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Falling

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One second before Loki lets go of the spear, Thor knows.

He knows, he sees what will happen if his brother falls. He sees Loki dying, once, twice, thrice – and each time the loss cuts deeper. He sees their mother, sees her gown stained by her own blood, sees her soul ascending to the stars. He sees their father slumped on his throne, old and tired and broken by grief.

And then he sees himself, standing amidst shield brothers both old and new, sees himself fighting, feasting, laughing. He sees himself sitting on his father's throne, and feels secure in the knowledge that the realms will be at peace. He sees Jane by his side.

It is his worst nightmare, and at the same time it is  everything he has ever wanted.

And he will not have it.

His mother explained to him that her gift of precognition sometimes felt like a curse: To know the future while being unable to change it, to see a tragedy unfold and being forced to ignore the signs. She learned years ago that interfering with the Norns' plan would only bring about worse catastrophes.

But this is Thor's first vision, and right now his mother's stories are the last thing on his mind.

Right now, there is only the howling of the abyss beneath him, and the frustratingly smooth spear that threatens to slip out of his sweaty palm.

Their father speaks only one word, and Loki flinches as if struck.

His brother's face looks so open, so vulnerable. It could be an act, a mask Loki assumes to inspire pity – one can never be sure with the god of lies. One can only believe.

Loki looks hurt, lost. But most of all, Loki looks scared.

Then Loki lets go, but Thor is prepared.

He does not allow himself time to reconsider. It is not one of his better plans – it is not a plan at all. He only knows what will happen if he watches his brother's demise without doing anything; any other outcome has to be better than that.

And so he twists in his father's grasp, turns, brings Gungnir around, and tries not to listen to the Allfather's cry of shock and pain as the legendary weapon cuts deep into his arm. Thor strikes with the intent to sever muscle, tendons and bone – he will do what is necessary, but he also averts his eyes, does not dare to look upon the damage he inflicts.

Odin lets go (or maybe he doesn't, not willingly – the fingers around Thor's ankle do not open, not right away, but he refuses to think about what that means), and Thor is falling.

His father is screaming, shouting, howling, and for some reason his brother is screaming as well, crying, wailing, sobbing. And still it sounds as if Odin's cries are ones of grief, whereas Loki only expresses outrage. It is almost funny. Thor would laugh, if he wasn't in the process of despairing himself.

He will not make it. He is falling too slowly, and Loki is too far ahead of him. Thor will not reach him in time, and so they will both perish in the Void, alone.

Gungnir is useless for this, so he lets go of the king's spear, not caring where it falls, and calls for his own companion instead. Mjölnir is in his hand almost the very instant he thinks of her, and all of a sudden he is no longer falling, but flying towards Loki.

It is enough. Barely. Just before the darkness claims them, Thor manages to grip his brother's collar.

Then the world ends.

Or at least that's what it feels like. Everything just stops, and then –

–  disappears.

One moment he can feel the wind in his hair, the rush of flying, and then suddenly he is... not falling, not flying, not even floating. He just is. All light is gone, all air, all matter, the very concepts of gravity and direction and force and weight and time. He cannot see anything, cannot hear. There is only himself – and the reassuring feel of Loki's armor beneath his fingers.

His heart threatens to burst from the immense gratitude and relief he feels – or maybe those are his lungs, collapsing under the strain of containing the breath he has been holding in a place no living being was ever meant to see. He gasps in surprise, foolishly letting go of what little oxygen remained inside his body, and tries not to break under the strain. It does not feel quite like suffocating – it feels like being mortal again, except much worse, like every cell in his body is decomposing at an alarming rate. He does not have much time.

He softly grasps the side of his brother's neck with one hand, runs his fingers through the soft, dark tresses he finds there, and rests his forehead against Loki's. With his other hand he pulls Loki close, molds their bodies together the way he used to do when they were children and one of them suffered through a nightmare.

He wants this to be the last thing he feels, wants to dedicate his final thoughts to his little brother, wants to offer what little comfort he can still give despite their current situation.

Surely there are worse ways to die.

He waits for the inevitable sensation of his heart giving out, and only hopes that he manages to outlive Loki by a few heartbeats, so his brother does not have to witness his demise.

Strangely, it does not come. Nothing happens, nothing at all, for minutes. He should die like this, by all means his body should not be able to handle the strain – he has not been breathing, but for some reason he does not feel the need to. Fear and anxiety turn into quiet wonder.

Then he notices Loki's long fingers digging into his forearm, and recognizes the feel of his brother's magic.

Thor wants to call his name, wants to thank him, wants to shout and scream and demand an explanation – but there is no air, and without it, Thor cannot make any sound. Such is the nature of Loki's sorcery: He cannot conjure something out of nothingness, only change the perception of others. He did not summon air to breathe, but instead tricked Thor's body into believing it does not need any.

That is all the proof Thor needs. He does not know how long they can survive like this, but faced with the choice of watching his brother die or saving him, Loki did not choose to let him perish. Mere minutes ago they fought each other bitterly – now they stand together once more. No matter what happens, what madness befalls his brother or what schemes he entertains, this is what it always comes down to. A thousand years of affection cannot be destroyed by a moment's mistake. Whatever danger they face, they face it side by side.

He wants to say as much, wants to say anything to break the deafening silence around them, but it is just not possible. He can only hold on to his brother.

He calls on Mjölnir for support, raises her as if he intends to take flight – perhaps he can give their fall a direction, can influence their situation somehow – but alas, the hammer cannot gain any traction. He is the wielder of raw elemental magic; but without an atmosphere around him, without any clouds and air and water to do his bidding, he is useless.

 

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Time passes. Endlessly. Eternally. Thor loses track of it. He has lived for many centuries now, but now he feels as if he has spent a whole lifetime in the void. It is all just in his head, and he knows it; but the absence of all sensation, of surprise, of action, of everything that matters drives him insane. Even as a child he has always been unable to sit quietly during his tutors' lessons. He craves change. The boredom of it all chafes at him.

He has a lot of time to think. He learns that his brother has not only eliminated his need for air, but also all other bodily functions that would only hinder them here; he feels neither hunger nor thirst, nor a desire to sleep. It is an impressive spell, one he did not know Loki was capable of. Then again, he has always underestimated his little brother.

They need to talk. It occurs to Thor suddenly that he has no idea what was going on before they fell. His brother was acting strange on the bridge; nothing he said or did made sense. Thor is familiar with Loki's convoluted plans and their tendency to fire back on him – but this feels different. What was Loki even trying to accomplish this time? Was falling into the Void part of the plan? Did he know he could survive here?

The alternative should be too horrible to consider, but right now Thor can do nothing but think.

What if Loki had believed he would die here? What if that had been his intention?

The look on his brother's face shortly before he let go will haunt Thor forever – probably because it is the last thing he ever saw before ending up in this wretched place without light.

They really need to have words when they get out of here.

 

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Thor has always been prone to make stupid decisions when he is bored.

He also makes stupid decisions when he is angry, or frustrated, or irritated, or hungry, or tired, or sad.

He is ruled by his emotions, and they rarely lead him down a sensible path. He has gotten himself and his friends into trouble on more than one occasion, and the ill-advised trip to Jotunheim is merely his most recent mistake in a long list of possibly fatal adventures. It is not his intent to disappoint his family or create more strife. But he is the god of thunder, of lightning – of purposeless, random destruction. He is simply incapable of thinking ahead.

So perhaps it is a bad idea to break the focus of the sorcerer that is the only thing keeping him alive right now. Perhaps it is a bad idea to irritate his brother in his current state of mind, the brother that has already tried to kill him once.

But Thor is bored and Loki is his only source of entertainment, so Thor sets out to determine whether his brother is still as ticklish as he used to be. 

He is embracing Loki from behind – the most comfortable position for the both of them in their current predicament. Even if Thor did not fear that Loki needed physical contact to include Thor in his life-preserving spell, he would be reluctant to let go: He does not want to lose Loki, does not want to be all alone in the darkness. With his arms already encircling his brother's waist, it is an easy task to slip his hands underneath his armor and seek out bare skin.

Loki reacts instantly by burying his elbow in Thor's side.

It doesn't hurt as much as it should; the absence of weight and gravity softens the impact. Still, it is Thor's first instinct to laugh the pain off, and his lungs spasm awkwardly as he tries to draw breath. He hugs his brother more tightly to him and attempts to tickle his side; Loki tries to free himself by clawing at his hands. This is a more effective tactic: It hurts, and Thor is almost certain that his brother's nails are drawing blood. Yet he does not let go. He reaches out for Loki's arms in an attempt to keep them still, but his brother avoids his grasp easily. Before long they are grappling like children, and Thor's heart is racing with a genuine, gleeful excitement he has not felt since their fall.

Loki does not try to push him off completely. Neither does his spell waver through it all, and Thor presses his forehead against his brother's hair in silent gratitude.

 

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This is not the life Thor has always envisioned for himself. Just a few days ago – or weeks, or months, or years, or centuries; he has no way of being sure – he was about to become king. He is still not sure where and how and why exactly it all went to Hel. He does not question his decision of destroying the future of his vision to keep his brother by his side, can't: That is simply not the kind of man he is. He still desires the crown, but not if it will cost his brother's life.

He wonders whether Loki feels the same way.

They have not spent much time with each other those past few decades: Thor can no longer claim to know his brother's heart. What he does know is that their bodies still fit well together, just like when they were children and still shared a bed. He remembers being happy and proud when they were finally given their own chambers – and he remembers lying awake for hours in his new, huge bed without his brother's familiar warmth next to him.

He remembers a lot of things now. His thoughts drift to Loki with an alarming frequency, probably because there is nothing else to focus on. He remembers the insecure little boy that followed him around wherever he went, the shy teen that was constantly trying to prove himself, and the man that eventually turned his back on him.

Thor squeezes his brother's arm carefully, conscious of how thin and fragile the limb has become during their time in the Void. He does not know much about sorcery, but he knows that no spell can be cast indefinitely. It is a constant strain on a sorcerer's inner strength to do so, and once the caster has burned through all of his magical resources he will need to find some other way to fuel his magic.

Loki's powers are impressive for a man his age, but they are no less finite. He has reached his limits some time ago; it is possible to keep the spell going, but that feat comes with a price. Loki is losing strength rapidly and his responses to Thor's attempts to tease him grow slower and weaker each time. He is wasting away.

Loki is dying because he has to keep them both alive.

It breaks Thor's heart. He has to do something, can't let his younger brother suffer like that – but he can't think of anything. Not for the first time he wishes he would have taken more interest in his own studies of magic, hadn't declared them to be pointless all those years ago. For the first time he is the one dragging his brother down.

Perhaps his mother was right – perhaps he actually did make everything worse by trying to change the future he had seen. Perhaps Thor has damned them both. Perhaps Loki would have survived if he had only had to focus on keeping one person alive rather than two.

He has to let go of Loki. Perhaps if Thor perishes, Loki's magic will last longer. On his own his brother might be able to survive long enough to find a way out of the Void.

But he can't. All of a sudden Thor knows how this will end if he dies and Loki drifts through the darkness alone.

He has another vision, a frustratingly vague one that makes no sense, consisting of nothing but disconnected images, effects without cause. A vision of Loki floating through nothingness on his own until some... thing finds him. (Thor cannot quite see what kind of creature it is; its body is shrouded in shadows, as if Thor's feeble, newly-awakened powers are not nearly strong enough to even gaze upon this monster.) He sees his brother battling Midgardian warriors, the same ones that were Thor's companions in his other vision. He sees Loki fighting with a viciousness his brother has never displayed before, sees him ending the lives of three of his enemies before his own is claimed by a vengeful green beast. He sees the shapeless monster of the Void coming to Asgard, but by that time the golden city lies already in ruins. Thor does not see himself.

His mother was right after all, and he will never be able to tell her that.

No. There must be some other way.

He has to save his brother, save them both somehow, but he does not know what to do. That's usually why he allows Loki to accompany them on their adventures: Whenever they face an opponent they can't fight conventionally or find themselves in a seemingly hopeless situation, Loki figures something out, always, without fail. Now, for the first time, it looks as if Loki does not have a plan.

So Thor has to come up with something. Usually his strategies come down to hitting his obstacles with his hammer until they give way, but somehow he doubts Mjölnir will be useful in this situation.

Except that the weapon is whispering to him.

The hammer does not have a voice in the conventional sense, but their souls are deeply enough intertwined that Thor experiences her emotions like his own. Right now she is agitated, frustrated – but there is a confidence to her that strikes him as odd, almost as if she knows something he doesn't.

He lets go of his brother with one hand to grasp her hilt instead (and Loki tenses noticeably, holding on to his other hand with feeble fingers – there is a raw honesty in this small gesture that is utterly unlike Loki. Thor squeezes back to reassure him). Mjölnir answers with a pleased hum.

Unfortunately, no answer comes to him. Mjölnir's powers are useless here, a fact he has already established – but the hammer does not seem to think so. Thor cannot rely on her primary functions here, and he knows she does not have the power to travel between worlds; there is something he is missing. There must be another way he can use her.

Asking Loki about it is not really an option right now, and maybe that is what makes him long for his brother's advice. He is not good at figuring things out without Loki's input. The most recent past is the best example: He had been banished to Midgard for all but three minutes when he had nearly been killed for the first time.

He has no choice but to touch Mjölnir all over and consider her strength and weaknesses, hoping he will find an answer this way. His fingers trail across the runes that bind the destructive power of a dying star to the hammer's physical form – and she rewards his efforts with a surge of emotion.

Then it hits him.

He knows the idea he now entertains is the correct one because the hammer praises him silently for it. She is filled with sorrow and regret, she wishes it could be different – oh, but if he does this she will love him so much, for he will have proven his worth until the end of all time. Never, never should he allow anyone to doubt him again, because no one could ever belittle this sacrifice.

She wants her greatest feat to be her final one.

It is the kind of decision that demands a dramatic speech, a heartfelt declaration. Instead Thor wraps both arms around his brother, holding on to him as firmly as he can, and wordlessly encourages Loki to do the same; this will be pointless if they get separated now.

The hammer hums softly in his hand – she is ready, and Thor is, as well. He only allows himself a small moment to transmit his feelings of gratitude and sorrow to his most faithful companion.

Then he pulls his knife from his belt, and starts stabbing at Mjölnir's runes. It is slow going, since the dagger is a hopelessly inadequate tool to damage a weapon like Mjölnir. It would probably not be possible if the hammer weren't encouraging him.

Thor is not sure whether Loki notices what he's doing; either way his little brother does nothing to stop him.

He is almost relieved when the hammer's head splinters under his efforts, when her runes are destroyed and all her power discharges itself in a blinding flash of light that pushes Thor away, sends him and Loki flying into the other direction. He is almost glad when she crumbles to dust in his hands, when their mental connection is cut once and for all, when the sudden sense of loss leaves him reeling, like he has lost a piece of himself he will never get back.

Almost.

 

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The first breath of air has to be the most delicious thing Thor has ever tasted, even though he inhales a lungful of dust and soot in the process. Gravity, he finds, feels less pleasant.

His muscles are no longer used to carrying him under these conditions – it feels like a mountain rests on his shoulders, and Thor finds himself unable to stand.

So he crawls over to Loki, slowly, as fast as he can despite his nerves flaring up in pain with every motion. He is not sure when he let go of Loki, and why, but now his brother is lying a few feet away from him, panting heavily just like him, his eyes closed against the blinding light that illuminates their surroundings. Thor himself is squinting, barely able to stand the brightness; but actually seeing something, seeing Loki alive and breathing after watching nothing but his lifeless body in his visions makes it all worth it. He looks utterly exhausted, and his clothing hangs loose around his body. Whereas Thor feels as healthy as he did when they fell, his brother appears to have lost a lot of weight, and his naturally pale skin has an unhealthy yellow tint. Still, his chest is heaving with each breath he takes: He lives. Loki will live. Even though their last interaction ended in a vicious battle, Thor feels no anger at the sight of him, only relief.

The sound of his body dragging across the ground catches Loki's attention. He turns his head, and Thor's mouth splits into a grin so wide that it almost hurts when those green eyes focus on him.

"Thor", he says softly, his voice hoarse from disuse. He sounds as if he can't quite believe that his brother is here, that they are both here.

Loki stares at him in a way he has not looked at Thor in centuries. There is so much awe and adoration in his gaze that Thor feels a little self-conscious. For years Thor has not been able to surprise or impress Loki in any way, but now here they are. He has forgotten how good that feels, how much he missed this.

But then Thor has to open his mouth and ruin it all.

"Brother", he says, and has just enough time to watch Loki's face become blank and guarded as his defenses slam back into place. It happens so quickly, so fluidly that Thor has no choice but to believe he imagined the tenderness in his brother's expression.

"Don't call me that", Loki snarls, or tries to: Just like Thor he struggles with the dust in the air, and the words come out feeble, not as loud or harsh as he probably intended. Still they cut deep, deeper than any other insults he has ever directed at his older brother in anger.

Then Loki vanishes from sight, and Thor screams in frustration until his voice breaks.

 

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The god of thunder knows what he has to do. He has participated in so many campaigns, quests and adventures that the right course of action comes to him easily.

He is in a realm he does not recognize, in a wilderness that consists of nothing but stone, dust and the occasional tree, arranged almost haphazardly in a combination of mountains and valleys that cause the muscles of his legs to cry out in despair. He has to find a stream, or another source of fresh water, then he needs to determine which plants and animals are edible (once he finds any) and find a safe place to construct a shelter.

He does none of those things. Instead he trudges across the hills, utterly graceless on stumbling legs, and shouts his brother's name.

For as long as Thor can remember, both his parents and Heimdall have claimed that Loki cannot be found unless he wishes to be found. That is not an excuse to avoid searching for him, however; Thor has made that mistake before. If he leaves his brother be, Loki will punish his neglect with malicious pranks that could prove to be fatal rather than simply annoying in their current situation. But if he goes looking for his brother (especially if he suffers on the way), Loki's bad mood will have mostly dissipated by the time they reunite, and he might even treat Thor civilly.

Or perhaps not. Loki does not want to become predictable, likes to keep other people on his toes.

He did not believe it would happen this quickly, but this is the sad truth: His joy upon seeing his brother alive has turned into exasperation at his antics.

"Loki!", he shouts, in his best imitation of their father's tone whenever he issues a command. "Come out! We need to have words!"

His brother cannot have gone far. He has to be even more exhausted than Thor himself. Surely he lies in hiding somewhere, watches and laughs as Thor drags himself along.

He still doesn't know what happened to Loki to make him so bitter that he can't even stand the sight of his older brother. While Thor was banished, he missed his brother fiercely: Whenever Jane said something clever that went completely over his head, he couldn't help but think about him. Was Loki glad to see him gone?

Exhausted he falls to his knees. With every second he spends on this realm, the air becomes more stifling. It is far too dry; his throat feels parched, pains him as he breathes. There is not a single cloud in the sky, and the ground looks as if it has not rained in weeks.

Alright then. He will try.

Summoning a storm with Mjölnir by his side was easy; without her it won't be the same. But in the end Mjölnir was nothing but a catalyst: The power to control lightning and rain comes from Thor himself. He should be able to do it on his own. In theory.

He raises his hand towards the sky, and predictably nothing happens. He tries again and yields the same result. In his youth the weather mirrored his emotions, and his father was forced to go to great lengths to teach him control, until this natural connection faded in time. Thor had never seen this as a loss – he received his hammer shortly after, so he felt no need for this instinctual, primal force. Now he tries to recall how he did it back then, how he can make it happen again in an unfamiliar world.

It takes him the better part of an hour. When he finally feels the first drops of rain on his face, he flinches in surprise. He still cannot quite believe it even as he opens his mouth and swallows a little water to ease his throat. It is nothing but a light drizzle, completely unlike the storm he envisioned. For now it is enough, but if he does not improve this will become a problem.

His powers are too unstable. How is he supposed to wield them in battle? How is he supposed to fight at all, without the weapon that was his companion for centuries?

"You sacrificed Mjölnir." Loki's tone is strangely flat, and Thor turns around to see him standing a few feet behind him, his hair damp by the little rain he managed to summon. His face is unreadable, so Thor chooses to tread carefully. He does not want to chase him off again.

"I did more than that", he sighs. "I injured our father, and because of me his spear is lost in the Void. It is a good thing we are stranded on an another realm already: Without the Bifrost he would never have been able to banish me here himself."

This is when the weight of his actions truly hits him. As long as they were in peril of some kind, it hadn't seemed important: But now that they are relatively safe, he feels only guilt and shame.

"Loki, I must know", he continues. "Did I cut off father's hand?"

"No."

For a second Thor feels his worries melt away into blessed relief, but Loki has not finished speaking.

"You did more than that. You severed his arm at the elbow."

Thor averts his eyes, cannot keep looking at Loki any longer. The Thunderer has always had a volatile relationship with their father; they loved each other dearly, but their arguments usually dissolved into loud shouting. This, though, this is something else. This is not something that can ever be forgiven. He was banished for sneaking into Jotunheim without his father's permission; but an open attack on the king is punishable by death.

"Do you regret it already?", Loki asks, and Thor turns to face him once more. There is a sneer on his face, as if he is already prepared to ridicule him for his rash actions as soon as Thor admits his mistake – but it does not quite reach his eyes. That in itself is strange: Either Thor has finally learned how to read his brother, or Loki willingly lets part of his emotions show on his face. It does not matter which is true; there is only one answer Thor can give in this situation.

"No", he says firmly, and watches the sneer fall from Loki's face. His brother takes a few steps towards him.

"Then you will soon", he says. The firm conviction in his voice takes Thor aback. Again there are no other options – there is just one thing he can say if he does not wish to hurt Loki.

"Never", he declares solemnly, as if making an oath. He reaches for his brother, who only makes one short, perfunctory attempt to avoid his grasp. In the end he allows Thor's hand on the back of his neck, allows him to press their foreheads together. "Never", Thor repeats, so close to his brother that he can feel the slight hitch in his breath as he speaks.

For the first time, though, his touch does not serve to reassure Loki. Thor rubs his neck automatically.

"Do you even know why you adapted this gesture?"

Thor frowns; he does not, not really. It developed somehow when they were children, as a sign of affection that is reserved solely for his little brother. He attempted to do it with other people, but after Sif punched him in the face and his father turned utterly bewildered eyes on him, he grew more restrained with his physical displays of affection. At first these open rejections angered him, but eventually he found that it made the gesture much more special when he used it only on his brother. Someone had explained it to him like that anyway; perhaps their mother, or perhaps Loki himself.

In the end he fails to come up with an answer in time, and Loki shakes his head. "It does not matter", he declares, and takes a few steps backwards until Thor's hand slips off him. "Come on, we shouldn't stay out in the open like this. Let us find food and shelter."

 

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It is not that easy, of course. Thor was nearly killed by the Destroyer, stopped his brother from committing genocide, fell into the Void and came back out – and still he does not know why. Before he agrees to do anything he bombards Loki with questions. But as always, getting a straight answer from Loki is nigh impossible.

And yet his attempts to shut Thor down are uncharacteristically clumsy. Whenever Thor mentions their fight on the bridge, or their fall, or anything that might or might not have happened during his banishment, Loki is quick to change the topic or insult and scream at him if he insists. That, in return, causes Thor's anger to flare, which usually ends with them grappling on the floor.

It is not like their most recent battle. Loki resists when Thor tries to grab him and throw him down, but he does not retaliate. There is no fire in him. Overall, he is strangely subdued: If Thor does not initiate conversation, Loki seems content to follow him in silence.

It is not right, and nothing Thor does manages to get him genuinely riled up.

They settle in a small cave where they might build a fire without being impeded by the rain which never seems to end, no matter how much Thor tries to banish the clouds. They have not yet come across any plants, but there are animals on this realm that dwell underground: Upon entering their cave they are attacked by a pack of pale four-legged creatures that look like hairless moles and are as big as dogs. Thor manages to catch and strangle one with his bare hands before the others perform a hasty retreat. Loki merely watches him wrestle on the ground with an amused smile on his face, but fails to provide any assistance, which leaves Thor somewhat annoyed afterwards.

"I killed this, and I refuse to share", he explains as he prepares his catch. "If you wish to eat, go and hunt your own."

They end up sharing anyway because that is what they always do, and because Thor finds the sight of his gaunt, sickly-looking brother almost physically painful. They eat in silence.

At night they sit side by side at the entrance of their small abode and learn that this realm has two moons. The sky's constellations are not familiar to Thor.

"Do you know where we are?", he asks his little brother. "And can you get us out of here?"

Loki takes a while to come up with an answer. When he finally opens his mouth to speak, his words are far too simple to merit such intense deliberation.

"No."

"But in the past you have travelled between realms without relying on the Bifrost. You can do it again, can't you? You can take us both home."

"It is not that simple", Loki explains. "There are secret passages connecting all worlds, but one has to know where to look for them. In Asgard I had the palace's library, and other sources of information. Here, I have nothing."

Thor does not lose hope. He refuses to do so. "But you're smart. You will figure something out, won't you?"

His little brother favors him with a smile that is utterly patronizing, a smile that tells Thor he just said something completely foolish. He feels his face grow hot with embarrassment.

"Perhaps. With enough time I might be able to find a way, even if we have to travel the whole realm. It could take decades, centuries even."

They might as well wait for Asgard to construct a new Bifrost and send someone to come and collect them. Both options are equally unacceptable: Thor does not have decades. Jane does not have decades. He destroyed the Bifrost and with it all chances to keep his promise to her, but only now does he realize what he has lost. Only once did he feel her lips against his – and never again?

"Or", Loki adds, his expression strangely neutral. "We could just stay here."

"Stay here?", Thor repeats incredulously, prompting his brother to tell him he has misheard, or misunderstood somehow. "Impossible. We can't stay here."

It should be obvious. It is obvious. Asgard needs them, he saw it in his vision. And even if there was no immediate threat, their father is growing older and ever weaker: At least one of them has to return to succeed him, or their realm could dissolve into civil war.

"Think about it for a second", Loki prompts, impervious to Thor's internal reasoning. "A new realm just for us, a clean slate. The conditions on this realm suggest that intelligent life should be possible. We could find its dominant race and guide it, make it build a world according to our ideals. We could be kings in our own right, without the Allfather telling us how to do it."

"You're delusional", Thor insists. "This realm is not under Asgard's protection, and even if it was, we would have no right to interfere with its future like that. There is only one realm we were born to rule, and we must return there."

At first, Loki does not react to his words in any way. He looks at Thor with a scrutiny that makes him somewhat uncomfortable, almost as if his younger brother suspects a second meaning to be hidden in his words. If he does, he will not find it: Whereas Loki shrouds his thoughts in lies and half-truths, Thor is incapable of deceiving anyone with his words, least of all his brother.

"I can never return to Asgard."

Loki keeps his face blank as he says that. He does not break eye contact with Thor, silently encouraging to react in some kind.

"What makes you say that?"

Loki waves him off. He is composed when he answers, sounding completely casual. "You heard our king on the bridge. He might as well have cast me out."

"That is not what Father said, and you know it. You are twisting his words because you are miserable."

His brother chuckles softly. He rises to his feet so he can look down on Thor.

"You travelled to Jotunheim and were banished for your actions. I led the Jotun king into Asgard, then tried to eradicate his whole race, and attempted to murder Asgard's golden prince. What do you think will be my punishment?"

Thor stands up himself, and turns to face his brother fully. "At worst, you will be forced to undo the damage you have wrought, to repair the Bifrost as well as our relations with Jotunheim! Are you truly so petty that you would hide here simply so avoid facing the consequences of your actions?"

That is what Thor hopes, at least. In truth he also fears the repercussions their father has planned for them, but he knows he has to accept them either way. He hopes Odin will be too relieved to see both of his sons return to him to even think about punishing them, but he has misjudged the Allfather before.

Loki does not seem to share his careful optimism. His previous calm and levity vanish instantly, so fast that the sudden change leaves Thor confused.

"You have no right to lecture me! You don't even know what you're talking about!"

"Then explain it to me!", Thor demands for what has to be the hundredth time. He can't quite help himself: He grabs his brother's forearms and pushes him up against the cave wall, as if he could simply shake the answers out of him.

Perhaps his banishment failed to teach him humility, or how to keep his calm, but what he did learn is that nothing is ever as it seems, least of all his brother. "You have not been the same since I went to Midgard. I have to know what happened to change you so! Talk to me!"

Perhaps they should resume their fight after all. A battle is something Thor can handle, something he is familiar with. Maybe he can beat the answers out of his brother, can make him yield and admit that he is wrong. But that is impossible as long as Loki looks at him like that.

"How can I, after what you did?", he says softly, eyes averted in shame and partly hidden behind long black lashes, and Thor has to stop himself from embracing and comforting him. He will lose if he relents. Still, his grip softens, and before long his hands are softly caressing his brother's arms rather than holding him down.

"I did what was necessary to save you. And I deserve to know why it was necessary in the first place. I deserve to know why you attempted to take my life. And I deserve to know why my own brother denies our relation."

That last part has been a sore spot for years. During their childhood Thor observed that his brother shared no resemblance with either him or their parents. He had said as much, intending it to be a mere observation, but Loki hadn't taken it that way: His brother's words had sent him into a crying fit that had lasted for days, and they had not mentioned the topic again.

Other people had been less considerate. There had been whispers questioning the queen's fidelity, but whereas their mother mostly ignored the silent disapproval, Thor doubted Loki could do the same. His brother had always been sensitive – and so Thor had taken to calling him that in public, so there could never be any doubt: Brother. Now, for Loki to deny him this... It scares him for reasons he does not understand. He refuses to consider the implications. Whatever the truth is, he will deny it, always.

His younger brother meets his gaze once more, and for a second Thor is convinced he will provide the answers he seeks. But then he sneers, and the thunder god realizes that he lost his chance again, that he screwed this up somehow.

"Perhaps you do", he says with a cruel grin, "but I will tell you nothing." He laughs merrily as Thor throws him against the wall with a shout.

 

-------------------------------

 

They are both too exhausted for their fight to last very long.

Eventually they settle down on opposite sides of their cave, separated by the remains of their fire, refusing to speak to each other. Thor can't quite decide how he is supposed to sleep: The hard ground is unforgiving on his back, and the air is bitingly cold – should he use his cape as a pillow, or as a blanket? He tries both, but neither works for him.

He shifts restlessly for what feels like hours, while Loki lies utterly motionless in his own corner, facing away from him. This is not working.

Silently he rises and makes his way over to his brother, careful not to make a sound.

"What are you doing?", Loki asks as Thor wraps an arm around his shoulders to pull him close. His voice is not that of a man recently roused from sleep.

Thor has always been a very physical person, but even he knows that what he is doing right now may seem strange, especially considering how their last conversation ended. Still he does not let go.

"I think I've spent too much time in the Void", he explains after a short pause. "It feels weird when I'm not touching you even though you're right there."

Loki makes a displeased noise but chooses not to argue the point any further, which Thor interprets as permission to continue. He presses closer to his brother, shifts and maneuvers him to get more comfortable; Loki has opted to rest his head on his own cape, so Thor unfolds his and pulls it over the both of them. There is a brief struggle over who gets to put his head where, and who gets to monopolize which part of their short, makeshift blanket.

In the end they lie facing each other, with their legs loosely intertwined and Loki's head resting on Thor's chest. It is the same position they have always naturally assumed as children in their shared bed, and the thought leaves Thor feeling strangely wistful. Back then, Loki was used to falling asleep with the sound of Thor's heart beating close to his ear.

"Do you remember - ?", Thor begins, only to be quickly interrupted.

"Of course", his brother replies curtly, and his tone suggests that this is not a conversation he wishes to have tonight. Thor doesn't mind; he's tired and sleepy, and has no interest in further talking, either.

Instead he rests his hand on Loki's back and closes his eyes.

 

--------------------------------

 

They hardly speak to each other in the days that follow. Thor instructs Loki to look into ways to open a path to another realm, and Loki promises that he will, but the older brother has no way of knowing whether he actually does as he is told: To him, it just looks like Loki wanders the realm aimlessly during the day, and spends hours staring at the starry sky at night while Thor suffers through a restless sleep.

The thunder god keeps busy. He learns that even though the surface of this realm is devoid of life, it is by no means empty. He finds other, bigger caves that lead deeper into the mountain and underground, where a multitude of life forms can be found. There are bright mushrooms growing on the walls, which hiss and bite when Thor touches them. There is glowing white grass illuminating an otherwise dark cavern. There are the dog-moles he has encountered before, as well as earth worms that are as tall as houses – wingless bats, furry lizards with only two legs, and one strange creature that looks a fish but slithers across the ground like a snake. One time he thinks he spots a humanoid creature made from rock and sand, but it is gone before he can be entirely certain.

Thor fights any and all beasts he encounters. He feels useless and lost without Mjölnir, and has to prove to himself that he is not. But it is not as easy as he hoped it would be: He usually returns from his hunts with the bloody remains of his catch and at least one injury that requires his brother's attention. He fashions crude weapons from bones and sticks, a dagger and a spear, but throws them all out when Loki offers to lend him his knives with a smile and a pleased glint in his eyes.

Thor does not take him up on his offer, and yet one knife mysteriously finds its way into the small satchel he created from a dog-mole's hide and which he takes with him on his hunts. Neither of them comment on it, but Loki gets a particular generous share of Thor's catch on the day an earth worm nearly swallows him whole and he barely escapes by repeatedly plunging the knife into its blind eyes.

