," she says, "but they do like to emphasize their victories." She steals a fry off Steve's plate. "That reminds me of a time I was in Minsk ..."

It transpires that Lady Natasha's stories are just as impressive as Steve's, although she has a tendency to avoid particular time frames, people, specific locations. She does, however, have tales of several explosions, told with such a deadpan expression that by the end of the third one, Steve is laughing so hard he cannot breathe, and Thor is laughing equally hard, mostly at Steve.

"Thor," Lady Natasha says, with grinning composure, "what have you blown up?"

Thor chuckles, pulling himself together, and after some consideration regales them with the story of the time with Sif, the bilgesnipe, and the library tower. Both Loki and Heimdall had been furious about that one, but Sif told Thor later that Frigga had confessed to laughing about it in private. "Besides," Thor says, "the books were all fine, and it was Sif's first kill."

"See," Lady Natasha says, leaning back, "cultural exchange."

They pay for their meal and wander out into the night. Lady Natasha heads for the subway, but before she takes the stairs down, she turns to Thor and Steve and says, "I'd like to ask a favor."

"Sure," says Steve, as Thor says, "Of course." They grin at each other.

Natasha's mouth tilts up into another of the smiles that Thor is coming to recognize as her true one. "I've noticed the two of you holding morning sparring sessions," she says. "Clint and I keep each other on our game, but we know all each other's moves backwards. I think you two would shake it up a little."

"Well, I --" Steve says, looking a little dubious.

"Yes," Thor says swiftly. He remembers well enough how Sif used to cajole and threaten him into sparring with her, and he would like to spare Natasha the same trouble. Besides, he has seen her in a fight. She fights dirty, and he admires that in a would-be opponent. "I would be honored."

"Good." Natasha's smile grows wider. "I want to know how to take on monsters and gods."

She bids them goodnight, and goes before Thor can ask her which of those she thinks he is.

*

He promised he would return as soon as he could, so the next day Thor goes to see Loki.

Already he distrusts the record of his memory. He does not know whether Loki said Thor's name with the enthusiastic fervency that Thor recalls; it seems a flattery and an exaggeration, something Thor wishes to be true, or something Loki knew Thor wished. Thor goes to Loki's cell with several contingencies in mind, some of them more apologetic than others, and the resolution that he must be entirely sure of Loki.

"Thor," Loki breathes when Thor enters, and oh, Thor's memory was not exaggerating.

"Loki, I --" Thor starts, but by then Loki is on him; he backs Thor against the door, one hand braced on the wall next to Thor's shoulder, taking Thor by the nape of his neck with the other. He brings Thor into a kiss, not so much grinding against Thor as sliding up against him whole-bodied. Thor gasps, and Loki licks into his mouth, laughing.

The kiss floods all Thor's nerves alight, and he kisses Loki back, starved for it. But he fists his hands in Loki's shirt, too, and gathers the will to push Loki back slightly. "Wait," he says against Loki's lips.

"Yes?" Loki murmurs. He leaves Thor's mouth and kisses along his jaw, nuzzling under Thor's ear, nipping at his throat. Thor shivers, hands twisting in Loki's shirt.

"I -- I wanted to ask," Thor tries. It comes out breathy, but he keeps going, even when Loki hums absently and sucks a kiss into his collarbone. "If you still wish -- Loki -- if you want this truly, if this was not some ploy that went too far --"

Loki glances up at him, looking honestly affronted. "You still doubt I want this?"

"I need to be sure, Loki," Thor says. His hands smooth over the front of Loki's shirt, and Loki arches into the touch, apparently without thought; he is still regarding Thor with skepticism. "I am your brother, and you -- you are a prisoner here ..."

Loki laughs, more derisive than amused. "I have no doubt you would stop the moment I told you to," he tells Thor, in such a conciliatory tone that Thor thinks, a little irritated, that Loki is not taking this half so seriously as he should. Perhaps Loki sees this; the mocking fades from his face. "I want you," he says, low and serious. "You may be dishonorable, dear brother," he touches Thor's cheek, "but you would never take me unwilling. I want this." He tugs at Thor's hair, and adds, sharp, "If you please."

This time when he kisses Thor, Thor returns it without hesitation. Loki's hands tangle in Thor's hair, still pulling a little, and it reminds Thor of all the roughhousing they were wont to do as boys. He nips at Loki's tongue; Loki gasps and laughs and twists his hands, hard enough to hurt. Thor jolts, shoving a leg between Loki's. He fumbles open one button on Loki's shirt, and the next; without breaking the kiss Loki starts at the bottom of his shirt, and when their hands meet in the middle Thor pushes the shirt from Loki's shoulders. Loki bites Thor's lower lip and pulls away to tug the t-shirt over Thor's head.

"Bed?" Thor gasps.

"Or floor," Loki says on a breathless laugh, "I'm not feeling particular."

"Loki," Thor growls, hauling his stupid insatiable brother towards the bed. They're nearly upon it when Loki turns, leveraging his weight over Thor. Thor sits down hard on the bed and Loki's momentum carries him neatly down to straddle Thor's lap. Thor grabs Loki's hips in reflexive surprise; Loki grinds down, taking Thor's face in his hands and kissing him thoroughly.

It is strangely reassuring, Thor realizes distantly, sinking into the feel of Loki's mouth, of Loki upon him; he forgets that Loki always has a knife, or an illusion, or an unexpected shift of his weight, that Loki is entirely capable of defending himself. If Loki is straddling Thor on a bed, that is exactly where he wants them to be.

Thor rubs his thumbs over the waistband of Loki's trousers, along the skin of his hips. Loki shivers and stills, the kiss becoming nothing but their mouths softly aligned. Thor runs his hands up Loki's sides, palms for a moment bracketing his ribs; skims his fingers over the planes of Loki's back, and across his shoulders. Loki shudders again, pulling back enough to look at Thor with wide eyes. Thor fears for a moment that Loki will stop him, accuse him of base sentiment. But Loki merely exhales, quiet and shaky, and leans forward again to rest his forehead against Thor's. His hands play idly with the hair at the nape of Thor's neck. Thor does not know what to do with the rising warmth he feels; there is, for the first time, no desperation to this. He keeps touching Loki, soft, wondering, at the way that Loki arches into it, at the way the muscles in his belly jump a little under Thor's hands. "Loki," Thor breathes.

"I hardly believe it either," Loki whispers.

Thor's touch stills for a moment; then he keeps on, running his hands up Loki's chest. Loki makes a soft appreciative noise, hips shifting. Thor is loath to encroach upon this moment with words, but Loki is not laughing at him, and he can think of no better time. "Nor can I," Thor says, low. "But I -- did not come to this on a whim."

