Actions

Work Header

Under Snow

Work Text:

Thor looks anxiously out at the snow-covered ground, the thick layer of white growing thicker by the minute, a blanket of cold across an unfamiliar realm. He knows it is too late to leave, now; Loki has gotten his wish. He thinks that thought uneasily, because he is the elder of the two of them and this trip was his idea. It was what he wanted; originally, Loki had not wanted to come along at all. But Thor had practically forced him to give in.

If only he could go back now and tell himself not to. If only he could go back now and tell himself there would be other times, other opportunities.

If his little brother dies, it will be his fault.

Just then, there comes another fit of coughing behind him, and Thor slams the door shut, suddenly aware of the cold of the draft he is letting into the rough, abandoned cottage in which they have taken shelter, and he spins and trails back through the dim pair of rooms to the one where Loki lies under all the blankets they brought.

Feverish, sweating and shivering all at once. His face pale and blotched with red, his eyes wide and wild. His breath wheezes.

Thor climbs in beside him and puts his arms around his brother. It is the only protection he can offer, and he fears it will not be enough.

*

Loki was a sickly child.

Thor remembers this. He remembers trying to explain it to his friends, repeating the words his mother had given him for why Loki seemed to fall ill so often—why, in their first century, Loki had fallen victim to sickness at least half a dozen times.

“Is there something wrong with him?” he remembers one of his friends asking, in tones of suspicion, as if Loki might have done something to deserve this. As if it made him weak.

Thor remembers his cheeks growing hot at the questions. He had banished the feeling, stiffening his jaw. “No. He’s just different. It means nothing,” he said, but it seemed inadequate, and he remembers excusing himself and going to his brother’s bedside soon after, feeling curiously as if he were sick as well, his stomach churning with fear and worry.

Loki had never seemed to be worried, though. That time, Thor found him sitting in bed with a few small carved figures—the little toy Einherjar their father had had made for them both when they were even smaller—on the blankets on his lap.

“I’m bored,” Loki admitted, and Thor did not tell him that he looked terrible, his face white but with an unhealthy, sallow shadow around his deep eyes. Thor usually found his brother beautiful, and the look of him when he was ill was unsettling, making Thor want to both stare and look away. “The healers say I should stay in bed until I’m well. I’m well enough, though. Do you want to come with me to the library?”

Thor already knew better than to tell Loki he was too sick to be up and about. Instead he shook his head. “Maybe later.”

He could see Loki trying not to be too disappointed, not to let his shoulders sag too obviously. In the silence, Thor pulled his chair nearer the side of Loki’s bed.

“I’ll read to you, though, if you want.”

Eagerly Loki nodded, and Thor sat there for the next hour with the heavy book open on his knees, reading to his brother tales of adventure in other realms, until Loki’s breathing went even and slow and his eyes fell shut and stayed that way, healing sleep coming over him.

Thor remembered sighing and marking their place for later and then creeping out, being intercepted by their mother coming in. She swept him up in her arms and kissed him; he hugged her as well, burying his face in her shoulder.

Loki would be all right. The illness needed but time to pass. That was what they always said. Yet Thor knew little of illness; all he knew was that it was a thing that made his brother different and a thing that made him helpless. And Thor did not like either.

*

Alfheim is known for its wilderness. It is also known for its mildness; it is an ally realm to Asgard, the elves a peaceful people. This trip should have been perfectly safe, even for two Asgardian princes who have not yet come of age.

Yet either they have gone astray or this weather is unseasonable, or both.

Thor knows now he should not have listened to Loki days ago, when he showed the first sign of sickness and insisted that he would not cut their holiday short nor seek out help when he did not need it.

Four days ago, camped on the lower slopes of this same mountain, he woke to find Loki plastered against him, squirming uncomfortably in his sleep as if in a nightmare, and even when Thor shook him awake it took several minutes for his eyes to clear.

His skin was hot and damp, his pulse racing when Thor grabbed his wrist.

“Sorry, brother,” Loki said, shrugging a weak apology, though Thor did not know what he was apologizing for. It had been long enough since one of Loki’s illnesses that Thor honestly did not recognize it at first.

Three days ago, Thor knew something was wrong, yet he let Loki lead them on the trails as they wandered, and it was Loki who found the rough wooden habitation, winking at his brother with a shaky smile and going up to rub a fist against the dusty windows as if it was impossible that anyone might be within.

The lock turned inside as Thor watched, amazed, at the curl of green-fire magic from Loki’s palm.

“Much more comfortable,” Loki murmured as he entered, though he had never before complained about the camp they made under open sky, pillowed on soft, warm furs, oilskins laid out nearby in case of rain.

That evening, Loki’s cough began, and Thor began to realize that his brother was ill again. He knew that this was bad, although he had not admitted to himself yet how bad it was.

“I’m going to go get you help,” he said decisively, after Loki dug through the cottage’s ruined kitchen and found a serviceable pot and used up some of the stores they’d brought in heating up something like a thin stew.

“What are you talking about,” Loki said, scowling over his bowl. “You’re not leaving me alone out here, and I’m not going anywhere tonight. It’s late. I’m tired.”

Thor scowled in reply. “All right. In the morning, then. We’re going home.”

Loki pursed his lips and said nothing.

The next morning Thor woke with the golden sun of Alfheim angled across him, and he had one brief moment of perfect contentment.

Then he woke more fully, turned over in the musty, unfamiliar bed and saw that Loki was still deep in slumber beside him, and he had gotten up to go refresh himself, visiting the outhouse and then the water-pump they’d found the day before. The water was icy cold, and he huffed as he splashed it against his face and neck. 

They were out in the middle of nowhere. And though this trip had all been his plan—wheedled out of their parents as an opportunity for an adventure that could not possibly endanger them—he now felt in over his head. He had to convince Loki that they could not deal with his sickness alone, before it grew any worse. But Loki was sensitive about such things. He did not like to have it suggested that he was weak, that there was anything that Thor could do that he could not match.

From the cottage, he heard faintly a bout of Loki’s coughing, rapid and strained. Knowing already that this would not be easy, Thor finished filling the water skin and hurried back inside.

*

They didn’t leave.

Thor tries not to think about why they didn’t, as the snow piles higher around the cottage. At first Loki delayed him. Then Loki feigned that he was improving and bargained for time, saying that if he was not clearly getting better by the next morning, he would agree to go home without a fuss.

When that morning came and he was instead clearly worse, he had switched to threats.

“I’m not going,” Loki had said, sitting hunched over in the bed, looking pale and weak but somehow wolfish. “Not even if you drag me. I will not run home because I’m too sickly to handle a camping trip in Alfheim, and if you try to force me, I will never speak to you again.”

It was an empty threat. Obviously. Loki was his brother and had threatened to never again share words with him too many times to count, only to forget the promise an hour later. Yet… this was not a squabble like those times, and there was real anger in Loki’s voice.

And beneath it, like a shadow, there was real fear, real pain. Loki had never been afraid when he fell ill; danger never frightened him. This was different, yet it was somehow familiar, and Thor could not remember at first when he had seen that sort of darkness in his brother’s eyes.

But…

“Is there something wrong with him?”

The last time Loki had been sick, several decades ago, it had ended in a debacle. Thor had thought that Loki would be cheered by company more than just him and their mother and father, and so he had brought a small group of their friends one afternoon after Loki began to mend.

Thor still doesn’t know how it had gone so wrong, but he does know that the prank Loki pulled on those who came with him that day is still famous among the servants who had to clean up after it. He also remembers being forced to swear that he would never again do such a thing without asking.

So this time, because he does not want to hurt his brother, Thor gives in. He tells himself that it will be all right, though he cannot make himself really believe it.

*

By midday, Loki’s condition has worsened, and his threats have changed.

“If you try to go back without me, Thor… I will gut you,” Loki wheezes, breathing only with difficulty, his face gone ashen.

And no matter how fearsome a knife-fighter Loki is becoming, that is not the reason that Thor gives in to this particular threat. The truth is that he would not now have dared to leave Loki alone now, not for the time it would take him to bring help. Not even for an hour.

And then night falls, and cold with it, and the snow drops all around them as soft and silent as a cat’s footsteps.

*

Thor sleeps a little with his arms around the burning brand that is his brother’s form, while the snow piles up beyond the wooden walls and the chill creeps in to fill everywhere in the room that is not the nest they have made under their blankets on the old mattress. He nuzzles against Loki’s neck and finds it damp with sweat, but he doesn’t care. Sometimes Loki cries out in his sleep, or twists to find some elusive comfort, and Thor wakes every time only to fall back swiftly into his thin slumber.

Asleep, he finds his own comfort in the feel of having Loki beside him, and his dreams are filled with everything he wanted this trip to be.

It was not supposed to be like this.

*

A week before, Loki had not even known about the journey Thor had planned.

