The next time he sees his brother, they’re surrounded by fire and water and sirens spinning sickly wails into the air.
An explosion shakes the street under their feet.
This is how much I’ve missed you, Thor thinks.
Another explosion, and Loki watches Thor, he can feel the streaks on his face, dirt and ash from the collapsed bank nearby and then, Loki smiles.
Mjölnir hangs loose in his grasp as Thor smiles back. “Loki.”
It sounds like awe.
Then there’s movement beside Thor, coming fast as a scythe, and Loki vanishes, avoiding the red-white-blue shield hurtling like a comet.
There’s a presence in the room and he was expecting it, hoping for it.
Thor pretends to be sleeping when Loki slips into the shadows of his bedchambers. These in the Tower are nothing compared to his proper ones in Asgard, but here on Midgard, he supposes beggars can’t be choosers.
He watches over the thrown curve of his arm and pillow for a moment, his brother hiding lean as a wolf as if he were at home, lithe and watching and Thor remembers catching glimpses of Loki out of the corner of his eye as Fandral drove towards him in a sparring match or Volstagg refilled his cup at the table or Mother told him to be careful over the gleam of his armor. His hair is longer than when Thor last saw him, however long ago that was, time works so differently between realms and when Loki fell, he lost his mind.
Briefly. It’s hard to tell time anymore.
“I know you’re there,” Thor finally says. “Stop hiding.”
“Maybe I’m a figment, just a dream,” Loki replies. “Did you dream of me?”
The shadows slip away as Thor sits up and he almost can’t believe this is Loki, alive, blood and bone and skin, he spent endless broken-down days thinking he’d never see his brother again.
“Every night.” He hates to confess it, but he’s never been able to lie properly to Loki, the words never sound right when he speaks.
“Why should tonight be any different.”
“I saw you. On the field of battle today. You were there.”
“That doesn’t make me real,” Loki presses and Thor runs a hand through his hair, frowning, because, of course.
“No, it makes you Loki.”
Loki laughs, that sound Thor hadn’t—hasn’t forgotten, will never forget, and the long stretch of throat his brother presents, vulnerable and inviting, one of the truly unconscious things about Loki, how he laughs.
“Do you enjoy battling me.”
It isn’t a question, more like a curiosity and Thor says, “We always fight.”
“This isn’t a fight,” Loki says, “Thor, this is a battle.” He steps closer to the bed and his eyes glitter in the floating dark. “The difference is though we fight, they appear and they make it a battle.”
The others. The mortals.
“They are my friends,” Thor says, as if it should be a final explanation, albeit weak.
Loki leans in close, not touching Thor yet, and Thor wants to grab him, yank him off his feet onto the bed, sporting fun, like when they were younger.
“Thus, battle,” Loki says.
He won’t choose, Loki is asking him to choose, but it isn’t a choice, it never has been. Loki shouldn’t even have to ask.
When Loki traces a finger down his jaw, he smells of smoke and destruction before he says, “Sleep well,” and he disappears before Thor can reach for him.
The next day is quiet and Thor spends the hours waiting, his brother out there, alive in the world, and the next fight will be a present because he’ll see Loki again, in the daylight, alive.
He whispers to Mjölnir about Loki returning to them and he thinks of past times when Loki would laugh at him for talking to his weapon before battle.
So then the next day after there is an alarm and there is a fight.
Loki surrounded by broken concrete, magic spilling from his hands, and Thor takes a step back to see him properly.
A flash of red and gold, the furious sound of jets as Iron Man shoots past, headed at his brother, an arrow unleashed with a high whine along the same path, and the curving black of the lady Black Widow as she moves like oil in sunlight.
At his brother.
Thor stops a car from flipping sideways as a roar of green jumps overhead, the Hulk landing with a crash, and above the scattered noises of chaos, he hears Loki say, “Come and touch me, don’t fight, just try to touch me, if you can!”
A vicious challenge to his new friends and he knows they won’t refuse.
Something is on fire.
He doesn’t even try to sleep because he knows Loki will appear. His brother doesn’t make a sound, he’s just suddenly there, as if Thor had wished for him. Sometimes he does.
In his hand, he’s carrying a green apple, a Midgardian mundane Loki picked up, Thor knows these little things fascinate him.
