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here is the deepest secret nobody knows

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Decades after the original Avengers and their grudges are dust in the ground, Thor returns to Midgard.

It is neither strife nor diplomacy that brings him to the mortal plane—those are no longer his duties, as they have been passed down to a younger, more eager, and less cynical generation—but the simple promise of good coffee, sweet, flaky pastries, and wanted company.

"At least you're presentable today," Loki says absently over the top of a French fashion magazine. Thor looks down at his tailored charcoal slacks and his fine shoes; the clothes had been laid across the chaise at the foot of Loki's bed. He had briefly searched for the jeans he had arrived in but gave it up as a lost cause as Loki had probably hidden them in a spare pocket of space-time, something she was wont to do when she was particularly irked. "I can't be seen with a man in cheap denim and Ray Bans. I have an image to maintain these days."

Loki herself is swathed in a beautiful, olive green dress that exposes her clavicles and stops just above her angular knees. There are yellow diamonds trickling down from her pierced ears and her long, inky hair has been swept back into an artful twist. Since merely looking at her makes Thor's blood hot, he quickly sits down and flags one of the waiters to avoid attracting Loki's knowing attention.

"Une brioche de framboise et café-au-lait, s'il vous plaît," Thor tells the waiter, the AllSpeak easily translating his request into French. The waiter nods and leaves with a politely murmured, "Oui, monsieur," as Thor returns his attention to Loki. Save for the upturned corner of her lipsticked mouth, the fashion magazine Loki has been reading hides her smirk. She has always found his sweet tooth endearing and mockable by unpredictable turns.

"So," Loki begins casually, idly turning a glossy page. "What news do you bring from the Shining Realm?"

"Little that you do not already know of, I am sure." Thor replies easily. He had arrived in Midgard the day before, transported via the Bifrost to a wheat field in the countryside of Picardy. It was evening by the time he hitchhiked to Paris, the hour too late to do more than collapse into bed with Loki and draw her close. "Mother wishes to extend her felicitations towards her newborn grandson. She is most joyous that he has your eyes."

"Great-, great-grandson," Loki corrects as she arches a perfect eyebrow. "I suppose I will have to take her word for it. I have not seen the Latverian spawn yet—Vicky Jr. is still very angry about the whole coup incident." She snorts inelegantly. "Mortals."

Thor laughs despite himself, a loud and unrestrained noise that booms across the café patio. Loki and several other patrons level him with a glare but scowls have never deterred him; indeed, warnings have always had the opposite effect, spurring him onward when he should have stopped. He has almost forgotten how easily Loki pours joy into the hollows of his chest.

"It is good to see you again, sister," Thor says, unable to contain a smile. He reaches across the small, round table and curls his calloused fingers around Loki's spare hand resting on the white linen tablecloth. "It has been too long."

Loki rolls her eyes but, even when the waiter returns with Thor's order, she does not pull away.

.

Thor spends fifty-seven days with Loki on Midgard, in an open studio apartment that overlooks the Seine.

Most days, Loki wakes before dawn. She slips out of bed with an elegant, intimate grace that never fails to steal Thor's breath, and slides a silk yukata over her shoulders, not bothering to cinch the robe about her waist. With her soft hair in snarled curls down her back and her pink nipples tight in the cool air, Thor is tempted to pull her back into bed and kiss her until her green eyes are another sort of wicked. He tries, once, but she slaps an open palmed reprimand across his cheek.

"No," she commands, and the word throbs with the sting.

Thor doesn't do it again.

While Loki is working, Thor spends his time wandering around Paris. In the mornings, he eats at small restaurants that serve even smaller portions and nurses his milky coffee as he watches the people on the street. He window shops until he finds a store that intrigues him, stepping inside to look at fine pottery or tailored clothing or hand bound leather books. Sometimes he buys a trinket for Loki and hides it away in the studio apartment for her to find later. She always rolls her eyes at him when she inevitably finds his purchase, but she never throws the gift away. It is a small victory.

In the afternoons, Thor is a tourist. He slowly works his way through a list of popular attractions—the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, l'Arc de Triomphe, and the palace of Versailles—as well as some less popular ones, like Villette Park and the Basilica of St. Denis. He takes pictures with his cell phone of his adventures and sends them to Loki with small, confessional texts like, WISH U WERE HERE and R U STILL BUSY.

Loki rarely texts back. When she does, she mocks his poor grammar or calls him a moron. Thor smiles stupidly at the small words regardless, and does not care that the strangest things turn him into an imbecile. There's no one left alive on Midgard to judge him for the transgressions he commits where Loki is concerned save for Loki and, except for one, horrible decade, Thor has always known where he stands with her.

When the sun begins to sink below the horizon of buildings, Thor returns to the apartment. He cooks simple meals with Loki's expensive copper pans and sharp knives, generally finishing just before or just after Loki comes home.

"Bolognese again?" she teases as Thor sets the plate in front of her and grates a firm block of Parmesan over the sauce. "I don't think you will ever change, brother."

Thor learned to cook long ago, when Jane and the Avengers were still alive. He learned how to make scrambled eggs, toast, bacon, and pancakes, spaghetti and any other out-of-the-box pasta, instant coffee and a mean, homemade chocolate cake. He never grasped the more advanced culinary skills some of the other Avengers possessed, though that it had never bothered him. Truth be told, it does not bother him now, even while he wishes he could surprise and impress Loki with a tricky and sophisticated dish.

One day, perhaps. They have time.

Thor and Loki eat in silence. Thor does not pretend to know what spirals into Loki's vast and uncharted mind, but his is mostly blank and content. He enjoys the peace and understanding between them; he likes to imagine that the moment will last forever. Not for the first time, he dreams idly of what their lives would have been like if Loki were his flesh-and-blood sister instead of sister by bond. Would she still have her dark hair and green eyes? Would she be so mischievous and sly? Would she have rebelled against their father?

"Thor," Loki says quietly once the dishes have been scraped clean and put into the dishwasher. She holds out one of her deceptively fragile hands. "Stop thinking and come to bed."

It is useless to have those thoughts, anyway.

.

As a youth in Asgard, Thor was wild and hedonistic. He gorged himself on good food and fine mead, he fought recklessly and reveled in the taste of blood on his teeth, and he bedded maidens and warriors alike to slake his indiscriminate lust.

Sometimes, Frigga would scold him. "Manners, Thor," she would reprimand him gently if he grew too boisterous at mealtimes or leered at a passing courtier. Her admonishments worked because she was his mother and he loved her but, as soon as he was gone from her sight, he returned to his gluttonous, licentious, and arrogant ways.

Odin's reproaches were fewer and always about his violent streak. Once, when Thor was no more than a youth with meager chin hairs, Odin had tried to use reason to quell Thor's blood thirst. Thor, proud and stupid, snapped in retaliation, "Is this not how you behaved, father, before you were king?"

Odin rubbed an old, gnarled hand across his brow. "Yes," he admitted with some reluctance. His tight shoulders unfurled against the back of the throne, as the anger he had bled from his body. "I cannot say that I was any wiser then than you are now."

"And you are the wisest now," Thor countered smugly, as though he had just achieved victory in an impossible battle. "I will grow out of it, as you have."

Yet it was not his parents who were the harshest and most outspoken in regards to his behavior, but his deploring younger brother. Despite being a fistful of years younger than Thor, when Loki disapproved of him, he did not curb his tongue. Thor cannot remember a time when Loki was not vocal. Even as a babe with no knowledge of words, he screeched when Thor poked and pinched him but, when Thor held him and stroked the dark fluff of his hair, he gurgled and cooed.

"You disgust me," was Loki's favorite opening, possibly because Thor always replied with annoyance, "What have I done this time?"

Loki liked to regale Thor's shortcomings to Thor, at length and with a put-upon expression. Before Loki was sixteen winters and a growth spurt stretched him into a thin sapling, his tirades were obviously tinged with brotherly affection; after, Thor had difficulty distinguishing his affection from his contempt. It would take Thor many, many years to realize that, to Loki, they were essentially the same emotion.

"I cannot believe your stupidity," Loki remarked disdainfully one night after Thor had drunk and fought in a tavern just beyond the border of the Shining City. His lip was split and adrenaline still spiked in his blood, a burr that tumbled through his sluggish veins. Fandrall had pulled Thor away from the fight before his eager bloodlust had been slaked, snuck him through the corridors of the palace, and deposited him in Loki's bedchambers. Loki was the only one who could tame Thor when he was wild, after all. "Not only did you brawl with common merchants and petty thieves, but you did so for a plain barmaid?"

"She had magnificent tits," Thor slurred.

Loki struck him.

If Thor had been sober—if he had not been spoiling for a fight—he would have laughed at Loki's open-handed blow. The pain that razed across his cheek was nothing compared to the clenched fist that had found his abdomen in the tavern, but the sharpness of it raced along Thor's nerves in a way the dull punch had not. He and Loki fought often but their arguments were always petty and verbal; when they sparred, Loki spent a majority of his time using his magic, his spear, or his knives instead of his body. He was not as strong as Thor and was too clever and calculating to try to use physical means to overpower his older and larger brother. They had grappled playfully as children but, before that moment, Loki had never used his wiry and unexpected strength so basely against Thor.