"Did you not?" Loki murmurs. He sounds not mocking but mildly curious, and when he draws back to look at Thor, his face is so serious and so open that Thor can hardly breathe.

"I," Thor says, and swallows. "I have wanted this for ages."

"Thor," Loki says, "you need not reassure me --"

"No," Thor says, swift, pressing his fingers to Loki's mouth to stop the words. Loki's mouth curves into a smile; he nips lightly at the pads of Thor's fingers. "I mean it," Thor tells him. "I spent a week telling myself that kissing you had been but a momentary madness, and the more I tried to believe it, the more I came to the opposite conclusion."

Loki's smile is growing wider. There is still nothing mocking to it. The warmth in Thor's chest is growing to pressure, stopping his throat with relief. Here is his brother, after all, the Loki Thor has missed desperately, to whom Thor used to tell everything. Thor cannot help it; he draws Loki into another kiss, loving the way Loki's mouth opens to his, the minute roll of Loki's hips creating friction that spikes arousal up Thor's spine.

He ignores it, content still to drag this out. At the end of the kiss he presses his forehead to Loki's again, and murmurs, "Small things. Excuses to touch you. How well I liked giving you bruises in practice --"

Loki's grip goes convulsively tight on his shoulders. For a moment Thor fears he has said too much; but when he looks at Loki, his brother only says, sharp and breathy, "Please, keep talking," and without warning slides gracefully to the floor between Thor's legs.

"Oh," Thor says, abruptly so hard he has trouble focusing.

Loki runs his hands up Thor's thighs, pushing them apart, and smiles up at Thor, slow and wicked. "Take these off," he says.

Thor undoes his trousers with haste, lifting his hips so Loki can pull them down. They tangle around his shoes, but that is no matter; Loki is already touching Thor's thighs again, skin-to-skin now. Thor reaches out to settle his fingertips on Loki's jaw. Loki's gaze flickers back up to meet Thor's; he says, quiet and precise, "I said, keep talking. And do speak clearly, Thor."

Then he slides his mouth down over Thor's cock, hot and relentless, until Thor feels the head hit the back of Loki's throat. Thor digs his fingers into the mattress, hoping very distantly that he won't tear the sheets. "Loki," he gasps.

Loki looks up at him, raising his eyebrows.

"You expect me to talk?" Thor chokes.

Loki pulls off, his mouth already a little redder. "Yes," he says simply.

Thor groans. "Hideous wretch."

"Yes," Loki agrees. He kisses the head of Thor's cock, feather-light.

Thor shudders, trying to collect his scattered thoughts when all he can think is how much he wants to grab Loki and shove him back down. He's near certain Loki would enjoy that; all the evidence so far suggests that Loki loves being used thus. But that is not the game that Loki is playing right now. Loki, damn him, is teasing Thor --

And Thor remembers, as he did not even remember in the panic of the previous week, a moment long ago when he felt much like this.

"Vanaheim," Thor says. Loki waits, watching him. "Damn you, Loki, please -- We were apple-picking on Vanaheim in the summer, an age ago, I did not have Mjolnir yet." Loki nods and leans forward, mouth sliding over Thor's cock again, slower this time.

It feels no less intensely wonderful, but Thor takes a deep, shivery breath, and tells Loki's bowed head, "You'd brought a book, but I would -- nngh -- not let you read, it was much too lovely a midsummer morning. You were annoyed with me, I think." Loki hollows his cheeks, eyes fluttering closed; Thor's vision goes blurred with pleasure.

"Since you could not read, you spent the whole day flirting with Freya," he says. His voice has gone slow, but the words are easier now. His skin is tingling, and each heartbeat brings a new heavy throb of arousal. He lifts a hand to lightly cup the back of Loki's head, and Loki moans softly, his face a picture of intense focus. "You gave me such smug looks," Thor says, "all the while eating apples and licking the juice from your fingers, and Loki, oh, what I wanted to do to you." He lets the hand on the back of Loki's head go heavier, and Loki shivers, looking up at him, eyes dark. "I wanted to hold you down," Thor tells him, "and kiss the taste of apples from your mouth, and make you forget you had ever even seen Freya."

He grips Loki's hair and pushes his brother down on his cock, slow and inexorable.

Loki shudders, eyes falling shut again, and sucks hard enough that Thor's hips jerk up involuntarily. Loki makes a strangled noise that sounds like joy, and Thor, entirely out of words and close to the edge already, does it again with purpose, fucking his brother's mouth while Loki writhes between his legs and tries to get even closer. "Loki," Thor moans, and has the presence of mind to transfer his grip to the bedclothes as he comes, gasping and oversensitized and wrung out.

He feels Loki rest his head against Thor's thigh, a heavy weight that could mean either satisfaction or desperation. With effort Thor looks down at him; when he sees how very still Loki is holding himself, he says, "Come here, Loki, now," and allows himself to be knocked backwards onto the bed, Loki on him and over him and kissing him frantically. Thor winds a hand in Loki's hair, kissing the taste of himself from his brother's mouth, and wraps his other hand around Loki's cock. It takes only a few pulls before Loki is coming too, shaking and moaning against Thor's neck.

Thor pulls Loki to him, and Loki settles atop him with a sigh, still shivering a little. They stay like that for some time, wrapped around each other without words.

*

"What do you think?" Thor asks when Steve arrives at the Tower, well-scrubbed and nervous, for their first sparring sessions with Natasha.

"That she won't appreciate it if we go easy on her," Steve says.

"Yes, certainly," Thor agrees, "though I meant in regards to your interest in her."

"Oh." Steve shrugs. "I don't think she's interested. I mean, it feels kind of early to rule out anything ever, but I don't think I'm going to hold onto this crush very hard. Besides, she kind of reminds me of someone, and I think I should get to know her for her a bit more." They reach the sparring room. Steve looks over at Thor. "What about you? Not about Natasha, I mean. Do you have a sweetheart?"

Thor thinks for a moment of Loki. The word is entirely incongruous next to the thought of his brother; and the thought of Loki is entirely incongruous when he is standing in Avengers Tower talking with Steve. Thor's mind shies from it. "No," Thor says. "There was ... I had some interest in Jane Foster, but nothing came of it."

"Because of Loki?" Steve says, with sympathy.

Thor ignores the rising desire to laugh hysterically. "Yes," he says. "Because of Loki."

