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“Brother,” Loki said, turning his back to the valley visible from his vantage point in a clearing high up on a Vanaheim mountainside. He looked down the short rise to where Thor was seated crosslegged on the white-gold grass of the clearing where he was taking his noonday meal. “There is nothing there either.”

Thor looked up questioningly as he took one last bite from a roasted fowl leg, then dropped it into the pile of bones he had already discarded. “I planned to feast on boar this day,” he complained, wiping his greasy fingers against the grass near the pile of the bones he had discarded. He pulled a loaf of bread from his pack and ate that too.

Loki snorted. “There is nothing worth hunting in these mountains.”

“Where is the good hunting we were promised?” Thor grumbled as he stood.

“There will be boar aplenty on the Vanir court tables. Would you rather we returned and feasted there?” Loki flashed Thor a grin. “I do believe Lady Gudrun is most taken with you.” The lady in question had found numerous opportunities to be in the company of Odin’s eldest son, yet her conversation mostly consisted of her high opinions of herself and her poor opinions of everyone else.

“I thank the Norns,” Thor said feelingly, “That she is too far removed in blood from their King, else I might have to face the possibility of that foul-tempered nag in my marriage bed.”

Thor moved to stand by Loki and set a hand on his shoulder. Together they looked down into the valley on the further side of the mountain.

“It looks the same as the one we just crossed,” Thor said, disgruntled, and Loki had to agree. Beautiful, yes, but this valley was identical to the one they had just traversed. The one before that, as well. This quest had been a sore disappointment to Thor, as the woods had been entirely free of dangerous creatures. An equal disappointment to Loki, as well, since there was no sign of any magical inhabitants either.

Before them, widely spaced pale green trees with fanlike boughs encircled the meadow and descended the hillsides, with tiny red birds calling and flying around and settling on their branches. In the valley below, tawny deer were munching on the white-yellow grasses waving in the warm breeze beside a lazily curving river. Peaceful. Quiet. Boring. Of the large boar they had sought to hunt there was absolutely no prints, no scat, no sign any had ever been here at all. Every game animal in the vicinity had apparently been warned against their presence prior to their arrival and had quickly fled the area. Fortunately, they’d brought food along with them, and thanks to Loki’s seiðr it remained fresh until needed.

He turned his head and found Thor looking at him, smiling, blue eyes bright and confident. He no longer seemed in the least disappointed at the lack of game. He trailed his hand down Loki’s back, and then his questing fingers dipped lower to trace lines down Loki’s ass.

Loki hummed at the touch, blood surging at the wicked feelings Thor’s touch woke within him. They had sworn again and again that each time would be the last, Loki not meaning a word of it. After each time, Thor always looking troubled at the dangerous path they were taking. And yet, they never stopped. And yet, they always found better and better ways of being alone together.

These deserted Vanir mountains would be the best yet.

And now Loki could reveal the real purpose he’d brought Thor here. Well, aside from… ahh. One large hand cupped his left buttock and strong fingers kneaded and caressed.

Ah. Aside from that. A thrill ran through his nerves, but he stepped away. Eluding Thor’s grasping hands he danced away a further few paces, then turned. Thor made to follow, but Loki held out a hand. Thor looked at him questioningly.

“Let me show you something.” Loki focused his gaze past Thor’s shoulder, off into the further distance of the valley. Thor’s eyes brightened and he immediately looked behind himself in an attempt to see what Loki was looking at.

There was, of course, nothing there, but it took Thor a moment to scan his surroundings. Just enough time for Loki to…

“Loki…” Thor grumbled at being fooled but when he turned back Loki had vanished his clothing. Thor grinned and strode forward.

Loki lifted his arms.

A shiver ran across his skin, gooseflesh that instantly rooted the swift-growing feathers along his arms. The sudden change in every part of his body lit electric fire in his bones, his muscles, flesh, blood and nerves as they changed.

Bright flashes of pain shot through him, and every razor-edged fragment of agony was worth it – the many many weeks of study and failed attempts and more study and more failure – all worth it!

Hollowness as his bones compacted and emptied. Lightness as his body shrank, compacted, shifted , and then it was complete –

Thor froze mid-stride, his face slack-jawed with surprise. He turned his head quickly to follow every movement of Loki’s new form.

Loki beat down, up, down, up with his black wings, catching the air with ease. Exulting in the look of astonishment and wonder on Thor’s face, he stretched his wings further and soared upward, high into the sky. The land fell away beneath him.

There, far below him, was Thor staring up into the sky. Thor’s features should be blurred at this height, but Loki could see his face with crystal clarity. He knew this already from all the times he had done this alone; knew that when his eyes transformed into those of a bird he could see so much further, so much more clearly, than his own eyes could. Yet this sharpness of vision startled him again, the acuity never so apparent as now, when he was looking at Thor. Each of Thor’s strong features was sharp and clear and distinct, each individual eyebrow, eyelash, each separate beard hair and long golden hair on his head a separate thing, defined and detailed to his new eyes.