It was… exhilarating.

"You will never learn," Loki hissed as Thor gingerly touched his face, the skin hot and sensitive where Loki's palm had hit. "Mother and father condone your behavior but I will not. I will not."

Loki left in a rage, the tall and heavy door to his rooms flung open with a careless and abrupt wave of his hand. He left without looking back, his narrow face held high and his long fingers curled into sharp fists; the tail end of his emerald cloak snapped like an angry and poisonous serpent. For the better part of an hour, Thor sat upon the edge of his brother's bed and stared out into the empty corridor, as though the power of thought alone could force Loki to return and finish what he had unwittingly begun. Of course, his brother would never return unless he wished it. Thor's thin patience eventually succumbed to a fitful sleep and he left Loki's bed only when the sun had climbed to its zenith in the noon sky.

(They saw each other again at dinner. Loki sat, very deliberately, across from Thor, and proceeded to turn each cup of Thor's mead to water in retaliation for his drunken behavior. Thor laughed at Loki's clever trick until it ceased to be funny after his fifth glass. Thor swore at Loki, but Loki was undeterred by his threats, and Thor left that night intoxicated only by anger.)

Yet no matter how Thor tried to forget the incident—which was just another moment in a lifetime of misdeeds—he could not. Weeks after his lip had healed and the bruises faded, Loki's touch remained. It burned through Thor like lightning through the stormy sky and illuminated all the dark and forbidden corners of Thor's desires. The needle pain looped endlessly in his brain when he fought and when he fucked, until all he could think of was the shock Loki had permanently burned into his flesh. For the first time in a long time, Thor did not understand and doubted himself.

For the first time in a long time, Thor truly wanted.

.

Thor's time on Midgard is not unlimited and, while it flows equally between Asgard and Earth, the perception of its passing is markedly skewed. Mortals live for a brief fraction of what Asgardians do and they try to pack as much experience as possible into their brief years. It is not a bad philosophy, merely one that Thor has difficulty grasping even after a century of interaction.

"They are so determined, so stubborn," Loki tells him; she finds humanity absolutely enthralling. ("Like a train wreck or a car crash you can't look away from," someone once wryly told Thor, when the mortal realm was new and strange and idioms made as much sense as Loki's silver tongue.) "They don't think. They run across the strings of this plane until everything is so tangled it is impossible to see the original design."

It figures Loki would find enjoyment in what gives Thor a throbbing headache, yet he cannot begrudge how well the chaos of Midgard suits her. He longs for her to return to Asgard but it is a thin, fool's dream. Though the Shining Realm has a long memory, it is quick to forgive; however, Loki's grudges will live as long as she does, and her hatred for Asgard has not lessened in the years since her fall from the Bifrost. There, she will always be a cuckoo Jotuun prince and a trickster; here, when she grows weary, she sheds her role like a snake sheds his skin and starts anew. In a century of time, she has been a super villain and a queen, an ambassador and the Secretary of Treasury, a pâtissière, a fortuneteller, a philosophy professor, and most recently, a fashion director.

"I do not know how you do it," Thor confessed to her in Oslo, a decade or two ago when she decided to give baked goods her undivided attention. She opened a bakery on the corner of a cobblestone street and often had smudges of flour in her dark hair. "Is it not difficult to be something you are not?"

Loki gave him a look she had given him long ago, when they were children and he asked her why she studied magics as well as the spear. He had to refrain from shifting uncomfortably under her frank stare as he did then.

"When you are many things, brother, it is easy to live markedly different lives," she answered in a measured cadence that meant she was telling the truth. "When you are an idiot, it is hard to be anything but."

.

Loki was not young the first time Thor took him, but he still had yet to grow out from the coltish angles and slender lines that adolescence had bestowed upon him. His sweet, fey countenance was deceptive; he was not kind or merciful, and there was a startling strength in his wiry body that many of his opponents underestimated. Their belief in the existence of Loki's vulnerability and the underestimation of his vigor came with a hefty price but Thor—who was gifted with a man's breadth and power at twenty summers—had an intimate knowledge of Loki's skills as well as the element of surprise. It was easy to overwhelm him, to pin his shoulders to the yielding ground and trap his narrow hips between blunt knees.

"You brute!" Loki shouted as Thor wrestled him to the sweet-smelling grass. They were in a secluded courtyard at the furthest end of the grounds. It was one of Loki's favorite spots to read his spell books; no one save Thor interrupted him as he murmured the words underneath his breath and drew imaginary sigils in the air. "I will turn your hair blue for a month if you do not let go!"

Thor's laughter boomed over the trees and startled the jewel-colored birds from their niche in the high branches. He held Loki's wrists in one hand and used the other to pinch Loki's exposed, concave stomach, where his tunic had been rucked up from his squirming. Somehow, Thor had forgotten that Loki's bellybutton puckered outwards instead of being a shallow dip. The visual reminder causes an odd, hot surge of affection to suffuse Thor as he rubbed the tiny lump with the rough pad of his thumb.

"Thor!" Loki gasped, and his entire body twisted like an eel thrown onto the sand. A flush had wandered onto his pale skin, his normally impeccable hair was as mussed as a nest of magpies, and, though Loki was a master of expression, even he could not keep the mirth from the corners of his lips and his eyes as he reiterated, "Blue—hair!"

Thor had not seen Loki so undone in months, not since he formally became a man at sixteen winters. It made Thor long for the youth who sulked at his rough manners and rougher jostling and for the child who clung to Thor as a second shadow. As a boy, Loki had shared his small fears without conscience and painted aloud his vivid imagination without censure. Thor missed the boy the man had buried beneath layers of indifference and clever words. He wanted to have him again, if only for a moment.

And quite suddenly, the urge to kiss Loki was even more powerful than the involuntary need to draw breath.

It should have been strange for Thor to lean over his brother and steal a kiss, yet Thor had always been blunt and straightforward. His decisions were controlled by instinct rather than thought and he did not doubt his battle-honed instincts enough to cease. There was a brief flare of surprise beneath his breastbone as he covered Loki's mouth with his own, as Loki's muscles froze; Thor had always been indiscriminate to form, but Loki was his kin. The idea lanced through Thor's brain as an arrow through flesh just as Loki melted beneath him and pressed upwards, the clean and pale skin of his cheeks rasping against the fullness of Thor's beard. It was chaste but Thor jerked back, breathless as all the air was punched from his lungs.

"Oh," Loki breathed, the short wings of his lashes flickering over the blown pupils and verdant rings of his irises. "Oh."

Thor exhaled hard through his nose and, as his mind caught up to his body, damned his rashness. He had always been told that his impulsiveness would one day be his undoing, but never had he thought—

"Kiss me again," Loki interrupted, his voice torn between a plea and a command. Then, before Thor could think to deny him and push away, a sharp and reluctant, "Please," rocketed off Loki's tongue. Thor stared; it had been years since Thor had heard Loki say the word and it made his insides churn that he could have it with a simple kiss.

"You do not know what you want," Thor snapped back because if he did not speak, he would succumb. Confusion marched into his chest with anger and shame as his grip tightened on Loki's wrists and hip. There would be bruises later, undeniable badges made of old blood beneath Loki's milky flesh, in shades of lavender and cobalt, charcoal and arylide yellow.

"I know what I want more than you, apparently," Loki cajoled, the wonder and need bleeding from his voice with every syllable. His lips were redder than Thor had ever seen them, pulled back in a sneer from his crisp, white teeth. "I thought you were braver than that, brother."

Loki's words were a blatant trap, set up with clumsy inexperience and baited for a stupid animal. Thor knew how Loki goaded his opponents until they struck out in rage and did exactly as Loki desired; he had seen it countless times and been a victim of the trick often enough to avoid the snare. Refusing to fall into his younger brother's trap, Thor did what he always did when confronted by difficulty: he faced the challenge and fought back.

"I will show you want I want," Thor hissed, and pushed his mouth against Loki's once more.

Unlike the first, the second kiss was brutal. Thor crushed his lips to Loki's until he could feel the hard line of Loki's teeth behind them. Then he swept a wet line across Loki's lying mouth before he pried it open with the thick of his tongue. He licked the angle line of Loki's incisors and his ridged palate beyond, bit at the plump of Loki's lower lip until blood burst through the thin skin. Thor treated the hot, damp cavern of Loki's mouth like land claimed in war; for every inch he won, he fought twice as hard to claim the next. There was no finesse in their slick kiss.

Beneath Thor's bulk, Loki whimpered and whined, mewled and moaned. The pitch was innocent but the noises were wanton and whorish, and the contradiction made Thor's head spin. Loki struggled, too, even though he could not match the strength of Thor's hold and Thor did not yield. So the minx wriggled, his lithe muscles shifting like water against the rigid and immovable rock of Thor's body. Even with Thor's palm heavy on his lower belly, Loki managed to push his legs upward and splay his sapling-thin legs wide over Thor's hips, until his ass rested in the pan of Thor's pelvis, his thighs quivering on either side of Thor's body.

