Loki sits at his desk and reads. The text is familiar to him and does not therefore require his full attention, which is fortunate, for Thor's presence in his study is both unwelcome and disruptive. Loki could make him leave, but it's rare these days for Thor to seek his company, and rarer still for him to remain anywhere near books when he could have a sword or a spear or a hammer in his hands. Thor, following in the footsteps of many a thickheaded warrior, has never accepted that knowledge, when well applied, is a weapon like any other.
In the light of this, there is a certain amount of curiosity to be found in the fact that Thor is roaming Loki's chambers like some restless wild beast, taking up too much space and making too much noise. There's always been a still quality to the air in Loki's rooms; Loki is used to slipping in and out without disturbing it. Thor, in contrast, pays it no heed, his pacing forcing the air to shift, to come alive. He puts his hands on Loki's things, picking them up and putting them down in a haphazard pattern of disinterest. He is, as always, impossible to ignore.
Loki's interest is piqued enough to wait and see whether Thor will speak or leave, but he doesn't feel like making Thor's life easier by prompting him. His own pettiness keeps him company as he continues to read, or pretends to.
At long last, Thor lets out an aggravated sigh, as if fed up with either his own indecisiveness or Loki's apparent disinterest in him.
"Is it true what they say?" Thor demands, and Loki looks up from his book, arching an eyebrow.
"Well," he says, "it depends. What do they say?"
Thor's expression borders on belligerent, but there's a dull blush high up on his cheeks, a sign that their conversation is about to take an unexpected turn.
"That you allow men to -- that you allow them to take you as though you were a woman."
Ah. Loki leans back in his chair, careful to keep his expression bland. He would be surprised it has taken this long for the rumors to reach Thor's ears, except he knows how his brother operates, knows how little he pays attention to anything that doesn't directly pertain to him, his friends, or their adventures.
No, it is not surprising in the least that it has taken years upon years for this confrontation to happen.
"I fail to see how it is any of your concern."
"It is if I say it is," Thor decrees, blind to the faults in his logic, "and for once, I would have the truth from you."
For once, he says, as though Loki has made a habit out of lying to him. For Thor to come into these rooms and demand the truth as if it's something he's entitled to, a toy Loki has kept from him --
"The truth." Loki doesn't make an effort to hide the contemptuous curl of his lip. "You may demand it, but you are ill-prepared to hear it."
"It is --" Thor falters, and Loki can see his throat working as he swallows. "It is as they say, then."
It isn't unheard of for boys or for men to give each other a helping hand; brief encounters born out of curiosity or stress, easily overlooked. This, however, goes far beyond it. It's unspeakable, for a man to submit to another as only a woman should.
The first boy Loki allowed into his bed, when he was too young to fully understand the consequences, had dark eyes and a confident smile. Leifr, he was called, the first son of Ulfr, a warrior well-respected in Odin's halls. A scant few years older than Loki at the time, he was cautious at first, growing bolder with every gesture Loki did not reject, every touch Loki did not object to, and kept taking until there was nothing more to give.
It ended with Loki on his back, with Leifr between his spread legs. They did it twice more -- less awkward, less painful for Loki -- before Loki found out that Leifr had no interest in keeping their affair a secret. Why would he? The only true shame in what they'd done was upon Loki, and to have bedded the cold, pale prince of Asgard -- what man would keep such a conquest to himself?
What man indeed.
"Why it should matter to you whom I take to my bed, I do not know," Loki reiterates, touching the pages of the open book in front of him, the familiar texture of paper a small comfort. "Do you want to know what it is like to bed a man -- is that it? Do you wonder what it would be like to have me on my hands and knees like one of your wenches?"
Thor wouldn't be the only one, but it's a crude thing to say, regardless. The fact that they are brothers only makes it worse -- not even talk of such things should exist between them. But Loki feels brittle and spiteful, willing Thor to storm out and avoid him for a fortnight, six months, however long it takes for him to need Loki's assistance enough to seek him out. It is not in Thor's nature to bear grudges for long, but in the past few years Loki has gotten entirely too good at getting under his skin. This latest revelation, the shame it brings upon the House of Odin, should only serve to drive them further apart.
