Actions

Work Header

How long we were fooled

Chapter Text

The first time that Thor rages, they are fifteen years old.

They have begun to grow into their minds and bodies, Loki rather more concerned with the former, since he will never best Thor where muscles are concerned.

And so they are fifteen, and Loki is settled into his favorite niche in the library, a book of perfectly wonderful spells that promise all sorts of trouble spread across his lap.

Without warning his head snaps up; he looks in confusion around the vast, empty library; something is terribly wrong, but it is not here.

Loki is on his feet --

The sound of thunder is deafeningly close. It roars not from the sky but from the fields outside the palace. A half-breath later and the sky through the high glazed windows has gone to pitchy black, laced through with so much lightning the bolts seem to flicker and touch. They stretch a spider’s web of electricity as far as Loki can see.

Loki is running, running for the palace doors, resisting every instinct of the self-preservation he is inclined to as he plunges toward danger and not away from it.

Because there can only be one cause of this, and something is terribly wrong.

He all but collides with his lady mother when she steps into his path. Loki’s eyes widen in astonishment. Frigga has been the picture of serene elegance every moment of his life until now, and the shock of seeing her in such a state is the only thing that makes him skid to a halt.

His mother’s bright hair is in total disarray; her long skirts are hiked above her knees as though she, too, has been running; her eyes are dark with worry and -- Loki sees it then -- fear, as alien and terrible an expression on her face as he can imagine glimpsing.

“Mother,” Loki says, and when she reaches for his hand, he presses her fingers.

“Loki, you must come.” To his dismay she seizes also onto his arm, and begins to herd him back the way that he came. Her strength is astounding, unnerving for her graceful frame. She tries to drag him back. Back into the sheltered depths of the palace; back, back, back away from Thor.

The air here is thick with charged energy. Whatever is happening to his brother is getting worse, not better.

Loki twists free as gently as he can, moving with the slippery grace that has been perfected by a thousand unequal wrestling-matches with Thor. “My brother,” he demands. “Tell me what has happened.”

Frigga looks into his eyes. After a long moment she gives a tremulous sigh and tells him: “Thor has lost control of his gifts. We do not know how or why it happened; by Sif’s account, he was sparring with Fandral, and Fandral played some trick to distract him, then knocked him down. Thor got to his feet and he was angry, Sif said, and then--” She gestures. As if on cue, a roll of thunder booms with explosive violence, shaking the palace to its foundations.

Loki tries to absorb this, his mind working fast, frantically. He is young, but he has already read many histories and legends, and he knows there must be a solution for what ails Thor. There is always a key to be found, even in the direst of stories. He glances away from his mother’s frightened gaze, lest she see a mirroring horror in his own.

“Magic,” Loki says. “He may be contained by--”

Frigga looks as though she means to lunge for him again, but does not. She shakes her head, a short, despairing gesture. “Eight of our finest sorcerers are unconscious,” she says, lips pressed tight and white, “and many good warriors are down. Loki, you must come with me.”

Creeping awareness uncurls in Loki’s belly, and he tries to push it away with a hard swallow. It is not as simple as a mother’s love that moves Frigga to action: she seeks to preserve him not only for his own safety, but for the future of Asgard. She will protect him at all costs, for if Thor is lost to them, Loki will be the only prince remaining.

It is unfathomable. Surely there are a thousand different approaches that could be tried without the potential to damage Thor so. Surely Odin would never—

“Father cannot,” Loki blurts out, because he knows, even as he thinks and speaks the words, that Odin surely will. Thor may be his favorite, his son and heir, the bloom and promise of Asgard, but his father’s sense of self-preservation runs even deeper than Loki’s.

One does not reign as Allfather for the span of time and lose one’s kingdom because of base sentiment. Odin will save himself and his realm at all costs, even if Thor must be sacrificed. There is also precedent for that in stories.

Now his mother’s eyes are black with agony, for she knows this also to be true. “Loki,” she says softly, but Loki can best anyone in detecting deceit. While her voice seeks to placate him, her fingers are twisting into patterns that he recognizes at once because she taught them to him. Spells of binding, spells to subdue and stun a foe, magic that will tie him here --

“I am sorry,” he tells Frigga’s eyes, and then he uses the knowledge that she gave him, and blinks out of view.

