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Loki scarce understood that Odin was falling, at first. The collapse seemed only right: his own rage like a bludgeon in his hands and Odin giving way before his wrath, until Loki was kneeling on stone, mind full of endless noise, and he realized his father lay gasping beside him. His hand trembled, hovering over him. Odin opened his eyes and reached a shaking hand back—and did not take Loki's hand, but pressed flat against his breast, and all the world went to dark and silence as power flooded into his veins.

He woke dizzy and ill, struggling to rise from a pallet beneath his mother's hands as she urged him to rest. "Father," Loki said, forgetting for one moment that it was not so; that he had no father but a monster in another realm, who had cast him out at birth, to be picked up like a bit of flotsam for a battlefield memento.

"Loki," his mother—who was not his mother—said, and he remembered; he struck her hands away and dragged himself from the bed, unsteady on his feet. "My son—"

"Stop," he said, unable to bear the lie from her lips, and almost had to laugh: all Asgard called him a lie-smith beyond compare, and he had thought himself so in truth; how absurd that he should be more greatly deceived than all his lies rolled into one. "I know. I know I am not your son. He told me the truth at last."

Frigga rose and caught his face between her hands, and he was too weak-hearted to pull away: a lie so great was too precious to surrender all at once. "Loki," she said. "Oh, my dear boy; you are my son, and his. It is some evil fate that you should learn of your birth in such a way, at such a time—"

"When Thor is gone?" Loki said bitterly, wrenching himself free. "Just when I might otherwise be of some temporary use—"

"Loki," Frigga said again, and he stopped: her eyes were wet with tears and red, and he said, "What—where is Father?" She gave him no answer but came into his arms weeping, and when the guards entered from the hall they knelt, and called him king.


He did not realize at first what Odin had done to him now, until he sat in hall upon the throne—after all, a lie so perfect deserved to be continued—and Cragga, one of Asgard's noble lords who ever had sneered at Odin's second son, spat on the dais before him. "I will take oath to no lack-spittle womanish sorcerer: would that Odin had contented himself with but one child!"

The rage returned unbidden, hot in veins that Loki knew now had always been meant to run cold. There were words ready, words he had planned and crafted, anticipating some such challenge to his rule. They lay unused upon his tongue. Instead he reared from the throne and spoke a word which came to his mind in shining letters. The sound of that word hummed like a blade swinging through the air, and by its keening edge Cragga was flung down: torn from his armor and his flesh both, and his spirit fled the hall shrieking in lonely horror while all along the tables men fell silent as a battle's dawn.

Loki stood on the dais with power seething beneath his skin, power and a wrath not meant for him to carry, and understood everything, saw everything, with sudden perfect clarity. Of course Odin had not contented himself with stealing a child, nor with binding it to him in hopeless stupid love, nor even with some half-thought plot to somehow seize control of Jotunheim. Odin had made of that child a tool to serve his own son, in whatever way it could. A supposed rival, to push him to ambition; a mage, to be his right arm in battle; a learned man, to be his councillor; and now, a vessel: to hold the throne, and hold Odin's own power like wine in a cup, until—until Thor came back to drink.

"But you are dead," Loki said softly to his father's ghost, "and I will no longer be a slave to you and yours."

He forced down the rage-touched power, though it tried a thousand ways to well up through crevices and cracks in his mind; he swallowed it and in his mind built a prison of ice to close it in his belly; and he stood before all the lords of Asgard in the hall that now was his and smiled.

"My father Odin walks no more among us," Loki said, into the silence he had made: his crafted words might serve him yet. "My brother, in exile, is disowned. Asgard's throne stands empty." He stepped down from the dais, one foot after another, and paced the length of the hall, behind the backs of lords and warriors. "I know full well," he said, shading his voice with a perfect single note of regret, "that many among you have no love of me." He paused between Eldred and Rothrar, whose hands were clenched upon their hilts, their backs still. "— And for my share in that, I would ask all your pardon."