Thankfully Natasha arrives then. Steve offers to take the first bout with her, which she accepts cheerfully, and Thor settles in against the wall to observe them. They are, he is impressed to see within the first few moments, very evenly matched; Steve might be bigger, but they are equally swift, and Steve makes exactly the same mistake that Thor would often make with Sif, holding back just a little, at least until Natasha has knocked him down twice. Then Steve does not hold back, and it is a short while before Natasha adjusts for this and is able to take him down again.

"So?" Natasha asks. Her hair is sticking to her forehead, and she's breathing a little harder than usual, but both she and Steve still look fresh and cheerful.

"So I believe it is my turn," Thor says.

An hour later, they head upstairs for lunch, Thor's muscles aching pleasantly. The three of them eat together, quietly content, and Thor watches Natasha, considering. She is very good at what she does. She uses joint locks and clever dodges and Thor's own weight against him, which is only what Thor expected; but it is unexpected, too, because there is no pattern to her. She learned Steve's easily, and some of Thor's, but in return she is ... ephemeral, Thor thinks. The word is a kindness; she seems made half of trickery.

Thor has not had much to do with her before, but of course he has seen her with their teammates, and what he knows is this: with Lady Pepper, she is smart and calm and dryly funny, and she shares the dry humor with Tony; with Steve and Agent Coulson, she is all competence; she is frank with Bruce, and Thor thinks this is what she is showing of herself to him as well. What she is with Clint is very much what Thor is with his own closest friends, and tells him nothing but that she is human. He does not know which parts of her are the true ones, or if that is the wrong question entirely. But for all this, Thor finds that he is beginning to like her very much.

"What?" Natasha asks. She stands, taking her dishes. "Stop staring; it's good for you to get beaten by people half your size."

"It is," Thor agrees humbly. "Thank you for the lesson."

*

The sparring quickly becomes routine; nor does it stay between only Thor, Natasha, and Steve. The next morning Clint turns up, a curious Tony in tow. Clint and Steve spar with each other while Natasha and Thor teach Tony what Natasha calls basic self-defense moves. ("You won't always have a suit on you in time," Natasha tells him, and Tony does concede the point.)

In the afternoon Bruce and Agent Coulson join them too, Coulson calling advice and Bruce simply sitting on the sidelines. Thor briefly joins him there, and asks, "Would you like some practice in this form as well?"

"I think I'm good," Bruce says. "Thanks, though."

Thor hesitates. "I ... confess I would enjoy sparring with the Hulk."

"I don't think we should risk breaking the gym," Bruce says, but he gives Thor a smile. "But I'll, uh, we'll keep that in mind."

"Thank you," Thor says, clapping Bruce on the back, and returns to go another round with Natasha, intent to learn more now that Agent Coulson is here to provide commentary.

In the evening, they order from the Thai place around the corner and settle in to watch the night's movie; they take it in turns to pick films, now, and tonight Clint chooses Braveheart, smirking while he suggests it.

Thor finds the story very entertaining, in fact, and the food as always excellent, but what he cares for more is the way they all settle into the room together. Tony lies sprawled across a couch, head in Lady Pepper's lap and feet over Bruce's legs; Steve and Thor sit upon the other couch with Natasha between them; Agent Coulson sits in the room's best armchair, with Clint perched on the arm. Thor feels such warmth for all of them, and something that is not protectiveness, nor even responsibility, but very much akin to the two. He values them very much indeed.

He thinks, for a fleeting moment, of what they might say if they learn of what he is doing with Loki.

Thor shakes the thought off, and turns his attention back to the film. But afterwards, when the lights are on and the takeout cartons being cleared, Bruce pulls Thor aside. "Anything going on? You ... went away for a minute, earlier."

"I," Thor starts, and realizes that he must do somewhat better than he has done so far, or any one of his perceptive teammates might realize the truth. The flash of terror jolts him into inspiration. "It is nothing, truly. Though ... may I ask a favor? I have had no need of an email account before now, but Jane Foster's phone number is not a matter of public record."

"Oh." Bruce's face softens. "Yeah, we can get you one. I take it you have her email address?"

"Of course," Thor says. Upon learning Google one of the first things Thor did was look for Jane, and though there are many Jane Fosters on Midgard, not many of them are astrophysicists. "So this can be done?"

Bruce nods. "Yeah, of course. Tonight, if you like." He waits for Clint and Coulson to go, leaving the room empty; then he says, quiet, "I know how tough it is, not being able to see someone you care about." Thor does not wish to pry, but he must look curious, for Bruce quirks a smile at him and says, "Her name is Betty. Dr. Ross. We used to work together. It ... didn't work out, obviously. And even now that I have the other guy mostly under control, there's -- other stuff. Family. The life situations we're in now. But we try to keep in contact anyway. She's seeing a nice guy now, and I'm seeing a nice -- well, Tony." Thor laughs at that, and Bruce grins briefly. "Point is, if you want to stay in Jane's life, I'm happy to help."

"I thank you," Thor says. He dislikes giving Bruce such a lie; but then, whatever his motive for the request, Thor does want to speak with Jane again.

Bruce shows him how to set up the account. It is mostly straightforward, although Thor becomes increasingly frustrated when, in succession, he finds that thorodinson, mightythorodinson, godofthunder, and wielderofmjolnir are all already taken. "Pretenders," Thor grumbles, but he does accept Bruce's suggestion of adding some numbers to the end, and does not long dwell on the small indignity.

He bids Bruce farewell soon after, and spends some time staring at the blank dialogue box that would allow him to write Jane a letter.

He can think of nothing to say. He thinks of Bruce, speaking of Betty Ross and the good man she is seeing, speaking of his own relationship with Tony, and the implication that neither of them mind. He imagines telling Jane even a fraction of what is happening between him and Loki now, and feels torn between laughter and tears. In the end he takes a deep breath and sends her simply

Jane,
Forgive me for not reaching you sooner, but I have been very busy. I expect you have seen the exploits of the Avengers on the news by now. It is good to be of use here, and I hope that someday soon we can see each other again under better circumstances. I wish you the best of endeavors in your science.
With warm regards,
Thor

It is not enough, and Thor fears that some of the overwhelming guilt he feels must be seeping into his tone. But it will have to do; he has no better words. He sends it, and stops thinking as best he can, and goes to bed.

*

He does not hear back from Jane at once, but he did not expect to; even if she is not busy with her research, which is likely, he does not know whether she has forgiven him, nor if she is likely to respond at all.

But he does not have long to ruminate on this: after breakfast the next morning, Tony corners him, and brings instead a new problem.

"What the hell," Tony says, low, "has been going on with you and Loki?"