The only way he had overcome Loki’s resistance was by arranging it all without telling him. Loki only learned of their trip the night before, over supper, when Odin had admonished them both to get plenty of rest before their journey. Loki had looked over at Thor, his ink-line brows twisted together, and mouthed a silent “what?”

Thor had given him a sheepish grin, but inwardly he had felt quite pleased. Loki must know that he was not the only one capable of stealth and secrecy.

And later, as their mother had hugged them both and made them vow to be careful and to look after each other, Loki had glared at him over her shoulder but he still had not said a word. Well, he couldn’t, really; they had always covered for each other, and Thor had obviously lied and misled to gain their father’s permission for the trip, so Loki would not reveal him.

It was not until they were alone together that Loki rounded on him in fury.

“A hunting expedition to Alfheim?” he asked, incredulous.

Thor shrugged. “It has been a long time since you’ve gone hunting with me. I’ve missed your company. And your aim.”

It was shameless flattery, but Loki softened slightly for it. He still bristled, but it was only with sighs and eyes rolled skyward that he listened to Thor’s impassioned description of the pleasure they would have wandering the Elven woods together, chasing beasts and sleeping under the stars, just the two of them…

And that, too, was an easy lie. But Thor could not speak the truth aloud. Not in Asgard. Not while they were in a place where they had to watch their every move, where any slip could doom them both.

It was only months since the first time, and Thor was already going mad from having to hide everything he felt.

He was so pleased with himself for his little deception, so eager to be with his brother, his… his first, the most important person in his life… in a place where they could forget themselves and worry about nothing else but each other.

But that happiness has fled, now. Sometimes, when Loki stirs and cries out, the fever burning hotter inside him, Thor wakes up to a bitter, aching regret. He had no way of knowing, no reason to suspect that this would happen. He did not plan for this. It had been years since Loki had fallen ill; Thor thought that was over and done with.

This was not what he wanted at all.

*

“I think he will grow out of it,” Frigga had confided once. “At least, that is what Eir believes.”

Thor said nothing. He had long since learned better than to ask why Loki fell ill so often; their mother never answered, no more than to give him a slightly disappointed look and to tell him that sickness did not mean anything. It did not need a why. It was simply something that happened, more often for some and less often for others, and only the Norns could say.

“So when we are grown, he will not fall ill anymore?”

His mother smiled at him gently. “That is my hope. At the very least, the apples will help. But you are both too young for them now.”

At the time, that future had seemed so far away. Then years had swept by, and the next Thor thought about it, his mother’s prediction seemed to have come to pass. Now he simply does not know.

*

Loki wakes when the first blue light of dawn, an uneasy, thin, strained light, comes in through the sole window behind its white curtain, and the first thing he does is ask for water.

Thor brings him the water skin he’d filled the day before, and Loki drains it quickly, hands the limp, empty thing back to him as he sinks into his pillow.

“Bring more, please, brother,” Loki pleads.

Thor goes, meaning to stomp his way out to the pump again, hoping that it will somehow not be frozen. But he finds, when he reaches the door, that he can’t. The drifts have piled against the tiny cottage, so high that he cannot guess how far he would have to burrow through them to reach open ground—if it is not this thick all across the mountain. He isn’t entirely sure which direction the pump lies in anymore, and he is sure he would find it frozen anyway, so he will not risk the attempt.

He winds up melting a pot full of snow over the fire in the cottage’s little hearth, and while it melts he takes stock of their inventory of supplies. They have enough food for a few days, if he gives most of it to Loki. They never planned for a long journey away from other resources, though; despite his secret intention, he had thought they would do a little hunting here and there anyway, and the temperate climate of Alfheim means forever-plentiful fruits upon the trees, and seeds and nuts if they bothered to search for them.

Or it should have.

Once the pot is full, Thor brings the water to his brother in bed, and Loki drinks it down gratefully. Thor tries to look untroubled, but Loki sees through him.

“What’s wrong?” Loki asks, frowning.

Thor bites his lip but soon admits it. “We’re snowed in,” he says.

To his surprise, Loki blinks at him owlishly for only an instant before he collapses backward on the pillow. Thor thinks it is another coughing fit, but when Thor reaches to try to soothe him, he finds that the convulsions are instead those of laughter.

“Snowed in?” he says. “Oh Thor, this is my favorite of our hunting trips yet.”

Bitter anger stirs in Thor’s breast as he climbs back under the blankets for warmth and lies beside his brother. Anger at Loki’s stubbornness in not letting them leave before this turned into a disaster, anger at himself for not insisting, anger at this realm for all of it.

He tried to stop the snow. At home, he has already shown some measure of control over the skies, but on this realm he may as well have tried to scream at the clouds to get them to cease.

He is angry. But he is also frightened, because he does not know what else to do.

The laughter ends when it does turn into coughing, Loki’s face buried against his pillow, and Thor slides closer to him. But when the spasms subside Loki turns his head to look at him, disarming and open, even smiling a little.

Thor cannot help but remember the first time they kissed. It was only months ago, but it is seared into his memory. He thinks it was the most afraid he has ever been, and the happiest. They are brothers; he should not want to taste Loki’s lips. But he does. It is worse that they are both too young to know what they want—or so they would be told. If it ever came to light, they would be forced apart. They would be punished, but it would all be done with the sense that they were children. That they did not know.

But Thor knows. He remembers their last furtive, stolen kiss, and he knows that what he feels for Loki is true. It is as real as anything in all the realms.

*

Night falls early, and Thor finds himself staring up at the corners of the room, unnerved by the darkness in that unfamiliar place, until eventually he gets up, meaning to make himself useful to stop the wandering thoughts and fears that trouble him.

As he climbs out of bed, he turns back to Loki.

“Hmm?” Loki sighs weakly when Thor nudges him, his shoulder hot through the blankets.

“Are you hungry? Do you want to eat?”

Loki’s eyes blink open for only a moment, as he rolls his head on his neck. They don’t focus even as they look at him. “Nuh-uh,” Loki slurs. “Cold. Don’t make me get up.”

Loki tries to turn away, squeezing his eyes shut and dragging at the blankets with his fingertips. Thor frowns and shakes him gently.

“I won’t. You don’t have to. But are you hungry? You should eat, brother. To keep up your strength.”

This time Loki huffs in annoyance, one arm emerging to flail as if to shove him away but never making contact. “Fine. Fine, I’ll eat. Just let me sleep first.”

This isn’t much of an answer, but Thor takes it, tucking the blankets closer around Loki’s shoulders before he goes.

Thor comes back a little while later, with a bit of bread and cheese and a cupful of warm broth (he feels rather proud of managing the broth) and he sets these down on the bedside table and goes to wake his brother again.

“Wake up, Loki. I’ve brought food,” he says, stroking Loki’s forehead and smiling at the feel of his soft hair.

Loki doesn’t stir. Thor shakes him again, but this time Loki’s mouth only falls open, his head tilting back, his body limp. His skin is hot and oddly dry, like parchment. He does not rouse at all.

Thor panics as he never has before. 

He presses his palm to Loki’s brow. He peels back the lids of Loki’s eyes with a cautious finger, sees only white. He puts his ear to Loki’s chest, hears the trembling beat of his heart within, hears the reedy draw and sigh of his breathing. He speaks Loki’s name and pleads with him. He clutches his hand. He doesn’t know what else to do. Something aches and burns in his breast and behind his eyes.  

He hears himself sobbing, but after only a moment he makes himself stop, because Loki needs him not to fall to pieces; his little brother is not weak, no matter what anyone says, and Loki needs him now to help him prove how strong he is.

Desperately, he tries to think of what the healers have done for Loki in the past when he has fallen ill. There must be something he can do.

*

Thor was almost too small to make sense of what he saw, but he remembers a healer speaking to his mother.

“It’s the fever,” the woman said, urgent and low. “We must cool him now.”

Thor had watched unnoticed from the corner of the room as ice was brought, wrapped in thin cloths that were laid atop Loki’s chest and wrists and legs as he slept.

Loki was barely more than a babe, and Thor was small enough to be underfoot, and small enough not to be surprised that it was Odin who swept him up and carried him away from the sickroom, humming a soothing song to him.

Thor cried for his brother. His father held him close and patted him and told him that it would be all right.

*

Thor tears the blankets off Loki and peels his clothes away, leaving Loki naked in the bed, his body unsettlingly slack and white, his skin radiating heat.

It is not enough, though, and Thor bites at his lip as he leaves the back room, begging the Norns not to let anything happen to Loki in the few minutes it will take, but he waits for no answer. He tears through their packs, yanks the door open, piles snow onto the oilskin with his hands until his knuckles go blue-white with cold. He barely feels it. He does not care. His knees tremble so much he is not sure they will hold him, but he runs anyway, rushing the cold bundle into the back bedroom of the little cottage and draping it over Loki’s body. Water drips down the sides.

After some time, Loki’s breathing steadies and the pulsing heat of his skin fades to something more like normal.

After some time, Loki opens his eyes again, and after a few blurry blinks awareness returns to them.