The lords looked at one another uneasily as he turned at the foot of the table to come around and face them all again. Loki stood there and said gently, "I think you all here know that I never thought of the throne, for my father thought of it not for me. He had a noble firstborn son, and his second son, I think, he allowed himself to spoil. And so I have indulged too much in liberty and indeed in childish pranks, long past the age of childhood; and in doing so, have justly provoked many among you to impatience and to wrath."

He walked back up the tables to the throne, slowly, to give the words time to sink into heads more accustomed to swallowing mead than thoughts; then slowly and with deliberation he ascended the dais and turned once again. They looked up at him, and he did not let himself smile, but wished to: he would have them now. "But now the test has come, my lords," he said, "and I will answer it. For Asgard, I will put aside my liberty. I will be no more a prince, delighting in my own amusements, while others bear the burdens of rule and war. There will be no civil strife, no realm torn asunder, while the wolves of Jotunheim pant eagerly at our door."

He swept his cloak aside and seated himself, and let Gungnir in his hand strike the floor with a hollow death-knell ring. "I will be your king," he said, "as my father before me. And therefore will every man among you now give me his oath, as to my father before me, or die a traitor outcast from Asgard and Valhalla both. For do not mistake me, my lords: I know well there is no room in this hour for a king to indulge either in games or mercy, and I will show neither."

He turned his head to Godran Larsson, first at the tables on the left: an older man, a cautious man; he had three sons at the table below him. The power that slew Cragga is beyond any sorcery the prince has shown before, Loki whispered softly, tongue shaping the words while his lips held still. Has he more power still than that? As Cragga fell, so might my own sons?

Loki let the whisper curl through the air slow and careful as a snake, wriggling into Godran's ears. "Godran Larsson," Loki said, when it had worked, "what is your answer? Will you join your strength to mine, in Asgard's defense?"

Godran did not move a moment, and then he pushed himself slowly up from the table, rose, and knelt before the dais. "My king," he said, "I swear," and his sons rose and knelt behind him.


The oath-taking went on long into the night. Even when the lords of the first rank had all sworn, Loki did not call for acclamation. All the way to the fifth table, he waited while each man came and swore to him on his own knee, and Loki spoke to each with straightforward courtesy, wholly unlike his usual manner. It is true, he saw them thinking, and whispered affirmation behind it. Many a time did a warrior reproach Odin for Loki's misdeeds and disrespect, and received no answer. Odin allowed him to behave a boy, and so he did.

As the great lords came up, masters of great houses, he added, There is opportunity here, perhaps. Thor circled himself with young men who joined him in war. He would have shown no favor to his father's nobles. He wished to sweep all away. Perhaps Loki will listen to counsel where he would not.

For each warrior he had a word of praise; he called them to him by their noblest acts, Erdan of the Marsh-War and Boric of the Broken Blade, and saw the flattery work upon them, smoothing the sharp taste of all the thousand and one small malices he had fed them in the past. Thor never remembered another man's glory, he whispered as they knelt. All glory was small before his own.

When older men came up, limping and tired of old wounds, he came down to take their hands between his rather than make them kneel and whispered to their bowed heads, What if Thor were not in exile? What if he had come to the throne in these days? We would now be on the path of foolhardy war.

And when the fifth table had all risen, and he began to call men from the sixth, artisans and craftsmen and wise men, men who did not live by the sword and who never before had come so near the throne, he did not need to whisper. He only spoke a little to each man of his work, and read dawning gladness in their faces: the prince is a mage and a scholar, they thought. He does not think honor lies only in battle, and disdain men of words and art, as Thor did.

Yes, he whispered. Loki will be a better king for us. How fortunate that Thor is gone. Better Loki, after all.


The next morning he woke even before dawn, and the guards told him Sif and the Warriors Three already waited upon him, predictable as snow in winter. He went to the door himself and opened it. "My friends, come and join me," he said, and sent the guards to rouse the servants to bring breakfast. He gestured Sif to silence with a sharp cutting motion of his hand, when she would have begun, and waited until the guards were gone around the corner to turn.

"Good," he said. "I hoped you would come: quickly, now, while we are alone."