Thor has only a moment to stare at Tony, frozen with indecision that has not yet become terror, before Tony goes on. "I didn't take into account how long your visits were going to get when I built that algorithm! There's only so much footage I have to work with already."

"Oh," Thor says, breathing out in a rush of relief. "Do Loki's stubborn silences not serve?"

Tony scrutinizes Thor for long enough that Thor begins to worry that he suspects something after all. Then Tony shrugs, sniffs, and says, "Okay, yeah, more or less, and it's not like the lack of progress is surprising. Just ... what is taking so long?"

"We are talking now," Thor says. The words come out easy and a little warm. "Loki is giving up no secrets; I promise I would report any he told me. But we have made a reconnection, and I thank you deeply for giving us privacy in which to do so."

"What changed?" Tony asks. His expression remains steady when Thor gives him a startled look. "What? Something must have happened. Did you tell him you aren't being watched?"

"That is it almost exactly," Thor confesses. "He became less ... guarded, then."

"Happy to help," Tony says, but he doesn't look it. "I'd still dial back the time a little. Do your heart-to-hearts in manageable doses."

"I will keep this in mind," Thor says, and leaves the conversation uneasy. He knows he cannot tell any of them, that none of the Avengers would understand. Thor supposes he could simply stop seeing Loki, or cut this madness off. He thinks of the bright joy in Loki's face, the way Loki gripped him as though he couldn't bear letting Thor go, and Thor knows that he will have to be forcibly torn from Loki before he will stop.

He goes to Loki that day, because if he cannot get the better of this desire, then he will give in to it willingly.

The guard outside Loki's cell seems surprised to see Thor again so soon. Thinking of Tony's words and the guard's reaction, Thor promises to make this visit quick. He wonders how he will manage to do so; but the second the door has shut behind him, Loki is upon him, already tugging Thor's shirt up over his head, and where at another time Thor might laugh and tell Loki to slow down, today he simply does the same to Loki in return.

They make it to the bed, leaving a trail of discarded clothes in their wake. They do nothing more complex than touch each other, skin to skin, hands wrapped around each other's cocks while they kiss deep and messy. Thor makes no effort to draw it out, but it is lovely nonetheless, sparking under his skin, and the knowledge that it is Loki touching him singing through him like joy. When they are sprawled together afterwards, breathing together and all their limbs entangled, Thor feels such a perfect well of happiness that he cannot help but murmur, "I am glad you're doing so much better."

He feels Loki go still, but Thor is so content that it takes him a moment to realize something is wrong. "Loki?"

"Better," Loki repeats, half a question.

"More like yourself," Thor explains, moving to kiss him, but at this Loki goes so tense that Thor pauses.

"Get out," Loki says, very quietly.

Thor's body understands before his mind can make sense of it; he's disentangled from Loki and off the bed, space between them, before he registers that Loki sounds murderously angry.

Loki sits up slowly, a feral animal uncurling. His face is blazing with rage. "You think," he says, still quiet and precise, with a calm that Thor remembers very well is dangerous, "that I have become better?"

A bare minute ago, Thor could have said yes in all confidence. Now he stares at Loki in mounting alarm.

"How dare you," Loki hisses, "even think that my problem is some pathetic need to know that you love me? Do you really believe I am made better so easily?" He gets to his feet, and though they are both naked, Thor feels as though he is the one without defenses.

He is still surprised, but in the face of Loki's anger he is starting to feel angry in return. "Clearly not," he snaps.

Loki laughs, the old laugh -- not the lovely soft chuckle that he was beginning to have again, but the vicious cracked sound that Thor remembers from battle. "No," Loki says. "Clearly not. Dear Thor, did you really think you could fuck me better?"

"You're missing the point," Thor growls.

"No," Loki says, sharp and cold, "you are missing the point. You imagine you can sink to my level and understand me, as though you were above me in the first place, as though fucking your brother is the worst thing you can imagine doing. You spared me no such thought when we were young. Your tale of Vanaheim is charming, but I disbelieve it; you're remembering it as you wish to, as you always do."

Thor stares at him, breathless with outrage. "How dare --"

Loki grabs Thor's clothes and flings them at him. Thor catches them reflexively. "Leave," Loki snarls.

Getting dressed in a fury is difficult, but Thor does it quickly nonetheless, and Loki spits no further invectives; he simply dresses again himself, in short sharp movements. They stay across the room from each other, as far away as possible; Thor knows very well that they would come to blows if Loki were within reach. He remembers thinking of this desire for violence as a subsuming of other desires, and he does not know what to think.

He goes without a word, still shaking with anger.

*

Thor spends the rest of that day, and much of the next few, feeling baffled and furious by turns. Everything was going so well. Loki had smiled at him, and opened to him, and seemed to be speaking somewhat to the same purpose again. Now Thor cannot tell whether it was mockery and tricks after all, whether he really is that much of a fool; and he is angry because he suspects he is. Loki is still Loki.

The worst thing, strangely, is the way Thor's memory keeps circling back around to Loki saying he did not believe Thor wanted him as well. To be told the contents of his own mind is infuriating.

Thor prods his scrambled eggs in irritation, flipping through morning cartoons, and turns off the television when Natasha joins him on the couch with a stack of pancakes. "Loki?" she asks.

"Often," Thor says ruefully. He accepts the pancake she offers him. "I hear you've been visiting him. How is he with you?"

Natasha considers. "Standoffish to vicious," she says, "or grateful of the company, and willing to discuss the books I've brought him. It depends a lot on how recently you've visited him."

"And if I have recently visited?" Thor asks.

"Standoffish to vicious," Natasha repeats, with a brief smile. "Maybe having other company gets his defenses back up, or maybe you just really piss him off."

It sounds like a joke, but Thor does not laugh.

Natasha takes a deep breath and sets her dish aside. "Thor." She frowns down at her hands. Thor waits her out. When Natasha looks back up at him, her gaze is serious and direct. "You do know that you can't fix a person for them."

She says it like an obvious statement of fact. Thor frowns. "I fear I don't follow."

"I mean, there's only so much you can do for someone." Natasha pulls her legs up onto the couch, tucking them neatly under her -- rearranging herself to look smaller, Thor sees, the way he is beginning to notice many things about Natasha, now that he is learning to look. "With me, for example," Natasha says. "Clint decided to bring me in as a possible asset, rather than doing the job he was assigned to do, because he saw potential. Maybe you see that in Loki; obviously you know him better than any of us do. The problem is, you're ..." She frowns, searching for the words. "You're overreaching your assignment. When Clint brought me in, he let the appropriate people give me my options, and because he'd made a good call for me, I returned the favor. You've done the same thing -- you brought Loki here rather than allowing him to be given to the Chitauri, and that was your call to make. You following?"