Instead of the fully expected anger and vehement denial, however, a rush of blood deepens the blush on Thor's cheeks. Loki's eyes widen. He holds himself very still.
"You do," he breathes, appalled. Appalled and -- increasingly, undeniably -- gleeful.
Thor clenches his jaw, but he doesn't back down. He hasn't backed down from anything in his entire life; it's not surprising he doesn't have the sense to do so now.
"Yes," he says. "I do."
He must be aware of the gravity of his admission, yet he stands, unapologetic, awaiting Loki's judgment. He is the biggest, most magnificent fool to ever exist, and Loki should send him running with his tail between his legs. Words of condemnation worse than his own preferences in bed build up on Loki's tongue, eager to spill out. When he swallows them down, the burn from their acid nature is sweet like the finest honey.
He licks his lips, the ghost of unsaid words lingering in their shape, and Thor's gaze flickers to his mouth, briefly, like he can't help himself. A thread of heat uncurls in Loki's stomach, a warning -- a promise.
Perhaps he is a greater fool than even Thor, but may the Norns burn his heart, he'll give Thor exactly what he thinks he wants.
"Brother," Loki says, and yes, there it is -- the flinch, the shadow of shame.
"Loki," Thor says, floundering. There is something uncharacteristically awkward about the way he stands; his posture is as perfect as ever, his head held high, but his arms hang at his sides like he doesn't know what to do with them. "I did not come here to --"
He falls silent when Loki stands up.
"I think you did," Loki says. "I think you already believed the rumors when you came to ask me about them. You do so easily believe what is said about me."
Thor looks startled, and then lowers his brows in confusion.
"Whether their abuse of you is based on truth or falsehood, should people insult you in my presence, I would surely strike them down."
People know better than to insult Loki where Thor can hear, just as they know better than to insult Loki to his face, but unlike Thor, Loki is an observer. He notices all the things people don't say, and knows that the only reason his preferences are, for the most part, ignored, is because one does not accuse a prince of Asgard of such things.
Because of his magic, Loki was already used to being seen as something less than he is when the rumors started -- no self-respecting man would so excel at an art meant for women's soft hearts and hands. If enjoying the intimate company of men makes him even more damned in the eyes of his fellow Asgardians, so be it. They are wrong, and because he knows they are wrong, Loki continues to do as he pleases.
"You say that you don't care whether they use a truth or a falsehood to insult me," Loki says, closing in on Thor, "and that you would defend my honor regardless -- as though that is not an insult in itself."
"I know you've never wanted my protection --"
"I have never needed your protection," Loki corrects, his hands twitching with the desire to turn into claws, to tear out his beloved brother's lungs. It's always like this with Thor, always. The first prince of Asgard, noble and brave, admired and adored by all. Being near him is like looking into the sun. How other people can stand it without wanting to either remove their eyes or shred Thor into pieces, Loki will never know.
Next to Thor, he is nothing but a shadow.
"I would lend my strength to you whether you needed it or not," Thor vows, unaware of the tendrils of violence that coil and uncoil under Loki's skin like snakes. "I would not let you fight alone."
I've been fighting alone my whole life, Loki doesn't say, the thought getting stuck between his teeth, bitter and hard. Thor would neither understand nor accept it.
"Enough talking," Loki says, stepping into Thor's personal space. "That is not what you came here for."
"I came for the truth," Thor says, but he sounds less certain now.
"You have your truth. And maybe you can have me as well." Loki smiles, close-mouthed and humorless. "Isn't that how the logic goes? If I'm already deviant, surely allowing my own brother to fuck me isn't asking for more than I can give."
"Do not talk like that," Thor says, a muscle in his cheek jumping.
"Do you find the truth to be something you do not care for, after all?" Loki inquires, false innocence thick in his voice.
"Not when you twist it till it looks uglier than it is."
Thor is wearing his sparring clothes, no armor in sight; slowly, Loki reaches out and puts his hands on Thor's upper arms, his touch light, and runs them up to his shoulders, slides them down to his chest. Then up again, seeking out the bristles of Thor's beard, the blood-hot skin of his cheeks.
