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what i became (because of you)

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what i became (because of you)
by 'Drea

 

1.

 

Loki cannot believe his luck after the All-Father’s glorious send off. He holds his mother close, comforting her with sweet words and his gentle embrace. When her tears have dried, he broaches the subject of Thor. His mother has always been difficult for him to read.

“Though much of Father’s magic is unknown to me,” he says quietly, for her ears alone, “I am certain I could lift Thor’s banishment.”

Frigga looks torn but she shakes her head. “Odin meted out Thor’s punishment for a reason,” she says finally. “Go to Midgard, tell him of Odin’s funeral. Tell him his punishment stands until the conditions can be met.”

Loki has wanted many things (his father’s love, a place he could be himself, Thor’s regard) but he’s never wanted the throne. (He only wanted Thor never to claim it as he was.) All that he is, frost giant, stolen child, he is man enough, Aesir enough to step into Thor’s considerable shoes. He was always the better son.

(When Thor came of age, during the ceremony in front of the whole of Asgard, he was given a gift to show his rise to adulthood. He was given the mighty Mjolnir. Less than fifty years later when it was Loki’s turn to be gifted one of Odin’s glorious treasures, he was offered a small pouch that held within an ever lasting supply of the finest throwing daggers ever made. Though they were endless and he never missed his mark, he could hear the Warrior’s Three laughing about his proclivity for ranged combat.)

Now he wields Gungnir, a fitting treasure for his rise to glory.

The Warriors Three, and their leader the Lady Sif do not understand why Loki will not retrieve his beloved brother. They cite fear and petty jealousy as his motivators for keeping Thor away.
(On one hand, they aren’t wrong. But on the other, Loki still turns to share jokes with a man who isn’t there, still causes harmless pranks just to see Thor smile. The absence of that smile eradicates any jealousy that might have been.)

It’s Frigga who sets them straight. It’s Frigga who forbids Heimdall from opening the Bifrost to send them to Midgard. He should feel nettled that his so-called friends and closest subjects don’t defer to his words but his mothers, but in truth, he’s glad Frigga stopped their endless pestering.

It takes him a shameful two weeks to visit Thor on Midgard. It’s jarring to see his bright and vibrant brother so subdued and quiet. He sits alone in a small room, hands cuffed at the wrists on his lap. He is filthy and soaked to the skin, and Loki cannot tell if the dampness on his face is the rain he hears outside or his brother’s tears.

“Hello brother,” Loki says quietly, revealing himself only to Thor. Thor’s eyes fly to him, taking in his Midgardian clothes, and the glimmer of Gungnir at his shoulder. His lips part but he makes no sound. “So silent, Thor?” Loki says, a hint of old brotherly mockery in his voice. “I am no illusion.”

A wry grin twists Thor’s lips. “I have heard that - and fallen for that - before,” he mutters.

So Loki crouches in front of him, level with Thor’s knees, and clasps their hands together. “Father...” Loki says, and finds his voice choked, much to his surprise. “Father is...”

“In the Odinsleep, I know,” Thor concludes softly. “He put it off for much longer than I can ever remember him doing.”

Loki shakes his head. “No, brother,” he says quietly. “Father is dead.”

Thor goes pale with shock. “What?” he swallows hard and makes a visible effort to lower his voice. “How?”

Loki shakes his head again, a concession not a refusal, and says, “The matron of the Healing Houses says it was the stress of putting off the Odinsleep...” (It might even be true, Loki had never felt such anger as he did when he held the Cask of Ancient Winters, he felt as though he could have killed Odin with all the wrath of his Jotunn blood. In the end, all he did was yell.)

“And mother?”

“She mourns, but is otherwise well.” Loki takes a deep, hesitating breath. “I am now King of Asgard.”

(It hurts to say it.)

Thor’s fingers clench around Loki’s. “Good,” he says firmly, honestly. “You would be a better king than I. Father’s spell?”

“It stands,” Loki says. “Even if I could figure out how to reverse it, Mother is furious... she ordered me to leave you until Odin’s conditions were met.” He looks up at his brother. “I know not his conditions, brother. I cannot help you.”

When Thor blinks, two tears trail down his cheeks. (The last time Loki saw Thor cry was in their three hundredth year. He can’t remember why, not after so long, but he can remember holding his brother close as he cried himself to sleep in Loki’s bed. It was the last time he’d ever seen Thor vulnerable.)

“It is no less than I deserve,” Thor chokes out. “Thank you for coming and telling me.”

Loki can sense the mortals coming closer to the small room where Thor is being held. “I must go,” he says, letting go of Thor’s hands and standing fluidly.

“You will make a fine king, brother,” Thor asserts softly, eyes on the floor.

Loki nods once. (Thor isn’t wrong.) “Good-bye Thor.”

His brother’s head comes up then, eyes bluer than Loki can ever remember them being. “May I ask one request of my King?” Thor questions.

(It should sound mocking. It doesn’t.)

“Ask,” Loki responds.

“Will you come and visit me here?” Thor asks, all in a rush. “Father is dead, and I have lost our mother’s love as a consequence. Will I also lose yours?”

Loki has everything he could ever want. (He has his due glory. He has beaten his brother. He is first in the eyes of their mother and he stands free from shadows.) He should say no, he should crush his inconsiderate brother’s spirit with words alone. All he must do is say no, and he will rule Asgard in peace. “Yes,” Loki says, his voice cracking with some unknown emotion. “I will come to you.” (Even Loki, god of mischief, is not that cruel.)

Thor looks stupidly grateful and he reaches out for Loki’s hands, the chain holding his wrists together clinking gently. “Thank you, brother.”

(They are not brothers. Loki knows this. But he cannot break Thor more than their father already had. That is not his part to play.)

The state of their relationship is a tale for another day. (Perhaps never.) “I must go,” Loki repeats, pulling his hand out of Thor’s.

“Good-bye,” Thor whispers as a mortal walks through the door and Loki’s magicked image vanishes.
He watches unseen until Thor is released from captivity into the arms of an old man and two young women. Thor, the mortal. The breakable, fallible, decaying mortal.

(At least he is safe.)

*

“Do you watch him?” Loki asks, leaning heavily on Gungnir.

“Yes,” Heimdall response, voice rumbling through his chest. “He misses you greatly.”

Loki doesn’t know what to say to that. All his powers, all his abilities and renown as a Smith of Lies, and he can’t even open his mouth to placate a god that likely knows him better than he’d like.

“May I offer a suggestion?” Heimdall says, voice rumbling over him. Loki nods once. “Go to him.”

One corner of Loki’s mouth twists up. “That was a suggestion?”

Heimdall’s chuckle sounds like thunder. “Yes. The Jotunns will care little if you go to Midgard. And you and I both know that you do not require my services to go to Midgard. Your mother is powerful, she will hold the throne for you.”

Loki snorted. “The last I saw him, I gave him most distressing news. Are you so certain he wishes to see me?”

Heimdall turns to him with a sardonic expression. “Yes.”

“Of course you are.” Loki tightens his grip on Gungnir and turns to walk away. “I will send word, if I decide to adhere to your suggestion, Guardian.”

*

Thor is bored. It is not a feeling he is used to. Before, when he would grow restless, he could always count on his brother to find a way to entertain him. He would find a ruin for them to explore, or an elaborate trick that was harmless in effect. His brother is not here now, not for four long months that have dragged by, hour by hour.

Though his presence has, in effect, alerted the Midgardian’s to the idea of other worlds, and their current leader, the Son of Coul has him training the newer ‘Agents’, he misses his brother terribly.

Jane is very busy building an synthetic bifrost. And there, he is no help.

“Hey,” Darcy says to him, flopping down next to him on the couch, disrupting his train of thought. “Why so glum?”

“I have yet to hear from Loki,” Thor says, in a reasonable approximation of an inside voice. “I fear he may merely have been placating me when he swore to visit.” He picks at a loose thread on his plaid over shirt. “He is my last link to my old life.”

Darcy bites her lower lip. “You’re bringing the whole vibe down here dude,” she informs him, not unkindly. “Go beat up some new recruits.”

Thor chuckles. “Darcy the Pragmatic,” he calls her fondly, tugging on a lock her hair. “The son of Coul has forbidden me from the ring until his newest agents can regain their shattered pride.” She laughs lightly and Thor smiles. “I will take my leave, so my vibe will cease disrupting you and the Lady Jane’s work.” He brushes a hand over the hair he’d just pulled. “Thank you my friend. I will go to the diner.”

“They still don’t sell poptarts!” she hollers after him.

Mood significantly improved, Thor wanders out of the complex where Jane has taken up a residence for S.H.I.E.L.D. He jogs down the road back to town, stomach growling. When he opens the door, Dennis, the afternoon fry cook waves at him. “Your usual?” he calls over as Thor sits down.

“If you would be so kind,” Thor says brightly, but his smile fades when Dennis turns back to the grill. He stares out the window, and suddenly he hears, “Truly, why so morose, brother?” and Loki’s form coalesces in the windows reflection.

Thor nearly upsets the table when he whirls. “Loki!” He embraces his smirking brother enthusiastically. “I feared you had forgotten me.”

Loki scoffs, sliding into the seat across from Thor. “Thor,” Dennis calls over, “your guest want anything?”

When Thor glances at Loki, his brothers shrugs one elegant shoulder. “He’ll have what I’m having,” he calls back.

Raising one eyebrow, Loki smirks a little wider. “Come here often, do you?”

“Often enough,” Thor says ruefully. “I am not smart enough to help the Lady Jane, or the Lady Darcy with their equations. I am instead used to train the probationary agents for the defense system of Midgard.”

Smiling, Loki says, “that sounds like something you enjoy.”

“It is. For the most part. But even this mortal form is much stronger than the average mortal.” He says it without arrogance, because it’s true. The probationary agents have all been sent away from his training room with broken bones or bloodied noses.

If Loki is surprised he doesn’t show it. “Sif and the Warriors Three send their regards,” Loki offers up when Thor stops talking.

Thor nods. “Send mine back.”

The silence between them is painfully awkward. “I miss you,” Thor says after Dennis leaves them their food. “I have had much time to fight but more time to think, something I don’t oft do well. You were right, brother. I would have made a poor king, and I was an even poorer brother.” Thor pokes at his pancakes with his fork. “I would not begrudge you your anger with me, for I imagine it must be great indeed.”

Loki’s face softens a little around the edges. “Not a poor brother as all that,” he admits.

“How are relations with Jotunheim, now that I am banished?” Thor asks carefully.

Pulling a face, Loki stabs at one his pancakes. “Shoddy, at best. It is why I took so long to visit. I could not afford to leave mother alone.”

“I understand,” Thor says. “You are king and I am not even Asgardian.” He sighs. “Tell me something. Anything.”

Loki grins, the mischievous grin from their childhood that Thor has missed seeing. “Volstagg has gained even more girth that previously seen. He says his appetite belays his apathy. Fandral has gotten no less than three palace maids with child and is often found hiding by my side as to avoid their angry fathers.” Thor laughs long and loud when Loki pauses. “Hogun speaks less than usual but refuses to spar with any other than I. I believe he misses you at our practices.”

“And Sif?”

“Sif spends much time with Mother. She grieves for you.”

Thor looks away. “I grieve for her too.”

Loki places his hand over Thor’s. “There is still hope,” Loki tells him. “The All-Father’s conditions on your exile...”

“Are unknown, even to you who keeps all the secrets of Asgard,” Thor interrupts. “Mjolnir, she does not come to my hand. I call for her, day and night and she ignores me. I am not worthy to wield her, and therefore I am not worthy to return to the hallowed halls you reign. I am not even good enough for her.”

Loki’s mouth twists. “I am sorry brother.”

“As am I, Loki.”

They exit the diner together, and Loki turns to Thor to embrace him. “I will try to return soon,” he promises. “Do not lose hope.”

“Do not forget me,” Thor asks.

“Never.”

Thor wonders to himself as he wanders back to the complex how much of his conversation with Loki was truth and now much of it was lie. He used to be able to tell but Loki is god and Thor is nothing but a man.

*TBC

Chapter Text

2.

When Loki returns to Asgard, he forms himself out of light, shadow and air, dropping his cloak as he does. It’s the surest way to garner Heimdall’s attention, and this way he knows the Palace is watched.

To his surprise, Sif and the Warriors Three are waiting for him. Fandral and Hogun visibly brighten when he steps out of the shadowy corner. (Could he truly call them friends?)

“How is he?” Sif demands as soon as he’s solid and in the room.

Loki sighs, tugging off his helmet and placing it haphazardly on the floor beside his (Odin’s) throne. “Do you wish me to speak truth or to tell you a pretty lie?”

Sif looks annoyed but Hogun answers. “Lie to us.”

“He is wonderful,” Loki says smoothly. “He is having a marvelous time and enjoys being a mortal with Mjolnir missing from his side.” (It turns bitter there, at the end. He must be out of practice.)

Sif winces. “Are you certain there is nothing you can do?” Loki’s jaw sets and he turns away to gaze out the window overlooking Asgard proper. “Loki,” she insists, following him. “With all your power, there is nothing?”

“No,” he snaps. “If there was something I could, do you not think I would have done it by now?” Sif’s silence is telling (and surprisingly painful). “Truly?” he whispers, half turning to face her.

“Loki...” she murmurs, hand reaching out to touch him, but he evades her deftly.

“No,” he says firmly. “Get out.”

She touches his shoulder. “Loki...”

(He can’t tell if her voice is full of remorse or sorrow. Regardless, he has no time for her base sentiment.)

Out!

When he turns around again, Sif is gone but the Warriors Three remain. “Loki,” Fandral asks carefully, voice echoing slightly in the big room. “Can you... the way you travel... is it possible to take others with you?”

His lips twist up in a wry smirk. (Of course it’s possible, he brought the Jotunns in, but his secret is safe and no one is the wiser. Besides... Loki has only ever taken Thor in his secret ways with him.)

“It’s possible,” he says slowly. “But difficult.”

“But not impossible,” Fandral reiterates. “Then perhaps, when you and Thor have grown more accustomed to each other again, you will consider taking one of us with you.”

(Loki is surprised by two things: one, that Fandral asked at all, and two, that it was Fandral asking him.) For a minute, Loki isn’t sure how to respond. “I suppose...” he says, thinking of a thousand responses, “that would be possible.” And rejecting all of them.

Volstagg grunts. “Fandral, give them time.” When Loki looks at him sharply, he simply shrugs one shoulder and gestures with his leg of boar. “Loki, everyone knows that you and Thor have been off more than on in recent years.”

He surprises all of them when he barks a bitter laugh. “Yes,” he agrees. “Everyone but Thor himself.”

“Maybe with him gone,” Volstagg says, not very carefully, “you will have your chance show your true potential.”

(Something like despair spears through Loki when he says it.)

“You too, Volstagg?” he murmurs.

“I didn’t... mean it like that.” Volstagg says softly. “I merely meant that you will have time to show all of Asgard, perhaps Sif and Tyr especially that you are a leader, a King. You have always had that thread within you, my friend, but never the chance to show anyone. Not with Thor to treat your glory as his.”

(A Loki of old would have leapt to defend Thor from Volstagg’s words; would have come to blows and trickery and a painfully mocking prank to teach Volstagg the error of his thoughts. This Loki is not a Loki of old, and he knows truth when he hears it. He is the god of Lies and only truth can cause the pain he feels.)

Loki opens his mouth to reply, but Volstagg stands, dropping the leg of food back on the plate with a shockingly loud clatter. “We have been remiss with you, Loki. We claimed to be your friends, only to mock you when you are unlike Thor. We see now, the error we did you.” Loki can’t help it; he stares at Volstagg in shock.

“I am not,” Loki manages to say after a moment of stunned silence, “very forgiving.”

“No,” Volstagg agrees. “We haven’t asked for any forgiveness. Only for a second chance.” He bows once, clapping his right hand to his left shoulder. “My King.” He turns and ushers a silent Hogun and a grinning Fandral out of the room.

Just before the door to the main hall closes behind him, Loki calls out, “a pretty speech, Volstagg. Whenever did you find the time to rehearse it?”

Volstagg’s head pops back into the room. “I think while I chew,” he says, and winks.

Loki laughs in a startled burst. (Perhaps Volstagg is right, and second chances are what everyone needs.)

*

It’s almost painfully easy for him to knock down even the most seasoned Agents. The only one who comes the closest to besting him is the Lady Natasha, who Thor feels is half Asgardian most the time.

“Must you demoralize them?” Agent Hill asks, from her position in the door way. Thor shoots her a lopsided grin. “I don’t know why they keep coming back to you,” she chides, almost gently. Thor’s not offended - it’s simply her way.

“Doubtless you would be horrified at how many years I have drawn breath,” Thor says, half teasing, half serious. “But for most of those centuries I was raised a warrior with many skills in battle. I may be without the immortality of my race, and Mjolnir, my once constant companion, but I am a warrior still.”

“If you break many more of them, SHIELD is going to be sore for Agents,” she reminds him. “You put two in the hospital last week.”

Thor snorts. “I but bloodied their noses, my friend. Your people are frail and break easily.”

“Your people now, too.” It’s not a kind reminder.

He sighs once, long and low. “I remember.”

“And... your hammer...” she asks slowly. “There’s nothing you can do?” He shakes his head. “I noticed you’ve stopped trying to lift it in the mornings.”

Thor’s stomach twists unpleasantly. “Yes. I have... realized that if my father wished for me to regain my power and Mjolnir, I likely would have done so by now. Visiting her, hearing her silence when she once spoke to me... it is bitter and painful. Until I know the conditions of my father’s exile, I will learn what it is to be mortal. Mortals do not pine over immortality.”

Hill laughs, a short sharp bark that draws Thor’s eyes to her. “Most of them do, actually.”

“Not this mortal,” Thor says firmly. “I once thought mortals petty and tiny. I was wrong.”

“You’re better than most of them,” Hill says. “Coulson has some green level agents for you to train at two. Don’t break them, okay?”

“Oh-Kay.” Thor grins once brightly as she leaves the training room before letting it fade. He turned to the oft unused punching bag hanging in the corner. He had to be somewhat careful with them, having snapped the first five they’d hung in there.

He settles into a familiar rhythm, punching the worn leather bags with ease. After twenty minutes, his knuckles and wrists have begun to ache pleasantly and by twenty more minutes, blood is smearing the bag.

A hand on his shoulder startles him, and he whirls to attack whoever had sneaked up on him. Barton’s quick reflexes stop Thor from taking his head off. “Whoa,” he says, backing up a step or two. “You okay?”

Thor huffs out a breath. “Yes, I am fine.” He looks down at his ragged hands. “In need, perhaps, of some medical attention however.”

Barton snorts. “Come on. I’ll take you.”

“I can make my own way, if you’re busy.”

“Nah,” he says. “Let’s go. And then we can go for a beer.”

Thor grins. Life isn’t so bad, on Midgard. He has friends here now, and they are much the same as the ones he had on Asgard.

The only thing missing is his brother.

*

“Byleistr, Helblindi, Thrym, come to me.”

His two sons and his most useful seiðmaðr enter the room on silent feet. Beyond the icy stone walls of Laufey’s ruined fortress, Helblindi can hear the other Jotunn working to repair the damages that Thor Odinsson and his hammer had caused many moons ago.

Helblindi is too young for war council. Laufey knows that his youngest son has no business sitting in on matters that still go so far above his head. But the Jotunns are struggling, their numbers fewer and fewer each century.

The blows the first war with the Asgardians wrought upon their land and people are still slow to heal. The Winter is unchanging, and the more his people age, the less children are born. Someday, Laufey thinks, staring at his sons, someday Jotunn will flourish.

But that someday depends on on the death of Thor Odinsson. A death he will take great pleasure in orchestrating. All that is required is the one who sent his men to Asgard, the mysterious seiðmaðr who opened the portal to allow his people through.

“You cannot mean to start a second war with Thor Odinsson,” Thrym says, voice like crumbling rock, interrupting Laufey’s train of thought.

He snorted, blowing ice through the air. “I do not think we will have to start anything. The seidmadr who opened the passage ways between Asgard and here, can you find him?” he asks Thrym.

The old sorcerer shrugs one shoulder. “It is likely, but if he is intelligent... and he is, then he is well shielded.”

Laufey snarled and waved a hand. “I care little for the particulars of seiðr, Thrym. When you have managed to find him, we will speak to him about opening a portal larger than the one before, to recover the Cask of Ancient Winters.”

Byleistr, silent and watchful until then, speaks. “Father, would that start a war?”

“Perhaps.” Laufey stares off at the ruins where Thor and his hated hammer had destroyed most of the landscape. “Unless he can get the Cask himself. And then when the rumors of Jotunheim flourishing come... Thor is intelligent enough to jump to the exact correct assumption.”

“And war will come.” Byleistr tugs his younger brother closer to his side. “Then what?” he asked, “We don’t have the forces.”

Thrym clears his throat, the sound rumbling over ice. “It will take some time to get this mysterious seiðmaðr's attention. By then, we can gather the forces.”

“Spread the word,” Laufey orders. “We prepare for war.”

*

Thor leans his forehead on his arm, pillowing his head. It is late, just before dawn, and he has yet to sleep. He’d ripped the blankets from the bed and thrown them to the floor, too warm by halves. The pillows had followed shortly after. Though the mattress is passing comfortable, it is nothing like the ones from Asgard.

Everything here on Midgard - Earth, he had to remind himself - was nice but so different.

“Can you not sleep, brother?” Loki’s voice spears through the darkened silence of the room. Thor startles almost comically, mouth twisting when he glances around the room and sees nothing. Time was that he could pick Loki’s form out of a shadow from a room away. Now there is nothing. Silence stretches long enough that Thor thinks that maybe he imaged the whole thing. He slumps back onto the bed with a long sigh.

“Losing your mind,” he mutters to himself.

“You lost that a long time ago,” Loki replies, appearing out of the darkness. He climbs onto the bed with Thor who launches himself at his brother for a long hug. “I am sorry, brother,” Loki murmurs into Thor’s hair. “I have been remiss, again. I have let you be too long here on Midgard.”

Thor pulls away. “Loki, you are King. I am nothing but a mortal, I would expect you to be too busy for the likes of me.”

Loki’s face slackens ever so slightly in the half light. “You are my brother. I will make time for you.”

The edges of his lips turn up in a smile without his permission but Thor is used to the way that Loki rolls his eyes. “Brother...” he starts to say, but Loki presses two fingers to his lips. He tries to speak around them but Loki tackles him to the bed instead.

“Brother, it is very late and you haven’t slept in a day or more. I will still be here in the morning.” Loki loops an arm around Thor’s waist and leans his head on his other hand. “Why haven’t you been sleeping?”

Thor shrugs as best he can while lying down and says, “It has been difficult for me to sleep since I heard of Father's death.”

“Ah...” Loki says quietly. “My news is the very reason you lack rest.”

He turns his face to look at his brother. “Loki, my sleep is restless because this is not home.”

Loki smiles a little. “Shall I stay while you sleep then? Like old times? Use my power to slip you away to dreams?”

Thor feels stupidly grateful. “If you would?”

“You trust me that much?” Loki asks, a small smile on his face.

Unsure how Loki could ever doubt it, Thor widens his eyes. “Loki, always.” His brothers face softens even more, and the hand on Thor’s chest slides up to brush through his hair, lightly touching his temple.

He finally fades out to Loki’s green eyes watching him in the darkness.

*

Loki doesn’t sleep the entire time he shares Thor’s bed. He listens to his brother breathe, slow and even. The sun started rising only an hour after Thor had finally succumbed to Loki’s spell.

He watches Thor sleep until the power at the back of his mind begins sending him a warning. Someone wants him, back on Asgard. Loki sighs, pressing a kiss to Thor’s temple. “I had planned on staying later,” he tells his brother. “The duties of a King await.” He brushes his fingers across Thor’s forehead. “I had something important to tell you.” Loki’s mouth twists. “We’re not brothers. I wish...”

He lets himself fade away instead.

(It doesn’t matter what he wishes. It never has, and it never will.)

*TBC

Chapter Text

what i became (because of you)

3.

Thor follows Director Furys directions to the best of his ability. SHIELD has many twisting passage ways, and Thor actively tries to avoid the ones that lead to Mjolnir. There are six of them, and none of them will help him get her back. The top of the memo full of confusing directions only says; There is someone you may like to meet.

He finally arrives in a small room painted white, with old fashioned designs. Thor doesn’t stay at the makeshift shield base, but from what he’s seen, it’s modern, full of shining metal and plastics in strange designs.

“Son of Coul?” Thor asks, stepping into the room without knocking. “Director Fury instructed me to find you here.”

Coulson startles, nearly falling out of the chair. “Thor, yes. Come on in.”

Thor looks around the room and stops short when he sees the man on the bed in the far corner. He can’t tell exactly what the machines that surround him are doing, but they beep steadily as his chest rises and falls with even breath.

Dragging his eyes away from the invalid on the bed, Thor glances at Coulson who sits across the room in a small, uncomfortably looking chair. His eyes are red rimmed and tired, and his hair is mussed as though he’s been running his hands through it. “Son of Coul,” Thor murmurs, making a concentrated effort to keep his voice down. “It has been some days since you have visited my training grounds.”

He smiles briefly at Thor. “Yes... I’ve been here.” Coulson motions to the room. “This is um.. Captain Steven Rogers.”

Thor turns to the unconscious figure on the bed. “A fallen comrade?” he asks hesitantly.

“Something like that,” Coulson says. “He was found in the Arctic... he... his plane went down there.” He rubs his mouth with one shaking hand and sighs heavily.

Thor pulls up a chair and sits across from Coulson, leaning his elbows on his knees. “Will he survive?”

His friend sighs again. “I don’t know, Thor. He... it’s a miracle he lived in the first place.”

Thor traces the Captain’s still form with a battle-trained and practiced eye. “He looks uninjured,” he comments. “His injuries must then be internal in nature,” he concludes. Coulson doesn’t respond right away so Thor asks, “should he wake, will he be the same Captain Steven Rogers you once knew?”

“Thor...” Coulson starts to say before breaking off with a strained chuckle. “You won’t even believe how long he’s been missing.”

He chuckles. “Son of Coul, I have lived longer than your planet has existed.” It’s not a brag, especially now that his existence has an expiration date. “There is not much that would surprise me.”

Coulson huffs another laugh. “He crash landed in the Arctic... seventy years ago.”

Against his will, Thor’s eyes fly to the Captain’s body, taking in his youth. “Then he is very lucky indeed,” he says finally.

“We’re going to move him to New York, when he can breathe on his own,” Coulson says. “Our main headquarters are there, and we’d like you to accompany him.”

Thor frowns. “Why?”

“When he wakes... he will know less about this world than even you. It might be nice to have someone who needs things explained around him.”