“These are not like the apples of home,” Loki says, “Idunn might turn up her nose at these.” He tosses the apple in the air, catching it, over and over, a nervous trick, like he used to do with his knives or tiny flames.
“Yes,” Thor agrees.
“They have no special qualities, no magical properties, none of the nutrients we as gods demand.” Loki walks as he talks, putting his back to Thor and it’s all an intricate test, they’ve found each other, they’ve fought, what next, what next.
Thor doesn’t move, Mother once said patience was best with Loki, and sometimes he remembers. “But.”
“The seeds inside, Thor, the seeds make a poison.”
“Yes.” Loki takes a bite, big and crunching, teeth sinking into the green skin. “Very.”
“Your point, Loki.”
“Must I have a point?”
“You usually do, sometimes an entertaining one,” Thor says and when his brother laughs, he sees a bruise on his cheekbone, long gashes in his sleeve, the swelling of his knuckles.
“You haven’t told them, have you,” Loki says, finally turning around and Thor steals the apple from him.
He takes a bite, big and crunching, teeth sinking into the green skin, so he doesn’t have to answer.
Loki wipes the juice off the stubble of his beard and smiles, licking his fingers as he vanishes.
It isn’t a curse and it isn’t a blessing depending on how you look at it.
Somehow, there was a witch, an old crone with one eye and all his life, Thor has been wary of those with one eye. He tries harder to listen to them.
She lived at the boundary of all things.
She took an apple from their pockets and spoke to it before slicing it into pieces and telling them to eat. Loki hesitated, then nodded and Thor trusts what Loki trusts, so he took the pieces of his half. As they ate, she brought them drink and sweets for the trip home, like a mother looking after wayward children. Her eye shone as she patted Loki on the cheek, then Thor and she didn’t have all her teeth as she said, There are two of you and that’s all there shall be. You for him and him for you. You cannot strike yourself from your own reflection.
What’s done is done, she said.
They didn’t seek it or ask for it or make outlandish payments for it. They didn’t find out until later what she saw and cryptically foretold. Loki thought she didn’t see anything, she made it so it would happen.
A curse, a blessing. Loki thinks it’s a joke, funny with a massive punchline. Thor tends to see things differently.
He hasn’t told the others. They will demand too much of him, make him pay outlandish amounts he cannot afford.
He hasn’t told them that the only way he can die is by his brother’s hand. And the only way Loki can die is by his hand.
That will never happen.
Trial and error, a spear to Thor’s chest, a sucking wound just below his heart and he would have died, normally, in the heat of battle like an honored warrior, only Loki hadn’t thrown the spear. Loki sat by his bed, day after day, fingers hovering over the wound, so pale. Thor lived and Loki’s eyes narrowed in thought.
The next month he slit his own throat in front of Thor; Loki tied him to a chair because Thor was ready to use Mjölnir against him, fling him down to the ground to stop him. The spray of blood across his face and throat almost had Thor screaming until Loki wrapped cloth around his neck and knelt in front of him, hands on Thor’s face, smearing blood, whispering, Brother, stop, I’ll heal, stop. The chair and rope broke and Thor toppled onto Loki, feeling at the bandage with the brutal cut underneath, and Loki wore the cloth for a week before he healed.
Trial and error, reckless fighting in battle and their mother cried over their injuries, but they never failed to heal.
Trial and error, and Loki put a knife in Thor’s hand, said, Do you want to try? Try to kill me, brother. Try to cut me, see what happens.
No, Thor said, but his hand shook, cutting Loki’s arm and the blade was bright-hot; it took almost a day for Loki to stop bleeding and they both knew, they knew.
Loki took an apple and sliced it and said, You cannot strike yourself from your own reflection.
Thor ate his offered half.
A black starless night, Thor couldn’t find Loki and he searched everywhere, walking until he found him at the boundary of all things and the little cottage was gone.
I can’t even kill myself, Loki said and he was warm when Thor put an arm around him to lead him back home.
You won’t ever need to, he said.
But Loki didn’t reply. Thor understood no one could kill them, but they could be hurt, again and again because they wouldn’t die, infinite torture to drive them mad, like the incident when Loki appeared in Thor’s chambers, black thread Xs crisscrossing his lips, blood running down his chin in slow drops.