Eventually Loki speaks, however weakly. The first thing he says is Thor’s name.

Thor has never felt a greater relief than that.

*

Yet even with the fever lowered, Loki is not well. Dazed, so pale that his skin seems to glow, eyes deep and bright with a strange light.

Thor lies beside him.

“Why are we here?” Loki asks, turned on his side so that he can gaze steadily at his brother. The blankets cover both of them; their arms and legs are locked together beneath. He sounds amused, as if all the realms are one great jest that he is only now able to understand.

“Hmm?” Thor says, unsure how to answer.

“Alfheim,” Loki breathes in explanation.

Thor ducks his head, a twinge of shame writhing through him.

“I’m sorry,” Loki murmurs, breaking into Thor’s private misery.

“Why?” Thor asks, shocked.

“I’ve spoiled your hunting trip.” Loki sounds truly contrite, but then an in-drawn breath turns into a sudden giggle.

There is a rustle and a shifting, and he slips nearer until Thor can feel Loki’s chest pressed against his, Loki’s leg sliding between his own. Loki wriggles a little, and Thor becomes suddenly viscerally aware that Loki is naked beneath the blankets, even though he isn’t.

He shouldn’t be allowing this; Loki is far too ill for this to be a good idea.

But the light is low and Loki’s face is so near their noses are touching. And then Loki’s mouth is upon his, startlingly warm and wet, and Thor can’t do anything but return the kiss, opening to let in Loki’s tongue and sighing at the feel of it.

When he finally manages to make himself draw back, he tries to insist. “You need to rest, brother,” he pleads.  

Loki does not listen, but Thor hadn’t really expected him to. His brother has always been stubborn.

 “I don’t want to rest,” Loki says. Their bodies are intertwined, from their ankles to their arms, the only thing between them Thor’s own leggings and tunic. And when Loki undulates against him, Thor can feel that he is hard. His breath catches; they’ve never gotten any farther than this. At home they didn’t dare.

 He still hasn’t told Loki that the whole reason he wanted to take this trip was for this—so they could be alone together, and now they are.

“I want you,” Loki says, bumping his erection against Thor’s hip again as he tries to get his hands under Thor’s clothes, tries to remove them. Loki’s face soon twists in a frown of consternation, though, as a simple tunic and leggings turn out to be too complicated for him. Loki gives up and rubs up against him, breathy little moans escaping. “Please, brother…”

Thor swallows. He has never seen his brother behaving like this. Loki must be delirious from his illness, dazed, the fever in his blood. That is all the more reason that Thor must be the reasonable one, must put a stop to this. No matter how difficult it is.

Thor strokes his hands down the sweat-damp ridge of Loki’s spine.

Loki murmurs his desire again in a slurred mumble against Thor’s lips before leaving his mouth to fumble toward his brother’s throat with wet kisses and tender little bites.

Thor is the elder brother. He has to be the reasonable one…

 “You have no idea how… m-much I’ve wanted…” Loki whispers against the shell of his ear, and Thor feels himself shivering.

Eventually the guilt burns hotter than the pleasure, though. Loki is ill. Loki is delirious. There will be other opportunities.

“Loki, wait…” he says, even though it is strange, trying to get Loki to stop and think. Usually it’s the other way around.

*

“We have to be more careful,” Loki said one evening, and with the calm of his tone, it took Thor a moment to understand what he was referring to.

Thor had tried to kiss him behind a pillar that morning, just before a pair of guards walked by. If Loki had not shoved him harshly away and turned it into something more like a brotherly tussle than an amorous attempt, it would have gone badly for them.

Thor frowned. “I’m sorry. I will be warier in the future.”

In truth, he wasn’t sure how much more careful they could possibly be. In the months since they had discovered they wanted each other, they had kissed a few times, secretly. Once, they had touched each other in the middle of the night, silent in the dark and not daring to take it as far as completion; they’d had to bite their lips not to cry out just from a little bit of stroking. The boldest they had ever been was once, after Loki looked over both shoulders and locked the door from afar with a gesture, they had each touched themselves in the baths, separated by only a yard of hot water, eyes fierce upon each other’s faces, taking in each subtle expression as pleasure overtook them.

They had never done more than that, though they both wanted to; there had simply been no opportunity.

Loki still glared at him after he vowed to do better.

“We’re brothers, Thor. If anyone were ever to discover us…”

Thor knew. Uneasiness rose to fill him, making it hard to breathe. “I know. It is… beyond forbidden. But we are not yet counted as full grown. And we are princes. We would not be…”

Loki gave a bitter laugh. “You’re right. We would not be flogged or imprisoned or killed. We would just be kept apart for the rest of our lives, and shamed to within an inch of them. Maybe you could tolerate that, but I can’t.”

Thor wanted to protest this—it seemed unfair, the way Loki said it, as if Thor would not be equally destroyed by such a thing—but the defiant flash of Loki’s eyes made it impossible to do.

Loki did not say that if he lost Thor he would not have anyone else, but Thor could hear it anyway. And he could remember sitting at the bedside of his sickly little brother when they were but children, afraid of something he could not yet name.

*

“Brother, wait,” Thor says, and Loki lets himself be pulled, blinking, away from Thor’s neck. “An hour ago you were unconscious. You’re not well enough for this. Rest now, and maybe tomorrow we will…”

Loki stares at him, and Thor can see that he is weary. He looks like he could sleep for a week, the shadows around his eyes deep and the dazed look still creeping within them. He thinks that if he can hold Loki off for long enough, his arousal will fade and sleep will overtake him again…

But then Loki shakes his head, fervent and stubborn. “I feel much better,” he insists. “I am not as ill as you think.”

Thor wants to argue, but Loki sneaks his hand down the front of Thor’s leggings, this time managing not to get tangled, and Thor can’t help but gasp, hips rocking forward uncontrollably. It’s only the second time he has had any hand on his cock but his own, and nothing has ever been as perfect as Loki’s fingers wrapped around him. Loki grins and leans in to kiss him again.

Thor cannot make himself push his brother away, but this is all they will do for now. Thor will insist upon that.  Because if they did do more than that…

Thor hasn’t actually thought of it. At home, they hadn’t dared go further, and while he knows all the things they might do, he had tried his best not to think of them. It was bad enough to catch himself staring at his brother’s lips after the first time they kissed, wanting to taste them again and realizing that he was imagining having their delicious softness upon him everywhere. It was bad enough to wake up with a sticky wet spot on his bedclothes all because he and Loki had sparred the day before and his dreams were full of the brief memory of feeling Loki’s strong, lean body pressed against his. It was bad enough that when he stroked himself, he had only to think of being with his brother to come almost instantly, before he could even understand what it was he was thinking of doing, precisely. His fantasies, the few times he had dared indulge in them, were a blur of milky skin and inky hair, the smell and taste and feel of his brother.

Loki latches onto his neck, sucking and nipping, while he strokes Thor’s straining cock and rubs his own against Thor’s leg.

 “I want to have you…”

The words, muffled against his collarbone, take a moment to process, but when Thor finally pieces them together, his chest tightens until he almost cannot breathe. Loki wants him. Loki wants to be the one to take him. Thor had never thought of that, but now that Loki has suggested it… Thor shivers. He had never imagined that, and the thought makes him squirm, makes him push back against Loki’s hand that is still tight around him. Loki wants to have him. Loki wants to…

“Let me,” Loki pleads, and his voice is shaky and thin, reminding Thor once again that Loki is not well and they should not do this.

But Loki’s obvious desperation hooks onto Thor’s heart, onto the elder brother in him who has always wanted nothing more than to give Loki all he desires.

Unable to stop himself, he wraps his leg around Loki’s hip and pulls him closer.

*

Thor could remember a time when he and his brother were so close they hardly spent an hour away from each other. And it was true that sometimes they squabbled and sometimes they fought, and even then their interests had diverged so that they were constantly pulling each other in different directions—but they had always been happy, their days full of laughter.

But that had all ended years ago, and Thor could not put his finger on when it had changed. Nor why.

As far as he could tell, when they had started to grow up, Loki had turned cold to him. Not in any obvious way at first, but… distant. He rarely smiled in Thor’s presence anymore, as if their impending adulthood had turned him all at once too serious for such childish frivolity. When Thor tried to pull him closer, he only slipped farther away.

Maybe, Thor realized, they had just been growing apart. He tried to accept that, spending time instead with his friends. Days spent with them were pleasant, even if Thor still sometimes felt an absence that left him dissatisfied in ways he had not the words to describe.

On the occasions when Loki deigned to join them, he would like as not have only a few caustic remarks to share, or perhaps an uncanny and slightly dishonorable trick.

As far as he could tell, there was no reason for it. But Thor knew he and Loki would not be the first siblings ever to find, when they grew, that they had little in common aside from their shared blood and upbringing.

Thor tried to accept that. If Loki no longer wanted to spend time with him, Thor knew he should let him go with grace.

He found he couldn’t.