So easy now, this morph from one form into another. Weeks, months, years of study. Mouse, then rabbit, then cat. All the small animals of the earth, easy once he had mastered the concept, and such fun to go anywhere he pleased, with no one, not even Heimdall, Huginn, or Muninn to take notice, leaving, as he always did, a glamour in his darkened chambers bent over his books or resting in his bed.

But the transition to wings! He had despaired often, thinking that he would remain bound to the earth, unable to swim as a fish in the streams, unable to fly as a bird in the air. His treacherous arms did not want to let go of their shape so drastically; they clung to their earthbound function, far happier to form into paws and tread on flooring and earth than expand and alter and accept hollow bones and feathers and the freedom of the air.

He had spent hours, days, weeks, watching birds, studying their every motion, and then using spells to place his mind elsewhere, as if he were in the bird itself, as if he were the bird itself.

Finally, he had accomplished it. Dragonfly, swallow. And now magpie. He had flown free and wild many times, testing his new forms, intoxicated with air and light and freedom.

All for this moment.

All for the day he could do something Thor would want to do but could not do.

All for the expression on Thor’s face he had longed to see.

Wonder. Awe.

Envy.

Envy, that Loki had accomplished this. That Loki could do something so marvelous. That Loki could do something Thor could not. That Loki had, for once, bested him.

Savoring the jealousy in Thor’s eyes, he indulged in showy plunges and ascents and whirls and turns and dives and loops, enjoying the way Thor’s eyes tracked his every move.

Warm sunlight caressed Loki’s back, and the pleasure of it, of the air shifting across his wings, the flutter of feathers, filled him with an intoxication better than mead. Stretching his wings, he soared, exultant in the way his hollow-boned body responded to each unseen motion of the air. Easy to sense, the way the heat of the sun played with the air, the currents unseen streams above the ground. His feathers reacted instinctively to the way the air responded to the shapes of the ground, the trees, the mountains, the boulders, the meadows, sending him instant cues as to how to fly with grace and skill. He tipped a wing, shifted feathers, soared on the currents, then flew in lazy circles above his brother.

Far below him, Thor looked up, his gold hair gleaming in the sunlight, his head tilted back so far it was a wonder he did not fall backwards.

Loki dove suddenly then pulled up at the last minute, delighted by the startled fear in Thor’s eyes. Fear, which was quickly replaced by a hearty laugh.

“Brother!” Thor called, grabbing for him, but he shot up in the air several feet above Thor’s head before Thor could touch him. He swooped around him several times, Thor turning so quickly to follow his motion that he stumbled and barely saved himself from falling. Loki called out in birdsong, satisfied laughter being beyond him in this form, then made a rude squawking noise. Rising higher, only to swoop down again, he darted around his brother in dizzying circles, then hovered just out of reach, flapping his wings just enough to keep aloft.

Thor grabbed at him anyway, leaping as he did so. Loki felt a sudden sting in one wing, and then fell, awkwardly catching another current to compensate for the loss of the feather. When he righted himself he was angered to see Thor, standing firm now, grinning like a fool, waving the black feather he’d plucked from Loki.

He dove, claws extended, and swiped one foot across Thor’s right arm. Thor jerked it back, scowling ferociously as a line of blood appeared.

Triumphant, Loki called out mockingly and floated down, allowing his own form to reshape mid-air. Feathers and wings fluttered then absorbed back into his arms, stray feathers floating free. Flashes of green light shot across his vision as his eyes readapted to his Aesir form. He landed lightly, his feet touching the ground just as the transformation was complete, reclothing himself as he gained his balance. One white chest feather danced in the air in front of his face. Thor made a grab for it, but Loki snatched it and quickly concealed it in his clothing. Thor grabbed Loki’s arm, Loki grabbed back, fingers closing around the scratch he had made, smearing the blood.

Loki let go and examined the long cut. He grinned. “Ooooh!” Loki arranged his features in mock solicitude. “Will you tell a tale of this victory then? The mighty Thor, wounded in battle – how heroic he was, to face such a foe that even dragons would quail before it. The bards will long recount of this day.”

Thor laughed and hauled him close, leaning his forehead against Loki’s. Wrapping both arms around his lower back Thor pulled him tight against his body, letting Loki feel his hard erection.

“Victory excites you,” Loki murmured, angling his hips against Thor’s and rubbing. He was hard himself, but he extricated himself from Thor’s grip and, laughing, walked away. He looked over one shoulder, enjoying the frustrated look on Thor’s face. “Is this how you woo so many maidens?” he asked with a sly smile, “Is this your lover’s manner? No lovely words for me? No gifts, no compliments?”

Thor barked a laugh. “Your tricks are getting better.” He gave Loki a cocky grin.

Loki considered for a moment, then sighed dramatically. “I know you lack wit with words, brother, but you can do better than that.”

“I’ll give you a gift,” Thor said. And he held out the black feather he’d plucked from Loki’s wing. And promptly hid it behind his back.