"Yes," Thor says. He can see the shape of where this is headed, and he sees Natasha's wisdom, but that doesn't mean he likes it.

"Good." Natasha gives Thor a brief smile, obviously for his benefit. "Now that Loki's here, though, it's his turn. You can't make him choose to cooperate. You can't ... talk him or push him or do anything to get him to a place where he's the way you want him to be, because that's the part he has to do."

"I know," Thor says, a reflex of meaningless sound.

"No," Natasha returns steadily, "you don't. You have to cut back on the visits, and you have to stop running yourself ragged over something that is absolutely not in your control."

"You mean to talk until I'm as you wish me to be?" Thor asks, but he smiles to soften it. To his relief Natasha smiles back, a small genuine smile. "I understand," Thor says, and means it this time. "Willing Loki into a better frame of mind will not make it so; I will give him some time apart from me."

Even as he says it Thor feels a bloom of relief, and a following uneasiness; happiness at retreat feels much too close to cowardice for his liking. Still, time apart may clear his head, might still the turmoil of frustration Thor feels at their latest encounter, might even allow Thor to focus on anything but the memory of Loki's cool dragging fingertips, his mouth pressing sucking kisses down Thor's chest, the sinuous curve of his body under Thor's -- yes. Time apart would be wise.

"Good," Natasha says briskly, unfolding from the couch. Rather than leaving at once, though, she pauses, sets a hand on Thor's shoulder, and says, low, "You can't love someone better, Thor. Remember that."

Thor nods wordlessly, and is grateful when she goes.

*

He does stay away for a few days, but it makes no difference. The need to see Loki is like a hook in his chest, and the longer he resists its pull, the more it hurts.

Besides, Natasha's words circle around in his head -- you can't fix a person for them -- colliding with Loki's snarled You think I have become better? and he thinks he sees the shape of his mistake. Brooding over the problem does no good, nor does allowing Loki to brood over it; so, sooner than perhaps is wise, Thor goes to Loki again.

"Why do you bother?" the guard outside Loki's cell asks him. "He just sits there and glares at you."

Thor stares long at the image of Loki, sitting very still, head bowed in contemplation over his hands, or perhaps over the thin bands of magic encircling his wrists. "Because," Thor says, "he is still my brother. Now let me see him, please."

Loki is sitting just as he appeared on the screen. He does not look up, not even when Thor shuts the door.

"I'm sorry," Thor says quietly. He searches for the words, difficult though they are. "I should not have implied that I have -- have fixed you. It was a stupid and arrogant thing to say."

Loki does look up at that. He does not look angry; he does not have any expression at all. He says nothing.

"That is all," Thor says. "I can go now, if you wish it."

Loki simply looks at him. Thor waits a moment longer; then he takes a shaky breath and turns to the door.

"You're easy to love," Loki murmurs behind him, so quietly that Thor is not sure he really heard it. But he turns, and Loki is still looking at him, eyes very bright. "That was a good and honorable thing to do."

Thor blinks. "Loki, I need no assurance --"

"But you are honorable," Loki says, no louder. "I see how it tears you up, coming to me like this." He frowns a little. "Thor, there is no need to remain in the doorway. Come, I have heard your apology." He touches the bed next to him, splayed hand pale even against the colorless sheets.

There is no way to refuse, and Thor does not want to, even wary as he feels of Loki acting quiet and expressionless. He settles next to Loki on the bed. Loki shudders and turns, curling into Thor with his head tucked under Thor's chin, and Thor allows it, wrapping an arm around Loki and feeling entirely out of his depth. That Loki would say he is unchanged and follow this with an action that specifically recalls moments in their childhood -- Thor has no idea what to make of it. He would suspect a knife under his ribs, but for that he knows Loki is unarmed.

"I know you hate lying," Loki says against Thor's shoulder, "even when it is practical. You are incapable of grudges; even when your own father had you banished, stripped of power in a desert -- even then you showed perfect loyalty --" His voice breaks.

He turns bonelessly in Thor's arms, and kisses him, tentatively. Thor does not know anymore what hesitation might mean, but he is desperately afraid that if he makes any sign Loki might take as rejection, it will be the worse for them. So Thor returns the kiss with fervency, all the reassurance he can give, and Loki melts, sighing all his electric tension into a soft moan in Thor's mouth.

"Do you want --?" Thor whispers.

"Yes," Loki says, and he laughs, low and delighted, when he discovers the packets of lube in Thor's pocket. "Optimist, are you?"

"I've had those for a week now," Thor says, flushing. "It seemed practical."

"Very," Loki says, already fumbling with his trousers and trying to kiss Thor again at the same time. It's too fast, Thor thinks; but he remembers Tony's concern, and he can feel Loki trembling a little with urgency, and Thor is already hard despite his uneasiness.

Their clothes off, Loki seizes Thor's wrist and eases down onto Thor's slick fingers, shuddering so hard that Thor pauses. "No," Loki snarls, "more, damn you," and when Thor complies he keens softly, half arching off the bed, and presses his heels to Thor's back to drag him closer. "Now," Loki gasps, "Thor, please, please --"

The look on Loki's face forbids argument, so Thor grips Loki's hips and pushes into him as gently as he's able. Loki moans, hips rising to meet his. The feel of Loki around him is just as terribly overwhelming as it was the first time, so Thor stays very still, hands sliding up to hold Loki's wrists, trying to anchor them both. He feels, dizzily, as though Loki is slipping away beneath his fingers. Loki arches against him, and Thor leans down to meet his brother's mouth.

Two wet, aching kisses later, Thor adjusts enough that it is not so overwhelming, and rolls his hips. They break the kiss to breathe through it, foreheads pressed together, and Loki says, so low and breathless that Thor nearly misses it, "You've lost your taste for killing, of course."

"What?" Thor asks, pulling back enough to see Loki's face.

"I mean no offense," says Loki, with a small, coy smile. He falls back, so that Thor cannot help but sink into him further. "You can, if you have to. But you have no wish to watch destruction for its own sake." His wrists slip out from under Thor's slack grip. "You see no appeal in watching things fall apart." He pulls Thor close with a hand behind his hips and the fingers of the other along his jaw. "I wish I knew where to find discipline as you have."

Thor thinks, with growing unease, that if he had true discipline he would leave off claiming Loki’s body, and tell his brother that he will not allow these games. Instead he is leaning into Loki’s touch, still thrusting into him, slow and even because his body craves it so. He gathers his words as best he can. "I don't -- I have no wish to talk now."