One night, his heart aching with loss, he sneaked a bottle of mead that he and Loki were both too young to have and concealed it under his cloak, and he sought out his brother, hoping to find out what he could do to… make amends, or to make himself more palatable, or whatever it was that needed to happen between them so that he could have Loki’s soothing presence beside him again.

Nervous, Thor rapped his fist against Loki’s door.

When Loki opened it and stood back warily, he did not immediately smile or invite him inside; instead he watched Thor as if there might be an attack coming.

Thor revealed the bottle, taking it from its hiding place and holding it up so Loki could see it. “I bring gifts,” he said.

But it hurt that suspicion of him had been Loki’s first instinct, and Thor did not understand it. He waited until he had coaxed Loki into pouring them each a hearty glass before scrounging up the courage to ask why.

“Loki… I must know: what have I done to make you dislike me?”

Loki stared at him for a moment. When he recovered, he gave a humorless laugh, setting down his cup on the arm of his chair. “Thor,” he said, as if telling a secret of the greatest importance. “No one dislikes you.”

This was… reassuring, yet at the same time it only opened more questions.

 “Then why do we not spend time together anymore?”

“I can hardly see why you care about my company now,” Loki shrugged, taking another mouthful of the mead, “when you haven’t missed it for this long.”

“But I have,” Thor protested. “I’ve missed you all this time. I thought you didn’t want…”

The cool indifference of Loki’s look had wavered, breaking at last into a troubled brow. And when Thor said he wanted, at least, to spend that evening together, Loki gave in.

Thor found out that night that he had misunderstood. The change that had come over Loki in these past years… it had not been Loki becoming cold. Not truly. Loki’s humor, which he had always so loved, was still there—it had only gone quieter, sharper. He hid it behind cleverness and beneath shadows, but Loki was still quite able to make him laugh, and Thor did so with pleasure, feeling the emptiness inside him filling again.

He found out also that when Loki was drunk, his attention was as intense as a fire, and just as warming.

Thor did not put the pieces together, though, until Loki kissed him in one wild, mad, starved moment, the sweetness of honey wine on their tongues. Loki had twisted his hands into Thor’s hair and pulled him recklessly close, and Thor’s blood had burned, and suddenly it had made sense.

Loki did not hate him, had not been growing apart from him. He had just been hiding this.

It had taken them both a week before they looked each other in the eye again, and then only because Loki had kicked his shin under the breakfast table—after all, they were still brothers. Loki knew it was a technique that worked.

That should have made the shame and terror Thor felt the greater, if that had been possible, yet it hadn’t.

His brother was in love with him. He had never been happier.

*

He thinks now he has always been in love with his brother and he simply never knew it. Everything is simpler if he thinks of it that way.

He thinks now his brother has always been in love with him. That explains a few things, too.

They often fought when they were younger. He cannot count the number of bruises they have given each other over the years. But he also remembers what happened when he kissed Sif, innocently, because she was the only girl he was close friends with and he had somewhere picked up the idea that boys were meant to kiss girls they liked. Loki was already at that point progressing swiftly in magecraft—yet not swiftly enough.

Sif’s hair had gone black, apparently permanently.

Thor had retaliated by not speaking to Loki for a week, but by the end of it he was not sure who was being punished more, for that week was sheerest misery.

It had taken longer before Sif had spoken to either of them, but she had eventually forgiven Thor for it.

She and Loki had never truly been friends after that.

*

They are still tangled together in the cottage’s little bed, and Loki’s slender fingers are kneading firmly at Thor’s ass. It is making it terribly hard to concentrate.

“Please, brother?” Loki says, still sucking red marks into the tender skin of his neck, still rocking their hips together. Loki’s cock slides beside his—still through the cloth of Thor’s leggings but Thor can feel his heat, his need—and Thor has to bite back a whine.

But he has to try one more time. He slides his hands up into Loki’s hair and drags them apart, enough that he can stare into his brother’s eyes. They’re still a bit unfocused.  “I won’t endanger you just because I… want you,” he says, stumbling at having to admit it. “We don’t have to stop, but let’s wait until after you’re better to… to do that.”

Loki goes still. After a minute, he huffs a breath that blows a few stray hairs out of his face. He’s not pleased.

“All right,” he says.

*

With the pause they reposition themselves, Thor coaxing Loki to lie down on his back, so that at least it will resemble rest, even if they both know better. And he lets Loki coax him likewise into taking off the tunic, so that they will be able to feel each other’s skin. He draws the line at his leggings, though. The temptation would be too great. When he lies down again, sprawling across his brother’s body, they draw the blankets up over both their heads—the air is cold, as Thor feels more keenly now that he is half naked.

Beneath the blankets, it’s almost like any of the hundreds of nights on which they stayed up together giggling and talking and defying their parents’ notions of the time for young gods to be asleep when they were children. The comparison is warm in Thor’s chest—and Loki’s mouth is hot on his, his tongue curious and strong. Loki’s arms snake around him, and now that he has a bare target he takes the chance to delve his fingers into Thor’s armpits and down his sides, trying to tickle him. Loki snickers when Thor squirms and laughs.  

When they both calm down again, Thor pushes back on his hands so that the blankets make a tent over his head, and Loki lies beneath him, staring up. He is fragile and beautiful and strong, pale and dark and vulnerable, and Thor loves him desperately. He wants him just as badly. He takes in the vision of dark, taut little nipples and the shadowy curls of hair between his legs and his cock standing proudly among them, red and with a glint of wetness at its tip. When Thor sinks back down, it is because he needs to have a hand free—he needs to at least touch his brother, even if they shouldn’t do more than that.

Loki whines when Thor grasps him, and it is only moments before he is panting, his legs nearly kicking as Thor squeezes and strokes him.

The air under the blanket gets hot and stuffy fast, and Thor throws it off his shoulders—but the air outside is still cold, colder than it was, and he shivers in it.

Loki frowns. “Go check the fire,” he says, worriedly.

Thor agrees and tears himself away, stumbling through the chill, dim rooms barefoot to crouch down beside the hearth. It has burned low; Thor piles up more wood on it.

When he comes back to bed, he is stopped short by the sight of Loki lying there, stroking himself idly, gazing up at Thor with a warm and inviting smile. Thor knows what he is doing. He can see the clever look in Loki’s eyes, the intensity of his focus on what he still wants. He is Thor’s beloved little brother… who wants to have him. Who wants to stuff his cock into Thor’s ass while they have the chance.

Thor’s leggings don’t last long.

“Did you bring oil?” Loki asks as Thor dives back under the blankets, as if this were an innocent question and not a completely filthy one.

Thor snorts in reply anyway. “We’re not going to…”

It is such an obvious falsehood that he cannot even finish it, and he licks his lips so that he’ll know the taste of his own lies.

He also shimmies back out of bed, darts into the kitchen where their supplies are, and is back again before he can even begin to shiver.

*

They’ve never done this before, and they’re both unsure, unsteady. And Loki is still sick, still weak, still pale and shaky, but he is determined, and he won’t let Thor back out now.

The air has gotten a little warmer, and on Loki’s urging Thor lies back, naked and uncovered, and just watches as Loki coats his fingers in the oil. Thor lets his knees fall open and tries to control his breathing as Loki scoots down, stopping to press a brief kiss to Thor’s belly before resting his cheek against Thor’s thigh.

Thor’s stomach clenches in nervous anticipation.

From that vantage, Loki will be able to watch every twitch of his hips, but Loki’s eyes are fixed on his as he touches him there for the first time, the pad of his finger sliding tentatively back and forth across Thor’s opening, smearing the oil and making him slick.

Thor gasps when that finger enters him; just one finger, but—but in a moment it is within him, touching him in ways he has never been touched before. The sensation is so incredibly intimate that Thor’s cock throbs where it lies heavy and full on his stomach. Ever since he lay down—ever since he realized he was going to give in, that this was going to happen—it has been leaking precome almost constantly in amounts that he would find embarrassing, if he could think of anything other than what is being done to him.

Loki slides his finger back and forth, slowly. Sometimes he twists it, curls it—and oh, Loki would be clever enough to seem to know exactly what to do. Thor finds himself panting, and he has forgotten all about the idea he had that he should get Loki to suck him at the same time. There is absolutely no need.

 “Does it feel good?” Loki asks, sounding hesitant.

Thor nods frantically. And he isn’t sure how this is supposed to go, but it feels good enough that he wants…

“I can… I can take more now,” he says, stumbling over the words.

Loki’s pale face is full of a rapt wonder as he slides a second finger in alongside the first, and Thor holds his brother’s gaze as it happens, though he can’t help how his mouth falls open a little. This time it is a stretch—a warm ache, a hint of sting. But that only makes it feel better, like the soreness after a hard-won fight, pleasure spreading with it.

Thor wasn’t expecting that, not really, but he relaxes into it and feels glad that they’re finding out together.