He has never traveled so far before. This magic is advanced work, and must be tested and expanded slowly. He has only ever managed a few feet in the past, the lurch in his stomach terrible as he disappeared into the in-between dark only to emerge across the room. But Thor, who was watching, had found those few feet impressive, and he had clapped a warm hand to Loki’s shoulder, saying that it was a fine trick indeed.

Now a power born of desperation fuels Loki farther than he has ever gone. He materializes where he had aimed for, more or less, on the edge of the training grounds newly green with the arrival of spring.

His jaw clenches hard as he takes in his surroundings, for the ground is lightning-lashed, and all the grass is dry and dead and smoldering.

At the center of a ring of utter destruction, Thor is roaring. He is cloaked in lighting: there are harsh winds whipping through his hair, and unbridled energy crackles along the lines of his body.

He hovers above the dead grass, where Fandral’s crumpled form is lying far too prone, and dozens of guardsmen are scattered about so haphazardly it would almost be comical under any other circumstance -- for the scene reminds Loki of how Thor would sometimes wreck their toys or ruin the pieces of a strategic game between them when he lost. Even maddened, his brother retains an incorrigible predictability.

Loki shakes his head, though his heart is in his throat. He knows not what he will do, what must be done to retrieve Thor from this terrible rage eclipsing him; only knows that he must be here, or Thor will be taken from him.

Odin disagrees, of course. His father is surrounded by his senior advisers, an impromptu council of war convened just out of Thor’s range. It is Heimdall who sees Loki first -- Heimdall must have known the moment he arrived, or else saw him coming; and it is Heimdall who points to him.

They cannot reach him here, but Odin’s voice, amplified, thundering even louder than Thor’s thunder, cracks across the field: “Loki. Stay back.

Loki does nothing of the kind. Already at fifteen he is accustomed enough to dodging his father’s orders, and while the knee of any other Asgardian would have been bent by Odin’s command, Loki keeps his footing.

At the sound of Loki’s name, Thor turns and sees him.

For a moment the world narrows to the space between them, and all else -- the storm, their father, the shouts and cries and chaos -- all of it fades away like a distant world glimpsed through a looking glass.

Thor’s eyes are full of lighting, nothing but blinding electricity in the sockets, but he looks at Loki, and Loki looks back, undaunted.

Loki suppresses the truth of what he feels: fear so thick it threatens to curdle and choke him, and, deeper, deeper -- a paralyzing jolt of pure admiration for the destruction his brother has wrought, the raw, cruel power he would not have thought Thor capable of summoning. Thor has never looked so beautiful.

Loki stares at his brother as though truly seeing him for the first time, and when Loki smiles, the lightning falls from Thor’s eyes.

Thor’s eyes, restored, his own again, blink abject terror and profound guilt; and there he is, restored, the brother that Loki recognizes too well.

Thor gazes, gaping, at the scene he has caused. At his feet Fandral does not stir, and Loki knows that if Thor has killed his friend he will be insufferable for a millenia, unable to forgive himself.

Surprised at how easily his magic now extends, Loki tests his senses: he feels Fandral dying, and with a burst of healing energy reverses that course.

He has never so much as properly closed a wound before, but Loki’s mind whispers: if Thor is capable of this, perhaps Loki, too, is capable of more than he ever dared imagine. After such a realization, the power simply seems to obey his newly manifested will to wield it.

This act is inconsequential to him, however, Fandral matters no more than a ruined toy that Thor cast aside; all that is important is Thor, still wrapped in lightning, still looking at Loki.

Loki goes to him, step by shivering step, pushing through the storm. Thor lands heavily on the earth; the ground shakes; the darkened sky is split open by so many brilliant thunderbolts that it may as well be be daylight.

Loki stops only inches away. Though later he will be asked, many times, how he could be sure that Thor would not hurt him, Loki does not have an answer. He knows not himself, save that he is full of absolute certainty that he is safe.

“Thor,” he says sharply, as though he has found his brother at some minor transgression -- a prank that went too far, careless words spilled at a court banquet when Thor should have been more diplomatic.

“Loki,” Thor gasps. “Help me.”

A shudder almost freezes Loki in place. Thor has never asked for his aid before, even when he could surely use it. Painfully stubborn and proud, Thor would rather wallow and suffer than ask for Loki’s assistance. But now the words are pleading and torn from him. They tear through Loki.