Suddenly comprehending, Thor nods. “I see.”

Coulson looks regretful. “It would mean leaving your hammer behind.”

Something inside Thor’s chest goes cold and feels like it’s cracking in two. It’s been nearly six months since he’s held Mjolnir, six months since he’s laid eyes on Asgard and everything he’s ever known.

He licks his suddenly dry lips. “She’s not mine, anymore.”

“Thor...” Coulson says quietly.

Thor is saved from a reply when his SHIELD phone goes off. He looks down to see Lady’ Maria’s number flashing on the screen. “Apologies, it’s Lady Maria,” he informs Coulson and answers quickly, remembering with blistering clarity the amount of vitriol that Hill could mete out of he doesn’t answer swiftly. “Odinson,” he answers.

“Where are you?” he snaps.

“Um,” Thor says inelegantly. “I am with the Son of Coul,” he supplies because he doesn’t actually know what section of the complex he’s in. “Why?”

“Where should you be?” she asks, voice hard. Thor is frighteningly blank, he can’t come up with a suitable answer. “In your training baracks with the Agents you didn’t break yesterday!” she tells him when he doesn’t answer.

“... Ah. Yes. Be right there.” She hangs up before he finishes talking. “I’m sorry, Son of Coul, I must depart.”

“I’m sorry to have kept you,” Coulson says. “I’ll be down later to see the recruits.”

Thor bows a little and exits.

It’s never a good idea to keep Maria Hill waiting.

*

When Loki appears back in this throne room, thoroughly annoyed with the itchy feeling at the back of his mind (the feeling of someone calling him by name through the Seiðr of the Universe), he’s not expecting Sif to be standing there. She’s holding a stone, one given to Thor by Loki made specifically to call Loki to Thor’s side should he be needed.

Loki scowls and snaps his fingers, calling the stone to him, gaining Sif’s shocked attention. “Where did you get this?” he demands, brandishing the stone.

(The Stone is blue, the color of Thor’s eyes, chosen carefully from the bottom of the deepest river in Alfheim, called the Vidblain. It is smooth with oil and ten centuries of touch. That Sif has it now is a mockery of it’s true purpose.)

“The Lady Frigga gave it to me,” Sif answers him, rubbing her fingers together where she’d held the stone.

Loki curls his lip into a sneer. “I was with my brother,” he tells her pointedly. “I don’t oft have time to spend with him so what, by the Norns, was so important that it couldn’t wait until I returned?”

She looks torn but eventually says, “Our last conversation...”

He cuts her off. “Sif,” he snaps, “this is a topic that we have done to death. You do not trust me. That’s fine.” He drops down into his throne with a tired sigh.

(It’s not fine. For the last thousand years he’s known how Sif has felt about him. Since his admittedly unfortunate prank that cost her the golden locks of her hair. He has no defense for his actions - other than “youth” and “stupidity” - but he did try to make up for it. Sif accepted his apologies and his gold he’d brought her, but she never trusted him again.)

“Loki,” she says through clenched teeth, “I am trying to make things right.”

He snorts, somewhat bitterly (his masks are slipping again). “Sif, things will never be right between us.”

Sif’s jaw visibly sets and a muscle begins jumping under her skin. “Perhaps not. But you are my king.”

Loki arches one eyebrow in mild disbelief. “Did admitting that hurt?”

“Must you bait me?” she asks, sighing.

“Yes.”

Sif stares at him for a long moment. “I don’t know if we will ever be right together, Loki.”

“I do believe you’re correct,” Loki agrees humorlessly.

She scowls at him. “I’m trying, Loki.”

He sighs. “The Mortals have a saying, that I believe aptly fits our current situation.” He looks up at her. “Too little, too late.”

Her expression slams closed. “That is hardly my fault.”

Loki growls. “I made my reparations to you long ago, Lady Sif.”

Her lips turn up in a smirk ill fit for her face. “Too little, too late,” she repeats mockingly.

(Here is the problem that lies between them. Loki caused the loss of Sif’s long locks of golden hair that then grew back in dark mahogany. Loki had immediately gone questing alone to Brokkr’s forges for gold to be made into new hair, fit for a warrior like the Lady Sif. He returned many months later, his lips sewn shut with black thread and an armful of gold to pay his dues. She’d taken his gold, accepted his apologies and spurned his very presence from her life.)

Loki rubs his right temple with two fingers. “Sif... I tried. I explained. What happened was unforgivable, I know this. It’s become more than clear. Why are we speaking of this again?”

Sif stares at him. “I wanted to find something redeemable in you.”

He grows cold, but asks, “And did you?” lightly.

“No.”

(The bolt of pain is so fierce and strong it nearly unmans him. He misses her quiet exit, so lost is he in his thoughts. It’s not like she’s wrong. There is nothing left in him to save.)

*

Loki prides himself on having impeccable timing, which is why when he appears in Thor’s chambers he’s surprised to find two women within, and not his brother. When he fades in through the shadows in the corner, he startles them, one shrieking loud enough to make him wince, and the other exclaiming, “holy shit, that was so cool!”

He’s momentarily speechless, for all his preplanning, he had not expected to find mortal women within what Thor has assured him are his specific rooms. “Pardon me,” he manages to say (because in the end, he is revered as a silvertongue). “I was looking for my - for Thor.”

(He can’t call him his brother. He simply can’t. It’s not true. No matter what his thoughts are on the matter, there are only so many lies he can tell in a day.)

“Oh,” one of them says softly, “you’re Loki.” The way she says it is so reverent that for the second time in as many minutes, Loki is taken aback. “Thor never shuts up about you,” she informs him gently. (It causes a warm glow inside Loki’s chest that he fights down viciously.) “I’m Darcy,” she introduces. “Darcy the Pragmatic.”

His lips lift in a half smile. “Thor’s name for you?”

“Oh he gives everyone names? I think I’m offended.” She crosses her arms over her considerable chest and pouts.

(Loki likes her instantaneously.)

“Yes,” Loki answers her, “all his close and best friends have names given to them by Thor. The closest three to him are Fandral the Dashing, Hogun the Grim, and Volstagg the Valiant.” She laughs at all three. “Where... is Thor?” he asks when her giggles have faded.

The other woman, silent but for her first shriek finally speaks. “He’s in the training room with some new recruits that Agent Coulson sent to him. He’s probably broken them into a thousand pieces by now.”

He grins, can feel the mania stretching at his skin. “Shall we depart for there?” He thinks about offering them his hands, of taking them in the world of light and shadow, but in the end, follows quietly when they lead him out of the room on foot.

It takes a disturbingly long time to get to the training area, where he can hear the dull thuds and thumps of a body being beaten slowly and methodically. They enter the brightly lit room and Thor takes a brutal punch to his side when he looks up and sees Loki. “Brother!” he cheers, before flipping the black clad agent and knocking him off his feet.

“Thor,” Loki says, amused. “You seem to be doing quite well here,” he adds, seeing the groaning agents who are glaring mutinously at his brother. “Shall we spar, like old times?”

Thor’s face lights up in a brilliant grin and Loki can see that one of his companions gasps, her mouth open in shock.

(Loki has seen that face before, on many a palace maid, or the tavern wenches Thor would frequent on the outskirts of Asgard. He’s seen it on Sif’s face in many years past, and on his own, in the mirror each morning, when the emotions he can’t quite hide after dreams swamp his features.)

“Jane,” Darcy the Pragmatic says, not quite quietly, “shut your mouth. You’ll catch flies.”

Her mouth closes with a snap as Loki sheds his outer layer, vanishing buckles and sharp edges. “Brother,” Thor chuckles. “I was not expecting you so soon.”

Loki’s lips twist. “Sif had need for my attention,” he responds, tossing Thor the blue stone that had been sitting on his bureau top for what feels like forever. If possible, Thor’s face lights up even more and he brings the blue stone to his lips. It’s not quite a kiss, but Loki flushes anyway.

“Thank you for this, brother,” Thor says, pocketing the stone. He falls into a standard pose for hand to hand combat, gesturing Loki closer.

Long have they fought together, practiced together, Thor knows Lokis moves, Loki knows Thors. “No magic,” Loki says, one part reassuring, two parts question.

“No magic,” Thor agrees (and only because Loki has known him for so very long that he recognizes that the agreement holds relief.)

He steps forward into Thor’s space, throwing a punch at half power towards Thor’s face. Thor ducks easily (Loki couldn’t have projected that move any more obviously) and sweeps Loki’s feet out from under him. (If he could use magic, he could have righted himself with seiðr, but instead he takes the fall, kicking out at Thor’s knee as he lands.

Thor rolls away, as Loki vaults himself to his feet.

(It’s like a dance, one without music or fancy foot work. It is played with men - and Sif - and only Loki and Thor know this one by heart.)

It goes on for at least half an hour, with Loki pulling his punches, and Thor throwing himself into Loki’s personal space. Thor lands a particularly painful hit in the middle of Loki’s chest, and he gasps for air as he instinctively throws out a punch of his own.

His closed fist lands across Thor’s unprotected jaw that sends him flying into the wall. Dacry and her companion Jane shriek and the gathered agents gasp loudly. (In truth, Loki had completely forgotten they were there.) Thor lays slumped in a half reclined position against the wall, his nose gushing blood.

Loki stumbles to his side, checking for other injuries with frantic hands. Thor groans, when he probes his brothers ribs, and Loki feels short of breath with panic.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers, pressing his forehead to Thors, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I forgot,” he confesses, lips against this brothers cheek. “I forgot, how could I forget...”

(Some of it’s acting. Most of it’s not.)

“It’s all right,” Tho swears back, hand warm on the back of Loki’s neck. “I had forgotten also. Hush, brother, it’s all right.”

(It’s not all right.)

Darcy and Jane help Thor to their healing houses and Loki is left in the room staring at the bloody smear he’d made his brother leave against the floor.

He’d forgotten.

*TBC

Chapter Text

4.

Darcy comes back into the Training Room only a few minutes after leaving, kneeling down beside Loki. (He hasn’t moved. It’s base sentiment, the feeling of being frozen to the floor. But Loki can’t bring himself to care.)

“Hey,” Darcy says, her hand hovering over his knee like she wants to touch and isn’t certain it’s allowed. “Are you all right?”

Loki spends a minute dragging the shattered remains of his faithful mask back into place. “Yes,” he answers, with a reasonable facsimile of his normal tones. “I am fine.”

(‘Fine’ is the greatest lie the mortals ever invented.)

“Uh huh,” Darcy says. “You look like someone killed your kitten.”

He turns to her, raising one eyebrow. “I can see why Thor named you Pragmatic.” She laughs and shrugs at him. “I truly am fine,” he assures her. “I merely... am not used to beating Thor at a game he invented himself.”

“Well, you certainly taught the new recruits that he can be beat.” She levers herself up to her feet, offering him a hand. “Come on, he’ll want to see you, and if you disappear before he can say good-bye this time, I’ll be the one who has to deal with his pathetic kicked dog eyes until you come back.”

He looks at her proffered hand for a second before he lets her lever himself up. “I did not mean to leave without good-byes last night,” he says quietly.

“I’m not judging,” she says, leading him out of the room. “You’re practically a god, right? So you’re way stronger than the average man. Thor may be bad-ass, but he’s only like... a percentage of the bad-ass he used to be.”

(She has a crude way of speaking, but Loki likes her. It’s been many years since he liked someone as instantaneously. The last three people he liked so quickly were Angrboda, the mother of two of his children, Sigyn, his once-wife, and Amora, an Enchantress of great power. Darcy reminds him of none of these women, but he likes her all the same. It tells him two things; one, he’s not as far gone as he thinks, and two; Thor’s taste has somewhat improved.)

“I suppose you are right,” he agrees. “Though, I urge you do not speak to Thor of his... what do you call it? Being a bad-ass? His ego hardly needs the stroking.”

Darcy laughs again, and Loki smiles to himself. “Thor gets his ego stroked everyday whenever he goes outside the complex.”

Loki raises one eyebrow. “How?”

“Uh, dude, have you seen him lately? Thor is very, very pretty.” She says it matter-of-factly, without lust or jealousy which Loki appreciates. “I know he’s your brother, but, seriously, you had to have noticed.”

(Loki has noticed. He noticed when they were young, and he was still a favored son. He noticed when they snuck away to Alfheim, and he spread his legs for some pretty spells and wished the Elf was Thor. He noticed in his dreams, when Thor was not his brother, and just another man like him. And he noticed when Odin told him they were not brothers after all, but Thor was just as far from him.)

“He looks like many of Asgards warriors,” Loki allows. “His beauty is reminiscent of our mothers.”

She chuckles. “Your mom must be hot.”

Loki gives her his best unimpressed look. “Your vernacular needs work,” he informs her, voice flat. She doesn’t look offended though, she just laughs and nods.

“Here’s the Med Bay,” she says, and all the humor is sucked out of him.

He turns the corner and enters the room, because no matter what the Warriors Three say, cowardice is unbecoming in a Prince (King) of Asgard. Thor is conscious, at least, and shirtless while a Healer wraps his chest in white cloth. “Brother!” he booms and everyone in the room - excepting Loki - winces.

(Loki wants to snap, to break, to scream at Thor. But his life has always been one great lie, what’s another?)

“Brother,” he returns evenly. “How fare you?”

Thor grins, ever cheerful. “My nose is unbroken, for which I am grateful. My ribs are merely cracked, and I must ‘take it easy’ for a week or two while they heal. Thank you, brother!”

Loki blinks. “I cracked your ribs and you thank me? I believe you may be concussed as well.”

His brother shakes his head. “No, no. With the esteemed Healers to glare ominously over my shoulder should I disobey their decree, I must tell the son of Coul and Director Fury that I am unable to train their Agents until such a time as I am well. You have bought me a reprieve!”

He sits by Thor, frowning. “I thought you enjoyed war training these young Agents?” he asks.

“I do,” Thor says, not quite quietly. “They are skilled and clever, and many of the more seasoned warriors have become my friends. But brother, it is easy work. There is no challenge, and I am never worried that I will be bested, for my strength is great regardless of my mortal status. I miss the sparring ring at ho– in Asgard. I would never have grown so complacent with you as my partner.”

(It’s direct flattery, something that Loki hasn’t responded to in centuries. But he has no friends in Asgard now.)

He smiles, just a little, shooting Thor a look from under his lashes. “So now I’ve humiliated you, and you thank me. These mortals have changed you quite a bit.”

“Yes,” Thor agrees, his face grave. “I suppose that is the point.”

He follows Thor to his quarters, lays by his brothers side. He listens to Thor breathe as he sleeps, and places his right hand over the wrapping on Thors ribs. His magics have never been geared towards Healing, but he rifles through his memories until he finds one that eases pain and strokes his fingers against Thors chest.

(This is as close as he’ll get, he reminds himself.)

Once Loki is assured of Thors well being, he presses a kiss to his brothers cheek, using sorcery to leave him a note. He stops by the crater left in the earth when Mjolnir fell. She looks different, hollow, empty. He’s seen her by his brothers side for centuries, how full of life and power she’d once been.

She’s in mourning. (Like him.)

He brushes a finger over her handle, before gripping it tightly.

Nothing.

(Even when trying to do the right thing, he has never been good enough. Not even for a spell cast by a dying father.)

*

Thrym is a patient being. It is not a trait that many Jotunn possess, but he has it in spades. He lives inside sorcery, and sorcery is not something to be rushed. Though his speciality lies in Ice magics, Thrym had learned the art of illusion at the feet of Angrboda before she was imprisoned for laying with a Prince of Asgard.

He floats in suspended animation, closing his eyes and his ears to the void that surrounds the Nine Realms of Yggradsil, until finally:

“You have traveled far from home, little mage,” a fell voice whispers in his ear.

Thrym twitches, but leaves his eyes shut. To look into the void is to take a part of it into yourself. “I am looking for someone,” he answers the voice.

“Oh? Have you lost someone amongst my stars, little mage?” The voice chuckles and Thrym, the Kings right hand man, shudders with fear.

“No,” Thrym answers. “I seek a mage like me. One powerful enough to hide from the all-seeing eyes of the Guardian of Asgard.”

The voice sounds amused when it replies. “The All-seeing eyes of Asgard cannot touch me, little mage.”

Thrym scowls, turning his head to face the voice. “And who are you, Master of the Void?”

“Will you not open your eyes, to see my face?” it answers him, silky and smooth and so very tempting. Thrym shuts his eyes tighter to block out the temptation. “You are clever, for a Jotunn.”

"I am a seiðmaðr, in King Laufey’s court of Jotunheim,” Thrym answers. “I seek revenge upon Asgard for the murder of my people, and the theft of great power.”

Something touches his face and Thrym jerks away reflexively. “Do you fear me, seiðmaðr of Laufey’s court?” the voice asks, darkly amused.

“No,” he snaps. “I fear no voice in the dark.”

Whatever brushed his cheek grips his face with bruising strength, and Thrym catches himself just before his eyes fly open. “Then you are a fool,” the voice says. “For when I am done with the pitiful excuse of your mind, you will long for something as sweet as pain.”

The fingers, for they must be fingers, grip him even tighter, splitting the skin of his cheeks with burning fire. His eyes fly open and the stars of the void sparkle in his vision before his sight is filled with a creature. “What are you?” he chokes out.

“I am Chitauri,” the creature booms, then there is only the void.

And Thrym, the seiðmaðr of Laufey is lost to the nothingness between the worlds.

*

Darcy clinks her glass against Janes’ and Natashas’ before taking a deep drink. “So, first weekly girl session is a go,” she announces to Janes’ giggles. “What do normal girls talk about at things like this?” she asks in a hushed whisper to Jane.

“Boys, usually,” Jane says. “So Natasha, any special boys in your life?”

Natasha’s lips lift up in a small smirk, which is practically a full blown smile on her. “Perhaps,” she allows, taking a sip of her wine.

“Ooh,” Darcy and Jane chorus, before glancing at each other and giggling.

“It’s the archer, isn’t it?” Jane asks when she’s gotten herself under control. “What was his name?”

“Clint, the guy with the massive arms,” Darcy fills in for her. “I don’t remember his last name.”

Natasha rolls her eyes. “Barton,” she says. “Clint Barton.” There’s a pause and she finally smiles fully. “And Darcy is correct, he has really nice arms.” She takes another sip of the wine. “What about you Dr. Foster?” she asks, gesturing.

“Um,” Jane says, blushing a brilliant red. “N-Not really.”

“Liar!” Darcy shoots at her. “Try again!”

Jane turns even more red, if that’s possible, and gulps the rest of the wine in her glass. “Okay fine,” she says in a rush. “I think I might ask Thor out.”

Natasha smiles a little, clinking her glass to Darcy’s. “He is particularly attractive,” she says, her voice faintly teasing.

“W-Well,” Jane says quietly, pouring another glass of wine. “He’s always in the lab with me and Darc... even though he doesn’t understand a word I’m saying...”

“Yeah, well, neither do I and I’m in there with you every day,” Darcy interrupts.

Jane glares at her. “Shut up, you’re paid to do that. Anyway, he’s always really nice and I think he’s interested... but I don’t know, how can I tell?”

Natasha’s lips curl up in another smirk. “Knock him off his feet and jump him?” she suggests to Darcy’s cackling.

Jane looks horrified. “I couldn’t do that!”

Leaning over, Darcy says in a loud whisper, “because she’s a prude!”

Gasping loudly, Jane smacks her in the shoulder. “I am no such thing!” Darcy fends her off easily. “What about you?” Jane asks, nearly upsetting the wine bottle.

“Me?” Darcy asks innocently. “Nah, I don’t have anyone. Thought, I mean, hey, if you get with Thor, maybe I’ll zero in on his brother. He’s lankier than Thor, and has really pretty eyes. It could work.”

“You’ve met him once,” Jane says, flat.

Darcy snorts. “Half the guys I’ve slept with I’ve only met once!” she says, toasting Natasha. “Hey, should we invite Hill next time?”

Jane shakes her head rapidly. “No way, she frightens me.”

“And I don’t?” Natasha quips, stealing the wine bottle from Darcy.

“Wellll...” Jane says, drawing out the word. “Maybe a little.”

All three dissolve into laughter - well, Natasha smiles, which is like laughter - and Darcy goes to find another bottle of wine.

“I declare this the beginning of a beautiful friendship!” she announces, and pops the cork.

*

Loki walks into the throne room to find the Warriors Three and Sif sitting at the great table for breaking the fast. “My King,” Volstagg cheers loudly, saluting him with a giant leg of boar.

He lets a small smile break over his face. “Volstagg. I see you have already eaten my portion, is that any way to treat your king?” Volstagg glances down at his heaping plate, sighs gustily and dumps half the food onto a spare plate. Loki is taken aback again when Volstagg holds it out to him.

Slowly, Loki sinks into the chair across from the large warrior. He glances down the table at his mother who gives him a softly encouraging smile and he takes the loaded plate from Volstagg. “I think you may have perhaps given me enough to feed myself and several of my clones,” Loki quips.

Volstagg laughs. “They are all too thin, so I will not complain if they all eat!”

Fandral and Hogun both smile into the cups of mead and Loki very determinedly ignores Sif who seems to be doing the same. “What sort of business are we completing today, my King?” Hogun asks, once the laughter has faded from the table.

Loki thinks about it for a minute. (In truth, he wishes to just go back to Midgard and curl up with his injured brother, but being king means putting others before himself. No matter what his thoughts are, he swore to Thor that he would be a good king.) “I need to speak with King Laufey,” he says finally.

“You cannot go to Jotunheim,” Fandral says with a gasp, unconsciously rubbing at his chest where the ice spikes from their last visit there had pierced him. “That would be seen as an act of war.”

“I did realize,” Loki says dryly. “I plan on using my seiðr to speak with him.” He thinks for a moment. (With his Jotun ice magics, it would take no time at all to speak with the seiðmaðr of Laufey, and he has been putting off his other courtly duties for too long.) “And,” he adds, “I should listen to the Court Petitions.”

Hogun nods. “We will see the Main Hall is cleared for you,” he says shortly.

(Loki doesn’t have much left to him, only seiðr and pride. Spending time with Thor on Midgard has taught him to sacrifice one.) “I would have the four of you with me,” he says, not phrasing it as a question. (If he asked and they refused... he doesn’t know what he would do.) “As council.”

Hogun smiles, as does Fandral. “We would be honored, my King,” they chorus, and Hogun’s smile widens into something closely resembling a smirk while Fandral laughs.

“I too would be honored,” Volstagg says. “Is food allowed?”

Loki lets a smile fly over his face. “For you, friend Volstagg? Of course. How else will you be able to think unless you are chewing?” Volstagg nearly chokes on his ale and Loki turns his gaze to Sif. “And you, my Lady Sif?”

She’s staring at him and he raises one eyebrow. “Even after our conversation?” Sif asks, sounding confused.

(Loki thinks of what Thor would do in a similar situation, of how he would react. Thor would be forgiving, no matter what. No matter whom. The only people he never forgave where the ones who had belittled Loki when they were small.)

“Yes, Lady Sif,” he says. “Even after. I can admit to being wrong, and perhaps it is not too late.”

The confusion in her eyes doesn’t clear. “Loki, I accused you of coveting the throne, and willfully keeping Thor from Asgard.”

He shakes his head. “That matters little. However you feel for me, Lady Sif, your loyalty to the throne of Asgard is to be commended.”

Slowly she nods. “Yes, my King. I will sit on your Council.”

(It’s a relief off his shoulders. However the Warriors Three have abused him in the past, they are loyal and good. Loki knows they will do right by Asgard, even - nay, especially - when he cannot.)

Hogun, Fandral, and Volstagg take their leave soon after to clear the Main Hall, leaving Loki sitting alone with Sif. “Lady Sif,” he says quietly, “about last night...”

(He’s not entirely certain on how he’s going to end that sentence. Perhaps ‘you were right’ but he doesn’t want that to be true. There has to be something left in him to save, otherwise Thor and their mother would not fight so hard for him. Perhaps an apology, but Loki is unpracticed at those and Sif has always taken apologies from him badly.)

“What about last night?” Sif asks, almost kindly. “I retired early last night, my King.”

Loki pauses, words half formed on his tongue that he swallows back. “You did not come to the Main Hall and speak with me?” he asks, carefully.

She shakes her head. “No, I...” she trails off, suddenly looking alarmed. “No, my King. I spoke no words to you last night, nor have I until this moment since two nights forth when I unjustly accused you.”

He dips his head in a nod, and allows her to make her escape.

(Something is not right.)

*TBC

Chapter Text

5.

Thor smiles down at Darcy, who refuses to meet his eyes. “You really have to go?” she asks, crossing her arms over her chest. “Who else can I taze if you go to stupid New York City?”

“I am certain you will find someone,” Thor says. “Speak to the Son of Coul. He has threatened many a new recruit with his taser.”

Darcy grins, quick and a little sad. “It won’t be the same without you.”

He still has trouble with social cues, but Thor thinks this is one moment that requires physical contact. He reaches out and cradles the back of her head with his hand, pulling her in for a long hug. “There is the email, yes?” Thor asks the top of her head. “And the cellular phones.”

“So not the same, dude,” Darcy says, muffled in his shoulder. “Don’t forget to say good-bye to Jane, okay?”

“Oh-Kay,” Thor says, pulling away. “You have been one of my truest friends here. Thank you, for that.”

Darcy nods solemnly, face suddenly unsmiling. “Hey, Thor? When you go talk to Jane... be kind, okay?”

He frowns. “Have I said something to the Lady Jane to upset her in our previous conversations?” Darcy shakes her head rapidly. “Then why would I be unkind to her?”

She pats him on the shoulder. “Just a suggestion.”

Thor gives her one last hug before picking up his things and heading for the door. “Lady Darcy?” he says, “If my brother should arrive after I have departed... will you tell him where it is that I have gone?”

She nods but says, “Don’t you have a way to get in contact with him?”

Thor hesitates but touches something under his grey t-shirt. “Y-Yes,” he says eventually. “But I am loathe to use it, for something so trivial.”

Shaking her head, Darcy pats him on the arm. “I think that you and I have different defintions for ‘trivial’. Go on, say good-bye to Jane. Slacker.”

He laughs and leaves the room, leaving Darcy to her thoughts.

It doesn’t take long to get to Jane’s preferred lab from the living quarters of the base. He knocks on the door but doesn’t wait for an answer. He’s learned at this point that he’ll never get one anyway, and Thor is reminded of Loki and the way he’d get when working on a new spell. “Lady Jane?” he calls, as not to startle her.

“Oh, Thor!” she says happily, coming out from around the computer terminal. “How are... you’re leaving?” she cuts herself off. “Already?”