“Liar,” Loki snorted. “The women sing Fandral’s praises for his pretty words and his gifts of jewelry. You, however, offer only what you have already stolen – and then take it back again.”

Thor produced the feather again, waving it teasingly, the bright sunlight picking up highlights of green and purple against the glossy black, then directed a searching look at Loki’s head. "I do believe you are missing some of your hair, here.” He helpfully rubbed the feather against his own temple to demonstrate. “Do I have it here?” He twirled the feather between two fingers. “Will it turn back to hair shortly? Or are you missing something… more important?”

“Idiot!” Loki snorted, not rising to the bait, not bothering to touch his temple to feel if any of his hair was missing, because of course it wasn’t. But, a sharp sting in his upper arm reminded him of the small hurt he had received when Thor had plucked out his feather. His hand was rubbing at it before he could stop himself.

Thor grinned and began waving the feather again.

Loki grabbed at it, but Thor snatched it away, hand going behind his back, and when he brought it back out his hand was empty. Loki pulled him close, one hand darting down to press against Thor’s crotch, enjoying Thor’s hiss of pleasure even as he snaked his other hand behind Thor’s back, searching for the concealed feather. Then they were tussling and grappling, like the children’s games they had so-recently left behind in favor of their new secret games. They were down on the ground, faces close, rolling and tumbling, elbows and knees pushing and shoving. Thor pinned his shoulders down and grinned in his face but Loki had pulled a knee up and shoved it in Thor’s chest, pushing with one arm as he rolled and Thor thudded to the ground. Loki, immediately on his feet, backed quickly away.

Thor leapt to his feet. Loki, standing a short distance away, offered him a bright grin. Thor narrowed his eyes and looked at him closely, took a step forward – then swung around to his right, grinned at the sight of Loki standing there. Thor tackled him to the ground, knocking his breath out of him. His double flickered and vanished.

“I could see right through you, brother,” Thor chuckled.

“Ah,” Loki said, catching his breath and evading Thor’s possessive kiss. Even as he had cast it he knew the glamour hadn’t been good enough, strong enough, to fool even Thor. His glamours, while convincing in the dimness of his bedchamber, were not quite ready for full daylight. It had flickered and faded and become transparent before he had been able to strengthen it again. “One day, brother…”

Thor grinned and pulled him to his feet. “You have done a most splendid thing today, brother! Would I could fly like you!” and Loki smiled despite himself at the compliment and at Thor’s look of envy.

Then Thor added, “Do not worry yourself. One day, I am certain, you will be skilled enough to do a casting that will be strong enough to convince my eyes,” and dodged away an instant before Loki’s hands met his shoulders to shove him to the ground. Loki stumbled and Thor darted behind his back. Loki whirled, furious, his eyes opening wide as Thor put Loki’s feather between his lips and closed his mouth.

Loki blinked, squeezing his eyes shut momentarily as another green flash disturbed his vision. Opening his eyes, he saw that Thor had taken a step back. His hand was pressed to his mouth and his face held an expression of surprise. When he saw Loki advancing he dropped his hand, grinning widely at Loki’s irritated expression, feather firmly between his teeth.

Swift as a striking snake, Loki tugged the feather from Thor’s mouth. A frisson shuddered across Loki’s skin at the touch of the feather, an electric tingle that danced along his skin, then settled. The air grew suddenly cooler. They both looked up at the clouds massing across the hitherto clear sky.

“Vanir weather,” Loki commented, then looked back at Thor a second too late. Thor snatched the feather back and hid it in his clothing. Thor’s eyes had gone wide, and in the dimmer light the blue of his irises seemed brighter, almost glowing. Loki’s erection, which had softened, was hard again.

Thor reached for him. Loki pulled him close, pulled their bodies tightly together and pressed his mouth to Thor’s. He ran his tongue across the seam of Thor’s lips. Thor immediately opened his mouth and Loki deepened the kiss, pressing his mouth hard to Thor’s, exploring within. One of Thor’s hands went to Loki’s ass and pulled him close, pressing their groins together. Thor’s pupils were blown and his mouth was wet and swollen.

Thor looked down into Loki’s eyes and stood still, holding his gaze. Loki blinked, the blue of Thor’s eyes peculiarly intense. Another after-effect of the shift, he decided. He didn’t move, waiting, curious as to the blank look that passed over Thor’s face and was gone an instant later.

“What are you thinking, Brother? I know that’s hard for you.” He gave him a sly smile and ran his tongue slowly over his upper lip.

“I’m not thinking,” Thor said in a low growl, his voice thick with lust and Loki laughed. Thor kept eye contact as he brought his other hand from behind his back and held the feather up high. Loki stayed still, watching, as Thor moved his hand and touched Loki’s face with the back of his palm. Thor pulled his hand back, turned it, his fingertips tight on the feather. He pressed the feather to Loki’s temple then dragged it slowly down his face.