When Loki fell, Thor was terrified it would cancel the magic and he wouldn’t find Loki alive.
Dying by each other’s hand. That will never happen.
So now here on Midgard, as they face down Loki, each fight is a sparring session, with explosions and destruction and damage like a crater. Each fight is his teammates trying their best to beat the unbeatable.
And they only cause more damage.
Another day, another fight and Loki is tall against the ruined edge of land and sky, a beautiful thing Thor wants to lay hands on and claim.
His brother has shifted to Jotun, ice forming as fast as he can think it, and Thor hears Iron Man mutter about the overgrown, dangerous Smurf in their midst, which is lost on Thor, but it sounds like a threat.
Thor tries to minimize the damage as best he can until the road beneath his feet cracks with a loud fracturing snap, throwing him on his back and he looks up with a long reaching sweep of Mjölnir to find Loki kneeling over him, an ice dagger at his throat, red eyes staring down at him.
“Brother,” Thor says to him, this blue ice-star fallen to earth caging him in, and Loki snarls, “I believe we have had this discussion, I am not—“
“You are and you forever will be.”
“You say that so I will spare them,” Loki says between gritted teeth, “now you see me, do you not, you truly see me.”
Desperate, Thor drags the dagger closer, because Loki isn’t listening and he shakes his head, the blade cold where it nicks his skin and his blood feels overly hot in comparison, trickling down his neck. “Brother.”
“Idiot. You should want to kill me. You do not love me like this.”
And that is unbearable, Thor will not stand for that, their immortal years of companionship and love and need will not be called into question.
He kisses Loki, hard, unmistakable, and Loki makes a sharp sound, warmth and cold pressed together; the dagger melts into vapor and the street shakes again as Loki kisses back, long slow seconds in broken-down time before the world cracks around them, breaking them apart. Sunlight spears through the smoke, then Loki punches him, knocking his eyes closed for a few heartbeats and somewhere in the background the good Captain is yelling Thor’s name.
“Brother,” Loki says, eyes in slits, cold blue fingers on Thor’s mouth, before Hawkeye grabs him off Thor, the Captain helping to haul him away and Iron Man gets Thor to his feet but blocks his path to follow wherever they’re taking Loki, the eyelights in the armored mask telling him nothing.
Loki is led away by soldiers, in Midgardian shackles and chains.
That night, he kisses his brother before Loki can leave the shadows and the darkness tastes sweet on his tongue.
“Unhand me, villain,” Loki hisses, trying to twist out of his grasp when Thor finds the angry abrasions on his wrists and it only makes Thor want to touch him more.
“I will only let go if you do not run away.”
Loki sighs against his shoulder. “I’ve just arrived, why would I run away.”
Thor raises an eyebrow because when wouldn’t Loki run, he might just appear and disappear to torment Thor, and it would be enough, it would work.
Though he shouldn’t be here, he shouldn’t be able to be here, Loki has been imprisoned, kept under harsh security and Thor wasn’t able to see him earlier, Fury wouldn’t let him see or talk to Loki, so he shouldn’t be here.
But Loki has forever been where he shouldn’t be.
Stepping behind him like the element of surprise, Thor slips an arm around his waist; he won’t let his brother go far, resting a hand on his belly and Loki sways against him.
“You let them capture you,” Thor says, feeling Loki tense, breathing slow under his palm.
Thor sighs. “Why.”
Loki vibrates, laughing low, the shaking passing into Thor before he shrugs Thor away. “Boredom is a good enough reason. But you needed to be taught a lesson.”
For as long as he can remember, Loki has done this, teasing and testing Thor, but he didn’t care, he doesn’t care, the only thing he learns is that he needs Loki, his reflection, and if Loki wants to punish him for it, so be it. He knows what he knows.
“According to you, I need to learn lessons all the time, without fail,” he says, “but I have never trusted that judgement,” and Loki laughs again.
“And that’s why you’re the foolish idiot.”
The air shifts, Loki moving fast as he drags Thor close, kissing him, fist warm and tight in the old shirt Thor sleeps in, a Midgardian mundane from the mortals. They kiss like there are repercussions, tasting their way around each other, this is how much I’ve missed you.
“A new lesson, brother?” he asks, laughing against Loki’s cheek and Loki says, “Not new,” and pulls him to the bed, kissing him deeper, clever fingers in his hair, on his face, tugging off his clothes.