For a moment he thinks Loki might heed him, because Loki goes pliant, wrapping himself around Thor; but it is only for a moment. Then Loki reaches up to where Thor's arm is braced next to his head, takes Thor's wrist in a vise-grip, and snaps his hips hard, making a mockery of Thor’s restrained, gentle thrusts. Thor gasps, feeling himself respond in kind; Loki knows how Thor has always sought physical outlets for his troubles, and is using it against him. A tiny moment of vertigo hits Thor. "Please," Loki grates out. "I'm not lying this time. I am trying to do you the honor of honesty, please, hear me."

He won't release Thor's wrist. Thor resists the urge to twist away, but it is too much to concentrate on all at once, and Loki's hips are still rising hard to meet his. Thor groans, and cannot tell whether he means protest or assent.

"To be perfectly honest," Loki says, with a rising rueful smile, "though I've grown to appreciate a kill, the moment when blood hits the air, it has never compared to that first moment of fear." Loki's voice is almost entirely even, rocked though he is by Thor's thrusts. He is watching Thor, bright and steady with his pupils very wide and a flush of pleasure in his face. "Your coronation was perfect," he breathes. "I cannot begin to tell you how good it was to feel the warmth in that hall turn cold, to hear the stillness of the crowd, to watch you come to know you weren't safe in your home, that the enemy was already inside -- ironic, when you consid --"

"Enough, Loki!" Thor gasps, gaining at least the wits to stop Loki's words, though he cannot summon the will to stop moving.

But, "Why does it surprise you?" Loki laughs. His voice turns rapid and vicious. "Why do you believe I would parlay with Jotun and Chitauri and darker monsters, why do you think I would find the cracks Heimdall cannot see into, unless I loved it? Why else would I bear names like liesmith and coward, unless the sorcery I received in return was too wonderful to give up?" His face, Thor sees through his own alarm, is at odd with his words: he is still flushed, and watching Thor intently, but there is no triumph there, nor satisfaction; he looks as though he is confessing rather than fighting.

Loki's hand is a cold band around Thor's wrist, like the magical cuff on Loki's. Thor shudders, and finds he can slow after all; he leans in, kissing Loki, rocking into him as gently as he's able given Loki's movements, caressing the only way he can. "When we were children," Thor says, soft against Loki's mouth, "you remember, the tricks you would play for me --"

"You think I did that for your, oh, coveted, oh, attentions?" Loki twists under Thor, rolling up in such a way that Thor gasps and twitches, and Loki moans, throwing his head back. Thor cannot tell whether Loki is lying, or wants Thor to believe he is. Thor drives in very hard, once, and Loki's ensuing moan is more prolonged. His voice sounds a little hollow when he speaks again, and his eyes are slightly glassy.

"I bedded beasts, as I wandered in the void." He says it as though the words are nothing. "I was curious. Even if I hadn't been, I had so little with me to trade, after my magic. They were curious too."

Thor's whole skin goes chill, though he's still shamefully hard inside Loki. "Loki, don't say such --"

"You saw how much the Chitauri entrusted me with. Their leaders had the same difficulty as you." Loki's eyes flutter on a slow roll of his hips. "They found me a burr they couldn’t stop picking at, as you do, you cannot stop returning to me --"

"You are my brother, Loki, not --"

"It's different with you, of course it is." Loki hooks a leg around the back of Thor's thigh. "You're beautiful; I've known your scent since the cradle; I've thought about your hands on me since before I knew what I wanted them for --"

The sudden spike of desire makes Thor shudder, and he hides his face in Loki's shoulder.

Loki laughs, quiet and dark, and cards a hand through Thor's hair in a mockery of a caress. "I know," he whispers. "You're nothing like the others. Dear brother," and laughs again when Thor's hips twitch, as though he can taste Thor's arousal and shame.

"Loki," Thor whispers against Loki's shoulder, "stop."

Loki stills. "As you wish," he murmurs, and this time when he strokes Thor's hair it feels nearly sincere. "Come, Thor, I know you still want me; take me, then."

Thor's whole body feels too hot, his face near glowing. He is not any less hard than he was; in fact, he fears moving too much will make him come tellingly quickly. There is a feeling like tears at the back of his throat. Loki does not wait him out, but moves again, a slow sinuous roll, hands scratching lightly down Thor's back. Thor moans, helpless with humiliation and desire, and thrusts. This time when he starts he cannot stop; he can already feel the build of pleasure at the base of his spine, and Loki is whispering, so soft and distracted that it does not sound calculated at all, "Thor, yes, yes."

Hearing Loki lost in pleasure is what does it. Thor presses his face into Loki's shoulder and comes; it wracks him, nearly painful in its intensity, and in the aftermath Thor's skin feels so oversensitive that he rolls off Loki at once and collapses next to him, shaking.

When his breathing has slowed enough, he turns his head and glances at Loki askance. Loki has half-rolled to face Thor; he is stroking himself lazily, and looks intensely thoughtful.

"Don't ever do that again," Thor says quietly.

"Don't dare to presume anything about me," Loki says in return, nearly as quiet.

Thor simply nods.

He remembers how, when Loki was imprisoned on Asgard, he had thought of his visits with Loki as a battle. One I do not wish to fight, he had said, and Loki had corrected him, One you don't know how to fight. Thor had forgotten, but he remembers now, and he knows that it is true after all.

They lay in silence for a time. Loki does not try to rush him out, and Thor waits until his pulse has calmed before he gathers his things and goes.

*

Thor knows that he has delayed the inevitable long enough: he must face what he has done. He has never been so far out of his depth. He is, Thor forces himself to admit, terrified, though of what he is unsure; his own ruin, perhaps, or Loki's.

He entertains the idea of telling someone. The obvious choice is Natasha: she has, after all, been visiting Loki, and her understanding of him is not blinded as Thor's is by sentiment. But as soon as he decides to go to her, Thor finds it is impossible to catch Natasha by herself. When she is at the Tower she is in company, for movie nights or sparring or strategizing; Thor manages to be alone in a room with her once or twice, but every time, while he is still gathering the courage to speak, one of the others comes in and Thor concedes the field with relief.

The truth is that Thor cannot think how he could tell her, even if he gathered the courage to do so. He allows himself to hope that she would not hate him; but then he thinks of what Clint would say, or Steve, and he can hardly breathe for shame. At least he knows it is not cowardice alone that stops him. He only knows that there is no justification for what he is doing with Loki, and if he cannot look his companions in the eye and tell them of his deeds, he can hardly expect them to help him. It is his own doing, and he must see to it.