She looks so heartbroken that Thor sweeps her into a hug immediately after putting down his bag. “I apologize,” he says into her hair. “Director Fury and the Son of Coul have said that the Captain of America will be woken soon and he will require familiar surroundings.” He rocks her a little in his arms. “Do not be sad.”

She sniffles, pulling away. “I just... I thought we had more time.”

Remembering Darcy’s warning to be kind, Thor frowns and says carefully, “Time for what, Lady Jane?”

Jane bites her lip and then leans up to kiss him. He’s momentarily startled; it’s been a very long while since any pretty maidens have paid him much in the way of attention. He cups her face gently between his palms and kisses her back, keeping it as chaste as he knows how.

When she pulls away, she’s flushed and embarrassed-looking. “I um... I didn’t really mean to do that.”

Thor chuckles gently, brushing the loose hair that escaped her bun out of her eyes. “I am pleased you did,” he tells her. “But Lady Jane, I am uncertain as to when I should return here. I would be loathe to tie you to an absent man.”

She shakes her head. “No, Thor, it’s okay. I get it. I just...” She shrugs, looking self-deprecating. “I wanted to kiss you goodbye, I guess.”

He pulls her in close, tilting her chin up for another kiss. “I will miss you, Lady Jane,” he says against her lips. “Think fondly on me.”

“I will,” she murmurs. “Come back to me?”

Thor ducks his head. “I will try.”

He has no one else waiting for him, after all.

*

Loki leans his forehead against the marble door of Thor’s abandoned quarters. His chambers have been untouched by both Frigga’s and his order, but no one has entered them since the morning that Thor had been banished.

With a murmured spell, the door unlocks and Loki enters the room. (It was wrong for the door to be locked, Thor had never locked the door before, his rooms were always open to his friends, his parents and Loki himself. He didn’t know who had locked it; probably his mother, if she had been in there to retrieve the blue stone.)

The room smells musty, the sheer curtains drawn, dust on all the surfaces. Though never the cleanest, Thor’s rooms had never been in such a state of disrepair. He waves his hand, opening windows and clearing away dust and stale air. (Thor’s rooms had always been so welcoming. Especially to him. Not that he’d taken Thor’s offers up on it in their later years.)

Loki moves swiftly over to the bureau where Thor had kept all his knick-knacks, things he’d collected over years of travels, things Loki had brought back from the other Nine Realms. The blue stone was gone, not that he’d expected it otherwise. The area looks mostly undisturbed, but he lays down a simple cantrip to show him who had touched the surface of the wood last.

The image it shows him is surprising on the one hand, and not on the other. The image shows him Sif, an ugly expression on her face. (What’s so surprising about it, is that she’d managed to lock the door behind her with the same... spell.)

Loki races to the door, throwing the cantrip designed in the palm of his hand, slapping it down and when the image coalesces, it’s as a close up of Sif’s face.

(Though they have been more or less estranged for the last few centuries, Loki has made a study of Sif's face. Of all the faces of the Warriors Three as well, but mostly Sif's, for it is her downfall that her face cannot hide her feelings. He knows the sharp flare of her cheekbones, and the gentle slope of her lips, be it a smile or a frown. He’s been on the wrong end of her scowl and the right end of her amused grin. This face, in his dusty image, is not Sif’s face.)

“Who are you...?” he murmurs, waving away the seiðr. “And where do you hail from?”

He slipped from the room, locking it behind him securely. There’s a passage between Thor’s room to Loki’s, and he does not want to wake to a knife in the dark. He steps into a shadow and hides himself from the sight of all but Heimdall.

Loki sneaks along the passage ways, hunting down Sif. He finds her in the library, and slips through the door with another quick cantrip. She’s sitting on the bench by the fireplace, staring into space. Her hair is loose, and she doesn’t react as he moves closer. Dropping his spell, he clears his throat. “Lady Sif.”

She startles, almost comically, but he takes no pleasure from the reaction now. “My King,” she says, expression worried. “What’s wrong?”

He sinks down onto the bench beside her, turning to look her in the eye. “Everything, I think,” he admits. “I have something to speak with you about, and then, when my explanation is through, I will ask you to trust me.”

Her eyes narrow. “Loki...” There is a warning in her tone, that he ignores.

“Lady Sif,” he interrupts firmly. “I would not be so direct if this were a nothing but a petty trick.” She subsides, though her expression speaks volumes. But she is silent, and that’s all Loki needs. “When I spoke to you this morning, you had told me you retired early last night.” She nods. “No, Lady Sif. You and I spoke late, you called me to your side with the stone I enchanted for Thor.”

She frowns. “Loki, I have not seen that stone since Thor was banished.”

He sighs. “I know you believe that. Speak to Heimdall, should you not believe me. I have not hidden any interaction I’ve had with anyone from his sight. Lady Sif, something is wrong.”

Sif crosses her arms over her chest. “If you speak the truth, what is it you hope to accomplish with my trust?”

(It’s hard to describe the usages of seiðr to one who doesn’t practice it, but Loki is skilled in using small words. Mostly for Thor. Someone has been inside her head, and the only way to show her that is to join the parasite who violated her. Or hit her very hard, but Loki thinks one is possibly more likely than the other.)

“I wish for you to trust me, because I wish to find what has entered your mind like a snake,” he says bluntly.

She seems amused, for a one second before the implication sinks in. “And who do I know who is more snakelike, hmm?” she murmurs. “What would that entail?”

“Your complicity. And... I’d need to touch you.” Her eyebrows raise slowly and Loki almost laughs. “Your face, Lady Sif. I would need to touch your face.”

Sif touches the tip of her tongue to the top of her lip. “Do it.”

(He has a flash of surprise so fierce that he knows it shows on his face. He was not expecting her to agree without taking her to see Heimdall.)

He slides closer on the bench and lays cool hands on the sides of her head. “Close your eyes,” he murmurs and after one last suspicious look, she obeys. Aligning his fingers with the pressure points on her face and skull, he takes a deep breath. “Remember to breathe,” he says, and casts the spell.

Sif sucks in air as he enters her mind, her entire body locked up against the intrusion. Loki is momentarily lost in the tactical beauty of her mind, before he is finds the icy thread that isn’t her own consciousness. He catches it, wrapping his own ice around it, following the power that links them together. “Lady Sif,” he calls into the whirling order of her mind, “I have found the power. This may hurt.”

He seizes the seiðr and yanks. Sif screams, the sound echoing all around him, and Loki laments his momentary lapse in concentration when the thread of seiðr he’s unraveling yanks him back.

Found you, a voice whispers, echoing between his ears.

“No,” he answers it, grunting with effort. “You most certainly did not.”

The thread of ice and seiðr snaps, and Loki is bodily thrown out of Sif’s mind without provocation. He can see something twinkling in the corners of his eyes, but when he blinks away the tears, the image is gone.

“My King?” Sif asks, her voice high with pain.

He lets her go swiftly. “Are you well?”

Her brows are drawn over her nose in a severe frown. “I am. I feel a slight ache, but otherwise, I am well. Who placed that trickster's trap inside my mind?”

Loki presses his lips together. “I saw not. But his voice... this I recognized. His name is Thrym... and he is the seiðmaðr of King Laufey.”

Sif’s eyes go wide. “What does that mean?”

He drops his head. “It means my brother was right and we prepare for war. This is an offense that I cannot let go ignored.”

Taking a chance, Loki leans forward and brushes a kiss over Sif's forehead. “Rest, Lady Sif. You will feel weary for several hours.” He stands hurriedly, moving to leave the room.

“Loki?” she calls after him, and he pauses, hand on the doorknob. “Thank you.”

(This is a turning point.)

*

“Are you actually a god of thunder? Because I really thought you’d be taller. Seriously, the whole ride over, I was thinking about this. And I spent valuable time doing it too - Pepper got pissed because I kept not paying attention to her talking about board meetings. I hate board meetings, so thinking about you and your height was a relief. Thank you for that, by the way. Hi, I’m Tony Stark.”

Thor blinks. “Have you no need to breathe?”

The man - Anthony Stark - throws his head back to laugh. He does it with this whole body and Thor finds himself laughing with him. “I like you, Thunder,” he says. “You’ve got style.” He looks Thor up and down. “Sort of. Not with clothes.”

Thor laughs again. “Perhaps not,” he agrees. “I have found that clothing that fits me is difficult to find.”

Tony’s attention turns to the woman by his side. “Pep! Pep, Pep, Pepper, this is Thor Odinsson, our newest resident at Stark Tower. He has the floor below ours.”

When the woman - Pepper, assumably - turns to him, Thor reaches out and takes her hand and lays a kiss on the back of it. “Lady Pepper, I presume,” he says with a wide smile. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance. The Son of Coul speaks of you often.”

Pepper looks amused, and she says to Tony, “We can keep him, and you should take lessons from him.”

Gasping and clutching his chest, Tony affects a wounded air. “Pepper, you can’t mean that!” He glares over at Thor, even though his eyes are smiling. “Watch yourself, Odinsson.”

Thor smiles even wider. “You remind me of my brother,” Thor says.

“Oh yeah?” Tony asks, absentminded, already turning away. “What’s he the god of?”

“Mischief and Lies,” Thor answers softly.

Tony turns to look at him, face impassable. It lasts about a minute before he breaks into a wide, twinkling smile. “That, my friend, is fan-fucking-tastic!”

Thor thinks, very briefly, that he could be happy here, in the New City of York. He touches the stone under his shirt.

Later, he muses. He’ll call for Loki later.

*tbc

Chapter Text

Thor stares down at the little blue stone sitting innocuously on the palm of his hand. He’s been calling for Loki for hours, though he spent the first two trying to remember how to use it. It's not like he hasn't used it before, but that was many years ago and when he was back in Asgard. Then, while he had no seiðr of his own, his Asgardian blood and immortality gave him the ability to use seiðr fueled objects, such as Mjolnir, and later, the blue stone before him now. It takes him an embarrassingly long time to remember how to use his force of Will on the stone, sending a short message to his brother through the pathways that only Loki knows.

Thor doesn't know how it feels for Loki to receive the messages, he'd once described it as a tingling just inside his head. Which, now that Thor has sent fifteen messages in the last hour alone, he can imagine makes Loki really irritated. He puts the stone down hastily, afraid to even touch it. Loki will answer in his own time, as he ever does. Instead, he sits down at the desk his room offers and pokes at the 'StarkPad' to make it turn on.

"What can I help you with, Mr. Odinsson?" the smooth and cultured voice of JARVIS says the minute the Pad is awake. "Sir has instructed me to help you with any and all requests in navigating the technology of this day."

Thor licks his lips. "I require the email client," he says haltingly. "To send an email to Lady Darcy the Pragmatic, and another email to Lady Jane, the Ingenious."

"Of course, Mr. Odinsson," JARVIS says pleasantly. "Which would you like to send first?"

"The email to Lady Darcy the Pragmatic," he says. He glances down at the Pad to see the email load up on the flat screen. "Lady Darcy," Thor begins, feeling silly talking to the air. "I well remember the conversation we had before I left, and I am holding to my end of our bargain. Nothing truly interesting is happening here, though I have met Lord Anthony, the Clever and JARVIS, the All-Knowing. JARVIS actually lives within the building I reside in, which came as something of a surprise. I hope that you and Erik the Wise are also well, and are working hard. I feel as though I may fit in here, like I never have before. Not even at home, in Asgard. How... How is Mjolnir?"

JARVIS interrupts, surprising Thor. "My apologies," he says, "but how do you spell that? My information sensors can give me the spelling from off the Internet, but I would prefer if you gave it to me."

Thor has to think about it. He doesn't often write things down, forgetting that he no longer knows the All-Speak, and many of his notes end up written in incomprehensible runes. He manages to cobble together something that looks right, using the keyboard on the StarkPad. "Does that work?" he asks the ceiling.

"Yes, thank you Mr. Odinsson. Is there anything you would like to add to the email?"

He shakes his head, knowing that the All-Knowing can see him. "No thank you. Would you please send it?"

There’s a noise like wind passing through a door and then the email on the Pad is gone. “Would you also like to compose your email to Dr. Foster now?” JARVIS asks unobtrusively.

Thor nods. “Yes, thank you.”

*

To: Lady Jane, the Ingenious From: Thor Odinsson, the Exiled

Lady Jane,

How is your Bifrost project? You must be working much faster without me to distract you so thoroughly. I have already settled nicely within the chambers allowed to me by Anthony the Clever. I am still training the Son of Coul’s recruits but here in the New City of York. The American Captain will wake soon, they say. I hope all things are well with you, and that your research still bodes well.

Thor

*

Thor,

Have you heard from Loki yet?!

Darcy

*

Lady Darcy,

He has not answered my calls. I am... uncertain how to proceed, now that I am not in Asgard with him and cannot hound him until he finally tells me what I have done to vex him so. I must wait here, stuck here, until he has time enough to deign to come to me. It is no matter, I am used to waiting.

Thor, the Exiled

*

When two Earth months pass, Loki comes to the belated realization that he has not seen - nor has he heard from - Thor. (Months, Earth months anyway, in Asgard are short and he has been busy with relations with Jotunheim, but such a time is long for mortals.) He searches his mind for the usage of the river stone he gave his brother, and finds nothing. First he is hurt, as is his usual feeling when Thor ignores him, and second he is angry, because Thor may have changed when he became mortal but inconsideration is still his primary action, and then he is wary.

Sif - or Thrym through Sif - had been last to touch the stone before he’d given it back to Thor for his use. (Loki is a suspicious man by nature and he wouldn’t put it past the Jotun seiðmaðr to ruin his carefully laid enchantments, especially if he wanted to break what was already breaking between them.)

There is a part of him though, that wonders if he’s looking for excuses, looking for a reason that Thor would not call him. (Two months is hardly the longest they’ve ever been separate, but Loki misses Thor with an ache that borders on crippling.)

Another day passes before he seeks out Sif, someone else who has mostly been avoiding him, to ask about the stone. “My King?” she questions, when all he does is stand in the doorway of the library without speaking.

He shakes himself and raises his eyes to meet hers, finding none of the anger and revulsion there. “How fare you?” he asks, instead of getting to the point.

“I have mild pain, occasionally, but nothing I cannot handle,” she answers him honestly. “I am missing no more hours.”

Loki nods reflexively. “That is good,” he commends, and looks down again. “Do you remember anything from those hours you missed? Anything at all?”

Sif shakes her head. “Would I, if I could,” she admits with a grimace. “Whatever it was that I did, or said... it is gone.” She gives him a contemplative look. “Why do you ask?”

“Nothing specific,” he answers hastily. Too hastily, given that she levels a look at him and crosses her arms over his chest.

(By the Norns, he was a better liar than this.)

“My King,” she says reproachfully. “I think we are beyond this, now.”

That surprises him. “Are we?” he asks curiously.

Sif blinks and uncrosses her arms to fold her hands in her lap. “Loki, I do not know what transpired between us when Thrym held my mind, so I ask you not to hold what he said to you as my regard.”

Loki can’t help the snort. “It was close enough to truth that even I could see it,” he tells her plainly, and sits on the bench beside her. “I have not heard from Thor,” he admits, voice quiet.

“You gave him the stone?” she questions, and he nods once. “Perhaps Thrym meddled with your magic.”

His lips twist. “You carry no magic of your own, Lady Sif,” he says, a trifle bitter. “If Thrym worked seiðr through you, then he must be quite powerful indeed.”

“Or something is helping him,” she points out, with the finesse of a strategist.

Loki considers that carefully for a time. “Perhaps,” he says slowly. “I know of no one who can force power through a host unable to cast themselves. This does not bode well, should you be correct.”

When Sif reaches out a calloused hand and touches his wrist gently, Loki startles enough to make her chuckle. “My King,” she says firmly, “stop pottering about and go see Thor.”

(It almost sounds like friendship.)

“I am not - I do not potter about,” he protests vehemently.

Her eyebrow lifts ever so slightly in challenge. “Then why are you still here?”

Glaring at her, he stands and shakes out his cape. “Perhaps you’re right,” he says loftily. “Will you tell the Lady Frigga where I’ve gone?”

Sif actually grins at him, like she would grin at Thor. “Aye, of course.”

He reaches out for his secret places and vanishes (petty, probably, considering her aversion to casual uses of power) and appears just before the Lady Darcy.

Who promptly squeals and grabs him in a hug.v

“Um,” he says, inelegant and fluttery. “What... are you doing?”

She lets go with an almighty blush. “I was just so excited to see you. Sorry.” She rubs the back of her neck with one hand. “Thor was super worried about you.” Then she punches him. It doesn’t hurt, exactly, just surprises him (even more than the hug.) “And way to not answer his calls, you douche.”

Loki’s heart actually sinks to his stomach at that. “He has been calling?”

Darcy rolls her eyes. “Like, every day for the last two months.”

(He only hides the wince through practice. It’s getting harder to guard his face.)

“The sei... magic... the magic must have faded from it, or something is wrong with the stone itself. Where is he?” He looks around the area he appeared in. “This is his room, yes? Why is he not here?”

Darcy punches him again. “Because he moved out, dumbass. Which you would have known if you’d been here.”

“Moved out?” he repeats blankly. “Moved where?”

“The Big Apple,” she says, sounding jealous. “With Tony freaking Stark.”

(He’s at a loss again. There are no other people in the Nine Realms who can discomfit him so thoroughly.)

“Where... I don’t know where that is. How does one live in an Apple?” he asks blankly, annoyed when she bursts out laughing.

Darcy shakes her head, giggling. “New York City. If I show you on a map can you... poof... yourself there?”

His answering smile is dry. “I can, indeed ‘poof’ myself.”

She does one better than showing him on a map. She not only does that, but also a picture of the Tower he’s living in, with real time images on her ‘lap top.’ (Perhaps humankind aren’t as primitive as he’d thought they were.)

“Thank you,” he tells her honestly, letting it shine on his face. “You have been a great help.”

“No worries,” she says, shooting him a wink. “Go grovel to that hunky brother of yours.”

(He decides not to ask what hunky means and does as she says, and goes.)

*

Dinner at Stark Tower is always an adventure, Thor muses, as he hoards pizza slices from Steven. Though he’s not eating as much as he used to on Asgard, Thor still finds his appetite too large - certainly larger than Stark’s but slightly less than Steven’s.

Pizza eating at the Tower is usually winner takes all, and Anthony never wins. It wouldn’t be such an issue if Anthony was any sort of sporting loser, and Thor resigns himself to another arguing match between the two.

It never stays with how Steven only wins because of his super strength and speed - given to him by science, not the Norns - and usually finds its way to how he’s nothing special because of it, which leads into Steven telling Anthony how selfish he is and that he would never do anything for anyone unless he got something out of it.

It makes Thor want to knock their heads together.

He could probably still do it too, mortal strength or not.

Thor nibbles on his eighth slice of pizza, tuning out the growing argument, glancing over at Clinton and Natasha who came in with the food. Clinton looks entertained and Natasha merely looks bored, but she always looks that way so Thor has learned not to take it personally.

“How can I even have a conversation with you?” Anthony bursts out, louder now, and drawing Thor’s attention. “You don’t know shit about the world!”

Steven’s face reddens with ire and his eyes narrow. “Oh here we go,” Thor can hear Natasha mutter.

“I know more about the world than you do,” the solider shoots back. “Just because I chose to keep my mouth shut doesn’t mean I’m an idiot.”

Thor winces. He puts his half eaten slice of pizza down and slides off his stool, ready to intervene. Enough is enough.

“Oh yeah?” Anthony challenges. “Who’s the president?”

Steven actually rolls his eyes, which seems to amuse Anthony. “Barack Obama,” he answers.

“Who was president in the 80s?” Anthony asks, rapid fire and suddenly Clinton looks like he’s going to die, his hand clapped over his mouth. Thor doesn’t understand why he looks so amused, and even Natasha seems interested in the answer.

Steven, much like Thor, seems taken aback by the question. “Why does that matter? It’s not the 80s anymore.”

Anthony smirks, obviously sensing victory. “Ronald Reagan.”

The room goes silent except for Clinton’s unattractive chortling. Then Steven asks, very slowly, “... The actor?” Anthony nods. Steven is staring at Anthony with shock and horror on his face. Thor glances between the two, waiting for another volley of angry words. Then, Steven says, perfectly straight-faced, “every time you lie, God kills a kitten.”

There are a few choking sounds from the various people in the room. Thor doesn’t understand the reference, but he knows that it was probably the worst thing to say to Anthony. It’s proved true when Anthony says, with the same tone as Steven, “then it’s a damn good thing I hate cats.”

Red fills Steven’s face again and Thor growls under his breath, reaching out and slapping both of them on the back of the head. “Enough,” he says, when Anthony goes to complain.

“He started it,” Anthony mutters petulantly.

“I do not care,” Thor says, raising his voice at the end when it looks like Steven is going to refute that. “I am finishing it. We would like to feast in peace Friend Anthony. Please, both of you. Enough.”

Steven subsides easily enough, going back to his pizza without speaking, but Anthony scowls at him. “You ruin all my fun. You’re a fun sucker!”

Thor rolls his eyes. “Not the most attractive appellation I’ve been given,” he comments, “but if it will let us eat in peace, then I will gladly carry its mantle.”

Anthony sighs loudly through his nose. “You even took the fun away from the name! What the hell, Thor.”

Quietly amused, Thor clinks his beer bottle against Anthony’s. “I have battled more fiercely witted individuals, friend Tony. My skin is thick, and they are only words.”

Going back to his pizza, Anthony makes a face. “Stop being rational.”

“Whatever you say, brother.” At the name, Anthony smiles, eyes lighting up in genuine gladness and Thor is pleased to have put the expression there.

Of course, that is when Loki appears in the room, expression stunned.

Loki always did have a deplorable sense of timing.

*tbc

Chapter Text

7.

Hearing Thor call another man ‘brother’ hurts more than he can possibly verbalize, even to himself. (It’s not even that, not really, he’d called Volstagg and the others ‘brother’ before, and they were all shieldbrothers in arms. But this mortal man, who looked to have no special powers whatsoever, to call him brother was a mockery.)

He only manages to re-arrange his expression by practice and sheer force of will alone, turning to face Thor once he has. “Thor,” he says mildly, raising one eyebrow.

The shock bleeds out of Thor’s face to be instantly replaced with joy. He clears the frozen fight in one bound and catches Loki around the waist in a hard hug. “You’re here!” he exults, tightening his grip.

“Yes,” Loki says, amused, laying his hands over Thor’s arms. “I... seem to have taken too long again,” he murmurs. “I’m sorry.”

Thor waves it off. “That matters little, brother. You are here now.” He lets go after another beat and turns to the interested parties around the room. “Lady Natasha, Clinton, Steven, Anthony... this is Loki, my brother.” He shoots Loki a sly glance. “The King of Asgard.”

Loki rolls his eyes. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance,” Loki says, eyeing Thor’s companions.

The only female of the group steps forward to shake his hand. “Thor speaks of you often and well,” she says. “I’m looking forward to sparring with you.”

(She’s a smaller more shapely Sif.)

“Sparring?” he repeats. “I look forward to it as well.” He shakes her hand, noting the strength in her grip.

Clinton greets him next, his hands calloused like an archer, rather than a fighter. “Archer, yes?” Loki asks him after they’ve shaken.

The other man is instantly on edge as though he’s expecting a fight. “Why? What’s it to you?”

Loki lets himself smile, a real genuine one as he reveals his pouch of throwing daggers. “I too excel at distance combat,” he divulges to him. “You’ll find no ridicule from me.”

He gets a small smile in return, and the one Thor calls Steven steps up to offer him another strong handshake. There’s power running through him, different than other Aesir. “Steven Rogers,” the man introduces.

Shaking his hand, Loki nods once. “A warrior as well, yes?” he asks. Steven nods with a rueful smile.

Thor beams from somewhere behind Clinton’s shoulder. “These are my truest friends in this realm,” Thor announces loudly. “I believe you and Anthony will get along famously.”

The man in question is much smaller than Thor’s other companions, narrow of build like Loki himself, with strangely shaped facial hair. “Yeah hi,” Anthony says, waving a hand. “Tony Stark, genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.”

(He speaks quickly enough that Loki actually has to catch up.)

He grins. “Loki of Asgard, seiðmaðr, shapeshifter, king, trickster,” he introduces, in the same tone.

Anthony lights up. “What’s a seithmathr, exactly?” he asks.

Thor groans and places his head in his hand. “You asked,” he laments, “why would you ask?”

“Seiðmaðr,” Loki pronounces quickly, because he never wants to hear Anthony say it wrong again, “it means... sorcerer, I think is the closest equivalent in the Allspeak.”

The mortal man looks excited, stepping in too close to Loki and sticking out a hand for him to shake. “You and me, we’re going to get along just fine. I’m a genius and if we had sorcerers, I’d totally be a sorcerer, isn’t that right Clint? I’d totally be a sorcerer. Is it possible for a mortal to be a sorcerer? Can you teach me to be a sorcerer?”

Loki blinks at him. “Have you no need to breathe?” he asks cautiously.

He’s further taken aback when Anthony and Thor both start to laugh and he raises an eyebrow in confusion. “Thor said the exact same thing when we met,” Anthony says, delighted and amused. “And no, that’s my superpower.”

(Of course Thor would surround himself with superpowered mortals. That makes sense.)

Shaking his head, Loki backtracks the conversation and answers, “no, I cannot teach you sorcery. I attempted to teach Thor once but he was too thick-minded to learn.”

Thor rolls his eyes. “There was too much sitting,” he defends himself.

Loki smiles. (He’s still the same, after nearly a year of exile. Still his brother, underneath the fragile layer of mortality.)

Anthony opens his mouth, likely about to spew more words into the air, before the Lady Natasha steps in and says, “Stark, Thor probably wants to spend time with his brother, let’s go and give them some space.”

For a second, Anthony looks like he wants to complain or refuse, but Natasha gives him a narrow eyed glare and he subsides instantly. “Fine,” he mutters, “kicked out of my own kitchen, I see how it is, stupid assassins with their eyes. I could have you evicted you know, I’m Tony Stark and I’m letting you live in my tower even though you totally betrayed me. I’m going downstairs to do science, and won’t you feel bad if I die of starvation because Thor ate all the pizza again.”

Thor puts down the last piece of food, looking guilty, and Natasha starts herding the other men out of the room. “You’ll survive, just have Jarvis order you some more.”

Anthony’s whine fades as they exit the room, leaving Thor and Loki standing alone. The silence is almost instantly awkward and Loki chases away the lingering feeling of guilt. “The Lady Darcy says you’ve been using the stone,” Loki murmurs.

(He wants to get the fight out of the way. He’s not certain when it became such a hardship to fight with his brother. He doesn’t want to analyze it, they were far enough apart when Thor got exiled, and his hesitance to visit is only making it worse. Better to grow distant, than always want what he cannot have.)