Loki gasped at the tingling touch, cock achingly hard, his eyes fluttering shut. The light teasing touch returned as Thor traced his cheekbones, his eyebrows, and then his lips with the feather. He shivered at the sensation, lips parting, and pushed his groin against Thor’s. Thor grabbed his ass again with one hand and pressed and kneaded his buttocks, then slid it between their bodies, groping for Loki’s erection.

Loki, deciding Thor had taken control for too long, put his hands between them and shoved hard, knocking Thor to the ground. He fell to his knees then stretched his entire body atop Thor’s. He grinned down into laughing blue eyes, and admired the way the spill of tangled golden hair merged with the white-gold of the grass which was filled with tiny white flowers.

Thor still had the feather, and he ran it along Loki’s neck. Loki closed his eyes, savoring the sensation. Thor held it close to his skin for a moment, then dropped his hand. Loki opened his eyes to Thor’s heated gaze – then felt Thor’s hands pulling at his trousers.

He could have vanished their clothing, but lust was singing in his veins and it was hard to think. He opened Thor’s leathers, letting Thor’s erection spring free. He wrapped a long-fingered hand around the swollen cock. Thor growled with enthusiastic approval, his hands making short work of pulling Loki’s trousers down. He pressed one hand to Loki’s cock, fingers curling around the hard length.

Loki gasped at the bright pleasure and pushed against Thor’s hand. Thor clasped their cocks together with one large hand. Loki’s cock wept with hard need. He ground against Thor’s length, eagerly seeking the sensations he had sought again and again in the last many months.

Too much clothing was in the way. Hands shoving and tugging and pulling, they both quickly rid themselves of their boots and breeches and shirts. Loki pushed Thor back down to the ground, made use of another useful newly-learned trick and magicked some oil onto one hand. He wound his long fingers around both their cocks and pulled. Grunts and guttural sounds escaped Thor and he moved in a jerky pattern. Loki groaned at the feel of the hard hot slick glide of their cocks together, felt the dig of Thor’s fingers on his asscheeks, and set his teeth hard enough into Thor’s shoulder to taste copper to keep from screaming as he came. Breathing as hard as if he had run up a mountainside, Thor roared as he splashed hot ropes of come against Loki’s belly. Loki collapsed over him, then licked Thor’s blood off his shoulder and off his own teeth. He rolled to Thor’s side, took a breath as his skin cooled and his heartbeat slowed, and closed his eyes.

He woke, shivering a little, slitted his eyes open and saw thick clouds racing across the sky. The breeze, gone even cooler, was caressing his naked skin. Then the tip of something black entered his field of vision. He watched, bemused, as Thor’s hand, holding his feather, came into view. He opened his eyes fully and looked up to find Thor lying on his side beside him. Thor smiled and touched the tip of the feather to Loki’s skin and traced the long column of his neck.

Loki shivered at the electric tingle of the feather’s path along his skin. He stirred restlessly. The breeze grew stronger. It gusted along his skin raising gooseflesh, then died back down. Thor pulled the feather along one collarbone, the other. Heat pooled at his groin, his fingers twitched, and he hummed in pleasure. Thor’s eyes had turned a stormy blue-grey color. The feather tickled as Thor brought it down the center of Loki’s chest all the way to his navel. He shivered all over as a harder breeze blew up.

He bucked as Thor brushed the feather against his nipple. He sucked in air again as suddenly every pore in his skin tingled and for an instant he felt a shift as if the air were caressing not skin but feathers. Startled he bucked up and stared at his naked skin then at the feather, wondering wildly if it sought to once again be a part of his body. Thor made a questioning sound and brought the feather against Loki’s mouth.

Loki groaned. Thor was watching him intently, the tracery of the feather against his skin, now his neck, now his forearm, now the back of his hand, felt lit with fire. The sky grew even darker and every breath of wind across his skin made him feel as if he were still flying, the air sifting through his feathers, their movement stirring across every part of his body. He ran one hand along his side and that touch met nothing but smooth skin, and his eyes told the same tale, but his body still screamed that he was ready for flight.

Thor danced the feather over Loki’s other nipple and Loki grabbed for Thor’s hand, meaning to force it lower, needing it on his cock now. Thor resisted, his hand turning in the hard grasp, and Loki hissed as the quill stabbed his skin and for a brief second it seemed to rejoin his flesh. A sheet of green light flashed across his vision. He shuddered, then the sensation vanished. Thor had let go of his hand and was rubbing the small cut on his chest with one finger, one ruby drop clinging to the tip.

Loki grabbed Thor’s hand and laced their fingers together, closing his hand so tightly it hurt, crushing the feather between their palms. The feather flared like lightning, leaving an after trace of green, imprinting its pattern into their skin, flashing lust along every nerve, enflaming every cell.

They both jerked their hands away and the feather, undamaged, fluttered to the ground between them.

“Did you feel that?” Thor asked, staring at his hand.

Loki, who had turned his attention to his hand, reached out cautiously to touch the feather, but it remained inert as his fingertip brushed it. He stared into Thor’s eyes, which were shifting into odd colors in the growing darkness, intense cobalt flickering into sapphire and then darkening again. The shift from bird form back to his own often left him with strange streaks of light coloring his vision for moments after. But never this long, never this intense.