*

They don’t manage to wait much longer after that; they’re young and eager and they’ve already waited for months to be able to try this, and when Thor reaches down to tug lightly on Loki’s shoulders, Loki clambers up readily.

Heat radiates from Loki’s skin; his entire body is still tinged with an unhealthy pallor, and he doesn’t quite manage not to tremble as he positions himself between Thor’s spread legs.

This is going to happen. But Thor has to be the responsible one. He has to keep Loki from exerting himself and making himself sicker.

So he puts his hands to Loki’s shoulders. “Go slow, brother,” he says.

Loki nods and leans in for another kiss, sinking down until their bodies are pressed together.  Loki sucks on his tongue, sending shoots of fire through him… but Thor doesn’t know whether to moan or laugh at the strange feeling of Loki’s cock bobbing and prodding against him. He feels a burst of affection for his brother, can’t help but stroke Loki’s soft raven hair back with both hands.

He and Loki have always had such fun together.

The urge to giggle fades, though, as Loki’s hand delves down between them, steadying himself, rubbing the tip of his cock against Thor’s entrance.

He nods, suddenly lightheaded, and then Loki begins to push inside.

Thor is suddenly glad he asked Loki to go slow, for it is not until Loki pauses at only halfway that Thor remembers to breathe. The stretch that he had felt before with Loki’s fingers cannot compare to this; the heat of Loki’s cock feels wonderful, but it is so intense Thor almost cannot make himself gasp in enough air.

Loki is holding himself still, waiting, his eyes glued to Thor’s face.

When he finally can, Thor squeezes at Loki’s arms in his hands and stutters out, “It’s… it’s all right. Go on. Just… slowly.”

Loki starts again, with a gentle back-and-forth rocking that gets him further inside, bit by bit.

A few minutes later it’s done, both of them panting against each other’s skin. Thor feels a warm swell in his chest; their bodies are locked together perfectly, and Loki is looking at him as if in a daze, as if no one else in the world has ever existed.  

Thor knows that if anyone else ever knew how they felt in this moment, they would both be condemned forever; it would be called a sickness far more damning than any fever. But he does not care.

*

Then they start to move, slowly. Loki stays pressed against him, and Thor is glad; closeness seems right, with their mouths meeting between panting breaths.

But while Thor would be content to be silent, just exploring this together, Loki doesn’t seem to be.

“How does it feel?” he asks among their kisses, his lips soft against Thor’s cheek and his breath hot.

Thor tries to think about it. It’s not like anything he’s ever felt before. He feels completely filled by his brother’s cock, stretched open, and each stroke is new, electric, sparking pleasure inside him, setting every inch of him alight. “It’s good,” he manages to say, and Loki draws back what feels like his whole length and thrusts in again. Thor moans and moves to meet the next thrust, which makes it even better. His body seems to know what to do, so he goes with it, wrapping his legs around his brother so that he can tilt his hips just right, can push back against him, get him even deeper inside. He wants to ask Loki how it feels for him—if the tightness of Thor clenching around him is as wonderful—but he hardly has to. Loki is watching him wide-eyed, and his mouth drops open in a wet gasp when Thor writhes.

You feel good inside me,” he adds for good measure, and he watches as Loki goes pink all over and speeds up, just a little.

What if all those months when Thor could barely entertain nebulous, shifting fantasies of having his brother in his bed without coming, Loki was dreaming of precisely this?  Of… having him? The thought makes Thor’s heart thump, even though it’s happening right now. Thor is the elder brother, and he has always felt responsible for them both… but for right now, Loki has demanded control, and Thor has given it to him. And Loki is obviously enjoying it.

He’s wrapped an arm around one of Thor’s thighs for leverage, and now he’s pushing it down toward Thor’s chest as he slides his cock around inside him. “Does it fill you?” he asks, stumbling only a little over the filthiness of the question, his voice managing not to tremble. But the words send a jolt through Thor, and he can’t manage a coherent answer.

“Mm… m-hm,” he chokes out, but it trails off into a breathy, whimpering moan as Loki does something new, twisting his hips a little.

The next moment, Loki’s strokes become faster, and Loki is kissing him hard, his tongue invading Thor’s mouth just as fervently as he’s fucking him, his arms tightening, and then Loki too moans from deep in his throat as his cock throbs with heat inside Thor’s body. 

It takes Thor a moment to understand that that was the feeling of Loki coming in him. Loki pushes back on his elbows just a little. “Sorry,” he says. “I couldn’t wait anymore.”

And Thor notices for the first time that, despite the languorous pace they’d set, Loki looks worn out, sweat on his brow with clumps of hair stuck to it, blotches of red on his face and chest, shoulders rising and falling rapidly as he pants for breath. Thor feels a twinge of guilt mingled with protectiveness. This is too much, too strenuous for Loki in his condition. Thor should have known it.

 “We can stop now, brother,” Thor tries. “If you’re tired, we can rest.”

But Loki has never liked to have it suggested that he is weak, and he gives a little murmur of refusal. “No. I want to make you come, too.”

Loki pushes his hips against Thor’s ass for emphasis, and Thor can feel that Loki is still hard. There’s obviously no point in saying no. And anyway, Thor is still hard too.

Loki does handle himself a little more gingerly when they start up again, though, and Thor encourages this, reaching up to stroke his brother’s hair back, keeping him close so that Loki just rocks sweetly against him, the skin of his belly sliding against Thor’s trapped cock in the mess of precome between them. It’s enough to keep the pleasure building up slowly like a charge under Thor’s skin. It feels a little different now, with Loki’s seed within him making everything slicker. Thor’s body, too, seems to have adjusted. He feels less stretched, though with the start of a tender, raw soreness. It feels wonderful.

But then Loki seems to grow impatient, and he shifts their bodies a little, pushing Thor’s knees back and grinding against him. And one of those rough, dragging strokes hits something inside him that makes his eyes snap open.

“Brother,” he gasps, back arching with the sudden stab of pleasure. “Oh, do that again.”

Loki doesn’t look as surprised as Thor feels, and Thor has to wonder if Loki knew, somehow… it’s been a long time since he believed his little brother innocent, but this makes Thor blink.

Loki does it again, grinning and at the same time looking utterly enraptured as Thor whimpers.

“I want you to come for me, Thor,” Loki whispers, rubbing steadily against that glorious place he’s found within Thor’s body.

Thor nods in desperate agreement.

Loki keeps whispering those little encouragements as he continues to fuck him, and his lower lip is wet and dark from how he bites it each time Thor moans. Loki doesn’t seem able to tear his eyes from Thor’s face. Loki’s breathing grows labored again and sweat glows on his skin, but Thor knows that nothing could make Loki stop now.

“I want you to come with me inside you.”

Thor flushes at the thought, and he gasps out a plea. “Touch me, Loki… please…”

Loki’s feverish hand wraps around Thor’s cock, and then Thor is coming, crying out, his body jerking and clenching almost painfully. Somehow through it he feels his brother shudder against him, feels the same hot throb inside him, and he knows that the sight and feel of his climax pushed Loki over again as well—and that practically makes him peak again, toes curling, another long moan escaping.

Loki is wide-eyed and shaky as he takes in the sight of Thor’s come all over his hand before he wipes it onto the bedclothes.

As Loki’s softening prick slips out of him, Thor wriggles a little at the strange sensation of spill leaking out as well, and Loki—still lying atop him—laughs at him.

Afterward, they both take several minutes to get their breath back. Loki collapses where he is, panting, and Thor keeps one arm around him while the other sprawls out to the side. His knees sag outward but he doesn’t want Loki to remove himself; Loki isn’t heavy, and it’s comfortable like this, warm and soothing, with their hearts slowing together. Thor can feel the rhythm in his chest.

Loki’s face is tucked into Thor’s neck and Thor is petting his brother’s soft black hair, so when Loki speaks, it’s too muffled to make out.

“What?” Thor complains, and Loki pushes back onto his elbows.

“You idiot—you meant this to happen, didn’t you, when you planned this trip,” Loki repeats, and there is still just a touch of the fever-daze in his voice, a mad gleam in his eyes. “But how are we ever going to last at home now? I thought you were bad before, trying to sneak kisses in public.” Loki laughs.

In a rush of heat, Thor realizes Loki is right. He hadn’t thought of that, and he does feel foolish to think of it now. They are young gods; of course once will not be sufficient. They’ve doomed themselves to eternal secrecy and hunger, and the worst shame imaginable if they are ever caught.  Yet he cannot regret it, even so.

It is only moments before Loki’s mouth is on his once more, spurred by the thought of their shared doom. It may be long before they have another chance. They must take all they can get, while they can. 

Once is definitely not enough for two young gods, and they need no time at all before they can begin again.