This is something buried at heart’s end, runic in their very bones, not new, maybe even before they went to the witch and shared an apple, when Loki would run laughing through the halls and Thor would chase him, yelling his name.
He kisses Loki, opening them up, and Loki says, “Thor, brother,” as they lay hands to claim.
He’s bruised in more places than he can put his fingers on, but Loki finds them all.
In the morning, the other side of Thor’s bed is empty and Loki is back in his cell, tracing runes on the walls with a fingertip.
Fury and Coulson go in to talk to him while Thor monitors them and he feels the rest of the team monitoring him.
They don’t say anything because Clint said something about if he’s your brother, you know all his tricks, so why don’t you just, I dunno, fucking stop him, and Thor let Mjölnir smash through the television. Steve darted in before anything else could happen and Tony smirked, brushing glass off his trousers, and said, It’s okay, big guy, that TV had shitty picture quality, might as well build my own, never done that before.
Loki listens because they don’t threaten him; Thor remembers the black thread Xs, remembers seeing Loki cut down into his organs, forever healing; he warned them to speak with respect because Loki is not only highly intelligent and a god, but he is Thor’s brother and that seems to be the key here.
No one’s forgotten that, Natasha said and her words sounded bitter.
He still hasn’t told them and he won’t, he won’t, he knows Loki will escape, and they will fight him in the streets. Loki will be the dark lean creator of demolition and fire, still the most astounding magnificence Thor has ever seen, and he won’t let them truly hurt his brother.
They will fight him, again and again and again.
They will almost kill themselves to kill Loki, and they won’t know they can’t.
Pepper steps into the room, whispering to Tony as she hands a basket to Steve, full of muffins and fruit and other sweets; before she leaves, she pats Thor on the arm, her smile comforting.
Clint swipes a few of the sweet rolls Thor has come to appreciate, then tosses something at him.
He catches the apple in mid-air and in the room, Fury leans on the table, talking fast, and Loki looks up at the camera.
Fighting warms Thor’s blood in ways he will forever enjoy, but having Loki in his bed skin to skin is worth the fighting, the killing, the dying, worth the choice he’s made.
“This could be our world,” Loki says, balancing cross-legged at the end of the bed.
“No, Loki, it could not,” Thor admonishes. He tugs at the sheets to upend his brother, but Loki slides along with the pull, long pale naked lines, eyes shining, dark hair falling down around his temples, messy with half an apple in his hand, and he is pure enticement in the way he smiles.
“Do not tell me you haven’t looked at this world, Thor, and seen the potential,” Loki says, voice dropping, bruises still stark on his wrist as he waves a hand and Thor swallows.
“Your dreams were always bigger than mine,” he says carefully because he knows what Loki means, what the land and people are like here, open and free, they’re fighters and Thor would want them to fight before he – before he and Loki subdued them.
“I don’t know how, you sleep more than me,” his brother says, smirking, and Thor searches for something to throw at him.
Loki tosses the apple over his shoulder and climbs into Thor’s lap, smile gone, fingers sliding warm.
“You do see it.”
“It is not under discussion.”
This is the third time Loki has slipped his chains to visit Thor; the past few days have been isolation and talk in his prison, the nights spent in Thor’s rooms, and Thor knows he will be gone completely in the morning, no longer under S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ‘protective care,’ as Loki says.
He knows Loki will return to him, in battle or in bed, and he slips his hand along Loki’s thigh as Loki says, “Do you remember when you sparred with Hogunn and he drew blood?”
“Yes, he cut my shoulder,” Thor says, laughing because he understands why Loki thinks of it. “And you jumped in, threw a knife and cut his shoulder.”
“Blood for blood,” Loki says, mouth against his forehead.
His brother tastes of apples when Thor leans in and kisses him and he feels Loki’s teeth on his lips as Loki smiles.
Thor’s bed is empty, the space next to him still warm, and Loki’s cell is bare, nothing left, not even the runes on the walls.
They don’t ask Thor about where Loki went or how.
He overhears Coulson talking to Tony about a new science and they argue about complicated drawings, figures on paper; this new science could help them build a better prison.