“Yes, but…” It must be traces of the magic from his shift still dying away. Strange currents of energy shivered along his skin. The wind was picking up; it made odd sounds as it passed through the fanned leaves of the trees in the near distance and scattered loose fronds along the ground. Loki shivered as it gusted over him again, suddenly feeling what it was like to ride those currents. A pattering of light raindrops hit the length of his body all at once. He left off thinking as Thor’s hand settled just below his ribs then blunt fingers dragged down Loki’s belly, brushing against his rampant cock. He jerked at the sensation even as he reached for Thor’s cock.

Thor shouted at the touch, and his eyes seemed alight with blue fire. He moved quickly, straddling Loki, then bent forward, leaning his weight against the length of Loki’s torso. Thor’s erection was hard against his; dizzy with sensation he snaked a hand between them to grasp for it. Thor shifted again, pulling back, and suddenly the feather was in his hand again.

Thor ran the feather against Loki’s cock. Loki shouted as searing electrical sensation shot through him, as much pain as pleasure. Frantic with need, he grabbed at Thor, pulling him back on top, shuddering at the heat of Thor’s heavy solid naked body against his own, the sensation oddly distorted, as if communicated by feathers not skin. Thor grinned down into his face. The strange glow in Thor’s eyes, like the blue of intense flame, was still there and for a moment Loki thought it odd the shifting in his vision from the change from bird to man should have lasted this long.

Then Thor’s fingers closed around his cock and he forgot everything but that electric touch. He cried out, throwing his head back, sucking in air, tasting an oncoming storm. When he thought to open his eyes again black clouds scudded across the sky. A few raindrops fell onto his face. Thor leaned over him and licked them off. Loki opened his mouth, and Thor bent forward, their teeth clashing as they explored each other’s mouths, the burn of Thor’s first attempt at a beard dragging against his face. He jerked his hips up, desperate for friction. Then Thor pulled back, a hot and hungry look transforming his face, and fingered Loki’s balls, then ventured beneath them. Loki sucked in a breath as a finger touched his opening.

He froze, met Thor’s gaze. This was –

Forbidden. This was –

He reached down. Put his long fingers around Thor’s hand. Held it still. This was –

Something he did not want to do. This was –

But he’d already had his own fingers inside himself, always willing to explore the forbidden. This –

Could be glorious, so filthy, so wrong, they were brothers but when had that stopped them?

But never this, never this. What they did together was just a game, after all. Young men played meaningless games, all knew it, brother or no.

But it was all a lie. Thor might believe it was just a game, but he knew better. It had not been a game for him for a very long time.

But this – Thor could never pretend this was just a game. He saw the truth of it in that hot blue gaze.

His restraining grip on Thor’s hand slackened. Thor pressed one finger just that little bit further, barely breaching him.

He pulled his hand away from Thor’s.

And sucked in breath as Thor worked his finger further in.

And further.

All the way.

Thor looked at him as he placed a second finger beside where the first penetrated Loki’s flesh. Loki groaned and remembered the sight of Thor, naked from the bath, bent over, that dark cleft inviting touch. But he hadn’t. But he had wondered what it would be like, to take. Or to be the one taken.

He would be argr but who would ever know? And suddenly he knew he would allow it, that he wanted it, his body nothing but want as one of Thor’s large hands pumped his cock and the other –

He gave the briefest of nods, and then a second finger was inside him, and then three. He magicked one hand full of slick and circled his hand around Thor’s cock and coated the length. Thor’s eyes went even wider, and then he grinned triumphantly as Loki pulled back his knees.

Loki kept his gaze on Thor’s face as he positioned himself, put his hand back on Thor’s cock, guiding him, and then he was breached. The size! So much larger than fingers. Pain, like shifting, like transformation, flashed through him, but Thor’s hand was back on his cock gripping and rubbing and the pain shooting inside him was like triumph as Thor pushed slowly in, his face slick with sweat, his eyes screwed shut in concentration. Thick hard so very hot pain lancing through him even as his cock sang its pleasure from the way Thor was pulling on it, squeezing it, and Thor was saying things, filthy filthy things, and he was shouting them back.

Hard rain flashed down. Thor’s hair was soaked through and dripping on his skin, water running off his face and flowing down on Loki’s body, the cool water against the heat of his skin stoking a further conflagration. Thor let go of his cock, bent further forward, trapping Loki’s cock between them. He struggled for friction, clawing at Thor’s back, sinking his fingers through the thick roughness of Thor’s hair, pulling, tugging. Everything was the burn and stretch of Thor’s cock inside him, Thor’s balls slapping against him, the push of Thor’s powerful thrusts, the feel of the thick grass beneath his back, the press of Thor’s belly against his cock, Thor’s legs between his, Thor’s chest inches from his, Thor’s arms caging him, Thor’s mouth biting at his, their teeth clashing, Thor’s hair cutting off his view of most of the world, until Thor was everything.