They enjoy each other, explore each other for hours, seeking out everything that feels good and all the ways they can make each other smile. At one point, Loki makes his way down Thor’s body and settles between his legs, spends several minutes just kissing at his cock with velvet-soft lips, his tongue flicking out to taste experimentally. Then he grows bolder and licks from root to tip in one rough, hot, broad swipe of tongue that has Thor spitting a few of the fiercest curses he knows and wishing to learn better ones. Later, Thor discovers that he can make his brother arch and hiss like a cat by taking into his mouth the dark nipples on his pale chest, one after the other, teasing them until they are two pert little points, and then pinching them hard between his fingers, rubbing them back and forth until Loki keens. And he finds a ticklish spot at the edge of Loki’s bottom that he never knew about before—he has Loki pinned and shouting at him to leave off but laughing too hard to really struggle when he finds it; there is still a tinge of delirium to Loki’s giggles, though, and it only makes Thor feel more tenderly toward him. He ends up straddling his brother’s legs and kissing him, thinking with pleasure of all the ways he will use this weakness of Loki’s to his own advantage—and how whenever he does, Loki will have to recall how he discovered it.

They stop only when they both grow sleepy—when Loki’s exhaustion takes over and he can barely hold his head up, blinking dark eyes—and then they fall asleep entangled under the blankets, still naked, warm and contented. Even then they gaze at each other before their eyes close, as they both yawn and grin.

Thor knows already that he will never want to be with anyone but his brother.

*

Thor wakes shivering to a sound of creaking that alarms him and breaks him abruptly out of his slumber, like falling through thin ice. And that comparison, he finds, is apt, for the sound is that of strain, the great weight of snow upon the roof of this long-abandoned shack; the collapse could come at any moment, or perhaps it has survived a hundred such storms and can weather a thousand more. There is no way to tell.

The window is covered with such thick snow that he also cannot tell, by the faintest bit of blue light that reaches them, whether it is day or night. Worse yet, the fire in the hearth has gone out and the cottage is getting colder by the minute. When he goes to relight it, smoke quickly backs up and he smothers the few embers before they can consume the air.

Dread sickens him: The flue is covered. The cottage is wholly buried under snow. 

He has had a bad feeling ever since the strange snow began, and now it has all come to fruition. Any snow at all in Alfheim is peculiar. This much, even on the side of a mountain, is unheard of, and the very strangeness of it means that he can make no prediction for where it will lead. He does not know if this is to be only a few days’ cold or the coming of an eternal winter. He has heard the tales; he imagines him and Loki remaining here under ever-deeper snow until they are entombed, shivering together in the dark, growing hungrier and colder and weaker, until…

Thor’s eyes prick with tears at the thought, and he knows they are not safe here, even though it is the only shelter they have. Even though only a short while ago he was contentedly stroking a sleepy hand along his brother’s shoulder and wondering idly if the snow will afford them a little longer of an excuse to be together.

Thor nearly rushes back into the other room to tell Loki of their danger, but he simply can’t. Loki is still weak, still ill—and that’s yet one more reason that this is perilous, for Loki’s illness could worsen again without warning. Thor cannot go and tell him that they are trapped under the snow, hope and warmth both slowly bleeding away from them. He cannot place such a weight onto his brother’s shoulders. Instead he must do what is—quite clearly—the only thing to be done.

He must dig them out, and when he goes to look for what sort of implement they have that might be used as a shovel, all he can find is the cooking pot in which Loki made stew what feels like so long ago and in which he melted snow into water. It is heavy iron, slightly dented, and with a worn handle of rough wooden slats strapped to the metal, but it will do—it’s not like he can afford to be picky.  

“I’m going to open the door for a while,” he calls over his shoulder. “It may get a little colder.”

He hears no reply, but he is not surprised. He hopes Loki is still resting.

Then he pulls at the handle and gets to work.

*

Potful by potful he shovels the snow out of his path, tramps it down, shoves it back, carving out a tunnel in the wall of blue-white that traps them.

It is dark in the tunnel he creates, and it is hard work, harder, he thinks, than any he has ever done before. He had thought himself tireless. He was wrong. And it is freezing work, so cold that he soon cannot feel his fingers or his feet. His nose runs, and the wetness practically freezes on his face. He is almost glad he’s had no luck yet at growing out his little bit of fuzz into a beard; it would be rimed white long ago and surely even less comfortable than this.

He isn’t sure how long he’s been at it when at last he collapses, falling on his ass on a spot he’d barely cleared. Hours, certainly. He cocks his head, listening. Every now and then he thinks he hears something, but he has stumbled back inside several times, crept just near enough to see that Loki is still asleep in the bed, and then retreats again to take up his task.

This time he doesn’t get up and go back inside. He simply folds his arms and puts his face into them, breathing, the air of his own exhalations warm and humid against his eyes.

That they are trapped here is his fault, in every way. But even if it weren’t, he could not give up, because Loki needs him.

Eventually his body’s uncontrollable shivering stops. And though he feels weak, he get up again and reaches for the pot that has fallen aside on a pile of untrampled snow.

He lifts it, giddy. Though he doesn’t know why, he feels like laughing. There is a shadowy blue tunnel at least a dozen paces long stretched out behind him, and he feels sure the snow cannot go on forever. 

Strangely, he feels almost warm.

*

And then he feels truly warm, heat rising to engulf him in a sudden wave.

He opens his eyes briefly and sees a pair of outstretched arms above him, light pouring off them, and heat, heat, so much heat that it soaks him. There is a burn of sustained magic in the air, a scent of ozone and a faint sizzling sound.

The water also soaks him, sloshing up onto his clothes as the melted snow crumbles into slush in a wide circle all around them. It takes a second to register.

It takes him another moment to understand that there is sunlight, though it comes from high above, and that it is touching his face, shining in his eyes, a pure, thin, white glare all around.

He is still struggling back through the fog when Loki takes hold of him, and he knows how close to dire peril he had been by the fact that Loki does not curse him, does not berate him. Loki sits holding Thor by the shoulders and his face is white, his breaths are shaky puffs of mist, yet he does not look afraid. Only determined.  

Thor’s teeth start to chatter, and Loki helps him to his feet and helps him back inside, and once there peels off his wet clothes and bundles him under all the blankets they brought with them, saving not even one for himself.

“Aren’t you cold?” Thor asks, with a worried frown, as Loki arranges them.

“A little. It’s not too bad,” Loki says, and he sniffles, one weak cough escaping at just the wrong moment. “Still sick, though,” he admits.

Thor only nods and accepts this; he has other things to think about, like the blaze of light and heat he’d seen pouring off of Loki’s outstretched arms, wild yet perfectly controlled—it didn’t even scorch his eyebrows. And that was sorcery far beyond what Thor had ever seen his brother conjure.

“When did you learn to do that?” he asks as his wits begin to return.

Loki gives him a somewhat rueful smile. “A while ago. You probably missed it… it was when we didn’t see each other much.”

Thor nods. “I think we both missed a few things.”

It takes some time for Thor to truly shed the cold, but he is warmed by the feeling that flares each time Loki looks at him. Thor has always done his best to protect his brother. But this time, Loki saved him.

At some point, he glances back to the door, beyond which lies the circle of wet, muddy ground now cleared of snow, the place where he had collapsed when the cold overtook him. If they wait, more snow will come to bury them again. They have no way of knowing how long the cold will last. They would be fools to remain, only he is not sure how they will be able to leave.

“I’m guessing you can’t melt our way down the mountain, though.”

“Not any more than you can dig us a way out,” Loki replies, wry. 

Thor had been expecting no other answer, but his hope is dampened nonetheless.

*

That night, after they have both rested up and after Thor’s clothes have dried (Thor suspects Loki helped them along a bit), they make a meal of most of their remaining bread and cheese. And while Thor’s mood has recovered—he can never lose hope for long—Loki’s seems dark, even though his health is improving. It worries Thor a little.

It also reminds him of something.

“Loki? Do you remember the night I came to your chambers… the night you kissed me?” Thor asks as they sit across from each other on the bed. The ragged grey mattress is their nest now, warm and safe even when it isn’t, not really.

Loki glances over at him. “Of course.”

Thor hesitates. “Do you remember what we were talking about right before you did it?”

With his legs folded under him, Loki nods slowly, not saying a word.

Thor has often not understood his brother, but that night stood out in his mind as the pinnacle of his lack of comprehension. They’d talked for hours, and Thor had realized with happiness that Loki was still Loki, but he’d been slower to pick up on the fact that Loki was angry. He hadn’t seemed so when they were sober. But after a while, Loki’s jests had gotten sharper, more bitter, and they had been aimed more often at him.

He’d tried to ask why.

“See?” he’d complained. “You are mad at me. But what have I done?”

Loki had laughed and looked at him. “You really don’t know?” he’d said.

And then Loki had kissed him, without a word of warning. Leaned close and planted his lips on Thor’s. And after that Thor had been too busy being in shock. And then too busy chasing after Loki to do it again. And then later, there had never seemed a good time to mention it.

So he still doesn’t understand, but he wants to.

“Will you ever tell me what was wrong?” he asks.

