Frost rimmed the hammered metal veins, collected along the notched edges of the gradual taper of the wings. The ice had crystalized along the helmet like splinters of raised vertebrae, tarnishing the once familiar into something twisted. Nightmarish. And yet, Loki felt no dread as he knelt to collect it from the snows; only a fleeting whisper of unease as the chill bit into his gloved fingers, as if he had defiled something precious. As if he had wrongfully defied what the wastes had intended as a monument. The moment passed, and what remained was a relic. Loki turned the helm over in his hands with a caution that bordered on the reverent. His fingers moved over the surface gingerly, as if too careless of a finger stroke were capable of unlocking the too-bright memories within. His features contorted into a silent snarl, lips pressing together in a thin, bloodless line. He loathed it for the slight power it held over him, when he’d long ago sworn to never again fall victim to the dominion of another. He hated it for the nameless emotion that it evoked; not quite mourning, and a fierce and desperate longing for ignorance, if only to taste the sweetness of a time that could not last. “” Another half-turn, and the sun flares across its surface. Thor would never have parted with it willingly; it is this fact that sets Loki’s pulse racing, both in a strange sort of elation and in dread. He glances up, his eyes narrowed against the harsh play of sunlight against the wastes, searching for a sign, some hint as to where Thor has gone. The man would likely not have fallen far behind his helm. It is then that his searching gaze pauses. There, not more than fifteen feet off, lies a crumpled and shadowed form in the snow. Loki tucks the helm beneath his arm, and moves forward. His cape twisted beneath him; a violent stain of color to challenge the monochrome of his surroundings. It spread beneath him with all the hot, vivid urgency of spilling blood; pooling underneath limbs gone too-still. And for a moment—a moment only—Loki nearly laughs. A sharp and feral noise against the quiet; his teeth flashing with his sudden madness. Because for a moment—a moment only—he is free of the shadow that has plagued him all his life. And yet, as he stops mere inches from him, for reasons he can never hope to understand, he can only offer his vain hopes to the wind that he is not. No god will hear him.
There’s a jagged wound on Thor’s back; in the section where Thor’s armor has caved in. The edges of the wound have blackened, thin veins of black radiating outward in delicate tendrils against the unnatural shade of his skin. They are cancerous, for all their beauty. Thor’s skin had begun to change, his already fair complexion darkening into a blue so pale it’s almost colorless. There is a sickly sweet scent to Thor’s body; faint, and nearly swept away by the winds that howl across the wastes. Loki smells it all the same, and for a moment he flinches. His brother smells of death. Clots of blood and ice alike collected on the thinnest edges of the wound, Thor’s body heat far too faint to drive away the last vestiges of soiled snow, tinged in varying shades of pale pink and a shade of red that nearly blackens when caught in shadow. And yet, he stirred. His head lifted slowly, bowed from the effort of the gesture.
“You came for me.”
Thor’s words are soft and nearly torn from his lips by the wind. The wonder in such simple words is enough to cause a flicker in Loki’s eyes, but nothing more.
“You came for me, my brother. I knew—“he falters. “I hoped you would.”
His voice is thick, confused. The cold has long since numbed them, making eloquence—difficult at the best of times for him—nearly impossible. But it’s the air of stark relief in his words that causes Loki’s gut to twist uncomfortably. The shadow of shame, gone in an instant. Thor’s gaze meets his, the blue of his eyes impossibly bright in contrast to the dull crimson of his own. He smiles, though the gesture is weak and clumsy. There is such hope in such a small thing, Loki thinks to himself. There always had been. Since they were boys, it had been Thor’s disarming smile that won hearts, never his own. His smile wavered, brows knitting.
“Am I to go home now?”
Loki doesn’t answer, and Thor’s gaze never falls from his face; desperately searching for assurance, for guidance—for his brother’s counsel and comforting words. He searches for him. For the brother he once knew and not the stranger with the cerulean skin that somehow only makes him all the more beautiful. He searches for the brother who could always call him back to himself when he thought all was lost, with a touch of his hand on his shoulder or a word. Or sometimes no words at all, just the touch of restless, hungry hands in the half-dark of their bedroom. He needs to believe that brother has not gone. When the strain of both hoping for an answer and keeping his head aloft proved too much, Thor’s head bowed again, sinking wordlessly into the snow. Loki moved then, his steps light with their customary caution as he circled behind Thor’s prone form.
“I warned you, did I not?”He murmured as he knelt, his hand rising to rest on his back. “To love me would destroy you.”
Thor does not answer. He has no voice to answer with, though the manner in which his muscles suddenly taut scream denial in their own way. It is a tired argument. But it is one where he will not yield, for to do so would be to admit the words that Loki both hungers for and dreads. To admit it would be to claim that his love for him was a mistake. And he cannot—he will not—admit that. Loki’s fingertips brush across Thor’s back, and for a moment there is something tender in the gesture. Thor can no longer feel the faint pressure of his fingertips; only subtle changes in the unbearable chill upon his skin. Loki’s fingers skim against the surface of his back, and for a moment, there is the tenderness that few could claim to have ever seen—rare moments that Thor cherishes as if they are sacred things—precious things. The moment doesn’t last. His fingers tense, make themselves go rigid as they reach the edge of Thor’s wound. There is a sickening noise as his fingers seize the edges of the wound, drawing them back so that the skin tears, separating from muscle in a slow mockery of intimacy with a low, wet sound.