Thor thrust in, again, again, and pleasure flared over and over as he hit that one perfect place. Loki’s hips snapped back hard, demanding more, demanding it all, close so close his cock like ironwood, balls so tight--

He arched his back and electricity shot along his nerves and skin as he came, squeezing his eyes shut as lightning speared the sky, his body falling back to the ground, barely aware as Thor’s shout of climax was drowned out by the quickly following thunder and a cloudburst of rain that ran in rivulets upon them and soaked into the ground around them. When Thor collapsed on top of him he gave a wiggle and hard shove to dislodge him and let his eyes flutter shut.

 

When he opened his eyes, Thor was lying on his back, asleep by his side. The sky was clear and blue and free of clouds. The bright sun shining down on them made a sharp contrast to the feel of the still wet grass he lay upon. He drew in deep breaths of sharp ozone-scented air, mingled with the lighter scent of damp Vanaheim dirt and trees.

Thor still hadn’t stirred. In fact, he’d started to snore.

Loki propped himself up on one elbow and watched his brother sleep. There was a deep ache inside him, and the almost-healed bruises covering his skin showed the impact Thor’s fingers had made when he’d dug them into Loki’s flesh in his ecstasy.

A smile curved his lips. So this is ergi. Wicked. Forbidden.

Powerful! Like forbidden things almost always are.

Suddenly feeling as focused, alert, and alive as when he mastered the best spells, Loki leapt to his feet and stretched out his arms to the air. It was simplicity itself to flow into his new form, to change form without pain, to become magpie, to soar up into the air as effortlessly as walking across a room.

He circled and flew for the sheer joy of it, arching far out over the valley, seeing many tawny deer as they blended in the tall grasses. And yes, over there – a boar hiding in a copse of woods. Another, further down in a rocky outcrop near the river. So sharp and clear, these new eyes detecting the smallest details.

Hmmm. Might as well hunt them and fulfill their supposed purpose in being here.

When he flew back to the clearing Thor was awake and standing, looking up into the sky. He dropped to the ground and transformed.

Thor was watching him intently. “Teach me how to do that,” he demanded, and Loki laughed and bent down to the ground, his fingers finding the feather he’d spotted from the air. Its edges were now ragged and ruined. He closed one hand over it as he straightened. Thor was looking at him impatiently.

“Teach me how,” Thor said again.

Loki grinned and put a tauntingly superior note in his voice. “Tell me, Thor, how many years are you willing to spend reading arcane books in languages that no one has taught you? Tell me how many years you are willing to sit still and live only in your mind and place your mind elsewhere than your body? Tell me, Thor, have you the will to look beyond Asgard and then look back at Asgard and see things anew?”

Thor scowled. “You speak in riddles, brother.”

“I can make things no plainer.” Loki softened his grin to a deceptively sweet smile, one, he was certain, conveyed his message of ‘you witless oaf’ quite clearly.

“Ah, you…!” Thor ceased speaking, grabbed him and kissed him. And as Loki embraced him and opened his arms the ragged feather fluttered away, disappearing in the light breeze which caressed them both.

Their mouths met, their hands, their bodies, and as he lost himself in sensation. After, he spared one thought to realize his skin felt as it always did, and his vision was clear and unplagued by flashes of light. Even better, the last transformation had been free of pain. He smiled, pleased. It was time to try something bigger. A larger bird, he thought. A raptor.

Later, he arose and took Thor to the edge of the land where it began its drop into the valley below. “There is a boar there, and another there,” he pointed to where he had seen them from the air. To where their prey awaited them. “I will meet you by that large boulder, brother!”

Loki laughed as he transformed into the familiar magpie form. The sun was heavy and sweet on his wings, and the air flowed through and around his feathers, and it was like the best wine. Intoxicated, he flew all the way down the mountainside, and then transformed and sat and waited at his ease while Thor, burdened by all of their gear, made the long descent down.

When Thor finally arrived Loki snatched the pack from him and dug inside, extracting several containers of delicacies. He was ravenous and the fish that dwelt in only one remote Vanir lake, spiced with peppers that only grew in one rainforest deep in dwarven territory, was the perfect start to a perfect meal. A bottle of the finest Alfheim wine came out next, then a variety of exotic vegetables, and finally a frozen apple mousse. Lastly, he pulled out some roast venison, plain apples, and some ale for Thor, who disdained fancy food, and they set to their meal.

Thor began recounting, for Norns knew how many times, the details of their last hunt, which Loki was fully and completely acquainted with, having been there. He paid no attention at all to whatever Thor was saying, preferring to plan his next transformation. He began visualizing falcons. Then Thor stopped talking and looked around in puzzlement.

Loki set his wine glass down. “What is it?”

“Everything is dry. The storm didn’t reach here.”

Loki looked around, surprised that he hadn’t noticed this himself. He glanced up at the mountaintop. The afternoon sun was striking glints of gold against the rocky face toward the top. There was not a cloud in the sky. “Vanir weather,” he commented.