His brother steps into Loki’s space, telegraphing his moves before he does them before hitting Loki lightly in the shoulder. “You have been ignoring the stone,” he says fiercely. “Why are you angry with me?”

“What?” Loki asks, gaping. “I’m not angry with you. The stone’s magic failed, I haven’t heard a thing.”

Thor crosses his arms over his chest. “But you were aware that two months had passed and you still did not come.”

(Loki curses whoever taught Thor simple logic. A hundred years ago, his explanation would have been enough to placate the angry thunder god.)

“Well yes,” he finally answers. “But it... it was not malicious.” Thor looks unconvinced. “Thor... I am no closer to finding the answer of your exile,” he admits, painfully. “I do not wish to... make things worse.”

He takes Loki into his arms in another bone crushing hug. “Not seeing you makes things worse,” Thor mumbles against the mess of Loki’s hair. “You’re my brother, and I love you.”

(No, Loki thinks. No, you are not.)

*

Thrym stands alone on the barren wasteland that was once his great homeland. Through crystalline blue eyes, he pulls ice and snow up through the earth, funneling it into a mirror-like surface.

It takes barely a bit of power to activate the spell. Darkness fills the ice, filled with a smattering of cold stars that still gives Thrym the sense of evil.

“Master,” he murmurs. “I have done as you asked.”

A hollow and fell voice echoes between Thrym’s ears. “Yes...” it purrs, sibilant and sure. “You have taken the image of the King from the surface of his mind?”

“Yes, my master,” Thrym answers, letting his form twist and change.

“Good.” He is praised and joy fills his mind. “Our plan is nearly in motion. Your king Laufey has audience with Asgard. You will not be present.”

Thrym hesitates. “He has already requested my presence.”

The voice of his master roars, a snarling anger that makes Thrym fall to his knees in supplication. “Who is your master, Thrym of Jotunheim?!” it shrieks, stirring the snow about the seiðmaðr’s feet.

“You are,” he pants. “Of course, you are. I will vanish, I will hide. I will not be there.” He holds out his hands, begging, whining. He cannot handle the anger.

His master seems to regard him in angry silence. “No, I cannot trust you. You have divided loyalties, and this must work. You will come here, to me, and serve by my side.”

Thrym looks up. “Master?”

The ice shatters around him, and the Other stands before him, unmindful of the cold. “Come,” he demands. “Your training will begin.”

He doesn’t hesitate. Thrym scrambles to his feet and takes the proffered hand, vanishing with a cold draft that is lost in the ice and snow.

*

Loki stands before Laufey, holding tightly to his illusions, and crossing his arms over his chest. “When we spoke,” he says through clenched teeth, “you said he would be present to answer for his crimes.”

The king of Jotunheim looks visibly exhausted, slumped in a broken and icy throne. “I am aware, Odinsson,” he snaps. “He has been missing since yesterday past. My scouts have found no trace of him.”

(He can’t say he’s surprised. If it were him, and it has been him before, he’d have vanished as well.)

“That is as much of an admission of guilt as words are,” Loki says, keeping his tone even.

The king of Jotunheim nods. “Yes.” He rubs at his temple. “There is nothing I can offer you in reparation, you have already taken everything from us.”

(For a minute, Loki burns for knowledge, to whittle away his illusion and show the blue skin he knows hides underneath. To ask who his family was, why he was given up, why no one asked why his mother, why Frigga, had a second child without ever showing. But to ask is a weakness he cannot afford to show.)

Instead he says, “then when he is found, for I have every confidence in your scouts abilities, I only ask that his death be at the hands of the warrior he wronged.”

Laufey regards him silently for a long moment, before he nods once. “That is a fair exchange.”

Loki pauses before letting the illusion of his form go. “If your scouts do not find him, I will,” he promises.

They exchange bows, Loki’s somewhat mocking, Laufey’s outright amused, before Loki swirls himself back to the throne room on Asgard. Sif and Volstagg look anxiously on as he looks up and he shakes his head. “I am sorry, Lady Sif. The coward ran. He will be found and his reparation will be to find an honorable death at your hand.”

(It’s so very little for the very large crime, but there is nothing he can do.)

Sif nods, reaching out to touch the bare skin of Loki’s wrist. “An admission of guilt, then. I will take it.”

He smiles a little. “I thought you would.” They linger, and Loki opens one eye to gaze at the two people he’d started to think of as friends. “When I next visit Thor... I could very likely take one of you with me.” They both begin to speak at once and Loki rolled his eyes. “Argue somewhere else, please,” he requests, sounding amused. “I want nothing to do with either side.”

Volstagg huffs. “Cruel,” he says, pouting.

“Trickster,” Loki counters. “And also, exhausted.”

Sif gives him a narrowed eyed glare. “When was the last you slept?”

(Loki actually has to think about it.)

She comes up to the dias where he sits, pulling on his wrist until he stands. “Go. Sleep.” He gives half a thought to arguing, but Volstagg gets involved, pushing at him until they get to Loki’s quarters. “Revenge will still be there in the morning,” Sif promises. “And this way, Volstagg and I can argue in peace.”

He nods once, and vanishes into his room without another word.

(Is this what it feels like to belong?)

*

“The Tesseract has awakened,” his master growls.

“It is on a little world. A human world. They would wield it’s power... But our ally knows its workings as they never will. He is ready to lead. And our force, our Chitauri, will follow. The world will be his, the universe... yours. And the humans... what can they do but burn?”

Thrym takes the staff handed to him, and smiles a tricksters smile.

*tbc

Chapter Text

8.

Thor lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. It’s been hours since he’d laid down to rest, and finally he reached over and picked up the blue stone sitting on his bedside table. It only takes the lightest brush of his thumb over it and Loki steps out of the shadows at the foot of his bed. “Brother,” Thor murmurs. “I apologize for the late hour...”

Loki waves it away, moving to sit at the end of Thor’s bed. “Think on it not,” he says. “Why should your sleep be so troubled?”

He looks down, away, and Loki reaches out to touch two fingers to Thor’s chin. “They moved Mjolnir to the vault today,” Thor says, very quietly. “She is too valuable an artefact for SHIELD to simply leave where she fell... and no one has been able to lift her.”

(Loki engineered this exile, though it wasn’t exile he was aiming for. This fault lies with him.)

Reaching out, Loki gathers an unprotesting Thor into his arms, arranging them so his larger (and now so much weaker) brother settles back to his front. He wraps his arms around Thor’s chest and leans his own tired head against Thor’s temple. “I am sorry,” he apologizes.

“Why? This is no fault of yours. You were more right than you knew, on Asgard a year ago.” Thor tightens his grip on Loki’s arms. “I am not worthy for Mjolnir... I was not before, and I still am not now.”

(That breaks something inside Loki. It feels hollow, like his heart.)

“You are the worthiest man I know,” Loki says firmly, breath catching.

Thor turns his face away, staring into the dark. “I don’t even know who I am anymore,” he admits.

“You’re Thor,” Loki says. “Brother of Loki.”

(What is what more lie?)

He scoffs, the sound bitter and pained. (It’s not a noise he’s ever heard Thor make before.) “Am I? This is a weak mortal shell, as we’ve already found. You are not required to spend time here with me.”

Loki’s grip tightens (he isn’t certain whether his sentiment is fabricated anymore) and he curls into Thor’s larger form. “You will always be my brother,” he whispers.

(That strikes him like a blade through the heart. For the last thousands of years, Thor has belittled his power, chosen his inconsistent friends over him, treated him as though he were less and none of it matters. For Thor will always be Thor, but what is Loki without him?)

Thor shivers, and Loki moves one hand automatically to soothe him, running his cool fingers over his Thor’s messy hair. “I will die,” Thor says evenly. “It is not a future I am particularly familiar with. But I will die, perhaps not soon but... soon enough.” Loki has no response for that, so he simply continues idling his hand in Thor’s hair. “Where do mortals go when they die?” Thor asks, voice broken.

“I do not know,” Loki admits. “But it matters not,” he insists when Thor makes a broken wounded sound. “When you die, if you die, I will be there. I will beg my daughter to take you regardless of your mortality.”

Tightening his grip on Loki’s wrists, Thor rolls over to face him. In the half light shining through the blinds of the room, Loki can barely see his brothers eyes. “I can feel this body aging, Loki,” Thor whispers. “Humans die so slowly, when we thought they were quick to burn out and die but it’s a slow poison, age is... is this what father wanted me to learn? Fear?” Loki has no answer to that, if he had known what the All-Father intended, he could have already reversed the casting. “It’s working brother,” Thor reveals in the same broken, pained voice. “I am afraid.” He meets Loki’s eyes in the darkness. “Odin wins.”

(He always does.)

*

“How bad is it?” Fury asks, approaching Hill and Coulson. He’d spent the last four hours on the phone with Tony Stark, listening to the man talk about gamma rays and experts and how it takes him longer than a night to learn physics. His patience is running out and he really doesn’t want to pull Bruce Banner out of Kolkata.

Coulson shakes his head, much to Fury’s absolute displeasure. “That’s the problem, sir. We don’t know.” He gestures them down the stairs towards the room with the malfunctioning tesseract. “Dr. Selvig read an energy surge from the Tesseract four hours ago,” he continues, “he wasn’t testing it, he wasn’t even in the room. Spontaneous advancement.”

Hill looks a little sick when she asks, “it just turned itself on?”

Fury cares less about that than what it’s doing. “What are the energy levels now?”

“Climbing,” Coulson says grimly. “When Selvig couldn’t shut it down, we ordered the evac.” He glances sideways at Fury. “Sir, I really think we should have told Thor about this.”

Fury ignores him entirely. “How long to get everyone out?”

“Half an hour,” Hill answers, glancing down at her watch.

“Do better,” Fury tells her and goes to secure the Phase 2 prototypes, pulling Coulson with him.

“Is this really a priority?” Coulson asks dryly, handing off crates to harried airmen. “We’re not even sure what a minimum safe distance is if the Tesseract blows.”

“Until such time as the world ends,” Fury says firmly, “we will act as though it intends to spin on.”

Coulson nods, taking over the moving of crates. “Yes, sir.”

Leaving him to it, Fury heads down the rest of the way to the radiation room.
“Selvig! What do we know?”

“The Tesseract is misbehaving,” Selvig says. “She’s an energy source. Every time I pull the plug, she turns everything back on. We don’t have a harness. Our calculations are far from complete, she’s throwing off interference and radiation.” Selvig, looking harried, holds up a hand. “Nothing harmful, just low levels of gamma radiation.”

Damn. Fury makes a mental note to pull Natasha out of Stark’s and send her to India. He’d send Stark but wants to keep the collateral damage to a minimum. He flags down Barton, who rappels down the fucking wall. “I gave you this detail so you could keep an eye on things!” Fury hisses at him.

Obviously living at Stark’s has had an adverse effect on him.

Barton shrugs one shoulder. “I see better from a distance.” He turns his attention to the Tesseract. “No one’s come or gone. No contacts, no IM’s. If there was any tampering, sir... it wasn’t at this end?” At Fury’s alarmed look, Barton clarifies, “the cube is a doorway to the other end of space right? Doors open from both sides.”

It’s then, of course, that all hell breaks loose.

*

Tony stares at the deluge of information on his holographic screens, blinking at the surplus that Fury is actually letting him see. He flicks quickly through the bits about Captain America, he knows the history, practically lives the history. He passes the parts about Bruce Banner more slowly, but he almost knows that little story by heart - especially after he had tied up Ross in so many legal fines the man didn’t have time to go after Banner.

The footage of the attack on the airbase is grainy and pathetic, but Tony freezes on one image. “Wait,” he says, just before Coulson gets into the elevator with Pepper. “That’s...” he trails off, blinking. “Loki.”

“Yes, brother of Thor, as he announced to the room. He came from Asgard.” Coulson’s mouth twists. “Would have been nice of Thor to mention his brother is a meglomaniac.”

Tony turns to face Coulson. “He isn’t. I’ve met him before. He visits Thor really often, like all the time often. Jarvis, when was the last known time of Loki’s arrival?”

1:30 in the morning, eastern standard time, sir. This morning.” Jarvis pauses, probably for effect. “He left around 6 in the morning, eastern standard time.”

Smiling in satisfaction, Tony nods. “See, it couldn’t have been him.”

“Well, it was. We’re treating him as a hostile force, Mr. Stark, if he arrives at the tower, I expect you to apprehend him.”

Tony scowls, turning back to his information. “Whatever, Agent.” As soon as Jarvis informs him that the elevator has reached the ground floor and that Pepper and Coulson have exited the building, he pages Thor. “Hey, buddy I really need you up in the Penthouse, okay?”

It takes only a little time for Thor to arrive, smiling a little and toweling off his hair. “Friend Tony,” he says somewhat reproachfully, “your timing is amusing but often unwelcome.”

“Yeah sorry about that, no time, no time, I need you to come look at this,” Tony says, hiding the images of Loki and pulling up a blown up image of the Tesseract.

Thor immediately drops everything he’s holding, mouth slack with shock. “Friend Tony,” he says at half the pitch and speed of his normal speaking voice, “why do you have my fathers Eternity Cube?”

“I don’t,” Tony answers him. “But I’m glad you know what it is. See, SHIELD has it, or did. See, someone came and stole it from them and now they’re trying to find it and I was hoping you would know something.”

Thor drew closer, picking up the towel on his way. “I do not know much about how the Eternity Cube functions. It was in my father’s vault for... a very long time. My brother would know more about this, as the cube is magical in origin. Shall I call him?”

“No! No, no, nono no no.” Tony waves his hands dramatically in the air in front of him.
“All right. Okay. I’m going to show you these pictures because you’re my friend and I think you deserve to know. Just... don’t do your freaky magic power to get Loki down here okay? Promise me.”

Thor’s face arranges itself in a confused scowl. “If you wish it, I shall give you my word.” Tony waves a hand at the screen pulling up the images of Loki and his stick of destiny. “That’s... my brother,” Thor whispers.

“Yeah,” Tony agrees. “And he killed 82 people... and fucked up Barton’s head.”

Scowl deepening, Thor moves closer to the floating images. “Fucked up Barton’s head, how?”

Tony flicks through the images until he finds the debrief done by Maria Hill. “According to Hill, Loki came through the Tesseract, with that staff - stick - stave - whatever you call it. Blew up a ton of shit, and used it to possess Clint and a doctor named Selvig.”

Thor looks sick. “Selvig? He used to work with Lady Jane and Lady Darcy. He was... a friend.” He sorts through the images, using broad sweeps of his hands. “This... makes no sense. When did the attack occur?”

Shrugging, Tony glances at the time on the debrief. “‘Round three, she says.”

At that, Thor looks satisfied. “Then it could not be my brother. He was with me all night, from past midnight on until dawn. I know not who this impersonator is, but he must be great in magic to craft such a facsimile.”

“Are you certain it can’t be Loki?” Tony asks. “You’ve told us stories about his duplication illusion things.”

Thor shakes his head, once, very firmly. “No. No, do not friend Tony, do not court me to disbelieve in him now.”

“I’m just saying... what if it is?”

Thor has no answer to that.

*

When Loki attacks Stuttgart Germany, Thor begs Steven and Natasha to allow him to accompany them on the jet. He’s not too ashamed, not after being mortal for so long, and eventually Steven and Anthony convince Natasha that he won’t be a liability.

He waits with bated breath as the Man of Iron, the Captain of America take down Loki, and it is Loki, down to his hair and his choice in leathers. He listens to his brothers speech, the clear concise way he pronounces his words and recognizes it for his most skillful.

When the Man of Iron slams him into the concrete steps, and he gives himself up peacefully, Thor feels something cold bury itself into his heart. Loki allows himself to be shackled, though Thor knows well that he could break the straps easily.

He glances at Steven until the Captain relents and nods. “Go ahead.”

Thor flings himself towards the smirking imposter. “Loki,” he breathes.

“Ah Thor,” Loki says, a mocking jeer twisting his tongue. “No thunder today? I would have expected such a tantrum from you.”

Frowning, Thor wonders what Loki is talking about before saying, “brother, please. Why are you doing this?”

Loki sneers. “You are no brother of mine.”

The bolt of pain is so strong it nearly knocks Thor off his feet. “We were raised together,” Thor says, trying to sound even, trying to remember to speak quieter. “We played together, fought together.”

The snort that bursts out of Loki is inelegant. “I remember a shadow,” he growls. “Living in the shadow of your greatness.”

Thor recoils from that. “You are king, brother. I am mortal. There is nothing great about that.”

Jerking forward into Thor face, Loki growls, “I... am not... your brother!” There’s an ominous rumble of thunder and Thor hates irony with a passion that is vicious and all encompassing.

He meets the icy eyes of his angry brother. “Aye,” he says firmly. “You are.” He will not be swayed. He will not swayed. Whatever malign magic that has poisoned his brother, he will break it’s enchantment. He will not be swayed.

Loki leans ever forward, straining in the confines of his bonds. “You’re a fool, Thor. A silly, mortal fool.”

Thor has spent an eternity around the magic of Loki, he knows when there is a spell being cast. He can feel it in his bones and sweeping in tingles across the skin of his face. It’s on the tip of his tongue to warn his friends, to throw himself in front of Natasha to block her from whatever emerald blast of energy Loki has concocted.

Then Loki’s face fades away, replaced by the blue skin of the frost giant. It is no illusion, the cold radiating from his skin is very real. “It is unfortunate that Odin died,” rasps his not-brother. “You could ask him what happened the day he invaded Jotunheimr. You could ask him what he took.” He smiles, showing razor sharp teeth. “I am not your brother, Thor. I never was. I never will be.”

Loki’s arm darts out, snapping his bindings and grabbing the chain around Thor’s neck. “Loki,” he gasps as cold starts to burn, “Loki, no, please...”

The chain breaks with little effort, and Thor stumbles back. Steven slams his shield into the side of Loki’s head, and the pale skin Thor remembers fades back in. “What the shit was that about,” Anthony asks slowly, probing gentle fingers around the raw patches of Thor’s throat.

Thor shakes his head. “Loki is not my brother,” he whispers.

He will not be swayed.

*tbc

Chapter Text

9.

“Where is Mjolnir, dear brother? Hm? Is she lost? Perhaps she has decided you are too unworthy and has chosen a different master.” His not-brother lifts a hand and the image of Mjolnir coalesces in his fist.

Thor can’t hide his immediate and visceral reaction. He jerks forward, towards the screen where his not-brother is taunting him. Anthony puts his hand gently on Thor’s shoulder, steering him away. “He’s playing you, Point Break. Come on, away from there.”

Steven takes his other shoulder and they steady him together. “Thank you, my friends,” Thor finally manages to say. He doesn’t know what to do. Though he feels the warm hands of his friends heavy on both his shoulders, he longs for his brother and his immutable advice.

Someone hits the mute button the screen, tuning out the hateful words from his not-brother. He wants Loki, not this man - Aesir - frost giant - he is faced with. “I wonder...” he says out loud, staring out over the golden horizon as the sun rises around the Helicarrier. “I wonder how long he’s carried that secret? Has it been obvious, and I simply blind? Does my mother know from whence her son came?” His voice breaks to his shame. “Am I simply the last to know?”

Anthony tightens his grip. “Are you sure that’s your brother?”

Thor turns to face him, leaning against the railing when his knees start to shake. “Why would you think him not?”

“I... Well.. Okay, bear with me here. We’ve seen Loki a ton now, he’s always by the tower, and he doesn’t talk like that. Well, he does, because he’s super formal and a lot like you only he has volume control - sorry buddy - and he’s never given us an inkling he was planning something like this.”

He wishes he was as easily convinced as Anthony seems to be. “Upon our first meeting I told you that my brother was the god of trickery and lies.”

The hope in Anthony’s eyes dies a little. “Aw, Thor...”

Something Thor has noticed about the way Anthony is; he only calls you by name when things are too serious for him not to. He summons up a smile from somewhere. “My friends always warned me of his betrayal. I never believed it to be true.” He straightens his shoulders. “I can tell you this - my brother or not - whoever this creature is, he let himself be captured. Do not be fooled by his complacency. It is entirely feigned.”

“Can he be reasoned with?” Anthony asks slowly.

Thor presses his lips together. “Have a care how you speak to him. I do not know if he is beyond reason. I only have my own foolish hopes.”

Steven claps him hard on the shoulder. “They’re not foolish.”

Fury clears his throat from the doorway. “Let me introduce Dr. Banner to this discussion then,” he interrupts.

Anthony looks delighted.

*

Thor paces in constrained rage just outside the lab where Anthony and Banner are working. He tries to stay away from the windows, he knows Anthony well enough to know that there shouldn’t be too many distractions. Anthony could multi-task but given too much stimulation, he’d go off focus and that would piss off Fury.

The Director of Furies has enough of his plate, especially right now. He misses Barton’s quiet humor. The way he could slide effortlessly from situation to differing situation. Natasha hasn’t been the same since, either.

Steve interrupts his chaotic thoughts. “Thor? You okay?”

He thinks about lying. He’s never been very good at it and Steve’s eyes are always so guileless he can’t bring himself to try. “No,” he answers after a telling pause. “I am very far from all right, Steven.”

There are no seats in the narrow hall so Thor just plants himself on the floor. Steve blinks and joins him there after a moment. “Need to talk?” he asks, pressing their shoulders together.

“Was any of it real?” Thor murmurs. “Was he pretending to be my brother for the entire time?”

Steven thinks before answering him. It’s what Thor likes most about him, he contemplates and weighs his options before coming to any decisions - just like his brother. “No,” Steven responds. “I don’t think it was all a lie.”

“My brother is a skilled liar, Steven,” Thor says evenly. “He can make anyone believe anything.” He smiles a little, feeling how bitter it is. “Even me. Especially me.”

But Steven is adamant when he shakes his head. “Then why visit you? Why make it a point to find you here? To bring you news?” He points at Thor with conviction. “If Loki isn’t biologically your brother... then I think this is his way of lashing out.”

Thor snorts, throat tight. “So he takes the world I love as recompense for our fathers slights?” He sighs, dropping his head down. “I think that I am... un-prepared. For this... for war.”

“Aren’t you a god of war?” Steven asks, unaware of the spike of pain his words bring.

“Thunder,” Thor answers shortly. “God of Thunder.”

Steven nods like that makes sense to him. “But you were a prince?”

“Aye. A spoiled, selfish one at that, one who believed he could do no wrong.” He twists his hands into fists. “I was wrong.”

Pressing their shoulders together tighter, Steven asks quietly, “and the Hammer?”

“... Lost to me,” Thor says evenly, staring straight ahead.

Steven goes very still. “Doesn’t Loki know that?”

Slowly, Thor nods, glancing at Steven out of the corner of his eye. “Aye.”

“Then... why... in the cage... did he ask where it was?”

There is a swell of feelings just under the bond in his chest. It’s elation, joy, and just as quickly, desolation. Loki is, after all, the god of lies. He’s about to crush the quiet hope in Steven’s face when the lady Natasha streaks down the hall like the hounds of Hel are at her heels.

“Nat?” Steven asks, concerned.

“It’s Banner,” she states instead of answering his question. “Loki is here for Banner.”

Both Thor and Steven jump to their feet. “That’s... bad,” Steven says slowly before snapping into his role as Captain. “Thor, get Fury and Hill, then get back here.”

Thor nods but he has no intention of joining them until he’s spoken with his brother. “Aye,” he agrees and strides down the hall. He finds Hill first, and tells her the Captain’s orders and instructing her to find Fury while he suits up, but out paces her easily as they start down the hall.

He has a bone to pick with his brother.

*

“So... brother,” drawls the saccharine and poisonous voice of Loki from the middle of the cage. “Have they sent you to sooth the wounds your Black Widow has left upon me?” At his words, Thor’s eyes fly to Loki’s motionless figure, looking unconsciously for injuries. “I am unharmed,” he offers genially.

“Were you lying to her?” Thor asks, as neutrally as he’s able.

“About the monster? No, she gleaned truth from me. Impressive.” Loki pulls a face that clearly speaks of his irritation with the situation. “Not that it truly matters.”

“Of course it matters!” Thor takes a jerky step forward. “If it’s true, we can still stop this. There is still time.” His feet carry him up to the glass cage and he presses his hand flat against it’s surface.

Loki places his hand on the other side of the glass, holding Thor’s gaze as ice begins to to spread out, seeping through the thick pane.

Yanking his hand away, Thor can only watch the madness fill his beloved brothers eyes. “Loki...” he whispers, “what happened?”

Loki smiles, but his eyes are cold and dead. “You did.”

Taken aback, Thor blinks. “Me?”

The ice wipes away, leaving Thor an unfettered view of his brothers face. “Yes, you! The ignorant fool of an heirson, with no true merits or skills of worth. You, who I love more than anything in the nine realms!”

“Then why do this?! Loki please, tell me!” He presses both hands to the glass separating them, uncaring of the danger of the ice. His body is tense and coiling with unspent energy, ready to leap away at the slightest bit of cold.

“They crippled you,” Loki snarls. “You were glorious once. I will destroy them for what they have done to you.”

In the last century, Thor has caught Loki in a lie exactly never. But this is a lie, not only that, it is a contradiction. “You lie,” Thor breathes.

Loki looks horribly startled. “W-what?”

“I have grown, brother. I am not so much a fool as I once was, and you never contradict yourself. Tell me the truth!”

His brother slams his hand into the glass cage. “Why bother? You’ve never seen me! Not the real me.” Loki turns away. “Go away, Thor.”

“I will never leave you alone again,” Thor promises, voice low and resonant. “I Swear it.”

Loki looks stunned for half a second before an explosion rocks the carrier, tossing him into the glass wall. Thor’s head cracks painfully against the door in front of him, making him see stars. He pulls away, staring at his brother for long moments. Loki’s stunned expression bleeds away to veiled concern and Thor blinks away blood from the cut on his forehead.

Thor’s cell phone goes insane, and he tears himself away to look down at the orders flashing across the screen.

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs, “I have to go.”

Loki’s face crumples. “This is why I’m doing this, Thor,” he says quietly, barely audible over the sound of banging klaxons. “You always choose your insignificant friends over me.”

With a pang that feels like regret, Thor stares down at his cell phone. “That’s the problem, my brother,” he says. “You were always asking me to choose.”

He forces himself then to turn and race away. When he wipes his face dry, he pretends the wetness is from sweat and blood and not tears.

He’s been pretending for years, after all.

*

He meets Natasha in one of the corridors between the Lab and the outside. “What’s going on?” he asks her, panting. Her face is white and pinched, her mouth tight with pain. “Lady Natasha?”

“Barton attacked us,” she says bleakly. “We lost control of the Hulk.”