Unthinking, Loki reaches for him at once, as he would have gladly done, all those times that Thor was in a scrape his bullheaded foolishness had mired him in. He reaches through the wind that surrounds Thor, feels his arm pass through lightning that does not burn him.

He takes Thor’s hand, and everything stops.

Time itself seems to pause, slowed, then suddenly speeds up: the clouds reverse their thick cover and roll back, as though they have no place in the sky; the wind vanishes, no longer even a stirring breeze; and all of the lightning leaves Thor as though it never touched him.

Time resumes its accustomed pace, and the world has color again. Loki can hear men shouting, can hear his father’s voice, his mother’s.

But they do not matter. Nothing does, save this: Thor’s eyes roll back into his head, and he pitches and falls forward, collapsing onto Loki, so that Loki staggers and goes to his knees with the weight of his brother.

It is only then, the crisis now past, that Loki begins to feel how terribly he overextended himself and his magic -- transporting himself here against his mother’s wishes, preserving Fandral, whatever in Nine Realms he’s somehow done to bring Thor back to himself.

The shouting is growing louder and closer, but Loki closes his eyes, falling back with Thor’s bulk upon him; he reassures himself that Thor is breathing, and then Loki gives in to the darkness gathering around him and passes out.

 

* * *

 

The second time the storm-born madness comes to Thor, they are nineteen.

They are nineteen, or thereabouts; time passes differently on Asgard, and both have grown in strength considerably, tempered by personal and shared trials. It has been five years, or perhaps five hundred. They are sharper than they've ever been.

So it should not have happened again: after the first occurrence, their royal parents consulted with every magical authority known to them, had contracted and brought tutors from seven different worlds to train Thor in harnessing and containing his abilities.

Thor hated those lessons, but he knew they were necessary, and he submitted to the studies with a kind of grudging, grumbling acceptance.

For years he was a constant thorn in Loki’s side, taking up too much space in Loki’s beloved library, interrupting the delicious quiet of Loki’s own research with questions about magic any five-year-old Midgardian wizard would already know the answer to. Or else seeking to distract Loki entirely with pleas to play some game or another, to pursue some adventure or attractive woman, wouldn’t Loki like that, doesn’t Loki ever want to stop reading.

There was an entire month where Loki cast a silencing charm on the library so that he could hear none of Thor’s unceasing chatter, and it had been blissful, Thor nattering away unawares about this or that or another thing, while Loki read and read and did not have to hear a word.

Thor was so very angry at him, when he finally figured it out; but Thor had by then been taught that his anger was the spark to the deadly rage that had eclipsed him. With a force of willpower that impressed Loki, his brother spun around and stalked away and sulked.

By the next day all equilibrium was restored between them, as it always is; and Loki, feeling just a little bad, even acquiesced that evening to Thor’s pleas to spar.

They made a lively go of it, all of Thor’s dazzling muscles matched against the mind-bending illusions that Loki was now rather good at, thank you very much; and they laughed and fought for hours, circling one another, both refusing to yield until at last mutual exhaustion forced a tie.

And slowly, because he knew it was important, Thor learned the discipline to rein in his own spectacular magics. He was taught to channel the force of it through Mjölnir, to funnel and focus; to turn aside when fury threatened him, though that was the hardest lesson for Thor of all.

At last his tutors decreed him sufficiently armed therein, and they departed, and Thor no longer came to the library.

Loki did not miss him in the slightest, he told himself most nights; the silence was a welcome relief; he did not spend too long considering Thor’s empty chair or wondering what he was about.

Loki rarely, if ever, would take out his scrying-bowl and call up Thor’s image there, to see what he did with the time once spent at Loki’s side.

It should not have happened again. Thor passed every test, every evaluation. Not so much as an errant thunderclap escaped his grasp since the terrible turn on the training grounds.

All of Asgard save their closest circle have all but forgotten the day that Thor lost control and was nearly lost himself. Now, when the day is mentioned, it is with a sort of hushed awe at what their crown prince can do. How wondrous Thor is, truly, they whisper, while Loki rolls his eyes until he sees stars.

Loki’s part in those events has been glossed over in the people’s telling: he worked some magic trick to calm his brother, and won a rare commendation from the Allfather -- once Odin had stopped admonishing him for intervening after being explicitly ordered not to.

He knows that his parents are grateful that Thor was restored to them, and he knows that they still puzzle, as Loki does himself, with how it was done.

