Loki sets off shortly after dawn, cursing the early hour and the inconvenience of brothers, particularly those insensitive enough to provoke their younger siblings into changing them into dragon-shape.
He finds Thor easily. Thor has never been careful with his tracks, and this seems to be no different for Thor-as-a-dragon. He follows the broken brush, torn earth and fallen trees – the trees have been snapped as easily as if they were twigs, which seems to prove that the books’ claims on the strength of Monstrous Nightmares – and surely enough, the trail leads him to his quarry.
Or more precisely, to a deep valley in the earth, which seems not so much a valley as a rift, weathered over time. The sides of the valley are scored with deep, fresh gouges, and it seems to Loki that Thor has fallen into it on his wanderings and has been unable to get out. He finds this strange, because Thor’s dragon form has wings, and should have been able to fly out of it with relative ease. But he has not, and Loki finds himself wondering if Thor hurt himself, or if Thor’s transformation was flawed in some vital way. As the working had been impulsive and unintentional, Loki thinks it is far more likely to be the latter than the former.
He sights Thor at last. He has no doubt that it is Thor, for the quiet hum of his own magic, even across the valley, tells him that this is the dragon his magic is bound up in; hence this dragon must be Thor.
Thor-the-dragon seems to be preoccupied with gazing into the still waters of the lake in the centre of the valley. Loki is no fool. As calm as Thor-the-dragon appears to be, he is still a wild creature, and unpredictable as nature itself.
On closer look, Loki realises that his first impression of Thor-as-dragon had been slightly less than accurate. Thor-as-dragon does not in fact bristle with spines; instead, twin rows of sharp spines run from Thor’s head, along the ridge of Thor’s back and all the way to the end of his tail.
Loki takes the time to survey Thor’s new home. The first thing he notices is that there do not appear to be ready food sources within the valley. The lake is not big, nor does it seem to be open to a waterway, so it does not look like it could sustain fish (or any other aquatic life) of sufficient size or quantity to feed a dragon of Thor’s size. He had best act quickly, because hunger has never assisted Thor’s reason, and Loki cannot think that this will change when Thor is a dragon. A hungry dragon, Thor or not, would be all the more likely to see Loki as food.
Loki thinks that the best time to approach Thor would be when the dragon is sleeping, or when the sun sets. As it would not be wise to effect a reversal of the transformation without first getting a sense of the transformation to be worked, he decides that what he needs is to inspect Thor more closely. His sense of the working will be better with proximity, and should be vastly improved if he is able to lay hands on Thor. Once again he rues the loss of his magic – with which this endeavor would have been so much easier – and resolves to be more careful in the future. So he settles down to plan his approach.
Loki knows that when any animal enters the realm of a predator, it must know how it is going to escape. His survey of the terrain had indicated gaps in the rock where he could easily make his approach, and then his escape, from the dragon. Loki memorises the path, knowing he must know it as well in the darkness as he does by daylight. He is all too aware that to the dragon that once was Thor, he will be prey.
As he waits for the cover of darkness, he thinks through what he knows about Monstrous Nightmares. The Keep literature, as expected of Asgardian lore, had been heavy on the glory and light on the tactics.
Loki knew now that Thor had transformed into one of the most aggressive, powerful, and stubborn breeds of dragons of the realm. The only book that seemed to be written by a scribe who had actually seen or faced them had spoken ominously of a signature attack strategy which involved the Nightmare engulfing itself in flames.
Loki hadn’t been too happy with that revelation. A dragon the size of Thor was difficult enough to contend with; a dragon the size of Thor which was also on fire was an entirely different tale altogether.
The information in the book which had simultaneously proved to be of most value, and most dubious authority were the suggestions on how best to handle the Nightmare. One recommendation was to clamp the its mouth shut, leaving it unable to open its jaws. Loki made a mental note to also try this with Thor once he had reverted to his usual form. If it worked with dragons, it might work with his brother. The book noted that while this solved the problem of the dragon’s jaws, the rest of the dragon (tail, claws, and all the wicked spines) was free to do as it pleased, including activating its incendiary ability. Loki noted that this strategy assumed that the dragon handler in fact possessed the strength and reach necessary to execute such a maneuver. He imagined that without magic, his chances of keeping the dragon’s mouth shut were slim at best, and likely negligible.