 

-------------------------

 

Still the rain does not end.

"Of course it doesn't", Loki explains. "It answers to your emotions, and it knows you are agitated. Calm yourself and it will stop."

It does not stop.

 

-----------------------

 

One day Thor encounters another rock creature. It emits a panicked shout when it realizes it has been spotted, and promptly reacts by fleeing back into the shadows, with Thor following closely behind. In the end it avoids capture again, but he is not sure how it managed that feat: He had cornered and forced it to retreat into a cave that had no second exit – by all means he should have encountered it there when he caught up. And yet the small cavern was empty.

"It is possible", Loki elaborates upon his return. "Your description suggests they are elemental creatures. Perhaps they have the ability to fuse with their native surroundings and obscure their presence, not unlike frost giants."

Thor raises his eyebrows in surprise – he did not know that was possible. His brother's smile is insultingly patronizing, and Thor has the instinctive urge to defend himself, but he has nothing intelligent to offer.

"The only thing I know about frost giants is that they usually die when I throw my hammer at their heads", he admits.

For once Loki does not tease him for his obvious ignorance. Instead he remains silent in contemplation. Thor wonders what is going through his head.

"I could educate you, if you like", his little brother offers, and Thor has to stop himself from jumping at the chance. This is the closest they have come to discussing their battle in weeks.

"Sure", Thor says, trying to sound casually. "Go ahead."

Loki settles down more comfortably beside him. With time their cave has become more habitable: They have pelts and furs, a well-dug fireplace and a decent supply of meat. There is not much wood to be found on this realm, nor anything that could make a decent substitute, so they usually light their fire with one of the pelts Thor has prepared. It stinks horribly and produces a lot of smoke – but Loki has developed the strange habit of sitting as close to the flames as possible without burning himself and staring into the fire for hours. He does that often enough that Thor's eyes have stopped watering whenever a fur is lit.

This is what they do right now: They sit on the tattered remains of their capes and look at the flames. Thor's arm is loosely draped around his little brother's shoulders – he just can't suppress this urge to touch, to ascertain himself that he is not alone. Every day he is surprised how accepting Loki is of this new habit.

"Their culture is not that different from Asgard's", Loki begins after a while. "They value strength and valor, and believe their warriors who die in battle will receive honor and glory in the afterlife. Officially their monarchy is hereditary, but due to historic reasons Jotunheim is much more susceptible to civil war than Asgard. Laufey should be succeeded by his son Helblindi, but he is still too young to have performed any impressive feats of bravery that would endear him to the people. There is a chance he will not be able to keep the throne."

Thor nods thoughtfully: He knows of Laufey's two sons, Helblindi and Byleistr. They say Helblindi is strong but stupid, whereas Byleistr is strong but cruel: Neither is suitable to becoming king.

"What about their mother? I have never heard anything about Jotunheim's queen."

Loki frowns slightly. "That would be Farbauti, but he is not a queen in the traditional sense."

Thor turns to watch his brother's profile. He has not missed that strange pronoun.

"There are, by design, no male or female Jotun. All frost giants are capable of both siring and bearing children: It is merely a question of social standing and negotiation to determine who assumes which role. However, all of them would be deeply insulted to be addressed as women. They see themselves as warriors first and foremost, and refuse that label that symbolizes weakness and submissiveness. Therefore we usually refer to them by male pronouns."

Thor has never seen a female frost giant, but he has always believed that was only due to the fact that Jotunn keep their women far away from the fighting, just like any sensible people. To think that he has battled creatures that may have birthed children... How does that even...

His mind wanders into strange and disturbing territory.

"Wait", he interjects. "Does that mean frost giants can fertilize themselves, like bilgesnipe?"

"What?" Loki flinches under his arm, utterly horrified by that thought. It is intensely gratifying – it has been years since Thor managed to catch Loki off guard like that. And with his words, even. "It's not like that! A bilgesnipe's reproductive system is fully internalized, whereas Jotunn possess both male and female genitalia. It may be possible, but the result would be..."

Loki falls silent all of a sudden, but Thor does not need him to continue. He knows of the deficiencies children created through an incestuous union are born with: It has to be even worse if there is no second party involved with the creation at all. The child would be sickly, and probably be born with a disability.

Thor is not sure why, but the mood turns slightly oppressive, and Loki does not continue his explanation. He has the strangest urge to say something funny or witty.

"So basically", he concludes, "Bilgesnipe are practical and frost giants are kinky?"

"Kinky?", Loki repeats. "Why Thor, do you perchance appreciate the male form more than I thought? What reason could one possibly have to desire a lover with both a cock and a cunt, I wonder?"

And once again Thor feels stupid, as the conversation has turned against him once more. He hates it when Loki does that. "Well, you know. With women, you can never be sure whether they are truly enjoying themselves. A man's body is more honest."

"Indeed", Loki acquiesces, but there is that certain glint in his eyes that tells Thor his brother is having fun. He has set himself up for another insult. "But what if one does not truly wish to know whether one's partner is satisfied? The answer might not be to one's liking. Is that the reason you only ever take women to your bed, Thor?"

"Don't be ridiculous. It's not that. Father would be scandalized if Heimdall told him he saw me laying with men. I do not wish to have that particular conversation with our parents."

Loki snickers, and Thor simply has to defend himself further. "It's not like it matters, anyway. Father has declared me his heir, so I must take a wife and sire children of my own. I cannot do that with a man."

"You could do it with someone who is both."

"Are you suggesting that I marry a frost giant?"

"I was actually considering a bilgesnipe, but the size difference might be a bit much for you."

There is no suitable response to that other than ruffling his brother's already disheveled hair (the dusty yet wet air is utterly unforgiving to a man who is accustomed to regular grooming) and punching his arm softly in amused anger. Loki responds with an soft laugh, and Thor grins back. This is how it should be, he thinks, and I can't believe I almost lost you.

"I am glad you're still alive, brother", he says, because he simply can't not say it. In a way it should have been obvious – and yet it has taken Thor centuries to learn how to appreciate his brother's presence. He has taken it for granted all those years, has never even considered a future in which Loki is not by his side. They simply belong together.

It is no accident that he has not called Loki by his name. It is what he is, and if anyone claimed otherwise, they would face Thor's wrath.

Loki looks at him oddly and shifts under his arm, slowly disentangling himself from his one-armed embrace.  The last time Thor accidently called him brother, Loki punished him by banning him from their shared cave for a few days.

He holds on tighter, because he does not know what else he can do. Loki refuses to talk to him about his problems, so he has no way of knowing what to say, what Loki needs to hear. He simply refuses to let his brother go, holds him down, forces him to decide whether to just stay it his side or actually fight for his freedom. It is perhaps not the most effective tactic – Loki rarely does as he is told, and would resist him just to spite him – but it is the only one he knows.

"Tell me more about frost giants", he says, because it feels as if something needs to be said.

In the end Loki stays down, but his smile does not return.

 

----------------------

 

Thor sees himself and his brother battling dark elves on Midgard. He sees another battle there, two battles, in which they fight alongside the human heroes that have always been meant to become Thor's companions.

But he also sees Jane kissing another man, a mortal. And then he sees his mother, smiling beatifically at him, before looking down onto the small bundle in her arms. "Your heir", she says softly, handing him the child she holds. And when he slowly peels the fabric away, Thor sees that his child is blue.

He wakes up kicking and screaming, and gets an elbow into his face for that. Without thinking he lashes out in response. It takes him a few seconds to realize it is Loki who is trying to hold him down, that they are not under attack.

"Calm down, you fool", he hisses sharply. "It was just a dream."

But Thor shakes his head determinedly; he knows this feeling, he knows the difference.

He knows he just had another vision.

Chapter Text

He does not tell Loki about his visions. He finds himself in need of counsel, but why should he speak of his troubles when his brother refuses to do the same?

There is more to it, though. It feels strangely personal, this third one: His child, his heir, his son. He has no idea what that means, what he is supposed to do.

If he at least knew whether this is a future he is supposed to prevent or help bring about.

He loves Jane, but his mother just looked so happy. And the small baby was not exactly beautiful – it was chubby and awkward and misshapen, like all the other newborns he has ever seen – but it was his.

He does not know any frost giants intimately, and is not entirely sure that he should. The rumors that they eat children are probably exaggerated, and even if those whispers were true, surely they would not eat their own offspring. Or would they? Loki insists they are no barbarians, a lot like Asgardians in a number of ways, but Loki has been known to lie simply to see what will happen if some people are misinformed.

Of course his brother knows that something is troubling Thor. Loki would have to be both blind and deaf to overlook how strange he is acting. Thor spends a lot of time in silent contemplation rather than going out and hitting things, which is always a cause for concern. It also allows the local dog-mole population to recover. They are vicious little creatures, and continually fail to learn the lesson that the two brothers are not food. When they come too close to their cave Thor chases them off, but does not pursue them. Thinking about his vision takes up the majority of his time.

There is one aspect in particular that troubles him: In his first vision, the one in which Loki died, Thor married Jane. Now that Loki lives, he is destined to mate with a frost giant. What if these two things are connected somehow?

It could have a number of reasons. If Loki returns to Asgard and is accepted by their father, his mere presence could further complicate their relations with Jotunheim. Perhaps Thor will be expected to agree to a political match in order to preserve the peace. Or perhaps the two of them will simply stay trapped here on this realm for years, and by the time they manage to leave Jane will already have perished.

Or perhaps he will simply be the victim of one of Loki's pranks. Loki is mischievous, and sometimes cruel: He would definitely meddle with Thor's relationship simply because he can. On the bridge he spoke as if he genuinely disliked Jane, despite never having met her. There is a chance he merely spoke in anger – but if he didn't, his hatred might inspire him to undermine their relationship.

Thor tries to address the topic subtly.

"I think you would like Jane", he says one evening without preamble. "She is kind and smart. She helped me despite not knowing who I was. Right now she attempts to build a Bifrost for her own people, and I think she could be successful."

Loki simply waves him off. "Spare me. I don't care where you stick your cock, as long as I do not have to interact with your conquests."

"But I would like you to", Thor insists. "She means a lot to me. I might bring her to Asgard one day to introduce her to you and our parents. I want my brother to approve of the woman I love."

Loki just laughs. "Yes, go and try to convince the Allfather to allow a mortal into Asgard. I do not see how that could possibly go wrong!"

He is right, of course – he usually is, which is what makes him so infuriating. Never before has a mortal entered the golden city, and with good reason: Odin considers the creatures of Midgard barely worth his notice. He will not approve of his eldest child marrying one, let alone taking her as his queen.

There is also the matter of Jane's short lifespan. She will live for a century at most – the people of Asgard would barely have enough time to commit the name and face of their new queen to memory before her death. She would be seen as a passing fancy of their king. A frost giant, on the other hand...

"Besides", Loki adds thoughtfully. "you have known her for three days. She helped you survive in a foreign world, and now you are confusing gratitude with genuine affection. That is not love, it is an infatuation. You will come to see that in time, and then you will regret ever getting her hopes up."

Normally Thor would protest. He knows his heart, recognizes his feelings, knows it is more than that.

But his child.

The vision was vivid: He remembers the weight in his arms as if he has actually held his heir. If he pursues his relationship with Jane, that child will never be born. It feels like a betrayal, no, worse: It feels as if he is actively killing his son by choosing not to give him life.

Ever since he has been old enough to walk on his own two feet, Thor has known that becoming king means getting saddled with numerous obligations. Unlike his father, though, he does not believe that his life belongs to Asgard: It is enough if he does what he believes to be right, if he projects Asgardian virtues in word and deed, so he will never have to regret any of his decisions. It is a way of life that grants him a lot of leeway to pursue his own desires. He is selfish, and has never tried to deny it.

His relationship with Jane has no future, but that is not supposed to stop him. He is supposed to fight for what he wants.

But that is exactly the problem: For the first time in his life he does not know what he is supposed to want.

If he had at least seen the child's mother, or dam, or whatever one calls a mother that is no woman but also not a man. (And suddenly Thor imagines himself in bed with a creature that is twice as tall as him, with a cock that is twice as long and thick as his – a creature that moans and shudders like a maiden beneath him. His mother can scold him and call him narrow-minded all she wants, but that thought is just weird.)

"You're quiet", his brother observes. "Have you already realized you cannot be with your mortal?"

"No!", Thor insists instantly, but that is not quite right. "I don't know", he adds with a sigh. "I don't know what to do."

 

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After a few days of fruitless brooding he understands what his true problem is.

He simply does not know enough to make an informed decision. He needs to learn more, to understand which actions will send him down which path, and what consequences will await.

He needs another vision.

There is a reason why not many people are capable of looking into the future. The gift of precognition is not a rare one, but those who are weak in spirit tend to lose themselves in chasing after the images that have seen. They try to hone their abilities, do nothing but sleep and meditate in the hopes of catching the next vision, ignoring their bodily needs in the process. The Allmother is one of the few seers in millennia who have not yet died of self-inflicted starvation.

Thor knows of the dangers. He knows, and yet he cannot quite resist indulging himself.

He clings to the images he has seen, tries to recall that feeling, to see more, to see beyond what he already knows, but it is not that easy. His powers are fickle, and the visions do not come to him simply because he wishes them to.

Sometimes, though, he thinks he catches glimpses.

A smell, a touch, a light blue hand. The breeze in his hair, the laughter of children. Delicate fingers grasping his, trembling lips against his own. A kiss so soft and fleeting that it has to be imagined. A lingering sense of – calm, contentment. He has no word for this feeling.

He only knows that his marriage will be a happy one.

Which does not really help him coming to a decision.

 

----------------------

 

As always it starts with small things. Random objects disappear: His satchel, his cape, his boot – when he locates the latter it is filled with tiny sharp stones that tear his foot open. The god of thunder is not exactly known for his patience; as soon as he recognizes the pattern he confronts the one responsible.

"Is there something you wish to tell me, Loki?", he begins, struggling to keep his composure. "Because if there is, you need only make up your mind and come to me. In case you have forgotten, I have been trying to convince you to speak to me ever since we landed in this thrice-damned wasteland!"

It was a foolish endeavor when his foot is still bleeding: His voice rises towards the end until he is practically screaming, even though shouting at Loki rarely incites the trickster to do what one wants him to do. Then again, there is no sure way of getting Loki to act according to anyone's wishes but his own.

"I don't what you're talking about", he says, and his grin tells Thor that this is not going to be a pleasant conversation. "Although I truly am glad you have decided to honor me with your presence once more. You have done a remarkable job of avoiding me these past few weeks, which is quite a remarkable feat considering we are supposed to be sharing a cave."

Thor recognizes the truth in his words with a light frown. He has been so caught up in his attempt to chase his visions that he has not spent much time with Loki. He cannot even remember when they last spoke to each other.

"Oh, is that all? You merely wished to get my attention?" It sounds like a remarkably petty reason, and Thor cannot help but search for some sort of ulterior motive. "Why, so you will have more chances to ridicule me?"

It is just his anger speaking. Even as the words leave his mouth, he realizes that Loki does not deserve them: His brother has been remarkable tame during those few months they have spent on this realm. As long as Thor avoids certain topics, their conversations are civil. Loki has even started to reciprocate some of his physical displays of affection rather than just bear them in silent suffering. Their relationship has never been better.

Except that it feels forced, somehow.

Now, though, Loki answers Thor's anger with his own.

"I was trying to be nice, you know. For weeks I have tried to find some passage to Midgard to reunite you with your precious mortal cunt, while you were sitting in the rain and staring into empty space for hours at a time! Why don't you just tell me what you've seen? Has it ever occurred to you that I might be able to offer some advice?"

His words shame Thor. Of course Loki would recognize the signs. He can deny it no longer, but that still does not give his brother the right to decide whether Thor's potential child will be born or not.

"The vision was personal, Loki", he explains. "It does not concern you."

It must be frustrating for his inquisitive brother to realize that there is a secret he will never find out about. Usually he takes such a rejection as a challenge, but this time he seems genuinely dejected. "When exactly have you stopped confiding in me?"

"I could ask you the same."

Not for the first time Thor wonders how much of this mess could have been avoided if Loki had just told him about his troubles. His short rule over Asgard nearly ended in genocide. If he had only tried to explain his reasons, Thor would have tried to help ease his delusions. Whatever is troubling him now is surely a problem that could be solved through a patient discussion, as well.

The thought is sobering.

"We are brothers, Loki", he says softly. "We should not fight this much."

There is a long pause as his brother is unable to meet his gaze. For some reason that is deeply unsettling. Ever since their battle on the bridge every action of his unsettles Thor; he has no idea what is going on in his brother's head.

When Loki speaks his voice is barely above a whisper, and Thor nearly misses his words.

"Is that the only reason you followed me into the Void? Because I'm your brother?"

Thor is confused. What other reason would there be? He would not have done that for just anyone. He doubts he would be here with Sif, or one of the Warriors Three. For their mother or father he would have acted similarly, perhaps. For Jane? He does not know, he still does not know.

"Of course", he says simply, because there is no other answer to give.

Loki looks at him strangely then. There is something uncertain and vulnerable about him, and Thor notices just how much of his feelings his brother shares with him if he only chooses to look. He cannot quite explain why, but it feels as if they are standing on the edge of the Bifrost once more, just one step away from falling into oblivion.

And just like last time, Loki decides their fate.

"You keep asking me for truth, and at the same time you keep acting as if you do not want to hear it! I tried to tell you on the bridge, but I never got the chance. Then you had to pull one of your noble and self-sacrificial stunts, destroying your hammer to save your brother, and afterwards I could not tell you it was all for naught. Not even I am that cruel, Thor!"

"Tell me what bothers you already, instead of delivering vague monologues."

Loki has never taken well to living in the wilderness. Now, after spending months in this wet, desert wasteland his normally perfect hair has grown out shaggy and thin. He has stopped casting illusions to make his armor appear clean and freshly polished: Instead he stands before Thor in ruined, muddy garments that are torn in multiple places. The two of them do not look much like princes right now.

And yet Loki has not given up on all pretensions. There is still that secret he harbors, that one he cannot share, but also one he is unable to simply conceal and ignore. He keeps dropping hints, almost as if he cannot make up his mind what he is supposed to do with this knowledge, waiting for his big brother to make the decision for him.

Thor has his suspicions, of course, but he has chosen not to acknowledge them, not until Loki himself offers confirmation. He thought that was the least he owned his brother.

But now he realizes Loki will not say it, not ever. As always Thor will have to take the first step, and if he loses his brother because of that, he will have no one to blame but himself.

And yet it must be said.

"You are not my brother."

That much he has gathered, for Loki has done a poor job of hiding it. Still it pains him to say it, and Loki looks just like he did on the bridge, when Odin denied the worth of his efforts. Thor wonders how Loki found out about this: Whether one of their parents simply approached him out of the blue and delivered a similar announcement. He wonders how it feels like to have this ugly rumor that has clung to him all his life become undisputable truth.

Something has just ended.

For a long while neither of them says anything. They just stare at each other.

Then Loki starts laughing.

It is a joyful laugh, filled with mirth and happiness. It is almost otherworldly in its melodiousness, until it shifts into harsh cackling, and Loki's smile turns into a vicious sneer. He sounds like he has lost his mind, and Thor's first instinct is to reach for the weapon on his belt.

"Oh, but that's not even the best part", Loki snarls. Never before has Thor seen a grin so ugly, so devoid of any goodwill. "Who do you think my true parents are? Come on, take a guess. I bet you will never figure it out."

Thor swallows hard. He does not want to draw their mother's fidelity into question, but if that is the way to get Loki to speak...

"The Allmother and General Tyr. During the war he spent more time in Asgard than Odin himself. It is possible that – ", he ventures, but is interrupted by another cackle.

"Oh please, Thor, you shame the woman that birthed you. I am no bastard. There is no blood shared between us as far as I'm aware."

He should be relieved that their parents marriage has not been tainted by such grave a mistake, but in truth he is only disappointed. If their mother had simply a taken a lover out of loneliness, or love, or spite, or any reason at all, that would have made them half-brothers. It would make Loki illegitimate, unsuitable to inherit the throne – and yet it would not change his relationship with Thor.

But they are not brothers. They share no connection at all. They are nothing to each other.

That is wrong, because the man in front of him is still the boy he played with when he was small; they hit each other with practice swords, braided each other's hair, shared almost everything. It should not matter that they are not related.

It should not make a difference.

It shouldn't, and yet...

While Thor is trying to connect the dots Loki looks almost giddy with anticipation. But he is impatient as well, and eventually the burden of his secret becomes too much. He skips over to Thor on light feet, until he is close enough to whisper into his ear.

"I'm a frost giant."

"Liar."

There is no hesitation at all, no time to think – the word leaves his mouth even before his mind has properly registered Loki's revelation. Thor pushes him backwards without caring how this action will be interpreted, and his not-brother falls in an uncharacteristically graceless motion.

There is just no way.

It cannot be right. Since the time of Thor's grandmother Bestla (or should it be grandfather Bestla? This whole gender issue is confusing) no frost giant has entered Asgard with the king's permission. For Odin to raise one as his own child... Where would he even find one?

"This is ridiculous", he declares. "You were born a few days before the war with Jotunheim ended. Are you saying that while Father was busy battling Laufey's forces, he also stole a babe for no reason? Don't make me laugh. You could have at least come up with a believable story. Father would never take a child from its biological parents."

Unless they were already dead, of course. Had Odin killed two warriors in battle, and then found their newborn child in their camp? Had he been motivated by guilt and pity?

No, it still does not make any sense. Loki is not nearly tall enough to be a frost giant. He is not even blue. Even if it turns out that he is not of Asgard, he is not that.

But Loki apparently refuses to see it.

"And it gets even better than that!", he announces gleefully. He has stayed on the ground for some reason, has not even assumed a more comfortable position: His hands are still splayed out to cushion his fall, his legs drawn close to his body. He looks up at Thor with damp eyes.

"Guess who my parents are. I'll give you a hint: You know my sire. Or my dam. I never got around to asking about the details of my conception, you understand."

"I don't know any of the frost giants I have met by name", Thor mumbles in confusion.

Except that one. The one he has taunted, and who has taunted him in return. The one who took his father's eye all those years ago.

"No", he says before he can stop himself, before he can think about his words. "You are not his son."

Not his. Not the child of his enemy. If that was true, then his ruined coronation and their battle on the bridge would get a whole new meaning. Has Loki tried to betray them? But the reason they fought was because his brother tried to use the Bifrost's energy to...

"No", Thor repeats, experiencing an urgent need to deny this. "You're lying. This is simply impossible. If that was the case, you would think the king would demand your return at least once in a while whenever he asked for the casket. That would have been an essential part of negotiations."

 "I'm impressed, Thor. I don't think I have ever seen you this animated during a discussion." Loki offers him a smile that is wide enough to look disturbing. "But I don't know whether you have truly reached the right conclusion. Why don't you tell me who you think my father is?"

"I have no patience for this game, Loki." He also does not understand it: It feels dangerous somehow, like he is walking on treacherous ground, and each word he speaks is another step towards potential doom. "Stop this nonsense and just tell me the truth."

"Ah, but you're almost there! Go on, say it already!"

That last part comes out as a vicious snarl, and Thor runs his fingers through his hair in frustration. He does not want to play along with this madness – there is no point when his brother refuses to explain what really troubles him. Once again he wants nothing more than to simply beat the truth out of him, and he feels so helpless that he decides to indulge himself. With a shout he lunges for Loki, who has probably seen this coming and sidesteps without much effort. Thor tries again, but the trickster just makes a disappointed noise and teleports to a spot a few feet behind him. The next time Thor merely believes he has captured his brother, but the illusion dissolves between his fingers. He tries again, and again, and again, until frustration causes him to give in.

It does not matter, anyway. Simply because he says it out loud it will not become true.

"King Laufey is your father."

This time the image of Loki flickers but holds. His arms are solid in Thor's grip, and he does not try to escape. Their faces are close enough that Thor can see the tiny flecks of brown in his otherwise clear green eyes. He has never noticed before.

"You're right", Loki says. His gaze does not leave Thor's for a second; he does not even blink. "And now you know, even if you don't believe me."

He keeps waiting for Loki to drop the act and declare it all a jest. That is about the only explanation he can accept at this point. Perhaps the trickster is merely trying to gauge his reaction: If Thor pretends to take this lie well, his brother will perhaps trust him with the actual truth, for it cannot be half as horrifying as this.

Loki is still his brother. The issue of his parentage does not change that.

That is what Thor is supposed to say now, but Loki beats him to it.

"I was a disappointment when I was born, so Laufey left me to die. Then Odin came and saved me. On the Bifrost he realized I was a disappointment as well, so he too left me to die. Then you came and saved me. I wonder how long it will take until your goodwill is exhausted?"

Is that what Loki is worried about? That Thor would not have saved him if he had already known about this? Would he have jumped after a man who was not truly his brother? Or would he have simply let him fall and mourned him afterwards?

Ah, but he knows the answer to that question, doesn't he? His very first vision confirmed it: Even without that knowledge, he nearly allowed Loki to fall. Thor would have watched him die three times without being able to do anything about it.

Loki reads the answer on his face.

He opens and closes his mouth a few times as if he intends to speak, but cannot quite find the words.

And suddenly Thor's fingers grasp nothing but empty air.

Outside the cave lightning flashes across the sky, and thunder follows shortly thereafter. Thor can barely hear his own thoughts over the torrential rains.

 

---------------------------------

 

Thor is forced to abandon their cavern in favor of higher ground. The never-ending rain has changed into a full-blown storm, which turns barren valleys into rivers and lakes: At this rate he will drown in his sleep if he does not leave the cave. Another option would be to try and banish the clouds, but he already knows that to be a pointless endeavor.

So he grabs what little of their personal belongings he can carry and drags them further up the mountain. Most of the caves he finds there are not suitable to their purposes: Some of them are already inhabited by creatures that would be easy to kill, but have already left their distinctive stench; others are too small to fit two grown men.

Well, one man and one miniature frost giant, if his brother's story is to be believed. Which it is not.

Eventually he finds a little cavern he deems acceptable, even though it is not nearly as spacious as the one they lived in before. In fact it is going to be quite cramped when Loki returns, but that should not be an issue: They have spent most of their time on this realm huddled together, anyway. He nods once to himself, deposits his belongings and sets back out into the rain to find his brother.

Thor has never minded rain all that much – but ever since he received Mjölnir no raindrops have hit him directly. It is a curious feeling to have his hair clinging to his skull, his skin growing cold beneath his wet clothing and being blinded by the water that enters his eyes.

Many paths he used to travel on this realm no longer exist, having been buried by the storm Thor summoned without meaning to. It does not matter where he goes, anyway: Loki will come out when he wants to.

Still he calls out to him, calling him brother as he does so.

But something else finds him first.

They seemingly jump out of the walls when he passes through a narrow tunnel leading through a mountain: Five of them, about as tall and hairless as frost giants, but dark brown where Jotun are blue, stone where they are ice. Still, they do not look quite as monstrous as Laufey's race: They lack the foreign heritage markings, and their eyes are a pure white rather than bleeding red. Thor wonders whether they are blind. He reaches for his weapons – and the small delegation drops to their knees instantly.

"Exalted guest!", their leader says, his voice low and rough. Unlike his companions who wear nothing but short loincloths to cover their modesty, he is dressed in a long, dark cloak. "We come bearing gifts in the hope that they will ease your sorrow! Please, accept our offerings and banish the water that threatens to bring about the end of the world!"

Thor barely has enough time to sheath his blades before the five creatures start shoving other objects into his hands: Metals he has never seen before, a cloth that flows like silk but is as heavy as stone, weapons, gems, jewelry. These have to be precious gifts, Thor supposes, even though he has no way of guessing their true value.

He is surprised to see that these creatures fear him despite their size: Most of them throw their gifts at him and then return to kneeling on the ground submissively. No one dares to meet his eyes, not even the leader.

Thor introduces himself (the word "Asgard" makes them all tense for reasons they do not wish to divulge) and inquires about their situation.

"We can hardly breathe the wet air your arrival has brought, and the rain erodes our skin. The caverns where we raise our young have been flooded. Many members of my tribe have already perished, and as chief it is my responsibility to ensure no one else will come to harm. Name your desires, and I swear they shall be met as long as it is in my power to do so."

Their obvious fear and desperation shame him. He stumbles over his words, explains that he did not know about their suffering, that he would never have acted as he did if he had realized – but he avoids making any promises. He would have stopped the rain weeks ago if he only knew how.

The leader notices how vague he is being.

"Please, crowned prince of Asgard, accept our hospitality! We will hold a grand feast for you in our halls today!"

Apparently this was not part of the plan: One of the other four shoots an incredulous glance at their leader, and another gasps in surprise. They do not want him in their midst, that much is obvious. Thor has to decline, explaining that he needs to find his missing brother first.

The realization that not only one, but two princes of Asgard are stranded on their realm does nothing to reassure these people. In fact the very notion seems to terrify them: They make up their minds and insist that he joins their feast, hinting at the fact that those usually end in a night of debauchery, if he were so inclined. In this context Thor learns that there are even more similarities between these stone giants and  the frost giants he already knows.

The leader (who does not mind being addressed with male pronouns, but probably lacks the confidence to reprimand Thor for any perceived slight) all but begs him to join them then, which puts Thor in an uncomfortable situation. He does not want to take advantage of these people's fear and generosity if there is nothing he can do to repay them.

"I need to find my brother first", he explains. "He is a powerful sorcerer, and I will need his help to end the storm."

He is going out on a limb here: His magic and Loki's are not exactly compatible, and there is a good chance Loki will not be able to assist him even if he wants to. Still, they might be able to figure out a solution between the two of them. Besides, Thor has to talk to him as soon as possible, has to make him understand that his parentage is not an issue that needs to affect them, if he only spoke honestly about it.

The stone giants do not look convinced.

"I will send some of my hunters to look for your kin", the leader promises. "They know this realm better than you, and have a better chance of finding the one you seek. Meanwhile you should follow us, and wait for their return in a place where it is dry and dark."

For some reason that strikes him as odd. Thor stresses that he can do nothing to help them without his brother, but they keep insisting that he alone should follow them.

It could be a trap. Normally that would not stop Thor from accepting their invitation anyway, but his banishment has taught him to be cautious. He knows his own limitations now: Without his hammer he cannot control the storms, and the thin blades he carries might not be capable of piercing these creatures' hard skin. His bare fists will not get him far, either.

If they plan to ambush him, he will not be able to fight them off.

That is the good thing about being a seer: If something like that was going to happen, he would know. He would have seen it. Instead he will live long enough to sire a son and be present at his birth. Therefore he will not die today.

Unless his actions will somehow change the future without him realizing it. Perhaps he will seal his own fate if he accompanies them. No, he has to be smart about this.

"I accept", he says, and the leader very nearly dares to look up at him as he thanks Thor for this decision. "But as I explained before, I simply cannot spare the time right now. The only one who shall look for my brother is myself. I will join you in a fortnight, and not an hour earlier."

They do not appear to be happy with this compromise, but cannot reject his offer. Promising they will come to contact him again they take their leave, but not without swearing they will carry his gifts to his new abode. He does not question how they know where he lives.

Returning there would be foolish now, especially since this potential enemy has the ability of hiding inside the cave walls. Instead Thor returns above ground, as close to the heart of the storm as possible, where the stone giants will hopefully not dare to follow him.

There he prepares for battle.

 

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He builds more weapons, but this time he goes about it differently. After spending long nights studying the behavior of the monstrous earth worms, Thor has learned that they are capable of biting through stone. Because he already knows he is incapable of slaying one as he is now, he thanks the Norns profusely when he finds the nearly skeletal corpse of an already dead specimen. He uses its teeth to fashion two crude axes he can wield ambidextrously, as well as several thin knifes and daggers he can keep hidden on his person. It is not his preferable method of fighting – he is used to keeping all his weapons in plain sight, where their presence might deter possible opponents – but in his current situation he needs every advantage he can get.

Then he starts training. In his arrogance he has neglected strengthening all of his muscles equally for years; his dominant right hand is far stronger than the other, and as a result he is not the warrior he could be. There is not much he can do about that now on such short notice – he can only determine what he is capable of and which feats are beyond him. That way he will not lose the battle simply because he overestimates himself.

Days pass like that, but Loki does not return to him.

 

-------------------------

 

The vision that comes to him in the evening feels almost like a dream. He finds himself in bed with – someone. He cannot tell for sure: This time there are no images, only sensation. A cold yet sweating body lies beneath his fingers. Thor strokes its jaw gently, then its throat, before moving lower. There is a sharp intake of breath as his thumb circles a weeping, swollen nipple, which hints at the fact that his partner has not been a virgin for quite some time now. Still he does not linger there for long. Instead his hand continues on its path across this strangely foreign yet familiar body, briefly touching a firm erection, then rubbing across a slick cunt. He waits until his partner has grown accustomed to the feeling before slipping two of his fingers inside, marveling at how warm this cold creature feels on the inside. His consort.

Suddenly Thor realizes he is being far too gentle, that this is not how his lover prefers to be used; so he starts thrusting his fingers in and out harshly, until the wet sounds of his partner's cunt getting stretched are the only thing he can hear. Long legs open wide in invitation, hips cant upwards in silent welcome. This new position is too unnatural to be comfortable; there is a silent suggestion there, a demand even, and Thor is nothing if not an indulgent lover.