They looked at one another in surprise, but conspiracy was sweet on the tongue, and they swallowed it readily enough, leaning in to hear him. "I dare not, at present, revoke Thor's exile," Loki said, and held up a hand when Sif would have spoken. "You saw, last night, how precarious matters are here in Asgard—how easily treason might have broken out among men whose loyalty has been unquestioned for years. In his present state, mortal and stripped of all power, my brother is vulnerable as he never has been before."

"But can you not restore his power?" Fandral said.

Loki looked at him. "If I could, do you think he would still be on Midgard as we speak, and not by my mother's side in her grief?"

As so often before, the half-truth threaded the needle where the open lie would not. "Without mastery of the magic which my father used to seal away Thor's power, I cannot undo his work," he added, and watched acceptance settle into their faces.

"I will not bring him back powerless and easy prey for any who might wish to use him as a figurehead for rebellion," Loki said, turning away to pour himself a goblet of water. "But I fear that even on Midgard, he might still be reached by some among the lords. I must ask you, my friends, to go to him, to stay by his side and protect him, until—"

He stopped and sighed, and bowed his head. "I do not even know what hope to give him," he said. "The magic Odin used to bind his power is not beyond me, but neither is it an easy task to master. And I cannot foresee much leisure ahead of me for study."

"Perhaps some other mage might help," Sif said.

Loki raised an eyebrow. "And which mage would you name, whom you would trust to cast so great a spell upon my unshielded brother?"

Sif bit her lip, and was silent.

"But come," Loki said, "I do not mean to sound so bleak. If you will go to him, I know the four of you can keep him safe however long it takes. And I swear to you and to him that one of two things will occur: I will find a way to unbind his power, or I will master the lords of Asgard sufficiently to bring him home again without any risk of rebellion."

The servants knocked on the door. "Will you do as I have asked?" Loki said, looking around. "If so, go swiftly and silently, lest some spy manage to follow you. I have given Heimdall orders you are to be permitted to use the Bifrost, and no one after you, but we know already there are ways in and out of Asgard which even Heimdall cannot see."

"We will," Sif said, low, and the Warriors Three nodded with her.

"Good," Loki said, and called to the door, "Enter." He turned back and smiled as the servants came in bearing plates. In his breast the simmering rage writhed inside its shell of ice. "Sit and eat with me, my friends, before you begin your day. And Sif," he said softly to her, leaning to her ear and just barely loud enough to carry, "bear my brother all my love, and tell him that I will not fail."

The servants were laying the dishes on the table, and Volstagg had already seated himself and begun to munch upon a roasted haunch of mutton. The others began to eat with brightened looks and purpose writ upon their faces: if there had been conspiracy, Loki thought sardonically, anyone would have known only to look at them.

But of course, the only danger to Thor was him.


Odin's funeral was as lavish as his arts could make it. After the great feast was done, and the lords half-drowned in mead, Loki rose and led them one and all down to the shore. He stood in his helm and cloak with Gungnir in his hand and his mother by his side as the servants bore his father's bier onto a great dragon-boat waiting, a thousand gleaming treasures heaped about him. He saw the lords look at the boat new-made, at the vast shining hoard and glance sidelong back at him. Yes, Loki whispered to the crowd. I feel no need to cling to his artifacts and magic relics. I need none of them.

When the boat was launched, he raised not Gungnir but his bare hand and let a little of his sour-brewed strength out of its ice shell. A great roaring ball of fire came down from the heavens to strike the deck into flames, and lit all the ocean in red and gold. It swept over the treasures, over the bier and the assembled fuel, until the heat of the pyre reached even to the shore. All were silent as the boat sailed onward, blazing, until the dragon head plunged at last over the edge of the falls still wreathed in flame, and was gone.

"Farewell, Allfather and my own," Loki said aloud, and bowed his head. "May I ever be guided by your example, and learn in time to be so wise a king."

He gave his mother his arm, for she was blinded by tears, and guided her back to the citadel. The lords followed him orderly, without muttering. They were his already, or nearly. Soon, he thought. Soon he could bring Thor back—fragile, helpless, mortal Thor. And then Loki would indeed follow his father's example, and use the son of his enemy as he would.