Clint is shooting arrows into apples Natasha is throwing in the air with a bored look on her face, “like William fucking Tell, I could do this all fucking day,” he says and he sounds angry to Thor before Bruce mutters about constructive uses of time and Steve takes away his bow.
It’s sunny out and clear, blue skies.
A new day.
They’re surrounded by water and smoke and screaming.
An explosion shakes the street under their feet and there’s the noise of crumbling masonry, the groan of steel.
This is how much it costs to keep you, Thor thinks.
A streak of black, and Thor catches Black Widow as she control-falls from atop a tilting wall, then she scrambles away, saying, ‘Thor,’ and, ‘flank from the left,’ and Captain America is a blur of red and blue, racing forward, his shield knocking aside debris.
Another explosion, and Loki smiles, the one he used when he learned a new spell, the one he used when Thor would show off for him, the one he uses when he says ‘brother’ and kisses Thor.
Thor smiles back, but Loki’s expression changes, knife-like, and his outstretched hand clenches into a fist.
Metal crunches with a rending screech and a car flies by, thrown like a child’s ball.
It’s an amazing display, the fight going on between them, around them, with his brother at the middle of it.
Then Loki’s gone in the smoke.
“You left this behind on the street this morning, Thor, you should be more careful with your things,” Loki says, grinning, red fabric falling out of his hands.
Wrapping him in the torn cape, Thor pulls them together for a kiss and says, “Is that what you do best – you look out for me, brother? Your talent surely isn’t in fighting.”
“You don’t fight, you swing your toy hammer in the hope you’ll hit something. You must be dizzy, stop talking.”
The cape rips around them and Loki bites Thor’s tongue as they laugh into the kiss.
Thor is still growing into his shoulders and Loki is all thin limbs and eyes and Mother laughs as she says they’re troublemakers, the pair of them, just look at them, my husband, look at my boys the errant rogues, they’ll bring the walls down around my ears, you are too young to be so much trouble.
They’re sneaking down the hallway, darting into the shadows, avoiding the guards. The sons of Odin have leeway within reason, though Loki continuously has to question the phrase ‘within reason.’
It was hours ago since they last ate and it’s hours still until the feast tonight and they’re hungry now after hunting foxes through the woods and Thor didn’t think he could watch Loki shift into any more kinds of animals, it made him tired just watching.
Though the wolf had been interesting, black fur and Loki’s green eyes and Thor said, Let me get a collar, brother, you can be my pet. And Loki almost ripped his cloak with his sharp wolf teeth.
Now they’re looking for apples to steal because the kitchens are off-limits and if they’re caught again, the punishment will be harsher sparring sessions, less time in the woods, more time at books, and separation.
Loki doesn’t mind the books, Thor doesn’t mind the sparring, and they can survive without the woods. It’s the separation that’s the worst.
So, sneaking, shadows, apples it is.
Mother keeps a basket of them by her sewing and she isn’t in her rooms, but someone is sure to find them since Loki is laughing behind his hand and Thor can’t stop grinning and talking because it’s an adventure making Loki laugh.
They steal seven apples, Thor tucking two in his pockets before Loki whispers, “No, Thor, give them here,” and he strokes the golden skins, but nothing happens.
“Are you doing a trick,” Thor asks, waiting, fingers curled. “Do they do something.”
“Hush, big mouth,” Loki says with a frown, then he strokes the apples again and they disappear.
Thor grins. “That’s all very well, Loki, but now how do we eat them?”
Footsteps, and Loki pushes at him. “Go!”
They run, long hallways and secret passageways Loki’s discovered and Thor is amazed at all his brother knows, until they stumble out next to the door by Thor’s bedchambers.
Scrambling inside, they’re laughing, high-pitched and out of breath, and Loki pulls the apples out of the air, one two three four five six seven. Thor crunches into an apple, juice squirting over his palm, but Loki flicks his hand and a knife flashes between his fingers to slice his apple, eating it off the blade.
“You are ruining the fun,” Thor says. “Too neat and tidy.”
“Or maybe you are too messy.”
Loki grins, gold against his mouth, and Thor kisses him, a brother kiss, sticky sweet.
They save three apples for later because they’ll need them for the journey; after the fires are doused for the night, they’re sneaking out to see the witch who lives at the boundary of all, she supposedly tells fortunes.