He pulls his fingers out of that slick heat with one rough motion before seeking out the other well-used hole waiting for his attention. He teases his lover for a little while, traces the rim of his entrance without actually pushing in, watches it alternately clench and relax in an attempt to draw him inside. When his consort attempts to kick his head, he realizes he has tarried too long. Without warning he switches hands, and the two digits that finally enter his lover are dry and unforgiving. His partner starts panting harshly, but does not cry out: In fact he seems to enjoy this treatment if his leaking cock is anything to go by; Thor starts tracing the heritage markings on his chest, which rises and falls with each ragged breath he takes. A third finger gets added, and he starts stretching his lover impatiently, eager to get to the actual fucking.

Thor vaguely wonders how they ever managed to have children when they usually avoid using his consort's cunt in favor of doing it this way. It feels more personal somehow, like it has some sort of special meaning Thor cannot quite grasp right now, but he has a suspicion –  will we do it like this on our first night together? – His cock is so hard that it actually hurts, and he spits on it, once, twice. He never knows just how much his lover can take, and decides to err on the side of caution. With his free hand he spreads his spit around, which turns out to be more of a sign of his goodwill rather than any king of adequate lubrication. Just when he thinks he cannot wait a second longer, he pushes his lover's legs even wider apart and forces his cock  into his unresisting hole.

Arms and legs wrap around him, and Thor bites his lover's shoulder as he sheathes himself in that body. It is unbelievably tight and dry, and unlike anything else he has ever experienced. His lover has a remarkable amount of control over this hole – it squeezes Thor's cock viciously, keeping him lodged deep inside despite his efforts to pull back out. As a result his thrusts are short and shallow, but are being delivered with such a force that they shake both his lover and the bedding beneath him. Just when he thinks he is being too forceful, that he is hurting his consort, there is a choked laugh and a taunt – and that is when everything shatters, because Thor knows that voice, even though he has never heard it quite like this before, never wanted to, but of course it is not real because it cannot be true, this is not how it should be, this man is –

A cold hand rests on the back of his neck and forces him to turn his head. Before long his forehead rests against his lover's. They share a deep, heated kiss, and Thor is lost.

When he wakes he feels only shame, arousal, and utter confusion.

Chapter Text

 

 

Thor can no longer deny the truth: His brother is a frost giant. If that part of his story was no lie, then it is safe to assume the same has to be said for the other one: He is the child of Laufey.

As to Thor's vision...

He has to find Loki. He has to find him and talk to him and convince him they are brothers, no matter who or what birthed him. He has to take him back to Asgard where they will have a long conversation with their parents, who will reassure Loki and tell him that he is a part of their family. They are siblings, and not – whatever it is he has seen. He has to seek him out to repair their relationship and prevent it from evolving into this strange, twisted thing.

No, he has to get as far away from Loki as possible. He has to find a barren, empty realm where no one will ever find him. There he will stay until the end of his days while Loki inherits the throne and marries a nice, thoroughly female woman who can give him many heirs. That way Loki will be able to gain a family of his own without being dishonored by his brother in the process. Yes, that is the right course of action.

No, that is the absolute worst solution. Loki probably thinks Thor is disgusted by his revelation, probably took his poor reaction as rejection – he has to explain, apologize, make sure they part on amicable terms. He has to –

He has to get the memory out of his head. He has to forget the contours of his body, the children they could have, the lives they could lead. He has to forget how his brother clenched around him, how his lips tasted, how his voice broke. He has to forget that tight heat, that eager embrace, that pleased laugh.

It was not a vision. It just cannot be.

Loki is his little baby brother. He cannot fuck Loki. He cannot marry Loki. He most definitely cannot have children with him.

And yet it would be so perfect. Loki is the prince of a realm that is on the verge of war with Asgard. He is capable of bearing Thor's heirs. He has been raised to rule over Asgard ever since he was brought there, was always meant to become Thor's advisor. No one knows him better, no one complements him as well as Loki. No one would be better suited to rule at his side.

Except that it would be incest. Except that it wouldn't be, but it would still not be right. Besides, he is fairly certain he hurt Loki in that vision.

This was not the loving marriage he had seen and felt in his other vision. He almost believed it was at first – until he recognized the barely noticeable shift in his emotions. Until he realized that something was off.

Until that moment when Loki spoke up.

His voice had been (will be?) light, amused even, but the words themselves cut through Thor like blades of ice. The kiss that had followed had not taken away the sting, but rather served to wound him even more. It had mocked all his hopes for this relationship, and left nothing behind but a pile of regret and bitterness. And desire, of course, because that was a given in that situation. But his words...

What would Odin say if he knew that this is how you use the broodmare he gave to you?

While he was caught up in his vision he understood implicitly what Loki meant – but as soon as he opened his eyes the knowledge was lost. What remained in its wake was an unshakable feeling of dread. There was a meaning there, a horrible one, but one he does not grasp quite yet.

It makes no sense, nothing does. It feels like he is working on a puzzle with most of its pieces missing. He just cannot see the bigger picture. There is so much he does not know.

The relationship he has seen will be a mistake – but is that because they truly have no future together, or because of some other problem they will fail to solve? Was Loki even the dam of his child in his other vision, or was that another frost giant entirely? Has he simply married the wrong person, or did they start their union under the wrong circumstances?

The fact that he will mate with the one he calls brother disturbs him, intensely so (although perhaps not as much as it should. He should experience nothing but genuine, morally unambiguous disgust, far removed from any questions of aesthetics... and yet he doesn't. Some part of him desires Loki, and while that realization shames him, he does not instinctively reject it the way he is supposed to. Instead his silent outrage is mellowed by instant justification: They are not really brothers, it would not be wrong, not truly, they are grown men and can make their own decisions, and if Loki wants him as well why should Thor deny him? Even the prospect of bedding a frost giant does not seem quite as threatening anymore now that he knows it is Loki – and that means he has got it all backwards, does it not? The thought should not even cross his mind. He does not love Loki like that; and yet he is fairly certain that he could if he only tried.) – but what is even worse is the knowledge that he will make Loki unhappy. If there had not been this underlying tension in his vision, if it had resonated with the other one, if their union had been a good one... then what?

He cannot answer that question right now. His thoughts are a jumbled mess of fear, anxiety, self-hatred and desperate longing.

Somehow, somewhere, sometime he made a mistake. That is the only thing he can know for certain. At some point he did something that turned the loving marriage of his first vision into a thing wrought with tension and resentment. Somehow he has veered off the designated path.

But no solution presents itself.

Now he gets why his mother has always refused to talk about her visions, why she has even cursed this gift of hers every once in a while.

One day you will understand, my son. One day you will see –

It never ends. Whenever he thinks he has dealt with one problem, another appears and throws his mind into turmoil yet again. Thor would not be surprised if there was another horrible realization waiting for him the next time he closes his eyes.

The weather mirrors his emotions perfectly: The storm grows even worse, as if it intends to drown all existing life and purify this realm so it can start anew. Food grows scarce as all animals retreat deeper into their sanctuaries inside the mountains, but more often than not they are forced to abandon their newly flooded homes.

Dog-moles normally hunt in packs, but now that natural order seems to have dissolved: They search for new dry places in pairs. Sometimes they are followed by their young, but the parents seem to have no qualms to leave their offspring behind when they cannot escape the water quickly enough. He watches a couple march through a narrow, muddy stream without turning around when their smallest child, no bigger than Thor's own palm, gets washed away by the current. By the time he manages to catch the little squealing thing it has already drowned, and its family is nowhere to be seen.

That event inspires the most curious sense of foreboding.

For so long he has believed that rain brings life, nourishes plants and animals and leaves the land healthier than it has been. Yet on this realm it seems to cause only death and misery.

 

---------------------------

 

The rock giants find him again well before the appointed time.

To avoid such an eventuality Thor has slept in the open, as far away from any unnatural-looking rock formations as possible, but such precautions no longer seem to deter them.

It is only one person this time, one man (if one can claim that), hidden beneath so many layers of clothing that the creature underneath does not have to expose a single inch of skin. The giant wheezes pathetically as he draws close, nearly choking on every breath he inhales. It sounds as if he cannot get enough air.

He stops a few feet from Thor and drops to his knees gingerly. When he inclines his head Thor recognizes the leader that addressed him before.

"Please", the giant says, and even that single word appears to be an enormous struggle: He chokes and coughs afterwards, and it takes a few moments until his lungs have calmed once more. Then he pulls one of his hands out of his robes and reaches out towards Thor, and the unprotected limb simply –

- dissolves in the rain.

Thor watches in shock as the water washes skin and flesh and even bone away like mere sand, leaving nothing behind but an uneven, bleeding stump. The rock giant does not cry out, merely holds his shivering arm steady and lets Thor see just how much pain and suffering he has brought over these people.

All of a sudden he has to think of his own king, who has also lost an arm because of him.

He has no words, no words at all. He can just stand there and stare, because this cannot truly be happening. He had known his actions on this realm have caused grief and destruction, but this, this is –

This actually makes sense. When has he ever seen a creature here that willingly ventured out into the rain? When has he ever seen one drink? This desert wasteland was barren and empty when he came; perhaps it was supposed to stay that way. Just because it does not fit his idea of a lively, lush world does not mean that is not the case. Did he not say how many plants and animals thrive here? They do not need water. Just like Thor would not survive without it, these people cannot survive with it.

But how desperate must this creature be to ask for his help in such a manner?

"Please", the leader repeats, and all sense of caution evaporates as those nearly blind eyes seek out Thor's. The thunder god crosses the short distance and drops to the ground next to him, forces the rock giant to wrap his bloody arm back up in his robes. Even Loki is forgotten at the moment.

"I will help", he promises readily. "I swear I will do whatever you want, just don't..."

Just don't die because of me.

He will not allow it. He cannot allow it. He did not save the frost giants from his brother simply to eradicate another race. How could anyone ever think him ready to become king? They say Odin is cruel, vengeful, quick to anger, ruthless – but there is always purpose behind his actions. This is something else.

He knows he is no wordsmith like his brother, but right now he even fails to describe in his own mind just what a colossal fool he is.

"Follow. Please," the leader asks, and presses his hooded forehead against Thor's hand in a gesture of submission.

And Thor cannot refuse, not after that display.

If there is a trap waiting for him, he deserves to walk right into it. 

 

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The creature leads him underground, deep into the heart of the mountain. They walk mostly in silence.

The paths his guide takes are long and winding, and unlike Thor he only needs the barest minimum of light to find his way. The thunder god had the foresight to bring a torch, but it is not of much use: Even with the additional illumination all roads look the same to him, and even though he tries to remember the path to the surface he soon realizes that he will be unable to find the way out on his own. If these creatures truly are his enemies, they will have no need to best him in battle. They can simply wait for him to starve as he gets lost in their extensive tunnel system.

As they get closer to their destination, he cannot quite resist looking around in awe.

The chambers they pass are huge but mostly barren, and clearly not where these people used to live. They encounter perhaps two dozen stone giants who line the walls and kneel as they approach, many of them smaller than Thor, probably children. They look sickly and malnourished and hurry away quickly, eager to get away from him.

"These are the only ones I could save", the leader explains gravely. "Everyone else is dead. The old and infirm perished first, and we lost our best hunters when the tunnels collapsed yesterday. All my heirs were among them."

Again Thor does not find his tongue.

What is there to say? No amount of begging, crying or pleading can ever earn him forgiveness.

The leader's steps have steadily become more certain, his breaths less labored the further they have gone underground. Likewise his demure attitude has vanished: He no longer looks desperate, only defeated.

"I no longer care how it ends, as long as it does. Even if this land will recover from the destruction you have wrought, my people will not. Too much has been lost to the water. If there is any mercy left in your heart, you will spare the pitiful rest of my tribe and instruct the next heirs to the throne of Asgard to stay away from this realm."

There it is again, the subtle hint that there is something they refuse to tell him.

"What do you know about Asgard?", he asks.

"Nothing." The leader's voice sounds hollow, and the high walls reflect its echo. "Our elders could have told you the story of Bor and his four brothers, but now their knowledge has gone with the waves."

Thor has never shown much interest in the history of his ancestors, even though such information would probably be useful right now. He cannot think of any reasons why they would choose to travel to this realm: It is not under Asgard's protection, and from what he has seen so far it possesses no natural resources that would be of much value.

"Why did they come here?", he wonders out loud, and the answer comes instantly.

"For the same reason you and your brother have come."

Thor seriously doubts that his family has developed a strange habit of falling off the Bifrost and stranding in foreign realms, but before he can ask any more questions the leader stops in front of a door that appears to be carved straight from the same stone that covers the cavern walls. The runes on its surface are ancient and faded, but appear to be of Asgardian origin. The entrance would be big enough for Thor to enter comfortably, whereas a stone giant would have to crouch low.

"We have reached our destination. Enter and finish your business on this realm. I will stay here and await your return. Your name shall be remembered and honored should you come back out."

That sounds ominous, but he has come too far to turn back now.

Despite its roughly cut hinges the door opens easily enough when he tries to push it open. After he steps through into the tunnel beyond it falls shut behind him once more, as if pushed by an invisible hand. Unlike the other paths he has seen so far, this one has torches mounted on the walls that magically light themselves as he passes.

If that little parlor trick is supposed to intimidate or awe him, it will not work: He knows this spell is elementary, and one of the first Loki has mastered.

He keeps walking forward carefully, on hand on the weapon on his belt. He is waiting for some kind of beast or enemy to jump out at him, but to far the tunnel seems entirely empty.

Eventually the road ends in a huge, barren chamber. Its walls are so high that even with the additional light Thor cannot see the ceiling. It is about as spacious as his father's hall, and there are more similarities: At the far end of the hall there is a massive stone throne, not unlike Asgard's own. The figure that sits on it, however, is no king.

He is lying rather than sitting, comfortably draped across the whole length of the stone. When Thor draws close he can see that the man has obviously prepared for his arrival: His armor appears to be mended and his hair is slicked back once more, and even though Thor knows this has to be an illusion, it grants Loki a certain princely appearance. His brother rises, and maybe it is just Thor's imagination, but his movements seem unnecessarily... sensual. He knows Loki favors dramatic gestures, but he has never before noticed just how lewd it looks when he crosses and uncrosses his legs. Thor has the sudden urge to avert his eyes.

"It took you long enough, brother."

Loki makes that endearment sound like an insult; it hurts, despite the fact that he was prepared for such a reaction. The trickster saunters over to him, and this time Thor does turn his head away: He just cannot look at those legs without remembering how they felt around his waist. Loki snickers and stops a few feet in front of him, looking at him expectantly, and Thor meets his gaze once more.

This is the same brother he has always known, and yet it isn't. He does not look any different, though it feels like he should. Thor half expected him to be in his frost giant form when they meet; there is no reason to hide it any longer, after all.

"Loki, what is the meaning of this? Why are you here?"

The whole setup seems strange: The last time they met the stone giants almost sounded as if they wanted to keep him from finding his brother; why should they change their minds and reunite them instead?

"Ah, so I guess they have not explained it to you?", he asks and smiles benevolently. "Good. Then that task falls to me."

Loki starts pacing, which Thor takes as a sign that a longer monologue will follow. He is not sure whether he likes this development.

"Unlike most other monarchies in the known realms, the rulers of Asgard have never automatically declared their oldest child their heir. They have always believed that a person's character and abilities determine one's worth rather than the date of one's birth. But what if a king has multiple children and all of them are equally worthy? How is he supposed to determine which one should inherit his crown?"

Thor knows the answer to that. "He sets them a trial, some task they must perform, and whoever completes it more admirably will be named heir."

Their father did the same with them, except that he set them two different tasks, ones that would bring their weaknesses to the surface. Personally Thor thinks they both failed horribly, but Odin appears to have reached a different conclusion: He named Thor his heir afterwards, and with that the issue was settled.

Loki's grin widens, just like it is wont to do when Thor says the exact thing Loki expected him to say.

"Ah, but that is just the solution the Allfather came up with. The kings that came before him believed in a much easier, far more decisive way."

Loki pauses for dramatic effect before continuing.

"They let their children fight to the death."

Thor does not reward him with any reaction, keeping his face carefully neutral.

He has not heard of this custom, but this time he will not call Loki a liar before he has more information. He is forced to admit that it is not entirely improbable: Asgard's history is long and bloody, and he has always wondered about their surprising lack of aunts and uncles.

"Of course, such battles could not take place in Asgard itself, where they could have caused immeasurable destruction. So the king would send the princes and princesses to a mostly uninhabited realm, where their fights would not cause unnecessary casualties; realms just like this one, I would presume. There they would be forced to stay until only one of them remained, who would then become the rightful heir."

If this tale was true it would explain so much. It would explain how the stone giants have learned about his family, why they seem to fear them so much.  Still, he does not like where this story is going, not at all.

"Why are you telling me this, Loki? Why do you think that matters now?"

"Don't you see the irony? Don't you think it's funny how fate works, how the Norns play with our lives? It almost seems as if we were meant to end up here."

Due to his visions Thor knows that the Norns have indeed prepared atypical paths for them, but that is probably not what Loki is getting at.

"So what?", he counters. "You suggest we attempt to kill each other, and whoever wins gets to return home?"

It is ridiculous, and there are too many holes in this plan: They would still have no method of getting off this world – the sensible course of action would be to work together rather than against each other. Besides, a battle would not make them worthier of the crown. Loki tried to eradicated one race, while Thor is still in the process of destroying another without really meaning to. Neither of them is suitable for rule as they are now. And just a few weeks ago his brother suggested not returning to Asgard at all! Where does this sudden madness come from?

And yet Loki looks dead serious.

"You sacrificed your hammer in part to ensure my survival. I acknowledge that. To honor your deed I swear to refrain from using magic during our battle to even the odds."

Thor shakes his head – it does not matter to him whether their fight would be fair.

"I don't want to fight you. It would not solve any of our problems."

And there are a number of them, but the most urgent lies just on the other side of that door.

"Loki, these people are dying because of the storm, and I don't know how to stop it. At this rate they will be driven to extinction. I need your help to save the few who remain."

His brother looks at him oddly, as if he did not understand what Thor just said, even though he certainly spoke loud enough. Does Loki not know how much the natives suffer because of his powers?

"The stone giants", Thor clarifies. "They just – melt away when they get exposed to water. So many lives have already been lost, and I can do nothing to ease their suffering. Please, Loki."

As he speaks his brother's face gradually shifts into an expression of anger. He steps closer to Thor with quick strides until they are close enough to touch, close enough that Thor can see the slight tremble in his lower lip – and Thor instinctively takes a step backwards when he notices how his brother's mouth has captured his attention.

"That makes no sense. Do you actually think before you speak, or do you just spout random words that miraculously arrange themselves into grammatically correct sentences?", Loki snarls. "All those years you have claimed that frost giants are ugly, vile creatures that should be exterminated, but now these poor stone giants deserve our aid?"

It takes him a moment to grasp the reason for Loki's anger, because he does not see the connection at first – Asgard has waged many wars against Laufey's race, whereas the stones giants have never caused their realm grief. But Loki would not see that distinction, not when Thor himself has ignored it for years.

They are monsters, Loki, and do not deserve the mercy we have shown them. I cannot understand why Father has not simply slaughtered them all after his triumph, at least the king and his sons. The realms would be better off without Laufey and his get.

Thor did say something to that extent once – more like a thousand times. And he had always meant it. And yet he does not even actively remember the war between their two people, he only knows it cost Asgard dearly.

He had said it in Jotunheim as well, right before he was banished – and right before Loki learned the truth about his heritage.

"Loki – "

"No", he interrupts, his hatred as intense as it is irrational as it is justified. A sin he cannot be punished for, because it is not his own. "I will not lift a finger to help them. They shall perish, and it will all be your fault."

Thor reaches out for his brother without thinking. He has no idea whether he does so in an attempt to try to apologize and talk some sense into him or throttle him in anger – he never finds out. In the end he cannot bring himself to do it. Over the years he has touched Loki so many times and never really thought much about it, but now his hands come to a sudden halt when they are a mere inche away from his neck. It feels invasive somehow, now that he knows his brother's body more intimately than he ever should.

Of course Loki does not interpret his gesture that way.

"So it has finally started to sink in. Are you afraid of getting frostbite? Don't be. That cannot happen as long as I look like this."

Those words serve as an additional incentive to bring his hands closer, to eliminate the distance that seemed insurmountable before. He expected it to feel different somehow, awkward and strange because of what he knows now.

And yet it is not. And Loki's skin is as warm as it has always been.

In his vision Loki's body was cold despite his arousal; not unpleasantly so, at least not once he had gotten used to the sensation. Just to make sure he traces Loki's jaw, and compares the sensation with his memory.

The texture is different. In this form Loki's skin is softer and smoother than that of a frost giant would be, but the shape is the same. If Loki changes into his true skin he would probably not look much different from now.

Thor draws close until their foreheads are touching. He has never realized how intimate this gesture truly is; if he shifts just a little he will be able to feel his brother's lips on his own.

He does not make it so. That is not how he should try to salvage this.

"I need your help, Loki. I cannot do this on my own. Let us set this right, and then we will return home. Together."

His brother's expression is unreadable.

No, that is not enough. There is more that needs to be said.

"I don't care that we are not related. I don't care what you are. You will always be my brother. I will not fight you. I could never hurt you on purpose."

He keeps his eyes carefully trained on Loki, and now that he is this close Thor can count every line on his face. His eyes betray nothing.

Then his thoughts are interrupted by a sudden vision. It is not clear and does not include many details, but he can hear himself screaming and feels a blinding pain in his side.

He lets go of Loki in shock and retreats a few steps – and when he does, he catches sight of the short knife in Loki's hands, still poised to strike at a target that is no longer in range.

"You have improved", Loki notes, and Thor himself cannot quite believe it.

He has just evaded an attack he did not see coming. Whenever he has recently considered his battle prowess he only thought about the loss of Mjölnir, but not about the new power he has gained. He did not know it could be used like this.

But that is not what matters right now.

"I ask for your assistance, and you try to stab me instead?"

Loki merely smiles in response and twirls the knife innocently in his hands as he approaches. Thor's first instinct is to move backwards to maintain the distance, but his sense of caution is quickly buried beneath his anger. He draws the knife Loki gave him and tries throwing it in a sudden bout of madness, mimicking his brother's favored fighting style.

Unlike Loki, who sends his weapons with a sharp flick of his wrist on their way, Thor uses his whole arm when he throws Mjölnir. His obvious motions betray his intent, and Loki has more than enough time to bring up his own weapon in front of his chest to block the attack even before Thor has executed it.

But the trickster misjudges the force behind it.

Both knifes clatter to the ground, and Loki stands there with a bleeding gash on his hand and a surprised expression on his face. The wound quickly disappears under a healing or an illusion spell, but the raised eyebrows remain.

That is most likely a feat Thor will not manage again, but as of now he has succeeded in disarming Loki. With his own weapon, even.

He is not useless in battle.

"I will not fight you, Loki", he says and raises his hands to show that they are empty now. "Tell me what troubles you, and I swear I will try to help you."

It is not in his nature to simply swallow his anger and ignore it like this; the knowledge that their current future includes misery and sorrow helps with that a little. He needs to prevent that, but without more clues to go on he can only guess blindly.

"What is it you fear? What did Father say to you?"

Loki's face is guarded, and Thor cannot tell whether he is on the right track. But he has to try something.

Loki sighs softly. "I think we should ask ourselves what he didn't say. He kept the truth of my parentage from me all my life – are you not worried what other secrets he might harbor?"

Thor is not, actually. He trusts his parents. Surely they have their reasons. But Loki is talking again instead of drawing another blade, which has to be a good sign.

"Did you ever have a chance to talk to him about it? Have you asked him why he did not tell you? He raised you as his son, Loki. Why do you believe everything must change now that the truth is out?"

Of course it was a shock at first, but now that the first wave of confusion and horror has passed, the secret seems almost petty. They will not stop being brothers simply because they aren't.

Except that they can marry now.

For some reason that thought was much easier to ignore as long as he was merely thinking about Loki, not actively looking at him. It also sounded much more horrifying then.

It feels like he has only just now noticed that his brother has arms and legs and eyebrows and other body parts worth noticing. Thor is almost painfully aware of his brother's proximity.

Is their possible future something that should be mentioned right now, or would that be too soon? Should he mention it at all? Just how far in the future did he even look? Will they marry this year? This decade? This century?

Should they?

Yes, if that is the only way to keep Loki at his side.

No, if that relationship will make Loki miserable.

Every word, every step must be questioned. He cannot see the right path, cannot even know which consequences his actions will have.

"And you truly believe Odin took an abandoned runt into his house out of the goodness of his heart? When has he ever shown kindness without secretly nursing some kind of ulterior motive? Don't you dare to deny it", Loki interrupts when Thor opens his mouth to do just that. "He would never let Laufey's offspring inherit Asgard's throne, and yet I was trained to rule. He must have some other plan for me. Surely he feared I would try to escape my fate if he told me about it. Perhaps he will use me to forge an alliance by marrying me off to some other king – or queen. He has so many options with my body, you know. He could have allowed me to go on like this and given me to a woman without ever telling me who my true father is, or he could have removed the glamour that binds me to this form and have some man breed me. That would have been fun. Do you think he would have granted me some time to get used to the fact that I have a cunt, or would he have merely given me a pat on the back and some kind words before he turned his adopted son into a broodmare?"

There is that word again, but can it truly be that simple? Thor may be too trusting, but Loki's insecurity borders on paranoia. Is this the answer he was looking for, the reason their union will cause Loki grief?

No father would force his sons to marry each other, no one.

But a king might do anything in his power to protect his kingdom. If it was truly necessary, if there was no other option for some reason... can he truly deny it? Can Thor continue to trust his father and reject what he has heard with his own ears?

There can be no answer, no truth, because nothing has happened yet. It is a possibility, not certainty. Nothing has to happen, but anything could.

He vaguely wonders why his mother has not gone mad yet. Perhaps she has, and no one has noticed. Perhaps he will lose his mind as well.

(And then, suddenly, another thought that is not truly relevant right now, but which still dominates his mind: His brother can bear children. His brother has female parts. Thor has no idea what to do with that knowledge; it just sits there, taunting him. Did you know, Loki? Did you ever feel like this skin was not your own, that there should be more to your body? Did you even realize what it was you were missing? Did you ever desire to be taken like a woman? Thor will never ask, not even if he could prevent Ragnarök that way.)

"No, Thor. I will not be reduced to what I have between my legs. I must either return as his only heir, his sole hope for the future of his kingdom... or not at all."

There is no sadness or fear in Loki's gaze, only cold determination. He sounds as if it is inevitable, as if he thought long and hard about the problem until he realized that all other options have been exhausted. That much is a relief, at least: Loki does not seem to believe that Thor himself has wronged him in any way. It is not Thor's fault.

Not yet, anyway.

But it will be, because he knows the future and did not find a way to change it. It does not matter how or why or what. His brother needs his help.

"And you truly think I would let that happen?", he growls, his anger flaring once more. "You think I would allow that?"

His own intensity shocks him. He just cannot help it: He feels insulted that his brother would rather injure him than ask for his help. Loki does not know of his inner turmoil, just how much Thor fears for him, and somehow that makes him blind with fury.

"Did I not prove that I am prepared to defy Father for you? Did I not prove that I would do anything to protect you?" Gungnir, Mjölnir – no one can deny these sacrifices, Mjölnir said so, she did. He made them willingly. Loki did not even have to ask for them. "You don't have to trust Father, but you have to believe in me!"

And it is true: Loki has to. There is nothing else Thor can possibly offer. If this is not enough, then nothing will ever be.

"And what will you do, Thor? Will you kill the Allfather for me?", Loki says, his grin lop-sided and self-deprecating.

Because that is the one thing Thor cannot promise.

He loves his family, his whole family. He will not choose one member over another. He should not have to.

"He cannot command you to do anything if he is no longer king", Thor begins, because he somehow needs to justify his thoughts to himself. They sound like treason in his mind, even though the ancient rules of holmgang exist for this exact purpose.

He wants to do right by Loki. He wants it that much. He has to, because he does not want to be responsible for his misery.

"If Father tries something like that, I will challenge him for the crown. That is my right as his designated heir. I will force him to abdicate and succeed him. Under my rule you will not have to do anything you do not choose for yourself. I swear it."

There. He has said it. He has given his word.

He has basically just freed his brother from any and all responsibilities the name Odinson has ever placed on him. If Loki confesses the plan to leave Asgard to travel the realms, or to learn the secret of the sorcerers of Vanaheim, or to sell himself as a peasant's whore (Norns, where does that thought come from?), Thor will be honor-bound to grant his wish.

That must change something. That must make a difference. Surely that has altered the future.

He grows silent all of a sudden and tries to empty his mind, just in case a happy vision is waiting somewhere at the edge of his thoughts to reward him. It does not work that way of course, but he still feels like he deserves it, for the oath he has just given is not an easy one.

It is also strangely liberating in a way, because now it is Loki's decision and no longer his. Thor does not have to worry about laying with his brother: If Loki wants it to, it will happen, and if he does not, it will not. That is how it should be.

But then he looks into his brother's eyes, into those poisonous green gems that refuse to reveal their owner's secrets, and he knows even without a vision that he has missed something again.

It is not enough.

 

--------------------------------

 

Thor climbs the mountain, or at least he tries to. His feet keep slipping on the mud, and the fierce rain is blinding. It should not be long until he reaches the eye of the storm where there will be a brief respite, but the way there is long and arduous.

Next to him Loki stumbles, and without thinking he reaches out to steady him.

The rock giants appeared to be severely disturbed by the fact that they both came out of what appears to be their family's battleground mostly unharmed. They had clearly hoped the brothers would battle and the survivor would leave immediately afterwards; once they saw that the two princes had not resolved their issues that way, nothing either of them said could console them. Thor vowed he would help them, but his words failed to have any real impact. The children cried; the adults looked at them with open resentment.

"Go, then", the leader said, his face impassive. "Do as you will, princes of Asgard. Just do not expect any of us to be around by the time you have settled your affairs."

These creatures believed their sole problem was the matter of succession. Oh, how much Thor wished it was just that.

He wanted it to be Loki's decision, and he still does. But when he looks at Loki, his wet hair sticking to his face and his hands clinging to Thor's arm, his expression warm and open in a grateful smile – his chest grows tight all of a sudden.

For some reason their casual touches and even shared looks no longer feel innocent and brotherly. It is all just in his head, of course: But whenever he touches his brother's bare skin he compares it to the sensation of touching his Jotun form. Whenever his fingers find nothing but cloth and metal, he imagines what it would be like to truly touch him. Whenever he looks into Loki's face he wonders how it would look like overcome by pleasure. Whenever his brother speaks Thor can hardly hear him over the gasps and moans of his memory.

As long as the possibility exists, it cannot be ignored.

He has to sort out his feelings somehow, but how?

Loki's tight hold on his arm is the only thing that prevents him from pushing his brother away from him in an attempt to get those images out of his head. The trickster does not seem to mind his touch, which is unusual; normally he would not accept any kind of assistance because it could be interpreted as an admission of weakness. Now, though, he does not let go of Thor, and so they proceed together, dragging each other along when they falter.

This would be much less pathetic if he still had his hammer.

"What is it?", Loki asks when Thor stops all of a sudden.

"I just realized", he answers, his tongue feeling like lead in his mouth. "I will never fly again."

 

-------------------

 

When they reach their destination Thor lets go of his brother. He looks up into the mountains of clouds towering above them, circling them like predators. He is accustomed to the sight, to the feeling of being right inside the storm but out of the rain, that lone center of calm in the middle of destruction, and feels only regret that this will never be a part of him again.

Loki is fascinated by it, though.

His brother has not seen Thor's powers from this perspective before. He tries to appear unaffected, of course, does not want to give Thor the satisfaction of knowing he is impressed, even makes a derisive comment – but his eyes do not stray from the sky above them. It makes Thor feel strangely self-conscious, almost as if Loki is staring at him.

He is not sure why his brother is even here. He was so certain Loki would refuse him, fight him, mock him, reject him – but he is here. He even agreed to help Thor control his power.

He is here – that alone would have been enough.

Lately it feels like his whole world revolves around Loki. He is such an essential part of his future that Thor cannot help but interpret his contentment as a sign that all will be well.

And he is beautiful like this, drenched by the rain and surrounded by the storm Thor summoned. In their youth Loki was afraid of his brother's power: It caused him to hide himself away in the library or their mother's chambers. Now, though –

Ah, there it is. A slight flinch when lightning strikes somewhere in the distance, that firm set of his jaw when thunder follows. He faces it now, but the fear has not vanished. Some things never change.

But when did that sight become arousing?

"I don't understand why you didn't try to achieve true control over this before we came here. How can you simply accept this power as yours without knowing how it works?"

"I could control it", Thor interjects.

"No, your hammer could. You were just the hand that wielded it."

It was not quite like that, but it might as well be true considering how useless Thor feels now. His hand feels so empty without the familiar weight of his companion.

"Very well", Loki says, and lowers himself to the ground. It takes him a while to find a comfortable position, and eventually he sits with his legs crossed and his hands resting on his knees. "Sit. This might take a while."

Thor frowns; he feared as much. In truth he does not have much confidence that this will work at all: Their father tried to teach him for years, and his efforts have never born fruit. Odin was relieved rather than proud when Thor proved himself worthy of Mjölnir and finally gained a tool to control this force.

But Loki's magic is their mother's magic. Perhaps he has a different approach.

Thor complies and imitates his brother's position, facing Loki. Without warning the trickster takes his hands into his, and while the movement was sudden and startling, Thor knows that his instinctive urge to pull his hands away is not normal. Loki cocks as eyebrows as he tries to just stay still. Luckily he does not comment on it.