"And this?" He asks. "Is it not ugly?"
"There is nothing ugly about you," Thor says, defiant, raw.
He has it backwards -- he has it so very wrong -- but then, he often does. Loki does not correct him. Father, he thinks; look how I am corrupting your golden son.
"Well, then," Loki whispers, brushing his thumbs over Thor's cheekbones. "Do your worst."
Loki has been with more men than the unspoken rules of Asgard should allow, has taken them to bed and let them to do as they please, as long as it pleases him. Curiosity, lust, power games; there are many reasons for men to seek him out. He has satiated the curiosity of those merely interested in what it's like to bed a man; he has given a taste and no more to those who came to him because he is Loki, the little prince, beautiful and cold; he has crushed men with delusions of owning him, and those who thought bedding him would give them something to hold over him.
Thor is an anomaly, an exception, an impossibility. Loki doesn't care for his reasons. He cares for the warmth of his skin, the traces of soap and sweat and leather and metal that make up his scent. He cares about the way Thor's mouth fits against his, hesitant at first, forcing Loki to coax more out of it with little nips of his teeth and swipes of his tongue. He cares about Thor's hands, by turns too gentle and too rough.
"Bed," Loki gasps, and they stumble out of the study, leaving a trail of clothing behind, until Thor gets frustrated and picks Loki up like they are not almost of a height, like it's nothing. Loki wraps his legs around Thor's waist and locks his arms around his neck and keeps kissing him, soft and deep and desperate and hard, even as his back collides first with a wall and then, an undefined amount of time later, his mattress.
Thor is above him, breathing hard, his lips swollen and red. Loki feels dizzy looking up at him. Don't change your mind, he wants to say; if you change your mind, I'll rip out your heart. I won't be sorry. He drags Thor down, capturing his mouth again to keep either of them from speaking, and Thor's weight settles over him, heated skin and hard muscle and, oh, Loki wants to devour him.
He pushes at Thor a little and slips a hand between their bodies to wrap his fingers around Thor's erect length, something triumphant and possessive rushing through him at the feel of it, hard and eager in his grip. Thor muffles a groan against Loki's throat.
"How, ah --" Loki licks his lips, tries again. "How do you want me?"
He's feeling generous, willing to let Thor have him any way he likes. Thor lifts his head; his eyes are very, very blue.
"On my hands and knees?" Loki hazards a guess when Thor stays silent for a moment too long.
"No," Thor says. He clears his throat, but his voice doesn't sound any less wrecked when he speaks again. "No, I would prefer -- like this. Where I can see your face."
Something clenches painfully in Loki's chest, making it hard to breathe -- absurd, completely absurd -- and he looks away instead of answering, reaching for one of the vials he keeps on the table next to his bed. He takes hold of Thor's hand and uses oil to slick his fingers, guides them between his legs, half expecting, still, Thor to come to his senses and refuse.
"You are certain?" Thor says, his voice husky, his fingertips feather-light at Loki's entrance, as though he still can't imagine anyone wanting what he's about to do. How insulting. Of course Loki is certain. Does Thor think he could have gotten this far without Loki's full consent? Loki brings a hand up to Thor's throat, presses his thumb down a little.
"I am," he says, knowing that Thor can read the warning in his touch, in the sharp edges of his smile. "Please do proceed, brother, lest I go find someone more suited for -- ahh --"
Thor shoves his index and middle finger into Loki, ungentle, and it's almost too much, almost too good.
Loki doesn't bother hiding his smirk even as he arches his back, his legs falling further open in wordless approval.
"Getting there," he says, but the breathless quality of his voice seems to mollify Thor slightly. His touch becomes less rough, more curious; he slides his fingers out almost completely, then slowly presses them back in, all the way in, and crooks them a little on the way back out. He does it again with varying depth and speed, his gaze intent on Loki's face. Loki almost wishes Thor had opted to take him from behind, but says nothing, unwilling to admit to a weakness he doesn't fully understand himself. Sex has never made him feel vulnerable, nor has submitting ever made him weak; there is no reason it should be different with Thor. No reason at all.