Of course, not all things could fall out according to his design. But in the end, he could not object to the dictates of fate. He was sitting at the feast tables speaking gentle seductive poison to Rofnir and Dar when the stir reached his ears, and he felt the rage trying to break free as he rose to see Thor entering the hall—armored again, Mjolnir at his belt, golden with strength and power, drawing all men's eyes to him.

It was too soon: men's eyes were slanting towards him and back towards Thor uneasily; they were not yet used to his rule; they had not yet decided how to throw their weight. Loki marshaled his strength and began to lay words like a chain in his mind.

And then Thor was before him—and somehow Loki had forgotten, himself, just how beautiful Thor was in all his shining glory; how impossible not to love him in the moment. Loki hated himself for the weakness even as his arms opened and Thor pulled him roughly into an embrace, casting his helm aside and burying his hand in Loki's hair, pressing his face to Loki's cheek. Loki closed his arms around Thor's back, let plots and schemes and wickedness all slide away, and held him close, thinking for a single long moment of nothing at all.

Thor's face was wet, and there was a sob in his throat as he said, "My brother."

"Thor," Loki said, still empty of thought.

And then Thor let him go, and knelt on the floor before him, and said, "My king."

Oh, Loki thought, a great bubbling savage joy rising within him. Oh.


"I know, brother, what your heart would not let you say to me," Thor said, when they were alone in the royal chambers at last. "I could not stay away now—I had to see you, and our mother. But I know there can be no question of the succession. I thought—" He sat heavily. "I thought I would come and swear allegiance, and then—go again, somewhere. Perhaps back to Midgard—"

"Brother," Loki said, and because he was after all still himself, he risked everything on a single throw of the dice, "do you still desire the throne?"

Thor looked up at him in surprise. "Do I—Loki, you are king now. I would not—"

"That is not what I asked," Loki said.

Thor paused, and then said, "I had my chance. I proved myself unworthy." He bent his head, and Loki for a moment shut his eyes and savored triumph.

"I would argue with you," Loki said, "but I know when you have made up your mind, argument is of no use."

Thor flinched. "Yes," he said. "If I had listened to you before—" He stopped.

"Do not dwell upon what is past," Loki said, and put his hand on Thor's shoulder. "For Asgard can ill afford to lose its greatest warrior when it has just lost its king, and the Jotuns stand ready to exploit any sign of weakness."

Hope dawned in Thor's eyes as he raised them to search Loki's face. "You know—better than any!—that I am ill-suited to give you words of caution," he said. "But do you truly think I can remain, and not feed dissent?"

Loki hesitated, just long enough for that hesitation to register and dim Thor's hopes. "I think—there is a way," he said. "But—"

"Anything," Thor said, obediently stepping into the trap.

"Don't say so yet, brother," Loki said. "It is not something I would ask of you in any other circumstances. Indeed, I cannot easily imagine—" He stopped, and then he shook his head and took his hand from Thor's shoulder. "No. Forgive me, I ought not have said anything. It is impossible: if I cannot even find the words to speak of it—"

"Loki!" Thor said, and caught his hand. "I have failed our father—failed Asgard—failed you. If there is anything which I can do—any act of mine by which I might stay, and have a chance to make amends—"

"And if it were dishonorable?" Loki said, and saw Thor pause, startled. "That is why I asked if you yet wished the throne. If our places were exchanged, I could more easily subject myself to this, than ask you to do the same—"

"What?" Thor said, standing. He did not let go, and shook Loki's arm a little in his grip. "After everything that has happened—after I disregarded your wisdom, and nearly brought you to death; after I as good as slew our father with my rashness, and left you alone and bereft to hold our realm together—and you would step down, and subject yourself to dishonor, before you would ask me to bear it—"

"As I told you," Loki said. "Asgard needs you now, more than ever. If you cannot endure—"

"Stop speaking in riddles and tell me!" Thor said.

Loki held still yet a heartbeat, two, and three; and then very gently he said, "A thrall cannot inherit the throne."