Their revolving team of consulting magicians offered many theories. There were some magics deeply bound in blood, and perhaps that afforded Loki both protection and the ability to reach Thor. Odin remained skeptical of this line of reasoning, reminding that neither he nor Frigga had been able to approach.

Loki’s favorite theory, spoken by a sorcerer he later richly rewarded, pointed out that even in his youth Loki was demonstrating signs of great magical ability, such as had not been seen in Asgard for generations.

Perhaps it was as simple as Loki being far more powerful than the court magickers Thor so easily struck down. Perhaps Loki’s abilities were the only true match for Thor’s.

It should not have happened again. All has been so quiet.

But when a frantic pounding sounds on Loki’s door long after most of the palace has retired to their rest, Loki knows with awful lurching certainty that the emergency can only be Thor.

Loki is not at rest: he is pouring over his correspondence by candlelight. There is much knowledge left to learn in the universe, and he has practically exhausted Asgard’s. He writes, and is written to, by an assortment of fascinating beings who share his pursuits across the realms. Normally Loki would be exasperated to be disturbed at his desk, only the knock is so exceptionally panicked.

He is dressed, in light, silken clothes, informal for a night in his quarters: a tunic of his favored fern green shot through with golden threads, his dark hair worn long and loose as is now his custom. But when Loki crosses to the doorway there are already knives in his hands.

He opens the door to the sight of Fandral gasping for breath. He has clearly arrived at a dead run, his yellow hair darkened with sweat, his face beet-red.

“Tell me,” says Loki. “Be quick about it.”

Since the day on the training grounds Fandral has regarded him with a measure of fear and respect Thor’s other friends do not accord him. Against Loki’s wishes, Thor had told Fandral that his brother saved his life; Thor was proud and deeply impressed with Loki for that act, and would not stay quiet about it.

Loki was as deeply uncomfortable about the fuss Thor made. It was not as though he cared whether Fandral lived or died, save that if Fandral had died Thor would have become insufferably dull.

Still, he cannot say now that he does not feel some pleasure when Fandral ducks his head to Loki, almost but not quite a bow.

“It’s -- it’s the same,” Fandral manages, and Loki hears the lie in his voice. He narrows his eyes, and Fandral chokes out: “It is worse. We were at a brothel; the night was very fine. We all retired to sport. Then--” He flinches; Loki’s gaze is burning, may indeed be inducing some sort of physical pain as he wills the man to spit out his story. “It was an attempt at assassination.”

Loki stops breathing.

Fandral is saying, “They waited until Thor was abed, was vulnerable, or so they thought. There was a whole team of them, highly skilled. They killed his bed-partner; Hogun and I broke in in time to see that happen; and Thor just -- he --”

The torrent of words falters when Loki breathes again, holds up his hand. His knives are tucked away. “I understand perfectly.”

He turns on his heel and walks back to his desk with what he hopes resembles a measured step.

Propped against the doorjamb, still trying to regain his wind, Fandral eyes him warily, then with shaky desperation. “Won’t you help?”

“Don’t be an idiot,” Loki snaps. “Come here.” As though compelled -- perhaps he is, Loki’s own magics seem to shift inside him like an unsteady sea as his adrenaline rises -- Fandral does as he is told. Loki spreads out a map of the city, unrolling finely detailed parchment across the desk. “Show me where,” he says. “Show me exactly.”

Fandral nods, swallows, finally seems to understand, and he leans in to look, tracing through lines of the city’s layout until he alights on the location. He taps with his fingertip. Loki studies it, sees the well-known intersection of streets in his mind’s eye, seizes Fandral’s sleeve, closes his eyes --

-- and Fandral curses, a sudden, shocked exclamation beside him. Loki opens his eyes to a conflagration.

People are bubbling and boiling out of the buildings on the street as though a beehive was kicked over and stomped upon. There is the relentless sound of shouts and more piercingly pitched screams, as lightning seems to come from every direction. There is nowhere safe to run.

Bolts strike people down as they try to flee, terrible and indiscriminate; furious thunder clashes through the sky with the volume of ten thousand war horses at full charge.

The locus of it all is the brothel, which Loki imagines had once been a tall and graceful building. Now it is blackened and charred, and quite on fire. Some of its dazed patrons are collapsed in the front garden, half-clothed or not clothed at all, unable to crawl free for fear of the lightning that will not cease to strike the ground before its entranceway.