Bent double over the smaller boy, Thor could feel the line of Loki's cock against his stomach. It made his own twitch in response. The sensation blazed hot up Thor's spine; it was at first arousal before it morphed into a belated and conspicuous warning. Thor broke their kiss with a bitten back growl.

"I thought there was more to your prowess than this," Loki teased as he rocked his body against Thor's crotch, the leather seat chafing Thor's hard dick. Loki's lips were red and his words were breathless, but there was blood on his teeth and his tone was undeniably vicious. "Or were those rumors as exaggerated as I believe them to be?"

It was another trap, as though Loki thought he needed to ensnare Thor more thoroughly in his net, as though their incriminating positions and their quick desire was not enough.

"Trickster," Thor ground out as he tightened his singular grip around Loki's thin wrists. He could feel the protest of the irregular bones as they ground together. "Do not try to mock the Thunderer."

Loki's mouth was sharper than his knives, his eyes more green than the grass, and he retorted, "I was unaware that I was merely trying, brother."

By all of Asgard and her protectorates, Thor thought in that untouchable and forever rational compartment of his mind, Loki's insubordination should not be my undoing.

Despite the small reason that took root in the corner of his brain, Thor's vision bloomed crimson. The rage within him—that predator, that beast, that uncontrollable thing that cared nothing for proprietary or consequence—rose as quickly and as unstoppable as a deluge. Loki's cheek irritated Thor on the best days and enraged him on the worst; on that day, it made Thor want to break his little brother, to hurt him, to spill his blood until Loki begged for forgiveness and absolution. Then, and only then, would Thor cease.

With a spare hand torn from Loki's warm side, Thor hastily and uncaringly parted Loki's emerald tunic and his fine linen undershirt, ripping buttons and tearing seams. Loki glared at him and parted his mouth but, with cruel dexterity, Thor stifled his tongue with a scrap of linen he had torn away. Loki snarled; the impromptu gag absorbed most of his noise and all of his spit. As the edges darkened, Loki kicked at the small of Thor's back with his booted heels.

"So silver turns to lead," Thor mused with a dark chuckle, tracing the curve of Loki's stretched mouth with a gentle finger. One of Loki's kicks caught Thor sharply above his kidney and the pain flared bright along Thor's aroused nerves. He hissed in surprise and involuntarily arched forward. His length dragged against Loki's ass, causing white-hot sparks of desire to ignite every nerve in his body.

Thor made short work of Loki's trousers, hauling them over Loki's flat rump and as far down his skinny thighs as the fine cloth would allow. His brother's uncut cock was stiff but not yet fully grown; he was long but half as wide as Thor and the head, half-hidden by the tender foreskin, was an untouched pink. Thor's mouth watered for want of a taste, yet he restrained the base urge and, instead, swiped his dry, calloused thumb over the slit.

Loki's hips bucked uncontrollably.

"A man in name only," Thor mocked unkindly. Loki's heels struck him again, so Thor gripped his cock hard and scraped a jagged nail down the throbbing underside vein. Loki's hips stuttered again; his hands curled into tight fists and, had they been free, they would have futilely tried to find purchase.

For some time, Thor played with Loki's cock. He kept his touches light at first; a fingertip rubbing small circles over Loki's slick, slitted head; a brush of hard knuckles against Loki's shaft; and a palm to Loki's naked, hairless balls. Neither the damp linen gag nor Loki's pride could stifle his reactions. Thor still heard his choked moans and gasps and still saw the uncontrollable clench of his muscles.

It did not occur to Thor—until it was much too late—that Loki had perhaps been untouched. After all, Thor had not been without sensual companionship since he kissed a young courtier in an alcove just beyond the dining hall, long ago when he was just twelve summers. Three full seasons later in the autumn of his fifteenth year, Thor bedded his first maiden. A multitude of women and men had followed, which was to be expected. He was, after all, a virile man, a strong warrior, and the crown prince.

To say that Loki's charms were different from Thor's would be an undeniable truth, but it would be false to claim those charms not as alluring. Loki was graceful and hypnotically beautiful; his wit was sharp and humorous when it did not scathe (and often when it did); he was intelligent and curious and insatiable; and even his mischievousness and haughty pride were oddly endearing.

Thor would be surprised if none had looked upon his brother with desire, yet, when he gave the idea thought, he would not be surprised if all those that did had been refused.

Once Thor deemed Loki's sensual torture enough, Thor shifted more weight from his knees to the forearm braced against the earth and fumbled with the placket of his own leather trousers. In this position, Loki's face was pushed against Thor's neck and collarbone and his breath was hot in the hollow of Thor's throat. When Thor pulled his cock out, it throbbed at his touch and the relative coolness of the air. He groaned and squeezed his balls to ease some of the tension, as Loki's eyelashes brushed over the thin skin stretched above his jugular.

"Loki," Thor hissed as he rolled his hips. His cerise arousal pressed to Loki's smaller and leaner one, and a dark frisson of need crackled up his spine. Briefly, he leaned back—a distance that was meager, but enough—and in the narrow space between their bodies, Thor could see. His dick looked so fat and heavy as it rubbed his brother's length, translucent precome smeared across Loki's pale abdomen with every thrust. The heat and the pleasure were ineffable; Thor's blood sang and he choked, "Loki—"

Loki twisted his lithe form into an impossible contortion to get closer, arched his back until only the base of his skull and the tops of his shoulders dug into the ground. Loki's entire body was flush with Thor's and his bare chest scraped the unforgiving leather and metal of Thor's armor. Thor still held Loki's wrists and had pinned them just above Loki's left ear; the position forced Loki's right arm awkwardly across his forehead. Everything about Loki begged for Thor save for his green eyes, which looked at him with such poison that it was a wonder Thor had not been slain by Loki's glare alone.

It was easy, then, to lose the last measure of his restraint.

"I am going to fuck you," Thor growled, punctuating each word with a bite along the sharp angle of Loki's jaw. He was not careful with his teeth and Loki whined with each nip. "That is what you wanted, is it not?"

Loki's response was muffled against his linen gag, which made Thor laugh and smile viciously and triumphantly. The unknowable emotion writ across Loki's face spurred Thor to spit upon his fingers, force his hand underneath Loki's thighs, and pressed the pads against Loki's tight hole. All he did was slick the puckered skin, bear down, and rub, but Loki jerked and keened as though he had been set alight.

"So sensitive," Thor sneered into Loki's ear, the words hot and damp against the soft cartilage. He felt, rather than saw, the unmistakable flutter of Loki's eyelashes as he squeezed his eyes shut. "So responsive, so eager."

Loki kicked his heels at Thor again, but his thighs were spread too wide and the blows glanced off the backs of Thor's thighs. He tried to twist out of Thor's hold as well, but Thor did not relent. Thor did not want Loki to be free before he claimed what was his.

"It will hurt, when I fuck you," Thor continued as he applied more and more force to Loki's hole. The muscle trembled as it loosened incrementally. "I will have you. It will be too much. You will hate it, but you will take it, for that is what I desire. Your protests do not matter. You asked for it. You begged for it, and now you cannot blame another for the consequences. You sow what you reap, my brother."

Distantly, Thor knew it was unlike himself to be so deliberately cruel. Despite the number of partners he had over the years and the various circumstances which had lead to those couplings, Thor had never been with an unwilling partner. Some of his lovers had liked it when Thor's ministrations were less than gentle and some others wanted him to slur curses at them, but those things had always been at their insistence. Never before had Thor taken the initiative; never before had he done so with express permission; never had he continued with anger and careless force; and never had he done so without remorse.

It thrilled Thor, just like the slap Loki had given him months before. Thor reveled in the novelty and discovery of his baser needs, and wanted.

With no guilt and no warning, Thor pressed one of his thick fingers inside. Loki made a noise that would have been a gasp if not for the gag, but Thor still quickly sank to the last knuckle, where Loki's rim clenched him more tightly than it had a moment ago. Beyond, Loki was so hot and soft and inviting that Thor swore.

It took little time for Thor to add a second finger, then a third. He twisted and stretched the digits after he buried them deep inside Loki's body, forcing Loki's hole wide and wider until it quivered. The knowledge that he had reduced his contrary brother was as wonderful as it was damning, and Thor could not contain the cruel yet delighted laugh that rose from deep in his chest.

"I will enjoy you," Thor murmured as he withdrew his fingers.

Loki's glare was as impressive as they came and, when Thor suddenly pulled the soaked gag out of Loki's mouth, he tried to hurl an insult. "You are not—" Loki slurred before he snapped his jaw shut and ground his teeth together. His lips twisted in a sneer as he worked the unexpectedly sore muscles of his jaw; it was moments before he could snarl, "You are not a man, you are beast!"

Despite the wry smile he felt on his mouth, Thor ignored Loki as Loki threw disparagement after cutting disparagement at him and worked on pulling Loki off his lap. With Loki's thighs settled firmly over his hips and Loki's ankles crossed tenuously over the small of Thor's back, it was a difficult task; with one hand still wrapped around Loki's wrists, it was nigh impossible. Thor has to quickly release his hold and lift Loki up as he rose to his knees. The sudden imbalance forced Loki to scrabble at the grass rather than try to hit Thor. The kneeling position Thor had been in had cut off his circulation, so when he moved the blood rushed back in a wave of cold that made him hiss.