"You can add another one," Loki says when the slight edge of pain begins to fade. He gets what he asks for, and the sweet burn of it is enough to distract him from the odd sense of vulnerability lurking at the back of his mind.
When Loki grows greedy for more, Thor is eager to comply; there is oil again, and a few, suspended moments of waiting. Thor hooks one of Loki's legs over his arm, brushing his fingers over Loki's exposed entrance before replacing them with the blunt head of his cock.
Loki suppresses a shiver. His skin feels overheated, and his magic, responding to the unsteady state of his mind, is at unrest; he closes his eyes, holding it at bay. Thor pushes into him, filling him slowly, with care, and by the time he's done, Loki is panting, tugging at his own hair in an effort not to lose himself to the exquisite pain of it all.
"Is it too much?"
Loki opens his eyes to find Thor looking down at him with a shadow of worry in his eyes. His muscles are tense with restraint and there's a tremor in his arm that has nothing to do with the weight of Loki's leg. Unable to speak -- how Thor would laugh at that under different circumstances -- Loki shakes his head.
"I have been told it can be too much," Thor says, like he doesn't quite believe Loki, like it matters whether or not Loki can take it. If it didn't require an unreasonable amount of effort, Loki would roll his eyes.
"Oh, yes," he says, as scathing as he can manage when just getting the words out is a battle; "I'm sure your wenches have told you all sorts of things."
"You are the most maddening --"
Visibly frustrated, Thor cuts himself off with a sharp jerk of his hips, his resulting groan drowning out Loki's breathless echo of it.
I won't break, Loki wants to tell him. And even if I do, it hardly matters. He encourages Thor not with words, but with the arch of his back and the moans that shape his mouth, with the strength of his legs, the cruelty of his nails against Thor's heated skin, and slowly but surely, Thor lets go of his restraint. He fills Loki again and again, harder, with less care, and the bruising force of Thor's thrusts, the burning ache of being stretched beyond comfort, is almost more than Loki can take. It's everything he could have hoped for.
His magic spills out, pouring from his hands like water. He doesn't try to stop it, turning it into blue-green strands of light, like living fire, and letting it twine around his fingers.
Thor falters, of course he does, and Loki reaches for him, touching his jaw with glowing fingertips; the magic licks at the offered skin, twisting around strands of hair when Loki slides his hands up.
"Harmless," he says, trying to catch his breath. "Keep going."
Thor looks dubious, but he's not pulling away.
"'Tis ... lovely?"
Loki smacks his shoulder.
"You need not search for compliments, you insufferable creature," he says, less than charitable; he knows better than to attempt to gain praise by using magic. "It's simply a manifestation of restless energy, not worth holding onto when I could be focusing on better things. Now move."
Incomprehensibly, Thor grins at that, leaning down to give Loki a hard kiss.
"It is lovely, though," he says, a little breathless, and picks up his pace again. Loki, resisting the urge to hit him a second time, drags him into another kiss, the light from his magic bleeding through his closed eyelids.
It doesn't take long for them to reach the point where Loki's toes are curling, where he's biting his lip until he tastes blood just to keep himself from begging. Thor, with barely any hesitation, takes Loki's length in a warm, firm grip that Loki didn't expected to get; not three heartbeats later, Loki is coming, his head thrown back, a gasping, keening cry leaving his throat.
Thor slams into him once, twice more, grunting, and then stills, shuddering as he spills his seed inside. He half collapses on top of Loki, catching himself at the last moment. After a minute, he carefully pulls out and falls onto his back next to Loki.
Loki slowly shifts, wincing at his sore muscles, at the twinge of pain between his legs. He wants to reach down and prod at it with his fingers, wants to feel the slickness Thor left behind, to push it back in where it's seeping out and making a sticky mess out of the sheets, the backs of his thighs.
He keeps his hands above his shoulders, curling his fingers loosely against his palms. His magic is dormant once more, having flared and ebbed with his climax, but he doesn't like that it became volatile to begin with. Even now, with his magic content to stay within the borders of his body, Loki feels dangerously out of control, and without control, he is nothing.