Fandral is right. This is worse, far worse.

Loki spares a breath -- only that -- to indulge in the same profound admiration he had felt to see Thor’s destruction once before. It is a chaotic, heart-wrenching scene, full of despair and suffering, and he cannot help but appreciate the handiwork. A master craftsman wrought this from a deep well of violent passion.

To know Thor capable, at his heart, of such darkness, is a thrill that passes through Loki like the lightning that so incessantly rains down. His perfect, kindly, honorable brother is not so perfect after all.

This means that the day when they were fifteen was not a mistake. There is some hidden part of Thor that must crave this, and all the studying and exercises he learned to keep it contained did nothing so much as make the power fester, for it erupts now with force that seems doubled -- no. Tripled. No. It has grown immeasurably in scale.

Loki shakes his head in fond exasperation, sighs, then rolls up his sleeves. He can do nothing for the lightning and thunder yet, but fires are unmade easily enough.

Only because Thor will feel so very mortified and so mind-numbingly guilty does Loki spare a thought for the prone bodies and fleeing people around them, tossing up invisible shields that keep the crackling bolts at bay.

Then he marches for the brothel, refusing to glance back and coldly furious when Fandral calls out for him to have caution, as though Loki were in any way afraid of what he will find inside.

Inside, it is hard to see through the curling black smoke. The floor is slick with blood, and Loki glances down distastefully as it ruins a favorite pair of boots. He ascends the staircase, stepping over bodies clothed in black and masked. Thor’s would-be assassins did not get very far.

Sudden anger, knife-hot, cuts Loki to the bone at the presumption that anyone should try to kill his brother. He stops being careful, trodding hard across the bodies, digging in his heels.

There is no mistaking which room had been Thor’s for the night. The wall around the door is blown backwards, warped and bent as though it were made of clay and left to explode in a kiln. No door remains at all, only splintered wood like the memory of a door, and the air is dense with dust and ashes. It is dark, but there is enough light coming from where Thor himself must be, and the illumination of perpetual lightning through the collapsed roof.

Loki enters the room, a chamber of death. More bodies in black are heaped haphazardly, their limbs twisted into impossible angles. At the foot of the scorched bed a smaller figure, most of the way undressed, lies sprawled facedown, thoroughly stabbed by skilled hands.

Loki spares a glance at Thor’s fallen bed-partner only because the knife-work is so impressively done. He is startled to see upon stepping closer that it is a man, though slim-hipped as any maid. That makes him stare for longer: isn’t Thor just full of surprises tonight.

There is little time for contemplation or further examination, however, since Thor is standing by what was once a window, gazing with electric eyes out onto the havoc that he created.

It is much as it was before; his brother wears lightning like a cloak, is crowned by stormwinds in his hair.

Thor is missing his shirt. It seems his amorous activities had advanced that far before the ambush, and the lightning wraps its way around his strong torso, around and around and around.

“Isn’t this all just a bit melodramatic?” Loki asks by way of greeting.

Thor turns at once to look at him. Unlike the mix of confused agony on Thor’s face that Loki had seen the first time, when Thor recognized him on the training grounds, now there is only a grim determination that seems to settle as he tracks Loki’s approach.

The five years, or five hundred, that passed since then have hardened Thor, broadened him both physically and on the field of battle. He is a youth no longer. He has killed many men and monsters, and bedded, apparently, an intriguing array of bed-partners, and he is so magnificent wreathed in his true essence that Loki wonders if he should try and stop him now at all.

It passes before Loki’s eyes before he can keep himself from picturing it: Thor, this Thor, a wielder of mayhem and ruin, bringing Asgard to its knees to worship him, conquering whole realms with this glorious, exquisite rage.

The conflict that lives in Thor could destroy worlds, Loki knows then, with a taste in the back of his mouth like the promise of dessert. Loki would go with him, gladly, and together they could --

Thor hits him with a thunderbolt so explosive that Loki is blasted full off his feet, sails through the air and impacts the charcoal-black wall.

It hurts, it fucking hurts more than he can bear, and he takes the full force of it because he was so stupidly unprepared. The first time, he was naively, positively sure that Thor would never hurt him, and it was proven true; he reached through all of the lightning surrounding Thor and not felt any heat.