There was a brief struggle once Thor had placed Loki down. Their movements were mostly uncoordinated and for a moment it was as though they were children again, playing imaginary games of glory and honor. Loki had always been difficult to catch but Thor regained the upper hand as he had many years past; Loki may have had the advantage of being flexible and slippery, but he was not full grown where Thor was as tall and as wide as he would become. It was almost too easy to grab Loki's squirming body and turn Loki onto his stomach.

"Thor!" Loki cried out furiously as Thor captured one of Loki's thrashing legs, yanked the ankle-high boot off, and tossed it aside. Thor's grasp found Loki's undone trousers next and pulled those down; the cloth slipped off Loki's one bare leg, but gathered helplessly around his still booted other foot. Loki's fists pounded the soft earth in a tantrum and, once more, he all but shrieked, "Thor!"

"Spoiled child," Thor replied as he clasped Loki's slender hips and allowed himself a moment to marvel at how the curve of Loki's bone felt against his calloused palm, the skin warm and inviting over the surface his unyielding skeleton.

"It would not do your pride well to stop now," Loki said, though if it was to goad Thor into continuing or to mock Thor's stubbornness, Thor did not know.

Neither did Thor care.

Hauling Loki up by his hips and forcing Loki onto his hands knees, Thor ran his hands downwards until his touch covered Loki's ass. A gasp burst forth from Loki's usually dishonest mouth when Thor tightened his fingers in the supple flesh, pulled his cheeks apart, and spat upon Loki's pink hole. Thor smeared a thumb over the scant wetness, spread it minimally, and pushed until the first knuckle. He swiped his other thumb against the stretched rim, a soft reassurance, before he repeated the gesture. Thor could not resist pulling Loki's loosened rim open into a small oval of darkness and Loki cried out desperately, his thin fingers tearing up chunks of green grass and black earth. When Thor stretched him wider, Loki's arms shook and buckled, and he crumpled forward until his weight rested on his cheek and his chest instead of the heels of his hands.

"Thor," Loki keened. "Thor, my brother, my dumb fool—"

It was more luck than experience that Thor did not miss as he pushed his cock into Loki, one long and unexpected drag. Loki's instinctual urge to tighten was interrupted by Thor's thumbs; only when he was fully seated inside Loki's body, the coarse curls of his pubic hairs scratching the base of Loki's spine, did Thor remove his hands to resettle them on either side of Loki's narrow waist.

Within, Loki was hot and soft and somehow more perfect than any of Thor's previous experiences. He made a noise—a grunt or a sob or something caught in between—and rotated his hips, as though the minute movement would alleviate some of the terrible, staggering pressure. But when Loki whimpered, high and thin, Thor suddenly felt how rigid and tense Loki was, how Loki's toes wiggled distractedly in the earth and how Loki's pulse beat as fast as a bird's beneath his palms.

"A moment," Loki murmured into the grass. It was not a demand and it was not a request; the words were as gentle and susurrus as the wind that skittered across Thor's skin, light enough for Thor to have barely heard them, and so unlike Loki's usual barbs that they filtered through the murky haze of Thor's want. This was the only reason Thor stilled, and waited.

Thor breathed hard through his nose as long as it took for the tight ring of Loki's hole to ease incrementally around that base of his cock. It took a mere handful of seconds, yet Thor had lost all his patience by the time Loki relaxed. He rolled his hips back as far as he could before he slammed forward; Loki's body jolted with the thrust and skid a scant inch forward, as an undignified grunt fell from Loki's open mouth.

Thor began to fuck Loki in earnest and without restraint, as though he never learned how to pleasure anyone save himself and as though he truly were a mindless beast like Loki claimed him to be—not that Loki could insult him then. No formed words left Loki, replaced by the visceral, uncontainable noises their union inspired. With one side of Loki's head pressed to the grass, Thor could only see a fraction of Loki's lost expression: slack jaw and wet mouth, furrowed brow and the almost pained tightness around his eyes.

With the ambitious pace and the amount of force he put into his thrusts, Thor found his end quickly. He was uncertain whether it was due to his simmering anger or the headiness of Loki's dubious submission that had hastily brought him to his peak, or if it was a complex combination of the two. Regardless, Thor's climax set upon him like a storm in summer; he pulled out as his balls tightened, fisted his clumsy hand around his cock, and came hard across the pale expanse of Loki's lower back.

As Thor's huge breaths rattled in the cage of his ribs and he watched the milky white of his seed slowly spread across Loki's skin, all the strength in his body began to wither. He sagged over Loki, forcing his smaller body very near to the ground, and pressed his nose between Loki's shoulder blades. He breathed in the sweat and musk of Loki's body, his eye flickering shut as the anger bled from him and the exhaustion crept in.

Vaguely, Thor was aware of Loki cursing him, hissing, "Damn you, brother, damn you," as he reached between his own legs. His thin hips jerked and stuttered as he sought pressure and friction against his palm until he too came. No sound escaped Loki's lips, but Thor felt every muscle in Loki's back turn to steel for the moment he was strung high with pleasure.

The peace and languidness that followed release lasted briefly between Thor and Loki. "Get off me," Loki said waspishly as he drove one of his bony elbows into Thor's side. The blow was harsh and hard and Thor's leather absorbed little of the impact. He grunted as he rolled off Loki and onto his back, hands curled loosely in the grass and his spent cock lying flaccid against his hip.

By accident or design, this is when Thor met Loki's gaze.

"You are a brute," Loki snarled as he got to his unsteady feet. His slender thighs trembled and the lean muscles of his abdomen shook. Pulling his fine trousers back on nearly unbalanced Loki and, when he pulled his torn tunic down from where Thor had bunched it beneath his armpits, he tried in vain to smooth the wrinkles with unsteady hands. "Boorish and brainless and banal and I don't know why I ever expect more from you."

The insults that rolled off Loki's tongue did not sting Thor; Loki had always used words as a warrior would use his shield and his sword. Instead, Thor was most distracted by the knowledge that Loki had not bothered to clean the come off his skin. It must have lingered still, a drying smear in the small of his back, the most basic of claims. The idea of marking Loki was such an erotic thought that his spent cock twitched, even as the sharp needle-want was followed by the realization and shame of what he had just done.

"No," Thor whispered softly as he staggered to his feet, mechanically tucking his spent dick back inside and closing the placket. The world spun around him, a flicker of unaffected nature and sky, and bile rose in his throat. What have I done, he thought. How could I?

"What?" Loki snapped irritably as he looked up from the missing buttons of his overcoat. His hair was an unsettled nest of crow feathers and his mouth was still a terrible shade of red. Thor had undone Loki, and he knew with a terrible and sickening certainty that he would do it again as Loki picked absently at the threads. "You are such a heavy-handed oaf."

"No," Thor said again, louder, as though speaking the words aloud would bind him. "By the nine, I swear I will not."

This time Loki heard him and his brow creased further. Yet before Loki could ask him the matter, Thor turned away from him and fled into the grove of trees, his noisy haste and Loki's shouts frightening all the birds from the branches for the second time that day, and into the calm sky above.

.

Loki wakes before dawn and silently slips from the wide bed, when the morning twilight sky beyond the large picture windows is awash with lavender and rose and apricot. Amidst the rumpled sheets and ivory duvet, Thor watches as she pulls on her crimson robe and pads into the kitchen to make an espresso. Loki's skin is a pale smear against the stainless steel appliances and the brick walls, as white as the small ceramic cup she cradles between her elegant hands.

In the realm between sleep and reality, everything becomes soft and dreamlike. Loki's normally sharp edges are dull and her beauty—which is enchanting and ethereal no matter her form—is magnified. When she sits down at her antique vanity to brush her thick hair and apply her pristine make-up, her movements are spellbinding instead of repetitive. Thor's gaze lingers until his eyelids fall and the rising sun is blacked out.

When he wakes again, it is mid-morning and Loki is gone. He yawns so wide his jaw cracks; he rubs the last vestiges of sleep from his eyes with the heels of his hands; he kicks off the sheets and stretches until the vertebrae in his spine pop and his muscles are loose. Then he takes a quick shower, brushes his teeth, and combs his hair.

As there is every morning, the clothes Loki picked out for him are folded neatly on the velvet indigo chaise at the foot of the bed. The linen trousers are light and perfect for summer heat and the glaucous Oxford is a soft cotton; both fit perfectly and have labels hand-stitched into the fabric. Thor smiles at Loki's commitment to her new life as he rolls the sleeves of the Oxford up to his elbows and slips into the red espadrilles left by the door.

When Thor goes to grab his wallet off the counter, he finds a note folded neatly on top of the dark leather. There's a time and place depicted in Loki's spiky hand; Thor's smiles widens further at the unspoken command. The subtle summons would have once irritated Thor to the point where he would have purposefully ignore them, but he is not as proud as he once was and—if it is Loki's wish—it is no true hardship. He tucks the note inside his wallet, the stationery crisp against the crumpled and worn paper money.