“It came up so suddenly,” Thor commented.

“Enough to get our clothing soaked through.” Loki took another sip of wine.

“Easy enough for you to fix,” Thor grumbled, and Loki grinned. Thor had no talent at all in magicking clothing and keeping things dry and clean, and that was another thing Loki could do and Thor could not.

Thor began digging inside the pack again and smiled with pleasure when he found it contained his favorite sweetbread, which Loki had ordered specially from the kitchens. Loki, uninterested in the weather, focused inward on visualizations of flight.

*****

“Brother, let me show you something.” Thor’s voice came from his main sitting room. His brother knew better than to disturb him in his reading chamber, after what happened the last time he’d intruded on him there.

Loki magicked his book to make it invisible and unreadable even if found. Neither Heimdall nor those damned ravens needed to know what he was reading.

Thor had taken an apple from the bowl he kept on the entry table and had already taken two big bites. He gave Loki his usual grin of greeting.

“The answer is no, I’m not going with you to Muspelheim. Why you want to intrude there and subject yourself to their supposed hospitality I do not know. Too hot. All know Surtr’s truce will not last.”

“I agree with you, brother. I care not to go to Muspelheim. Not at this very moment.”

Loki stopped short and narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “What then?”

Thor set the apple core on the table and waved him out. “Come with me and see.”

Loki had to admit, Thor was good at traversing the secret ways through the palace. He had discovered these ways when he was very young and showed them to Thor, and Thor, always good at any skill that could prove useful in warfare, soon knew the ways as well as Loki.

Still, he was surprised when they ended up in the Vault.

More surprising still, Thor knew the working which allowed them entrance. “How did you learn that?”

Thor gave him a cheeky grin. “I do pay attention to your doings sometimes, brother.”

He caught Loki’s hand and led him to the pedestal upon which Mjolnir lay. “She is to be mine, Brother. Soon. Father told me so, this very morning.”

Something icy cold gripped Loki’s heart. “I… had thought we were not to be told of our coming of age gifts until we were at least a century older.”

“I have had strange dreams, dreams of thunder and lightning, and went to Mother. She thought at first this was simply a first augury of what was to come, decades from now. But she cast a spell and told Father I am ready now.” He stared at the hammer with equal measure of awe and avarice. “Mother cast the spell thrice, to be sure her reading was true. Then she told me she saw the power on my skin and the lightning in my eyes, newly and quickly awakened, and said I was truly ready, young as I am.” He stroked his beard, now no longer a paltry thing but that of a warrior full grown.

I saw that too, Loki thought, remembering their coupling on the Vanaheim mountain, the strange color changes in Thor’s eyes, the electricity on their skin, the sudden passing storm. He had thought then his perceptions were sensory ghosts of his recent shapeshift, nothing real. Certainly nothing he had seen in Thor before that day. But you were ready even then.

“She is to be mine,” Thor repeated, half disbelieving. “Now, not decades from now. I am to be Lord of the Storm.”

Loki swallowed against sudden conflicting emotions and arranged his features to a calm blandness. “Congratulations, brother.” He even made it seem heartfelt, though his tongue felt thick and as heavy as uru metal.

Thor beamed at him, then reached out one hand toward Mjolnir’s handle.

“I would not, brother,” Loki said. “She is not yours yet.”

Thor’s fingers lingered for a few seconds more, but they both could feel it: the sudden static in the air lifting their hair. Reluctantly, Thor pulled his hand back, but Loki could see it, bright jagged power reaching from Mjolnir’s head to Thor’s hand, just missing contact.

He stared a moment too long, and Thor looked at him suspiciously. “What?”

Clearly, the oaf had not seen it. But he would soon, Loki knew. Very soon. “When is it to happen?” Loki swallowed back against envy and the voice inside him which said, I already have skills, young as I am. Father knows this. Why are you more worthy than I?

Thor is the eldest, he told himself once again. It is the way things are. And Mjolnir, powerful as she is, is a war hammer, meant for battle and nothing else. She suits Thor. I will have something powerful which will suit my skills.

“Father did not say. But he said it would be soon.” Thor gave him a measuring look. “Have good cheer, brother.” He swept his arm around the chamber. “I am sure father will give you something equally fine.”

But though relics and dangerous treasures of many kinds from many realms hummed with their own songs from every niche and pedestal, though he could sense the power around and inside every single one of them, none called to him.

Thor was laughing, already bragging of future battles he would win and conquests he would make. He did not seem to notice Loki’s silence at all.

*****

The day had come. All of the nobles had been in attendance when with great pomp and ceremony Father had declared Thor to be a man. While all watched with anticipation as Mjolnir was brought to the throne room on a great carved and gilded litter carried by a phalanx of Einherjar. They had lowered the litter and stayed on their knees as Father had touched the hammer and intoned spell words over it so that from this day forth only Thor, and the AllFather himself, would be allowed to lift her, to wield her.