The suggestion Loki felt he was best able to use was the simplest, and also the riskiest to him should it backfire. The book said that the best way to earn a Nightmare’s trust was to show it the respect it deserved, a dubious proposition if Loki had ever seen one. It was suggested that placing a gentle hand on the dragon’s snout and showing that the handler was not a threat was the best way to go.
That was, if Thor didn’t bite his hand off first. It is not a pleasant thought.
When the moon is up, Loki slips down into the valley. While he had taken both rope and chain with him, this was but reassurance for himself, for attempting to chain or trap a dragon like this would be sheer folly. A stealthy approach was likely to work best – soonest in, soonest out. All he needed was the slightest touch, and he would know enough about the working to plan his next step.
He reaches the dragon soon enough, crossing the dark landscape to its side. Thor seemed to have fallen asleep before the night fell. Save for his breathing, he had been motionless for some time. Loki steels himself and reaches out.
The moment his fingers brush the smooth, scaly weight of the dragon’s hide, another world opens up inside his mind.
The magic hums inside Thor, all right; Loki is relieved to find that his ability to sense magic has not been stripped from him – only the ability to do magic has. His magic has sunk deep into Thor: it is wrapped around his bones, it courses through his blood, it is so deeply intertwined into the very matter of Thor-as-dragon’s being that Loki begins to despair of ever getting it out, let alone reversing the transformation as he now is. This is a deeper working that he has ever attempted; and he isn’t even able to work the magic that would help him get out of it.
Loki’s heart sinks. Figuring out a way to reverse this working will not be the task of moments. His problem now is not simply to reverse the working, but also to keep Thor alive until he accomplishes this.
Then he wonders how he is to feed a dragon the size of Thor and curses involuntarily.
As if he has somehow detected the displeasure directed at him, or sensed Loki’s touch even through his sleep (or perhaps Thor was never truly asleep, but only lying in wait), the dragon awakens.
The night around him comes alive in chaos. Loki barely has the time to register a tail thrashing in the darkness, spines bristling, and luminous golden eyes opening in the darkness, before the Nightmare snarls and coils itself around Loki – not touching him, but encircling him thoroughly with dragon, and cutting off all possible routes of escape. Its golden eyes narrow and Loki does not imagine its contemptuous gaze.
His brother had never liked tricks, particularly when Loki was the one playing them. Loki swallows when he realises the best tactic now might be the one he has never favoured : the direct approach.
He thinks frantically on what the book said (even as he wonders what sort of mad Asgardian had gotten himself in such a situation as to acquire this knowledge):
“I am not a threat, brother,” he says, and he is thankful his voice does not shake.
He wills Thor to understand, as he reaches out, thinking on the book and its recommendation that a gentle hand on the dragon would do the trick.
Thor leans in to Loki, and Loki swallows. There is nowhere to run.
Loki reaches out, and he holds the dragon’s – holds Thor’s gaze, because if his brother is going to eat him for his stupidity, then Loki will own this stupid decision, as he has owned all the decisions of his (possibly, soon to be very short) life.
Thor brings his head to rest against Loki’s shaking hand.
Took you long enough, a voice laughs in his head, and Loki’s eyes go wide as he recognises it.
“Thor?!” His reply is a shout, both verbal and mental.
You certainly made me wait, comes the reply. Loki cannot be sure in the darkness, but the dragon’s golden eyes seem to narrow in amusement. Finally had enough of sneaking around?
Is he laughing at me? Loki thinks wildly.
Do you see anyone here who amuses me as much as you do? Definite amusement there.
Loki is too stunned by the immediacy and the very possibility of the mind to mind contact to come up with a suitably scathing reply.
Why were you so afraid, little one? Thor asks, his voice in Loki’s mind uncharacteristically gentle.
Little one? thinks Loki wildly. Surely the magic must have addled Thor’s mind. Thor would never –
Thor noses Loki gently.
A gentle nudge from a dragon Thor’s size, however, is more than enough to knock Loki over.
I am sorry, Thor says, merrily, although his mind-voice doesn’t sound sorry at all. I forget you are so small and I must be gentle.
Loki hisses at that. He doesn’t need to be reminded yet again of his size and everything that Asgard thinks of him.
Surely you know I would not harm you, Thor says. For you are slim pickings when it comes to food, and you would certainly not be more than a morsel.