Like most mornings, Thor leaves the studio and finds a small café, where he orders his usual milky coffee and pastry. He sits outside in one of the chairs—which are almost too small to hold all of his bulk—to eat and drink slowly as the sun creeps towards its zenith in the sky. When he's done, he slowly meanders westward, following the Seine as it curves through the heart of Paris.

Thor stops twice in his leisurely journey. The first time, an artist calls out to him and asks to paint him. He laughs merrily at the request and obliges her, standing still against the stone railing while pigeons wander at his feet. The likeness is vague and her brushstrokes are stiff, but Thor likes it enough to hand her a few bills. The second time, he ducks into a small florist's and buys a huge arrangement of unique and unconventional flowers. It is just as likely for Loki to accept the bouquet as it is for her to deny it, but Thor is light-hearted and feels lucky enough to test her mood. He whistles jauntily on the last leg of his journey and winks at everyone who meets his eye.

The Tuileries Garden is crowded in the early afternoon. Throngs of people, Parisians and tourists alike, walk across the white stone pathways, sit by the Grand Bassin Octagonal or lounge in the cool shade provided by the large trees. Despite the mass of people wandering around, Thor finds Loki easily. He's had plenty of practice, after all, in the grand courts that filled the halls in Asgard.

Loki barely looks up from the flat, palm-sized computer in her hand as Thor approaches. He can't see her eyes through the darkly tinted lenses of her sunglasses as she takes in the massive floral arrangement, but he doesn't need to. The sharp curve of her smile and the rise of her eyebrows tell him enough.

"Do you like them?" Thor asks as he holds out the bouquet. Nearby, a cluster of French women alternate between looking at Thor in adoration and Loki in jealousy, as they whisper loudly amongst each other and point blatantly.

"As much as I like anything you bring me," Loki responds simply even as she tucks her handheld into her purse and takes her gift from Thor's hands. She even pauses to smell one of the blooms, a small and delicate crocus, six white petals unfurled around a golden center. Thor grins despite himself and, when Loki holds the bouquet in one hand and gestures for him to come closer with the other, he feels as though he has been bestowed the greatest of praises.

To the group of women staring enviously on and to anyone whose eyes slide past them, what they see is a handsome man and a gorgeous woman standing together. Lovers, they think, if the lack of space between their bodies—or the way the woman's hand curls into the man's thick hair or how the man's hands settle on her hips—is any indication. Her mouth is by his ear and she's whispering to him, but the arrangement of flowers in the woman's hand obscures their faces and hides the details of their intimate moment.

What they do not know, however, is that Loki's grip is too tight and her voice is as hard as the diamonds in her ears.

"You are too sentimental, brother," Loki whispers. Her breath is hot against Thor's skin and, despite the warm weather, the fine hairs on the back of his neck standing at attention. "You always have been. I don't know why I expected more from you."

Thor feels his pulse begin to thunder in his veins.

"I want you to go home," she commands softly, her voice like the susurrus hiss of wind through the full summer leaves. "Go home immediately and strip for me. When you are naked, kneel by the bed. Do not move until I return. Do not disobey me—I will know if you do."

With that, Loki releases her fistful of Thor's hair and steps back. She straightens her impeccable clothing and smoothes her coiffed hair. She is as put together as Thor is torn apart. His legs are weak and desire burns a path through his veins. If they were not in such a public place, Thor would risk a kiss, even if it certainly meant that she would reprimand him with a slap.

"Go," Loki repeats, her voice aloof and her stance untouchable. Reaching for her would be futile; she is too far away. "Now, brother."

After a moment's pause, Thor obeys. He manages a small distance before he looks back, yet all he finds is that Loki is gone and the flowers he bought are a colorful mess tossed into a nearby trashcan.

.

When Loki returns to the apartment, the sun is sinking into the horizon and its light is refracted crimson and copper across the atmosphere. On his knees by the bed, Thor watches silently as she removes her designer stilettos, her expensive jewelry, and the tailored, canary yellow dress that clings to every curve of her body. She walks around the studio, nude and elegant; she pours herself a small glass of red wine and sips leisurely; then she retrieves her strap-on from the closet and puts on her harness with deft and sure fingers.

Thor is swiftly and terribly aroused.

The black leather harness is stark against the lily-white flesh of Loki's hip and thigh, a dichotomy as distinct as the differences between her and Thor. Her smile is sharp and cruel as she approaches him. She crouches beside him, her silicone dick bobbing between her slender thighs, and runs the edge of her manicured nails over exposed flesh of Thor's belly, each scratch riding between pleasure and pain. Thin red lines and gooseflesh bloom in their wake, and she purrs, "On the bed, brother. Face down."

Thor is clumsy with his need to obey. His thighs burn as he rises and his head spins with lust. Only Loki can turn him into such a terrible mess. In this subtle space, Thor is not the crowned prince or sworn protector of Asgard; he is not burdened by heavy duty or terrifying responsibility. All that matters are Loki's whims and so he stumbles to his feet, and does not whimper as his knees—bruised from kneeling so long on the wooden floor—protest even the softness of the mattress.

Loki sees the weakness in him, regardless.

"Poor thing," Loki consoles. Her voice is deceptively sweet and she drags her knuckles softly down the muscular curve of Thor's flank. Thor cannot help the moan that rises unbidden from his lungs; he has been wanting for this all day. "Look at you: so eager, so shameless, spread for me like an addled whore."

Thor licks his dry lips, swallows around the parched desert of his mouth, and croaks, "Loki—"

She brings her hand down hard on his flesh, where the plane of his back meets the thick swell of his ass. There is little fat and muscle to soften the blow and her strength, while not inconsiderable, is enough to make Thor bark in pain. It lances through his brain like a spear. His trembling arms buckle and he lands in the tangle of blankets, his weight supported by his chest, shoulders, and bristled cheek.

"I did not give you permission to speak," Loki hisses as her fingertips caress his skin, the flesh hot and sensitive from the blow. "You would do well to remember that."

Thor stills his tongue, his mouth parted useless against the decadent sheets. Despite his silence, he prays fervently to the nameless deities of his childhood. They are gods he no longer believes in; Thor has always believed in the tangible, like the heft of Mjölnir or the dip of the mattress as Loki kneels behind him. His mistress would love to know that she is a more believable deity than any other he's worshipped, Thor thinks, as beautiful, vindictive, and retributive as she is.

Without warning, Loki's hands slide from Thor's back down to his ass to spread his cheeks. She dips forward, her long hair brushing the backs of Thor's thighs, and licks his dusky hole with the broad of her tongue. Thor bites back the moan that rises in his throat; unconsciously and unnecessarily, he cants his pelvis higher in a desperate bid for her not to stop.

Loki is almost brutal as she tongues his tight opening. Her nails dig half-moons into his flesh and she is relentless in her administration, as though she does not care how thoroughly she can destroy Thor with the simple action. The slide of her hot, damp tongue feels so nerve-numbingly good against his pucker and his cock is so hard that he fears he may come untouched and without her permission.

Once, Thor would have cared about the role he took during intercourse. He was destined to be king and he believed that such a mantle meant that all he could do, in all aspects of his life, was take and offer no quarter. Loki had indulged him then in the way she does not now. Thor is no longer an unbendable and arrogant prince. He has learned patience and humility and what he has yet to understand, Loki will teach him.

It takes a small eternity, but Loki takes that time to fuck four of her slender fingers into Thor. She scissors them to loosen his hole and licks his twitching rim as though to soothe it. Her fingers are crooked too hard and too much against his spongy prostate, as she rubs and rubs and rubs. Everything she does to him is a pleasure so intense it becomes pain—or pain so great it blurs into pleasure—yet Thor is bereft when she pulls away.

"Quiet," she snarls when Thor mangles her name in a gasp. She strikes him hard on the ribs, just below the wing of his right scapula. The blow is blunt and it knocks all the air from his lungs. It grounds him, however, and his focus returns.

Loki does not wait for Thor to reel back from the blow before she pushes her cock into him. She has licked him loose and pliant and finger-fucked him, but her massive dildo is dry and the unexpected pain makes Thor's muscles tighten around the mold. It is as painful as the hit she bestowed, yet this sensation spreads like fire instead of lightning, burning slowly up his spine and scalp. His keen is high and breathless, uncontrollable and shameless. He can feel the shape of Loki's sly mouth between his shoulder blades as easily as he can feel the softness of her breasts against his back.

What Thor gets most from Loki—as a woman, as a man, as whatever Loki chooses to be—is her unique ability to break him. She has known Thor more intimately than he knows himself since they were children; she knows all the dark voids inside him; she understands what he needs even when he does not.

"We are but mirrors, brother," Loki had told him a very long time ago, when Loki was still a prince in Asgard and the bitterness between them was juvenile. "I know you because I know myself. Where I end, you begin. Where you end, I begin."

"I did not know you were such a romantic," Thor had smirked in reply, even as warmth had curled beneath his sternum. At that, Loki threw back his head and laughed, the tendons of his pale throat exposed.

"It is anything but romance," Loki replied once he was able, his cynical humor a lingering ghost in his eyes. "If anything, it is undiluted narcissism."