"Tell me how your magic works", Loki prompts instead. "Can you still feel the storm? Does it draw upon your powers to sustain itself?"

"No", he answers, trying to explain it in a way that will not make him sound horribly misinformed. "I could feel it when I summoned it, but afterwards it was no longer in my control. It was the same with Mjölnir. It takes some effort to call the clouds, but afterwards they seek their own path. They just are."

Loki's next questions are harder to answer, and Thor learns just how little he knows about his own abilities. His elemental powers still adhere to the basic rules of sorcery, and while they differ from Loki's own magic in many ways, the underlying principle is the same. During the next hour Thor learns that his powers are not fully developed – his magic is merely the instinctual surge of a young child, without direction or purpose. Mjölnir gave it shape, but if he were to truly master this power, he could be so much more.

"So you think I could learn how to control multiple elements? Like fire, or ice?"

But Loki insists that he already does, as a storm is merely a result of crass manipulation of both wind and water. With a more subtle touch he should be able to create ice. And did he not summon hail in the past?

He did. Norns, he did.

The loss of Mjölnir is not the end. It is the beginning.

"Focus", Loki hisses. "We have a task to accomplish, don't we?"

They do, but the prospect of sweeping down on his enemies in a cloud of fire and ice and lightning makes him all giddy inside.

That, and the fact that Loki is fondling his hands.

There is no other word for it. He turns them around, inspects their backs and the palms, traces their lines with his thumb, follows the veins, tests the strength of their calluses. Loki's fingers are thin and pale against his own digits, and his caresses are soft like a woman's touch. Surely there is an elaborate explanation for this behavior, some complex magical reason – but Loki does not give one, and Thor does not dare to ask, afraid he will give away just how much this affects him.

These are the hands of his visions. The hands that cradled his face as their owner kissed him, the hands that clung to him when they lay together, the hands that held his as the couple chased after their children's laughter.

Except they are not.

"Show me your true form, your Jotun skin", Thor demands all of a sudden, and, because that came out too forceful: "Please."

Loki looks – he cannot quite tell. His first reaction disappears too quickly underneath a carefully schooled neutral expression. He lets go off his hands, though, and Thor immediately misses the warmth of his brother's touch.

"I don't know how", he says simply.

"That makes no sense. You're a shape-shifter."

"It does not work that way. I still recognize this form as my true one. I could cast the illusion of something similar, but true shape-shifting is out of the question."

Thor is not sure he understands, but he certainly does not know enough about Loki's abilities to refute his claim.

And still.

In a sudden bout of madness he reaches out and takes Loki's hands back into his without knowing why. Perhaps it will lend sincerity to his next words; perhaps he just desires his brother's touch.

Even if his vision does not come true, he will never forget how his brother felt around him.

"I would still like to see it one day."

And that feels dangerous again, like he is rushing forward into unknown territory. His plan was to not encourage their relationship, right? Ah, but he doesn't, not directly. This could be interpreted as a sign of brotherly acceptance.

Except that the feelings inspiring this declaration were not brotherly at all.

And Loki sees his indecision. Or maybe it is something else that causes him to open his mouth in outrage before closing it again without actually saying something. He acts as if he cannot quite make his mind about how to feel concerning this declaration.

In the end he settles for calm indifference.

"No, you don't."

 

--------------------

 

Of course it could not be that simple.

Of course Thor could not miraculously grasp the knowledge that has eluded him for all his life and learn how to control his powers in a single day. He has learned more about the nature of his sorcery, but so far this additional information has not proven particularly helpful.

"Just go to sleep already." Loki's voice comes muffled from where he is lying buried underneath their mostly dried capes in the shadow of a gnarled, withered tree. "You need rest. We can try again tomorrow."

But Thor has no time. Every second he wastes is one that could claim more lives. He stares at the clouds as if he has even the slightest idea what he is doing, tries to reach out not with his hands, but with his mind – and really, what does that even mean? Is Loki making fun of him? – and focuses on visualizing a clear blue sky.

It does not work. It has to work, but it doesn't. Now he really wants to hit something. He could not sleep even if he tried.

Suddenly a warm, damp cloth lands on top of his shoulders – his cape – and he flinches.

"Come on. You won't accomplish anything when you're tired. Believe me, I know."

Thor wants to keep trying, opens his mouth to argue, to disagree – but Loki is there right behind him, looking clearly exasperated. At some point he has removed most of his wet armor, and now wears nothing but his dark breeches.

Thor has seen his brother undressed before; for the past few weeks they have not slept in their armor, and he has never thought much about it. But that was before he realized what possibilities this body contains. Without really thinking about it his gaze strays from Loki's face to his pale chest, and eventually zeroes in on one pink nipple, the one he touched in his vision. It was swollen with milk then, and Thor regrets not having tasted it. He wants to rectify that mistake now, wants to lick and suck at his brother's chest until his breast fills with milk or Loki opens his legs for him.

Slowly, hesitatingly, his mind blissfully empty, he nods.

Walking over to Loki's designated resting place feels like wandering through a dream: The way feels much longer than it looks, almost endless, because at its end waits something he both desires and dreads. For some reason his hands do not fumble as he sheds his armor.

He lies down first – because that is how they usually sleep here – and waits for Loki to arrange himself around him. The trickster ends up with his head on his bare chest, one leg slung around his waist.

Like this Thor can feel his brother's every breath. It tickles his skin, caresses his hair. That hand on his waist is distracting as well, like a hot brand burning his flesh. That nipples against his belly are nothing but torture – so small and tiny. They have a lot of work ahead of them if they are ever going to assume the shape he has felt in his vision. Thor inhales deeply, so he can feel the weight on his chest moving with each exhale.

But that leg is the worst: It would be so easy to hoist Loki up and make him straddle him, make him rub against Thor's lap. It would be so worth it, even if Loki tried to slit his throat for that.

He is slipping. Within less than a day he has come from furious rejection to outright longing. He does not dare to move.

It takes hours until sleep finds him like this.

 

-------------------------

 

"Father!"

Thor turns around and sees the most curious child he has ever laid eyes on. Its skin is a light blue, like the sky on a clear winter day, which creates a sharp contrast with its long, blond hair. It wears a flowing white Asgardian dress, thus sticking out against the background of the Allmother's colorful garden. Red eyes light up they meet his blue ones, and Thor smiles as his daughter starts running towards him.

Someone else catches her first, though.

She yelps when a slender hand closes around her arm in a death grip. Its touch chases the blue skin away and leaves only pale white flesh behind. His daughter cries out, and with this change her facial features look decidedly boyish. Thor has the impulse to step up and defend her – but it is not an attack he is witnessing. It is a tragedy unfolding right in front of his eyes.

"Did you even listen to a word I said? What if someone sees?"

"But –"

"No. Go back to your chambers and stay there until dinner, son. I will not listen to your whining."

"Loki – "

"You stay out of this, Thor!"

Suddenly the scene shifts.

They are in his chambers – or rather, the Allfather's chambers, which are now their chambers, and which does not feel strange at all – just the two of them, the king and his consort.

"Show me your true form", he demands, orders, and there is a desperation in his voice that stems from more than mere curiosity. His hands work their way underneath far too many layers of clothing in search of naked skin.

"Why should I? I'm not pregnant, and we agreed we would not have any more children."

The cold logic behind that explanation angers him.

"Show me", he repeats with a growl, and pushes his consort backwards until his knees hit the edge  of the bed and Thor can easily force him down. He knows how to make his lover submit: With grim determination he forces his hand down his consort's breeches, searching for that hidden place behind his cock. His folds would be waiting there, if he had any in this form. Thor rubs him there harshly, pushes and prods at the sensitive patch of skin until his lover starts mewling.

"Don't –", his consort yelps, made breathless by two conflicting emotions. The mind remembers, even if the body lacks the necessary parts.

"Show me."

His own voice is rough with desire and barely suppressed anger. His position is awkward, his hand is cramping and every motion makes his arm rub against his consort's stiffening cock – it will not work like this. It takes mere seconds to get his consort naked; what takes longer is to spread his legs, catch his wrists and still have one hand available to pleasure him.

Now he can touch his consort's nonexistent cunt without providing any additional stimulation. He uses two fingers, rubs them against the soft, smooth skin as if he was spreading him. Legs open wider, hips rise and fall to make his fingers brush against a cock, or a hole, or anything at all, but Thor is relentless, keeps him down with his own weight, leaves him with nothing but this insistent touches that are not nearly enough.

It is unnatural. Something is.

His consort gasps and chokes on stuttered moans, cannot breathe properly around the lump in his throat. He sounds as if he is in pain – and perhaps he is: Like this his body is not equipped to grant the release it craves. But it knows what could be, what this should feel like.

So why does he reject it so much? Why does he choose to suffer rather than simply accept his body?

A strange thought, then: My brother is my sister. A man who is a woman, who is at the same time both and neither.

"Thor."

Never before has Loki sounded quite this pleading, this close to begging. Thor cannot understand why he does not simply submit: It would be so easy to just shift, so easy to change and be able to enjoy this – why does he resist? What has Thor missed, what is it he does not understand, why is it not enough, where –

"THOR!"

His eyes snap open.

He feels cold all of a sudden, dragged out of the warmth of his vision and thrust into cold, harsh reality. It takes him a moment to get his bearings, to recognize the differences and understand what they mean.

The eye of the storm. The cold. The rain. Loki beneath him. One of Thor's hands squeezing a reddened, hard nipple, the other trapped between his legs. Wide, wild green eyes.

This is it. The is the moment Ragnarök should start. This is the moment the sky should come crashing down, a mere second before the earth swallows them up. The end of all creation. This is when his heart should spontaneously combust, because the alternative is too much to bear.

Instead Loki starts screaming.

Chapter Text

 

 

Thor's own reaction gives him away.

In truth the situation is not unsalvageable: He could claim to have had an exciting dream – a dream about someone who is not Loki, anyone other than Loki – and since there was a warm body pressed against his when he woke up, he was slightly confused. It happens. It would not be that strange. Loki would have teased him a little, Thor would have grumbled, and then they could have either returned to sleep or focused on their magic lessons.

Instead Thor just stares at Loki with what feels like the most stupid, decidedly guilty expression he has ever worn. His brain short-circuits somehow; he can hear nothing but the rush of his own blood in his ears, and he clings to that sound as if it holds all the answers he has ever sought.

He does not move, not even to let go off Loki, allows the sensation of the smooth texture of his brother's skin to carve out a place for itself in his mind, ingrains it so deeply into his memory that it will never be forgotten. His half-hard member is trapped between their bodies, and Loki's weight against it is both mercy and torture.

He just lies there and awaits his brother's verdict, silently admitting his guilt by staring at him like a criminal awaiting the executioner's axe.

Time appears to stretch endlessly when in truth it only takes a second for Loki to push him away. The trickster's eyes are restless and wild as he rises to his feet, eager to get away from Thor, confusion and horror marring his features.

"Why am I even surprised? Oh wait, I know: Because I believed not even you would be this selfish and reckless. 'Oh look, it has a cunt! It needs to be mounted! Who cares that we are siblings, and that I will probably freeze my prick off if I attempt to fuck it! All virgins need to be broken by the golden prince!' Really, I should have seen this coming!"

"That's not – "

"And you will never find a maiden in all known realms whose chastity has been as closely guarded as mine! No one has even seen my slit, let alone touched it! You would be the very first to do so! How could you possibly allow petty things like familial bonds and basic decency to deter you from your chosen path?!"

"Loki, I – "

"Just a few days ago you told me we were brothers, didn't you? Just what does that word mean in your head, I wonder? The rules are simple, Thor, even you should grasp them. A man does not lie with his brother – or his sister, for that matter. Think about it, you could even get me pregnant by accident! You could fill me up with little blue runty bastards! What would your father say to illegitimate contenders for the crown of Asgard that are also related to Laufey of Jotunheim? What do you think he would do about that? What do you think he would do?"

Loki's condemnation does not stop there, and Thor never even manages to get a word in edgewise. His brother has always possessed the gift to wield his words like a weapon, and now he is merciless in his endeavor to cut Thor to shreds. His desires have shamed him before, but Loki turns that feeling into vicious self-hatred.

Why did he ever think there could possibly be an excuse that would make it alright to lie with his brother? Just what is wrong with him that he reached this conclusion, when he knows for certain it would bring his brother nothing but misery? How can he be that depraved? This is not how his parents raised him.

Loki is the very image of righteous fury. At the beginning of his speech he gestures wildly, but before long he merely scratches his own arms in frustration until he starts drawing blood. He is incapable of staying still, resorts to pacing, circles Thor like a caged animal that has nowhere to run.

No words will ever make this alright. Thor has no explanation to offer.

He does have one, though, and when Loki makes the mistake to pause in his rant for a second to draw breath, Thor is desperate enough to try and salvage what is left of his honor.

"I had a vision", he begins – as if the story of how the two of them will raise their children so they will be horribly confused about their gender and sexuality could possibly redeem him. This new one was even worse than his previous vision, and even that made it obvious that their marriage is doomed.

There was a reason, though. A rational, logical one that explains why he started thinking about Loki that way. Faced with his brother's wrath, however, Thor finds himself unable to unravel his own thought process.

His explanation comes out in bits of garbled, fragmented sentences, which are repeatedly interrupted by Loki's shouting. Thor tells him how he felt when his mother handed him his heir, how Loki's skin will not burn him, how there are shadows in the Void planning to invade Asgard, how Loki will die more than once and how he has no way of being sure whether these futures are exclusive.

It really did make sense once, but not any longer. Panic makes his thoughts come more quickly than they normally would. He jumps from one detail to the next, never explaining the big picture. Even if Loki was in the mood to listen to a word he says, he would be hard pressed to understand what Thor is even trying to convey.

He should not share all details, though.

Loki does not have to know just how much Thor knows about his body.

It comes out anyway.

Everything comes out.

Thor does not keep a single secret to himself.

 

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Loki's rant lasts until he has physically exhausted himself, until he is forced to stop his pacing to sit down, and until his hoarse voice no longer serves him. Then he spends at least an hour ignoring Thor's heartfelt apologies with cold indifference.

Above them the clouds chase each other in a lazy circle, a close ring of darkness surrounding a single patch of clear, bright blue sky. Time keeps moving and life goes on, which strikes him as strange for some reason. No new vision comes to him, and the only reality Thor can see is the present one, the one right in front of his eyes.

But the world does not end, and Loki does not leave. After everything Thor has been through to reach this point, it seems almost anticlimactic. This truth that has just been revealed is a horrible, disgusting, twisted thing, but they are both unable to let this argument play out like all the others.

It is not even an argument: Thor acknowledges his fault instantly, does not try to defend himself or attack Loki in turn. He accepts his brother's reproach because that is what he deserves.

That is not their way. This is not how they normally resolve their issues. Loki's anger dissipates eventually when he realizes that Thor's remorse is genuine. None of them has a need to resort to violence, because this is no dispute they can win or lose. Loki can either grant forgiveness or choose to despise Thor, and the thunder god would have to be fine with either decision.

It leaves a sour taste, this quarrel in which they are not in opposition. Both of them are uncertain how to handle this situation. After some time they just reach a point where everything that matters has already been said. It does not seem like an end, but there is nothing more to be done. For a while they just regard each other in silence, wary of an attack that is supposed to come at this point, and somewhat confused when nothing happens. There appears to be no true solution when their disagreement does not involve some kind of fight.

And finally, when it becomes apparent that there is nothing else to do,  Loki simply changes the subject, as impossible as it might seem.

"How can you know for certain that the things you have seen us do in your dreams are actually visions of the future?", he asks.

"What?"

The question comes unexpectedly, and Thor's mind is still lingering on their previous conversation. He had not expected this exchange to result in a discussion about his newly discovered powers.

"Do you doubt my words?"

It is not unusual for his inquisitive brother to try and learn about aspects of sorcery he does not have access to – but the way he does it, calm and composed and not at all like he has only just learned that Thor has dishonorable thoughts about him, strikes him as odd.

"There is a chance you merely ignored the most sensible explanation in favor of the most dramatic one. Why do you believe you are the first man since the dawn of time who has sex visions, when you could merely be one of the billions who have sex dreams?"

"Perhaps I'm just the first to admit it", Thor answers, somewhat uneasily.

Seers are usually depicted as wise old men and women, who hint cryptically at the things they have seen. If one of them were to explain, "I learned this because I had a vision of an orgy that will last three days", their reputation would suffer. They would be treated like the soothsayers and hedge mages of old, who were ridiculed for their powers and whose minds were addled by inhaling the smokes of their own potions.

"Perhaps", Loki conceded. "But how can you know? What do all your visions have in common?"

The trickster explains his theory. Apparently he has wasted even more years than his older brother asking the queen about her ability. But whereas Thor merely wanted to hear her say that he would become a great warrior and perform many heroic deeds, Loki had tried to find out how it worked.

He does not doubt the nature of Thor's powers in itself, although he approaches the subject somewhat testily ("Of course my desperate gamble to earn Odin's approval would only serve to grant the already perfect golden prince a new ability"). But just because Thor happened to experience a vision once or twice does not mean everything else his mind comes up with has to hint at a possible future. The trickster fears that Thor does not take the time to distinguish between true visions and mere fantasies.

His mother – Thor's mother – has only ever had visions when she was awake, and her eyes wide open, Loki explains. The reports of other seers suggest the same thing. While it is not impossible that they all lied or that Thor is the sole exception, it is highly improbable.

"So you're saying it's all just in my head? All the things I have seen when I was sleeping?" His two visions about Loki, and even the one before that, the one about his newborn heir. "None of it is true?"

Now that Loki mentions it, his most recent visions have been somewhat unusual. The ones he had on the bridge and in the Void were a collection of disconnected images – images that had not inspired any feelings as he watched them, only later, after his consciousness had returned to the present. He had been an indifferent observer, watching a story unfold in front of his eyes that was not his own.

The others, the ones that came to him in his sleep, were decidedly more personal. The ones starring Loki consisted of whole, complete scenes of his life – which is strange when he thinks about it. Still, he has not even considered the possibility of them being anything other than visions. Because if they aren't, that would mean...

"You dreamed about fucking your brother", Loki explains, his voice calm and indifferent.

Somehow, that makes it even worse.

If he has a vision about fucking his brother, he is the victim of the twisted paths of fate. But if he dreams about fucking his brother, he is a sick, depraved individual who does not even deserve to breathe the same air as Loki. (His mind holds on to that phrase, fucking his brother. He just cannot get it out of his head. It horrifies and excites him at the same time, and that would mean...)

"Well, what proof do you have?", he prompts, highly defensive all of a sudden, because that is not who he is. "How can you be certain none of the things I have seen could come true?"

Loki looks at him with an expression of open, genuine pity. It feels patronizing, and instantly causes Thor's anger to flare.

"Odin would not have raised us as brothers if he had planned to marry us at some point. It does not make sense."

Of course it doesn't, but Loki himself has convinced Thor that their father is unpredictable. Odin is a king before he is a father; he has plans within plans. He does.

"And I would never abuse my children the way you describe", Loki continues. "I have struggled for centuries with the knowledge that I was somehow different, yet was unable to determine the cause. Why would I force my children to suffer the same fate? Just like you I have been taught to despise frost giants, but that would not keep me from loving the children who share my blood. Just how twisted and petty am I in your opinion?"

When Loki puts it like that, it sounds ridiculous, of course. But –

"Besides, the people would never accept our union. Some of them will abhor it because they see us as brothers, others will say that the frost giant sorcerer is playing tricks on your mind. The commoners have risen against their monarchs for lesser reasons."

Yes, certainly, but that does not have to mean – what does it mean? He has struggled with these visions for so long, and now –

"What you saw was not the future. Your just want me."

He makes it sound so simple.

 

-------------------------

 

Apparently Loki does not need to hold his hands as Thor tries to master his elemental powers. Apparently it works just as well when his brother stands several feet away from him and only offers cryptic advice when he fears Thor is about to give in to his frustration.

"Focus. Remember the theory behind it. Order the wind to do your bidding, and the clouds will disperse."

The clouds do no such thing whenever Thor chances a cautious glance upwards, and his patience is wearing thin. Loki wants him to see the wind and water as separate entities, to change the attributes of one of them to collapse the subtle balance that sustains the storm, but Thor does not see it that way. He only knows the storm, not the individual aspects it consists of. Loki's approach differs vastly from Odin's, who instructed him to break the will of the water spirits that form the rain – but both instructors prove to be less than helpful.

He is on a schedule here. He must succeed before this realm is completely devoid of all life. But his mind keeps returning to his most recent exchange with Loki.

Loki's theory (and that is what he calls it: Loki's theory, or Loki's hypothesis, or Loki's interpretation, because it is just that) does sound plausible, but that is all that can be said at this point. Neither of them is an expert on the topic – Thor is the only one who has experienced visions; he should be able to tell the difference between them and regular dreams.

Besides, why should his sleeping mind fantasize about such things? The images his brain usually conjures are nowhere near this distressing.

And the first vision he had in his sleep, the one in which his mother handed him his child – at least that one felt like all the others. And later he had short, small visions that confirmed this future; or did he just imagine them, as well?

No. He can accept that he desires his brother, but that is not all that is going on here. Such strange urges would not come to him all of a sudden for no reason, right?

It is just a theory. It does not change anything.

And what does Loki know about Thor's powers, anyway?

"Focus. I can tell your mind is elsewhere."

"I am focusing!", he insists, and: "You always make it sound so easy!"

They all have their own method of controlling their powers – Odin, Frigga, Loki – but whatever it is they are doing does not work for Thor. It feels like he is missing a limb: What comes naturally to other people is simply not feasible for him.

He has to accept the possibility that he will not succeed in time.

"Is there no other way? Can't you do something about the storm?"

He turns to face Loki. His brother sits cross-legged on the ground and rests his chin on one of his palms, a masterfully bored look on his face. He cocks an eyebrow at Thor's question.

Why are you even here with me, Thor wonders. Why did you not attempt to geld me when you learned of my desires?

"You know my powers are not suited to that task", he explains.

Of course. If it were as simple as Loki waving his hands at the sky and speaking in ancient tongues, the trickster would have done that already, merely because the damp air turns his normally carefully styled hair into a shaggy black nightmare. It is all in Thor's hands – which does not sound particularly reassuring right now.

"Although, if all else fails, there is something else we could try."

Thor has the sudden urge to jump up and strangle his brother. Instead he stays seated, and rages silently inside his mind.

"What is it? And why did we not try that first, rather than sitting here and staring up at the sky for hours without accomplishing anything?"

"Because there is no guarantee it will work, and we would not find out until it is too late."

"Explain."

Loki emits a long-suffering sigh, as if whatever he is about to divulge is completely obvious.

"You are the cause of the storm, even if it no longer feeds on your strength. If you were to leave this realm, there is a chance it would not be able to sustain itself. A chance, mind you: I am still not sure if you are somehow subconsciously fueling this ghastly weather. If the storm does not need you to continue its existence, then it would not dissipate even if you were to return to Asgard."

That does not sound very promising. He would rather have a clean solution rather than putting his hopes in this alternative that even Loki doubts. And once they get off this realm, Thor doubts they could simply return the way they came to determine whether they were successful: There is a reason why the Bifrost is the very symbol of Asgard's wealth rather than the billions of trinkets resting in the palace's treasure vault. There would be no need for the apparatus if everyone could just as  easily travel between realms without it.

"But that is not even an option, is it? Not if we don't even know how to leave this place." Thor narrows his eyes at his brother. "Or do you?"

Loki smiles like the proverbial cat that got the cream, far wider than what should be physically possible, and while that sight is somewhat infuriating, it is also... well.

It reminds Thor of other times, easier times, when his brother would tease him for the fact that he had been praised by the very same tutors who complained about Thor's short attention span. The older brother usually reacted to these taunts by challenging his brother to a sparring match because those would inevitably end with his victory. They were competitive even then, but there were no ill feelings behind it: They took their losses in stride and held no grudges. They were children then.

If they were to do that now – wrestle each other with their upper bodies bare – and if that confrontation ended with Loki on the ground beneath him, shrugging and smiling that soft smile of his, accepting his loss with the grace of the second son that would always be inferior to his older, bigger brother...

Acceptance comes more quickly each time his thoughts stray into that direction. There is still the initial bout of shame and horror, but it soon mellows into slight discomfort.

His brother's firm reproach should have caused him to abhor such feeling, but in truth this whole day has had the opposite effect on him.

Even now that Loki knows, the world has not ended. Loki still talks to him, and while he appears somewhat wary of physical contact, he stays by Thor's side.

If nothing has changed, his sin cannot be that great, right?

Of course he knows it can never be. Loki does not share his feelings – he has made that absolutely clear. So Thor has his answer: It would be a mistake, and therefore it is a future he must try to prevent.

But wait.

What if Loki is right, and Thor's visions were actually dreams? Desires and fears, but not truth?

That would mean the horrible consequences his mind has made up are just...

"I may have discovered a path to a familiar realm. From there we could easily return to Asgard."

Fears. Things his mind came up with. Not certainty. Not truth.

"And you did not tell me about this because...?"

Odin is not like that. Loki is not like that. Thor just made it up.

"I figured you would rather try to actively save the people of this realm, instead of simply turning your back on them and hoping for the best."

Irrational.

"I would, yes. But just in case I fail: What would you need to do to open this path? How much time would we need to invest?"

Nothing is set in stone.

"We would have to take a short hike, that's all. An hour, at most."

Their marriage is not doomed. It is not a mistake.

"Then let me keep trying until tomorrow night. If I have not mastered this until then, we will leave."

Or at least it wouldn't be, if Loki desired him as well.

 

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There is a strange feeling of déjà vu – or perhaps it is a sense of foreboding. But when night falls and Loki once again encourages him to get some rest (because naturally this day of magical training turned out to be as fruitless as the first) he grows wary.

Loki's words are almost exactly the same, but this time the amount of skin he reveals without wearing his armor feels taunting rather than teasing, a silent challenge he does not dare to meet.  

Thor acquiesces, but he settles down to sleep a few feet from the spot where Loki has built his nest without another word. The thunder god does not remove his clothing.

It will be cold without a second body next to him, but he has dealt with worse. He rests his head on his elbow, pulls his cape close around himself and waits for sleep to claim him. It will probably take some time – the ground is uneven, and there are sharp stones all around. Without meaning to his mind drifts towards his warm, comfortable bed back home in Asgard.

Home feels so far away right now. He cannot imagine what it would be like to return there. How will their parents treat them? What will Loki do now that he has learned the truth of his heritage? Is Heimdall watching over them here? Does he know of Thor's transgression? Has he told Odin and Frigga about it? What would they say if they found out?

Maybe he should not look forward to their return. Perhaps he should dread their reunion.

The sound of soft footsteps is all the warning he gets before a heavy body drapes itself over his. His eyes shoot open in alarm, but all he can see is unkempt black hair falling into his face. He had been lying on his side, but Loki rolls him over onto his back so he can straddle him properly. His little brother's smile is soft and relaxed, but his eyes are alert and calculating.

It is a trick. It has to be.

"Loki", Thor growls, a warning evident in his voice. "What are you doing?"

"You are more comfortable than the ground. I thought we had established that already."

Deft fingers find their way beneath his collar while an insistent thigh ineffectively tries to insert itself between his legs. Thor feels that Loki is testing him somehow, and he knows better than to play along with his brother's game when he does not understand the rules. He grabs Loki's hips with both hands (Loki's face gives nothing away, neither displeasure nor fear) and throws him off. Loki lands on his back next to him, and Thor turns over onto his side once more, facing away.

"You're no fun", the trickster complains.

"This is no game for me, Loki. I will not be ridiculed like this."

His brother just laughs, which grates on Thor's nerves. He can take Loki's anger, but not this new cruelty.  

"Hmm. Last night you seemed to like it when I sidled up to you. What changed? Would you rather have me beneath you?"

"Shut up, Loki."

"Perhaps you prefer the innocent little brother routine? I can do that, too."

"Shut up."

"Or the disobedient, savage Jotun thrall. That sounds like it could be your thing. Best Jotunheim's runty bastard prince in battle and rape him in front of his sire until his screams turn into moans..."

"No! It is not like that! How can you even think that?"

"Then what is it like?"

Loki sounds curious, almost as if it would actually make a difference why and how Thor desires him. He has the urge to turn around and face him, but he cannot bring himself to do it. It is easier to answer when he does not see his brother.

He considers not answering at all. It would only give Loki more ways to taunt him. But he does not want the trickster to think that this is just about sex. It is more than that, has been more than that ever since his first vision or dream or whatever it was.

"I want to marry you. I want you to become my queen – don't even start, I know how that sounds. But I want to rule Asgard with you by my side. I want you to have my children. I want you to be mine."

There. He has said it. He can say it now. He no longer stumbles over his words and thoughts like he did this morning.

It sounds even more ridiculous when he is saying it out loud rather than just thinking it.

"Oh, so it is romance you're after? Do you plan to court me? Bring me expensive gifts? Ask my father for my hand? Ah, but Laufey is dead, so you would probably have to ask one of my brothers. I wonder whether Jotun courtship even works that way. What do you think they would demand as a bride price?"

And it turns out that Thor was mistaken: Only when Loki says it does it sound truly ridiculous.

"I get it", he groans. "I get it, so stop it already. You've made your point."

"Ah, don't be like that. In truth I find your pseudo-incestual feelings quite flattering. Of course they would be even more flattering if you had discovered them before you learned that I'm a hideous blue monster."

"You're not hideous."

"Now brother, if you want to win me over, you will need to come up with better compliments than that."

"Loki – "

He finally makes the mistake of turning over and facing his brother. Loki's face is mere inches away from him, guarded but smiling.

Thor continues talking. "I know I don't deserve your forgiveness, but this is uncalled for. You do not return my love; fine. Then leave me to suffer and keep your quips to yourself."

"Oh yes, you will suffer such crushing heartache for approximately six days until you develop an infatuation with some other unfortunate creature."

"You believe my affections to be this fickle?"

"Your previous conquests suggest that, yes."

That is a claim Thor cannot refute. He has been in love dozens of times, hundreds of times, and while the feeling was always intense, it never lasted particularly long. His passions burn brightly for a week, a month at most, but eventually leave only stale ashes behind. He is not constant in his emotions. Or at least, he usually isn't.

"You have met most of the people I have fallen in love with; I have told you about every single one of them", Thor begins. "And you know I have never seriously considered marriage."

The thought of spending an eternity with just one person is frightening. His love for Jane lacked that complexity – perhaps that is why he was able to give away his heart that easily. Fifty years by her side would pass in the blink of an eye – an Asgardian woman would stay by his side for much longer. Or a Jotun consort.

"Loki, my feelings for you are – "

He is not sure why it even matters, but for some reason it does. He wants the trickster to understand what this means to him, just what it is he is casting aside.

"I have loved you for centuries before I started to desire you, and I have never stopped loving you for even a second. You will always be a part of my life. Long after you will have married another and sired children I will always wonder what we could have had with each other. What I want to say is – this is not like all the other times I have pursued anyone."

"Oh yes, of course this time it's different. I bet I'm the first one who gets to hear this speech."

"Why are you making this so difficult?", Thor groans. In the past when he declared his affection his chosen would regard him with wide eyes, their fingers hesitantly reaching out to stroke his hand or his cheek. He has not expected Loki to react similarly – he is no innocent maiden, after all – but the trickster could be a little more polite about it.

He tries again.

"Loki, even if every single person on this realm dies because of my foolishness, I will still be able to return to Asgard with my head held high as long as you are by my side. I do not regret the loss of Mjölnir, and I would trade the lives of every single creature in every world for yours, if I had to. I cannot imagine life without you."

It occurs to him suddenly that this is not a particularly kingly sentiment. It is also not particularly smart to reveal this to Loki, who has proven in the past that he is not above using other people to further his own gains.

It is the truth, though, and it was true even before his sudden interest in his brother's body manifested.

But Loki just keeps wearing that infuriating smile that makes Thor feel like a particularly thick child.

His words do not reach him.

"How sweet of you to believe that genocide is the way into my heart. Why don't you give us a kiss, brother?"

Thor remembers that words – and he knows enough about Loki's involvement with his coronation to recognize it as a prelude to a knife in the back. It cuts too close, too deep to be enticing. The meaning has to be different this time, though: He has kissed Loki countless of times, on his forehead, on his cheek, on the back of his hand in jest, but the game they are playing now is something else.

He also remembers other words, spoken to him in the same context.

Never doubt that I love you.

And Thor has doubted all his life; in fact there were times when he was fairly certain his brother despised him. Loki has a way of making him feel inadequate, foolish, reckless, annoying. He spent years trying to prove himself to Loki, even though that ambition often got into conflict with his duty of trying to prove himself to their father.

He keeps staring into Loki's face until he feels like he is about to do something utterly disastrous. Surely his brother senses it as well, but the trickster has never been able to tell when he is taking things too far.

"A kiss will cost you, though", Loki teases with a grin, and this feels too much like a game of their childhood for Thor to do the sensible thing and back out.

He never could, not with Loki leading him along like this. Now he has something to prove.

"Then name your price", Thor counters, pleased with how steady his voice sounds. He knows that this is not something they should bargain about, but – "Name it, and you will see that I will stop at nothing for the chance to earn the privilege of touching you."