"Does that answer your question?" From the corner of his eye, Loki can see Thor turning to look at him.
"Of what it's like to bed a man," Loki elaborates, and Thor rises up on his elbow. When he doesn't say anything, Loki finally meets his eyes.
"I..." Thor hesitates. "I might have more questions for you, if you're willing."
Loki blinks. Unexpected enough that Thor hasn't yet made to leave, but asking for more, as though their taking pleasure in each other isn't against decency itself --
It would seem Loki has underestimated Thor; first time for everything.
"Far be it from me," he says at length, "to deny my brother's request the one time he expresses interest in something other than how to best emulate warriors even more thickheaded than he."
Thor grins, the set of his shoulders relaxing.
"Careful, Loki," he says, leaning over Loki, sliding a heavy hand into his hair; "that was very nearly a compliment."
"If admitting to the possibility of there being a scant few people with even less wit than you is enough for you to think it a compliment," Loki says archly, "I might have to reconsider my already low estimation of your feeble intellect."
"That's more like it," Thor says, and kisses him, self-assured and possessive. Whatever ground Loki was inadvertently given when Thor admitted to his desires, it's clear that Thor thinks he's already gained it back. Loki will have to change that. He buries his hands in Thor's hair, gripping it punishingly hard, and deepens the kiss.
There are only a handful of men Loki has slept with more than once. Leifr, because Loki didn't know better at the time; Alrik, who is strong and shy and smiles like he's grateful to be in Loki's presence; Ragnar, who loves his wife and children fiercely but touches Loki with reverence, and never looks at him like there's something wrong with him; Mord, who spends most of his time in other realms and has stories to tell, who brings Loki little gifts -- a strange bird, a wolf's pelt, enchanted ink for his spells -- but never pretends that Loki is something he can keep; and now Thor, ill-advised and unplanned for, impossible to resist.
They don't set down rules or talk about the future. Eventually, Thor leaves, going back to his friends and his training and his adventures, leaving Loki with his books and his spells and his ruined bedsheets. Loki stays where he is, not feeling like getting up just yet.
Many, many years ago, a rumor was born, and Loki spent nine days in search of a spell, cold anger driving him to excel. When he was done, Leifr, the betrayer, was the one to suffer the consequences, injuring himself on every weapon he attempted to use, tripping on wooden practice swords and cutting himself on blades, the resulting bruises dark and angry, the wounds deep and painful, slow to heal. Clumsy-Leifr, they started calling him; Bad-Luck Leifr.
The spell faded in time, but the mocking nicknames remain, and Leifr no longer meets Loki's eyes. Much like the nicknames, a rumor, once it's taken root, is impossible to kill; recognizing the futility of it, Loki has never tried -- has even, at times, taken perverse pleasure in feeding it in small, measured doses. Let them talk. Let them think the worst of him. Perhaps one day, he'll prove them right.
Not today. Not when he's discovered such an unexpected upside to it all. He believed Thor to be all but lost to him, the days of their childhood -- when Loki had no true understanding of the inequality between them, when Thor's smiles were for him, and him alone, and the doubt in his heart was easily dismissed -- long gone. Today, he was shown another way, a golden chain with which to bind his shadow to Thor's sun. It's thin; he doesn't know if it will hold.
Magic surges under his skin, and he lifts his hand up, watches as his veins are lit up from the inside, turning his flesh luminous blue. He's all but sure that Thor will return to him. The trick is to make sure he always will.
If one day he doesn't --
If that day comes, Loki's love for Thor may not be enough to stop him from taking in death what he isn't given in life. How much blood does a smile contain? Loki is afraid he'll have to take it all, just to make sure he has enough.
For now, though, for the first time in a long time, he has a sliver of control over Thor -- something he can use to carve a place for himself in Thor's heart, more immediate and devastating than that of a younger brother easily left behind, or an advisor listened to only when no one else is speaking.
Loki flexes his fingers, pulling his magic back into hiding. A sliver of control; a thin, golden chain.
He's done more with less.