Thor swallowed and let go his arm, and turned away. His shoulders were rigid. Loki said nothing, only watched and waited. Thor's back straightened, and his shoulders came back. "I understand," Thor said. He did not turn.

"Perhaps we need not—"

"No," Thor said. "You are right, brother. Even if I were to wholly renounce the throne, it would not be enough—men would still think in their hearts that I might be persuaded, if—" He shook his head. "Besides," he said, low, "it is fitting. There is no payment I can make that will erase the debts which I have laid up. In truth, if not in law, my honor is already stained beyond measure."

He turned, and his face was set and resolute. "Send for a law-man," he said, "and let it be drawn up."

"Thor," Loki said, "we need not move so quickly. I would we waited—"

Thor looked at him and forced a smile. "No, brother," he said. "It must be done: so let us have it over with. Besides," he put his hand on Loki's shoulder. "I have no need to fear my master."

Loki lowered his eyes, and did not let the smile escape.


The law-man Loki sent for was old and myopic, more concerned with the forms of his language than the act he spelled out; Thor even grew impatient and chivvied him along, while Loki made a play of trying to suggest one pointless delay after another, until Thor said, "Enough: is it done? Then give it to me!" and signed so quickly he had finished before he even paused long enough to think on it, and then stood holding the contract with a stricken face. He put it down after a moment, and summoned a smile. "Well, brother, it is done; what would you have of me? Should we—should it be announced—" His voice wavered only a little.

Loki sent away the law-man and said, "I would have you rest, my brother," and drew back the coverlet upon his own bed. "And I would rest with you. For once, let rumor serve us instead of harm; it can bear the news well enough on its own."

Thor nodded, and took off his armor and lay down; Loki lay down with him, and drew Thor's head against his shoulder, stroking through the golden hair. After a moment, Thor pressed his face against Loki's chest closely and gasped a little, as if in pain. "Shh," Loki whispered. "Sleep, brother. It is done, and you are home now, and Asgard will be safe. That is all that matters in the end, is it not? Sleep."

Thor relaxed against him, after a little while. The sunset passed, outside, and the room grew dark. Loki did not sleep. He sat with his brother's head in his lap, and kept his hands upon it.


He managed, with enormous patience, to wait almost four months before he told Thor the truth. It took a while for the account to begin to penetrate, for Thor to become convinced, and for the stunned horror to spread across his face. "And all this time—" Thor interrupted, his voice shaken, "for so long, you have desired the throne—"

"I don't care about the throne in the least," Loki said. "I never have."

Thor stopped. "Then—"

"He's dead, you see," Loki said, "so it's the nearest thing I can have to revenge."

"Dead?" Thor said, bewildered. "Loki—Loki, surely you are ill, and this is some delirium speaking. Who—do you mean our father?"

"Your father," Loki said, watching Thor's face closely, but there was nothing more writ there but confusion. "You don't know, then," he said, and felt relief astonishing in its intensity; as though he could have borne almost anything, but that Thor had been a part of the lie. "He never told you what he brought home from Jotunheim."

"The casket?" Thor said. "Is that—has some evil enchantment has taken you, that—"

"The casket wasn't enough of a trophy, you see," Loki said. "He couldn't resist taking a little something more. The infant son of the king of Jotunheim, to be made into a useful playmate for his own heir."

Thor stared at him. Loki held forth his hands and summoned the casket to his hands, and called upon its power. The ice crept over his chair and made of it a throne, spilled onto the floor, and when he felt his sight shift and all the dark corners of the room grow bright as day, he let go and let the ice recede, knowing that Thor would see him now: blue-skinned and red of eye, an enemy in the very heart of Asgard.

"No," Thor said, taking a step towards him. "No. For years you've hidden this—? You've lied—?"

"I did not lie," Loki spat. "I hid nothing." He smiled as he saw slow understanding begin to dawn on Thor's face. "Yes, it is a splendid joke, is it not? All these years, I believed I was the son of Odin. I believed that our father favored you because you were my better, and believed that he let me make a court jester of myself out of love. I believed that I was not suited for the throne, even when compared against a hothead with not the least inclination to statecraft or anything but making war."