"Let's see", Loki begins and makes a show of considering for a while. "It is only fair that I also get some amusement out of this. For now I will take your word. Next time you see your mortal, you will tell her that you have chosen your brother over her. I demand that you share the things you have done to me in your dreams in all their glory. You will not leave out a single detail."

Thor does not even take a second to think about this proposition that is clearly meant to humiliate him while at the same time causing Jane to suffer. He wastes no time at all.

"Done", he declares, and surges forward to claim his prize.

At first it is like any other kiss he has experienced with others, except that Loki's lips are dry and chapped where a woman's would be soft and smooth.

But the trickster freezes beautifully like a maiden whose first kiss has just been claimed, and Thor uses that to his advantage by slipping his tongue into his unresisting mouth.

Other than that they are kissing like children; only their mouths are touching, as if they are afraid too much contact will make this even weirder than it already is.

This will not do. If he trades his dignity and Jane's happiness for this single kiss, it has to be worth it.

He pushes Loki onto his back and moves on top of him, determined to make this count. He runs his hands along Loki's blessedly bare torso as he deepens their kiss, strokes and paws at his chest until his nipples grow hard. The trickster makes a strange noise in the back of his throat when Thor pinches and squeezes the cute nubs, and his tongue trembles next to Thor's.

The feeling of being inside this wet mouth is utterly addicting, the lewd sound of their tongues moving against each other even more so. Already Thor starts thinking about what he would be prepared to sacrifice for another kiss, for Loki to suck his cock, for the chance to have him like one would have a woman, for both of his holes, for his virginity, for spilling his seed inside his fertile womb.

He forces his thigh between Loki's legs as just retaliation for his earlier teasing, and presses down hard on his brother's crotch until Loki makes another sound.

Thor swallows those little, confused noises, drinks them like sweet wine. He wonders just how experienced Loki is with this – for the trickster certainly has never shared stories about any conquests of his own. He has not shown much interest in romantic entanglements, and Thor revels in the thought that this could be Loki's first kiss.

Before long the trickster's fingers are digging deep into his arms, but through his armor Thor cannot tell whether Loki is trying to draw him closer or attempting to inflict pain.

It does not feel wrong. Not at all.

Only slightly frightening and like the worst idea that ever came over him.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Thor is fairly certain that his banishment to Midgard was supposed to last longer.

His father had intended him to learn humility this way, to gain the attributes he would need when he inherited the crown one day. At first Thor considered the whole exercise to be pointless: He has spent enough time on other realms on his own, and he never truly struggled with the challenges that awaited him there. He thought there was nothing left for him to learn; he has lived for centuries, after all, has gained an amount of experience that is the equivalent of a few dozen mortal lives. He thought there was nothing in all realms he has not already seen.

Now, for the first time in his life, Thor learns what failure feels like.

It feels... it feels shameful. It makes him feel like a little boy who wants nothing more than to hide his face in his mother's skirts. He wants to disappear from the face of the earth and never face another living creature again.

He must cut a particularly wretched figure when even Loki tries to comfort him.

"It was impossible to begin with", he says, his voice surprisingly soft. "You would have needed more time."

Or perhaps he will never figure out how to properly wield his powers. It was fine in his youth when his father was still young and able to keep him in check, but now he is fully grown while the Allfather is frail – if Thor's magic threatens to drown the golden realm, he is not sure whether Odin would still be able to protect it. He is a liability.

He cannot save the stone giants, not like this. He simply can't. He can sit and stare at the sky for hours, but nothing changes. He is a failure. He has to turn his back on them and hope for the best, hope that these people will be better off if without him – and if that does not work, he will be the one responsible for the death of an entire race.

Thor does not know what he would have done if he had stranded on this realm all by himself, whether he would have found the strength to continue on their chosen path if he was forced to experience this shame without a kindred spirit by his side. Even as it stood he did not count on Loki's support: The trickster has every reason to despise him, and was always more fond of ridiculing others rather than offering a helping hand.

But he is supportive, understanding even. Kind. Displaying a gentleness he has not shown in years. When it becomes obvious that Thor will not learn how to dispel the storm before his self-set time limit runs out, Loki does his best to take his mind off that fact. He explains that he actually has more faith in his plan to simply leave this realm than he had dared to admit earlier, explains his reasoning in detail, and generally does his best to reassure him. When they set out to find Loki's portal to another realm, the trickster keeps talking to distract Thor from his dark thoughts.

He has no idea what he has done to deserve this – and that makes this little gift seem all the more precious.

How can he not love this man when he is being treated like this?

They have not talked about their kiss. (Other than Loki's usual comments: "I thought people are supposed to kiss with their mouths, not with their hands and feet. Get your leg out of there. Right this instant. And if you touch me again tonight, for whatever reason, expect to lose a few fingers in the process.")

They have not talked about what it means.

And it could mean so many things. Thor almost dreads that he has cast himself into an arrangement of indentured servitude; he is fairly certain that if Loki were to offer himself again, he would jump at the chance. How could he not, now that he has felt his brother beneath him once, now that he knows his brother's kiss?

It was thrilling – it was perfection in its purest form. Loki submitted so beautifully, so completely, so readily, that Thor is convinced he has not known another's kiss before then. (And Loki is right: The thunder god does have a preference for virgins. The thought that he is someone's very first, perhaps even their only lover gets his blood racing like nothing else. To think that it could be like that with Loki, that he could be there when his mischievous, wicked brother reaches his first orgasm by another's hand, by his hand, see his face, hear his moans...)

He has given Loki the power to control him.

Or maybe this is the beginning of something else. Loki threatened him, yes – but that was all he did. Could that mean...

He can only hope so.

Because now that Thor has tasted Loki once, he can no longer turn back.

 

-----------------------

 

His eyes are wide open. He is looking at Loki's back as he leads him down the mountain to where his supposed portal to another realm awaits – until he suddenly isn't.

He sees Loki bleeding from deep wounds on both his wrists, sees him fall to the ground and vomit. The next moment he sees Loki as a fleck of blue behind a blinding white background, struggling to crawl away from a giant among giants while leaving bloody handprints behind in the snow. The scene skips a few minutes – both creatures are suddenly naked, and the giant pushes Loki's legs apart to create space for an erection that is nearly as thick as the trickster's forearm. In a last desperate gamble Loki tries to press his bloodied hand to the giant's flesh, but it is swatted away like a fly: He is just so tiny compared to his assailant. The creature keeps a firm hold on his ankles to expose his prize – it takes a few tries until it finds a way to make Loki's body accept his tool, until blunt force makes Asgard's second prince yield to the monster.

Then Loki screams.

He howls, cries in such utter anguish that the creature slaps him hard to silence him, but still he does not stop.

And Thor sees himself returning to Asgard alone, where he is being enveloped in his mother's embrace. That way he can feel the queen's tears – the king's tears are something he can only watch.

"Loki", he gasps as soon as his consciousness returns to the present. Thor grabs his brother's hand and pulls him close, struck by the sudden desire to hold him and never let go. "Loki."

"What is it?"

"Not Jotunheim." He sounds strangely out of breath, cannot get enough air into his lungs to form complete sentences. Loki only told him they were going to a familiar realm, but evaded his questions to be more specific – now Thor knows why. "We can't. Not Jotunheim."

"What did you see?"

He shakes his head – he cannot explain it. He is not even sure what he has seen; it should not have been physically possible. He can still hear Loki's screams ringing inside his ears as the creature forces him open, forces him to take his massive cock to the hilt, tears him apart. Every inch was a struggle, every inch caused the giant to grunt in pain and Loki to squeal like – there is nothing he can compare it to. No creature he has ever seen could emit such noises.

It should not even be possible. The creature's thing looked far too long to even fit into his small, slender brother – there should not be any place inside him where it could be put. There is no way. There is just no way.

Suddenly he has a comparison. Loki squealed like a pig being slaughtered.

"You will be – "

He cannot say it.

His hands are trembling.

"Take deep breaths", Loki orders, and Thor finally notices he is hyperventilating. "Calm down. It's alright. Nothing has happened yet."

Thor nods and shakes his head at the same time.

"Thor. Look at me."

Loki's fingers wrap around the back of his neck to bring his head close, and Thor reciprocates their childhood gesture, closes the distance between them so fast that their foreheads smack against each other. Loki does not complain.

 

--------------------------

 

They stay right where they are, keep kneeling in the mud until Thor has calmed enough to explain his vision. Afterwards Loki looks contemplative rather than afraid, and that builds Thor's confidence somewhat.

"It must be summer in Jotunheim now", he explains, and because that does not mean much to Thor: "Mating season."

"What does that entail?"

"Mature frost giants will be able to smell out other mature, fertile ones. A solitary one without the protection of his family might be considered fair game. There is a chance they could find me even if I continue wearing my Aesir skin."

In that case the solution is simple.

"Then we don't go there."

"Thor, it took me weeks to find this portal. I do not know of any others. I don't know if there even are others. If we wait any longer, the storm will have killed the last of your precious stone giants by the time we finally do leave."

"I don't care. It's too high a price."

"We will just have to be more careful, that is all."

"Loki – "

"I will have to rely on blood magic to open the gate, but if I use yours instead of mine, they should not find me quite that easily. I could try to mask my scent somehow. It will be fine."

They keep arguing, but Loki is set on his chosen path. His reasoning is sound, and Thor cannot endlessly continue to claim that it is too dangerous when his brother has an answer to every single one of his fears.

"It is not that simple to change the future, Loki", he finishes lamely, and even he realizes this is a weak argument.

"Why? You did it twice already."

"Apparently I didn't. The only change I was able to bring about since the Bifrost is that now you are destined to be raped before you get killed. That does not count as an improvement."

"You don't know for certain that they will kill me."

"Loki, I know what I've seen. I would not leave you behind and return to Asgard on my own as long as there was still some way to save your life. I've seen Father weep for you. If that creature catches you, you are going to die. That is certain."

"You're not listening. Their whole purpose is to breed me; they would not end my life after intercourse, as doing so would destroy their own progeny. As one of Laufey's heirs my womb is more valuable than you realize. I know you think them to be savages, but surely not even you – why are you looking at me like that?"

Thor stares at him incredulously. Loki does not understand. His usually smart, perceptive brother does not realize that his body is not capable of mating with a member of his own race.

The very act would end in his demise.

"Loki", he begins hesitantly, unsure how to best put this into words. He does not want to be overly crude – he thought he made it clear already; he could not stop babbling about how tiny Loki is, and how huge the creature that mounted him. Compared to the giant the trickster looked like an infant. The very thought overwhelms him: He has spent so much time imagining Loki taking his cock in an act of love – and this sheer brutality he just witnessed shakes him to his core. His handsome, kind, mischievous brother fucked open by this thing, on the realm that abandoned him once before, all alone in the frozen desert, dying there, in such a manner...

He deserves better, so much better.

Thor will be damned if he lets that happen.

"Thor", his brother answers, exasperated. "I am sick of this realm that consists of nothing but rocks and dirt. I am going to leave, and you can choose to accompany me or stay behind on your own."

"No!", he shouts instantly, because that plan sounds like a recipe for disaster. He would restrain Loki if he could, would grab him and hold him down and never let go, if it weren't for his brother's annoying ability to vanish without a trace. There is a certain determined gleam in those bright green eyes, and Thor knows Loki is already planning how to convince him if this approach fails.

He wonders just how long Loki has known about this path to Jotunheim, and why he did not share this information with him. They just found each other three days ago: Loki could have just set off on his own and left him here.

He wonders whether Asgard's vain, arrogant second prince is actually afraid of venturing into Jotunheim on his own.

"Just swear you will not leave my side", Thor begs eventually, and the words taste like defeat. "In my vision you were alone when he found you – give me your word we will stay together, no matter what happens. You must swear it."

 

------------------

 

Later on Thor learns why Loki's attempts at resisting the giant were so ineffective.

"It is not enough. We need even more", the trickster explains, before shifting to open the veins on Thor's other wrist. Already he is feeling light-headed and strangely detached as he watches his brother draw crimson runes on the stone. The pain is negligible – Loki's cuts are clean and precise – but if he loses any more blood he will be a burden in battle rather than an asset. Black spots dance in front of his eyes.

The gate has not been opened in centuries – they will need to force their way through with considerable force, and blood magic is the only method Loki knows.

Thor's armor is still damp from the rain (it never dried in this weather and humidity, and they do not try again now), and Loki's garments do not fare much better. Jotunheim's climate will do them no favors. Even if there were no enemies waiting for them, their survival would be in doubt.

He is starting to hate his visions.

It is there again, this sinking feeling that he is stumbling straight into a tragedy because he has missed something, some vital clue he did not pick up on. There must be a reason the Norns send him these visions, these hints: They would not show him what is supposed to happen if they did not want to him prevent it.

Loki's plan sounds reasonable, but what if it is not enough?

"Swear it", he repeats dumbly like a toddler that has mastered a meager vocabulary of about five words and must repeat them over and over in a desperate plea for approval. "Swear we will stay together."

"I did, just five minutes ago", Loki responds calmly. With his back turned, Thor cannot read his face. "Surely you were listening?"

He stands when he is finished, stretching his stiff limbs and faces Thor with a wary expression before kneeling down once more to seal the thunderer's wounds with magic.

"We don't have much time. The jump must be made before the runes are dry, and we still need to devise a method to mask my scent", Loki declares.

"Then why did we not do that first?"

"Because I wanted you weak and feeble from blood loss for this."

Thor is lying on his back because that was what Loki suggested before they started – and he is not sure he is able to stand without difficulty, let alone do anything else to assist with whatever Loki has planned. He is about to say as much when Loki descends on him.

It is different from last night when Loki tried to tempt him. There is no teasing smile on Loki's face – his lips form a thin, even line, and his expression is a mask of grim determination. He presses his body to Thor's, intent on sharing as much physical contact as possible. A black-haired head fits itself in the crook of Thor's neck and rubs itself against his shoulder, as two hands hesitantly creep towards his armpits. A leg pushes its way between Thor's thighs, and slowly Loki starts rolling his hips. The thunderer is not quite sure how to react to this, and it gets even stranger when the trickster starts licking him, all the while rubbing his body against Thor's like... like...

They are animal gestures, and while they seem to come natural to Loki, he apparently does struggle somewhat with the execution: His touches are strangely shy and light, as if he knows what he has to do but does not trust himself to do it right.

It is a Jotun custom. It has to be. An Aesir would never behave this way. An Aesir would have no need for it, but if frost giants are able to smell each other across great distances, there must be a certain appeal to have one's mate wear one's own scent.

That is when Thor realizes that his own smell must be absolutely abysmal. This realm is not exactly teeming with bathing opportunities, and most of the time he has been to occupied with his own thoughts to come up with some way to improvise. He certainly did not expect this to become an advantage at any point in time.

"If we are lucky, the frost giants will think I've already taken a mate and leave us alone."

"And if we're unlucky?"

"They will realize I'm covered in the scent of an Aesir, and challenge you to free me from your vile domination."

Great. So this course of action could actually be the very cause of their problems. They are obviously going about this the wrong way – there are far too many risks, too many uncertainties.

It will not be enough. The last time he attempted to change the future he had to sacrifice Mjölnir; how can this little preparation possibly be satisfactory? There must be something more they could do, something...

Loki takes Thor's hand and rests it on the back of his neck, encouraging him to pet him there in a variation of their usual gesture of affection. The trickster seems surprised when Thor catches on after only a little prompting: When he wraps one leg around Loki's waist to draw him even closer, when he raises his other hand to trace invisible lines on Loki's shoulders, lines that he knows actually exist because he has seen them in his vision. He wonders whether the trickster knows as well. Thor closes his eyes and tries to recall what Loki's markings look like and where they are even though he only saw them once, but muscle memory serves him better than actual memory: His fingers find their way all by themselves, know exactly where to push and how much strength to use. He has to dig deep to make sure his brother can feel it through his armor, but he knows he has succeeded when the trickster arches his back and starts leaning into his touch.

Thor has done this before, as impossible as it sounds. He should not know anything about his brother's heritage markings, should not be able to find them blindly with his fingers, should not even know that touching them is something he is supposed to do in this situation. He has done this before. That is the only explanation.

Loki makes a strange sound in the back of his throat, and it takes Thor a few seconds to realize that his brother has just moaned into his neck. It started as a voiceless, surprised gasp, then changed into a sweet sigh towards the end. Loki immediately tenses when he realizes what he just did, embarrassed with his own reaction, and Thor does his best to keep massaging his shoulders and neck in an attempt to reassure him. It feels so familiar.

Memories that have stayed long buried are dragged to the surface by that sound.

When they were children Loki used to cuddle with him this way. It came naturally to him and Thor took it in stride, pleased by this adorable behavior – but they stopped eventually because it thoroughly disturbed their parents. They were unable to rid themselves of the habit completely; a bastardization of it remains even today, their hands on each other's neck, a brotherly gesture that is unusual, but not socially objectionable.

When they were small it did not feel strange: The gesture could not be anything other than platonic to them, for they had not yet learned that there are different kinds of love. Now, though, Thor notices that this gesture is probably not meant to be shared among blood relatives; it feels too intimate, too personal somehow, the way Loki nuzzles his neck and laps up the sweat that has gathered there.

The realization clears all thoughts from his brain.

Centuries before Thor ever discovered his attraction towards his brother, they touched each other like lovers.

"My love", Thor says, because all of a sudden he feels like he can no longer not say it. "My Loki."

The trickster's touches grow more natural and less hesitant with time. He molds his body perfectly to Thor's, and Thor forgets why they started doing this in the first place.

"My love", he repeats over and over, because nothing else feels worth saying. He kisses his brother on his forehead, his hair, everywhere he can reach.

They will be fine.

How can they not be after this?

"Shut up", Loki growls, and Thor has to laugh because the trickster's voice holds no anger or malice.

This is probably intended to be taken further than this – Thor realizes when Loki shifts subtly so the bulge of Thor's crotch pushes against the spot where his brother's nonexistent cunt would be. The trickster shudders and hides his face in the crook of Thor's neck, pants against him; but they do not do anything more than rub against each other. They never did. They never even thought about it.

Thor's neck is wet where Loki keeps licking him, which is not something he has learned to expect from his conquests, and he is not sure whether he would even be able to achieve an erection due to the blood loss. It feels weird – not unpleasant, just strange because he is not sure whether this is a brotherly or a sexual act they are currently engaging in. It reminds him of his childhood, but there is also the knowledge that this is not something mere children should have shared.

He moves his hand upwards to frame Loki's face and softly pulls at his head to encourage his brother to face him, but Loki keeps his face resolutely buried in Thor's neck.

"Don't make this any more embarrassing than it already is, I implore you."

Thor just laughs again.

They will be fine.

They have to be.

 

----------------------

 

The one good thing about the ice realm is that it succeeds in taking Thor's mind off the rock giants' fate.

The first breeze of Jotunheim is nearly enough to knock him off his feet, but Loki is there to keep him upright. It feels as if he is naked; the wind cuts straight to the bone, leaving him shivering in seconds. His wet garments keep the cold in and cling to his skin – there was no other way, that was to be expected when one travels from a realm enveloped in a rough storm straight into the realm of eternal frost, but he did not think it would be this bad. He can feel his body temperature dropping almost instantly. Loki claimed it would take them half a day to reach a portal that could take them to Asgard, and already Thor starts to wonder whether they will even make it that far.

It does not snow like last time – the sky above them is blue and clear, and the realm's weak sun is shining – the wind comes feebly and sporadically and the clean white ice glitters in a myriad of colors. It is beautiful, and at the same time completely unbearable. How can he admire something that is already killing him?

If this is Jotunheim's summer, then he vows to never visit during the winter.

They have taken perhaps fifty steps towards their destination when Loki speaks the words Thor has been dreading.

"They are coming." He is close enough to whisper the sentence into his ear, even though the thunderer does not know why he even bothers: There are no enemies in sight, no one who could overhear them. "It should take them a while to catch up with us, but there are definitely two or three coming our way."

"Already?", Thor asks, and: "How can you even tell?"

"I can smell them as well."

"How does that even work? Why is your skin warm like an Aesir's when you can also smell out other frost giants?"

"Feel free to ask the Allfather about the workings of my body when we return. I've never had the chance to do so."

Thor is leaning heavily on Loki because he is still unsteady on his own feet. He watches the little white clouds that form every time the trickster exhales; his shoulders are tense, and whenever there is a sudden breeze Loki curses just as crudely as Thor. It sounds unlikely, but...

"Are you cold?"

Loki cocks his eyebrows. "No, Thor. I just huff and shiver so you don't feel all alone in your misery."

"I just thought... never mind."

Loki is silent for a long time. Then: "I am cold. But that is probably just my mind playing tricks on me. There is no way I could actually freeze to death here, after all."

The admission is as sudden as it is unexpected. There was no need for Loki to clarify that, but he did anyway. To say this behavior is out of character would be a vast understatement.

"You really are unusually kind to me today", Thor observes, and his brother grins at him.

"Well, I just figured that if I'm going to die a horrible death due to being impaled on a giant's cock, I might as well make peace with you."

Thor scowls; this topic is far too grim for Loki to joke about. He opens his mouth to say so, but then Loki sighs and amends his statement once more.

"I'm just surprised that you're still going along with my plans, even though you really should know better by now. That you're still..." He trails off there, as if it is actually physically impossible for the trickster to share his innermost feelings. He tries again. "There are things you need to know about your banishment, Thor. You don't yet know the true extent of my treason."

The thunderer's frown deepens; he does not like how Loki curbs his tongue to appease him. It sounds far too much like a farewell.

"That doesn't matter now. We can talk once we have gotten off this wretched realm. For now, let's focus staying on course in this white desert."

And because he can and because Loki's head is right there, he presses a soft kiss to his brother's forehead. When he pulls away, the trickster looks up at him almost bashfully.

 

----------------------

 

It takes nearly an hour for the first giant to find them.

"Is that the one?", Loki asks even as he steps away from Thor so they can both ready their weapons. The Jotun looks at them, visibly confused: He has clearly followed the smell of another member of his race, and now cannot reconcile the sight of two Aesirs with what his other senses are telling him. That grants Thor a few moments to study him and compare this creature to the one he saw in his vision.

The giant looks... basically like every other Jotun he has ever seen. He knows intellectually that their markings are unique, but to him they look all the same – and to be honest he was more focused on the giant's cock and were it was forcing its way into his brother to examine them in detail.

"No", he finally decides. "He's not tall enough."

Apparently that was the wrong thing to say, because the giant howls and charges at them.

Thor experiences a strange variation of their usual battle strategy: Normally he is the one to push his brother back and meet the enemy in close combat, but now their positions are reserved. They agreed on this tactic beforehand as Thor is in no condition to match his strength with a creature twice his size, but it is still slightly horrifying to watch his brother run towards a creature that towers over him while he himself stays back and waits for his chance. He draws one of his self-made knifes and readies himself to throw it, but he does not trust his aim enough to actually use it with Loki right in front of his moving target.

The giant is slow but not stupid, and the first time one Loki's blades grazes him he grows cautious. Thor tries to circle around him to have a clear shot at him, but the giant notices his intent and mirrors his movements, intent on keeping Loki between them.

Thor has never watched his brother this closely in battle before, but now that he does, he realizes how unusual his brother's fighting style is. He is fast, tenacious, and not above relying on cheap tricks to gain an advantage, a fact that has always angered Thor. He called Loki cowardly, reprimanded him for fighting dishonorably, without even realizing that there is no other way for his brother: That is the only way to defeat an opponent whose strength exceeds his.

And everyone's strength exceeds Loki's. He is not only a diminutive giant, but also failed to build muscle like an average Aesir. He has always been smaller, slighter, weaker than anyone else. Without his magic he would be lost.

And his magic is not even particularly useful in battle. It is the Allmother's gentle sorcery, which is meant to soothe aches and amuse people with pleasant illusions.

Absentmindedly he wonders what Laufey would have done with Loki if he had known about his aptitude for magic, and recalls the old story of Jotunheim's first and final sorcerer king, who was butchered by his own children so his bones could be wielded as magical weapons. He shudders at the thought.

The battle does not last very long. Loki is almost cruelly efficient in his actions, severs the tendons in the giant's legs so he can easily blind him with his next strike. Then he steps back and nods to Thor, graciously granting him the killing blow. Only now does the thunderer dare to throw the weapon, confident that he is able to hit a mostly immobile target. The earth worm tooth pierces the giant effortlessly like a fish glides through water: It keeps flying straight even after exiting the giant's body, who slumps motionlessly to the ground.

"Well, that was easy", Loki says, and stubs the creature with his boot. "I can still sense more on their way, so we should probably – "

"Loki."

"What?"

"Your hand."

Thor watches in fascination, Loki in silent horror as the small blue patch on his skin spreads to encompass his whole limb. Loki claws at it with his other hand as if it was mere paint he could rub off, but instead the color just spreads to his other hand.

"It doesn't go away. Thor, it doesn't go away."

He sounds almost panicked, distraught, tearing at his skin like he is trying to shake off an insect that scares him.

"It doesn't go away!"

It is not panic – it is something worse, something Thor has no name for, because he has never seen anyone display such abject terror before. Loki stumbles backwards as if this is something he can run away from, falling over his own feet in the process. Then he starts crawling, his eyes almost comically large, fixed on the hand and its coloring which does not return to normal, even though apparently it should.

Thor can do nothing but watch as the color creeps up his neck, changing his pale skin to a light blue. Like this he resembles Laufey closely: The marks on his cheeks and forehead give the identity of his parent away. Those vibrant red eyes are deeply unsettling even when they are widened in horror, and two little stumps peak out from underneath his hair where someone cut off the horns that were supposed to grow there. His partly opened mouth reveals the viciously sharp teeth of a predator.

Then he turns to face Thor, fixing a terrified gaze on him.

It is shameful. It is shameful and hypocritical and unworthy and not at all who he wants to be, but the hatred for his brother's race has been too deeply ingrained for Thor to find beauty in this face. Loki looks like the man who took his father's eye, who ridiculed Thor, whose offspring Thor vowed to exterminate. For a while he just stares, fighting down the urge to draw his weapon and charge at this enemy that only vaguely reminds him of his brother.

Loki looks monstrous.

(And he wonders whether his brother can read that on his face, whether that is the reason Loki's gaze is fixed on him in silent horror. His brother has always been too perceptive for his own good.)

But Thor has been preparing himself for this sight and thus recovers quickly enough. Once the first shock has passed, it gets easier to spot Loki's features underneath that gruesome exterior. His coloring may have changed, but the general shape of his face remains the same. Thor steels himself and approaches his brother slowly but determinedly.

"Loki, are you hurt? Did he touch you?"

He has only taken two steps when it becomes apparent that even if he was prepared for this, Loki was not.

"Don't come any closer!", he shouts, snarls, and turns his back towards Thor, hiding his face and hands. His shoulders are hunched, making him look smaller than he is: The smallest giant Thor has ever seen.

He keeps walking towards his brother. He screwed this up last time – called Loki a liar and shouted at him when he told him about his heritage. This time he will do it right.

"Loki", he says softly when he is right behind him, carefully grasps his shoulders, not willing to risk touching his bare skin. Then he realizes he is being silly: Just because a frost giant's touch can burn his skin does not mean it will. His own grandmother was Jotun; he is just wary because he heard too many stories from the old men who fought in the war. Surely Loki will not hurt him.

His right hand lifts to trace the lines on Loki's neck where they disappear into his collar.

And is immediately withdrawn with a scream.

Thor thought he knew pain, knew cold, but this is something else entirely. The tips of his fingers turn black where he touched his brother – his whole hand grows numb, and he finds himself unable to flex it properly. The newly darkened skin looks weak and brittle, the limb dead for all intents and purposes, and in a sudden bout of madness Thor nearly draws a blade to cut it off to keep the cold from spreading. Because it is spreading, travels up his arm, then down the rest of his body, and when he feels it close to his heart his screams grow almost frantic.

The black color does not advance further, though, and after a few moments Thor realizes that he is in no danger of actually dying; not if they get away from here quickly and he receives the attention of a healer back home.

It is fine.

He is fine.

They will be fine.

He repeats those sentences silently in his head, clings to them until he has convinced himself. His right hand is a dead weight at his side, but that is alright. He did something foolish and paid the price.

Still it takes him nearly a minute to avert his gaze from his arm and turn back to face Loki, to apologize or downplay the pain or say whatever it is Loki needs to hear right now. When he finally looks up, the sight that greets him is not the one he has been expecting.

For a long time he just stares at the spot where his brother sat earlier, and where now is only sturdy, empty ice. He looks around, but Loki is nowhere to be seen.

The world is silent around him.

A moment passes, then another, as Thor's mind tries and fails to process what this means.

He is gone.

"Loki", he growls in anger, "you gave me your word. Come back here right now!"

When a command does not work he tries threatening Loki, then bargaining, then pleading with him. He keeps talking to the empty air because surely his brother is still somewhere close – he knows the risks, he would not dare to walk off on his own. Surely he wouldn't.

"Loki", he speaks calmly into the vast emptiness around him. "We talked about this. I told you I don't care what color your skin has. You gave me your word."

This cannot be the reason. They addressed Loki's heritage, and Thor said he was fine with it. What else was he supposed to do or say? They addressed it in the rock giant cave, Thor said Loki would always be his brother, that he would always love him, so why would the trickster run from him now? Why does this still happen, no matter how much Thor learns about kindness and patience and thinking before he speaks? Why does Loki believe the best response to a problem is to walk off and wait for it go away?

Why is nothing ever enough?

He gave everything he has, sacrifices his belongings and injures himself to keep Loki safe, but it never ends. This is the moment everything has been building up to, this is when Loki was supposed to show that Thor has finally earned his trust, so why, why in Hel does it end like this?

Why does he even bother trying?

"Just what is wrong with you, you twisted piece of shit?! You gave me your fucking word! Honorless swine! Your soul will never find its way into Valhalla if you don't come back immediately! Do you hear me?! It will be lost to oblivion, and Asgard will not mourn for you! I will see to it than no one does! They shall call you Loki Oath-Breaker! Oath-breaker, traitor, and stupid, thrice-damned liar!  You promised! You promised and you lied! You swore! You said you wouldn't leave, no matter what happened!"

He gives in to his anger, because the alternative is giving in to his grief, and once he does that Loki will be truly lost.

 

-----------------

 

Thor only hopes that Heimdall will mercifully avert his eyes so the gatekeeper does not witness what follows. If Heimdall does not see, then Odin will not find out. His father will never have to face the fact that his son has not learned anything from his mistakes.

Thor will not find Loki if the trickster does not want to be found; he does not even know in which direction to head. So he must do something else.

Perhaps there is a better way. No, surely there is a better way: His plan is reckless, needlessly bloody, and may not even help Loki. He is not wise like his father, gentle like his mother, or smart like his brother, and this is the only thing he came up with.

Thor stands alone in the middle of the endless ice fields, drawn up to his full height. In as loud a voice as he can manage, he announces his intentions to the world.

"I am Thor, son of Odin, prince of Asgard! I have come to do what my father could not, and slaughter every last giant on this barren realm! Come and face me, if you dare!"

And they come. Alone at first, then in groups of twos and threes, then in packs. He slays them one by one, because every Jotun he kills is one that will not be able to touch his brother.

Fear gives him strength: The fear of missing the one that matters, fear of failing to find the one that truly needs to die. He moves faster than ever before in his life, ends his opponents with an ease he did not know himself capable of. When they go down without dying due a grisly wound he leaves them lying there, does not grant them the mercy of death. Every second he wastes is one that Loki is in danger. He does not feel his own exhaustion; his body does not even seem capable of growing tired.

"The Scourge's son." That is what the first call him.

The ones who come later come up with a different name for him.

He carves a bloody trail into the snow, kills them with his axes, with his knifes, smashes their heads with his bare arm that is now black to his elbow and as hard as rock. He does not even feel the cold any more.

It is an endless circle, and he loses all sense of time.

They all look the same to him, and so he cannot stop; he will never know when he is finished.

He stumbles once, twice, but he does not fall because he does not allow himself to – there is a chance he would not be able to get back up. The blood in his eyes is partly blinding him, but instead of wiping it away he relies on his ears, constantly afraid of hearing his brother's screams somewhere in the distance, signifying his failure. But for a long time the only thing he hears is his own ragged, uneven panting.

Eventually there is a lull in battle – the group that surrounds him takes a few steps backwards to form a tight ring around him and two giants that look oddly familiar approach him.

"Red Prince", the taller one calls him, while the smaller one snarls. Thor does not recognize them, not at first – he does not truly know how to read their markings, after all – but their regal clothing gives them away; that and the sharp, angular features of the tall giant. The resemblance is there, so obvious, and Thor hates them for it. It is not a rational thought, but it feels like these two own what he desires the most, and yet do nothing to keep it safe.

Helblindi and Byleistr.

Brothers by blood. And that is so horribly unfair, because they did absolutely nothing to deserve that honor. They never once sought for their missing kin, never showed him even a shred of kindness. It was all Thor, and still Loki refuses him.

Neither of them is the one he seeks. The taller one's height fits, but surely Thor would have recognized him. Surely these creatures would not be so cruel as to desire their own brother and ruin him in the process – that is Thor's sin.

Their deaths are unnecessary.

No, they are entirely necessary.

Thor roars his challenge, and the princes accept it with glee.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

He falls because he has to.

He pushes his body harder than ever, but finally reaches his limits. His knees buckle, his weapons fall from nerveless hands. Five times he managed to get back up when his back hit the ground, but this time he stays down. No amount of fear or wrath can enable him to move even a single muscle. His vision turns black. It could not have ended any other way. He expected nothing else.