Loki had stood there in silence, hoping for a word for himself, but none had come and he truly had not expected one. He was the younger after all, too young for so fine a gift as this. He had made a mental catalog of the wonders inside the Vault many times since that day and wondered which one was to be his. Surely, something equally fine. Surely, something equally powerful. He merely had not seen it as being destined for him, because of his youth.

That day had gone and another new day had come, some months later. Months that Thor had spent in practice with his new weapon, with his new obsession. Months where Thor could not leave off bragging about Mjolnir’s power and strength and beauty, of how many enemies he would slay with it, of how all the realms would tremble at the mere mention of his name. Months in which Loki grew weary of the mention of the war hammer, weary of Thor’s eagerness for battle and blood and death, weary of Thor’s lack of understanding that that wars could be won by words and strategy as well as brute force.

Months had passed, and Thor seldom spent time with him, preferring to spend his time in practice with Mjolnir, in addition to all the war practice they did daily in the yards. When they happened, their couplings were brief and frantic and rushed and hard and over far too quickly, because Thor always had other places to be.

That day had gone and this day had dawned, the day Thor would show all those in the kingdom present the power of Mjolnir. The power of Thor.

 

The vast meadowland near the palace was filled with tables laden with fine food and drink, and around the perimeter crimson banners flew. The people crowded around the tables, eating and drinking their fill, and their excited chatter filled the air. This was like a fair day, but the best of all possible fairs. Centuries could pass without an event as momentous as this, and all present would speak of how they had been there on this day for centuries to come for the benefit of the children they already had and for the ones they had yet to sire or bear.

Finally, after all had finished eating, a horn sounded, and everyone took their places, forming a great square around the center of the meadow. There, the King and Queen sat on grand chairs on a raised dais, with Thor to Odin’s right and Loki to Frigga’s left.

Odin stood and brought Gungnir down, its power reverberating through the land. All were silent and still, their gaze on their King, their eyes gleaming, their mouths smiling, anticipation running along their skin and buzzing through the air as in the moments before a true storm struck.

Father began to speak, and though Loki heard every word, his thoughts ran in tangles around what Father said as waves of pride in his brother’s achievement, envy of his brother’s achievement, and hunger for his own glories clawed at his mind. He stood absolutely still, his face schooled to blankness, as Father spoke of his pride in his eldest son, and the honor they had all been given to have a Storm Lord again in their midst.

Father called Thor’s name and Thor, by prearrangement, moved to the exact center of the meadow. There, he went to one knee, hand to chest, making a proper bow to his King.

“Claim the storm,” the Allfather proclaimed.

Thor lifted his right hand.

There was a screaming sound in the air as Mjolnir, trailing sparks, hurtled from an unseen distance and met his hand. The crowd roared its approval as Thor clenched his fingers around it, tilted his head and thrust his arm up toward the sky.

Lightning flashed, followed almost immediately by a violent thunderclap.

The crowd gasped as Thor went aloft, and then cheered wildly as he hurtled through the air, their cheers redoubling as soft rain began falling. Thor flew around the meadow once, twice, then higher, higher, and then he began to circle and loop, plunge and ascend. Loki’s gut twisted as he realized Thor was performing a simplified copy of the moves he himself had taken through the air and displayed to Thor mere months ago.

Thor was flying faster and faster, as showy flashes of lightning illuminated the darkened sky. The crowd shouted yet more loudly. His cape streamed behind him like a bright smear of fresh battlefield blood. Heads whipped back and forth to follow his every move. Father had a triumphant smile on his weathered face. Mother’s face was lit with pride, her eyes intent upon the sky.

Alone among all of them, he looked away. Then, unable to bear another moment of simply standing and listening to those cheers, he transformed into a newly-practiced falcon form and took to the sky.

He whirled around the meadowland once, twice, thrice.

None noticed. So he returned to the ground and took his place again. He pasted a smile of pride on his face as he watched his brother return to the earth, his great crimson cape settling behind him into perfect folds, his blue eyes still filled with the heat of lightning, a halo of bright light still clinging to his skin before it faded out.

Loki stepped forward in his ritual place ahead of the nobles to offer his congratulations. And Thor accepted them and gave him a delighted smile. “Thank you, brother. I remembered well how you showed me how you move in the sky. What a wonder flying is! How glad I am to do this, and how glad I am that I did not have to solve your riddles or spend years laboring to learn to understand the things you know.”

Loki’s smile froze. A tiny spark of pleasure at Thor’s acknowledgement was instantly erased by rage. His silver tongue utterly failed him. Thor was already looking past him, to the next in line.

He stepped away, hearing the buzz of congratulations from all who followed behind them. Heard Thor accept all their fine words as his due. Hated himself for the worm inside his heart which would not leave off its chewing even as he stepped back to stand beside his mother. Who did not acknowledge his presence, for all that she beheld today was her golden older son.

His day would come, though, Loki thought. It would. Those gathered would cheer at his achievements, and he would accept their congratulations graciously.

It would be as fine a day as this.

He was certain of it.