Loki contemplates a career as a dragonslayer. He would be good at it, he thinks. Starting with this dragon here.
Thor makes this strange coughing sound not unlike the Keep’s hinges in need of a good oiling. His wings shake, and Loki realises that Thor is laughing.
He snatches his hand off Thor’s scales as if he has been burned. Their connection – for there seems to be no better word for it – goes both ways.
Thor noses him again – with more care this time – and re-establishes it.
Thor, he tries, this time.
Why do you keep calling me that? asks the dragon, and Loki feels genuine curiosity in its voice.
Loki’s heart stops. Is that not your name? he tries.
If you wish it, so it shall be, answers the dragon.
Brother, thinks Loki, truly afraid now, more afraid than he was when Thor pinned him to that rock and roared fit to break the world, do you not remember your name?
What need have I for a name? Thor wonders.
Loki closes his eyes, and not for the first time, thinks that he has made a terrible mistake. But now he realizes the magnitude of his mistake is far greater than he had supposed it to be.
They find the limits of their secret language soon enough. They first discover that the mind-speech requires skin-on-scale contact to work. It will not work through cloth or leather and certainly will not work through distance. While it requires Loki to have constant contact with Thor as long as either of them wants to speak to the other, Loki finds that Thor has other ways of making himself heard even if he cannot hear Thor’s voice. A dragon Thor’s size can make himself very inconvenient when he wants to be, and Loki knows after spending all his life with Thor that his brother has a particular talent for making things difficult for him.
Time with Thor (now that Loki is confident Thor is not likely to eat him) reveals to Loki the full extent of what his magic has wrought. Increasingly he comes to understand that what he has performed with Thor is no simple working, but one which will require hours of study to comprehend. The slightest mistake in its undoing could mean Thor’s undoing, and thereby Loki’s as well should his hand in the matter come to light
Neither is Thor’s transformation complete. Not only does Thor remember nothing of his life before; Thor-as-dragon also seems to lack the innate skills of natural dragons, most noticeably the ability to fly, which is the reason he is trapped in the valley.
Loki thinks on it and comes to the conclusion that as his is the magic within Thor, his may be the mind necessary to make the connection in Thor’s mind between his wings and what he needs to use them for. His most pressing concern is to feed Thor, for a dragon Thor’s size cannot be sustained by what Loki can get him from the Keep. This would be most easily done by having Thor learn to hunt for himself, but that comes after getting him out of the valley.
Loki’s first attempt at dragonflight is as short as it is humiliating, for it is then that Loki discovers that as for the mind-speech, constant contact is necessary for flight. This presents several complications, chief of which is how Loki is going to manage to stay on Thor for long enough.
Thor is far too big for Loki to ride without a saddle, and even the saddle of the largest horse in Asgard's stables will not fit. Loki takes it nevertheless, and alters it with much trial and error, unwilling to seek the help of the people of Asgard lest he invite questions he does not wish to answer.
When Loki does manage to craft (badly) a saddle large enough for Thor, Thor is no help at all with the saddling. He insists it tickles, and keeps twitching as Loki tries to find the best place the saddle should sit. Making mistakes on a dragon the size of Thor would be no laughing matter. Falling would certainly mean injury, if not death. Loki wishes he could have a bit for a dragon as horses do, he suspects it would come in handy for one such as Thor.
Their first flying attempt with the saddle is an ignominious disaster. Loki's foot gets tangled in the stirrups and he falls off, after which Thor crashes mid-launch and thereafter laughs so hard he is sick. Loki grumpily sits in the dust and thinks how nice it would be if he could just let his brother stay a dragon, forever. Thor's ability to laugh at himself has never been a thing Loki has wondered at, if only because he finds so very much to laugh at Thor about. Still, he thinks Thor should be glad that Loki is not presently in possession of his magic, for if that were so, Thor would shortly be turned into a mouse. Permanently.
"Oaf," Loki hisses, when Thor clumsily tangles the stirrups again, not stopping to think what if Thor remembers the meaning of the word.
Is that my name now? Thor thinks inquisitively, and Loki has to bite his tongue to stop himself from assenting. It would be a great joke.
Yet when he finally gives up, Thor gently noses the reins in his hand and urges him to try again.