His sight had shifted back; the cold had leached away from his flesh. Thor was looking at him still with horror but also with the most utterly vile pity. Loki laughed and clenched his hands tight until the nails dug into the meat of his own palms. "So you see," he said, "I had very little choice. Family honor demands I should take vengeance on the man who conquered my father's kingdom and stole my father's son to make into a servant for his own. And yet family honor equally demands I should do all in my power to serve Asgard and protect her people. Really, I'm quite proud of myself for finding a solution."

"To make of me a slave," Thor said quietly, "and take the throne yourself."

"You thought nothing of it, all those years, that I should serve you," Loki said, "so I cannot see you have grounds to reproach me, brother. If you did not tell the lie yourself, it was you who said that I should know my place—behind you, and forever in your shadow."

Thor said nothing for long moments; his breath was coming quicker. "If I had a part in wounding you, however unknowing—I would have asked your pardon," he said. "Even so far—if you had demanded of me that I give way to you, in recompense, and let you have the throne, I would have yielded."

"And why would I want any of that?" Loki said. "What possible satisfaction or vengeance would there be in receiving what you nobly chose to give?"

"I am your brother!" Thor cried at him, kindling with anger. "What crime did I commit against you, to deserve vengeance from your hands? To deserve this—I would have gladly died at your hands sooner than suffer dishonor so great as what you persuaded me to take upon myself."

"I know you would," Loki said gently. "But you see, you are my brother, and I love you. I could not bear to see you die."

Thor stared at him. "You are mad."

"To love and hate in equal measure, caught between them?" Loki said. "If that is madness, then yes, I must be mad. What else could I be?"

Thor turned away and put his hand to his head. "Oh, Father," he said half under his breath. "Father, what have you done?" He did not raise his head, but spoke louder. "Why have you told me all this? Was your vengeance incomplete until you could brag of it?"

"Oh, no," Loki said. "I only meant to save time explaining later: I thought you might at last become suspicious when I ordered you to my bed."

"What?" Thor said, looked at Loki's bed blankly, and then his eyes widened and he jerked them back to Loki's face in reddening astonishment. "You think I will—"

"Yes," Loki said, watching Thor's face, delighting in the furious color; no more pity there now. "You see, my dear brother, I haven't waited so long to no purpose. I am king of Asgard now. My position is secured. The most significant posts are held now by men who are thoroughly mine. I can't be dislodged save by civil war, and if I've worked things out properly, I could run the realm into the ground for at least five years before there was enough will for that."

"You would bring all Asgard to ruin, and lose your throne, just to—"

"Of course," Loki said patiently. "I told you I've never cared about the throne."

Thor turned away from him and paced the room like a caged beast, driven to its limits. Loki watched him with bright enjoyment: the clenched muscles sleekly moving, the poetry of his body. "You've two choices, brother," he said. "You can defy my order and flee as a disobedient thrall, any man's prey and unable to command the loyalty of any warrior, and watch from afar as I tear all Asgard down; or you can obey me and stay, and buy with your virtue my continued service to Asgard as her king. I do think you will admit I have a knack for it, after all."

Loki rather hoped that Thor would work out for himself the third alternative: to stay in Asgard and buy time instead, to plot with Sif and all his friends, to recruit warriors to a plan of overthrow. It wouldn't work, of course, but the thought might comfort Thor a little, at the beginning.

Thor stopped by the window, staring out at the great falls and the spray of the galactic arm across the sky beyond; the bridge to the Bifrost shining. "Loki," he said. "Don't—don't do this. I do not understand, I cannot understand—" He halted and shook his head. "There is nothing to understand, I think, except that you are tormented beyond reason. But you have been a good king for Asgard. Can you not be content with what you have already taken? If there is hatred in your heart, must it yet be fed?"

"Ah, Thor," Loki said. "You've said one true thing: you cannot understand. Don't try. Only decide." He rose from the ice throne and unclasped the robe at his collar and his wrists, and let it slither to the floor as he stepped from it and walked to the bed, and slid beneath the coverlet. One by one all the lights went out, but for the lamp that hung nearest Thor.