Centuries have passed since then and much has changed, yet what Thor felt for Loki then is the same as what he feels for Loki now. He cannot call it love. Love was Sif and her tenacity; love was Jane and her kindness. Both were brief and bright and so terribly unlike the unbreakable and obsessive desire between him and Loki. What is between them is the height of vanity, the deepest of needs, and love more than love. Thor cannot give it name.

"Do not try to escape into your thoughts, brother," Loki purrs by his ear as she rolls her hips. The silicone dildo scrapes against his sensitive prostate: hard and uncompromising. It is too much and Thor roars into the mattress. "Concentrate on me."

Once his mind has been shattered, Thor is unable to piece it back together. The world becomes his body. His nerves are bright with pain and pleasure. Loki laughs in delight as she moves inside him, as she scratches welts down his ass and thighs, as she picks him apart with sensual and idle interest.

Briefly, Thor mourns her cock—her real cock of flesh and blood and heat, not the plastic, artificial dildo inside him. He misses how Loki's dick twitched and moved within him, how it conformed to his passage rather than how the dildo forces Thor to conform to it. By contrast, her dildo is rigid and unchanging; unlike Loki's penis, it never gives up and never gives in.

Thor knows Loki enjoys the relentless and unforgiving firmness of the dildo. He knows she likes how she can keep fucking him even after he's come untouched and she's orgasmed twice from the grind of plastic against her clit. He knows she wants to push and push and push until Thor cannot bear the sensation any longer.

It's torture. It's bliss. Loki drags it all from him, forcing him towards the precipice of a second release, but she is not satisfied even when she's claims that. It's as though she will never be able to punish him enough or to pleasure him enough. Thor whimpers with each thrust and is too wrapped up in Loki's endless cycle to worry about pride.

Loki goes until she's exhausted. Sweat pools between her breasts, gathers in the small of her back, and beads against her hairline. She's wrung so thin and numb from her own desire that her entire body trembles with exertion. When she finally stutters to a stop, her exhales ragged and inhales not enough, Thor's brain is buzzing and his cock is half-hard, desperate and painful.

"Please—" Thor chokes. His thick fingers feel stupid as they convulse against the bedding. "Please—"

But Loki is petty and vindictive and she loves to see Thor squirm. She says nothing as she unbuckles her harness with the dildo still deep inside Thor. The fractional shifts of the silicone shaft feel like earthquakes and Thor barely resists the need to sob. Then, when she is free, Loki leans forward and licks Thor's red, sore rim. Thor bucks and shoves his knuckles against his teeth to muffle the pathetic and inhuman noise that crawls out of him.

"Keep it in," Loki commands. Her delicate hand is a heavy brand against his hip and her tongue against his stretched hole is a warning. Thor wants her to take the dildo out and let him wilt; Thor wants her to shove and twist the dildo inside him until his balls draw up and he comes dry and painful.

"Loki—" Thor chokes on his plea. His whole body aches and all he wants is an end. "Loki, I need—"

Loki brings her hand down on the curve of Thor's ass. It stings and he hisses at the razing pain, instinctually arching away from the blow. The dildo shifts inside him and this time he does sob at the pressure against his prostate and the warmth that blooms where Loki had hit him.

"I know exactly what you need, brother," Loki says as she slides of the bed and pulls the shortened, silk yukata around her shoulders. Even wrecked—especially wrecked—she is the most beautiful thing Thor has ever seen. "Keep it in."

Then she turns around and leaves him.

.

It was a hot day near the end of the growing season, when the heat swelled to an unbearable degree before breaking. Six days and six nights had passed in a stifling fugue; it was the seventh day and, while Thor had been trained to function in either temperature extreme, his patience with the weather was worn thin. He had sparred with Hogun in the low heat of the morning; once the sun passed its zenith in the sky, Thor had been unable to muster enough motivation to do little more than search for the cold pond in the gardens, where the giant koi swam beneath the cover of lily pads. Its exact location eluded him, however, and he was forced to wander the labyrinth of greenery in his search.

By the third time Thor passed the marble statue of a bearded warrior carrying a spear and wearing a horned helmet, he had perspired through the tunic under his armor and was irritable enough to shout in rage. This was, of course, when Loki stepped out of the statue's shadow, pulling away from the darkness as though he had been born of it. Thor instinctively took a hasty, surprised step back, and snarled when Loki sneered at him.

"You know," his brother had begun, a small and predatory smirk blooming on his face. His eyes were as vibrant and sharp as uncut emeralds. "If I did not know how brave and courageous my brother was, I would believe that he had been hiding from me."

It had been nearly a week since Thor claimed Loki in the shade of a tree and tasted his skin. The pleasure had been more than Thor expected, or wished; he wanted nothing more than to sink into Loki once again, to watch his little brother writhe on his cock and to hear the pleas come off his strangled, silver tongue. The desire shamed Thor. He had taken to spending all his free time in the training courtyard and having the servants bring his meals to his room, pleading exhaustion to Frigga's skeptical frown and Odin's watchful eye.

"Not now, Loki," Thor snapped and his arms crossed his chest in a protective, and unintentional, gesture. He had distantly hoped the Loki would leave him be and that his inappropriate lust would dwindle into nothingness. Both were tall orders, considering they hinged on Loki letting the past slowly wither into memory.

"All we have is the present, brother," Loki returned as he took a bold, stupid step closer.

Thor snarled at Loki again and unfurled his arms in an attempt to shove past him, but Loki had always been light on his feet. He danced away from Thor's blunt, repelling hand like a leaf caught in a brutal wind and skirted back in front of him. His thin fingers found the clasps designed to hold Thor's cape and Thor knew, by the determined look in Loki's green eyes, that he would not let go until he had his way.

"The heat has left me with a foul disposition," Thor said in a low, dangerous voice. His fists found the delicate bones of Loki's wrist and squeezed until there would be bruises by the morrow. "If you do not release me, I will beat you bloody."

"And I will have my way." Loki's fingers tightened in the clasps. He had to roll onto the balls of his feet to get a better grip. Loki was not yet as tall as Thor, if he would ever be, and as thin as a reed, but his startlingly weight pulled at Thor like an anchor. "And if it is the heat that has you so vexed, then why are you pacing like an agitated lion when you should be lying in the shade?"

"Loki," Thor growled, louder than he intended. His grasp about Loki's bird thin wrists tightened unconsciously with the quick rise of his anger; Thor heard, but did not comprehend, the low sound his bones made as they rolled together under the increased force of his grip, like river stones scraping against one another in a rough and uncaring current. "Leave me be!"

His last syllable ended on a shout and bounced off the stone pathway to the sky, where the vibrations scattered on the thin molecules and bled into space. Loki's smirk was as wide as a snake's.

"As I thought," Loki hissed in his delight. "Well then, if you are not a coward, then perhaps you won't mind coming with me?"

They stared at each other before Thor sighed wearily and released his hold from Loki's wrists. In return, Loki's fingers slid from the clasps of his armor. When Loki turned on his heel, Thor was sorely tempted to banish the idea of slipping into the cool pond, flee to his spacious rooms, and avoid Loki even further. Yet Thor found he could not do so. The mere idea of retreat tasted of complete cowardice and reminded him too strongly of how he fled a week past.

Loki led Thor through the paved maze of the gardens with years of practice and ease. As a child, Loki had hidden from his sparring lessons by fleeing into the green and hiding amongst the leaves. No one could find him unless he wished to be found. While Odin had frowned upon his behavior, Frigga had always found her younger son's antics amusing and never scolded him firmly. She often stroked his bramble-knotted haired and called him 'my wild thing'. Thor had been jealous; if he fled his academic lessons, no one would have condoned it.

Once they passed between two staggering yew trees, so old and close together that the overhead branches of one are indistinguishable from the other, Thor saw the pond. He had not been to it in years—not since he was a boy—but the fist-sized, floating white lilies and the sunlight dappling off the black water were unmistakable. Flashes of ivory and gold and crimson rippled just beneath the surface from the iridescent scales of the slowly swimming giant koi. Thor kneeled at the stone edge and let his fingers sink into the cold.

"It is all well and good to simply look," Loki said, "but I do not think that was your original purpose?"

Thor looked over his shoulder in time to see Loki's clever fingers work open the ties of his leather vambraces, left and then right cast to the shale paving with but a soft sound. Loki's touch then alighted upon the clasps of his outer coat and shed the garment. It seemed to Thor that there should have been more fanfare as Loki stripped, but only the bronze lunula Loki wore upon his chest made a noise that Thor could hear above the roar in his ears.

Loki did not undress with the wish to tease. His movements were perfunctory, as though he were preparing to disrobe for a bath or for sleep. Yet his eyes never left Thor; Loki's gaze was like sharp a pin in Thor's chest. He could not move even if he desired it.

"Loki," Thor croaked when Loki was bare, completely naked save for the scant length of his black hair that curled around the backs of his ears. "Loki, do not do this."

Loki cocked his head to the side and the corners of his mouth twisted upward in a rare smile, one that was filled with more affection than mockery. "Do what, brother?" he asked lightly. "It is a hot day. I wish to find relief from the heat and I thought that is what you wished as well."

"I do not care for your tricks, Loki," Thor snapped.