Stupid, so stupid to trust in anything so tenuous as brotherly affection and walk now into a battlefield unguarded --

Loki.” The sound of his name from Thor’s lips sounds strangled, sounds more like the Thor he knows, fighting through to tell Loki something that he needs to hear. “Go from here.

Every sinew burning with residual pain, Loki picks himself up from the floor. He shakes ash from his tunic’s hem as though the flight across the room was a minor inconvenience. “Definitely melodramatic,” he sneers. “Even for you.”

“Loki. Go--”

“That’s not going to happen,” Loki says, forcing Thor into distraction as he rains down a sudden glittering array of daggers. Thor dispatches them easily, but he must look away long enough to let Loki fade from view and reappear much closer. “So either you help me figure out how to stop this, or I’ll figure it out myself and never let you forget it.”

The first time, the mere sight of Loki seemed to quell something in Thor, and when Loki touched him, the lightning flooded away like water. He tries again, in a sort of desperate gamble, closing his fingers around Thor’s forearm and gripping hard.

Thor jolts back as though this time he is the one blasted. His eyes flicker, uncertain, and Loki thinks that he has won.

But Thor’s mouth stays flat and set, and he tries to shake Loki free. Loki can feel, now that he’s far more trained, that when he touches Thor, some of that all-encompassing power is leeched and drained away. The furious vessel of Thor is punctured, somehow, by Loki’s presence.

He thinks as fast as he can, calculating this reaction, trying to turn it to his advantage. It must be that his and Thor’s powers work as some sort of counterweight. The closer Loki gets, the more he can dampen Thor’s ability. But the brief touch of his hand is no longer enough. He must get closer.

At least Thor does not call down the lightning to strike him again. That hurt, and Loki won’t soon forgive him for it. But now that Loki has refused to leave and has hold of Thor’s arm, no more does the lightning feel like a threat. No: it crackles around them both, circles them in radiant electricity. They stare at each other, lit-up with unearthly illumination.

Moving fast, Loki lays his free hand on Thor’s bare shoulder, and Thor quakes. Thunder screams suddenly from every direction, daring Loki to drop his hands and clap them over his ears; yet he clings on until the awful sound dies out. When he looks up again, flinching from the pain of it, Thor’s eyes are almost his own again.

Thor says, sounding much more like himself and less like a hurricane, “Loki. Please go. You do not understand.”

Loki’s mouth twists. There are few words that he dislikes more. If Thor were in his right mind he would have known never to admonish Loki in such a way. There is very little that Loki does not understand, and it infuriates him that Thor could suppose he wouldn’t be able to puzzle through the way to fix this.

“Is that so,” Loki says, more than half a snarl, getting into Thor’s face. Closer, he’ll just get closer, he’ll throw his arms around his oaf of a brother and take him down himself this time if that’s what Thor needs --

-- what he needs --

Realization strikes Loki harder than the thunderbolt had, hurts more. His legs nearly buckle. His pulse is racing. His mind races. He considers running, vanishing.

Pieces of what he missed fly together like a hastily assembled tapestry, and Loki sees the room again, sees where they stand, sees who surrounds them, and grasps, suddenly, what he had not before.

Thor was right. For once, Loki did not understand.

The clarity is so sharp and sudden that Loki wants to cry out, wants to stagger back. But if he lets go now, he knows that he will not have this chance again. He takes a long breath that seems to freeze within his lungs.

What caused this, this wanton destruction, what pried loose the hard-won control Thor had worked so diligently to gain, couldn’t have been a mere attempt upon his life.

Thor lived for ambushes, laughed with delight at stealth attacks. He’s been targeted before, and always escaped unscathed, full of stories he enjoyed telling in the banquet hall. No. A simple try at assassination could not move Thor so.

But they made a frightful mistake. They murdered Thor’s partner for the evening, and Thor was not able to stop it. They carved up the young man while Thor watched.

Cast his slender body to the floor, pale skin already paler in death, long dark hair obscuring his unseeing eyes.

Thor looked, and saw that, and tried to tear the world apart.

Loki is shaking for the first time he can remember since he was small.

“You fool,” he tells Thor. “You absolute imbecile.

He is also addressing himself.

Before Thor can stop him, Loki has his arms twined around Thor’s neck, and he leans in and up, and he presses his mouth against Thor’s.