Thor convulses, a choked noise catching in his throat. He lacks the energy to scream. Loki slips his fingers beneath his skin until they’re stained from fingertip to knuckle. Thor’s skin yields, tearing along the curve of his side, until thin, pale trickles of blood began to flow once more, their jagged paths rolling ponderously down his spine. Thor doesn’t resist, doesn’t fight back. A part of him knows that Loki needs this. And so he gives him this moment, freely and in silence. It is in this moment that the realization blindly hits; that he would give him everything, if he only asked. Loki’s fingers tear further, seized by a sudden fury that dwindles into helplessness. In this moment, he hates the man he once called brother. He cannot trust what is freely given; cannot believe that there is no price to pay, no debt owed. That Thor asks for nothing frightens him as much as it confuses him. He resents Thor for the vulnerability he brings forth in him, and it is that resentment—years of it—-that have ahold of him now as he heedlessly tears at his brother like something gone mad. And for one terrified moment, Thor half-wonders if he means to destroy him truly.
His lips move to form the question, but only a soft, bitter laugh, exhaled in a shortened breath escape them. He laughs not because he finds humor in the situation, but because he is no longer sure whether he’d resist. A shudder runs through him, and he’s still. The wind howls over the peaks of Jotunheim, and for a moment, it is impossible to tell whether in victory or in dirge. The lamp in Loki’s bedroom burns low, casting their shadows over the far wall. The shadows look darkened bruised. In that respect, they mirror the pale expanse of skin exposed to Loki’s gaze. Thor sits with his back to him, his head bowed. Loki works steadily and in silence as he threads the needle, one eye kept on the rigid set of Thor’s shoulders. As if he mistrusts him still. The thought is enough to cause Thor’s fingers to curl in the sheets, his teeth sinking into his lower lip in a gesture meant to stifle both a rising sense of helplessness and a sudden bitterness that threatens to overwhelm him. It’s a gesture that Loki knows well; after so many years spent together, he knows precisely how to read his brother.
The subtly of a shrug that gives only a moment’s warning before his fist aims at a face, or a wall. This gesture, however, has stuck with him since childhood—the lost expression of a chastened boy, frustrated and desperate for the chance to speak. Loki braces a hand against his back, then—bringing it to rest just below his shoulders and pushing forward as gently as he can manage. There’s something wrong about how easily Thor submits to his direction; something about the way his head bows that gives him pause. Broken, his mind whispers, and he shies away from it, pressing the point of the needle against Thor’s skin, puncturing it, and pulling it through. Thor whines as the thread pulls tight; and then falls silent. For a time, there is only the feel of the needle as it knits his wound closed, and the uncomfortable tightness of the thread against his skin. And then he’s twisting away from him, out of his grasp, whirling with a sudden gracelessness that nevertheless takes Loki by surprise. He turns to face him, and before Loki can form the question on his lips, Thor’s hands are resting on either side of his face, cradling it with a gentleness that belies his urgency.
He kisses him; crushing his mouth against his with a hunger that makes it clumsy, an awkward clash of tongue and teeth. Loki’s lips are still and unresponsive beneath Thor’s own for a brief moment, his hands lifting to brace against his chest as the impulse to push him away wars with the desire to draw him closer. In the end, he relents, giving himself over because he understands that Thor needs this. He finds himself returning the kiss, his hands sliding up his chest to tangle in the ends of his hair, winding it through his fingers and pulling as he delivers a hard bite to Thor’s lower lip. Thor gasps, and it gives Loki the opening he’s looked for. His tongue slips between his parted lips, and there’s something thrilling in the way Thor shudders underneath his touch as their tongues brush. And then there is nothing else for either of them but the warm, wet slide of friction as both fight desperately for the upper hand. Thor pulls back after a moment, his breath hitched and rough. He leans forward until his head rests on his brother’s shoulder, his lips pressed against the crook of his neck.
“Can you forgive me?” He murmurs, slowly lifting his head, trying and failing to meet Loki’s gaze.
In that one moment, he thinks he would give anything if only his brother would look at him, and the shame of it causes Loki to flinch, even as he glances away.
“Brother, please…” Loki glances at him sharply then, and Thor stills. The silence stretches between them for uncomfortable minutes, until Loki suddenly leans forward, bringing his forehead to rest against Thor’s. He remains silent for a moment longer as their breaths intermingle, one hand lifting to cup his cheek.
“Only if you will forgive me.”
Thor smiles then—his broad, uninhibited smile. There is nothing to forgive.