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Bitter Salt, Sweet Ashes

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Algrim remembers.

All the dark elves remember, of course, the day the Asgardians defeated them, the day Malekith bid their ships fall from the sky so his escape could be covered by fire. There is no forgetting that, seeing Svartalfheim, already a shadow of her former dark beauty, reduced to blackened dust. That is what they remember, the taste of ashes, of blood, the bitter defeat.

But Algrim remembers after, when all had been put to sleep and only the ship breathed. He remembers Malekith, standing at the bridge and looking out over the damnably bright stars. He looks so small without his armor, face and hands pale like ghosts that flutter over the dark of his sleep suit.

Malekith is not a man who cries, but his mourning is there, so heavy that it takes the air from the room. He looks at Algrim with his soul turned inside-out in his eyes, devoid of the rage and determination that he used to drive the other dark elves before him like a lash.

And Malekith asks: "What have I done?"

There are many answers to that. Algrim is not so blind that he cannot feel the cascade of blood that has borne them to this questionable safety. But he feels the same inevitability as his ruler, his master. He knows the heavy demand of necessity, the uncompromising fight to draw breath in a universe that hates their very existence. Every blow to Malekith, to the dark elves, has landed just as heavily on him as Malekith's faithful shadow.

And so he answers: "What had to be done."

They are alone, nothing but death and sleep around them, the cruel light of a universe that no longer welcomes their kind. He sees Malekith crack like ice, like marble wedged by frost and cold. And he catches Malekith, before his knees can strike the deck plates.

"What have I done?" Malekith asks again, his lips trembling against Algrim's ear.

Algrim lowers them both, drawing the smaller--and how wrong, how comedic it is that Malekith is physically smaller, when his spirit is so immeasurably greater--elf close against him. "Survived," he whispers.

Malekith looks at him then, blue eyes against blue. He reaches a hand to touch Algrim's face. His fingernails are broken, skin smelling acrid and salty with the blood of Asgardians. "Will you leave me now, Algrim?" he asks.

And Algrim, damning himself all the while, but now he can only think of the blooms of fire that were once their people, their hopes, their home, turns his face into Malekith's hand. They are the only two left in this universe now, it feels, the only ones who understand all they have lost, all they must still lose. But that does not mean they are bereft.

Malekith's breath hitches as Algrim's lips touch his palm. "Never," Algrim whispers. "I will never leave you."

Perhaps it is fading battle lust, or desperation, or loneliness, but something within Algrim whispers yes, this is right and necessary and even proper, for the homeless people they have become. Let love be snatched where it may, because there is no one else left to give either of them warmth.

And perhaps, because in his heart, this is all he has wanted from the centuries of serving Malekith, to know he has even the smallest of homes in his king's heart.

Malekith draws him down and kisses him. Hands fumble at the fastenings of the skintight black suit, and Algrim does the same, steadier--how is he steadier than Malekith, who is their greatest and strongest? When Malekith's fingers hesitate again, Algrim shakes his head, takes over. "It is all right," he murmurs. "I am yours. Ever has it been so."

And this time, Malekith hears the meaning beyond that, not just sword and life and blood, but soul.

There is no hesitation again. Their lips meet, and then skin finds skin, Malekith's hands peeling away his sleep suit. Algrim is daring enough to kiss his king's neck, taste the skin of his chest, the planes of his stomach, laced with scars. He takes Malekith's cock into his mouth and is rewarded with a tight grip against his hair, fingers flexing and pulling his warrior's braids into disarray.

Of all things that day, it makes him smile. Because Malekith has always been so concerned with their appearance of strength and control. That control disappears with a few movements of tongue and lips.

When Malekith tugs him insistently back up, Algrim obeys; he has always gone where Malekith leads. As he straightens, he feels fingers against his buttocks and knows what will be next, welcomes it. He begins to turn, but Malekith stops him, his other hand twining around his braids. "No," he says. "I will see your face."

And that is how it happens, their naked bodies only protected from the cold decking by their discarded clothing as Malekith takes him on the floor. There is no gentleness to it, only the desperation they both feel. Malekith has Algrim's braids curled in one first the entire time, giving his hair a sharp, unconscious tug every time he thrusts.

Algrim does not care. Because in that moment, it is only them, their breaths, their heartbeats, blue eyes staring into blue eyes, and it no longer matters that the light flowing in through the portholes loathes them and whispers of their deaths. They are not alone. They are not defeated.

And later, Malekith lays in his arms, their skin stuck together with sweat, and whispers, "What have I done?"

Algrim smiles, one thumb tracing the beautiful, thin scars on Malekith's cheeks. "Lived," he answers.

This, Algrim remembers. One moment, never to be repeated, but always to be relived. He remembers Malekith's eyes, determination sharp in them once again, as his last sight before the thousand year sleep overtakes him. He remembers the feeling of cool fingers touching his lips, ragged fingernails catching his skin.

All these, he remembers as Malekith trails the dark ashes of their home through his fingers, when he says that they will take the fight to Asgard. Blue eyes meet blue, older than the universe, and they both know what must be done. There is only one person Malekith trusts wholly, with his people, with his soul.

In their tongue, the word for love shares a root with eternity and sacrifice, because they are all the same.

So Algrim lets Malekith slip a knife into his side, asks for it, promises his life for it. Feels those same fingers, weak and strong and tender and cruel, press that stone into the wound, and knows this will be the last touch that they ever share.

He presses his forehead against Malekith's, not feeling the pain, not thinking of dark blood flowing over his king's pale skin, because he sees nothing but those blue eyes reflecting his own. He breathes in and tastes bitter salt, sweet ashes on his tongue.

He sees, unspoken, the guilt behind the determination, the desperation, the loneliness. And Algrim answers without words, because they no longer need something so crude as language: It is all right. I am yours.

But this moment has been inevitable, ever since the hated birth of light into the world that once loved them, that they once called home. They can only love each other. Ever has it been so.

So then: I know you will take me home.

And last: I love you.