What he did not expect, however, is waking up once more after losing consciousness.

He is – not warm, even though that was probably the intention: Thick cloth constricts his body, but it feels stifling rather than comfortable; by now warmth is nothing but a fond memory, an illusion straight out of a half-remembered childhood dream. Lying on his back he stares up at the roof of an icy cavern, an inadequate but decent shelter he does not remember seeing before – the field of his battle was completely empty and flat.

His arms have turned black all the way up to his shoulders, and he finds himself unable to lift them.

Two capes are wrapped around his shivering body, a red one and a green one.

"Loki."

The name comes out as a hoarse whisper, carrying all the hopes he still clings to – to see them shattered would be the end of him.

"Loki!"

He can talk; that means he can still move, and that means he can still stand. That thought is what kept him going before, and adrenaline kicks in almost immediately.

He sits up – and his knees, his back, and his left side protest at the sudden movement, but that is nothing he has not grown used to already. Some of his wounds have been sealed and tended to; the uncomplicated flesh wounds even a novice healer can fix. The more complex ones remain – his left arm hangs at an odd angle, and there seem to be several things inside his chest that stab him whenever he moves.

Standing proves more difficult without the use of his arms, but it is not unmanageable. He drags himself to his feet like an old man, shaking slightly before he manages to regain his balance – and there is something wrong with his right knee, which refuses to bend the way he wants it to. His legs feel weak and brittle like ice, ready to break if he applies pressure the wrong way.

The cave is not all that big, but it feels like an eternity passes until he has inspected all hidden corners. Absentmindedly he notes that he is limping rather than walking.

He does not feel the cold, and after a while the pain of his injuries mellows into a slight discomfort.

Loki is not here, but he obviously was at some point: There is his cape, and the supplies they brought with them from the stone giant realm. The trickster came back for Thor – and then he went off again. The thunderer stands there for a while, contemplating what he should do now.

He is so, so tired. He wants to lie down and sleep and never wake up. That is about the only sensible thing he can do in his current state. Going out there again would be madness. He should wait here for Loki. He has no weapons. He can barely stand. He really should stay here. Loki will return. Surely he will.

But Thor has not yet seen a new vision that negates his previous one.

He drags himself to the cave entrance and stares out into the blinding white fields. Night has fallen, which reminds Thor of the first time he has ventured into this realm with his brother by his side so long ago. Back then their father came to save them – now they are on their own.

Thor moves forward, leaving his shelter behind. Every step is a struggle, but he manages. He must.

"Just what are you doing?! Are you actually trying to get yourself killed?!"

Thor's head whips around, and there, right next to him stands a familiar figure, having just materialized from thin air.

There he is, looking like he always does: Pale white skin creating a sharp contrast against his dark garments and hair, regal and elegant and not at all like a monster. Instead of his armor he now wears his usual court dress, which has to be an illusion – it is not like they actually packed a change of clothes when they came here. In his right hand is the butchered corpse of what Thor would have called a rabbit if it were not for the ridiculously huge teeth and claws; he has been hunting.

And he is here. He is alive.

"Loki!"

All other words fail him; all other words have lost their meaning. Without really realizing it, he has started running towards his brother.

"Don't touch me, this appearance is just an illusion! I'm still in my Jotun form! My skin will wither your flesh!"

Thor does not care, and Loki does not pull back quickly enough when Thor reaches him. He wants to wrap his arms around him, but the blackened limbs refuse to do his bidding. Instead he rests his forehead against his brother's, leans against him – he does not feel how his brother's touch freezes his skin, not any longer. What he feels instead is the  multitude of thin, intersecting lines that mar Loki's forehead. They are soft and smooth like scar tissue.

The trickster pushes him away with a surprised gasp.

"Have you lost your mind?!"

Thor allows himself to be manhandled, a feat Loki manages without actually touching him, shouting and talking him back beneath the makeshift blankets. The thunderer is grinning, or at least he is trying to. He wants to smile, but can't – his mouth hurts too much. Everything hurts too much to do anything, now that he knows Loki is safe. He just wants to lie there and keep staring at the trickster for all eternity.

As soon as his back touches the ground again, exhaustion hits him like never before. He is able to cling to consciousness just barely – his body craves rest, but his mind craves the sight of Loki even more.

"I thought I lost you", he admits.

It feels slightly surreal. The last thing he saw before he fell was a wall of giants surrounding him – now they are gone for no discernable reason. There is no explanation, no way Loki could have fought them off all by himself, and yet here they are. It should not be possible.

Unless they have both perished and this is Valhalla.

"Did they hurt you?", Thor asks, and Loki frowns at him.

"I'm fine", he answers testily. "You should be more worried about your own condition."

Thor groans and closes his eyes in relief. He opens them quickly once more, eager to keep looking at his living, healthy brother.

It is strange. Normally when Thor is injured it is his mother sitting at his bedside, wringing her hands in worry even when his condition is not critical. Loki does not look quite so caring and interested in his welfare: His expression is a mixture of silent disapproval and disappointment, not unlike Odin's whenever Thor has done something incredibly foolish. Tiny white snowflakes decorate his hair, and Thor wants to run his hands through those dark tresses.

"You must rest, Thor. I will wake you when I have finished preparing our supper. Sleep."

The trickster looks calm and composed, but it seems Loki was truly worried about him. With startling regularity his hands stray to brush along Thor's chest: Loki cannot seem to stop touching him, even though they are separated by multiple layers of clothing. Thor cannot feel the pressure of his brother's fingers – he does not feel much of anything anymore.

The suggestion sounds... absolutely wonderful, actually. Thor wants to say as much, but his throat fails him – it feels like he has swallowed sharp, jagged pieces of ice that are now stuck in his windpipe. The frostbite must have spread further. His body is deteriorating.

His father told him stories about the warriors that did not return from Jotunheim. The ones who perished in battle were the lucky ones; too many lay in their sickbeds for weeks until they turned into stiff black corpses. Calling it 'frostbite' is a euphemism bordering on cruelty: It is a curse, a death sentence when there is no skilled healer present, and even then the person's survival would be in doubt.

It is a gentle death, mostly painless. Even so Thor does not want to die like that, not when they are this close to home. He spends some time in silent introspection, looking for the little signs that tell him that his body is growing weaker with every passing second.

"I can't", he manages to croak. "Loki, I must get to Asgard. I need to see a healer. Otherwise I won't last much longer."

His brother's expression can only be described as complicated. There is a brief flash of emotion before it turns calculating and thoughtful.

"It is still a long way to the portal, and I cannot carry you. I cannot even touch you."

"I will walk", Thor decides.

There is no other option. It has to be done if Thor intends to survive this adventure. He gets back to his feet – and it is more difficult than earlier, now that there is only his own life on the line. Loki has to assist him, quickly withdrawing his hands whenever he comes close to touching Thor's bare skin.

It takes them nearly a minute until Thor stands once more. Together they hobble towards the cave entrance, uncertain and pathetic. Thor does not feel much like a prince right now.

Loki needs to support him so he will not fall; it takes a bit of maneuvering until the trickster has found a way to hold on to him without hurting him in the process.

"Talk to me", Thor demands, feeling another wave of exhaustion wash over him. He wants nothin more than to close his eyes, just for a second. "Talk to me, so I won't fall asleep."

 

------------------------

 

There are questions that must be answered, but Thor is too tired to ask all of them. Putting one foot in front of the other demands most of his strength – he is simply too tired to demand explanations from Loki. Some of his brother's cryptic words have to be accepted.

"I can't teleport us both. It does not work that way. But at least we don't have to worry about being accosted by more enemies. The frost giants will no longer follow us."

He wants to know how Loki managed that – how he convinced the creatures that were out to bathe in Thor's blood to just leave them alone – but since whatever it was appears to have had no immediate repercussions for Loki, it can wait until Thor can speak without feeling like he is about to cough up a lung every time he opens his mouth.

Other questions are more important.

"Why did you leave me?"

 Thor cannot see Loki's face, but he can feel him tense next to him.

"I was afraid", Loki says – and that is something Thor never expected his brother to admit. They are the princes of Asgard – they do not acknowledge being scared, or weak, or in any way inadequate. It is not their way.

"I was afraid of your reaction", he clarifies. "During these last few weeks you have behaved... not like yourself. I never knew you to be this tolerant and forgiving. In our youth you used to punish me every single time I proved that I do not meet your expectations in any way. I am still terrified of finally discovering the one thing that will make you turn your back on me completely."

Thor is shocked, to say the least. He wants to protest, to ask why Loki has such a low opinion of him; he has done nothing to deserve that, surely. Their relationship was rocky at times – of course it was, they are siblings after all, and too competitive for their own good – but surely the trickster did not expect Thor to abandon him in his hour of need.

"I never expected you to go to such lengths for me. I still fear you will eventually come back to your senses and realize you wasted your time. Every time you open your mouth I fear a rebuke or an insult. I don't – ", he stops there, then tries again. "I would rather cut you out of my life completely rather than giving you the chance to do so."

Thor has no idea what do say. It is just too much.

"Is that so?", he asks eventually, and means: Is that the truth?

The problem with the trickster's explanations is that Thor has no way of telling whether his brother speaks the truth. He does not know whether he even wants these words to be true.

Loki does not say anything else, and Thor has to choose whether to believe him or not, and what that means for them.

 

------------------------

 

It comes to him almost as an afterthought.

"I killed your brothers, both of them."

The fight was brutal, but the princes' arrogance proved to be their downfall. They were superior in every way, faster, stronger, and taller than him, and they started playing with him like a cat would play with a mouse: Choosing to let him live and struggle for a while longer, using him as a form of entertainment. Thor was smart and patient enough to wait for his chance, and eventually the princes of Jotunheim lay dying in the snow, choking on each other's blood.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

Thor groans, displeased that he has to continue speaking, but this must be explained.

"Helblindi and Byleistr. Laufey's sons and heirs. Your younger – "

"I know who you're talking about, you dolt. That is not what I meant. And no, you will not make me say it."

He denies any sentiment attached to these words three seconds later when Thor is stupid enough to press their foreheads together once more, scolding the thunderer for his lack of common sense – the little gesture results in an intense headache, and Thor is fairly sure that even more of his skin has turned dark.

But it is entirely worth it to see Loki's angry and slightly flustered expression.

 

-----------------------

 

"Drop the illusion. I want to see you."

"No, you don't. Stop pretending."

This particular argument lasts quite some time, both of them unwilling to yield.

Thor wants to see his brother's true skin, so he can grow used to the sight and does not react with horror and revulsion the next time he sees it. He wants to learn to appreciate this form, to learn how to see his brother beneath that horrible face. He wants to find beauty there, wants to love that face.

He does not dare explain it like that, though.

"Let me see you."

"No."

"It is a constant strain on your powers, is it not? Just drop the illusion. There is no reason to hide this any longer."

Talking this much is painful, and it takes him longer than usual; he has to take a short breaks in-between sentences to suppress a sudden cough, but Loki waits patiently until he is finished. His brother is unusually indulgent, does not complain at Thor's slow pace, helps him back to his feet without comment when he falters. Sometimes Loki's hands wander a little, checking on the injuries he could not heal.

Such behavior should make Thor happy, but it only serves to make him uneasy.

Loki is too kind, too forgiving. It does not feel right. In fact this would normally be a sign that Loki is planning something, something for which he needs Thor to drop his guard.

It goes against his very nature to mistrust someone who treats him only with kindness, but he has learned to trust his instincts when it comes to this.

They have not reached Asgard yet. There is still a chance this could all go wrong.

He will not let his brother disappear again.

 

-------------------------

 

It comes at the very end, when they are just a step away from their destination.

"Do you trust me?", Loki asks, and Thor stares silently down into the chasm.

Apparently, all they need to do to return home is to jump off this cliff, straight into the painfully sharp rocks that look like fingers reaching out for them. Apparently, the inherent magic of this place will send them to Asgard just before the stones would break their bodies.

"Yes", the thunderer answers without thinking, and tries to tighten his hold around his brother's shoulders with his nerveless arm. His fingers do not so much as twitch. The wind howls around him, taunting him to step over the edge. He hesitates.

"Then let's go."

Together they take a step forwards – and there it is, the moment Thor has been waiting for, the moment he knew would arrive even without having a vision about it: Just as most of his weight hangs over the edge and is about to drag him down, Loki steps back and pushes him.

He almost wastes his only chance because his first instinct is to reach out with his hands for his brother, before he remembers that this is not an option right now. Instead he kicks out, manages to hook one of his legs around Loki's, dragging him down with his weight.

He is not quite sure what Loki is planning – he probably intends to send Thor to Asgard on his own, since this would be a needlessly elaborate ploy to get him killed – but whatever it is, he will not have it. He has come too far, sacrificed too much to give up now. He has nearly completed his quest; now all that remains is carrying his prize back home.

But while Thor is falling, Loki is still clinging to the edge with one hand.

He screams at the unfairness of it all – he is so sick of fighting for this every second of his life, so damn tired of Loki rejecting him every time it matters. Just once he needs this to be easy.

"Loki!", he shouts, and it feels like the Bifrost all over again, except that their positions are now reversed. He has done all he can – now his words need to make a difference.

"Come home with me, you stupid bastard! You cannot seriously intend to – "

The rest of his speech vanishes in the void as the world shifts around him.

Suddenly he is lying on the ground – a mountainside, he decides, not unlike the one he just stood on, except that this one is covered with grass and trees rather than ice and snow. He can hear birds singing in the distance, their cries slightly alarmed due to his spontaneous arrival; birds he has known all his life. He turns his head – and there, in the distance, at the very edge of the horizon, stands Asgard's golden palace.

He is alone.

It is just not fair.

After everything he has done, he deserves more.

He screams again, does not care that his voice breaks at some point, keeps screaming even though he no longer makes a sound. It is a childish argument, he knows that, but it is just not fair. This is not how this story should end.

In the stories, the warriors who prove their worth always get what they want: Wealth, fame, and of course the maiden they court. That is just how it works. And Thor has done everything he could, gave it all he has. Now he wants his reward.

He hates this world for refusing to give him what he is owed, hates this mountain and the birds and the sky and everything in it. He hates it all.

"Loki!", he shouts, or at least he attempts to – in truth he is just silently moving his mouth.

He must go back. He must return to Jotunheim and physically drag Loki's sorry hide back home. He must lock his brother up in his chambers; clearly it was a mistake to ever allow the trickster to make decisions for himself.

Perhaps it truly is impossible to change the future. Perhaps he only wasted his time. Maybe his mother was right after all: She told him this would happen, that her visions are a curse rather than a blessing, that all one could do is stand at the sidelines and watch one's loved ones ruin themselves. Thor was arrogant enough to believe that he was different, that he could change something even though his mother had already given up on that years ago.

Or perhaps Loki is just an ungrateful liar. Perhaps –

All thoughts vanish abruptly as a pale hand rests itself on his chest. Thor turns his head.

Green eyes narrow in uncertainty, but that emotion is quickly replaced by mirth when Thor just keeps staring with his mouth hanging open.

"I fell", Loki explains with a serious, almost regretful expression on his face, and he is so transparent that it is almost painful to watch.

"Liar", the thunderer answers with an expression that is something between a smile and a frown. He can only mouth the word, not actually articulate it, but he wants to believe that Loki understands him anyway. "You let go."

Then Thor rolls over, moves on top of his brother and kisses him deeply.

It is not quite like last time, because the instant he pushes his tongue into Loki's mouth it turns stiff and cold, but he does not care. Thor keeps moving, keeps thrusting his tongue inside, in and out, too happy to worry about ruining his body even more.

Whenever Thor retreats for an instant Loki tries to speak, but is quickly cut off when the thunderer claims his mouth anew; the trickster's tongue brushes against Thor's every once in a while, cold and soft like freshly fallen snow.

It hurts, everything hurts, but that is alright: This is what he fought for, and he will have it now. He cannot wait a second longer to claim his just reward.

Loki resists, but not seriously. He does not manage to push Thor off, even though he should be able to overcome the thunderer in his current condition.

His legs open the tiniest bit, and Thor takes advantage of the silent invitation by pushing his knee against his crotch. He pushes hard enough so he can feel the outline of an untouched, unspoiled virginal slit through his breeches – and Loki squeals.

Even through several layers of clothing it feels cold and slick (and that cannot be true, right?). It feels absolutely perfect, and it is all his – he will make it his, he decides then and there. He can feel its folds opening around his knee, feels the small petals framing this secret entrance to his brother's body, feels his prize readying itself to receive its first cock.

The thought is nearly overwhelming: For centuries this hidden place has waited for a man's touch, and now, after all this time, Thor is the very first to find it. He has no idea what that must feel like for Loki – it must be intense, judging by the sounds he makes.

The trickster's keening, terrified little gasps are in his ears and in his mouth, pleading for mercy, for more, Thor does not know. He only knows that it sounds like Loki is begging, asking for something Thor is more than ready to give.

He vaguely wonders just how stupid it would be to push his cock into the trickster's freezing cunt before deciding he does not really care: He is beginning to grow hard, and this appears to be the only sensible solution to his predicament.

The splitting headache has faded, and what remains is only a soft feeling of light-headedness. It feels like he is floating, like he has reached a wonderful place where everyone is happy and his actions have no consequences. It feels like they will finally, finally be alright, like nothing painful can touch them any longer. It feels like...

It feels like dying, actually.

The world around him fades to black.

 

-----------------------------

 

The next time he opens his eyes Loki is gone, and he is staring at a high, light brown ceiling. The bed he is resting on is warm and comfortable, and he almost regrets waking up – he feels as if he has just been roused from a pleasant dream he cannot remember.

It takes him a second to recognize the palace's healing chambers, but when he does he starts grinning.

It finally starts to sink in.

He has returned. He has returned, and Loki came with him. Loki chose to come with him. They made it. He made it.

The healers fuss over him once they realize he has regained consciousness – it appears that even though his wounds have been tended to, he has slept for nearly a week, which made them all worry. Now they are meticulously checking his body, ensuring that there was no lasting damage, that he is und will remain well. His limbs still feel a little stiff, but other than that he appears to be alright.

Apparently Heimdall could not see them while they were in the Void: Asgard mourned its two princes, and two empty longboats have been burned in their names. Even though those fears proved to be unfounded, the shock still remains.

It takes some while for Thor to extricate himself from the healers' grasp, and in the end only the insistent reminder that he wishes to see the king is enough to get them to back off.

It is his duty as the king's firstborn to come before Odin and ensure him that his heir is hale and healthy – but right now he just feels like a boy who is eager to see his parents again.

The way to the throne room has never felt this long; at every corner he runs into a servant, a guard or an acquaintance who either congratulates him on his recovery or pulls him into a rough hug. Some of them return to their duties once they greeted him, others follow him and bombard him with questions along the way.

He knows he is well loved by the people of Asgard, and his only regret is that he apparently slept through the feast that was held to celebrate their return.

Nothing, however, is more gratifying than the sight of Loki in front of their father's hall, a teasing half-smile on his face. The trickster looks like he is supposed to: His hair perfectly groomed and cut back to its usual shape, his garments elegant, his posture graceful, and standing in front of the golden background of the palace of their childhood.

Loki greets Thor with a slight nod and a soft "Brother."

Thor knows then that is was worth it, all of it.

"Brother", he answers, and ignores Loki's offer of a handshake to pull him into an embrace instead.

Thor is known to be quite free and physical with his affection, and gestures such as these are not unusual for him – but perhaps the moment lasts just a second too long. Thor notices things now: He is consciously aware of his brother's breath ghosting over the shell of his ear, what Loki's hair smells like (lavender, and something else he cannot quite place), how the trickster hesitates just long enough to prove a point before wrapping one arm around his back. Everything feels wonderfully, delightfully different, and when Thor pulls back there is a huge grin on his face.

Ah, to Hel with it.

"Thor! Put me down, you oaf!"

The thunderer just laughs and keeps holding Loki close enough to lift him off his feet. It feels like every second he is not touching Loki is a second wasted. Thor kisses his forehead, his cheek, does not know how to stop himself. The trickster extricates himself eventually (after insulting his older brother and regarding him with strangely creative threats), but Thor's silly smile remains.

There is no turning back.

He loves this man, and he will have him. It is just a matter of time, now. But first there is something else he must take care of.

"Did you also wish to see Father?", Thor asks, still trying to suppress the urge to grab Loki and pull him into the nearest dark corner, where they can finish what they started on the mountain. The mere sight of Loki makes his heart beat faster, as if it is trying to escape his chest to be closer to the person it has chosen.

"I was waiting for you, actually. The queen said you would wake up today, and I figured we should face the Allfather's verdict together."

Verdict – as if they are prisoners, about to face a trial for their actions rather than two sons who are about to meet with their father. His surprise must show on his face, for Loki draws close and whispers hurriedly: "Asgard has changed while we were away. There has been unrest; the people believe their king to be weak after he lost his arm, his spear, and his son. Odin said there would be consequences for the both of us. This will not be the happy family reunion you have been hoping for."

 

-----------------------

 

Thor very nearly gasps when he lays eyes on his father. Odin Borson sits on his throne like an old man sits on his bed – weary, eager to lie back down, held upright by sheer determination. The stump of his right arm is wrapped in golden cloth, complementing his eye patch of a similar color. His shoulders are slumped sideways, as if the weight of his remaining arm is constantly dragging him down.

"Thor", Odin says, and stands at the same time as Thor and Loki kneel before their king.

"Rise. Come here."

What happens then is almost surreal; his father has never been the kind of man to show his affection openly, but now he steps away from his throne to meet Thor and squeezes his shoulder with his one good hand. The Allfather's smile is fond and genuine.

"You have returned to me."

Thor is not quite sure how he is supposed to react, and so he just smiles uncertainly. Loki remains kneeling on the floor, and the thunderer cannot help but wonder whether his own reunion with their father was this pleasant.

It lasts only a moment, though.

The Allfather steps back and returns to his throne – his steps are slow and cautious, and Thor wants nothing more than to run to his side and support him, while at the same time closing his eyes and pretending he does not see anything.

It is painful to see his father like this: The hero of his childhood, the greatest warrior Asgard has ever seen, and he is not immortal. He can be hurt.

As soon as Odin sits once more, he reverts back to being Thor's king rather than his father. The thunderer notes the subtle change in the mood, and steps back to stand beside his brother. He kneels again, mostly for Loki's sake.

When Odin begins speaking and Thor does not have to see his face, he sounds just as commanding as always.

"I have heard about most of your actions from Heimdall and your brother, but there is one question these two could answer." The king pauses a moment for effect. "Just what were you thinking?"

Thor flinches a little and opens his mouth to offer an explanation, but the Allfather does not wait for him to gather his thoughts.

"The Bifrost was destroyed. Mjölnir is gone, Gungnir lost in the Void – two of Asgard's most precious treasures, weapons worthy of the hands of a king, both beyond our reach now, with you being the last person who ever touched them."

The loss of Mjölnir had purpose, but letting go of the spear was mere stupidity. Thor acknowledges that much.

But that is not all he has done.

"A whole realm lies in ruin because you are unable to control your powers. A race has been annihilated."

Ah.

So that is how that turned out.

The stone giants are gone.

Simply leaving was not enough after all. Even though some part of him feared as much, the confirmation fills him with sorrow and shame nevertheless. He has failed.

And Odin is still not finished.

"Jotunheim's royal line has been extinguished. Thor's previous actions alone could have provoked a war, but with your combined efforts it seems all but inevitable. Especially now that the Casket has been returned to Jotunheim."

"What?!", Thor exclaims, because whatever else happened, this is certainly not his fault. Instantly he turns his head to glare at his brother. "What have you done?"

Loki does not even bother to feign regret. Instead, he looks almost smug.

"You were surrounded by an army of frost giants. I had to offer them something they wanted even more than your head on a pike. I figured the Allfather would rather have his heir back than his war trophy."

"All this time you had the Casket and you didn't tell me?  We could have used it to – "

"Silence!"

It is rare for Odin to raise his voice – he usually does not have to. But without his spear this is his only option to restore order.

"It does not matter which one of you is responsible for which action", he sighs, sounding like a father whose children are way too old to cause this much chaos with nothing but good intentions and recklessness as their excuse. His next words are spoken more to himself. "I should lock you both up in the dungeons and never let you out again. Perhaps a few centuries of solitude and discomfort can teach you the virtues I never managed to instill in you. The Norns know I've tried everything else."

Thor is visibly relieved by these words – he recognizes the sentence as the mercy it is. His father has not listed the loss of his arm as one of Thor's transgressions, even though this act would demand the harshest punishment.

Odin makes his sons' mistakes sound like the foolish actions of children, and not like treason. That has to be a deliberate choice.

With this in mind, imprisonment would be such a light punishment that it borders on being unjust. They have to accept it with thanks and grace, and vow to earn Odin's forgiveness.

But due to some fundamental character flaw that never fails to make their situation worse, Loki simply cannot keep his mouth shut.

"Ah, but you won't do that. Surely you realize that you need us to keep your throne."

Thor shoots him a nasty glare, and Loki pauses for a second to smile sweetly at him before continuing.

"You have lost the trust of your people when you sent Thor away in Asgard's hour of need, Allfather. They don't see your reasons. They only see a greedy old man who clings to his crown rather than stepping down in favor of his son. Just look at you, too weak to even sit straight!"

Odin's eyes narrow, and Thor realizes that wherever Loki is going with this, it is not going well. The Silvertongue has always been more likely to get them into trouble than out of it. He has to interfere somehow.

"Father", he says quickly to stall his brother's outburst, and for a while he is successful. "Nothing I do can ever be enough to atone for my crimes. I now realize that I am not ready to become king."

There is silence as two pairs of eyes are fixed on him, and Thor barrels onward.

"I acted selfishly. I did not think about the good of the realms and fought only for my own gain. And while I regret some of my actions, my priorities have not changed. I would do it all again if I had to."

It occurs to him belatedly that this speech will probably not serve to improve their situation either, but it is honest. He is now able to acknowledge his faults. That is all he has learned through his banishment and the disaster that followed.

It is not much, but it was not all for naught.

"And what have gained because of this foolishness, Thor?", Odin asks, sounding genuinely curious.

The thunderer does not hesitate.

"I brought my brother back home."

Even though I was not meant to. Loki was supposed to become my enemy, but I made him come back with me.

It sounds like such a small thing when he says it out loud – it fades in comparison to all the destruction he has wrought, to the lives that have been lost needlessly. The Allfather will not understand; he does not know what Thor has seen.

The price was high and he paid it in blood, and perhaps he went about it the wrong way – but no matter what life has in store for him, this will always remain his greatest achievement.

It was worth it. He believes it.

He believes it even as Loki rolls his eyes at him.

Odin's voice is still dripping with disappointment when he speaks, but his expression is not unkind.

"That you did."

 

-------------------------------

 

"We're lucky the Allfather appears to be an bigger sentimental fool than you."

"Oh, shut up."

As soon as they are out of their father's hall, the bickering starts. It always does whenever Odin scolds them for something: Even though their father is reluctant to blame only one of them, both brothers need to accuse the other.

In the end their punishment is – not much of one, actually. They must repair the damage they caused: Rebuild the Bifrost, retrieve Gungnir, restore the people's faith in their dynasty, and prevent the impending war with Jotunheim. The task is immense, but it is what they deserve.

Besides, most of that responsibility will rest on Loki's shoulders. Thor is no diplomat, the Jotnar despise him, he does not know anything about the inner workings of the Bifrost and his knowledge of sorcery is basically nonexistent. The only thing he can do is travel the realm, help the people with their problems, and smile and wave at children and the elderly. That is basically what Odin suggested.

Asgard must see that the House of Odin is still strong. Go and prove it to them.

Basically Thor just has to continue as before, whereas Loki –

"This is going to take years. I don't even know where I'm supposed to start! I regret not allying myself with my real father when I had the chance."

"You don't mean that", Thor says. He does not add, Odin is your real father.

Not yet. That can come later. For now, it is enough that Loki calls him brother once more.

Thor continues down the hall, and the trickster shadows him without even asking where they are going. He does not have to, for there is only one place Thor can go after seeing his father. There is still one more person he needs to see until their family is complete once more.

Asgard's great garden belongs to the queen: It is Frigga's domain, just like the throne room is Odin's. The two brothers find her sitting on a bench, enjoying the warm light of the morning sun. She is the very picture of peace, tranquility – the scene looks so much like home that Thor's stay on Midgard and the realms of giants feels like a dream in comparison, like he has never been truly away. For some reason that thought upsets him.

"Mother", he says, startling her, and she whirls around to look at her sons.

She, too, looks like she has aged considerably since he last saw her, but her radiant smile makes her look centuries younger.

"My boys", she says, and runs towards them.

Thor braces himself and opens his arms for an embrace – thus her slap to his face catches him entirely off guard. His head whips to the side, and his cheek stings a little. Next to him Loki snickers.

"That was for not listening to a word I said", Frigga declares, and Thor remembers with sudden clarity every single warning she gave to him concerning a seer's power. He wonders whether she has always known he would one day inherit her gift, and what she thinks about what he did with it –

- but then, suddenly, her arms are thrown around Thor's neck, squeezing him tightly. She smells like summer and every single precious childhood memory.

"And this is for doing what I could not."

Thor waits a few seconds to make sure she does not change her mind again, then carefully rests his hands on her back. He still remembers a time when this woman would pick him effortlessly; now she feels small and fragile in his arms. He looks over her shoulder to glance at his brother, who has remained by his side. Loki smiles wryly.

Frigga releases him after a while, then moves to embrace her second child. She whispers something to Loki, something Thor does not quite hear, but he can understand the trickster's answer well enough.

"I know, Mother."

They are home.

 

 

Chapter Text

It is entirely too easy to fall back into old habits.

The day of his reunion with Lady Sif and the Warriors Three turns into several days during which he does nothing but relay his adventures and get horribly drunk. His father's disapproval remains mostly silent, as both the king and the queen seem to agree that Thor has earned himself a few days of leisure. He takes up sparring with his friends again – which is considerably more difficult now that he no longer has a magic weapon to aid him. That is a situation that could be easily remedied; Asgard's treasure vault is full of suitable replacements, and Odin keeps hinting that he will provide Thor with one of them once he has chosen a fitting one and Thor proves himself.

Thor is so busy with celebrating his return that it takes him a few weeks to realize he has not seen Loki in some time. He makes the effort of seeking him out.

As usual the trickster can be found in the library. He sits buried behind a mountain of ancient tomes that are thick enough to nearly send Thor running in the other direction, but for the sake of his love he perseveres.

"What are you doing?", he asks, and Loki looks up at him.

"I'm working on fulfilling the Allfather's task. Or have you forgotten already?"

Thor averts his eyes sheepishly. It is just like him to go off and enjoy himself while Loki takes care of the actual work.

"Which one?"

"Gungnir", Loki sighs. "Jotunheim has been placated for now, and retrieving the king's spear will strengthen our position in the upcoming negotiations for the new treaty. The Bifrost will have to wait."

It is not that remarkable what his brother has managed: He has talked the frost giants out of demanding Thor's head as recompense for his actions, and instead made them settle for petty concessions that do not hurt Asgard much.

But Jotunheim is without a king, without its princes. The sons of Odin killed them all, and no leader remains. The giants do not have the strength to oppose Asgard, and they are not foolish enough to try. (Thor learns later that Loki has negotiated with them while he was busy doing less productive things – the trickster acted as Asgard's ambassador, accompanied only by their father's ravens.)

But looking at him now Loki appears tired. It is not as obvious as during their recent adventure: There are no dark circles around his eyes, his skin looks remarkably healthy and his hair is shiny and glossy. And yet he sits slumped in his chair and rests his head in his hand, an entirely uncharacteristic posture for his brother.

"Can I help you somehow?", Thor asks, and Loki just laughs at him as if this is funniest joke he ever heard.

"Of course. I'm currently looking for a way to freely traverse the Void. If you have any useful suggestions...?"

Thor scratches his head. "I managed to do it with Mjölnir."

"You didn't, but fine. Let's assume you did. How that can feat be replicated? Preferably without destroying any more of Asgard's treasures in the process?"

Thor sighs and sits down next to Loki, dragging one of his books towards himself. His brother raises an eyebrow, which Thor answers with a challenging glare, before he pointedly drops his gaze to the tome in front of him.

He tries.

He genuinely tries.

For a whole week he stays in the library from dawn till dusk. He reads. He thinks. He shares theories with Loki.

And every time he opens his mouth, the trickster tells him that whatever idea he has come up with is complete rubbish, because he disregarded this fundamental truth or forgot about that particular fact. Thor wonders how he could ever forget just how useless he is at this stuff.

He tries to make himself useful in other ways. He fetches books for Loki and returns the ones he is finished with to their respective shelves. He summons a servant to fetch sweetmeats for his brother whenever the trickster becomes frustrated with his lack of progress.

Okay, so he is not being particularly helpful. In fact he appears to slow Loki down: Thor has never learned how to stay all day cooped up in one room with another person without speaking to them. Often he engages Loki in discussion, usually not about what they are supposed to be working on. His brother does not seem to mind these inane conversations.

"Fandral asked me to accompany him on a brief trip into the city tomorrow. Would you mind if I agree?"

"You are to do whatever you like."

The next day comes, Thor goes with Fandral – and normally that would be the end of it. He has tried, and he has failed. He should leave Loki to his business and focus on what he actually can do.

