"No way," Darcy said. "You're going on a supercool trip to all these supercool places and then you're not even going to invite me?"
"It is a journey meant for study and contemplation," Thor said, because Heimdall might be listening, "not pleasure."
A point well made, he thought, except that then Loki felt the need to say, "It's a honeymoon," which was untrue, clearly - there had not even been a wedding yet.
"Oh, right." Darcy nodded knowingly. "In that case, fair enough. Just, you know, call me when you've got a hangover and want to talk to someone about it." Loki cleared his throat. "Someone relatively normal, I mean."
The plan had been Loki's, and as with many of Loki's plans, Thor had found it to be a clever one. He did feel that perhaps Loki might have suggested it to him while he was sober, rather than extract a promise of cooperation from him while drunk, but, well, Loki was Loki. One had to make allowances.
Thor was unsure if those allowances truly included putting up with Loki's company for the whole of the journey, though; there were limits, after all.
"If this is a honeymoon, what purpose does your presence serve?" For all that he was no sorcerer, Thor knew how to navigate the Nine Realms well enough; they hardly needed a guide.
"Is this not a journey meant for study and contemplation?" Loki smiled. "Tell me, brother, how much time have you spent, these past decennia, indulging in either of those?"
Thor scowled; Loki chuckled.
It was, Thor privately thought, while keeping all emotions save annoyance off his face, a most promising start, indeed.
" - and this is where I finally slew the foul fiend," Thor said proudly, finishing a tale he felt nearly worthy of Loki's far superior abilities in such things. Still, the battle had been recent and his memories still fresh.
(Also, of course, many of Loki's tales concerned themselves with people being clever rather than brave.)
"Wow," Jane said, looking slightly dazed. Possibly, the climate disagreed with her; Thor was not so vain as to think a simple war story, however valorous, would have such an effect on her.
"Yes, yes, I'm sure we are all very impressed by this tale of how the mighty Thor saved the good people of Vanaheim. For the hundred-and-tenth time. Or, sorry, was it the hundred-and-eleventh? It's so hard to keep count." Loki did not look dazed. Rather, he looked bored.
Thor scoffed. "What need to keep count of such things?"
"True enough," Loki replied. "All it takes is one failure, and all your past victories will have been as dust in the wind. As ashes on the storm. So tell me, mighty Thor, how many men, women and children were slaughtered before your glorious arrival? How many pyres were set alight on the night of your great victory, while you sat by the fire, drinking and feasting?"
"Hey!" Jane said, and there was nothing dazed about her eyes now.
"No," Thor said. "He is right. For many, my arrival came too late to save them. It is a bitter truth, but a truth nonetheless, and it is well to voice it."
"Oh, you're just no fun anymore," said Loki.
It was humbling, in a way, to travel the Nine Realms not as a warrior, but as a simple traveler.
Thor had visited many places; he had not misspoken to Loki about that. Still, he had always reached these places poised for battle, to defend those weaker than him against those who would prey on them as wolves upon sheep.
He had never sought out a hill, simply for the view of the sky it offered on a clear night. ("I think I know where we are," Jane said, which had seemed a peculiar thing to say to Thor until she turned to Loki and, pointing towards one of the lights said, "That's Earth's sun, isn't it?")
He had never wandered through a forest full of trees as old as the Allfather himself. ("Or, well, close enough," Loki'd said, smiling as Jane touched one of trees, eyes full of wide-eyed wonder.)
And most certainly, he had never dined on roast dragon. ("It's not a dragon. It's some sort of dinosaur," Jane said, and Loki nodded, but he looked contented, not bored, so Thor shrugged good-naturedly and said that whatever it was, it tasted quite good.)
Loki had saved visiting the legendary workshops of the Dwarves for last, which seemed a sensible enough decision to Thor; all sights of the Nine Realms must surely pale next to this one, at least for one with Jane's interests.
"All of Asgard's weaponry is made here," he said, indicating the many forges. "From our swords and spears to our airships and force shields."
"A few of them may even produce something not meant for killing people," Loki said. "Occasionally."
"Is it - " Jane hesitated. "Is there really that much fighting everywhere? I mean, that is a lot of weapons they're producing here every day."
"We must always be prepared for war." So Odin had told him, and Thor had yet found nothing to prove him wrong. "We cannot sit by idly while others build their forces in secret."
"Dwarves are, how shall I put it? A very practical race," Loki said with a thin smile. "They'll sell their weapons to anyone who can afford to pay. And a few who can't."
"There are treaties," Thor said, perhaps a little too sharply, but then, he did not wish Jane to get the wrong impression. "Agreements."
"There are those who can either pay the taxes imposed upon them by Asgard, or buy the weapons they imagine will enable them to rebel against the Allfather's rule. I'm sure you can guess which option most of them find the more agreeable."
Jane frowned. Thor wondered, a little desperately, how they had arrived at such an unpleasant topic of conversation and, more pressingly, how they might get away from it.