And Loki finishes chewing the last bit of crust before he answers. “I thought you already knew how I felt,” he admits. “I thought that was why you had been avoiding me, because you were ashamed of me. And I could understand that,” he says.

He says it like the most obvious thing in the world. Thor frowns, shaken, but he stays quiet, because Loki is clearly not done. He seems a little upset even saying it now.

“But then you’d come, trying to get me to say how much I loved you. Like you were rubbing it in my face, what I’d never have, because you wanted my adoration along with everyone else’s, even though you knew I wanted you. So yes. I was angry. And then I was drunk and I thought at least I’d get one kiss and maybe make you leave me alone that way.”

Loki falls silent and looks away.

“My being drunk was your fault, at least,” he adds.

Thor is still clinging to those few words, though. “Loki, I could never be ashamed of you… why would you think…”

The quirk of Loki’s grin has no mirth in it. “It’s all right, Thor. You can’t tell me you’ve never once wished for a brother who’s not a sickly little sorcerer.”

It’s almost like stumbling away from his brother’s chambers, the taste of mead and Loki’s lips lingering, terror and excitement and happiness swelling so vastly within him that he felt his ribs might crack from the pressure. In that moment he’d been so pleased to find that he had been all wrong about what Loki felt for him. 

But this time the shock is that of finding out that he has also been wrong about what Loki thinks of him. That Loki thinks he would be that cruel.

“Do you really believe that of me?” he asks, stung.

Loki looks at him and frowns. “It’s not like that,” he says, voice faint. “I… guess I don’t think so anymore. I know you love me, now.”

Thor wants to still be aggrieved, but Loki—if he really did believe that—must have felt at least as hurt as the accusation makes him feel now. So he reaches for his brother’s hand and squeezes it. At least now they have that sorted out. At least he did screw up his courage and sneak a bottle of mead into his brother’s chambers. At least Loki did get drunk and kiss him.

He says this last aloud and Loki laughs. “Don’t congratulate yourself too much. At least not until we find a way out of this predicament.”

The words bring Thor back to where they are, buried deep under snow. Loki’s right, of course, and Thor nods. “I hope your ideas will be better than mine,” he says ruefully.

Loki grins back. “Of course they will be. We both know I’m the clever one.”

Thor shoves him.

*

It’s an hour until Loki has an idea, but when he does it’s unmistakable. Thor remembers that self-satisfied snicker from long ago, when all Loki ever seemed to do was find ways to get them both into trouble, before they began to grow up.

“So are we going to fly out?” Thor jests.

Loki shakes his head. “No, though it’s almost as good. At least, I hope it will be.”

Loki explains his plan, then, and—because Loki’s illness is still clinging stubbornly to him and he should be saving up his energy—he sends Thor off to the front room of the cottage, to the shadowy pile of debris in one corner that he thinks might have a few of the things they’ll need. And Thor goes, banging around and calling out periodically with what he’s found.

A worn leather satchel that they can cut into thongs. Some drippy candle ends in an old candelabra. A few long, dry branches that must have once gotten dragged in with the firewood. And then—Thor shrugs and sees no other option—four of the long, smooth birch planks that make up the floor, pried up with the iron poker from the fire. He brings these things into the back bedroom, and with Loki’s magic (though he frets over it and takes a few tries, for it is hardly a task he’s ever set himself to before) they have what they need.

They’re going to ski out.

*

They wait until morning to do it, though. The delay makes Thor worry, but so too is he worried about Loki setting out at all when he has still not fully recovered.

They huddle under the blankets together; they are both so tired that they fall asleep almost instantly, but not before Thor can wrap himself protectively around his brother.

“I love you, Loki,” he murmurs just as his eyes are closing.

Thor’s hand rests just below Loki’s collarbone, and Loki’s closes around it, fingers threading in with his. His voice comes back to Thor like an echo.

*

In the morning, not long after the sun rises, they set out. Loki is looking a little better, less drawn, his eyes not so hollow, and Thor has gotten over his brief fear of falling victim to the cold again. They leave most of their supplies behind, though—they don’t want to be weighed down.

And it is a good thing, for the climb up from the hollow Loki melted in the snow is awkward, and they both nearly sink several times before they get the hang of clambering up what amounts to a cliff of snow several times their height. Once, Loki’s arms pinwheel to try to right himself and he drops his skis as he falls forward. Thor tries to rush to his rescue and finds the snow around him crumbling.

It is almost a miracle when they both reach the top of the snow, an unmarked field of glistening white stretching out in all directions. More so when it holds and does not break beneath them.

The sun glints off the whiteness, blinding. A light wind kicks up sparkling flurries that bite into their skin. It is still dreadfully cold, but in the daylight it doesn’t seem so bad. The brothers look at each other. This is not at all what Thor meant to happen when he planned a hunting trip for them in Alfheim, but as long as they make it down the mountain in safety, he will not regret it. It has been an adventure, to say the least.

Loki sniffles but gives Thor a cheeky grin as he pushes off with the ski-pole branches and glides away down the smooth slope. Thor chases after.

Before he knows, they are racing, speeding over the top of the snow, whooping and laughing, all danger forgotten.

*

Eventually the snow thins. Trees emerge, dark and bowed, poking up out of the white.

Eventually, they stop and unstrap the skis from their boots, because only something more like a bit of frost remains to cover the rocky ground. They can make it the rest of the way on their own feet.  

Thor sighs with relief and puts his arm around Loki’s shoulders as they pause.

Loki responds by slipping closer and turning it into an embrace, and turning that into a kiss that is giddy with triumph and tense with anticipation. And Thor isn’t sure how, but Loki’s hands are actually warm when they sneak under his thick cloak, inside his tunic, down his leggings. Loki guides him backward until Thor feels his shoulders bumping against a rough, broad tree trunk, and he gropes at his brother hungrily, squeezing all the tender parts he can reach and loving the feel of Loki, warm and lithe and pressed against him.

It’s far too cold to actually do anything, but even this… once they’re home, it will be back to secrecy, to the terrible fear of discovery, to pretending that he doesn’t want to fuck his adored little brother until they are both sore and sated and utterly spent. So Thor cannot resist taking this, these touches and kisses and the hum of Loki’s pleasure against his skin, while they still can. His cock awakens swiftly in Loki’s hand and his hips buck beyond his control, and he thinks Loki actually means to make him spill like this…

The snap comes from behind them and a dozen paces to one side, and Thor looks, expecting perhaps an elk or a fox or just a clump of snow from the branches above.

Instead there is a guard—an Asgardian man in a golden helm and armor—standing there staring at them in disbelief.

“My lords,” the man stutters out.

Loki freezes before drawing back a few inches, removing his hands from Thor’s body but otherwise staying still. He has not yet turned to look; his eyes squeeze shut and his brow knots as if all his nightmares have come crashing down upon him at once.

For Thor, everything is muffled except his heart hammering frantic in his chest. He only vaguely realizes that the guard is speaking to them.

“… must come with me. My company has been sent to retrieve you; we have been searching for days.”

Thor feels like he is seeing all of them from outside himself; his own form is frozen in place, watching with terrified eyes as Loki turns, his face smoothing over. He has no idea how Loki manages to find a voice with which to answer.

“Searching for us?” Loki asks. He is a prince. He knows how to sound imperious. Yet from so near, Thor can see that he is trembling like an aspen leaf.

The guard hesitates. “When the Frost Giants struck this realm, in just the location where the princes were to be visiting, the Allfather thought it only wise to send for them to come home to ensure their safety.”

This, though, startles breath back into Thor. “Frost Giants? In Alfheim?”

“A skirmish, three days ago. Though none can guess why they chose this place, except that it is in their vicious nature to attack the unsuspecting.”

Thor thinks of the unseasonable snowstorm, and… well, it makes sense.

But as they follow the guard—they have little choice, after all—he almost wishes he were back in that buried cottage. For this time he cannot even hope for escape. He doubts even Loki’s cleverness can free them now.

*

The guard—a young man only a few centuries their senior, his armor still shining and unmarred—does his best to ignore them, walking just a pace or two ahead of them, but Thor can practically feel the man’s disgust.

The guard caught them. He saw them, entangled in each other so that there was no mistaking—not even a blind man could have failed to see what they were doing. And they are brothers, the closest of kin. There is no one in the realm who will not despise them after this comes to light.

Thor trudges at his brother’s side and he feels like he is going to the gallows, nausea roiling in his belly.

But he cannot keep himself from glancing over at Loki every other moment, trying to gauge his mind. Maybe this will be the last hours they will ever spend together, and he cannot even ask Loki if he is all right—but of course he isn’t. He dares not offer reassurance, cannot tell him…

Thor’s his heart clenches and his eyes sting hot, despite the cold air. He can’t focus on anything but his own misery and guilt. This never would have happened if he hadn’t brought them to Alfheim.

When their eyes do meet, Loki seems just as much in shock. But worse, he’s sickly pale, his breathing labored. He’s been on his feet for hours.