Thor stood a moment longer, and then he was unbuckling his belt, taking off his cloak, removing all his garments with short and savage motions. He let them fall one after another to the floor and naked stalked to the bed and flung back the covers. He lay himself down on his face, unmoving. Loki smiled and summoned a small jar of spiced unguent to his hands, and he bent to lay a kiss between Thor's shoulderblades as he gently slid his fingers into Thor's body.

Thor gasped for the first time after perhaps three minutes, when Loki finally twisted his fingers—there, just so—and pressed. His hips jerked again a minute later, when Loki bit the nape of his neck. His thighs clenched and trembled when Loki licked the middle knob of his spine.

"How beautiful you are," Loki said, nuzzling at the side of Thor's throat. "How furious." He turned his fingers again, and startled another gasping breath out of Thor's lips. "That's what it feels like, brother. As though rage will choke you to death, and there is nowhere for it to go. As though the one in the world whom you loved and trusted most has suddenly become your most dreadful enemy."

The words did their work: some of the tension escaped from Thor's body, and Loki pressed his fingers deeper. His other hand slid gently—so gently—beneath them, and he curled his fingers around Thor's shaft and found him already hard. Thor clenched tight again, but the movement only closed his body around Loki's fingers, deep now, and Loki rocked them gently in and out.

Thor gasped again. Ah, yes. The spice was beginning to work on him, now. Thor's hips jerked. "Yes," Loki said, encouraging. "Is it too much? We're only beginning, of course. In a few months, you'll be able to bear a great deal more."

Thor jerked that time in defiance of a few months, but when he did, Loki drove his fingers suddenly deeper, a first true thrust, and Thor didn't quite manage to swallow the grunt of pleasure. "Damn you, Loki," he said, breaking his silence at last, "what are you doing? Take what you want and be done with it."

Loki sighed gently and kissed Thor's shoulder again. "Don't you understand yet, brother? What I want is to shame and use you utterly—and what I want is for you to enjoy every moment of it. After all, none of this was ever your fault."

Thor groaned from beneath his folded arms. "Lunatic," he said, despairingly. Loki could feel him beginning little by little to yield, succumbing to pleasure. He'd always lived so very much in his body, after all, and it had likely been some time—few women of the court would share the bed of a thrall, even one so noble. Loki bit his ear and breathed softly over Thor's neck, a lick of his tongue to make him squirm. Thor moaned a little, and his hips shifted, this time not to escape but to seek, wantonly. "Ah!" He shuddered again.

"Is it beginning to be hot?" Loki said. "When I take you at last, the coolness of my flesh will soothe the sensation. If it distresses you too much, you need only ask me—"

"I swear I will take vengeance for this," Thor said, panting. "I swear it, Loki, you—"

"Of course," Loki said. "You may have me tomorrow night."

Thor fell silent, but color flushed hotly red down the back of his neck. "Loki," he said, still struggling to resist. "Loki, must you—"

"Yes," Loki said, and drew Thor onto his side, curling behind his back. He played his fingers lightly over Thor's full length, let a few speckles of cold bloom on his fingers. Thor moaned again, louder this time, and thrust into his grip. Loki licked at the sweat gathering on Thor's neck and shoulders. "Yes, I really must. Hold on, brother, this may be a little uncomfortable—"

Thor predictably stiffened, and so when Loki took firm hold of him and stroked thoroughly, Thor was all the more unprepared. His head tipped back helplessly on a groan, and he began to thrust before he thought. And then he could not quite make himself stop, caught between Loki's hands and driving himself on to greater heights. "No," Thor said, half-plaintively, "No, no—" as Loki tightened his grip, and then he broke and covered Loki's hand with his own, clenching down hard enough to grind Loki's bones against each other, and came.

He was deliciously pliant afterwards and drowsy, although not so far that he didn't rouse up later on, when Loki pushed him on his back and took him at last after near two hours more of hand work. "I hate you," Thor said devoutly. "Oh, Valhalla and the Nine, again. Again."

Loki laughed and wept a little at the same time, bending down to kiss him. "Yes, brother," he said. "Now you're beginning to get the idea."