He does not know how.

At the very least he cannot return to Loki until he has a better grasp of their battlefield. Loki has bitter poison for a weapon, while Thor has only useless frustration and even more useless love for his. Nor does he want to stay away, because while Loki must know he is winning, if Thor does not come Loki will see the retreat for what it is.

His mind runs in these circles for a week. The Avengers make no mention of it; his preoccupation, Thor realizes with a jolt, is simply a fact now, one that bears no special concern. Besides, Thor cannot afford to be locked in his head. They have several media appearances; Steve and Thor take a day trip to Brooklyn; Thor still takes comfort in making his friends meals in the evening. On Saturday, it is Steve's turn to pick a movie -- Casablanca, which it seems he has already seen, judging by how excited he is for Thor to see it -- and Thor risks several experiments with popcorn, even becoming diverted enough by the process to laugh until his belly hurts when it goes flying all over the room. Tony ends up sitting on the floor amid the popcorn crying with laughter; Steve laughs nearly as hard, though he is not actually in tears. The commotion draws in Pepper and Bruce as well; "Oh Tony," Pepper says, and begins to giggle when Tony only wheezes helplessly and points an accusing finger at Thor.

When they have cleaned up and their mirth has calmed to the occasional chuckle, they head for the rec room. It is only then that they all notice Clint and Natasha are nowhere to be found. "Hold on, maybe they forgot," Tony says, frowning over his Starkphone as he sends off a rapid text.

"On Saturday?" Steve says skeptically.

The return text from Natasha comes quickly enough. Situation at SHIELD, sorry we can't make it.

"Very forthcoming, as usual." Tony retrieves the bowl of popcorn. "Well, their loss. C'mon, the night's not getting any younger, and we're not getting answers until tomorrow if we get answers at all."

Natasha and Clint show up just after breakfast the next morning, looking very serious.

"We were hacked," Natasha explains. "Don't look like that, Stark; as far as we know, no one's gone for your personal servers. But someone did get right through all our firewalls, and they've accessed everything we have on planetary defense." She looks over at Thor. "Thoughts?"

"Do you suspect the Chitauri?" Thor gives a shrug of apology. "I know no more than you. From what I observed, and what Heimdall saw of them, they are scavengers and hive creatures; whether they have the means to break through your security, I do not know. If they have any magic to speak of, I could not see it, but they may have other means."

"Personally I'd prefer the Chitauri," Clint says. "Devil you know, right? Otherwise we might be looking at our next space invaders."

He and Natasha are still looking at Thor expectantly. Thor blinks. "Perhaps," he says. "Friends, truly I have no more insight than that."

"Whoever got through our security," Clint tells him, "they also accessed Loki's prison file. Not any of the others in that complex, just his."

Thor feels a thrill of anticipation. He is hardly happy to hear it, but anything is better than an interminable waiting without knowing. "It is almost certainly the Chitauri, then," he says, "though how they were able to do such a thing, I do not know."

"That," Natasha says quietly, "or Loki managed it somehow. Couldn’t someone hack the servers using magic?"

"It is possible," Thor acknowledges, "but the wards my father put upon Loki are still in place. I would not dare call Loki harmless, but there is no way he could have been the one to access SHIELD's information; if he could, would he not have done it before his first attempt on this planet?"

This reasoning does seem to make an impression; Natasha blinks, and Clint shrugs, and everyone relaxes a little. "Even so," Natasha says, "we're going to watch him more closely, just in case he is involved."

*

SHIELD's suspicion of Loki is, in its own way, a blessing. Natasha goes to Loki near daily, and Thor would not be able to get the necessary time alone with him to have any meaningful interaction even if he wished to do so. Meanwhile, SHIELD comes no closer to finding out the cause of the breach, or so Clint tells them; he is not needed to work their technology, and he reasonably refuses to spend any time observing Loki, so instead he remains at the Tower while SHIELD is in lockdown.

"Thor," Tony says, taking Thor's elbow and pulling him aside a few days into the lockdown. "Look. The geeks at SHIELD are going to be going over every bit of Loki's footage with a fine-toothed comb right about now, and when they look hard enough they're eventually going to notice that the footage isn't real."

"I would rather you didn't volunteer the information," Thor replies, calmly enough. "I promise Loki was not secretly contacting the erstwhile allies who want him dead while he was with me."

"Well, obviously." Tony rolls his eyes. "You're missing the point, which is, I guarantee you, that sometime in the next few days everyone's going to panic about Loki screwing with his footage when you visit, which means you will look suspicious, and me helping you will look suspicious. Saving New York from Loki only gets you so many points, especially when Loki is the one it looks like we're protecting." He searches Thor's face, frowning a little now. "I'm telling you to give you a heads-up, okay? I'm letting Fury know before his whole organization panics."

"If you must," Thor manages, "though I fail to see how it will help; you are only exchanging the possibility that they might discover your deception for the certainty that they will know we have deceived them."

"Probability," Tony corrects, his eyebrows going up, "and I'm not an idiot, I have a good-faith gesture, here. I'll give them the real footage."

Thor's breath stops.

"You kept it?" he asks faintly.

"Well, yeah," Stark says, as though this is entirely obvious. "The algorithm overwrote the prison feed, but I had JARVIS backup record it in case we'd ever need it."

"I did not know," Thor says, idiotically.

"Now you do." Stark claps him on the back, looking mildly concerned.

He has to tell Stark, Thor realizes, feeling numb now that the first awful shock is past. He was a fool to think that they were entirely safe -- never from Heimdall, of course, though until now Thor has mostly managed to avoid thinking of it -- but never from Midgard's technologies, either. He has to tell Tony, but he cannot find the words, no blunt ones, no insinuating ones, nothing. And even as he gropes for some means to explain to Tony why the footage cannot be turned over, a sudden spike of fear stops his throat. What might they do to Loki, if they knew? Until this moment all Thor's worry has been for their reaction to knowing what he has done; but if an act that Loki had no part in, this hacking of SHIELD, makes them immediately suspicious of him, how much worse might it be for an act that Loki did take part in? The fear floods him, and Thor stands under it helpless, in near animal panic for his brother's safety.

He has no words left. It all happens in a moment, and the only thing Thor can force out, cracked and quiet and anguished, is, "Tony, please don't."

Tony's eyes go wide. "Okay," he says quietly. "Okay, Thor. I won't. I should, um." He gestures down the hall and goes, but Thor pays him hardly any heed. He stands there, paralyzed with fear.

