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Fandral is attentive, passionate, his hands firm on Loki’s sides.

He’s nowhere near good enough and they both know that. Fandral isn’t Thor, and he knows why Loki is here, half-hidden in the back corner of the library, with him instead. He knows what will happen if they’re caught and perhaps that explains some of the desperation, and some of the thrill. It’s not the conquest that Fandral enjoys, as much as the chase.

Loki senses him long before Fandral does. It doesn’t make Loki stop. If anything, it makes him hook his leg around Fandral’s hip, rocking forward with a quiet moan.

And that is when Thor’s hands come down on Fandral’s shoulders, bodily dragging him away.

“Thor!” Fandral cries, like this is a surprise to him, like he wasn’t expecting it all the same. “I was just—”

“You were just leaving,” Thor tells him, anger making his eyes bright and dangerous.

“Yes, of course.” Fandral offers a weak smile before hurrying off. He knows better than to look back.

Loki leans back against the bookshelves, a defiant tilt to his chin as he licks his kiss-swollen lips. “I was busy.”

Thor growls, taking a step closer and using the scant inches he has over Loki to loom. “Do you think that this is funny, brother?”

When Loki meets his gaze, there is no trace of humour in his expression. “No. Not at all.”

Thor knows his brother well enough to know exactly when he is about to leave, so he takes hold of Loki’s shoulder. It would do absolutely nothing to keep him from going if he truly wants to, but Loki stays. He shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath. When he opens them again, Thor nearly flinches at the pure resentment in them.

Sighing, Thor says, “I wish you would not do this to me every time I angered you.”

“To you!” Loki laughs incredulously, a sharp, bitter sound. “Of course, because everything must be about you. I’m the one who wrongs you, who hurts your feelings when I am angry. Never mind stopping to ask why I’m angry, hm? Just go and assume that I’ve imagined something to upset me, to cause me pain. Do you think that I hurt you for my own pleasure?”

Thor opens his mouth, then shuts it again. Loki’s eyes darken and placing his hands on Thor’s chest, he pushes. When Thor stumbles backwards, Loki does not leave. He continues pushing, until Thor is the one backed up against a bookshelf, his eyes wide and his hands raised in front of him. Loki is the one to tower over him now, his expression dark with anger, with what Thor is afraid to call hatred.

“You don’t know me at all, brother. You are a hypocrite and a fool, and you don’t deserve half the love I have for you.”

“Loki—” Thor reaches for him, only to have his hand batted aside.

“You see me with your idiotic friend and what do you feel? Anger? Jealousy?”

“Pain,” Thor bites out. “Pain, over all else, Loki. You are mine.”

“Am I,” Loki laughs, leaning closer to Thor, his voice low and angry. “And what is Sif?”

Thor’s eyes widen. “You saw—”

Loki laughs again, harsher this time, and his eyes shine with more pain than he can hide. “Yet I am not allowed to play with Fandral.”

“Loki, you must understand. You are my brother, and she is… I am a prince, Loki.”

“And what am I?” Loki returns. “Your plaything, I suppose?”

“What we share can only ever be a dirty secret,” Thor says, so earnestly that Loki flinches. “You have to see that.”

“…Yes,” Loki replies, his voice brittle. “I believe I see exactly how things are, now. Thank you, Thor.”

Thor reaches for him. “Loki—”

His hands close around wisps of smoke, the too-familiar smell of Loki lingering in the air before that too vanishes.

Thor curses under his breath and stays where he is, hoping that Loki might return.

He doesn’t.

«·»

In fact, Loki doesn’t return at all. He’s nowhere to be seen and as the days pass, Thor’s concern increases.

As does his guilt. Loki’s fury is cold and long-lasting, unpleasant as a harsh winter. Thor is the one who drove him away. Thor, with his selfishness, with his inability to consider how his actions were hurting Loki.

“He will return, Thor,” Sif tells him, and he only feels worse when he lets her arms wrap around him, comforting him.

“What if he does not?” he asks at length. He has not told her why Loki has disappeared; he has not told anyone of the argument they’d had.

“Where will he go otherwise?” she asks, running her fingers through his hair. “He will come back. To you.”

Thor doesn’t dare to voice his concern that if Loki returns for this reason, he will only resent Thor even more.

Odin seems unconcerned. If anything, he seems to approve of Loki’s absence.

“Sorcerers will require their solitude on occasion,” he explains to Thor. “It helps clear their minds of distracting thoughts. Your brother takes his art very seriously.”

Thor nods, though he doubts that this is the true reason that he cannot find Loki.

When he finally breaks down and goes to Heimdall, he is met with yet another dead end.

“I have been instructed not to tell you where he is.”

“By Loki?” Thor asks, “he does not have the authority—”

“By Odin.” Heimdall looks at Thor, and the weight of his gaze is uncomfortable. “He has instructed me to see to it that Loki is left alone until he wishes to return. Anybody who uses that much magic will need to take breaks to keep their mind sharp. I know this from experience.”

Thor scowls, “So he has fooled you as well.”

Heimdall looks at Thor impassively and says, “He means a lot to you. That I know, far better than most, but Odin has instructed for him to be left alone. I will not tell you where he is.”

With a heavy sigh, Thor folds his arms. “Will you at least tell me if he is well?”