But it rubs him the wrong way, and out of a whim he checks in on his brother after his return. Loki looks up as he approaches, surprised but not displeased to see him. Thor tells him about his day, and the trickster listens, offering some commentary every once in a while. It's nice, in a mundane way.

Thor comes back the next day, and the day after, and even though he is nothing but a hindrance Loki indulges him. The second prince does not show it, but Thor likes to imagine that his brother appreciates his presence.

They develop a routine. Thor leaves Loki to his work in the mornings, then seeks him out in the afternoon, usually with an offering of a sweet pastry he took from the kitchens. Mostly they just talk, but sometimes Thor also grabs one of the books his father has always encouraged him to read, asking Loki for clarification whenever he comes across a concept he does not get.

It is strange.

It takes only a little effort on his part, it is not even unpleasant or particularly bothersome, and already he feels as if he has spent more time with Loki during the last two weeks than in the past two years before their fall. He has always assumed his brother does not want to be bothered when he is working, but now it appears he actually welcomes the distraction.

Who would have thought. Loki actually enjoys spending time with his oafish older brother.

As long as said older brother keeps his hands to himself and does not talk about their kiss or the possibility of a more intimate relationship between them.

 

-----------------------

 

Having no more immediate ideas on how to advance his relationship with his brother, Thor decides to adhere to his father's wishes and travel the realm as he has been told. The distance from the palace does him some good; he notes that he is calmer when he has something to keep him occupied. It is nice to visit all the little towns and villages he has not seen in years – the people greet him enthusiastically, eager to share their meals and their worries with him. He finds that none of their complaints are of a serious nature: Nothing that cannot be solved with a few kind words from their future king. Their realm is still prosperous and safe.

But as satisfying as that thought is, it also makes for a boring, uneventful journey. He finds himself bored after a few weeks on the road all by himself, without his friends and family by his side. A handful of guards accompany him, but it is just not the same.

He writes letters. To his father to inform him of his progress, to his mother to learn about what happens back home while he is away, and to his brother because he wants to.

He has never written a letter to Loki before, and is strangely worried that the trickster will not be pleased by it. There is nothing to tell – he describes the people he meets, the sights he sees, the experiences he makes – nothing that sounds like it could even vaguely interest Loki, anyway. He sends that final letter off with a heavy heart, uncertain whether it is a good idea.

He receives a reply from his parents the very next day. It takes a whole week for Loki's response to reach him – a week Thor mostly spends fretting and worrying. The trickster's letter is short and to the point – his brother is glad that Thor has finally started on his own task from the Allfather, and wishes him luck in this endeavor.

And that is it. Two sentences in Loki's neat, precise script.

Still, Thor counts that as a victory.

His own reply is considerably longer: He once again describes his experiences, asks his brother how his own research his going, and encloses a little straw figure that is supposed to resemble some kind of bird he received from one of the children he met on his journey.

Loki answers with one sentence and a burnt piece of straw: His research is going nowhere, and Thor should better stop sending him junk.

He counts that as a failure.

Every letter is a tiny risk he takes, and sometimes it pays off and sometimes it does not. In the past he would not have bothered: He would just have assumed that Loki does not care about what he does, and focused on his  more appreciative acquaintances.

And now, after all those years spent by Loki's side, Thor learns that when he reaches out to Loki, his brother reciprocates.

He receives a reply to every single one of his letters, no matter whether their contents have pleased Loki or not.

 

-------------------------

 

He has been on the road for nearly a month, but he never seems to get anywhere. In nearly every village or town he passes through, the inhabitants insist on holding a small feast for him, and he is forced to waste an unreasonable amount of time sitting and drinking with people. It feels nice the first dozen times that happens, but eventually it just gets repetitive. He almost starts praying that he will come a across a settlement that is actually being besieged by some horrible monster he can battle, just to get a break from all the boredom.

He feels a strange kind of melancholy the further he travels. These are the places he travelled to with his brother when they were younger, before their father gave them permission to explore other realms. He remembers little incidents he has not thought about in years; seeing it all again on his own is almost painful.

Eventually change comes in the form of a figure he did not expect.

He is well in his cups during the third feast of that week, and it appears that his suspicion has been correct: He has finally discovered the perfect level of inebriation, where everything everyone says is funny and witty while his own mind is still clear enough to keep him from embarrassing himself. He still remembers the name of the village chief, why his sons should be praised and that his wife is dead and should not be asked about – and he is enjoying himself.

He also remembers when to retreat to the room provided to him before people start getting even more friendly. Sometimes these feasts can get a little out of hand; he knows that from personal experience. More than once he woke up the next morning with a vaguely familiar-looking woman in his bed, while desperately trying to remember what her name was. On a journey that is meant to restore the people's faith in his father's reign, he should probably avoid dishonoring anyone's daughter. Or mother. Or wife.

But every once in a while he comes across a woman who wants to be dishonored.

"Surely you don't want to leave just yet?", the woman next to him asks. She rose from her chair just as Thor excused himself, and then followed him as he exited the hall. They are standing in a low corridor, mostly hidden from the merriment they just left behind.

She is a striking individual – but some little details are off. Her dress is far too elaborate (and far too clean) to belong to a more peasant girl, and Thor noticed that she rejected most of the food she was offered with an apologetic smile but a faint hint of disgust in her expression.

The disguise is perfect: Long brown hair that gleams like molten chocolate, soft facial features and a generous cleavage that – yes, that has him staring. Still, he has gathered enough clues to be reasonably confident in his guess.

"Yes, Loki, I do."

The girl looks at him in confusion and denies his claim, but Thor stays firm, and eventually the illusion fades. His brother stands before him, looking angry and displeased.

"How did you know?"

Thor wonders about that himself; in the past he has never been able to see through Loki's disguises. Now it comes almost naturally to him: He noticed little gestures that looked out of place on the peasant girl, the motions of her hands, the way she walked, and of course how she cocked her eyebrows whenever anyone said something stupid. There was simply an uncanny resemblance to his brother.

"I've been watching you more closely than you realize", he says cryptically, quite pleased with his achievement. "And what brings you here? Is this – "

He was going to say: 'Is this one another one of your ploys meant to humiliate me?', but catches himself just in time. He does not always assume the worst of his brother, but this sentence would sound that way. Thor tries anew.

"Just what is this?"

Loki shakes his head. "It no longer matters. Sleep well, Thor."

And in the next moment his brother is gone.

It takes Thor the whole night to figure out that this was probably some kind of test, and he is not sure whether he passed.

 

-------------------------------

 

There are no more incidents, and he finally returns to the palace after a few months.

Both the king and the queen are visibly impressed with his sterling conduct – and quite surprised, as well. Clearly they were both expecting him to cause trouble along the way, which should probably feel insulting. Still he presents his report in perfect form: The people are happy with their leadership, and while they are aware that they live in uncertain times, they rely on Odin's family to protect them instead of blaming their king for their troubles. Thor has done what he could to convince the doubtful ones, and he is fairly certain that he was successful.

He notes that Odin holds Gungnir once more, but does not comment on it. He just kneels in front of his king like a dutiful prince is supposed to.

At the very end of his audience the Allfather suggests holding a feast to honor his return, but Thor frowns and insists that he has seen enough feasts to last him a few years. His mother asks if he is feeling quite alright.

Afterwards he intends to visit his brother, but is dragged off by Sif and his other friends instead. They have heard about his return, and relish the chance of challenging him in the training ground now that they believe he is out of practice.

That night he returns to the palace tired and sore, but his feet carry him towards the library and not to his chambers, searching for the one he has been missing the most.

Loki finds him first, though, holding some kind of long pole wrapped in grey cloth.

"Come with me", the trickster says, and heads off in the direction of Thor's rooms without so much as looking at him. "I would rather do this someplace where we can have some privacy."

The thunderer follows him, not sure what this is about, but happy enough to trail along.

"Congratulations on retrieving Father's spear, by the way", he says conversationally as they walk.

"That is not the only thing I managed." Loki smiles back at him, as if he is laughing about some secret joke only he understands.

They reach Thor's rooms, where the thunderer immediately throws himself into his favorite armchair. With a long sigh he stretches his limbs, and watches his brother with tired eyes.

"I have a gift for you", Loki announces, and presents him with whatever it is he has been carrying around.

"What is it?"

"Unwrap it and you will find out."

Thor reaches for the pole and almost does, but then Loki adds something that causes his fingers to stop.

"It is a replacement for Mjölnir."

Thor stares at him with wide eyes, not sure how he should feel about this. It is incredibly presumptuous of Loki to claim there could possibly be a replacement for his hammer. The weapon had a soul, was one of kind – there can never be another one like her. Even with Loki's unparalleled sorcery, she will remain lost.

"Father is not yet convinced that I am ready to receive another one of Asgard's treasures", he begins carefully, because that is what the king's heir is supposed to say. Loki shrugs him off.

"Which is why I'm giving you one of my own."

This only serves to make the situation feel even more strange – the trickster does not own any magical weapons; surely he would brag about them if he did. Thor wants to question him further, but decides that most of his doubts will be addressed if he only unwraps his gift.

It has to be a two-handed weapon, a spear perhaps, he decides. It is too long and heavy to be anything else.

And while he is a decent warrior with any and all weapons, he does have a certain preference, of course. This would require him to change his style considerably.

He pulls the cloth away and reveals... a sword. Probably. He is not quite sure, because it does not look like any kind of sword he has ever seen. It appears to have been forged from a multitude of bleached square bones that are about as big as his palm. It has no blade, no sharp edge that could cut anything. The weapon is heavy enough that Thor could probably bash some skulls in with it, but it would take a  great deal of strength to wield this thing effectively.

There is something off-putting about those bones, though. Thor is almost certain he has seen something like this before, and recently, too: It reminds him of something, but it takes him a while to make the correct connection.

The weapon looks like a frost giant's spine. A very big frost giant.

"Loki", Thor gasps, and nearly drops the weapon in surprise. "This is – "

"Skadi", his brother finishes for him, probably taking his hesitation as ignorance. "Jotunheim's former king, whose bones were turned into enchanted weapons following his children's rebellion."

Thor knows that story, of course: Everyone knows it. It is just one of a thousand reasons why the people of Asgard believe frost giants to be monsters. In their culture there is no greater cruelty than to refuse one's ancestors to enter the afterlife; and Skadi's soul has been split into five parts and bound to his bones, so the mad tyrant would continue to protect Jotunheim even after his death.

Thor can feel the king's rage, his pain when he runs his fingers across the rune-covered hilt: It calls out to him, orders him to kill the creature that stands before him, kin to the ones who inflicted this cruelty upon him.

"Loki, I cannot accept this. This is your grandfather."

This feels wrong on so many levels. Depending on the person telling it, the story of this blade is either about two brothers working together to brutally slaughter their father, or about the first war between Asgard and Jotunheim, which very nearly ended in the Aesir's demise. Either way it is unsettling.

"It is a sword."

"But... but it belongs to Jotunheim!", Thor keeps arguing.

"Its owner lost it centuries ago, and I found it again. By the Allfather's law it became mine. And now I'm giving it to you. ...Although you should probably not venture into Jotunheim and wave it around for all to see, just in case."

The whole thing feels incredibly morbid; Thor is only glad that his own relatives have been burned and that he will eventually share their fate: That way he will never have to suffer to indignity of foreign princes haggling over him after his death.

Skadi responds to that thought with an impulse of his own: He reaches out carefully, almost against his will, and Thor can already feel himself bonding with the blade without really meaning to.

"You have a strange aptitude for wielding weapons with their own soul, you know", Loki muses. "It does not even freeze your skin off."

Thor keeps running his fingers softly along the hilt, quietly caressing the blade while considering Loki's words. He thought his connection with Mjölnir was special, and it was: But now that he holds this weapon he feels only reassurance that there is another voice in his head again. They are both still wary of each other, but he suspects they could become good companions given enough time.

It is still wrong, but it feels more right than anything else he has done lately.

"I don't really know what to say", Thor says eventually; he truly doesn't.

"How about 'thank you, brother'?"

Thor wonders just how hard it was to retrieve this blade, and what prompted the trickster to do so. There are millions of ancient, powerful weapons scattered all over the realms, just waiting to be found by a worthy wielder, and Loki went and got him this one. That has to mean something, but Thor is not quite sure what that is. There are too many implications.

"Thank you, brother", he answers earnestly, and grins at the trickster.

Loki returns his smile.

"Keep it hidden from Odin for a while, though."

 

-------------------------------

 

Skadi is a vengeful, hurt, twisted creature. Unlike Mjölnir he craves destruction and cruelty, which does not fit Thor's character at all. For a while the weapon actively rejects him – but once it learns that he killed two of Laufey's sons, it grows more amiable.

That is something they both share: An irrational hatred and general distrust concerning all frost giants. Thor attempts to teach his blade that Loki is the sole exception to this rule, but so far Skadi remains unconvinced.

It is a sword, but not one that cuts. Its touch freezes skin, metal and even stone, and the force of Thor's swing shatters its target in the process.

That is what is supposed to happen, anyway. Skadi only aids him when he wishes to.

The former king does not grow to love him the way Mjöllnir did, but they eventually learn how to tolerate each other. And Thor learns there is something else he can use the weapon for.

The first storm that comes to Asgard bringing both snow and lightning is considered a strange, unique phenomenon. When it disappears without a trace just to regain its strength half an hour later, the Allfather seeks out his heir.

Thor is almost certain that his father will take the blade from him: It is not appropriate for the prince of Asgard to command a former king of Jotunheim when relations between the two realms are still strained. He comes up with a hundred explanations and excuses why he needs to keep the weapon, why Skadi prefers him to any frost giant wielder – just to find that is not even necessary.

Odin just watches his son standing in the courtyard surrounded by black storm clouds and holding the strange sword, nods at him, and disappears inside the palace once more.

Only then does Thor realize how precious Loki's gift truly is.

 

------------------------------

 

There is one last thing Thor can think of to prove the depth of his love for Loki; it is perhaps the most risky endeavor he will ever embark on. The foe he will face is not known for his mercy, and he risks losing everything if he fails.

And that is how he ends up asking his father for an audience.

It is not a true audience, because he does not seek him out in the throne room but rather his personal study, where he hopes the mood will not be quite as strained. This conversation will be difficult enough as it is.

"What is it, Thor?", Odin asks, sitting behind his desk where he is working on... whatever it is he is writing. It is slightly disturbing to watch him use his stump to hold down the paper while his remaining hand draws small, precise letters. Thor forces himself to focus on why he came here.

"I wish to marry", he announces gravelly, and steels himself for what will happen.

"That is a marvelous idea, boy! A royal wedding will be perfect to lift everyone's spirits. There is no need to worry – Sif's parents have already been informed and await the official announcement of your suit."

Thor has never figured out why his parents were so convinced he would one day marry Lady Sif. She makes for a good friend and a faithful companion, but there is no passion between them. He loves her like a sibling (even though that word no longer holds merely platonic feelings).

"It is not Sif I wish to court."

For the first time since Thor entered the room, his father looks up at him.

"Who, then?"

The one-eyed gaze is slightly intimidating, and there is silence for a time as Thor tries to find the courage to continue.

He has come this far. Now he has to get this over with.

"It is Loki."

Thor is prepared for any reaction: Shock, disgust, anger – he couldn't quite decide which outcome was most likely. Apparently the Allfather feels the same way: A myriad of emotions passes over his face in quick succession while he tries to gather his thoughts. Thor's nervousness forces him to continue talking, even though he can only make it worse at this point.

"I have come to you to ask for his hand in marriage. You are Loki's father, whether he acknowledges that or not. Will you allow me to court him officially?"

Odin shakes his head slowly in a way that suggests he simply does not wish to understand what Thor has just said and intends to purge the knowledge from his brain. The king runs his fingers through his hair, a gesture that seems strangely out of place on this stern man, and sighs deeply.

"Thor, sit with me."

The thunderer complies – because every word of his father is a command – but frowns while doing so. He knows that whenever his parents ask him to sit with them, he is about to receive a lecture.

Thor sits down on the other sit of the desk so they are separated by several feet of dark, polished wood, and mentally prepares himself for his scolding. Odin's beginning still catches him off guard, though.

"Have I ever told you about my mother, queen Bestla?"

"Once, I think", Thor admits, after considering the question for a while. "You told me she was Jotun, and when I asked how that happened, you just said that things were different back then."

Odin has never been particularly forthcoming about his own parents; most of what Thor knows are things he learned from books or other people. Bestla perished years before he was born, and his memories of King Bor are vague.

"My mother struggled for years to adapt to our culture. She knew as she agreed to the engagement that she would be known as Asgard's queen, as the future king's mother, but she did not fully realize what that entailed. She considered it stifling to stay at home and care for their children while the king went off to battle. Father tried his best to please her, but I do not think she was happy here."

The speech is startling; his father has just revealed more personal information than he has in centuries. And Odin continues.

"What you intend to do to Loki is far more cruel. The boy has only recently discovered that he is not a boy at all, and you plan to emasculate him further. He would become your wife, would be expected to bear your children. Can you imagine the people cheering for a frost giant on the throne, after what they just went through? Can you imagine your brother in the position your mother currently holds?"

Thor has imagined just that, actually – but now that he thinks about it, such an arrangement does not sound like it would be particularly fulfilling for Loki. His brother did not enjoy most of their adventures – but what he detested even more was staying at home while his brother went off on some quest on his own. Perhaps they could come up with some other way to make this work...

"No Thor, I will not consent to this. You will choose another wife."

And while that reaction was a possibility Thor took into consideration beforehand, it is still insulting.

"Then set me a task", he demands, even though it pains him. But that is how earning his father's acceptance works: He must prove himself if he wants to be deemed worthy of something, and Loki is the greatest prize there is. "The way you did before you gave me Mjölnir, or before you named me your heir. Give me a chance to earn your approval."

But Odin completely rejects that idea. His word is final.

And In a way that feels shameful. Back in the stone giant realm Loki claimed that Odin had some nefarious scheme for him, that the king would sell him to the highest bidder, and Thor believed him readily. As it turns out they were mistaken.

The Allfather trusted Thor with his kingdom, but he will not entrust his other son to him. The trickster can believe whatever he wants, but Thor knows the truth now.

Odin loves Loki, and the princes are fools for ever doubting that.

 

------------------------

 

Thor understands there are multiple problems with his plan.

First of all, Loki's heritage must be revealed before they can marry, since an incestuous union between two men would never be accepted. Yet Loki remains stubborn on that issue: He keeps dropping hints in casual conversation, causes people to doubt, and then throws a defiant look at Odin as if he expects their father to disclose the truth. As a result, his position at court has become somewhat precarious: His words, and later on his very presence make their guests distinctly uncomfortable. Loki must earn their trust once more; and he has to do so decisively, so the people's goodwill does not evaporate as soon as they learn about his heritage. There is not much Thor can do to help with that, though.

And besides, the last time he disobeyed his father that did not exactly end well for him.

And besides, his visions or dreams or whatever suggest that his possible future with Loki will not be a happy one.

A wise man, a wise king would take these arguments into consideration.

Thor does not.

 

-------------------------

 

His father's tale actually gives him an idea.

"Friends", he whispers softly one evening when he is already too deep in his cups to realize just how stupid this particular notion is. "Would you join me for a hunt?"

They all agree quickly enough – they have not departed on a true adventure since Thor's return, and they are eager to return to battle once more. It is Sif who eventually asks: "And what will we be hunting?"

"Snow foxes. They live high up in the North, and I've read that their hides are so white that one cannot spot them in the snow with the naked eye. They are very small and fast."

"And are they dangerous?", Fandral asks.

"No."

"But their fur is valuable?", Hogun wants to know.

"No."

"Does their meat taste good at least?", Volstagg questions.

"No."

"Then why should we bother?", Sif finishes for all of them.

"Because it is difficult to catch one! It takes skill and patience!", Thor exclaims, as if it is obvious. "It is almost impossible to skin one without damaging the fur in the process! Not many warriors have managed to retrieve even one!"

"Ah, so it is glory we're after." Sif nods approvingly.

"No", Thor says once more, and by now the looks of his friends are not only disbelieving but bordering on hostile. "In fact, no one must know we even spoke about this. You will have to swear to secrecy. My parents must not find out before I'm ready to tell them."

"And are you at least ready to tell us what this is about?"

Thor is not, actually, but he is awfully transparent, and it only takes his friends a few tries to figure out his reason. Once they have guessed that he intends the fur to be a gift for a lover, he feels obligated to share at least part of the truth.

"It is... not exactly a custom of my family, but my grandfather did the same when he proposed to my other grandfather." It takes him a few minutes to explain that insinuation, but eventually he is able to return to his story. "He killed a dozen snow foxes and laid out their furs on the bed on their wedding night. The one with grandfather Bestla's blood is still being displayed in the vault. I must do the same to prove my devotion. I'm sure my love will understand the significance of this gesture."

"And who is this woman that has you so enamored you are seriously considering marriage?", Fandral wants to know.

"That's... complicated", Thor answers cryptically. "I will tell you eventually, but not right now. Forgive me."

"It is a Jotun, isn't it?", Sif asks, and shrugs at Thor's scandalized expression. "Otherwise the story would not make sense."

That thought sends the conversation into strange territory. There is the obligatory teasing, of course ("Exactly when did you meet her; when you tried to slaughter her race with all of us at our side, or when you tried to slaughter her race with just Loki by your side?" – "And how are you going to kiss her at the end of the ceremony? Will she bend down, or will you climb on a chair?") Thor bears their ridicule in silence because he has no choice – Loki's heritage has not yet been revealed. Thor does not want to take this choice from his brother.

He has no idea how to be vague enough to satisfy his companions' curiosity without at the same time giving away something Loki would rather keep secret. He has already said too much.

"Please, if you don't want to help me, at least do not share this with anyone else."

"Why? It is not like you to be ashamed of anything", Sif teases.

"I'm not ashamed. It's just that other people would not understand."

"Of course they won't", Fandral says.

He has been unusually quiet since they began talking about frost giants, even though romantic escapades are usually his favorite topic of conversation. "Out of all the women in all nine realms you choose one who will freeze your skin off and has a bigger cock than you. I know your father asked you to improve relations with Jotunheim, but surely he does not intend you to go that far."

There is an insult in there somewhere, but Thor cannot quite put his finger on it; Fandral's eyes are hard and unforgiving, and there is condescension in his voice.

"Don't talk about things you know nothing about", Thor snarls, warning him off.

"I'm sure not even King Bor wanted to take a Jotun wife. Oh, excuse me, husband. Have you ever looked at them? They are hideous, horned monsters! Couldn't you at least – "

He never gets to finish, because Thor abruptly stands up and turns over their table in the process. The words cut too deep, remind him of the moment he almost lost his brother because his blue skin was too strange, too foreign to accept. He remembers standing alone in a field of white. And he remembers being afraid.

"You will take those words back."

Fandral refuses to do so.

 

-----------------------

 

They leave the next day without Fandral, who is not in a condition to travel anywhere after his fight with Thor. He will need a few days of bed rest until he is back on his feet – and then he and Thor will have words again. It pains him that his friends aren't more accepting of his lover; and they do not even know about his worst sin, that it is his very brother he desires. He hoped – ah, but perhaps that was foolish.

He is not done fighting for this yet.

They spend two months in Asgard's frozen north, and now that they have all become acquainted with Jotunheim's cold, the wintry storms of their own realm feel like gentle breezes to all of them.

The foxes elude them, though. They really are almost entirely invisible in the snow: Thor's party can do naught but follow the prints they leave on the ground, but more often than not their trail disappears once new snow falls. Sif claims she saw a pair of black eyes blinking at them once, but by the time they thought they had located the animal, it was already gone. It quickly becomes apparent that they need a sorcerer to complete their task, and Thor is repeatedly questioned why they did not take Loki along for this. He grumbles and growls, but does not share his reason.

Eventually their rations are depleted and they are forced to admit failure. They return to Asgard with heavy hearts, disgruntled; none of them can remember another adventure during which they were unable to meet their objective. Thor wants to stock up and try again immediately, but his friends insist on Loki accompanying them if they are to attempt this a second time. Thor, on the other hand, is adamant that does not happen. They reach an impasse, and mutually decide to never speak about this trip again.

 

----------------------

 

It is peculiar. Thor is not used to stand at the sidelines and praise someone else whenever there is a feast; usually he is the one everyone toasts to. He certainly cannot remember a single one that was dedicated entirely to Loki. His feats are normally honored alongside Thor's, because they used to embark together on most of their quests, but whereas Thor performed many acts of bravery that earned him his own recognition, Loki did not.

Not until recently, anyway.

The very first feast dedicated solely to Loki had been held on the day he retrieved Gungnir, and while Thor was not present for that one, he heard enough about that day from his acquaintances.

As it turned out Loki was an awkward host, strangely uncertain about his role, not sure how to behave.

That is not how he acts tonight. Tonight he is jovial, accepts the people's gratitude with grace; and there are many who want to personally thank him for his achievement. By destroying the Bifrost Thor has separated families, lovers and friends – now that Loki has restored it all these people can hope to be reunited.

Looking at him from a distance, Thor can tell that Loki is enjoying himself immensely. His jokes are witty and funny rather than cruel and cutting, and he keeps his listeners entertained in that effortless way of his. He is in his element: Diplomacy has always been his strong suit – his words can raise or destroy empires, which is one of the reasons why Odin intended him to become Thor's advisor. Frigga is by Loki's side most of the time, and all Thor can see when he looks at them are their current queen and his future queen. They just fit so well together: When they smile softly at each other it is so simple to imagine their future.

It is somewhat irritating. Thor is not used to simply staying at home while Loki runs around accomplishing things; it should be the other way around. Even though he knows his frustration stems from mere childish sibling rivalry, it still does not feel right.

He has been taught that he must be able to protect his future queen, to be gentle and kind to her, to... well. He just thought he would marry a woman, a precious fragile flower, and not –

"It is not what you imagined, right?"

His father stands next to him, looking at Loki and Frigga with the same wistful expression Thor can feel forming on his own face. He has the strangest urge to justify himself.

"I'm not unhappy, and I didn't reconsider. I love Loki, and I wouldn't want him any other way. I am proud of him."

That is the truth, he finds. Loki is impressive, keeps doing things Thor would never accomplish, but that goes both ways. It is not a competition. He knows that. He knows that, and yet...

Odin sighs, as if uttering these next words takes all his strength.

"Then why don't you go over there and tell him that?"

It sounds like such a small obvious thing, but for some reason it never even occurred to Thor. He nods once, twice, then makes his way over to the trickster.

Loki greets him with an easy smile and no insult, a rare occurrence. All the praise seems to go to his head; he does not even act like himself. Thor is certain he has not seen his brother this happy in a long while.

The night passes quickly, and the brothers only part from each other's side when they absolutely have to. Thor ends up enjoying himself, and tries his damnedest to make sure the trickster does the same. Loki's smile is contagious, and his comments are actually funny when they do not aim to wound Thor.

Any remaining doubts die that night.

 

------------------

 

It is just after sunrise when he stands on the Bifrost the next morning, in full armor and with Skadi strapped to his back, as if he is about to march into battle. He finds that this attire raises his confidence; he feels prepared for anything.

"Send me to Midgard", Thor tells the gatekeeper. "I need to see Jane."

He does not find her in the little desert town where they met for the first time, but inside a tall building in a bustling city. Heimdall has dropped him off on its roof and given him the number of the room in which he will find the one he seeks. He knocks and announces who he is, which results in a flurry of motion coming from the other side. He waits patiently in the hallway, feeling far too big for the cramped corridor; he has to watch out whenever he turns so his weapon will not scrape along the walls.

Finally the door opens, and he sees her.

She looks different. That is really the first thing he notices. She looks like she has been sleeping when he came; her hair is a tangled mess of dark brown curls, and she blinks at him a few times as her eyes grow used to the light. Her brightly-colored garments leave her shoulders bare and expose her legs all the way up to her upper thighs, and Thor feels as if he should avert his eyes, because it is not appropriate for a woman to wear such an attire in front of a man she is not married to.

She still looks like the woman he fell in love with.

"I have come to end things between us", he declares, and the smile on her face dies even before it is fully formed. Behind her back he can see a bleary-eyed Darcy staring at them.

Thor is a man of honor, and he keeps his word: This is what Loki demanded for him in exchange for that very first kiss, so this is what he must do. They keep standing in the hallway as Thor explains that there is another, that said person is his brother, explains what he has seen in his visions or dreams, and what he has hoped would develop between them. He shares every dark, twisted secret despite Jane's insistent reminders that she does not wish to hear this. At some point she tries to close the door on him, but he stops it with his foot. People come out of their own rooms and stare and gape at them as they pass, but Thor ignores them. It is painful, to see how each word of his hurts her, but he keeps babbling on until there is nothing more to be said.

It is strange; in a different future the two of them could have been happy, he knows it for certain. In this reality he only brings her sorrow.

Maybe there is one more thing she needs to know.

"I will never forget the time we spent together. I like to believe it has changed me, helped me become a better man than I was. I want you to remember that always."

And that is how it ends.

 

-------------------------

 

Know that love cannot be forced, that passion and affection can wither and die with time if you do not nurture them. None of these are prizes to be won for good; you will not win your intended over with one single meaningless feat of bravery. You will have to earn your spouse's affection every single day, over and over again, for the rest of your life.

Someone told him that once, most likely his mother. Apparently she meant that literally.

Often it hurts. Often Thor fails. Often Thor is forced to give up when he realizes that he is getting nowhere. But sometimes he has some bright moments: Sometimes he does things right without really knowing how or why it happened. Every once in a while Thor says or does something that genuinely impresses his brother.

Rewards are few and far in between, and they are subtle. Sometimes Loki merely sighs in disappointment instead of insulting him, and sometimes he smiles softly at Thor for no reason, but that is all.

His grand gestures usually result in failure. He really should have learned that lesson after the fox fur disaster, but he cannot quite help it: This suits his character better than long afternoons spent in the palace library and playing subtle word games. He wants to go out and slay monsters, retrieve precious gems from draugr-infested tombs. He wants to shower his love with gifts, and he does: Loki accepts the pretty baubles Thor offers him, and then forgets about them two days later.

He learns that Loki appreciates thoughtful gestures, but Thor can never guess in advance what will please him. The thunderer does not understand, does not see any method to this madness: A sweet pastry smuggled to Loki's room once he has left a banquet after a fight with their father is apparently much more impressive than rare tomes from Alfheim's library. A hundred days of constant devotion can easily be ruined by one thoughtless action, just like his mother predicted.

It takes a thousand days. It takes one failed invasion of Midgard, and a group of dark elves attacking Asgard. It takes a second horrible meeting with Jane. It takes a dozen battles and a hundred conversations and an unspeakable amount of looks shared between them. It takes an eternity, and it takes no time at all.

Eventually Loki starts initiating small, casual touches. An accidental brushing of knuckles, a hand on his shoulder, a brief embrace when they see each other again after spending days apart. When their gazes catch, Loki starts holding his for a second longer than usual.

It feels awkwardly familiar, not like he is kindling something new, but rather like he is re-kindling something long lost. There is a certain melancholy to this new side of Loki, a slight anxiety, as if he risks losing a part of himself when he reciprocates his older brother's affectionate gestures.

Sometimes Thor imagines that there was a time like this once before, decades ago: That he has already seen this haunted, longing look on Loki's face in the past. He imagines that there may have been hints, light comments with a hidden, darker meaning, a silent shadow standing by his bedside at night, a gentle touch right before he fell asleep.

He imagines that a long time ago, Loki was in love with him.

 

----------------------------

 

They share their third kiss at the top of Stark's tower. Thor is overwhelmed with the situation: Down below the Chitauri rage through the streets, their companions struggle to defeat them – their companions, not just his; they fight by his and Loki's side – and yet here they stand, and it feels like something precious.

There is an overwhelming sense of wrongness, suddenly; a memory he is not supposed to have. Loki is telling him how to close the portal, tells him how to end this destruction – a tiny, priceless miracle. He made this happen.

In another reality, this is the very spot where Thor would have given up on his brother.

And that is why he has to kiss Loki to erase the images of a world he has only seen in flashes, of betrayal and lost trust and of Thor stealing Loki's beautiful voice away with an enchanted muzzle. He kisses him, and this time Loki does not struggle, almost as if he knows what this means to him, and Thor does not try to plunder his brother's mouth. It is a soft, brief brushing of lips, a shared breath, a touch so brief and transient that it only increases his longing. For some reason they both close their eyes as Thor draws close; they brush noses first before their mouths find each other, and they are both smiling sheepishly when they do. It feels like they are suddenly children again, uncertain and inexperienced. It is a silent thank you, a tribute to the Norns that enabled him to reach this future, this beginning. It is sweet and soft and holds a promise neither of them dares to voice, but when Thor pulls away he can feel his brother's lips trembling for just a second. Loki stares at him wide-eyed.

The tower crumbles around them, and there is not much time. They should act instead of standing there, holding each other's forearms and looking into each other's eyes like they are both dangling off the rainbow bridge once more; about to fall, about to lose themselves.

 

------------------------------

 

Their forth kiss happens on Svartalfheim, with Jane standing right there next to them. Loki's wound should be fatal; it would be fatal if it weren't for his Jotun anatomy: The tiny giant's heart is just a little smaller, just a little more to the right than that of an Aesir.

Thor only knows because Skadi tells him, forces him keep his calm despite Loki bleeding all over him.