"This is no trick." Loki's voice was unerringly honest and his round eyes were innocent. "I swear it."

Thor knew better than to trust Loki's words, yet he felt a terrible knot within his chest loose, despite the knowledge that Loki often did and said things only to get what he desired. This was not to say that Loki was always fallacious and mischievous; it was just that Loki wielded honesty as one might wield a blade. Thor had been on the wrong end of those exchanges often enough to know.

"Thor," Loki murmured as he took an incremental step forward. He kept his voice low, his palms splayed upward, and his head tilted curiously until he was less than an arm's length away. When he pressed his hands against Thor's chest and looked down, the dark fan of his lashes hiding the verdant hue of his eyes, Thor thought he looked vulnerable.

"This is no game, Thor. It is only a refreshing swim on a terrible summer day." Loki ran the backs of his knuckles over one of the metal disks of Thor's armor. "But first, this must go."

Thor had impossible time taking off his clothes. His fingers were thick and stupid as they struggled with the clasps for his cloak, his heavy vest, and the ties of his boots and the placket of his pants. Every layer that he removed was a relief yet, with every inch of linen and leather and metal that disappeared, Thor felt all the more defenseless. The knowledge that he could crush rocks and bones with his bare hands was of no comfort when he was naked and Loki pressed a palm over the dark gold hairs upon his chest.

"Good," Loki purred. His touch was a brand. "Now come into the water. It will cool you down and wash the reek of the training ground from you."

Unlike the other fountains in the garden, all of which rose from the earth in granite or marble, the pond was set abruptly into the ground. It looked as though someone had spilled many barrels of ink; only the lily pads and the occasional glimmer of fish betrayed what the truth. Loki sat down upon the edge and slipped into the water with his usual grace, the pale of his skin a smear beneath the surface.

When Thor followed Loki and sank into cold water, he felt as though he were under a spell. The sudden chill was a blessing on his overheated skin. Silence folded around him. One of the braver koi slid against his calf, its scales like silk. When he peered upwards, the lilypads drifted over him as though they were clouds in the sky. He remembered being a small boy and diving into the pond, swimming with the huge fish and trying to touch the bottom before he ran out of breath. He never did, however, and he knew with an ineffable certainty that he would not be able to if he tried as a man.

"Thor," Loki called out when Thor broke for air. Thor turned to see Loki by a cluster of lilies, his hair as dark as the water and his flesh as pale as the lily petals. One of his hands gripped the edge of the pond. "My brother, to me."

Disquiet built in Thor's chest even as he obeyed, slowly drifting to Loki with wide and sure sweeps of his arms. Loki looked as a water nymph, unreal and fantastical, thousands of drops of water clinging to his skin and refracting the warm sunlight that drifted past the leaves. Thor wanted to touch him, to kiss him, to lick the moisture off, to lift him from the water and pull his cock into his mouth until he writhed on the shale. He wanted so terribly and he knew, he knew that it had been a dangerous idea to let Loki lure him into the water, like some breed of razor-toothed mermaid, but he had been unable to resist.

Thor would always be unable to resist.

"Do you know what know what you should never do too much of, Thor?" Loki asked when Thor drew close. "Think. It is abhorrent when you do too little thinking, of course, but it is much worse when you think too much. You are not a man of the mind, brother; you are a man of action. So when I give you the opportunity to act, act. Please do not think. It suits you quite ill."

Then Loki's long fingers were in Thor's hair and his mouth was upon Thor's mouth. Thor wrapped one arm around Loki's waist, grabbed desperately for the rock wall with the other so they would not sink, and for a breath let Loki kiss him. It was chaste and soft and his lips were cold. When Thor pulled back—reluctantly but stubbornly—Loki's grip tightened in the wet strands and his ankles hooked behind Thor's knees.

"Do not be a fool," Loki hissed, but there was desperation beneath the harsh words and it gave Thor pause. "You have been avoiding me because you think you have committed a great wrong against me, but the only wrong you have committed is removing yourself from my presence without my consent. I do not care what others may speculate, but when have I ever done something that I have not wished? When has anyone made me do anything I have not wanted? The answer is never and no one."

"Loki—" Thor tried.

"No!" Loki shouted, his voice rising with every word. "I will have this, brother, your pride be damned!"

Loki's mouth descended upon his once more, but there was nothing of the previous kiss in it. It was nothing but sharp teeth and hot tongue. Thor found himself adrift in Loki's passion, lost. The will he had to remain distant from Loki disappeared so completely that it was as though it had never been there in the first place.

"I—will—have—this," Loki swore viciously. He punctuated each word with a bite. "You cannot—take it—from—me!"

Thor still had his doubts and his fears. But when Loki pulled away and grasped at him, looked upon him with nothing in his eyes but desperation and hope, Thor replied, "I would never."

.

Loki drives out to the countryside on Thor's final day, in a small electric car as a high, bell-like voice warbles softly through the speakers. She's dressed in a conservative white blouse and a heather gray pencil skirt; she isn't wearing a bra and her hair is unbound. Thor is content to look at the perfect angles and curves of her, imagining what she would do if he reached over and pressed his thumb against the arch of her breast.

"I know what you're thinking," Loki says as Paris gives way to the lush, heavy green of summer. "If you touch me, I will throw you out of this car and make you walk."

The transfer point is in the middle of a wheat field, where the sigils will remain stamped into the earth until Thor returns to Asgard. By car, it takes several hours; when Thor arrived, he had hitchhiked to the city in a farmer's truck, laughing uproariously at the old man's stories. It would take him a day by foot and Thor does not wish to have his last Midgardian hours tainted by Loki's absence, so he sits back and keeps his imagination inside his head.

They reach the field before midday. Loki parks in the grass on the side of the road. She takes a woven basket from the backseat as Thor retrieves a sturdy blanket and a couple of cushions from the trunk. They hike a half-mile to the transfer point; Loki carries her mustard yellow kitten heels in her spare hand, her pale toes digging into the soft earth with every step. She looks strangely helpless, as she hasn't since they were children exploring the wilderness of Asgard, and Thor tries in vain to swallow the scratchy lump rising unbidden in his throat.

Loki has Thor spread the wool blanket across the grass an arm's length from the transfer point before she sits down on one of the cushions and opens the basket. She pulls out a fresh loaf of bread and soft cheese preserved in bright crimson wax, ripe fruits and cold, pulled chicken, and an assortment of thumbnail sized petit fours and expensive white wine that they drink straight from the bottle.

Despite the good weather and the good food, the light mood is weighed down by the lead heaviness inside Thor's chest. He misses Loki already: her sharp and silver words, the jigsaw of her body against his, the green of her eyes, the sly curve of her mouth, how she curls her fingers into the vulnerable hairs at the nape of his neck. She is irritating, condescending, unpredictable, and malicious, but she knows all the dark corners of his mind and his heart and does not judge him for the depravity she finds. She is not everything Thor ever wanted—she is more.

"Loki," Thor chokes as she finishes a tiny cake, powdered sugar coating her full mouth. Thor is unable to stop himself, as he has always been and always will be unable, and Loki looks up at him sharply. "Come back with me."

Predictably, Loki is unpredictable and does not find anger like Thor thinks she will. She barks in laughter instead, her head thrown back and her soft, silky hair spilling like old ink down her parchment-pale shoulders.

"The wine isn't that strong, especially not for someone as thick as you," she mocks. Her jest is a veneer, a vicious sneer underneath the words, but she does not want a fight; she would have lashed out and teased Thor about his dependency if she did. "Don't be unfair, brother. I can no more go with you to Asgard than you can stay with me on Midgard."

Thor wants to take offense at her mockery, but he wants her to return to Asgard more; his pride is not as important to him as Loki. He would beg and plead, crumpled on his knees until she acquiesced just to quiet him; he would bury his face in her soft stomach, wrap his arms about her knees, and keep her next to him until Ragnarök if she allowed it. He would have Loki with him always, as he believed they were destined to be over one hundred years ago.

Yet Thor cannot ignore the terrible truth in her words. He has obligations as the crown prince of the Shining Realm that he cannot ignore and those obligations are ones that would damn Loki. Even if their laws permitted Loki to return without the threat of arrest, there are more cages in Asgard than those of iron and magic. It would be unfair of Thor to ask permanence of someone as untamable and malleable as Loki, who changes every time he returns to Midgard. She will not be a fashion designer in Paris next time Thor can manage a visit; she might be in London performing Shakespeare, bookbinding in Prague, or breaking fingers as a money launderer in Odessa. She might wear a woman's body still or have a man's body again or be something else entirely.

It stings like frostbite to know that she changes so easily without him while he stagnates without her.

"You are a fool, Thor," she says gently as she sets the bottle of wine in the grass and stretches her legs out from where they had rested. "You always think it is so easy."

Loki crawls in front of him and lays him down, then, and slowly unbuttons his ancient, flannel shirt that Jane had given it to him long ago, in the cold New Mexican desert. The elbows and shoulders are threadbare, one of the buttons is missing, and there's a stain on the cuff. The only thing holding the cloth together is the magic of a quaint, domestic charm. Thor knows that it will fail, one day, but when that happens he'll keep the rags.