Thor blanches. “Where is Banner now?”

“I don’t know. I lost him when Steve distracted him.” She reaches out and tucks his hair behind his ear, fitting in a comm unit as she does. “Thor’s linked in,” she announces into her own.

“Thor, you all right?” Steven asks immediately and Thor grunts. He doesn’t have anything good to say and the Captain knows it. “Nat, you still with me?”

“Yes, Cap,” she answers right away, squeezing Thor’s hand.

“Barton is en route to your position,” he barks. “You need to intercept him before he gets to Loki. Do what you can to subdue him, Nat. Only use lethal force if necessary.”

Her mouth tightens further. “I’m on my way,” she reports, giving Thor one last squeeze before darting around him and running down the hall.

“Thor,” Steven barks. “Meet Iron Man by the hanger doors near Engine block three, he’s going to need a little help.”

He’s moving before Steven finishes talking. “Aye,” he agrees shortly. “En route to his position now. Sit rep?”

Steven grunts. “Busy. Alive. But busy.”

“Stay in contact,” Thor cautions. When he arrives at the engine block, Anthony is no where to be seen but several enemies are crawling over the edge of the helicarrier and swarming the area like they’re looking for him. Thor leaps into their midst, kicking the closest one in the knee and sending him over the unprotected edge of the swiftly tilting carrier.

Another one gives a cry of alarm and swings his gun up, but Thor curls his lips into a smirk, reaching out and yanking the thing out of his hands. He uses the butt of the automatic rifle to break his adversary’s nose, before calling into Anthony. “Friend Tony, I am here,” he pants, ducking a swing and rolling away from a jab.

“Oh good, that was fast, you’re so efficient. Okay, I need you to look at the back panel near the door and pull the lever to get the circuit board out,” Tony says quickly.

“Um,” Thor says, shooting haphazardly, “I need a moment.”

“Oh sure, sure, take a moment. Take all the time you need, I’m only sitting in an engine turbine.

Thor dodges again. “I’m being shot at!” he protests, grappling with the last of Loki’s agents. He’s too close to the edge, he can feel the entire carrier start to tilt as there’s another explosion.

His adversary grabs his collar and when Thor jerks back, they both lose their footing. He spits out an Asgardian invective, scrabbling for purchase as his feet slide over the edge to dangle over empty air.

“You good?” Anthony asks after a moment.

“Good,” Thor grunts, hauling himself up. “Lever. By the door. Console.”

Anthony chooses then to go on a long winded explanation of what Thor should be looking for, but Thor is long used to tuning out what makes no sense to him. “Friend Tony,” he interrupts, “the panels are dark and smell of burning.”

Anthony pauses. “Well. That’s not good.” There’s another, longer pause. “Alright, Thor, do you see a red switch?”

“Aye, it is in the upwards position,” Thor reports.

“Good. I’m going to generate enough movement to restart this engine block. When the panel lights up, pull the switch down.”

Thor tightens his grip on the edge of the console. “Aye. I can do this.”

He listens as Anthony strains and heaves, his armor making audible creaking noises that Thor can hear over the comm unit. It’s several seconds later that the panel lights up red and Thor wastes no time in pulling the switch down.

“Thanks bud, I can take it from here,” Anthony says. “Get down to Loki’s cage, okay? I know that’s where you’d rather be anyway.”

Thor smiles a little. “You’re wiser than you’d like to admit, Friend Tony,” he announces. “Get to Steven.”

“On it,” Anthony says smartly and there’s a flash of gold as he disappears around a corner.

Thor races back down to the lower levels where Loki is being kept and falters only when there’s a loud burst of static in his ear. “Barton’s been neutralized,” Natasha says tersely.

Steven is very quiet when he repeats, “neutralized?”

“I knocked him out, we’re in the locked room of the medical bay. I hit him very hard in the head...” She trails off.

“Cognitive recalibration?” Anthony guesses and Natasha makes an noise in the affirmative.

Thor tunes out the rest when he enters the room where the cage is. One of Loki’s lackeys is pressing a button on the console to open the door. It slides open with an ominous snick, and Loki is free.

“No!” Thor shouts, darting forward to tackle his brother. He hits glass for one baffling moment, thinks the door opening was only an illusion until the sound of the door closing registers in his mind.

Slowly, Thor turns around. Loki stands innocently by the control panel. “Are you ever not going to fall for that?” he asks.

Thor licks his lips nervously. “That... is not very likely,” he admits. “Why change the tradition now?”

Loki snorts, sounding old and familiar and like his brother again. “Give me one good reason not to press this,” he demands, gesturing to the button that will unlock the cage from its restraints, dropping him thirty seven thousand feet down.

There are a hundred responses Thor could choose from, and all of them worthless. Finally he murmurs to the comm unit only, “let him go.”

“What?” Loki asks suspiciously.

Over the cacophony in his ear, Thor says simply, “I love you.”

Loki smiles and it is a bright, jagged, vicious thing. “Not as he loves you.” His form bleeds out, white skin replaced with cracked and icy blue. His entire form grows up and up and up and Thor knows that face.

“Thrym,” he breathes.

And Laufey’s seiðmaðr slams his hand down on the release button.

There’s a brief sensation of weightlessness followed immediately by a sickening lurch as he is falling. He hits the edge of the bench and clings to it with all his failing strength. “Do not engage,” he shouts into his comm unit. “I repeat, do not engage. That creature is not my brother, not Loki. Anthony, FIND LOKI.

The world twists and swirls in smears of blue sky and green grass and bluer water. Thor thinks of Loki, his real and clueless brother and laments the things he never said to him. The things he’ll never get to now.

There’s more static in his ear and then —

*tbc

Chapter Text

10.

Loki paces back and forth as Heimdall begins to open the Bifrost. “Are you certain this is a wise course of action, my King?” the guardian asks him, sounding almost concerned. “Will you not take one of your friends with you?”

(To be honest, he’d thought about asking Volstagg, but he has questions he wants Laufey to answer - questions that will be made even more awkward by the presence of one of the Warriors Three.)

He hesitates, mostly for show, and finally shakes his head. “This is something I need to do alone,” he says after a moment. “It may finally mean peace for our realms.”

Heimdall nods once, and slams his great blade into the mechanism. The Bifrost roars to life, and the guardians offered sentiments of luck are lost in the noise. Loki steps through and lets himself be carried away.

A trio of Frost Giants are waiting for him at the touchdown site. They are all smaller than the average Jotunn, and Loki is somewhat surprised to recognize their markings. Two of them are sons of Laufey, the other is likely their guard. “Welcome, King Loki of Asgard,” the tallest says. “I am Byleistr, the eldest of Laufey’s sons. We have come to take you to our father.”

(This is a show of courtesy that Loki was not expecting at all. He bows, pressing his fist to his heart. Perhaps this visit will not go as poorly as he worries.)

Laufey is waiting for him in a large empty cavern that must have at one point been a throne room. “Odinsson,” Laufey growls, but it’s not a menacing sound. (Nor is it particularly welcoming but Loki will take what he can get.)

“King Laufey,” he greets neutrally. “Has there been any word on Thrym’s whereabouts?”

Curling his upper lip in an angry snarl, Laufey tells him, “no. I would have sent word if that had been so.”

Loki inclines his head. “I did realize,” he says, almost apologetic. “There is one other thing I may ask of you.”

As though sensing his reticence, Laufey orders his sons out, and the guards follow quickly behind. “What is it?”

Licking his lips, Loki asks the same question of Laufey that he once did Odin. “Am I cursed?” Laufey looks horribly confused, before he notices the illusion of Aesir coloring falling away from Loki’s skin. He does not grow, but his skin inks blue and he has the pleasure of watching shock fill in Laufey’s face.

“You...? Like us... the boy. The runt child that Nal left to die,” Laufey murmurs. “My first born son.”

Loki goes cold, and it has nothing to do with the ice around him. “I... am your son?” he asks, hushed and incredulous.

Laufey jerks his head in denial. “Nal, the bearer of my children, grew ill whilst carrying my first son. It was born early, too small and sickly. Nal left it in an abandoned temple to die.”

“But Odin found me first,” Loki finishes, hushed.

“And raised you,” Laufey snarls, “as a son of Asgard. And now, here you are, a Jotunn on the throne! Odin must be spinning in his grave in shock. How he must have hated you.”

(It is with certainty that Loki finally realizes this isn’t true. His father loved him, loved him more than a mother who thought him too small to be of use. Odin had lied to him, for centuries upon centuries of years. He had allowed Thor to rise above him, allowed the others to belittle his sorcery. But Odin had taken him in, and saved him from death.)

“No,” Loki says. “He didn’t hate me at all.”

(And Thor had been right about that all along.)

Laufey regards him frankly. “Why reveal this to me?” he asks.

“I wanted to know,” Loki answers. “And I wished to secure peace for our realms, one that will last. One stronger than the beaten peace my father wrought with war.”

The Frost Giant laughs, the sound like broken glass. “And how are you going to do that, little king?”

“By giving you this,” Loki says, a little cheeky, a lot relieved. The Cast of Ancient Winters spins out of empty space between his hands. “This belongs to you, but know that there are two stipulations with it’s return. One, now that you know what I am, you know I can use this, and will if provoked. Two, I have placed a spell on this, one that can only be broken by me. Should there be a hint of war on our horizons, I will recall this back to the Vault in Asgard and I will take my armies against you.”

Laufey reaches for the Cask before he can stop himself. “And if I refuse?”

“Then I will leave, and take this with me. Once Thrym has been dealt with, we will have contact only through seiðr, and when you pass your throne to Byleistr, then perhaps I will try again.” Loki shrugs. “These are the terms.”

With a quick move that takes Loki by surprise, Laufey slices his hand with a dagger of black ice, letting his blue blood drip down to the ice. It freezes before it even hits the ground, and Loki blinks at him. “I accept,” Laufey says and holds out his bloodied hand. Loki pulls his own dagger made of alyndor and slices his own palm. His blood is as blue as Laufey’s and when their palms touch, he can feel the Power.

“Bound by blood, by blood undone,” Laufey growls, and there’s a spark of seiðr in his red eyes that Loki has never seen before. “Give me the Cask.”

Once the relic is out of his hands, Loki feels the illusion skate over his skin again. “Thank you,” Loki says with another low bow.

He’s about to leave the cavern when Laufey calls to him again. “Little king... if ever you have more questions... you are welcome.”

(That’s more than he’d hoped for. He’ll take it. No one has ever learned that if he’s given an inch, he’ll take a Realm.)

*

He doesn’t bother with the Bifrost when he leaves, he simply appears in the throne room, giving Heimdall ample time to watch him do so. To his surprise, the Warriors Three and Sif are waiting for him, like they expected him to cheat. He startles only a little, taking a half step back. “Something the matter?” he asks lightly when all they do is glare.

(Well, Volstagg and Hogun are glaring, Fandral looks amused and he’s not sure how to interpret Sif’s expression.)

“Heimdall told us you traveled to Jotunheimr alone,” Volstagg rumbles, arms crossed over his chest. “Alone, my king.”

Loki pulls off his helmet, resting it against the throne and says with amusement, “I do remember, as I was the one there.”

“Why did you not bring us?” Fandral almost-whines.

(There are lots of answers to this: one, they would have approved of his methods, and two, he does not relish the thought of unmanning himself before them. Even keeled as their friendship may be currently, such a reveal would unmake them.)

Instead, Loki shrugs carefully, settling himself gracefully onto the throne. “Laufey is a suspicious being after all this. He has dealt with me honestly, and I wished not to prolong this arduous process.”

Sif looks skeptical. “Dealt honestly with you?”

In this Loki is certain. He spreads his hands as though encompassing all of himself. “One cannot lie to the god of lies,” he says. “Laufey did not try.”

Fandral huffs and rolls his eyes. “Thor lied to you all the time,” he says.

Loki’s chest hurts at the reminder, but he merely smiles when both Hogun and Volstagg hit Fandral in either arm for the comment. “I always noticed when Thor lied to me,” he says evenly, “I simply never called him out on it.”

“Why not?” Fandral asks, flinching prematurely when Volstagg rounded on him.

He holds up a hand to stop Volstagg from punching Fandral again. “What would be the point?” he asks rhetorically. “He’d chosen to lie to me for a reason, and pointing out that I knew otherwise would only aggravate him. He’d withdraw and then where we would be?”

Fandral subsides at Volstagg’s glare. “My king,” Sif asks slowly, “what did you give him? Laufey, that is.”

“Information. Some truths. Some spells.” None of those things are lies but he doesn’t relish actually telling her the answer.

She narrows her eyes and Loki readies another lie when she - surprisingly - nods once and subsides.

Hogun bows low, hooking his fingers in Fandral’s tunic and not so subtly tugging him away and Volstagg watches them for a moment before saying, “We’ve come to a conclusion on who you should take, when you return to Thor.”

Loki watches as the two leave the room before turning his attention to Sif and Volstagg. “I’m going to assume,” he says, amused, “that it isn’t them.”

He shakes his head. “No. Fandral was displeased at our choices and would have argued in favor of himself.”

“There’s a surprise,” Loki drawls, relaxing into the throne. “Which of you?”

“Me,” Sif says, lifting her chin.

Inclining his head, Loki agrees easily. “When Thor next calls, I will carry you with me.”

Sif looks a little disappointed. “We will not go now?”

He shakes his head. “Nay, not tonight. I require rest... and food... before making such a journey again. Doing so too soon would strand us upon Thor’s hospitality, and I have no wish to...” he trails off, “to... upend his life more than I already do.”

Volstagg takes an aborted step forward (like in comfort but thinking better of offering.) “My King, surely you cannot think he would be displeased by your presence.”

Loki raises tired eyes to his. “You said it yourself, my friend. We have been more off than on, in recent years.”

(And this distance does not heal.)

*

Though they occupy the same Palace, Loki does not see his mother overmuch. They occasionally have dinner together (when he remembers to eat) and their quarters are in the same wing (not that Loki has slept since Thor was exiled.)

But her guard stands at the ready by her door, and Loki knocks softly to gain her attention. It opens on it’s own, and Loki slips through, allowing it to close behind him. Frigga sits at her loom, weaving something complicated that even with his greater magical ability, Loki cannot follow.

(He never truly cared for women’s magic.)

“My son,” she says, after a long moment of silence. “It has been some time since you asked for my guidance.”

Loki looks down. “It is not guidance I seek this night, Mother.”

Frigga doesn’t take her eyes from her weaving, but her lips quirk upwards in a smile. “Is it not?”

(Loki doesn’t have to feign the swell of emotion that closes his throat.)

“Why did not you not tell me?” he breathes. The sound of the loom stutters to a stop. When he drags his eyes up to meet his Mothers, she is staring at him with pain, horror and some undefinable emotion. “Why would you let me believe I was a son of Odin? Why?”

When Frigga blinks, two tears curve down her cheeks like ice that sparkles in the firelight. “When did you find out?”

“The day fath– Odin – died,” Loki murmurs. “And you did not answer my question.”

Frigga looks like she wants to rush off her stool to embrace him but Loki wants to be angry with her. He does not want her comfort. (But the image of anger will break if she touches him.) “My son, my Loki... I am so sorry.” He says nothing, staring at her until she seems like she’s collapsing inwards. “I always... always wanted to tell you. But I suppose that means nothing now that you know and I didn’t.” Frigga reaches out and touches her weaving. “I always knew this day would come.”

“You are still not telling me why!” Loki shouts.

When his mother flinches, Loki feels like his chest is collapsing. “Because we were afraid,” Frigga whispers, voice carrying easily.

Loki visibly recoils, stumbling back against the door. “Of me?”

That brings back Frigga’s spirit. “No! Not of you, never of you. I never agreed with how your father raised Thor to hate the Jotuns. We were afraid that, once you were told... you would hate yourself.”

Drawing in a ragged breath, Loki says evenly, “it did not take finding out I’m a Frost Giant to accomplish that.” He rubs his shaking fingers over his lips. “Father raised me - us - to hate Jotuns, yes. But he raised Thor to hate magic just as much.”

Frigga nods, eyes back on her weaving. “Yes. But Thor could never hate you.”

“What do you think he will do when I tell him, mother?” Loki asks, pained. “He would try to kill me. Even as a Mortal... though he cannot harm me.”

His mother moves then, sweeping across the room to stand before him, reaching out slowly to touch his cheek. “Oh my dear boy... Thor can always hurt you. He’s the only one who ever could.”

He swallows hard, blinking back tears. “Mother... what do I do?”

She finally pulls him into a tight embrace. “I’m afraid I have no advice for you, my son. We kept this secret from you, from him... it is your secret now to do with as you will.”

Loki presses his forehead to the cap of his mother’s hair. “I cannot lose him, mother.”

(It would break him.)

Frigga pulls away, taking both his hands. “Loki, he loves you.” When he looks away, she pulls at his hands until their eyes meet again. “You cannot keep secrets of the heart from the goddess of marriage, son,” she says, a trace of mischief in her eyes.

It takes Loki a shamefully long time to understand her meaning. He can feel his face pale, and the way his eyes go wide. He yanks himself away, reaching haphazardly for the seiðr to spirit himself away. “No, Loki,” she commands forbiddingly, and a lifetime of listening stills his escape. “You will find no castigation here.”

He loses the battle with his tears, and his mothers face wavers. “How could I not find such a thing? Thor is my brother.”

Wiping away the tears on his too pale cheeks, Frigga leans in to kiss his forehead. “No,” she says gently. “He is not.”

The laughter that bubbles up sounds hysterical even to him. “The one thing I could possibly desire.” He sinks to the chair by her loom, feeling older than Odin. “He may not be my brother, but he will still feel that way. No, Mother, castigation I may not find... but rejection? That is even worse.”

Frigga smiles at him, her eyes twinkling. “Thor will never reject you, my son.”

(He wishes she was lying. But Loki is the god of lies and he knows truth when he hears it.)

*

He gets the Call between his mother’s room and his own. He feels too raw for another encounter with Thor, but he cannot ignore the urgency, or the duplication. He appears before Sif, with a pained grimace. “He calls,” he explains shortly.

Sif does not comment on his expression, or his appearance to which Loki is entirely grateful. She rises swiftly, reaching for her sword and shield. “Allow me to dress in my armor, my King. It won’t be but a moment.”

In that ‘moment’ it takes her to change, the Call skitters four more times across his mind, causing him to flinch. He wishes Thor could still hear his mental words, but two things fail him (a lack of seiðr and the AllSpeak).

When Sif reappears, he offers her his hand, only a little surprised when she takes it. “Brace yourself,” he advises her.

They appear in a strange room, several objects of unknown origin beeping madly at his arrival. There is a large glass window on the far wall, broken in several places. Turning, Loki sees Thor’s friend Anthony sag with relief, Thor’s blue stone in one hand, and another object in the other. “Yeah, Darcy, he just got here,” Anthony says. “Thanks for the information, and tell Jane not to worry okay?”

Loki glances around the room, holding tight to Sif who is practically vibrating with sudden tension. “Friend Anthony?” he questions evenly. “What is the meaning of this?”

“We weren’t sure you would answer,” Anthony says, and Loki recognizes the rest of the people in the room. Thor’s friends, Clinton the Archer, Steven the Warrior, Natasha the Spy, Anthony the Man of Iron.

“Why would I not...” he stops speaking abruptly. “Where is Thor?” He turns on Anthony, face turned up in a snarl. “Where is Thor?!

*tbc

Chapter Text

11.

No one says anything for a really long time. Sif’s fingers clench hard on Loki’s the more the silence grows and Loki turns to look at Steven. He knows none of Thor’s friends well, but Steven struck him as the most honest. “Captain,” Loki murmurs, “please.”

Steven glances at Anthony who nods a little. “He fell,” Steven says quietly.

“So he is in the infirmary, or a healing house?” Loki asks. “My power is not geared towards the healing arts but I could ease his pain.”

Sif’s grip tightens more. “My King...” she breathes.

(Loki doesn’t want to hear it. Can’t believe it. Doesn’t want to believe it.)

“No,” he says firmly. “No, Thor isn’t.. He can’t be dead. Anthony, tell me!” He spins back to face Thor’s closest mortal friend.

Anthony licks his lips. “Loki... we’re thirty seven thousand feet up in the air. Thor was... trapped in a glass tube, and...” his voice chokes, “launched downwards. There... isn’t any way he could have survived. Not as a human.”

Now it’s Loki gripping Sif’s hand. “Why... wasn’t he wearing the Stone?”

The Son of Coul walks into the room, holding out a thin sheet of glass. “You should watch this, Mr. Odinsson.”

He takes the pane and as soon as his fingers touch it, the thing comes to life. What surprises him is that the man in the screen is him - in full battle armor minus the helmet. He frowns, because he’s never been here before, but it was very obviously him, and very obviously here. “What...?” he starts to ask.

“Just watch,” The Son of Coul cautions him.

The Loki on the screen exchanges words with Thor, a Thor who is very much trapped inside a glass cage. “How did he get in there?” Loki asks sharply.

“I don’t know, this was when I arrived.”

Loki’s eyes are dragged back to the screen when Thor says something that makes fury wash over the likeness of his face. And then it isn’t his face anymore. Sif jerks forward, leaning in closer to the pane of glass. “That’s a Frost Giant!”

(He knows who it is.)

“That’s Thrym,” he tells Sif quietly. “When he invaded your mind, he took an imprint of me, used to try and fool Thor.” He glances up at Anthony. “Tell me truly, what has he done?”

Anthony clicks his tongue for a second and obviously decides to tell him the truth right off. “Okay well, first you - he, sorry - showed up and stole something of ours, then killed a ton of people, let himself get captured and we think he’s using the thing he stole to open a portal to space.”

Loki frowns. “There is only one object of Power that could do such a thing that I know of. The Cosmic Cube.” He goes a little slack. “Tell me another truth, Anthony. Tell me Thor did not believe these things of me.”

“He didn’t,” Steven interrupts. “He refused to believe you capable of this.”

“His last act,” the Lady Natasha adds, “was to tell us to get the Stone, to find you. He saved all our lives with that.”

The pane of glass tumbles to the floor from his cold fingers. It shatters into fine dust. “But Thor is still dead.”

(And his world is ending.)

Sif glances at him and the mess at their feet. “I am the Warrior Sif,” she tells them, “and it would be my honor to offer my services to your war.”

Loki pulls himself together. “I offer my services as well.”

(It is, after all, what Thor would want.)

*

He has no time to grieve for Thor. Anthony figures out Thrym’s destination (he’s not actually sure how, just that Anthony talks when he should breathe and he’s something of a drama queen, but so is Thrym.) Steven updates him on the happenings, how ‘Loki’ attacked the air base, stole the Cube and then went on a killing spree.

Sif very helpfully does not comment that it very well could have been Loki, once.

(Not so long ago, either.)

Loki takes Sif and Anthony through his secret ways, though it’s exhausting. Anthony needs to be back at his Tower before everyone else, and his Iron Armor is ruined. He needs another, he says, and Loki is amused at how many sets the man has.

He drops Sif down at street level to await the other warriors, hiding them from view. Whatever Tony does fails, and Loki is given an unrestrained view of the sky opening up like a wound. Creatures pour out like blood, and Tony - in his armor - begins to battle.

Sif glances at Loki. “Are you ready?”

He spins Gungnir, grinning widely. “Let us fight,” he tells her, and spins out seiðr to catch the oncoming enemies. It is interesting to fight by Sif’s side again, as a welcome companion rather than the nuisance she once saw him as. He kept one eye on his opponents and one on hers, spilling out doubles to distract anything coming up on her back.

They fight well together, made better by the appearance of Barton, Natasha and Steven. Loki’s world narrows to the push and pull of battle, flickering in and out of sight, ambushing warriors in both air and ground forces.

Natasha goes down hard and he throws himself beside her, pulling up a shield and deflecting any stray enemies. “What are these things?” she asks, pulling the jagged broken edge of a blade out of her side.

“I know not,” Loki admits, passing what he knows of healing over the bleeding wound. “I have not seen their like, but I do know they are from neither Asgard nor any world known.” The wound heals with a silvery white flash. “Are you well enough to return to battle?”

She looks at him for a moment, breathing heavily. “I have to be.”

Ten minutes later, he guides her path through the air when Steven launches her at a flying craft. He loses her a moment later but at least she made it. Something pings in his mind and he follows the Stone’s path to Anthony’s side. “Loki!” the man calls out, pinned under the forces of alien creatures.

A muttered spell and a shove sends them flying, but Loki is flagging now. “Anthony!” He helps the other man to his feet. “How fares you?”

“I’m fine, the Captain and the Hulk are down on 6th, but Barton went through a window up there and I can’t raise him on comms.” Loki nods once and flits away, watching through shadowed eyes as Anthony takes off again.

(That armor is truly a marvel.)

Barton is barely conscious inside the building, glass cuts littering his body from where he crashed through the glass. Loki sweeps them away and uses the last of his seiðr to heal what he can. “Knew he wasn’t you,” Barton mutters self consciously. “I knew it.”

Loki doesn’t quite understand - the whole story hadn’t been told to him - but he could see in the haunted dark eyes of the Hawk that he’d been wronged terribly by Thrym, just as Sif had been.

He pulls Barton to his feet. “Come, the battle is not yet over.”

But Barton shakes his head. “I’ve run out of arrows.”

Loki hands the pouch at his waist to Barton without a second thought. “They are not arrows, but they will never run out,” he offers. “They were my Gift from the Allfather when I came of age. I hope they serve you well.”

The other man gapes at him for a long moment before his hand flies up to the communication unit in his ear. “Cap and that Thrym guy are fighting up on Stark Tower,” he reports. “Can you get us out of here?”

Exhausted and strained, Loki nods. “Yes. Hang on to me, tightly.”

Barton snags his arm and Loki reaches out for seiðr and finds himself full of icy power. He spins them out at the Towers base, and Barton immediately goes to join the fray as Loki joins Steven.

He’s just in time to watch Steven get thrown from the Tower. Just in time to catch him with jagged seiðr that smells of ice. Steven’s safety assured, Loki turns to face Thrym.

“So you finally found me, little king,” Thrym mocks, dropping the illusion from his body.

Loki smirks. “How little you know, Thrym.” He throws an emerald burst of power, staggering the giant back a step. “You will die for your crimes, you are simply lucky enough to have hidden for so long.”

Thrym has the gall to laugh at him. “Did you know your brother loved you even when he thought you betrayed him? His last words were to claim his feelings.” Loki dodges ice, throwing fire back at him. “And he never knew how you truly felt.” Thrym ducks under Loki’s guard, slamming him back into the wall behind him. Cold trickles into his skin but Loki doesn’t fear it anymore.

(After all... he is cursed.)