Heimdall nods, just once. “He is. You have nothing to worry about.”

Thor doesn’t quite agree, but he says no more.

«·»

As time passes, Thor finds himself withdrawing from Sif. He can’t tell her that Loki is jealous of the fact that she is the one who sleeps in Thor’s bed, or the fact that before her, it was Loki who would lie beside him.

She doesn’t press for answers; she simply lets him drift away, and that only makes him feel guiltier.

Fandral, who has been avoiding Thor since he was discovered with Loki in the library, has a knowing look in his eyes that makes Thor feel uncomfortable. Perhaps, Thor thinks as his stomach twists with dread, the fact that he’d stayed with Loki instead of chasing Fandral down had given him away.

When Fandral sits down beside him one afternoon, Thor finds that it’s even worse than that.

“Loki told me,” Fandral says, his voice carefully neutral. “I think I already knew. I could tell, whenever I held him, that it was not my touch he wanted to feel.”

“Do you really think I want to hear… to even think about you with him?” Thor asks, but he sounds defeated rather than angry. Holding his head in his hands, he sighs. “Are you going to tell me that I am wrong for feeling as I do?”

Fandral chuckles quietly. “Me? Say that to you? I doubt you’ll find anyone with less of a right than I do. Loki wants what Loki wants, and he doesn’t stop until he gets it. I know that it was a bad idea, but that didn’t stop me.”

“You make it sound like it was entirely his fault,” Thor mutters.

“Well, isn’t it?”

“No,” Thor realises. “It’s not, because I wanted him all along too.”

This makes Fandral raise an eyebrow. “Really?”

Thor laughs hollowly. “Does that make you think less of me?”

“No, of course not. It… does explain a lot, though.”

“Like what?”

“Loki’s disappearance, for one. I could hear you both arguing that day, even as I left the library. If you’ve only just realised how much he means to you, then… perhaps his anger was justified.” Fandral smiles weakly. “We all know just how angry Loki can be—and how much worse it is when someone else is at fault without even realising.”

Nodding solemnly, Thor claps Fandral on the shoulder. “You give sound advice, my friend. Thank you.”

«·»

Soon, Thor takes to sleeping in Loki’s bed. The realisation of just how much Loki means to him had been quickly followed by the realisation of just how much Thor misses his brother. At least here, where the sheets still smell faintly of Loki, Thor doesn’t feel so bereft.

The days have turned into weeks, and are threatening to turn into months without Loki, and that time should mean little to someone who has seen as many centuries as Thor. Somehow, the fact that it is Loki changes all of this. By now, Thor has ceased to find this surprising.

He falls asleep, thinking of Loki, and wakes up each morning in the vain hope that perhaps this time, when he opens his eyes, Loki will be there.

Until the day comes that Loki actually is. Thor is slow to open his eyes as he is every morning but when he does, he finds his face pressed against Loki’s thigh. He lifts his head and Loki is sitting there, leaning back against the wall, his fingers idly stroking Thor’s hair.

“Loki.” Thor sits up immediately, and Loki gives him a small smile.

“Hello, Thor. I’d ask if you missed me, but I think I know the answer.”

“Of course I did,” Thor replies, so desperate to touch Loki, but equally afraid to. “I missed you more than I could bear, and whenever I went to Father, he would tell me to wait.”

“And so you did.” Loki smiles wider this time. “You would have waited for as long as I made you.”

Thor doesn’t want to think of that, of Loki leaving him for years on end, just because he knew he could. He dares to touch Loki’s hand. “I am glad you have returned.”

“Truth be told,” Loki murmurs, turning his hand over so that their palms are touching, “I did not expect to find you here, in my bed. For one, terrible, moment, I thought that Sif was with you.”

The very notion makes Thor’s chest hurt. “I would never—I could never have let her in here, Loki. I would not allow anyone in here. I have been…”

“Sleeping alone and waiting for my return?” Loki asks approvingly. He reaches for Thor’s face, stroking his cheek. “Oh, I hope it hurt, Thor.”

Thor turns his head, kissing Loki’s wrist. “As much as it must have hurt you to stay away.”

Loki’s eyes narrow but when he smiles this time, it’s the most genuine smile Thor has seen all morning. “You’re learning, then.”

“I had little choice. I missed you, Loki. And I love you. I did not show that enough.”

“Never mind.” Loki takes Thor’s face in both his hands and kisses his lips. “Now you know.”

“You’ll stay.” Thor doesn’t make it a question. “You’ll stay with me now.”

Loki inclines his head, but it’s not a clear yes or no. “I’m tired, Thor.”

“Then we’ll sleep,” Thor replies, and the look in Loki’s eyes tells him that this is the right answer.

Loki lets Thor pull him close, their bodies fitting against each other perfectly as they lie on their sides. Thor kisses him, deep but gentle, and Loki wraps a leg and arm around him in return, holding on.

“Next time you want me to learn a lesson,” Thor tells him, “do not leave me.”

“Oh, of course not.” With one more quick kiss, Loki smirks. “You learn far too slowly for that.”

Thor chuckles, his hand resting on Loki’s side. He doubts that this is entirely behind them; he knows that Loki can bottle up his anger for years and years, and Thor won’t even know until it all comes out.

For now, however, Thor makes sure to appreciate what he has.