Once the flannel is tossed aside, Loki pulls his plain t-shirt over his head, unbuttons his knee-torn jeans, and works the leather boots off his feet. She touches every inch of his burning skin with her cool fingers and her wet tongue until Thor's every breath is a gasp and his gaze is unfocused. He is not allowed to touch her and his fingers ruck up the rough blanket underneath him in his desperate attempt to obey her unspoken command. Her laughter melts into the flesh of his throat, her upturned nose pressed to the thundering pulse beneath his jaw.

"You are mine, brother," Loki whispers into his ear. She tucks his hair behind his ear and caresses the scratch of his beard, her touch gentle. "Say it."

"Yours," Thor chokes. "Yours, Loki, always."

Her smile and her green eyes are wicked as she sheds her blouse and her skirt, as she straddles Thor's waist with her slender thighs and sinks down onto his cock. She places a hand on his sternum—he wonders if it is to keep her balance or to feel the drum of his heartbeat beneath her palm—and she rides him slow, as though he were breakable. Though he has always been physically strong, when Loki was a factor he has always been fragile, and she knows this as intimately as she knows the basics of magic. She has used it to her advantage many times; rarely has she used it to Thor's.

They make love sweetly and unhurriedly, as though they have all the time in the universe. Thor keeps his hands tight in the picnic blanket even while he wants nothing more than to touch Loki. Perhaps that is why she ordered him not to touch her; if Thor puts his palms to her skin, his fingers to her flesh, he would not be able to bear the pain of separation. Loki has always known Thor better than he has known himself, after all.

"Loki," Thor pants as he comes undone. His eyes are wild and his hair is a tangled mess, his cheeks are hot and his mouth is bitten crimson; he must look like he has gone mad. "Loki."

A moment later, Loki cries out as she is pulled under. Her slender body curls inward like a flower at night and the lithe muscles in her thighs quiver. The warm summer air is cooler than the heat of their bodies and the small breeze is a relief as it skitters across them. Loki collapses beside Thor, pressing her fingers to the hard line of his jaw and the soft angle of his lower lip. Thor closes his eyes and dares to place one of his hands on her waist.

They lie on the twisted fabric for an unknowable amount of time, before Loki stands up and redresses. Thor reluctantly follows suit. Afterwards, they silently pack the remains of their meal—the empty wine bottle and the wax rinds—back into the picnic basket, fold the blanket, and gather the cushions. Thor places everything in a neat stack between the raised roots of a nearby tree.

"It's time to go," Loki says as Thor turns back around yet, before Thor can enter the giant sigil burnt into the wheat, Loki grabs his arm and pull him in for a kiss.

The kiss is chaste and has no finesse. It is simply Loki's mouth pressed hard to Thor's. Despite this, Loki's hands curl into the meat of Thor's shoulders and Thor crushes Loki to him. Irrationally, he thinks that if he holds her hard enough and long enough, he'll have stolen enough of her to last him until he sees her again. It never works, but Thor will be damned a thousand times if that keeps him from trying.

"We will never be together in the manner you wish, Thor," Loki tells him softly as she pulls away and he steps into the intricate knot left by the Bifrost. Then she calls for Heimdall, her voice imperious and neutral. Immediately, the clouds gather and roil above, as the strings of space-time are shortened and Heimdall answers his call. Thor glances up at the familiar phenomenon before returning his sight to Loki.

There is a wistfulness in her gaze as distant as the furthest galaxy, and Thor has to fist his hands against his thighs to keep from reaching for her. She looks so small and alone against the tall grasses and the ancient trees, as she had looked when she was a child lost in the forest beyond the Shining City, but she is as fearless and independent as she was when Thor found her. She did not need him then and she does not need him now, but her green eyes are—and had been—focused entirely on him.

"Perhaps not," Thor answers and hopes his voice carries over the wind that whips through the brush and the leaves. He hopes his voice is strong and does not betray the fact that there is a tumultuous and brittle storm raging within him. "Yet we will never be apart."

Loki does not reply or give any indication that she heard his parting words, and the last thing that Thor sees before the Bifrost catches him and spreads him too thin across the emptiness of space is this: an endless sky in a monotone of blue, the thrashing stalks of growing wheat, and a beautiful woman with a heart in her chest and a heart in her hands.

.

It has been a year since Thor and Loki first were one; a year since Loki took Thor deep into the gardens and pressed a promise into his cold, wet skin; a year since Thor doubted. While many things had changed, much had remained the same.

That day, Thor and Loki fought with verbal barbs that became barbed blows, which devolved into a brutal fuck in a corridor where anyone would have been able to see the unmistakable undulation of their bodies. "You like it," Loki had accused as Thor drove into him, too dry and too tight and too perfect. His voice was high, thin, and brittle. "You want someone to find us—to see us—to know—"

Thor wrapped one arm under Loki's lower back and picked him up from the marbled floor. Then he pushed a thick thumb into Loki's mouth to still his tongue. Loki's eyebrows furrowed in agitation and he brought his teeth down around Thor's knuckle until he drew blood; he did not let go as Thor swore at him, tore into him, and came deep within his heat. The crimson blossomed against the enamel and wilted into the crevices of his lips.

"Brute," Loki hissed into his ear as Thor pulled his dick from Loki's loose hole and this thumb from Loki's vicious mouth. Against him, Loki was still undeniably hard, his long cock red and slick.

"You have such a way with words," Thor chuckled as he knelt. He looked up from underneath the short, golden fan of his lashes as he sucked the head of Loki's dick into his mouth. Loki's green eyes were nearly black and his lips were still painted with the wet of Thor's blood. Thor shivered as Loki curled a hand around the curve of his skull, his nails biting into Thor's scalp. Purposefully, he relaxed his jaw and the back of his throat as he moved incrementally forward.

"If you insist," Loki purred.

No one saw them as Loki fucked Thor's willing mouth and, after Loki had given Thor his release, no one saw them as they staggered down the echoing corridors and tumbled into Thor's chambers. It was twilight when they peeled off the remains of their offensive clothing, rolled onto the wide expanse of Thor's bed, and kissed and kissed and kissed until their mouths were sore and Thor's back was a canvas of scratches and Loki pushed him down and Thor sucked his last, earthy release from Loki's thin thighs and fluttering hole.

"Stay awhile," Thor murmured into the hollow of Loki's throat afterwards, as he gathered Loki into the cradle of his embrace. His brother was almost as tall as he was and the lean sinews of his youth had begun to pull into muscle. There was a shadow of beard beneath his soft, snow-pale skin and the angular planes of his face had cut away the last traces of his stubborn adolescence. "You are tired."

"Do not presume to know what I am," Loki replied, the words as affectionate as they were acerbic.

Perhaps it was his own lethargy or the degree to which he knew his brother, but Thor took no offense. Instead, Thor smiled against Loki's skin and proclaimed teasingly, "I would not dare!"

"You would dare to do anything."

Loki's words were true; there were many things Thor would dare to do. His smile stretched and he pulled Loki closer, until it was as though the seam of their bodies had been stitched together by an invisible thread. They laid in silence for some time, a single entity among the enormous and indulgent bed, with only the distant and accepting gaze of the stars upon them.

"It cannot always be like this," Loki continued as Thor's thumb rubbed the only sigils he knew into the skin and muscle pulled over Loki's ribs: protection, courage, luck, and union. "You must know that one day we will grow apart. We are not suited, brother."

"Just a moment ago you said something about assumption," Thor teased mirthfully. He did not open his eyes and pull back to see the irritation cross Loki's face, but knew Loki well enough that Loki's pinched expression flickered into his thoughts. He chuckled, and breathed, "For now we will sleep. We will worry about our suit when we wake."

There was a small silence and, for once, Loki did not call Thor simple or tease him for being shortsighted. Instead, he sighed in resignation and settled in Thor's arms. Loki drifted slowly into his dreams and became lost in the wild fields of his subconscious.

"To tell the truth," Thor murmured when Loki could no longer hear him, "I am a coward. I cannot say that what I wish to say to you when you are awake. You are dear to me, my brother, but that does not mean I am foolish."

Loki's eyes moved rapidly beneath the thin skin of his eyelids. So close to him, Thor could see each tiny blood vessel that flowed like a blue river across the white expanse of his flesh. Thor was quiet for a time, and wondered if Loki dreamed of an unknown realm where he was Loki's and Loki was his, completely.

"You think a day shall come when I do not love you." Thor's words were quiet, but every syllable held a strange and undeniable gravity, as though his vow was saturated in an ancient and forgotten magic. "You call me ridiculous, but in this matter it is you who is blind. No matter what may pass, no matter who we may become, I swear that my heart shall always be yours. I shall never leave you. I shall never forsake you. To let you go would destroy me. I know you would not believe me if I told you, but that is truest truth I should ever know and it is enough."

Perhaps it was the softness in Thor's voice or the heat of Thor's body, but in his sleep, Loki sighed in contentment and moved closer. His nose pressed against Thor's clavicle and his breath was warm against Thor's skin. He was soft and safe and perfect in the fold of Thor's embrace, as though there was no other place in the nine realms that he would rather be.

And that was all Thor would ever need.