Blue flashes over his skin for half a second, enough to suck the cold from Thrym and lend it to his own reserves of energy. The giant looks shocked for a blessed moment before he throws Loki to the ground.

“What?! How?!” The giant screams at him, the sound a shockwave of cold.

Ice spins out between Loki’s palms, a shield of frozen strength. “Looks like there were some things even the great Thrym wasn’t told.”

Hefting Gungnir and his shield, Loki rushes the giant, hit and piercing and swirling doubles around him. He can’t keep it up for long, and he’s given a reprieve when Sif lands in front of them, knocking Thrym back.

Loki drags his illusion back under control, letting the ice shatter around him.

(It’s not worth it, not now, not when he finally has her regard.)

“My King!” she cheers, bashing into Thrym again. “I– urk!” The spear sinks into her back from where Thrym has changed location - almost exactly as Loki does.

He pulls away from her dying body and shoves her down, where her blood begins to pool beneath her. “Sif!” Loki shouts. (She can’t die, she can’t, he’s already lost so much, lost Thor. Why now, why her?)

It’s a distraction.

The giant smashes into him, knocking Gungnir to the side, just out of reach. Loki hits the stone back first, wind knocked out of him. He struggles to get air in, tries to get his feet back, but Thrym rests one giant foot on his chest, cutting off air, and his ability to move.

Thrym raises his spear, the poisoned blue glinting with sunlight. “You know, King Loki Odinsson, I don’t know whether to simply kill you... or make you mine.” He twirls the bladed staff a few times. (For show? To frighten him? Loki isn’t sure but he knows he doesn’t want that edge against his chest.)

“I will never be yours,” Loki snarls, pushing against the foot that pins him.

Thrym smiles, his mouth full of pointed bloody teeth. “Then I must kill you.”

The spear swings down almost in slow motion, aimed for the vulnerable point of his neck. He can feel the force of it before it actually touches him and then Thrym is gone, his choking weight off Loki’s belly.

The staff clatters off to the right and Thrym hits the side of the building with a clang and a thud that rocks the foundation. Loki struggles to his feet, taking the hand offered to him. He looks up, and Thor smiles. “Hello, brother.”

*tbc

Chapter Text

12.

Loki stares at him for several very long moments, gaping in shock. “Thor?” he asks, hoarsely.

Thor’s smile could dim the sun and he gathers Loki close for a short but heartfelt embrace. “Loki. It gladdens my heart to see you fighting with my mortal friends,” he says. “Especially in my absence.” A dark look crosses his face. “Thank you, brother.”

“But... how?” Loki asks. “How are you here? They showed me, that you fell!” He can’t help the way he touches Thor, as if checking him over for wounds (and to see if he is real).

The dark look deepens and Thor cups Loki’s elbows in his palms to stop his movements and keep him close. “I did fall,” he agrees. “I knew that the imposter was not you, but he had broken the chain that held your stone... I had hoped Anthony would know where I had left it.” Loki nods reflexively. “When I... hit the ground... I don’t remember. But suddenly I had her.” He holds up Mjolnir, turning her slowly in his hand. “And I was myself again.”

He thinks about it for a long moment, eyes on Thor’s. He had never figured out what Odin had said was the stipulation on Thor’s return. “Perhaps it was your death?”

But Thor shakes his head. “No. If I had been so foolish as to die, I do not think the spell would have ended unless Odin was still behind it. I sacrificed myself, for my mortal friends. I became worthy, again.”

Loki scoffs. “You were always worthy.”

“You are kind to say so, brother,” Thor says amused, “but that lie is unnecessary.” He glances around them at the carnage. “Tell me of the battle, we can discuss this once we have won.”

That spurs Loki into action. He touches the small communication unit in his ear, and says, “Captain?” Thor looks behind him and rushes away with a cry, but Loki already knows what scene he will face. “Captain, I require your attention.”

There’s a burst of static over the line before Steven says, panting loudly, “Yeah? What is it, Loki?”

Loki isn’t entirely sure how to say this, so he says it all at once. “Thor has returned. He has his full power.” He takes a deep breath. “And the Lady Sif is dead.” He can hear Thor’s keening cries behind him. “We are at Anthony’s tower.” He turns slowly and sees Thor hunched over Sif’s still body. He tests for her pulse, and closes her eyes gently. “Thank you,” he murmurs for Thor’s ears only. Loki pulls the communication unit out of her ear, fitting it into Thor’s instead. “I have connected Thor now.”

Anthony is the one that greets him. “Thor, buddy, pal! You scared the shit out of me, you’re so not allowed to do that ever again. Seriously, I mean it. Who else is going to eat all the pop tarts in the house if you’re not around and your brother man, he was all moping and shit. Gods shouldn’t mope, Thor.”

Thor lets out a watery chuckle. “Have you no need to breathe?” he asks quietly.

Laughing, Anthony says, “Nope. You should know that by now, buddy. Now come on, I want to see that hammer of yours in action. I’m on 6th taking down a squadron and Barton ditched me like a bad prom date.”

Loki lifts Sif into his arms. “Go. I’ll take her to a safe place so we can return her to Asgard.”

He nods, hugging Loki again tightly before launching into the air.

(And Loki loves him so much.)

He puts Sif’s body in one of the rooms untouched by war or debris before teleporting away to where he can see the Captain fighting along side Barton.

That’s about the time the Hulk arrives.

*

Anthony wastes no time in pulling up the footage of the Hulk smashing Thrym around like a doll made of cloth and hay, Loki is amused to see. He plays it on repeat, using one of his many panes of glass. Each time the Frost Giant whines, Anthony bursts out laughing, sharing smiles and grins with Steven and Thor.

(Loki can read that smile though. Anthony saw something in that great void when he entered the portal. He uses the laughter and merriment to disguise his pain and fear. But Loki knows the shadows in his eyes.)

While Thor is busy with the rest of his comrades (possibly trying to explain his dramatic return), Loki takes Anthony’s elbow and draws him away, tightening his grip when the other man went to pull back.

“I merely have wish to speak with you,” Loki assures him quietly, once they are mostly alone. “I had a question for you that I did not think you would want your compatriots to hear.”

The mortal raises one eyebrow, settling his stance into one hip, crossing his arms over his chest. It’s a closed position, one that tells Loki not to tread too deeply. “Oh yeah?” he asks, tone a little belligerent. “What’s that?”

“What did you see in the Void Between Worlds?”

Anthony goes very, very still and Loki knows he has asked the right question by the way the mortals eyes fill with terror and ice. “Nothing,” he lies, predictably.

“Ah,” Loki murmurs. “I believe one of your mortal men once said this, about looking into an abyss while the abyss looks into you?” Slowly, Anthony nods, fingers tightening around his arms. “I know not what could have laid behind that portal, but I wager it would be similar to what dwells between the branches of Yggdrasil.”

“Uh... what?” Anthony asks inelegantly. “What’s Yggdra–whatever?”

Loki thinks back to his lessons and says, after a pause, “Yggdrasil is the great Tree of the world, where Asgard and Midgard and all of the other Realms exist. The branches span out to unknown places where life and death are uncertain... and to travel them invites death. Or worse, insanity. My father - Odin - and I are two of the few who can travel within this space, but should we linger or open our eyes we would be changed people indeed.”

Understanding dawns on Anthony’s face. “Does this have something to do with the story about the woman with three tits?” he asks.

Quite without his permission, Loki’s face arranges itself into an expression of abject confusion that makes Anthony break into laughter. “I... do not believe so,” he finally says, over the other mans waning amusement.

There’s another lengthy pause before the smile fades from Anthony’s face and he says, very, very quietly, “It was dark. Full of stars. I might live in the city but I know my stars, and they... were not my stars. I couldn’t find a single constellation that I recognized and I know them all. There were... things floating in it... not just the... the... armored worm creatures we saw here, or the hover crafts the Chitauri used. There was... a base. Made of twisted rock. It didn’t... it was completely matte. It had no shine, no depth of color. Just black. Blacker than even the sky behind those unfamiliar stars. I aimed the nuke there.”

Loki nods. (It does sound exactly like the space between the branches of Yggdrasil.) “That was wise. It was probably the place the creatures claimed as their base.”

Anthony looks away, staring out through a broken window. “What are you going to do with what’s-his-nuts?”

“Ah... Thrym, you mean?”

He waves a hand, looking unconcerned. “Yeah, him. What’s-his-nuts. The not-you.”

Grimacing, Loki glances over to where the Frost giant sits, hands bound by magical manacles, keeping his ice, and his seiðr at bay. “I will take him and the Lady Sif back to Asgard. Sif will be interred there, so her family may say their peace, and then I will interrogate Thrym.” Loki turns his attention to Thor. “And then I will take him back to his King and kill him.”

Anthony doesn’t look all that surprised, instead something like approval is hiding in his eyes when he says, “You won’t even give him a trial?”

Loki shrugs. “Why should I? He is not of Asgard, nor is he Mortal. He is a Jotun who broke the treaty I have with his king, and if that were not grounds for his death, he scraped a layer of my mind away in order to impersonate me, and if that were not enough, he murdered the Lady Sif in cold blood.”

“Well when you put it that way,” Anthony murmurs. “What about Thor?”

“Thor will do as he wishes,” Loki grinds out. (He has no intention of asking, none at all, because if Thor would rather stay and be an ‘Avenger’, Loki doesn’t know what his response will be.) “In any case,” he adds after a moment, “I would like to offer you reparations of my own sort. Mortal eyes were never meant to see what you have, and you will likely not forget it for a very long time. I can dull the memories, make them seem far away and old.”

Anthony frowns a little, thinking it over. “Could you do the same for Clint?”

“Aye, should he like,” Loki says, thinking it over.

Finally, Anthony nods, stepping closer to him. “Okay. Do it.”

He brushes a hand over Anthony’s heart, keeping far away from the blue glow under his shirt. He senses that touching that will only startle Anthony into hurting himself and the spell cannot be interrupted. The seiðr flares green and Anthony sucks in a sharp breath. “Whoa,” he mutters, and when he opens his eyes, they’re dilated as though in drug or pleasure. “That’s a rush.”

Loki assures him the feeling will pass and makes his way towards Barton to offer him the same. To his - and the Lady Natasha’s - surprise, Clint refuses the treatment. “No,” he says after shaking his head. “I’ll keep it.”

(Clint is stronger than Loki gave him credit for.)

“As you wish,” Loki tells him. “The offer will always be open.”

He’s about to withdraw when Clint snags his wrist. “Could... you maybe alter the memories instead? So that he... doesn’t look like you?” Loki blinks at him, and nods slowly. “If Thor’s sticking around, I’m figuring you’ll come visit like you used to... and I don’t want to worry about accidentally shooting you.”

With sinking heart, Loki does as the archer bids and goes to leave again, intent on taking his charges to Asgard where he can lick his wounds in peace when Clint stops him a second time. “What?” Loki says, almost succeeding in keeping the irritation from his voice.

“Here,” Clint says, handing him back the pouch of daggers. “Thanks for these, they’re truly marvelous.”

He doesn’t even think about it. “Keep them,” he offers. “I have this,” he taps Gungnir on the cracked floor. “You will get far more use out of them than I.”

“You can’t be serio–urk!” Clint starts to say, making a pained noise as Natasha elbows him.

“What Barton means is thank you,” she says sweetly.

Loki smiles for the first time in hours and finally takes his leave of them.

Only to run straight into Thor’s waiting arms.

*

Thor realizes Loki is entirely too distracted when he manages to surprise him, gathering him up into a stiff hug. It’s been a millennia since he’d even been able to sneak up on Loki, let alone get close enough to touch him.

After a brief second of Loki’s stiff startled body leaning unyielding against his, Loki melts against him, slipping his too thin arms around Thor’s waist, pressing his face into the juncture of his shoulder.

It was not the sort of embrace they had shared for many a century and Thor tightens his grip on Loki to avoid ending it too soon. “I will have to return to Asgard soon,” Loki murmurs against Thor’s armor.

“I know,” Thor answers without inflection. “I won’t be returning with you.” Loki freezes in his arms and he hastens to add, “at least not yet. I have matters to attend to here, I must deal with the Director of Fury, and possibly help fix whatever Mjolnir broke when she came to my aid. And this is Anthony’s home... I cannot leave it in ruins.”

Loki pulls away then, despite the tight grip Thor has on his elbows. “I know Thor,” he says, and he’s smiling though it doesn’t look real. “I understand.” He looks over at Thor’s friends for a moment before turning his attention back on his brother. “You want to be an Avenger.”

“... Aye,” Thor reluctantly admits. “You are king, and I... don’t wish to be in the way.”

Glaring at him, Loki crosses his arms over his chest. “You are the eldest son! I shouldn’t be king, you should. Will you abandon me now?” He makes a complicated gesture, pulling Gungnir toward him with a spark of green. Once the stave in his hand, he sighs heavily. “If this is what you truly wish, I will return for you in a week hence.”

Feeling like he’s missed several key points of the conversation, Thor reaches out for Loki, missing him by scant inches. “Wh– Wai– Lok– Damn it, brother, hold!”

Loki stops just behind the silent Thrym, turning to look at Thor over his shoulder, one eyebrow arched in question. “You won’t even stop to celebrate? We’re... going for something called Shawarma... Anthony suggested it.”

He shakes his head. “Not this time, Thor. I’ll be back soon.” He reaches down and touches Thrym’s shoulder, spinning them away with green light and fire.

It’s not until many hours later that Thor realizes that Loki had touched the bare skin of the giant, and not reacted to any pain.

He’s still musing over that, convinced that it was merely a copy of Loki while he gathered up the Lady Sif - who had been found missing when the Lady Natasha sits beside him on the couch he’s claimed as his own. He smiles at her brightly, nudging their shoulders together. “I am glad to see you are well,” he tells her cheerfully, and she smiles back.

“Did you know that...” she begins to ask him quietly, expression serious around the smile, “Loki is in love with you?”

*tbc

Chapter Text

13.

“I’m sorry,” Thor says immediately. “I am so sorry. It’s all my fault, if I hadn’t... I knew I shouldn’t have pushed at you, not for so long. I have trouble believing how much you let me get away with, before. And now... I’ve done this to you, made you want something you shouldn’t. You’re my little brother, even though I know you hate it if I call you that. This is all my fault, Loki. I’m... so... sorry, that’s not even adequate enough. Can you forgive me? Can we work on this together... put it behind us somehow? Maybe I should stay in Midgard, you take the Stone, come back when... when you stop loving me. Or hating me. Or whatever it is you feel for me.”

Thor meets his own eyes in the mirror and scowls. “This is useless.”

“Actually,” Anthony’s voice says from behind him, sounding infinitely amused, “you may have something there.”

Closing his eyes, Thor leans his head against the mirror in front of him. “Why is it that you are everywhere?”

Anthony laughs a little, leaning against the door jamb. “It’s my tower and I know everything. Now, let’s rewind a little and go back to your charming speech. I wouldn’t recommend saying any of that to your brother, and I don’t even know him that well. But! I would say similar things.”

Thor turns to face him. “I have spent centuries saying the wrong things, I will take anything you say as advice.”

“Ooh, can I get that in writing?” Anthony asks eagerly, making Thor smile. “First, you shouldn’t act like his being in love with you is a reaction to something you did. At least, not something that you did which may have been harmful or bad.”

“Then what do you believe I should say?” Thor asks, a little desperately.

“Uh,” Tony laughs a little. “You know I’m the worst person in the history of ever to ask for advice right?” he asks, leaning against the door jamb. “I just know... that whatever he feels, telling him you think you forced it on him... bad plan, brother.”

Thor runs his shaking hands through his hair. “That is exactly my problem, friend Tony.” He sinks to sit in the chair by the desk, Mjolnir knocking lightly against his leg, a comforting weight. “I have lived innumerable years, and each one of them, Loki has always been my brother.”

Tony gives him a level look. “Were that true, you would be angry and disgusted, not frightened and apologetic.”

Mjolnir flies to his hand with the force of his anger. “You know nothing, Anthony Stark!” he snarls. “I do not fear my brother.”

For all that he knows how powerful the hammer is, Tony doesn’t blink when it’s brandished at his face. “Your brother? No. But I think you love him too.”

He does flinch when the hammer tumbles to the floor and cracks the hardwood in five places, shaking up dust and sawdust. “Apologies,” Thor murmurs.

Tony clears his throat. “Jarvis? Make a note to reinforce the Thunder Gods floors with something that can withstand accidental hammer droppings,” he says evenly.

Already done, Sir,” the warm voice of his magic ghost says.

“What do I do?” Thor whispers, hanging his head. “How can I face him again?”

Tony steps around the fallen hammer and lays a warm hand on Thor’s shoulder. “I have a better question,” he says, equally quiet. “How can you not?”

He leaves a moment later, closing the door behind him. Thor gives half a thought to summoning Loki, his fingers hovering over the river stone before he lets his hand fall. Loki has Sif to deal with, and then Thrym.

After another moment, he rescues Mjolnir from the dent in the floor and seeks out the lady Natasha.

He eventually finds her in her quarters, standing barefoot in a strange position. He takes a moment to stare at her, the way her legs point straight up, her pointed toes. Her weight seems to be balanced on her shoulder blades. He has no idea what she’s doing but it looks fascinating.

“Yes?” she asks, even has he stares at her, startling him.

“How did you know?” he asks, without looking away.

“I know everything,” she quips, and folds down from her position. “You’re staring. Stop.”

Thor looks down. “You are baffling to me, lady Natasha. Please, give me a straight answer.”

Natasha settles on the mat, leaning back against the wall. “His reason, when you died,” she said after a moment of gazing at him.

After a pause, he joins her on the floor, crossing his arms over his chest. “I couldn’t let him kill anyone else,” he admits, painfully. “We had already lost Clinton.”

Her face goes flat and cold around the edges. “We got him back.”

That, at least, makes him smile. “Thanks to you, dear lady.”

She snorts, the hard expression fading into a sweet smile. “Because of all of us,” she tells him, a little pointed.

He feels his smile become forced, and he looks away. She sobers when he does, reaching out and taking his hand. “Thor, there is no shame in this.”

Though he’d heard as much from Friend Anthony, it doesn’t hurt to hear it a second time. “You’re certain?” he asks, just in case.

Natasha catches his eyes with hers, expression serious. “I would bet our lives on it.”

That’s good enough for him.

She looks attention and interested and the words spill out of him without permission. “I fell in love with him on a hunting trip to Alfheimr. It was only him and I, we had not brought the others, and so Loki was himself. He said he liked having me all on his own, at his beck and call,” Thor says, laughing softly. “We went up the north side of the tallest mountain until we reached snow.

“It wasn’t like Jotunheimr, no ice or jagged edges. Just pure white snow. Loki threw a snowball at me, so I retaliated by tossing him into a drift. I thought he’d be angry, he so often was in those days, but when he came out of the pile, with snow caught in his hair and eyelashes... I remember thinking ‘mine.’ And I... I drew away from him, after that. I tried to kill how I felt with lies and distance.

“And if I had not been banished, the enemy wearing my brothers face may well have been him, once.”

Natasha’s expression softens into something gentle and genuine. “Tell him, Thor,” she encourages.

He nods once. “Soon.”

The river stone lays under his armor, waiting.

Soon.

*

Loki spins Thrym into a cell, leaving him to the tender mercies of the Kings Guard. “Leave him alive,” he instructs them, “I’ll deal with him later.”

He means after Sif. He collects her from where he left her, just outside the prison, picking her up with the utmost care. (They had not been friends long, just long enough to make him miss her.)

He needs to take her to the House of Healing, so they can begin the funerary rights she would desire. He doesn’t mean to frighten the lay sister, he’s too used to being able to appear and disappear at will without note or circumstance.

“My King!” the lay sister gasps, jerking back in her seat when he appears inside the room. She leaps to her feet. “The Lady Sif? Is she injured?”

He cradles her in his arms, laying her down on the bed in the room. “Send word to my mother, and the warriors three,” he orders the lay sister, instead of answering her. “Tell them the Lady Sif has fallen.”

He sits quietly by his friend (and how surprising it is to use this word when speaking of her!) As another lay sister begins the cleansing of her form. He stands only when the others arrive, and greets them outside the room where she is being kept. Volstaff takes one look at his wearied expression and slumped shoulders, and pulls him into a rough embrace.

(That he would even think to touch Loki at all is still so surprising to him. He supposes that knowing Thor could return at any time has shaken him more than he can admit, even to himself.)

“The battle?” Hogun asks, laying a cool hand on Loki’s exposed wrist.

“It is won,” Loki murmurs, leaning against Volstaff ever so slightly. “And Thor... he has broken Odin’s spell.”

There is a general outcry and cheer at his pronouncement, and Loki has to hold up a hand for silence. “Well, where is he?” Fandral demands.

“He remains on Midgard to assist with the aftermath,” Loki answers, pulling away from Volstagg. “He will return for the burning.”

“What about the throne?” Fandral asks, a little blankly, staring at the door where Sif’s body waits.

Loki frowns, turning to look at him. “What about the throne?” he asks sharply.

“Well, now that Thor’s returned, you don’t need to place-sit,” Fandral blunders, not even giving Loki the courtesy of looking at him.

“... Place-sit,” Loki growls, taking a step forward towards Fandral, and out of Hogun’s suddenly too tight grip. “Has it come back to this?” He glances at Hogun, who is as blank faced as ever, to Volstagg who is glaring at Fandral fiercely.

(His mother is curiously absent, likely informing Sif’s family of her passing. But he wants her there.)

Fandral finally looks up. “Thor was supposed to be king.”

“And Sif was supposed to be alive!” Loki shouts. “But neither of them are as they are supposed to be!” He shoves Fandral back a step. “And I am King, like it... or not.”

“Wait, Loki...” Fandral begins to say, face clearing and horror beginning to dawn in his expression. “I didn’t mean...”

“Save your meanings for the dead,” Loki hisses. “I have a murderer to deal with.”

He blinks away.

(He cannot deal with this.)

*

Thrym waits where he was left, eyes staring blankly at the wall. His gaze is so intense that Loki follows his gaze to see if there is something there. Something magic, or strange. He waves a hand in front of Thrym’s eyes, but there is no reaction.

The Guard at the door says, “he hasn’t moved since you left him, Sire.”

Loki glances at him. “Not at all?”

Shaking his head, the guard gestures to his partner. “We moved his bonds from his front to his back, and he said nothing, did nothing. He only moved when he made him.”

“How strange.” Loki sits in front of him, blocking Thrym’s view of the wall. “Tell me what you know,” Loki says, and threads seiðr into the question.

“I know nothing,” Thrym says, his voice low. “I know only what my master tells me.”

Loki jumps on that. “Who is your master?”

Thrym tilts his head to once side, red eyes focusing on Loki. “I know not his name.”

Hissing through his teeth, Loki thinks for a moment. “What did he charge you with?”

“To bring the Chitauri to Midgard. To bring down the trust between Midgard and Asgard. To murder the Lady Sif. To murder the fallen Thor Odinson.” He blinks once. “And when that is complete, to murder my king Laufey.”

Pulling back the compulsion to speak, Loki turns to his guards. “I will take him to Jotunheimr,” he says. “Laufey will want to hear of this.”

The guard nods. “Yes, my liege. We will inform The Queen.”

Loki fists his hand in the clothes (clothes far too similar to his own) on Thrym’s back, spinning them out onto the Bifrost. Heimdall is already waiting, sword positioned just so. “You are doing the right thing,” the Guardian informs him.

He laughs, a sharp bitter bark. “Aye. For once.”

When the Bifrost spits them out onto the cold icy wastes of Jotunheimr, it’s the first time Thrym shows any emotion. He struggles in his bonds, eyes wide enough to show black around the edges. Loki brings him straight to Laufey, bypassing the guards at the door to his court.

“Odinson?” Laufey asks, sounding surprised.

“I bring before you the traitor Thrym, who stole memories and the life of Lady Sif, a warrior of Asgard. Her judgement ere she lived was to take his life for hers, but now his sentence falls to me. I leave it to you,” he says with a low bow.

Laufey blinks, taking in the struggling seiðmaðr. “His actions were against you, Loki King.”

(He wants to think such petty feelings of revenge are no beyond him but looking upon the creature that stole his friend from him, he knows he is not.)

“My master will kill you all,” Thrym says, sounding like a child.

It’s exactly the wrong thing to say.

Laufey flares up, roaring. “I am your master.”

Thrym only smiles, broken teeth bared. “You are nothing, Laufey King.” He breaks from Loki then, chains snapping with cold and seiðr. Laufey and Loki move as one, one wielding a spear of ice and the other wielding Gungnir.

He chokes on black blood, staring down at the spear protruding through his chest, as Laufey slices sideways with his spikes of ice.

“Who stole his loyalty from me?” Laufey asks him.

“I know it not,” Loki answers him. “I don’t think he even knows the name. But believe me, I will find out.”

(He knows he must return to Asgard, knows it in his bones, but he can’t face Fandral’s apologies, or the sorrow of Volstagg and Hogun. He wants his brother more intensely now that he has in years. But for all his brother lives, he’s never been further from Loki’s reach.)

*

Thor calls for Loki three days after the battle. He stands in the lounge of Friend Anthony’s tower, the broken glass cleaned but windows still broken and empty, letting in the breeze. He had meant to wait until Loki came to him, but he missed his brother too intensely for words.

Not that Loki really needs to know that.

He waits until Friend Anthony has left with Dr. Banner, and Steven has gone “site-seeing” with Natasha and Clinton.

“Mr. Odinson, my sensors are picking up the magic that belongs to your brother,” Jarvis informs him.

“Thank you,” he says briefly, as Loki appears before him. “Brother!” he manages to say cheerfully enough.

And Loki flinches.

It’s a minute twitch, just between his eyes, visible only to Thor because of practice and the long length of their relationship.

Thor frowns. “Loki?” he attempts. “Are you well?”

His brother smiles, but it’s a little thing, a sad thing. “Well enough. Thrym is dead.”

He waves a hand. “I don’t care about any of that, not right now. You are the only thing I care about.”

Loki scoffs. “Hardly the only thing.”

Thor shakes his head. “Loki, how can you not know?”

His brother looks away, staring out over the broken city that can just see from the height they’re at. “There are many things equally important, I am certain.”

He hates being unsure of Loki, unsure of his reception, unsure of their standing, and footing. But he steps forward anyway and embraces Loki from behind. “No,” he says, “No, Loki. No matter how important things are, how many other things are in my life, you are the most in my heart.” He tightens his grip when Loki tenses. He wants to ask what has happened in Asgard, wants to find out why he is being so cold, when they were finally warm again.

Loki turns in his arms, holding his wrists lightly. “Thor... you cannot say such things,” he murmurs. “Not when you do not mean them.”

Thor tightens his grip, clenching his fingers in Loki’s armor. “Brother, I do.”