It is not by any stretch of the imagination an easy path, but they manage it, somehow. After great trials and much pain and suffering (chiefly on Loki’s part), they manage to leave the rift valley.
Loki finds that Thor takes to hunting as easily as his Asgardian self does. Thor is in his element, stalking the beasts of the woods, and it appears that his dragon’s stomach is able to teach him its functions instinctively, unlike his dragon’s wings. Loki is surprised when Thor takes to bringing him tributes, for he has seen the pets of Asgard do the same for their masters. Loki is torn between grudging affection and outright disgust, as Thor’s gifts tend to consist chiefly of his messy kills. He does gain a greater understanding of the wildlife surrounding Asgard’s Keep than he otherwise would have, and certainly the gifts do have the occasional redeeming feature in the form of horns or scales he may use for his various workings when he has found a way to return Thor to his usual form and his magic to himself.
Loki learns to read Thor, to understand when a particular shift in his muscles means he wants to turn, when another means he plans to accelerate. Thor communicates in a thousand ways without the use of words, which has always thrown Loki because it feels like a language he doesn’t quite know how to speak. But now, with his brother as a dragon, he has to learn.
For all their troubles, there are joys, too. Many are the memories they make together. Flying brings Loki wonders he never thought he could appreciate, new sights he never thought he would wish to see. Misty mountain ranges wreathed in smoke, swift coursing rapids, snow-dusted vistas, the great sea reaching across the horizon, the brisk breeze in his hair; all these and more, Loki now shares with Thor. He understands now why his brother was forever wanting to drag him out into the world, for it is a fine world indeed. Even when he collapses off Thor, so exhausted from flying that he can barely walk straight, he falls asleep with a smile on his lips and the song of the wind in his heart. In their own way, these are happy days, too. The last time he and Thor spent so much time alone was in their boyhood, and while that time was not so far away, it had been long enough ago for Loki to realize (now that he has rediscovered it in some measure) that he had missed this.
Loki is oft bringing his books of magic to read at Thor’s side, for he thinks he will find the practical application for the principles set out in the books sooner with a living mystery by his side or at the end of his fingers, instead of shut up with books in Asgard’s library. It does not take Thor long to express curiosity about the dusty volumes, wondering what in them could possibly hold Loki’s interest. Thor with a question and nothing else with which to entertain him is like a dog with a bone, worrying at it until something gives – something in this instance being Loki. Thor makes it quite clear that if Loki is not disposed to entertain him, then Loki should at least share what it is that interests him so. After being nudged by a pushy dragon a hundred times and poked by inconveniently-placed spines when said intrusively inquisitive dragon tries to read over his shoulder, Loki gives in with ill grace, consenting to keep one hand on Thor while he reads, so Thor can read through him.
It is not unlike having an unruly hound, thinks Loki, as he turns a page and feels Thor’s amusement at his fascination with all these words. An unruly hound that could set fire to a forest, destroy the Keep, and lay waste to the kingdom, that is.
They eventually discover that the best way for Loki to read is sitting on Thor’s back (or against the curve of his tail), where he can use both hands to turn pages and make notes as he wishes; as long as he removes his boots so there is some manner of contact enabling the mental connection. It is comfortable, with his bare feet on Thor’s sun-warmed scales, and Thor’s massive wing uplifted, shading him from the sun. It is easier for him to make sense of the magic when he is in contact with it, but Loki will never admit to Thor that there is comfort in having him near, too.
This Thor, even without his memories, is easier to understand, away from the Keep, his duties and all the airs and arrogance they lent him. Long has Loki felt his brother a stranger to him, lost to the demands of the Keep and the ways of Asgard’s warriors; it is strange to find anew the joys (and frustrations) of spending time with Thor. He remembers a time when they were inseparable as children; and it startles him now to realise how very much he has missed it.
When a light rain falls while they are walking on the coast, Thor unfurls one wing and holds it over Loki, so Loki does not get soaked. Loki looks up at Thor’s wing, held gently over him, and thinks he had never thought he would ever be pleased about being in Thor's shadow, but here he is.
Loki thinks that when he finds a way to undo the spell (it is when, not if, for his mind cannot allow for the possibility where he does not find a way to unmake this), he will miss Thor the way he is now, and he will miss this.
Loki sits at Thor's side as they watch the sun set over the waves, and he thinks that he cannot remember the last time he has felt this close to his brother.