"You'll be alright", he explains, because the trickster does not seem to realize that he is not dying: He looks so forlorn, so lost, so damn sorry, and Thor does not find the words to convince him. "I swear you'll be alright. We'll go back to Asgard and Father will scold you for being so stupid and – "

It is Loki who draws him into a kiss then, his hand shaking and bloody on the back of Thor's head. His lips are cold and unmoving, and his cheeks are wet. There is so much sorrow in the small gesture that it nearly breaks his heart; a hundred missed opportunities, a future that could have been. Thor pretends not to notice the tears in his eyes or the disturbing, metallic taste on his lips; instead he cradles Loki's head softly in his arms, kisses him softly and carefully and with all the confidence he can muster. He has seen this very scene in a vision once before, his very first one, and it is not easy to believe Skadi when his own eyes tell another story.

"I want you to know – ", Loki begins, but his voice breaks. When he tries for a second time, he only manages to cough up dark blood.

"You'll be alright", Thor repeats dumbly even as his brother's hand slips from his hair and falls lifelessly to the side. He tastes ash in his mouth. "It will not end here, Loki. It cannot end."

He cannot be sure that the trickster even hears him; his eyes have fallen shut, and his breathing has grown so shallow that Thor can no longer see his chest move.

He must believe. He must go ahead and face the enemy, must save Jane's life, must leave Loki behind. He must have faith.

 

------------------------

 

Their fifth kiss nearly happens on the Bifrost once they are reunited after his victory over Malekith, but the trickster evades him with a mocking remark and a strained smile that does not reach his eyes. They are not quite at the point where this can just happen without a tragedy occurring around them – they are getting there, though. They face their father's scolding together, and also receive their mother's gratitude side by side.

Their family is still whole, and only Thor knows how unlikely that was.

 

-----------------------

 

There is one magical week right before everything changes.

It is that special moment in time when two people know their love is mutual, and the rest of the world fades into the distance. Loki starts playing tricks on him: Little harmless ones, just to get his attention, and to see how long it will take Thor to see through his deception. They go on long hunts together, lose themselves in the woods all over Asgard, the playground of their childhood. They have time, now that neither of them has any obligations chaining him to the palace. Old memories come back to live when he sees the familiar scenery, and yet it all feels so pleasantly different. There are dozens of almost-touches, almost-kisses, almost-confessions, usually when they sit around their campfire under the starry sky. It is the moment right before the beginning of something new, and the anticipation is part of the fun: Loki drags it out, seems to be incapable of taking that last step, but each time it takes longer for him to remember himself and pull away. His hesitation seems to have turned into utter terror; he seems to dread this change to their relationship, and yet craves it more than anything. The trickster is so awfully transparent.

It is the pleasure of the chase, perhaps; Thor feels the same excitement he experiences on a hunt, the same agitation, and it appears to be the same for his prey. Eventual surrender is inevitable, and it will make his victory taste even sweeter.

They are building up to something.

 

---------------------

 

Thor staggers to his feet and brushes the blood off his face before favoring Sif with a wild grin. Their sparring matches have grown increasingly more brutal in the past few months – Thor wants to push himself to his limits ever since his last adventure in Jotunheim. He will be forced to spend the next day in the healing chambers, but that is just the way it is.

Sometimes, when he is in a good mood, Loki will come and watch. Perhaps it is just his imagination, but Thor likes to think that the sight of Thor dirty and bleeding does something to Loki. He is almost affectionate afterwards.

Today, however, the trickster is in a bad mood.

He strides onto the sparring grounds with purpose and stalks straight towards Thor. The thunderer is more than a little distracted by the sight, and Sif's next strike knocks him to the ground once more. He barely manages to roll away and dodge the boot aiming to break his nose, but when he aims to retaliate Loki moves to block his path.

"That is enough for today. Thor, I must speak with you. Privately."

Thor nods, but the adrenaline never leaves his veins even as he follows his unusually quiet brother back towards his chambers. It takes some time for the excitement to fade after such an intense battle, and he keeps flexing his fingers simply because he needs to do something.

He is almost painfully aware of his brother walking next to him, and his body is clearly not averse to engage in another kind of physical activity. He eagerly feasts his eyes on his brother's form – even though his garments are not particularly revealing, Thor cannot help but imagine what is beneath them. When Loki inclines his head to the side to throw him an angry glare the light catches his face just so; his midnight-black hair gleams in the sunlight, and the tip of his ear is illuminated in a way that makes Thor wonder what it feel like to run his tongue over it.

He must fuck this man, soon, or he will go crazy.

He has wanted Loki for a while now, and during that time he has had quite a few visions – or dreams, he is still not certain – about how their first night together could be like. He spends at least an hour every day considering the possibilities, and he is fairly certain that Loki is actively encouraging these thoughts. His eating habits have become far too lewd – Thor knows that his brother enjoys sweet stuff, but the loud moans are entirely unnecessary. As is the thigh rubbing against his beneath the table whenever they are summoned to eat together as a family.

He accused Loki of vanity even before the events of his failed coronation, but now that the trickster is certain of Thor's attention, he invests even more time in his appearance. There is never a hair out of place on his head whenever Thor encounters him, and his garments are tailored to subtly accentuate his features.

Loki is teasing him, and Thor is entirely at his mercy.

The trickster's rooms are just as he remembers them, which is proof of their parents' love: Their belongings remained untouched even as all of Asgard believed them dead. He glances around surreptitiously in the hopes of seeing one of his gifts displayed somewhere, but he spots none. That does not have to mean anything, though. His brother's rooms are tasteful but mostly bare; there are no random trinkets decorating the shelves that would allow a casual visitor to make an assumption about the room's occupant.

Or maybe Loki keeps his personal belongings behind the door leading into his bedroom.

As soon as the door closes behind him, Loki turns to face him.

"I hope you remember the promise you made", the trickster says, his expression cold and unforgiving. "And I trust that you will keep your word."

"What are you talking about?"

"I've heard there is someone who asked the Allfather for my hand in marriage, and it seems that Odin is planning to accept. Surely you will not allow him to simply pawn me off."

Thor startles – then he grins; this has to be the first time he has more information than his brother. He wants to play with him a little longer. "And do you know who that suitor is?"

His brother seems almost angered by Thor's wide, happy smile. He answers in a huff. "No, but that is easy to figure out. Our alliance with Alfheim is secure enough so handing me over would serve no purpose. Jotunheim would be an option, of course, but as it appears I'm not physically compatible..."

This game is fun, but Thor has never been a patient man, and he feels as if he is going to burst if he does not say it now. He decides to put his brother out of his misery. "Loki, it's me."

Thor had believed Odin' indirect encouragement during the feast for Loki was the best he could possibly hope for, but this morning the Allfather went a step further.

Your brother is a gentle and sensitive soul; he can easily be wounded by a careless word. You, on the other hand, are the kind of man who speaks his mind without considering the consequences. Or at least, you used to be. You have grown more considerate, and have shown that you are willing to abandon your own selfish desires to aid others. Your actions after you fell off the Bifrost have been proof of your recklessness, but also of your kind heart.

There is silence for a while as the trickster contemplates this new information. Thor expected to see surprise on his face, had secretly been hoping for a look of joy, or any emotion at all, but Loki's expression does not reveal anything.

"I see", he begins, his voice carefully neutral. "Then I suppose congratulations are in order. Once more the golden prince gets what he wants. I hope you remember that when I freeze your prick off on our wedding night."

The threat comes out in a bored tone. Loki takes a step backwards to increase the distance between them, his stance wary, as if he is readying himself to attack should Thor try to just pounce on him right now.

He can feel Skadi calling out to him – he left the blade in his chambers, but the former king senses the danger, and relishes the thought of tasting the blood of his kin. The sword calls to the rage within, stokes the flames of his anger, but he will not give in, not this easily.

"We will not marry at all, unless that is your wish", Thor clarifies, and holds up his palms in a gesture of peace. "I only received Father's permission to court you, and that is what I've been doing for the last few years."

He thought that was obvious: While some of his gifts could be interpreted as a show of brotherly devotion, most of them were clearly meant for a lover. They kissed. What did Loki think he wanted to express with that? Still: "You are free to reject me whenever you like."

Somehow that explanation does not please Loki, either. He is frowning once more.

"You did all that with marriage in mind?"

"Of course."

As if there could ever be another option. As if he would ever make Loki settle for less.

It appears there was some kind of misunderstanding.

"Loki", he begins hesitantly. "I am not sure why this displeases you, but I apologize for any slight given. Please tell me what you're thinking."

That is how most of their arguments start, after all: Thor does something, and Loki takes it the wrong way. He is still convinced that if they just start talking things over, they can avoid this turning into a disaster.

He was so close. He thought he had been so close. Just a few more days, he had believed, and Loki would finally cave, they would finally –

"You didn't think this through at all, did you?"

Loki sighs, and that look of disappointment is perhaps more scathing than any of his insults.

"What do you mean?"

"Getting the Allfather's permission is all well and good", Loki explains, "but you must know that the future king's spouse has to be capable of producing heirs. And while I'm glad that you have apparently given up on the stupid notion that I will horribly abuse my children, you are thinking too far ahead."

There is one of those dramatic pauses Loki is so fond of; or perhaps he really expects Thor to figure it out himself. Either way the trickster eventually keeps going.

"I am a runt, Thor. For a Jotun that is more than a mere disfigurement. It is not uncommon for anomalies of nature such as myself to be infertile."

Thor wants to argue the point, wants to present his visions as evidence to the contrary, but Loki has already made clear that he does not believe those to be particularly convincing.

They could check, though. Loki cold change into his Jotun form and have their mother or Eir examine him. Still Thor finds himself hesitant to suggest that, for an embarrassingly selfish reason: He wants to be the first person who sees Loki's cunt.

So he keeps his mouth shut and lets Loki continue.

"And surely you realize that I will have to stay in my Jotun form for the whole duration of the pregnancy, as well the conception itself? Which raises another interesting question: Could you fuck this, Thor?"

Just like last time Thor is wholly unprepared for the sudden change. It happens instantly – or perhaps Thor merely blinks and misses it. The temperature drops considerably, and he finds himself shivering.

All of a sudden he can see the twisting, intersecting lines on his brother's forehead, how they run over his cheeks to point downward at the parts of his body still hidden by clothing.

They could almost be beautiful in an exotic way, if they were not screaming Laufey at him.

What is most unsettling are his eyes, however. They are red like the blood of a dying warrior, and Thor has seen enough of these eyes surrounding him to dread the sight, especially when they look at him like he is the most despicable person that ever lived.

But this is Loki. How many times has he fantasized about this body, how many times has he imagined it? That face, that hair, that chest, those legs. They are indisputably Loki's. He is the wrong color, yes, but everything else about him is just perfect.

It is complicated; if someone asked him whether he desires Loki in this form, he would not be able to answer. And Loki has basically asked him just that.

"I thought so."

The trickster starts walking towards him. Thor watches the light play over his face, casting shadows across his light blue skin. Loki's motions are not as fluid as they usually are, and after a few steps Thor realizes that he walks as if there was some gruesome wound between his legs he tries not to aggravate. He does not stop, walks right up to Thor until he can press himself against his older brother's body, just to watch him flinch.

"Do you see now why this foolish infatuation will lead nowhere? Marriage, he says, even though he can't even get it up to breed Laufey's get!"

They both gasp as Loki literally goes a step too far: His breath is cold against Thor's ear, his close proximity is enough to make him shiver, his eyes look positively threatening up close – and his hand is on Thor's crotch, cruelly squeezing his already hard prick through his breeches. Apparently they are both equally surprised by this turn of events – Thor did not even realize he was aroused.

And just like that, Loki's argument is rendered void.

The trickster blinks almost comically at him, too shocked to remove his hand or even to move it at all, and Thor revels in the feeling of having his brother's long, thin fingers right where he has always wanted them. His grip is tight, bordering on painful, but Thor finds he does not really mind.

It is perhaps a moment of madness – but with Loki Thor knows he will never get anywhere by being cautious.

He pushes back against Loki, captures his hair with one hand and his waist with the other, forcing him to stay in place before slamming their mouths together. There is a painful clash of teeth and an even more painful tug on his lower lip as the trickster decides to bite him instead of submitting to his touch (painful but not burning; his brother's skin does not freeze him, and Thor can fully appreciate the feel of his skin). Thor retaliates by rolling his hips, lets Loki feel his erection, enjoys how it makes him falter and tremble.

It is a struggle, this fifth kiss that happens between them – it almost feels like a battle. Loki snarls and bites, abuses every part of Thor's mouth he can get his teeth on. Apparently he also thinks that squeezing Thor's balls is some kind of punishment, even though it only spurs Thor on.

It is not much of a kiss at all: All Thor can do is lick and mouth at his brother's closed mouth and try to evade his teeth while at the same time trying to get his tongue between them.

Yet the trickster does not pull away, even as Thor starts unbuttoning the trickster's tunic.

His skin is blue underneath, which should not come as a surprise – but his skin is also mostly devoid of markings. There are only a few lines across his chest and shoulders, but his belly is utterly immaculate. Thor remembers belatedly that some Jotnar scars are self-inflicted: They commemorate a frost giant's first victorious battle, the great deeds performed for his realm, and his parents' hopes for his destiny. Loki does not have those, of course, and for some reason Thor is disappointed.

Now that Thor does not worry about his fingers falling off, he can run his hands across Loki's chest and belly, can actually appreciate the texture of his brother's skin. It feels thicker than usual, almost leathery – and he remembers the feeling, he remembers this from his visions.

(There is the memory of a vision, a possibility that arose at some point, which he may or may not have already averted. He remembers recovering his brother's lifeless body after a battle, remembers cleaning and preparing him so his soul could join their mother's. He remembers finding proof of abuse, scars of torture, signs of severe malnourishment; he remembers crying for his brother, for his own stupidity – why did he not see, why did he not listen? Loki needed his help, and he was not there to aid him.)

Loki growls not in anger, but in distress when Thor finds the laces of his breeches, and the hand on his breeches disappears almost instantly – yet his tongue laps at Thor's bleeding lip, a silent encouragement.

Loki's expression is... Thor is not sure what exactly it looks like. He cannot read those bleeding eyes. They guard Loki's emotions better than any of his brother's illusions.

He cannot quite believe this it actually happening. He must make sure it does not end.

"Bedroom?", he tries to order, just to earn himself another bite. Wrong move, then. Or perhaps Loki just needs a little more convincing.

Instead of continuing to undress his brother, Thor jams a hand between his legs, easily bypassing his cock to finger his slit instead.

The trickster actually yelps and then freezes, before a violent burst of magic sends Thor stumbling backwards. He narrowly avoids stumbling over his own feet, and once he has properly righted himself once more he can see his brother crouched low like a wounded animal, both hands hovering near his genitals.

"Stop doing that every time! Just what is wrong with you?!", Loki snarls, exposing sharp bloody teeth. "It's too sensitive. It hurts!"

That is not a reaction any of Thor's previous lovers ever displayed. He did not touch Loki particularly harshly, treated him like any other unspoiled maiden.

Then again, every single time Thor touched him down there Loki's reaction was unusually intense. He probably still needs to get used to the fact that this part of his body actually exists. Of course it is sensitive, just like everything being touched for the first time.

And yet overstimulation is kind of the point of sex.

That is what they are doing, right? This is what they are building up to. This has to happen now. Thor refuses to tend to another Loki-related erection himself ever again.

He has never actually gotten this close before: Loki is standing right in front of him, partly undressed. He is not quite sure how he managed that, and doubts he will be able to replicate this. He decides to push his luck.

"I could... lick you down there? It will be good, I swear it, you'll love it. Please, Loki", he offers knowing this might be an offer Loki will hardly be able to refuse. It combines too many things Loki loves: A chance to experience something new and sate his thirst for knowledge, as well as the always appealing prospect of one-sided pleasure.

Or at least that is what Thor hopes Loki will think of this – perhaps Loki would prefer it if he just took what he wants, perhaps he prefers a man who takes charge, perhaps...

Loki looks intrigued but not quite convinced, so Thor decides to take this a step further.

He drops to his knees right there in the middle of his brother's sitting room, and the trickster's eyebrow rises in surprise. This gesture is significant, because the first thing their father taught them is that a prince of Asgard does not bow to anyone.

Feeling encouraged by Loki's crossed arms and his dismissive stare (he has not reverted back to his usual form, and he has not run away) Thor crawls forward on his hands and knees like a dog, because the most enticing treat is waiting between Loki's legs. He panics briefly as his brother retreats, but relaxes once he realizes that Loki merely intends to sit down in the armchair behind him. The trickster never says anything, and Thor keeps following until he is kneeling between his brother's knees.

He likes to pretend that he is fairly experienced, but in truth he has only attempted this once – and never with someone who has a prick as well as a cunt. He is not sure how this is supposed to work. Would it even be possible to bring Loki to orgasm without touching his cock? Should he try?

Thor stops breathing as he unlaces his brother's pants and pulls them down as far as they will go. Loki steps out of them with some difficulty (perhaps he should have removed his boots first), but Thor's attention is already elsewhere, for Loki's genitals are certainly a unique sight.

He has seen his brother naked before, although he cannot quite remember the last time he accidentally stumbled in on him in their shared bathroom. What he is facing right now, though, is... something else.

Loki has no testicles in this form, which raises some interesting anatomical questions that should probably be addressed at a later date. Either way there would be no place for them, since things are already quite cramped down there: His cunt is right behind his cock, two pale blue petals partly concealed by his still soft prick. By some glorious miracle the trickster parts his legs a little, enabling Thor to look right inside his brother's opening.

"Oh, Loki", he breathes.

His brother is pink inside, just like any other normal – just like a woman, and he is just –

Well. Thor never believed that a woman's genitals could be beautiful (they look mostly grotesque to him, and he keeps wondering how anyone can stand just being so open, so vulnerable), but Loki's are certainly intriguing. Now that they are right in front of his face he is not quite sure what he is supposed to do with them, though.

He notices belatedly that Loki is shaved all over – and that he did not wear any underwear. Did he expect this to happen today?

"Was staring all you wanted to do? I believe you promised me your tongue."

That he did, and Thor gets right to work.

He eases Loki's cock to the side, and even that short, perfunctory touch causes Loki to draw in a shuddering breath. It takes some maneuvering, but eventually he figures out how to do this: His palms keep his brother's prick upwards, so his thumbs are free to softly pry Loki's folds apart. The trickster takes another deep breath, and out of the corner of his eyes Thor can see that both his hands are clawing at the armrests.

Loki's hole twitches and contracts while Thor stares at it, clenching and unclenching constantly. Maybe his brother is simply nervous, trying and failing to relax – or maybe he is trying to entice Thor.

And so Thor leans forward and runs his tongue across Loki's entrance.

Somebody screams.

It takes him a while to realize the scream belongs to Loki – he squeals like a woman when Thor licks his quim. A hand fists itself into his hair, trying to drag him away, but the thunderer resists and loses a few strands of hair in the process.

Other than that it is not so bad. Loki is strangely warm inside, warmer than Thor imagined, and he has the fiercest urge to bury his tongue all the way inside the trickster. The taste is... kind of nice, actually. Sweet, for some reason, not bitter as he expected.

Then Loki kicks his shoulder, hard, and he is forced to withdraw.

A strange sight greets him then: His brother sits slumped in his chair, utterly boneless, and pants like a dog. His eyes are wide, unfocused, staring at the ceiling without seeing anything. His chest rises and falls as he chokes on each breath, and Thor watches how his markings move.

He is gorgeous like this, utterly perfect, and Thor simply has to take advantage.

He wants to taste his brother again, wants to lick him long enough to fully appreciate the feeling, but he is not actually suicidal: The look on Loki's face is positively murderous, and Thor has been on the receiving end of Loki's wrath enough times to fear his brother's moods. So instead of licking his way between the trickster's folds again, he drags his tongue slowly across his prick.

Loki likes that. Loki really likes that: Once again there is a hand in his hair, but this time it presses Thor against his brother's crotch rather than drag him away. Thor gives him another lick from base to tip, slow and lazy, like this is the most boring task he ever had to suffer through. He is teasing, but Loki does not seem to get that: He keeps panting and gasping like this is the best thing he ever experienced, and Thor remembers that his brother probably only knows the touch of his own hand to compare this to. The trickster's cock stiffens quickly under his ministrations – Thor rewards him by tonguing the very tip of his cock, ignoring the bitter taste of his brother's precum.

"Thor."

It is such a beautiful broken sound, and highly addictive: Thor wants to hear his brother moan his name like that again, preferably when Thor is fucking him properly.

"Bedroom?", he asks again, because this feels like the right moment to take this elsewhere, as long as Loki looks like he might still be able to walk on his own. A second hand joins the one already in his hair, and any other words Thor might have said die against his brother's flesh.

Alright then. He can work with this.

Thor gathers his courage and takes Loki's cock into his mouth, just the head, and then a little more when it does not taste too awful – and then a whole lot more as Loki pulls his head forward. It is not down his throat yet (his body resists, automatically closes that opening with alarming speed, utilizing muscles Thor did not even know he had), but it certainly feels like he is being impaled on it: He chokes and splutters and growls in protest, and Loki moans appreciatively. Thor tries something else then, lets his brother feel a hint of teeth – and apparently Loki loves that even more. A different kind of punishment is in order.

This time he is not careful, does not give Loki any time to prepare himself: He just brings his hand up and pushes a single finger into Loki's cunt.

A lot of things happen at once. The first thing Thor notices is that his brother's cunt is acting strangely: It twitches and spasms like mad around his finger, and every wriggle of Thor's finger causes shivers to wreck Loki's body. The trickster screams again, the fingers in Thor's hair go slack, and the thunderer has just enough time to pull off Loki's prick to avoid swallowing his seed. Instead it hits his face, and some of it gets into his eye. Thor curses. Loki throws him a tired yet mean glare, almost daring him to comment on this.

Hopefully when the mortals start spinning legends about this night they will leave out this particular part.

Thor wipes his face with Loki's discarded breeches (this is obviously his fault, so he can deal with the mess). "Bedroom. Now", he orders, and his brother simply stares at him with a dazed expression.

Any other time Loki would protest violently at being picked up and manhandled like this, but right now Thor can simply wrap an arm around his shoulders and put another beneath the back of his knees to lift him; the actions earns him nothing but a weak growl in response.

It does not take him more than a few steps to reach the door to Loki's bedroom – but with a squirming trickster in his arms and a raging hard-on between his legs the way feels much longer. The door squeaks loudly in protest as the thunderer shoulders it open, and the bed makes an equally distressing sound as Thor throws his brother on top of it.

Loki's legs fall open, and the thunderer stares at his crotch as if it contains all the answers he ever sought. His cock is soft once more, but still glistening with Thor's saliva.

Thor is fairly certain he has never undressed this quickly before. He does not even understand exactly how it happens: It feels almost as if his clothes are actively fleeing from his body – they go flying in every direction, and within seconds he stands completely naked in front of his brother.

The trickster looks at him with a kind of clinical, detached curiosity not unlike the kind he usually reserves for a particularly thick and boring tome. Before long his blood-red eyes zero in on Thor's cock.

(Alright, perhaps the title of 'fertility god' is somewhat of an exaggeration considering that Thor has not sired any children as of yet, or at least none that he knows of. He may not even be all that virile, but he understands why some people seem to think that: He certainly looks as if he is.)

Loki closes his legs almost instantly.

"Oh no", Thor growls and pries his brother's knees apart once more.

He must have Loki now.

His finger is still wet with his brother's juices, and that feels... it feels like it itches, as if the only way to make it better is to push it back inside Loki's cunt. So he does just that.

This time the trickster does not scream; he merely groans in discomfort as Thor explores his depths.

"You're tight", he observes, and it sounds like the most stupid thing he has ever said. Every woman he has ever been with felt tight when he did this, and every single time he could not help but point that out. For some reason it feels like some grand revelation.

His brother's quim no longer spasms around Thor's finger: It merely quivers weakly even as a second finger is forced inside.

No one has ever reacted to his touch the way Loki does. Thor is not quite sure whether the trickster is currently moaning or sobbing or snarling, whether he is trying to kick Thor or wrap his legs around his waist.

"I can't", he manages to gasp, and Thor very nearly takes pity on him.

"Don't you want to know what it feels like?", Thor says, and his mouth has never felt this dry. He must have this, he must. "My cock in your cunt? My seed in your womb? Tell me you don't want this. Say it and I will stop."

Thor wants this more than he ever wanted anything in his life, but Loki is the one he loves: He would never take him against his will.

And Loki, Norns bless him, grits his teeth to keep from moaning and says nothing.

Time slows to a crawl as Thor climbs between his brother's legs and lines himself up. Loki goes rigid, only makes one small, lost noise. Even this feels incredible, unbelievable: His brother is wet and warm beneath him, and just one push would bring Thor inside. He will go slow, savor every second, every moan, wants to watch Loki's face as –

In this form the trickster's fingernails are like claws; Thor cries out as they hook themselves into his arms. If this is how a Jotun expresses passion, then perhaps Thor ought to reconsider...

But when he looks into those crimson eyes he realizes it is more than that.

"You're mine now", Loki says, and his voice brooks no argument. Not that Thor feels any need to argue with that sentiment. "You will never touch another again. You will not even look at anyone else ever again. If you dare to bring that mortal bitch to Asgard one more time I will cut off your balls. You may keep Sif around if you absolutely have to, but that shall be my sole concession."

The thunderer blinks as Loki keeps listing all the women he may not interact with. The trickster names every maiden Thor deflowered, every princess of every realm they ever visited, ever tavern wench that ever sat on the golden prince's lap – while Thor tries very hard not to start fucking him. Loki has been known to ramble when he is nervous, and it does not look as if his speech is going to come to an end anytime soon. So Thor simply has to interrupt him before his self-control fails him.

"Loki", he says, somewhat surprised he even has to mention this, "I've been yours for years."

Ever since his failed coronation his brother has been the only one on his mind (because really, Jane does not count: They kissed once). Granted, he does something of a reputation – but he has never cheated on any of his lovers. Loki should know that better than anyone: Whenever Thor fell for someone, his brother was the first to hear the story.

But apparently that is not quite enough.

"If I turn out to be infertile, I will choose a woman for you to breed. You will not learn her name, and you will never see her again. She will give you an heir and nothing else, and the public must never find out. Do you understand?"

Thor nods, because there is nothing else he can do.

"There is more. If you ever address me as your wife, or your queen in public, I will make sure I shall soon become your widow. I will not be the kind of spouse Frigga is to Odin", the trickster continues. "When I offer you advice on courtly matters, I expect you to listen. I shall not be held responsible for what will happen if you refuse to do so."

That sounds somewhat dangerous, but the thunderer does not have the will to argue. Right now, with his cock resting against Loki's cunt, Thor would promise him anything, and so he just nods eagerly. It is driving him mad, this almost-but-not-quite; he needs more, needs it now, and he is not above begging for this.

"Anything, Loki, but please, please just let me – you took my finger so well, I need – "

The trickster's smile is simply malicious, the kind of grin he wears whenever he wins an argument with his brother. But this is no battle where they can only be one victor. At least Thor does not feel like he is losing.

"My Loki, my love, whatever you want. We will rule Asgard together, side by side, two kings, anything you say."

"Do you have no demands of your own, no conditions you would like to lay down beforehand?", Loki teases, probably merely to see whether Thor is still capable of answering him in full sentences.

There is a great deal of things Thor wants. The first that comes to mind is Loki's virginity. He wants to fuck his brother's holes, all of them. He wants these pleasant days to continue. He wants to take Loki down to Midgard again, wants to see him and the Man of Iron banter again, wants to face Asgard's enemies with the trickster by his side. He wants to grow old together. He wants Loki with him, all the time.

 "I want everything, Loki. I want all of you."

He feared this might not be the best way to articulate his thoughts, but with most of his blood gathering too far south from his brain this was the best he could manage – and Loki does not laugh at him. Instead the trickster looks... somber, almost.

He nods.

Loki drags him down into their sixth kiss (and Thor wonders if he will ever be able to stop counting them, if there will eventually come a time when this no longer feels special. If perhaps one day he will be able to simply enjoy this without fearing the moment when they must part again). This one is wet and messy – for the first time Loki tries to show some initiative, tries to lick his way into his mouth, and his inexperience shows.

Loki keeps pulling at Thor's arms, trying to drag him even closer, but it still takes Thor a few seconds to get what he wants. He rolls his hips once, just to make sure he really is on the right track, and his brother's thighs open even wider. Loki is ready.

Finally.

That is the only thought in his head as he starts pushing in.

Finally, as wet heat truly envelopes him. Finally, as he swallows Loki's terrified squeal. Finally, as his brother's body accepts him. Finally, as a particularly harsh thrust has him tearing through Loki's hymen.

He forgets everything else. Every other sexual experience he ever had pales in comparison to taking his brother's virginity. This is Loki, after all. This is the little boy who kept gripping his hand tightly whenever Thor made to walk off somewhere. This is the man who talked him into wearing a dress on someone's wedding. This is the boy's who cried into his shoulder so many times. This is the man who nearly had him killed on Midgard.

And this is his future queen.

He really wants to take this slow, wants to draw this out, he really does.

But it has been so long. Years. Literally.

He likes to believe that everything he has faced until now was merely a test to prepare him for this torture: Moving forward one inch at a time, then half an inch, then slower and slower until he feels like he is barely moving at all, stopping whenever Loki hisses in pain. His claws are tearing the skin on Thor's back and shoulders to bloody ribbons.

Not even half of his length is buried inside his brother, but the trickster acts as if Thor skewered him with their father's spear. Mostly he breaths harshly through his nose, trying to bear this as well as he is able, but every move of Thor's hips wrings a helpless sob out of him, and the thunderer stops instantly.

That is a side of his brother he has not seen in ages: Loki is trying so hard to please him.

Those eyes are Thor's undoing. They are Laufey's eyes, deep pits of freshly drawn blood, the stuff of his nightmares (for even though he has not set foot in Jotunheim in months, Helblindi and Byleistr still haunt him in his sleep: Every night he relives their battle, and every night he misses his one chance and gets torn apart by those monsters). But now they look at him not in hatred, but in fear: He would have to be blind to overlook the desperate plea in those eyes.

Every muscle of his body screams at him not to do it, but in the end Thor proves to be stronger than his instincts.

He pulls out.

He pulls out and stays outside, even though it hurts. (It actually hurts: His prick feels like it is on fire; he was so damn close, he was already there, and now it's over before it even began.)

"It's alright", he whispers and kisses Loki's hair, because the trickster still has not stopped trembling. "I'm sorry. We don't have to."

Loki merely snarls angrily in response and digs his claws deep into Thor's shoulder blades, refuses to let go – when Thor tries to roll off of him he even wraps his legs around his waist.

"Don't you dare", he hisses. "Don't you dare stop now."

It is a strange struggle that begins then: Loki attempts to line himself up once more while Thor tries to prevent just that, but his efforts are halfhearted at best. His willpower enables him to take pity on his little brother, but if the trickster insists...

He is not that strong, and the second insertion goes that much smoother and faster with Loki lifting his hips and pulling Thor into him: One rough push brings him all the way inside, and they both hiss in pleasure-pain. It happens so fast that it barely registers. Suddenly his balls are flush against Loki's folds.

That is when his self-control fails him.

The trickster actually yelps into his mouth as Thor steals another kiss, and he enjoys the feeling of plunging both his cock and his tongue into a warm, wet cavern. 'Going slow' is a phrase that no longer holds any meaning – he pulls back until only the very tip of his cock remains inside Loki, then slams back in with enough force to make his brother squeal. Then he really starts fucking him.

Due to Loki's frantic clinging his whole body is surrounded by cold skin, while only his prick rests inside this glorious heat. The different temperatures are maddening, but for some reason they only serve to spur him on. He wants to bury himself deeper, as deep as he can, wants to fit as much of himself into this twitching, trembling body as possible.

It is just too good. It's warm and wet and tight and perfect, and the most delicious sounds spill from Loki's lips as he moves. He screams, cries, moans, begs, hiccups, chokes, huffs, yelps, squeals – Thor has no idea whether he is in pleasure, pain, or something else entirely. It appears that each of Thor's motions warrants a different reaction.

He sees a side of Loki the trickster never exposed before. Many sides, actually. There is something incredibly raw about the way his expression keeps changing from abject suffering to barely contained ecstasy – there is nothing left of his usual composure.

The different expressions Loki's face is capable of are fascinating, but Thor can hardly bring himself to care. The only parts of the trickster's body he really cares about right now are his face, his cunt, and of course his prick. Thor has forgotten about that last thing for a few minutes, because he is not used to his lovers being male; but now he decides to stroke Loki through it. It is not easy – Loki keeps squirming and snarling like a feral cat once he starts – but before long his little brother's cock is beginning to harden once more.

Which is good, because Thor will not last long. He cannot, not with Loki... twitching around him like this. The trickster clenches and unclenches in an entirely unpredictable pattern, and that feels incredible. His brother clearly makes no conscious effort to please him, and even though this keeps Thor from fucking him the way he wants to, it is more than worth it.

Loki' cunt squeezes his cock as if his life depended on it, and before long they both reach the point of no return.

As far as first times go, it is certainly a memorable experience. Loki's second orgasm reduces the trickster to a sobbing mess, just a mere second before Thor feels his own climax approaching. He buries himself deep, tries to kiss Loki but misses, hits his ear instead, and then –

Then he has a vision.

And the name that spills from his lips as he comes is not the one of his love.

"Thanos."