He needs a plan, but Thor can hardly force himself to think. Once he calms down he will have to tell them; this much is obvious, no matter that he cannot tear himself from the overwhelming desire to run to Loki and take him elsewhere. There is no elsewhere, that is the problem. Asgard is barred to him, and he can feel Midgard shrinking in around him like a trap. Thor breathes deeply, until the feeling of hemmed-in panic fades. It leaves behind the conviction, still, that he needs to get out. He must do something, and if he does not get out he must go after Tony, this very moment, and wrest the footage of Loki's cell from him somehow, stop him from ever seeing it, destroy it. That option, of course, is no option at all, being pure cowardice and active betrayal, and so Thor comes back around to fleeing, and taking Loki with him. It is that, or confessing before Tony can discover what Thor has done, and by now Thor has been standing frozen with horror for so long that it might be too late.

"Thor?"

Flinching, Thor turns to see Steve looking into the hall. "There you are," Steve says. "I don't have much going on today. Would you like to spar?"

"I." Thor swallows. "Perhaps not."

Steve comes closer, with a look of growing concern. "Hey, are you okay?"

"No," Thor says quietly. Steve's look of concern settles, but he makes no move to prod Thor. Thor feels as though his chest is cracking with grief. "I am sorry, Steve. I cannot."

Steve's phone pings. He glances down at it, frowns, and sends a rapid text in return. He glances up at Thor, but nearly at once the phone pings again; Steve reads it and this time his head snaps back up to Thor in surprise. Thor's nerves sing. He does not ask for the contents of the text, and he cannot meet Steve's eyes, but he tries to get around Steve to the door.

Steve steps out, squarely into Thor's way.

For an instant Thor thinks of knocking Steve aside. He could do it; they have sparred enough that he knows Steve is very fast and very good, but a single movement, unprepared-for and fueled by desperation, could incapacitate Steve long enough that Thor might get away. Or perhaps not: Steve is standing firmly planted, looking as though he believes Thor might be capable of nearly anything.

This is it, then.

Thor's shoulders slump. Steve makes no move to relax, but his face shifts back from wariness to worry.

"Tony?" Thor asks, low, indicating the phone.

"Yeah," Steve says. "Apparently you're code red."

The words hit Thor with awful, sick finality. He nods in defeat. Thor can nearly see how this will go, but he cannot afford to go there yet; it will only panic him. Instead, he sees how it might have gone; how when Loki kissed him and Steve asked afterward if he was well, he might have spoken. He doesn't know whether he might have found sympathy from any of them then, and it is much too late now to know.

"Want to tell me what's up?" Steve asks.

Thor takes a shuddering breath. "Loki," he says, unsure what to say after, but he is not given the chance: Tony and Natasha appear behind Steve in the doorway. Tony's face is very white and Natasha's is very calm.

"Yeah," Tony says. "Tell us about Loki, why don't you?"

Now comes the panic Thor was trying to stave off, pouring down upon him in a rush. His vision goes grey at the edges. "You broke your word!"

"Um, no, you don't get to act like the injured party, here," Tony says. The anger in his voice is still modulated, barely. "Were you already planning to do it when you asked me to hide your visits?"

"No," Thor says, the single syllable all he can manage.

"He asked you --? Planning what?" Steve demands. He still does not understand. The fury and betrayal on Tony's face is but a pale reflection of how Steve will look in moments; and knowing that, Thor finds his voice again.

"Please," Thor says, "please, Tony, I had no such plans, and I would not have Steve learn of it this way --"

"Would you rather we just showed him the tapes?" Tony asks, with a terrible coldness. "There are things I am never going to fucking unsee. Before you ask, no, I didn't decide to subject SHIELD to that bullshit, they probably see enough they'd rather forget already. Hawkeye's updating Fury. He doesn't even want to be in the same building as you."

"Would someone," Steve says, loudly, "tell me what the hell is going on!"

"Thor has been sleeping with Loki," Natasha says, quiet and even.

"...What?" Steve turns to blink at her; turns to blink at Thor. "Wait. What?"

"Sleeping with doesn't really paint the right picture," Tony tells him. Thor sees, with mounting alarm, that he was underestimating how deeply upset Tony is. "They're fucking. Thor is fucking his brother, the psycho nutcase who tried to destroy New York!" He ends this yelling at Thor, and stops abruptly, panting, as though he has run out of words.

Steve turns back to Thor, with the beginning of comprehension on his face. "Thor," he says. "He's a prisoner."

"Are we missing the incest-with-a-supervillain angle here?" Tony demands.

"Thor?" Steve says, ignoring him.

Thor forces himself to meet Steve's eyes. There is a welling-up of pain in Steve's face, confusion growing to his own slow sort of anger. "I was," Thor says, as steadily as he can. "He reached out to me, and I -- I did not know how I could refuse him without destroying whatever chance I might still have to reach him."

"Thor," Natasha says. She doesn't say anything else, but the sheer tired disappointment in the word cuts into him like a dagger.

"I don't," Steve says. "I've gotta." He stumbles back a step, and another. Thor does not stop him; he has no right, and above this he is relieved that Steve is the first to run. He does not know how much longer either of them could bear this. Natasha stands aside to let Steve pass.

"Here's how it works," Natasha tells Thor, still very calmly, when Steve is gone. "You're not going to see Loki again, at least for a time, and when you do it will only be to explain the situation. You will under no circumstances be allowed alone with him. We'll place you in SHIELD housing where we can keep an eye on you, and --"

"Nope," Tony says, his voice brittle. "JARVIS can keep a better eye on him. Why the hell would we give this mess to SHIELD? We're going to deal with it. Thor is staying right here."

"You won't leave the Tower unless you're given explicit permission and accompanied by one of us," Natasha continues smoothly. "Understood?"

Thor feels numb. He nods. "Yes," he says. He looks over at Tony, though he flinches away from meeting Tony's eyes. "Thank you."

"No," Tony says. His voice cracks. "Get the hell out of my sight."

There is nothing Thor would like better. He goes down the hall away from them, their eyes burning into his back the whole way. He dreads what Bruce will think, but hasn't the heart to tell him himself; he dreads what Lady Pepper will think, too, and wonders whether he'll ever see Clint again. He aches with the desire to get out of his own skin.

In the elevator, he looks up at the ceiling and says, "The roof, please, JARVIS."

"I'm sorry, sir," JARVIS answers. "The only floors you are authorized for are the current one and your own quarters. Shall I take you there?"

Thor's breath hitches. "My quarters, then."

His bedroom is even more bleak and barren than he remembers. Thor ignores Mjolnir, sitting against the nightstand; he goes instead to the wide window, and stares down at the alien city below him, blank with despair.