 “Slow down, guard,” Thor snaps. Anger; anger is better than sorrow. “My brother is not well. He cannot keep up this pace.”

Usually, Loki wouldn’t stand for such a thing, but this time, he only nods, head hanging low, and lets his own steps lag even more.  Thor puts his arm around his shoulder to steady him.

The guard only clutches his spear in a tense hand and does not try to interfere.

When they reach the bridge they trail silently across it, a company of guards closing them in all around.

*

They have barely set foot in Asgard, though, before their mother is there, sweeping them both into her embrace, fussing over them and telling them how worried she has been.

The guard hasn’t had time to make his report yet. She doesn’t know. Thor lets himself sink into his mother’s arms for a moment, and Loki beside him does the same.

Yet Thor says, “We’re fine, Mother,” wanting to reassure her before it all falls apart, and she laughs and hugs them tighter.

There are unshed happy tears in her eyes. “Well, of course you are, my strong boys.”

It is then, however, that she notices that Loki looks wan, and she puts her hands to his brow, feeling for a fever, and then looks over at Thor questioningly.

“He fell ill,” Thor admits. “I did my best to take care of him.” He flushes as he says it, at memories; he doesn’t think he’ll ever forget Loki’s delirium or the heat of his feverish skin.

And Loki rescues him. “He did, in fact, take quite good care of me, Mother.” He gives their mother a smile. “I’m almost well again now.”

It’s only a few minutes more—minutes in which she makes them promise that they will tell her of all their adventures after they’ve slept—until she says that they should go and see their father, who is surely waiting to see that they have returned safely as well.

Their father. Thor has tried not to think of what he will say, what he will do.

“Maybe Loki should go rest,” he says. “I can speak to Father alone.” He knows it will make little difference in the end, but perhaps he can spare Loki the worst of it.

But Loki only looks furious. “Thor! No, no, no. I’m not that ill. I’m coming with you.” There is alarm in his voice and anger creased on his brow.

When the echoes fade, they both realize that Frigga is looking at them oddly.

“Are you sure you’re both all right?” she asks.

They both nod, dumbly.

She is undeterred. “Loki, did… did something happen with the Frost Giants? Did one of them touch you? Did you…”

“What?” Loki answers in obvious confusion. “No, we didn’t even see them, all we knew was we were suddenly caught in a snowstorm…”

“We’re fine, Mother,” Thor repeats, interrupting. “Really, nothing happened.”

Frigga purses her lips. “All right, then. Off to your father, but then I want you both to rest and recover for a while.”

*

They go, and on the way they pass the same guard who discovered them, on his way out of the throne room. He looks away awkwardly, giving them both the faintest sketch of a bow as they pass—no matter the sins he caught them at, no matter what he just informed their father of, they are still princes.

Loki keeps his chin high.

Thor tries to steel himself as the door opens before them. He wants to squeeze his brother’s hand for comfort, but he doesn’t dare.

*

The length of the walkway that takes them before the throne seems eternal, and Thor feels he has all the time in the world to dread what is to come—and to think.

Odin has never been effusive, yet as he watches them approach he is even more difficult to read than usual. He knows. He must, and he has surely already designed their punishment. Thor will not disgrace himself by weeping, or by pleading for their father’s mercy. As he looks up into that impassive face, though, he feels his heart pounding, thumping wildly in his chest.

And he also feels Loki’s silent presence beside him, though he can’t even hear his steps. He sneaks a glance: Loki is again gone white as a sheet, but Thor thinks his illness is not responsible this time. He feels a surge of protectiveness for him, a rush of adoration. And all of a sudden, he knows what he must do.

If they never see each other again, if they are kept apart for the rest of their days, Loki must know what Thor truly thinks of him, how he truly feels. He must never have a single doubt of Thor’s love and regard for him ever again.

They come to a halt just before the dais on which rests the throne, and neither one of them says anything. Light glints off Gungnir’s edge, Odin’s single eye takes in the sight of them, and Thor knows he must take this chance and speak.

“Father, whatever else you would say to us right now, I must first tell you about what happened. I must tell you…”

He feels Loki staring at him.

“Loki saved my life. First he saved my life alone, from my own foolishness, and then he saved both our lives from our misfortune. Whatever else happens today, I want you to know that.”

The story spills from Thor’s lips, about how they were trapped in the cottage under the snow and how he tried to tunnel out, and how his brother saved him from the freezing cold, imperiling himself to do so. And how afterward it had only been Loki’s wit that found them a way out and back to safety.

“Loki is the only reason we are still alive. I am grateful to him, and forever proud that he is my brother,” he finishes, breathing hard as if ready to fight for the truth of his words. 

Odin, though, only looks at him calmly. “Well. I feel as if I’ve heard now at least half of the tale that I wished to hear. Loki?”

For just a moment, Loki looks, bewildered, back and forth between Thor and their father. But then he casts his eyes low, afraid, yet trying bravely to hide it. “He left out the part in which I was so fever-stricken that I could barely stay upright on my own,” Loki says.  He hesitates for a moment. Then he swallows. “He also left out the fact that if I had been willing to cut our trip short in the first place, as soon as I knew I was ill, we would never have been trapped. It was my fault.”

In the silence that reigns, Odin looks subtly pleased.

“Yet it seems as if you both expected to be punished for your parts in this misadventure,” Odin says.

The brothers say nothing, keeping a respectful silence. And Thor tries to understand what is happening. Why Odin is not condemning them, cursing them.

“Well,” their father continues. “I am glad to see that you care more for protecting each other than for deflecting blame. And I am sure you have learned better from this than anything but the experience could have taught you—to be less stubborn, and less foolish, if you can help it. But most of all, I am glad to see that you are home and well. Come here, my sons.”

He beckons them close to be looked over, and they approach; he clasps them each on the shoulder for a moment after he has assured himself that they remain unharmed. Then he dismisses them, repeating their mother’s admonishment to rest.

They leave together, still in silence.

Thor’s mind is crowded with sudden noise; some part of him is still waiting for the ax to fall, but mostly he is simply stunned.

Had the guard not told? Is it even possible?

“Loki, did we just…”

“Say nothing,” Loki hisses.

They make it to Loki’s chambers and lock themselves within before Thor cannot hold himself back anymore.

“Did that just happen?” he blurts out.

Loki shrugs. “Perhaps Father means to deal with us privately,” he says. “It is too soon to say for sure that nothing will come of it.”

“But… do you think the guard might have simply… not reported what he saw? Do you think he might have decided to keep silent about it?”

Loki answers with a smirk. “Do you mean, do I think he may have been too embarrassed to go to the Allfather and say, ‘You should know, my king, that when I found your sons, I caught them one with his tongue down his brother’s throat and the other with his hand down his brother’s pants’? Yes, Thor, I think it is a distinct possibility that the thought did not appeal to him.”

Thor’s cheeks go hot at the description, yet at the same time he barely dares to hope that they have gotten as lucky as that.

*

Yet they have. The night passes—they rest, as ordered, in their separate chambers, and Thor finds his bed far lonelier than he has since they first began sleeping alone when they were both very small.

Though now that he thinks of it, he remembers that happened because Loki had been dreadfully ill, fevered and sweating and whimpering, a rough cough keeping him from sleep and keeping his brother from it as well, and the healers had insisted that they be moved to separate rooms so that Thor would not fall ill as well from sheer exhaustion. He remembers sobbing that night until dreams came down upon him, and rushing back to Loki’s bedside when he woke in the morning.

This time, they cannot come together again so easily. They have to be at least a little circumspect, and Thor learns to endure sleeping by himself again, without the delight of having his brother’s warm form enveloped in his arms.

Though, of course, he has a whole new array of things to fantasize about when he enjoys himself alone. It is a little note of comfort, in all of this.

The night passes, and days pass, and neither their father nor their mother nor anyone else confronts them. They are hauled before no court to be judged. They are forced to confess no great transgressions. None of their nightmares come true.

Thor sees that same guard once, standing at attention in the great hall, and the man ignores him, staring at the far wall as if he were not there. Thor wonders who is more unsettled by whom—in the days since, he has wondered if the man pondered whether he would be believed, accusing those who so far outrank him, and he has wondered whether the man hopes to hold this secret for some future reserve, and he has wondered many other, stranger things—and he departs from the guard’s uncomfortable presence as quickly as he may, though not without an unspoken word of gratitude to the Norns.

They have gotten very lucky indeed, and the dread slowly seeps from his life.

But he and his brother have been spending more time together. Things between them are more like they used to be. Or better. And though their fright has made them both far, far more careful, sometimes they feel safe enough, for just a moment,  to lean close and steal a brief kiss, like a vow.

And sometimes Thor catches his brother watching him, and he cannot tell whether he is being gazed upon with adoration or satisfaction or desire.

“I’m thinking of another hunting trip, brother,” Loki says to him on one such occasion. “Though I think I’ll arrange it, this time.”

Thor gives him a sheepish smile.

***