Loki freezes. “I’m not,” he says clearly.

Frowning, Thor pulls back just enough to look down into Loki’s eyes. “Not what?” he asks, confused.

“Your brother,” Loki says. He draws away before Thor can stop him. “I never was.” He’s smiling again, but it’s a tight rictus, filled only with pain and suffering. “Odin stole me, long ago, a child left to die. I am not your brother.”

What are you talking about?!” Thor bursts out.

“This.” Loki shivers with magic and his familiar pale skin melts away, leaving behind an equally familiar Jotunn blue.

He reaches out and the cold radiating from Loki is... is... real. “Brother?” he breathes, numb and shocked.

“No,” Loki says again, and vanishes.

Thor folds gracefully to the ground, sitting there until Anthony finds him. “Hey Point Break, you good?”

He looks up at him, eyes bleak. “My brother...” he chokes out. “My brother is a Jotunn.”

*

TBC

Chapter Text

14.

When Thor tells stories about his time in Asgard, Steven notices, he speaks with his hands. His fingers grasp unseen weapons and draw out fabled battle tactics. They paint lurid pictures of gory battle and friendship bound by the stretch of time.

He sits where he has fallen, close to the small crater left by Thrym, fingers moving through the air like he’s telling a symphony rather than a story. He speaks of Jotunheimr, the place of ice and snow, and giants more vicious than ones that live in Beanstalks.

The stories he tells are full of nightmares and grief, of missing eyes and two ravens that can remember everything. That one day his mother came to him with a little boy baby and said, “this is your new brother.” And in the story, a tiny Thor tells her, “his name is Loki, mother. He said his name is Loki.”

The nightmares in his stories of Jotunheimr are everything he was taught to hate. That blue skin and red eyes are the stuff of battle and blood. That his entire life - all the countless years of battle and breath - were given to hating the Frost Giants of his fathers war.

Thor shifts the story then, to brash arrogance and wincing shame. He relates his own conduct to them, something most (probably not Tony) have read about, but he explains why. Why he was banished, how his father died angry with him. That if not for him, war would never have touched Asgard’s borders again. How Loki ascended to a throne he’d never truly wanted and was forced to clean up Thor’s mess.

How he had always been forced to clean up Thor’s messes.

The Jotunn’s have been the enemies of Asgard for longer than Thor can physically remember, he goes on to say, and mothers tell their children horror stories about the Giants to get them to comply.

And his beloved brother, his lodestar, his everything... is one of them. A monster from a story, the things that hide invisible under beds and within closets if housework isn’t done. His entire life and the relationship that defined him as a man and a god was a lie.

And not even Loki’s lie, but his fathers.

Thor’s hands fall still when he finishes speaking, and he lays them in his lap. “I held him,” Thor murmurs. “He was within my grasp, and he ran from me.”

Natasha sits beside him, catching both his wavering hands in hers. “Thor,” she prompts softly. “You were prepared for this.”

He draws away sharply, but doesn’t break her hold on his hands. “How can you say this?” he demands.

“On the Quinjet,” she continues, without raising her voice. “Before you knew Thrym was Thrym and not your brother. He appeared to you as... a Jotunn. You already thought this could be so. Think, Thor.”

Tony sits on their other side, nudging Thor’s shoulder with his own. “Besides, he’s still your brother. It’s not like he’s a different person.”

Thor’s breath audibly catches.

Natasha leans a little harder into his side. “Think about what this means to him, too,” she added.

Going utterly still, Thor tightens his fingers where they’ve gripped his knees. “Father... Odin... lied to him for his entire life. He grew up being told we would be kings, together. And now... he must feel as though he is an Imposter. How could Odin do this?”

“I think there’s a better question,” Steve says, eyes still on Thor’s hands. “Does finding out your brothers a... a Jotunn mean you love him less?”

Thor looks staggered, for all he isn’t moving. “Of course not!” he bursts out loudly enough that Tony flinches. “He is still my Loki.”

“Then you should make sure he knows,” Steve says firmly.

Slowly, Thor’s entire expression crumbles and he shakes his head. “Loki has dealt with my fickle regard for longer than I care to admit,” he says. “That we are so close now is a product of separation and distance.” His closes his eyes, face pained. “Undoubtably he believes he has ruined everything.”

Steve waits until Thor focuses on him again. “... Has he?”

“No!” Thor shakes his head rapidly. “I am nothing without him, my friends. I care not for what lies behind his illusions.” He reaches for the river stone before letting his hand drop. I will seek him out when I return to Asgard,” he says slowly. “To give him time. I never used to give him time.” He looks up from his hands to smile at them. “Thank you for your counsel my friends.”

It will be fine, Steve tells himself as he looks at Thor. It will all be fine.

*

It’s not fine.

Rebuilding is slow, and Tony loans out as much equipment as he physically can to help speed up the process of cleaning up New York. Thankfully, the damage is only within a twenty block radius, but the amount of buildings felled by the electric leviathans is staggering.

Tony sleeps on Steve’s floor, his own suite demolished by the Hulk deciding to bash Thrym over every surface he could find. “Worth it!” Tony says to anyone who will listen when they ask why he hasn’t rebuilt the top of his tower.

But Thor is moping around the tower, like it did him a personal wrong. And, Tony notes, looking over another set of building plans, Thor tends to do this thing where he frowns with his whole face. It’s better suited to a muppet or those ASPCA commercials they’ve banned Steve from watching.

That’s why, three days after they found Thor pale and shocky in the Penthouse suite floor, Tony is absolutely not expecting none other than Loki to appear in his Workshop.

He startles, dropping the tool in his hand. It halts juts before hitting the floor, spinning slowly in place until he reaches to pick it up. Clearing his throat, Tony says, “handy trick.” Rolling it between his hands, Tony plays with it for a second before placing it on the table next to him. Turning to face Loki, he says, “You look terrible,” before dragging a hand over his face. Pepper is right, he needs cue cards for unplanned social interactions. “What I mean is, are you okay? Thor’s been worried sick and seriously he does this thing where he frown...”

Loki holds up a hand. “Stop. You speak entirely too much and far too quickly.”

“Uh. Yeah. I get that a lot.” He makes a concentrated effort to curb the next eight things that want to come spilling out. “So um... why are you here?”

“I had news,” Loki says succinctly. Tony waits more or less patiently, fidgeting with the tool he’d just dropped. “Sif’s funeral is in two days.”

He looks like he’s about to leave, but Tony’s self control snaps. “You’re seriously going to make me tell Thor that you came to see me and not him? Low blow, dude.”

That’s the first sign of emotion on Loki’s face. “What would have me do, Stark?”

He really, honestly doesn’t mean to say it. “Maybe not pussy around like a chickenshit?” He preemptively winces because it’s Loki and that was really stupid to say.

Instead of smiting him, Loki sighs and sits down on a near-by stool. “I’m not overly familiar with some of your phrases but I think I understand your meaning,” Loki says. “You call me a coward.”

Tony rolls his shoulders. “I call it like I see it,” he says with a quick grin. “Thor really wants to see you, and I’ve known him long enough to know that waiting is not is strong suit.”

Loki scowls. “Waiting? What waiting?”

“For you.” Tony levers himself up to sit on the edge of his table, pushing tools out of the way. “Seriously, I am the worst person to go to for advice.”

“Yet you offer it anyway,” Loki mutters, sounding faintly amused.

Shrugging, Tony grins. “Uh-huh. Of course. I don’t have a self-preservation instinct to speak of.” Loki waves a hand and Tony takes it as permission. “Taking off on him after dropping a big bombshell like that? Dick move.”

Loki’s head jerks up to glares coldly at Tony. “What would you know about it?”

Tony leans back against the wall. “I know that when Thrym was still pretending to be you, he told Thor that he was Jotunn.”

“... While he still wore my face?” Loki growled, looking horribly shocked.

“Yep. Thor dealt with it once, so you douching off into the distance was a dick move.”

Loki rolls his eyes. “So you’ve said.” He settles back on his stool. “You think Thor truly wishes to see me?”

“Yes,” Tony says instantly. “He does this thing where he frowns with his whole face, it’s seriously sad. Pathetic, even.”

At least now, Loki looks amused. “I’m familiar with the phenomenon.”

Tony grins. “Exactly. You’re going to make us deal with that? Cruel.”

“I am the god of chaos,” Loki points out. He falls silent for a second. “Does he hate me, Iron Man?”

“No,” Tony answers him firmly. “Far from it.”

Loki snorts. “How can he not? I do.” He looks faintly surprised that he said it.

Tony chews on his lip for a second. “Loki... we’re all monsters here.”

The god gives him another faint smile. “You are better at advice than you claim, Iron Man.”

“Don’t go spreading that around, okay?”

Loki inclines his head and vanishes between one breath and the next. Tony hops off his work bench and flicks his fingers to turn on the monitors behind him. “I need a drink,” he grumbles.

*

 

The day of Sif’s funeral dawns bright and clear.

Loki hadn’t managed to see Thor since his enlightening conversation with the Man of Iron, but he did send his brother (no, not his brother) a message detailing the day and time of the procession.

Volstagg finds him in the Houses of Healing, drawing lines of invisible seiðr over Sif’s body, keeping her preserved until the burning later that night. “My King?”

He snorts softly, pulling his hands away from the moored boat. “Thor returns tonight, will you still call me that then?”

(Since finding out his heritage, Loki has been so cold.) Volstagg’s hand is almost too warm when it falls on his shoulder. “Loki,” Volstagg chastises gently. “You have more than earned my respect as King. I will support you.”

“Thor is your best friend,” Loki points out, not looking away from Sif.

He does let Volstagg pull him away from the boat as the warrior says, “aye, he is. And we have all changed. Does Thor even want the throne from you?”

Loki looks away. “No.”

“Then rejoice in his safe return, and stop worrying.” He leads Loki out of the house, closing the door very firmly behind them. “Come eat with us, I can’t even remember the last time you did so.”

(Neither can Loki.)

Volstagg doesn’t move his hand from Loki’s shoulder until the reach the Main Hall, and he squeezes hard before he lets it drop. (Loki must truly look terrible for Volstagg to visibly worry so.)

He manages to eat something under Volstagg’s careful watch, though his watch is more of a running commentary that he uses as an excuse to ply Loki with more food. “When is Thor coming?” Fandral asks quietly.

(He’s been so subdued since their altercation in the Houses of Healing. Almost regretful.)

“Soon,” Loki murmurs back, shoving at Volstagg as the large warrior refills his plate. (Again.) “Volstagg, stop that.”

“You need to eat more, I can see your ribs through the leather armor. Eat!” Volstagg pokes him in the side, and maybe Loki is a little thinner than he should be.

“I have eaten,” he protests, pushing the plate back. “Hogun, help me.”

When Volstagg pushes the plate back, Hogun takes it away from the both, giving them a severe look that says more than words do. “Low blow, my King,” Volstagg grumbles.

Loki smiles for the first time since Sif died. “Trickster,” he says pointedly, just before he’s punched in the gut with the sensation of the Bifrost opening. He feels himself freeze and he looks up at his mother, sitting at the head of the table.

“Go, my son,” she tells him and Loki blinks out of the room before the Warriors Three can ask him what’s wrong.

He appears outside the Bifrost chamber, unseen but for Heimdall’s gaze. Thor stands beside the Guardian God, embracing him. “It is good to see you again, Heimdall,” he’s saying, a little muffled by armor. “Though I have met another who bears your title.”

Heimdall chuckles, the sound rumbling and familiar. “I have seen,” he says, stepping back from Thor. “It is gratifying to see you returned to us.” Heimdall turns a little, eyeing the space Loki inhabits. “Though there are others who would like to see you more.”

Thor smiles, but it’s a sad little thing that has no place on his features. “Yes, the Warriors Three... my mother... my brother.”

(There is no hesitation when he gives Loki that appellation. And Loki hopes for the first time, in a very long time.)

He steps out of the shadows and says, as even as he can, “Thor.”

The sad smile dissolves into something much wider and happier. “Brother!” he cheers, and sweeps Loki up into a tight embrace.

(Loki is not often wrong, but this one time... this one time, he’s glad of it.)

He hugs his brother back, whispering in Thor’s ear, “brother.”

Neither of them mention the tears.

*tbc

Chapter Text

15.

The wind whips through his hair and he expects pain, so much pain, but instead he lands on what feels like his bed at home in Asgard. He cracks one eye open and finds himself exactly where he felt he was. It’s his bed, long remembered softness but it’s definitely not his room.

“H-Hello?” he calls, sitting up and pushing his wild hair out of his face. “Is anyone there? Father? Mother? Brother?”

“Hello, Thor,” his father says from somewhere to his left and Thor whips around to face the voice.

His first thoughts are full of elation before he remembers that his father is dead. Odin looks as whole and hale as the last time Thor saw him however, and he stumbles out of bed to bow sloppily. “Father,” he whispers, “Loki told me you were dead.”

The All-Father smiles a little, taking Thor’s shoulder to raise him to his full height. “And so I am,” he says, and embraces his son. “But this is my spell, and I live within it until the spell is ended,” he adds, pulling back to regard Thor. “But know this, my son, I am so proud of you.”

Thor can barely string together two words, tightening his grip on the shade of his father. “Father,” he chokes out. “Father, I...”

Odin shushes him, cradling the back of Thor’s neck with one hand. “Hush, my son. I know your pain well.”

“Father,” Thor murmurs, “I’m dead, aren’t I? Or dying, at the very least.”

His father’s face pulls sadly, eye dimming. “Yes,” Odin answers him. “Thrym has finally gotten his wish, the heir of Odin dead.”

Thor nods, steeling himself. “When does it end? This spell?”

“Whosoever can wield the hammer will find himself with the power of Thor,” Odin intones gravely. “Of all the humans who touched her haft, none were so worthy as you.”

Making a face, Thor scoffs. “I was never worthy, Father. Not when you granted her to me the first time and certainly not now.” Odin’s face falls even farther and Thor musters up a smile from somewhere. “Father, no. It’s all well, I swear it. I have... found a purpose amongst the mortals. Happiness, even.”

Odin leads him to the chairs set up in the corner of the illusory version of Thor’s chambers. They settle together, and if Thor closes his eyes he can imagine they’re still in Asgard and nothing has changed.

Only, everything has changed and he’s having a conversation with a dead man. “Tell me,” Odin prompts when Thor is silent for too long.

“I have found friends - true ones, who enjoy my company far more than because of my warcraft. Clinton Barton, an archer with quite the tongue on him. The Lady Natasha, who is as beautiful as she is deadly. Then there is Steven Rogers, another warrior that magic has touched. And lastly, the one I have become closest to, Anthony Stark. He is a man made of iron, intelligent and my equal.”

Odin smiles, his one eye bright. “I am so proud of you, my son,” he intones, reaching out to clasp Thor’s forearm. “You’ve learned so much, in so little time.”

Thor has become no better in schooling his face, and his bitterness washes over him in a wave of cold. “Father, it’s been two years. To you - to Mother - to Loki - that is but a drop in the water of life. But to me - a mortal - the time has been nothing short of agonizing.”

“Two years?” The shade of his father asks. “It feels like no time at all since the spell was cast.” Odin’s grip tightens, his face full of sorrow. “And now I am gone.”

Thor looks away, staring at the wall. “You died angry with me.”

“The Norns take me, had I done such a thing,” Odin whispers. “You are my son. No matter our quarrel.”

Relief crashes over Thor with a gale force, leaving him staggered. “Father... the battle below, it goes ill. Thrym has taken the shape of my brother and wreaked havoc upon the world I love. I need to go back, before Loki finds me dead and gone.”

Odin nods slowly, taking his hand back and crossing his arms over his broad chest. “Before you make your choice, Thor, son of Odin, we must speak of your brother.”

Scowling, Thor cuts his hand through the air, stopping his father’s words. “No! You have never understood him, despite your similarities. He has been ridiculed his whole life, not the least of which was by myself and those I called friend.” He looks down at his hands, pointedly not looking at his father. “He has been called half a man, ergi, useless. He was never given your regard, or mine until now. But despite all that, he has taken Asgard’s throne, he is brokering peace with the Jotunns even after I destroyed the one we already had. Father, he is everything you’d want in a son.”

Odin sits back, a slight smile on his face. “You love him.”

He can feel the color drain out of his face. Thor swallows hard, throat clicking with the effort. “Of course I do, he is my brother.”

Fixing him with a severe look, Odin regards Thor evenly. “Do you believe me to be a fool, boy?”

“Of course not, father,” Thor says, voice small.

“Then do not take me for one,” Odin rumbles. “I am not so blind as you think I am, boy. I know what transpired between you on Alfheimr.”

Thor chokes on his next breath, holding out a desperate hand. “Nothing happened! Nothing father, I swear it.”

Odin smirks a little, the expression alien on his worn face. “You wanted something to.”

Taking a slow, quiet breath, Thor meets his fathers one good eye. “Do not ask me about this,” he cautions evenly. “This is my pain, and my fault. I will not drag Loki down with me for this sin.”

“Sin?” his father repeats. “You think your love for him is a sin?”

Thor runs desperate fingers though his hair, getting caught in the tangles and snarls. The pain centers him and he lifts clear eyes to Odin. “He is my brother,” he says quietly.

An expression flits across Odin’s face, one Thor can’t interpret. “Actually...” Odin says slowly, “he isn’t.”

Everything freezes.

Thor stares at his father, not moving, barely breathing. “What.”

Odin breaks the tableau by looking away, off into the distance somewhere over Thor’s left shoulder. “Loki is a foundling. Your mother never bore him, and he is not of my parentage.”

Like a lightning strike, the last thousand years suddenly make sense. How Odin withdrew from Loki as they grew older, Loki’s innate magical talent, his hair, his eyes, his very bearing. “So,” Thor says dangerously. “That is why you stopped loving him.”

He takes angry pride in the way Odin jerks back as though shocked. “He is my son, in all but birth,” Odin says evenly, despite his pained expression.

“Does he know?” Thor asks, ignoring Odin’s excuses.

“He... Found out.”

That brings Thor’s head back up.. “He found out? On his own?!” Odin’s glance away tells him everything he needs to know. “When?”

Audibly reluctant, Odin says, “when he became the king.”

Everything Thor is slumps down into his chair, like a puppet without strings. “No wonder he was so angry.”

Odin sighs heavily. “I didn’t mean for it to go this far. Frigga warned me, long ago. But I was stubborn and assured and Loki loved me. So I put it off, and now I am dead. I cannot make reparations or excuses.” He stands, body creaking, to go look out the window.

Thor joins him after a heavily silent moment. He startles when he realizes what lies outside the magic glass. It’s the Hulk’s cage, tilted on an angle and frozen in place. The structure is only moments from impact. “Father?” Thor murmurs.

“The time has come,” Odin intones, voice like gravel. “Do you rejoin your brother in combat, or join the warriors of our past in Valhalla?”

To Thor, the choice is an easy one. He takes a breath, squaring his shoulders. “Send me back,” he says firmly.

Odin clasps his shoulder. “I’m sorry, my son.”

Then there is nothing but pain. It tears along his bones, ripping his joins apart, snapping muscle and sinew alike. It shears through his skin, leaving great swathes of blood and tissue behind. His entire body is wracked with pain like he’d never experienced before, and the agony wipes everything away.

*

“What happened when you fell from the helicarrier?” Loki asks him as they walk along the Bifrost.

Thor’s certain there was an answer, but he remembers only falling and then holding Mjolnir.

“I don’t remember,” he admits. “But, as I live, I find I don’t care overmuch.” He shrugs a little, grinning down at Loki. “Are you complaining?”

Loki knocks shoulders would him. “No. Simply curious.”

Thor tears his eyes away from his brother, needing to remind himself that looking too long is frowned upon. “The mortals have a phrase for that,” he points out. “Something about killing cats.”

An expression of confusion skates over Loki’s face. “Mortals have strange sayings.”

“That they do,” Thor agrees. He falls silent then, looking over Asgard and drinking in the familiar sights of home.

“Did you miss it?” Loki asks quietly, following his gaze.

Turning to meet his eyes again, Thor says, “missed you more.” He ducks his head, hiding behind his hair. Loki doesn’t immediately respond so Thor continues. “Anywhere can be home, Loki. It’s the people who make it so. New York was like a home to me, but for one thing. One person.” He dares a look at his brother, but Loki isn’t looking at him. Two spots of color are high on his cheekbones and Thor smiles to himself. It has been many a year since he successfully embarrassed Loki and left him speechless. “This is where you call me a fool,” he prompts gently.

“You are a fool,” Loki blusters. “But. I missed you too.”

The fact gladdens his heart and Thor uses the feeling to carry him into the Palace, riding the emotion. When the Warriors Three come out to greet them, Thor half expects Loki to fade away, leaving him to deal with his friends alone. He is pleasantly shocked however when Volstagg embraces Loki first.

“Have I come to the right Palace?” Thor asks blankly.

Volstagg only laughs, releasing an indulgent Loki to lift Thor off his feet in retaliation for his comment. Hogun claims the next embrace and Fandral restrains himself to a simple bow. “Welcome home,” Volstagg booms. “The Feast in Sif’s honor has already begun. Come, come, before the food grows cold.”

Loki sighs and rolls his eyes. “The food will not get cold, glutton.”

Thor expects Volstagg to get angry, as he might have only a handful of years before, but instead he only clutches his heart in exaggerated pain and shoves Loki’s shoulder. “You are heartless indeed, my King, to deny my wasting body sustenance.”

“Wasting?” chorus Loki and Fandral who exchange uncomfortable looks right after.

Thor doesn’t have time to ask about the tension before they’re inside the hall and the nobility notice their entrance. There is a roar of sound when they see him but Thor only has eyes for his mother.

He breaksa way from his friends to greet her at the top of the dias, Loki a few steps behind him. “My son,” she greets him, hushed. “My son.” She embraces him tightly, and where Thor might have once submitted grudgingly, he wraps his arms around her waist and squeezes tight enough to make her squeak.

“Mother,” he murmurs into her hair. “I’m back.”

Her smile is as brilliant as their sky. “And I am never more glad to see you,” she promises.

Thor turns back to the long table and glances at Loki who nods encouragingly. So Thor tightens his grip on Mjolnir’s haft and brandishes her at the ceiling. The room roars with approval. “Skal!” someone calls. “Give us the skal, m’lord!”

Thor blinks and swallows hard. “I haven’t any wine,” he says stupidly, before someone presses a goblet into his hand. He glances at Loki who only smirks at his sudden nerves. Taking a fortifying sip of the honey wine, Thor uses that time to think quickly “The lady Sif,” he begins thoughtfully, drawing a hush over the crowd, “was my closest friend in all the Nine Realms. The worlds are a lesser place for her loss. May she find solace in the arms of our fallen brethren, and may we be so lucky to find her in the halls of our forefathers, when our times come to pass.” He raises the glass, meeting the expectant faces of his friends. “To Sif.”

“To Sif,” the room echoes, drinking deeply along with Thor.

He joins the Warriors Three at the table, giving Loki once last glance. Volstagg is eating happily and it’s Fandral who asks the question Thor has been dreading. “Now that you are back,” he says, mouth full, “will you be King?”

Thor glances down at his plate, full of his favorites but his appetite is suddenly gone. “Is my brother not a fine King?” he deflects, thinking of Friend Anthony and his unique ability to answer questions by not giving any answers at all.

Fandral sighs heavily. “Loki is a fine King,” he answers honestly. “I do not wish to oust him from his position.”

Thor gives him a flat look. “Then why ask at all?”

He groans instead of answering, and Fandral rubs his shoulder petulantly. “Curse it all, Hogun, you cannot hit me for a legitimate question,” he grumbles.

Holding up a quelling hand, Thor answers him. “I do not intend to take the throne.”

The whole area around him goes silent, but for Volstagg’s chewing. “You don’t...?” someone asks but Thor can’t place the voice.

“No,” Thor answers, raising his voice to be heard. “My brother is a fine King, and had the Allfather’s blessing. To be entirely honest, I would be a shit king.” He snorts, self deprecating. “Most of you know that. So leave Loki where he is. I trust him.” He snags Volstagg’s undrunk tankard and raises it to his brother who looks quietly stunned.

Fandral suddenly grins, reaching over to push Thor. “You dog,” he says. “There’s a woman, isn’t there.”

Thor rolls his eyes. “Fine, yes. There’s a woman, now shut up and eat.” A moment later, he looks up to catch a frozen expression on Loki’s face. It takes Thor a moment to place the emotion. It’s heartbreak and it’s aimed right at Thor.

For the first time in four hundred years, Thor allows himself to hope.

*

Candles flicker in the light breeze, but Loki only has eyes for Thor. His brother and the Warriors Three are all armed with bows and arrows dipped in pitch to ignite Sif’s funeral boat, and Thor fidgets, clearly uncomfortable with something.

(That is not what has stolen Loki’s attention.)

He cannot help but remember Thor’s quiet words at the feasting table, regarding having a woman back on Midgard. He’d been in Thor’s chambers often. Often enough to share a bed with some frequency. There had been no sign, no hint of a woman in Thor’s life.

(Had he become blind in his infatuation? Only seeing what he’d wanted to see?)

And their Mother! Their mother who knew their hearts better than they did had breathed not a word to Loki.

Thor has never been able to lie, not with any accuracy or skill, but Loki’s heart is too clouded to hear truth or not. (When it comes to Thor, Loki’s heart is always too clouded.)

He’s drawn out of his thoughts by the sun setting. Both Volstagg and Thor turn to fac ehim and Loki nods.

It is time.

Fandral lays one last kiss on Sif’s serene face before he pushes her boat out of the harbor. It floats leisurely away from shore, giving everyone ample time to say their silent prayers. It’s a mere effort of will to keep the candles burning, and when the boat is a goodly distance away, Loki joins the others at the shore line, holding his own bow.

On Thor’s signal, they raise the weapons and nock the arrows. The fire glows green from the pitch and it does something to Loki’s stomach to see Thor wreathed in green flame. The five of them draw back as one, and release the arrows together. The arrows fly true, igniting the pyre under Sif’s body. The boat blazes brightly for one drawn out moment before it sails off the edge of the world to be welcomed in Valhalla.

Loki bows his head and wisehs Sif another good bye. (He is especially grieved by her loss, now that they have become friends, now that Loki is accepted. Thor had the right of it: the universe is less for her loss.)

He lets go of the spell to keep the candles burning, and one by one they blink out in the breeze. When the last one finally flickers and dies, the crowd disperses, some with well wishes, others with companionable embraces or smiles.

Eventually, the only ones left are the Warrior’s Three and Thor and Loki themselves. Frigga cautions them not to stay too much longer and leaves them to their thoughts. Thor’s eyes are on the shore, Loki’s eyes are on Thor but it’s Volstagg who breaks the silence.