"Would you let them go unpunished for plundering their neighbor's homes? Asgard's taxes are fair, as is Asgard's rule. Those who wish to live their lives in peace may do so, knowing that Asgard's warriors will defend them against those who wish for war and violence, and to rule by strength alone."
"Well, now," Loki said, "that sure doesn't sound anything at all like anyone we know, does it? But, come, enough about Asgard. Let me show you the research rooms."
Loki was not unknown here, Thor noted with a hint of discomfort. Usually, when people recalled having met Loki previously, they bore him some sort of grudge, or wished recompense for some past grievance. For all of his cleverness, Loki's skills at making friends and allies were rather poor.
"He helped them," Jane said softly, as Loki had wandered off to peer at some glowing orb. "Didn't he? All those things you have at Asgard - he designed them."
"The Dwarves brought them to us," Thor said. "A long time ago." Still, there had not been ships that flew in his youth - at least, not so many. "They have always been a people of inventors."
"Take a close look at the control panel of one of your air ships some day. There's a mark. The letter L."
"What would you have me say?" It was possible, Thor supposed. If there was any lesson Loki had managed to make stick, it was that anything was possible, be it by wit, by magic or by strength. "If those things are his doing, he has never claimed them as such."
"Such serious expressions," Loki said, strolling over. Having heard every word, possibly. "Such grave faces. The dull wits of a warrior might find no pleasure here, but surely a scientist should be pleased."
"He's not dull-witted," Jane said.
"All men's wits are dull compared to Loki's," Thor said, which got him a quirked eyebrow from Loki and a glare from Jane. "There is no shame in it."
"He could be more polite."
"Oh, I really couldn't," Loki said. "Besides, have I not been the very picture of virtuous behavior?"
"You have," Thor said. "It makes me worry what mischief you are planning, what plots you are hatching."
Loki sighed. "Always so suspicious."
"Then tell me I'm wrong," Thor invited.
"Shall I show you the original designs for the soulforge you so admired during your last visit?" Loki asked Jane, who glanced at Thor. "He'll come along, I'm sure. He's really quite devoted to you, you know. It's almost cute."
"She is not the only one I am devoted to," Thor said. It was an old argument, this, and its age had made it all the harder to put an end to it. "You are loved in Asgard, still."
"And you're still not a very good liar," said Loki. "Who loves me, that is in Asgard?"
"I - " Thor began, knowing Loki would not let him finish.
"Well, but you're not in Asgard right now, are you? Come, it's right this way."
"You really love him?" Jane asked. "After everything he's done?"
It was, Thor knew all too well, not an unreasonable question. And the answer was, in many ways, as complicated as it was simple. "Yes."
"So now what?" Jane asked. "We go home, I go back to Earth, you stay in Asgard and we see each other during the holidays? What kind of life is that?"
"I will go with you. To Earth." He might not have contemplated the universe by the light of many distant stars or how to capture images of a person's souls to have it yield up information, but he had considered this one thing.
"What about Loki?"
Thor shrugged. "What of him? He may make up his own mind; perhaps it will please him to join us for some while. Perhaps not. I do not know his mind, and his heart, I know even less."
"You'd share me with him? Just like that?"
Thor considered pointing out that he had not quite intended to imply that; the idea held a certain appeal, true, but he knew all too well Loki's feelings on humans (who were, in Loki's defense, much like those of other Asgardians, including their father). "I intended no offense. It would please me, to have him share our home, our life - to perhaps open his eyes to the happiness one may find in such things. To show him he needs not be alone, unless he wishes it."
"Your condescension is, as always, so very touching," not-Jane said. "Truly, it warms my heart."
"At least I know enough to hold on to what brings me joy," Thor replied, more calmly than he would have thought possible, under the circumstances, even though he had suspected some ploy such as this, Loki being Loki. "Rather than push it away again and again out of misplaced fear and anger."
"She," Loki said. "Not 'it'. Humans are sensitive in such matters."
"Already, you are seeking to instruct me, to teach me," Thor said. "If not for love, will not pity move you to accept what I - what we are offering you?"
"I thought I might steal her from you," Loki said, his expression pensive. "Or you from her. I thought I might visit her, wearing your form - or you, wearing hers."
Thor felt his temper rise at the idea, then allowed it to subside again. He had not been fooled, in the end, and Jane was very wise. She would not have been deceived either. "It is unlike you to be so indecisive."
"You all just mean so little to me."
"Then what harm in trying?" Thor asked.
"You said it would please you," Loki said. "Why would I want to do that? Besides, Earth is rather boring, and I have many other things to do."
"I will beg you if I must." Not for Jane's sake, nor even for his own; their love was strong, and whole, and Thor knew it would survive without Loki well enough. Better, even, perhaps, for Loki was a force of chaos, of disruption and strife, all sharp edges and prickly pride. His tongue might be silver and capable of talking down the birds from their trees, but it could as easily cut those trees down, for no better reason than that the whim to do so had struck him.
For Loki's sake, though, Thor knew he would kneel, and beg, and consider it a price well worth paying.
"Have I ever told how very vexing you are when you act all noble?" Loki asked.
"It seems likely that you have."
Loki nodded. "A few months, then."