“Well,” he says gruffly. “Should be getting back. The wife will worry.”

“I will walk with you,” Hogun agrees. They spare another moment to say their good byes, before they too vanish into the deepening darkness.

Fandral twitches and fidgets in place before finally turning to Loki. “I didn’t mean it,” he mutters. “What I said at the Healing House. You’re my King and I shouldn’t have doubted you.”

Loki finds a smile from somewhere and pastes it on his mask. “All’s forgiven, Fandral. You were in shock. So was I.” (It might even be true. Someday.)

Almost falling over from relief, Fandral embraces Loki and then Thor. “I suppose I should go find a willing wench to drown my sorrows in,” he decides cheerfully.

Catching his wrist and squeezing hard with a warning, Loki orders forbiddingly, “Do not. Get her. With child.”

“I won’t, I won’t!” Fandral agrees, pulling away and disappearing quickly before Loki can enforce his order with magic or violence.

Loki sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “He never learns,” he mutters to himself.

A warm hand hooks around the back of his neck and Thor pulls him backwards for another embrace. “He makes his own choices,” he says. “Let him deal with the consequences.”

For a moment, Loki lets himself lean back against Thor. “We should go inside,” he says quietly.

“Aye,” Thor agrees. “Your chambers or mine?”

Loki pulls the seiðr around them with practiced ease and when Thor blinks again, they are safely ensconced within Loki’s rooms. He frees himself from Thor’s grip turning to face his brother. “Who is she?”

(That... Was not what he meant to say at all.)

Thor blinks at him. “Who is who?”

“The mortal woman you wish to return to,” Loki bites out, more angry at himself than at Thor.

To his surprise, Thor laughs. “Oh her. She doesn’t exist. Fandral was convinced that I could have no other reason to stay on Midgard without a woman to tempt me, so I simply agreed to shut him up. I see that it worked.”

Loki pulls a face. “It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility,” he rationalizes.

Thor’s eyes crinkle at the edges with the fullness of his smile. “It is,” he insists. “There is no one I love more than...” He cuts himself off, looking horrified. “Never mind.”

(Loki isn’t certain his heart can take much more of this.)

“Sif?” he forces himself to ask.

Thor is silent for a very long time, eyes fixed off in the distance, just past Loki. “No...” Thor disagrees slowly. "I loved Sif with all the strength of my heart... as a sister.”

“Then whom?” Loki questions, gently.

(This answer is going to break him.)

Thor’s eyes snap into focus, meeting Loki’s with startlingly intensity. “You,” he breathes,” before taking to large steps into Loki’s space.

And then Thor is kissing him.

*tbc

Chapter Text

The first time their lips touch, Loki freezes. Everything shuts down entirely, he falls limp against Thor, slack and unresponsive.

Almost immediately, Thor pulls away, holding Loki at arms length. “I mis-stepped,” he says, hushed, horrified. “I thought... I was so certain that... god’s blood, Loki, I’m so...”

“Stop,” Loki commands, holding up a hand to cut his brother off. He struggles to pull his mental faculties together, still distracted by the phantom press of lips against his own. Thor holds his tongue, expression crumpled and anxious.

(The old Loki would banter and mock, breaking Thor’s already broken composure. The old Loki would tease and deflect to do anything to escape. But this Loki is new and there are enough cracks between them. This Loki cannot add more.)

He drags his gaze to Thor’s and shivers at what he finds in that blue gaze. There is fear, of course, and muted lust. But most of all, there is love. And Thor has not looked at Loki with such love in nearly four hundred years.

Clearing his throat, Loki finally breaks the silence. “What did you think?”

Thor’s eyes slide away. “That you... felt for me as I do for you.” He swallows hard, throat clicking. “I had never dared believe it but... the Lady Natasha pointed it out to me, that you...” He hesitates here, “that you loved me.”

Loki goes cold. “The Lady Natasha,” he repeats, tone completely flat. “Is that so.”

A little sadly, Thor nods. “Your mind has been closed to me, these many years brother, due in no small part to my actions. I haven’t been able to predict your feelings or actions in longer than I care to admit. If you loved me, if you did... I could not even hope, let alone guess.”

He nods, faced closed. “That was done a’purpose,” Loki points out.

Thor bites down on his lower lip so hard it looks bloodless. “I know. I deserved every moment of it. But things, are better now. We are closer than ever have been... Loki please don’t shut me out now.”

Loki drags his gaze away. “Thor...” (He hates that expression is on his brothers face, but he must be certain. There can be not doubts.) “When did you... know?”

Wrapping his arms around himself in a tight embrace - a very human gesture - and Thor closes his eyes. “Four hundred years. Alfheimr.”

Taken aback, Loki blinks. “I remember.”

“I never wanted anyone as much as I wanted you that day,” Thor swears quietly. He looks oddly small, even in all his armor will Mjolnir at his hip. His shoulders are hunched, his hair hiding his expression the more he folds down.

(And Loki cannot bear that he has caused that pose. He is the god of lies, of chaos, of fire and causing mischief is as natural as breathing. But here, now, Loki can detect no lies, and there is no mischief he can wreak, not that won’t also destroy.)

He takes a step forward and the heel echoes on the marble floor, drawing Thor’s attention. “If I were to offer you my heart,” Loki says quietly, “what would you do with it?”

Hope spreads over Thor’s face so fast, it wipes away everything else. “I would exchange it for mine,” he says instantly. “It’s been yours in secret for long enough.”

Loki takes another step forward, putting him into arms reach of his brother. “And if I wanted more? If I wanted everything?”

“Yours,” Thor says without hesitation. “You can have everything, all I am.”

He licks his lips, reveling in the way Thor’s eyes track the motion. “And... if I say no?” Loki asks quietly. “If you bare all this to me and I turned you away?”

Thor’s gaze flickers, looking at Loki with eyes gone dark and terrible, blue like the darkest parts of the bifrost, full of a deep and mournful loss. “Then I will be lost,” he says, heavy with contemplation.

The bottom drops out of Loki’s stomach. “Don’t say that,” he blurts, closing the distance between them. He catches Thor’s face in his hands and his brother leans into the touch. “It’s yours,” Loki promises, voice hushed. “All of it.”

The smile that breaks over Thor’s face is bright and certain as the dawn. He slides his arms around his brother’s waist in a loose embrace. “I accept,” Thor says seriously.

Loki tilts his head and presses his temple against Thor’s jaw line. “Once it’s mine, it’s mine forever,” he warns quietly.

(He can feel Thor’s answering smile.)

“Good, I can promise the same.”

They stand there, half entwined in their embrace for long enough that the sun touches Loki’s balcony as it rises. Eventually, Loki detangles them, leading Thor towards the bed. He sheds his armor as he goes, dropping metal and leather haphazardly on the floor. Thor follows suit, surprisingly silent. Once clad in only their under clothes, Loki climbs into his bed with an ultimate weariness. “Sleep with me,” he requests. “Rest against my shoulder.”

Thor follows him down, wrapping his large frame around Loki’s. “I love you,” he whispers in the shell of his brothers ear.

A thrill fills Loki from his toes to his to the icy layers of his heart. “As I love you,” he promises. “Sleep. We can discuss in the morning. Tonight, is for us.”

Thor presses a kiss to Loki’s collarbone. “Aye,” he agrees, eyes already closed “Tonight, and every night after.”

(And that is a promise Loki believes.)

*

A dull heavy knock wakes him in the morning, and Thor lethargically opens one eye to glare at the door. He waits a beat or two where the knock his repeating. He transfers his gaze to Loki who remains obliviously asleep. His brother’s arm heavy over Thor’s hip. The fourth time the knock comes, Thor growls once before rising to answer.

Thor jerks open the door, scowling down at Volstagg, who glances down the hall with exaggerated confusion. “Could have sworn this was the King’s door,” he teases.

Struck entirely mute, Thor comes to the sudden resolution that what he’s begun will require him to lie to his friends for the rest of their lives. “We fell asleep talking,” Loki’s welcome voice says from behind them. “It’s been some time since time was a luxury we could afford, remember?” Loki adds pointedly. “What did you want, Volstagg?”

The warrior grins and shrugs, saying cheerfully, “nothing important, my King.”

And he surely would have continued if not for Loki’s frustrated huff. “Then we’re going back to sleep,” he interrupts.

Volstagg shakes his head, still grinning widely. “Your lady mother tasked me to find you. And, my own visit while not important is to extend an offer for tonight - come out with us, like old times.”

Thor glances back at Loki, whose eyes slide to one side. “Maybe not tonight?” he suggests. “It’s ben some time since I was home, my friend, and I dearly wish to spend it with my family.”

The warrior looks wounded but for the twinkle in his gaze. “Are we not family?”

Snorting, Thor crosses his arms over his chest. “You’re claiming Fandral?”

Wincing, Volstagg shakes his head. “Maybe not.”

Thor chuckles, clapping Volstagg on the shoulder. “Another time, my friend. Tell our mother we’ll attend her shortly.”

Sketching a deep - if mocking - bow, Volstagg says, “Of course, m’lord.”

A moment later, Thor closes the door firmly and twists the lock. “You could have gone with them,” Loki mutters.

“I could have,” Thor agrees, stepping into Loki’s space. “But I would prefer to spend it with you.”

There’s a sort of shocked pleasure in Loki’s eyes at that, and Thor revels in it. He reaches out and cups his brothers face, pressing their foreheads together. “You mean that,” Loki breathes, clenching his fingers in Thor’s tunic.

Thor’s smile is a simple and happy thing. “I do,” he murmurs. “I told you that you were my most important person,” he adds. “I meant that too.”

“I...” Loki says, and Thor feels a fond throb of triumph at rendering the liesmith wordless. “I love you,” he finally says, sounding helpless.

He can’t do anything but reward his brothers honesty with a kiss. It starts out innocently enough, he means to keep it chaste but Loki wraps his arms around Thor’s neck and tilts his head to deepen the kiss. He crushes their mouths together before biting Thor’s lower lip lightly.

Thor can’t stop the groan that’s ripped fro him anymore than he can keep himself from crowding Loki and backing him up towards their bed.

Loki’s tongue slides against his own, and Thor groans again, retaliating by sucking on the slick appendage. His brother goes limp against him, and Thor settles him back against the pillows of their sleep mussed bed.

Breaking the kiss, Loki tightens his hands in Thor’s hair and asks, breathless, “what will you give me, brother?”

Dropping his weight down to press their hips together, Thor lays a sloppy kiss on Loki’s exposed collarbone. “Everything. Anything. Whatever you desire.”

The answer makes Loki arch under Thor, grinding their bodies together. Through their thin under clothes and sleep wear, there is little left to stifle the feeling. “And,” Loki pants, tightening his grip in Thor’s hair, “if I wanted to take you?”

There isn’t even a pause when Thor rolls his hips into Loki. “Please,” he grates out, hoarse and aroused.

The idea of being pinned by Loki punches a hard curl of pure desire through him and he can’t stop the mindless grind down against Loki’s answering hardness. His brothers eyes are wide and very green at his reaction. “Thor,” he breathes, dragging Thor back up for another series of burning kisses.

It’s been two years and four centuries since Thor had taken his pleasure at the hands of another and finds himself alarmingly close to spilling over the edge like an untried boy. “Loki,” he gasps out, breaking the kiss and shuddering hard. “Loki,” he repeats. His vocabulary is reduced and broken down into nothing but his brothers name.

In response, Loki frees his right hand from Thor’s hair and drags it down their bodies to grip Thor’s hip. He catches Thor’s mouth again, teeth digging deliciously into Thor’s lip, hard enough to sting but not break skin.

Body burning at fever pitch, Thor digs his thumb into the hollow of Loki’s hip. He’s delighted to discover that doing so causes his brother to jerk upwards, his legs falling open, allowing their erections to grind together more firmly. When that happens, the noise Loki makes is inhuman, and he twists lithely to wrap his legs around Thor’s waist.

“Loki,” breathes Thor, finding the hand Loki wrapped around his hip to lace their fingers together. “I want to see you,” he grinds out, pressing biting kisses that leave small red marks on the pale column of Loki’s throat. “I have imagined this so many times,” he confesses. “Show me.”

His brothers brow furrows and he bites his lip, looking endearingly shy. “I’ve imagined the same,” he murmurs quietly.

The idea of Loki alone in this bed bed, taking his own pleasure at thoughts of Thor nearly undoes him. He squeezes Loki’s hand and presses down hard. Loki jerks again with a quiet ‘Ah!’ Before he frees his hand and makes a shaky gesture in the air.

On Thor’s next grind down, he meets sweat slicked skin against his own, their clothes disappearing with Loki’s magic. The feeling of his brothers hardness against his own robs him of what little wits he’d tried to retain.

He reaches between them to grasp Loki’s cock, hooking his hand around them both. The pressure is divine, all heat and smooth skin and Loki’s harsh breaths in his ear. He tightens his grip until Loki chokes out a whine, digging tense fingers into Thor’s shoulders. “Oh,” he pants, jerking in place. “Move, Thor.”

Thor pulls a slow drag, catching the underside of Loki’s cock on the up stroke. It’s good, just that side of too much, and Loki lets out a ragged sob. Bending to press gentle kisses against the already red marks of Loki’s neck, Thor rumbles, “You cannot imagine the things I have fantasized about you, brother. The length of your fingers, the sounds you’d make if I tied your wrists to Mjolnir and dragged reaction after reaction out of you. I have four hundred years worth of ideas and I will explore every one of them.” He punctuates each sentence with a twist to their cocks, dragging each stroke tighter until Loki is muffling high pitched keening noises into the pillows.

“Thor,” he shouts. “Thor, I’m...!”

Grinning fiercely, Thor drags the calloused bit of his thumb into the vein on the underside of Loki’s erection. His brother seizes up, teeth bared in a snarl as he spills between them.

The heat hits him and Thor only manages two or three aborted thrusts before following Loki over the edge. He has enough presence of mind to roll to the side when his arms gives out, laying beside Loki rather than crushing him.

They’re both quiet as they catch their breath, before Loki murmurs, “tie me to Mjolnir, hm?”

Thor grins at the ceiling. “Aye.”

When Loki reaches for his hand, Thor links their fingers together. “Go to sleep, dreamer,” he scoffs.

“Love you, too,” Thor snorts.

It isn’t until very much later that either of them remember they’d promised to see their mother.

Very, very much later.

*

Chapter Text

17. (Epilogue)

Steve is moping on the couch.

Tony literally cannot deal with any more installments of the puppy dog eyes inside his tower. And regardless of how many times he’s distracted Steve or given him something to do that isn’t mope, Steve always manages to end up back on the couch, giving the puppy dog eyes to the glass windows.

He’s utilized Jarvis, Natasha, even Barton, but Steve just misses Thor.

And if Tony sometimes catches himself looking outside the windows wistfully, well, whatever - consistency is for other people.

He’s never really done the comforting thing (see: death omelettes, strawberry apocalypse and aborted phone calls) so he’s consistently at a loss on how to help Steve come to terms with Thor’s absence. Tony knows better than to offer platitudes, at the very least. Instead, he makes a hot chocolate in a pint sized mug, puts a mountain of whip cream on top and puts it on the table in front of Steve.

“It doesn’t have alcohol,” he prefaces the offer, and Steve takes it with a small smile. “Mine does, though - fair warning.” He takes a sip of his own coffee, spiked liberally with whiskey.

Shaking his head, Steve drinks the hot chocolate. “You don’t have to sit here with me,” he says. “I know I’m being ridiculous.”

“Sure, maybe,” Tony says. “But we’re all as equally ridiculous. It’s been months and there’s been no word.”

Steve gazes out of the window for another long, silent moment. “You really think he’ll come back?”

Tony turns over his answer a few times in his mind before answering. “I don’t know,” he says eventually. It’s better than a lie, at this point. He used to answer that question with an unequivocal yes. Now though, it’s been ten months, getting closer to eleven and they’re really feeling the loss of Thor.

“Thanks,” Steve mutters into his hot chocolate. “I appreciate you telling me the truth. Clint still says yes, and so does Bruce.”

Everyone knows what Natasha thinks about the situation - that she’s not listed as an optimist doesn’t surprise Tony very much. He taps on his chest, the arc reactor making a dull clink noise. “Well, they live in hope,” he says, drawling slightly.

Steve glances at him out of the corner of his eye. “You don’t?”

Draining his mug, Tony shakes his head. “Steve, I live in a lot of things, but hope hasn’t been one in a very long time.” Since three months in an Afghani cave, to be precise but that part doesn’t require mentioning. Steve acknowledges that with a small sigh and a companionable press of shoulders.

“Come on,” Steve says eventually, rising to his feet. “We have some mission reports to finish.”

Groaning obnoxiously, Tony flops over onto the couch, stealing Steve’s previous spot. “I hate mission reports,” he whines, knowing that it’ll get Steve to smile at least. He peeks one eye open to see Steve grinning down at him before he’s lifted ingloriously to his feet. “Hey!” he yelps, flailing. “Put me down!”

“Mission reports or bust,” Steve says, but he does place Tony on his feet. “The faster you get them done the sooner you get back to sciencing.”

Together they head back to the main Lab, finding Bruce already there, glasses perched on his nose. “I’m surprised, Captain,” he says with a small hidden smile that on another person would be a grin, “I was expecting to hold DUM-E and U hostage to get him back down here.”

Gasping exaggeratedly, Tony clutches his chest. “Treason!” he shouts, pointing. “Cap, that’s treason!”

Steve only grins down at him. “That was next on my list of ways to get you down here,” he admits, and ducks away before Tony can hit him in the arm. “Go, sit, write!”

The three of them settle quietly around the large table, several interfaces around them, as Bruce brings up footage of their latest adventure. “You know,” Tony says meditatively, “Doom really should be someone else’s problem - cough cough Reed Richards cough cough - but for some reason we always end up dealing with his LMD’s and bullshit.”

Steve’s nose wrinkles even as he agrees. “I’m sure that Richards is very busy,” he says diplomatically. “So busy that he can’t even come help with his own sworn enemy.”

“I’m just tired of Doombots screwing up my suits,” Tony grouses, and Bruce leans across the table to pat his hand. “Thank you, see? Bruce understands.” There’s another lull as they type, before Tony’s fingers fall still. “I just can’t help thinking that the Doombots would be easier to defeat if we could you know, harness lightning.”

Bruce winces. “Tony.”

“No,” Tony interrupts. “It needs to be said! Thor got his powers back and abandoned us!”

There’s a ringing silence after that, and then, from the doorway: “No, I did not.”

Tony swings around to glare at Thor. “Yes, you did, it’s been ten months and no one has seen or - hold on, wait a minute, what the fuck.”

Thor leans against the door frame to the Lab, the very one they’d entered through not ten minutes before with Mjolnir on his hip. His expression is slightly crumpled, but Tony has no sympathy for his hurt feelings. “Hello, my friends,” Thor says almost quietly. “I apologize for my abrupt arrival, I simply asked JARVIS the All-Knowing to allow my return to be secret. I see now this was... ill advised.”

Tony’s working himself up to a really good rant, when Bruce gets up from the table and strides over to Thor in long purposeful movements. Thor tilts his head down to look at him and then Bruce hugs him. “Welcome back,” he says, shortly. “You’re kind of a dick.”

Laughing quietly, Thor nods, returning the embrace. “So it seems. I apologize for that too. It’s been a very busy ten months.”

Clearing his throat - there’s not a lump there, shut up - Tony says, “Hey Jarv, can you call the others to the common room? Tell them it’s a family meeting.”

Of course, sir.

Tony gestures to the door. “Well? Let’s go. You have a lot of music to face, asshole.”

Thor willingly falls into step with them, rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment. It’s a very human gesture and Tony can see his old friend in it, which just makes him angrier. “Where’s Loki?” Steve asks Thor quietly as they get into the elevator.

“Still on Asgard,” Thor answers and his face lights up in a smile. “He is a good King, fair and just.”

Clint and Natasha are waiting for them in the common room, looking equal parts concerned and confused. “Hey, Stark, what give– oh.” Clint takes an aborted step forward, turning to look at Natasha. “Thor.”

The smile on Thor’s face softens with sympathy. “Friend Clinton,” he greets, and crosses the room to clasp Clint’s arm in hello. “I have missed your wisdom most of all.”

“Wisdom?” Tony squawks, which causes Clint to give him a vicious glare.

“So I take it things worked out with you and Loki,” Natasha says, affectedly nonchalant from the edge of the couch where she’s perched.

Thor takes her hand and presses a reverent kiss on it. “Yes,” he answers. “We owe you many thanks,” he adds. “Though Loki would have preferred that you not notice his regard.”

She shrugs one shoulder. “He tried too hard to hide it.”

Laughing, Thor shakes his head. “I’ll be sure to tell him that was his error.”

“So,” Steve says. “Tell us everything.”

Thor settles himself on the couch between Clint and Natasha. “I arrived to find Asgard in mourning,” he starts. “The Lady Sif was not the most beloved of women, but her warrior’s prowess would be missed by all. She held many pieces of my heart, and I feel her loss keenly even now.” He rubbed the back of his neck again, eyes on the windows. “I confessed to Loki the night after her funeral, there had been so much death, so much distance between us - I could not bear to add any more.

“He... did not react well, at first. He believed it was all an elaborate ruse, a trick. I convinced him, in the end. And that would have been the end of it, but for the rest of the nobility.”

“Did they find out?” Steve asks, concerned.

Thor shakes his head. “No, no, my friend. That is not what I mean. I am Odin’s first born, technically and rightfully Loki’s crown belongs to me. I, however, want nothing to do with it.” He sighs, touching the haft of Mjolnir with a gentle finger. “But some of the advisors pressed us into a Thing - where the citizens of Asgard and our hegemony could come speak to us freely - to convince us that the common folk wished for me to take up Odin’s mantle.”

Clint whistles under his breath and Thor gives him a wan smile. “So...?” Bruce prompts when Thor seems content to gather wool.

“So,” he says, “we did as they asked. And the folk were more than happy with Loki’s rule - as I suspected in the first place. I am many things, friends, but a good ruler would not be one of them.” He shrugs one shoulder - a gesture he clearly picked up from Natasha. “But the advisors were displeased with this, and they forced Loki to go through the process of changing the equation. He made me his heir, that should he fall in Battle before me, I will take his place.”

Even Tony winces at that. “It took months,” Thor says. “They slowed the process down to a crawl to keep me in Asgard longer. Not that I did not enjoy my time with my mother and with Loki, but, I had promises to you all that I was breaking.”

“So the quest is,” Tony finds himself saying harshly. “Is if you’re planning to stay.”

Thor looks up at him, and smiles. “Ah, Friend Anthony, my best and closest friend. Of course I am planning on staying. I will need to travel to Asgard - I will not leave Loki behind either - but I am an Avenger through and through. That is, if you will still allow my presence within the Tower.”

“Oh shut up,” Tony says crossly. “Your room’s still on the 60th floor.”

Like he said before, consistency is for other people.

*

“So, my King,” Volstagg drawls, leaning over to clink his glass to Loki’s. “When are you going to grace our halls with a wife and children?”

(Loki hates that question.)

“I already have children,” he says archly, just to see Volstagg blanche. “And my two marriages previously did not last longer than a few hundred years. I doubt I’d be any more successful now.” (His heart is already spoken for. Something Sigyn and Angrboda knew without speaking.)

Volstagg scoffs, gesturing wildly with his leg of goat. “This place needs children, Highness!” he declares.

With a grunt of disgust, Loki pushes the half eaten limb out of his face. “Ugh, then bring your own, brute.”

All three of the Warriors look thoughtful and Loki wonders very briefly what he’s gotten himself into. “Could I, do you think?” Volstagg asks, in approximate tones of curiosity. “The oldest ones are of training age,” he adds.

“You’re the one that insists my halls need children,” Loki points out. “Tyr and the others would be glad for new students to teach. No,” he adds, turning his gaze to Fandral. “That was not a challenge for you.”

Fandral holds his hands up in surrender. “I said nothing!”

“You didn’t have to,” Volstagg and Loki chorus, and the ensuing laughter makes Loki ache for Thor.

Wounded, Fandral hunches over his plate. “I have no intention of filling the hall with children, you know,” he says plaintively. “These things just happen to me.”

Every single one of them roll their eyes and Fandral’s sulk deepens. “Go ahead and bring your oldest children here, Volstagg,” Loki says instead of needling Fandral further. “I would happy to have them trained to be Honor Guard.”

“Even my girls?” Volstagg asks curiously.

Solemn, Loki nods. “Even them. Especially them. I would honor Sif by this, if your girls are up to the task.”

(It’s been eleven months and Loki feels each day like the hours are a year. A hundred lifetimes ago he would never have expected to miss Sif’s presence like a hole in his heart. He would have laughed to think it. Time makes fools of everyone.)

“Have you heard from Thor?” Hogun asks quietly in the lull of conversation.

Loki has to fight to keep his smile from widening, even as he nods. “Aye,” he answers. “He is well, amongst his mortal friends again. Fighting in their battles happily.”

Volstagg looks wistful. “Are they glorious?”

With a soft laugh, Loki nods. “The way he tells it, aye, they are. Though much of what he says is a mystery to me, they are currently battling a man with an army of giant sentient machines.”

“So all in a days work then?” Fandral jests, no doubt thinking of their war with the dwarves.

Loki smirks. “He is quite adept at rendering them inert,” he says.

(It is easy to speak of Thor. Easy to recount his daring tales and easy to lie to their friends about how much he’s missed. They don’t need to know he spends his nights on Hliðskjálf, watching his brother’s every moment.)

“Perhaps we can join their crusade,” Volstagg says. “If they have need.”

(To fight at Thor’s side again would be a pleasure indeed.)

Loki makes his excuses after dinner and disappears into his rooms early, setting the door with enchantments to make those who would seek him less inclined to knock. He reaches out, leaves a message with his mother and walks from one realm to the next.

Thor is waiting for him, standing on the balcony. “Hello, brother,” Loki murmurs from behind him, relishing the way Thor whirls to face him. Craves the way Thor gathers him up and drags him into a kiss.

“Loki,” Thor says with the same amount of reverence and love that he always has. “I have missed you.”

Loki wraps his arms around Thor’s neck, leaning into him. “As I have missed you.”

(There are several things that Loki knows beyond all shadows and doubt. The first is this: he is a fool for love. The second is that Thor will always choose him. Third: mortal lives are short in the ocean of time.)

“Come,” Thor murmurs. “Friend Anthony has given me a floor in which to make my home. I must introduce you to it - and all the surfaces inside it.”

Loki laughs and laughs, and lets Thor lead him inside.

(Fourth, and most important of all: Loki has nothing but time to give.)

He can wait.

*end