The lightning goes out.

Loki is all too aware of the yawning chasm over which he has hurtled them, and with his objective accomplished he attempts a retreat. He breaks off the kiss, a chaste thing by any measure, such a ridiculously childish reason to destroy an entire neighborhood, and he tries to push away from Thor.

But Thor’s arms come up around him, Thor’s unfairly enormous arms, and he holds onto Loki like a drowning man grasps after a lifeline.

“Loki,” Thor says.

“Let me go,” says Loki, uncertainly. “Thor, let me go.”

Thor does not let him go. He cants his head, and his lips find Loki’s, and he kisses him with a staggering hunger that seems to shock them both. Their eyes are open throughout, looking at each other in disbelief.

For a moment, Loki entertains it.

The kiss is wrong, horribly, hugely wrong, by far the worst thing they have accomplished together.

It is also all that Loki has ever wanted and denied himself for as long as his memory extends. This need, the ever-present, inexplicable, terrifically terrible ache for his brother, has misshapen him, left him disfigured long ago.

Yet not even in Loki’s most fever-drenched dreams did he conceive that such a dreadful and twisted longing could be in Thor as well.

That Thor took whores to bed who resembled Loki, as though a passion this treacherous could be deceived. That Loki never even guessed. That Thor could ravage with gorgeous untamed despair, whose only cure was the touch of the brother who caused it.

Loki cannot stop thinking. Loki can never stop thinking.

Loki is not a good man, he knows; there is something rotten in the core of him; and even a much better man might let Thor kiss him, since Thor still tastes of sizzling lightning, like gathering rain, like a desire so fierce and so awful to him that when released it could bring Asgard to its knees.

For a moment, Loki kisses Thor back.

His lips part, and Thor’s tongue is in his mouth, greedy and conquering; Loki’s hands on Thor’s neck move up into Thor’s hair; their bodies align in such a way that Loki is made aware of the breathtakingly undeniable nature of Thor’s desire. There is no mistaking it, nor any hiding his own body’s response, and it would be the work of mere minutes to finish this.

No one need ever know --

Thor yanks himself away all at once, reeling like a drunk man. A chunk of his hair comes free in Loki’s clutching hand, such is the violence of his reversal.

Loki glares at him, enraged, far angrier than Thor was before, to be so demanded and then denied.

Thor cannot meet his eyes. Breath is shuddering through his body, the sculpted planes of his chest rising and falling and falling and rising, as though there is not enough air left in the room to sustain him.

Loki regains his footing. It is better this way.

Observe the mighty Thor, cowed, cowering. It is wonderful. To think he has spent full years imagining ways to lay Thor low, when the methods to truly undo him were at Loki’s disposal all along.

Perhaps Loki will kiss him once more, to feel Thor tremble against him. Thor has never trembled.

“Brother,” says Thor, a jagged word laced with agony. He raises his eyes at last to meet Loki’s, and they have nearly gone black with self-loathing.

Loki feels abruptly unbalanced again, far too afraid that Thor’s damned honor will cause him to do something brash and irrevocable. No. No. He will not kiss him after all, not for gold, not for crowns.

Loki’s mouth draws a hard line. He forces his expression blank. “If you apologize,” he says slowly, enunciating clearly so that Thor cannot mishear him, “I will kill you.”

Thor’s catastrophic contrition, his disgust at having touched Loki so, is not a thing that Loki needs to hear confessed.

Thor can sense that it is not an idle threat. He knows Loki well enough for that. He knows Loki too well; too well, and not at all. He swallows. “What can I say, then?” Thor’s massive shoulders hunch over under a great invisible weight. “Tell me how to set this right. Loki. I cannot bear it.”

Satisfaction blooms in Loki’s breast, hot and sharp, to see Thor so wholly defeated. Thor is entirely at his mercy, he knows then in a heady rush. Thor would do anything that Loki asked of him, if Loki but gave the instruction, and the suggestion that it might turn them back into something Thor could live with.

But even Loki is not a clever enough sorcerer to have that power, to know the words that could mend them where they are so irrevocably broken.

“We will not speak of it again,” Loki says at last, all too aware that this sentence is a more excruciating weight to bear, now that they both know.

He looks up at Thor only once, to see Thor’s lips, kiss-stung from Loki’s own mouth, red with their shared shame; and then he whirls on his heel and is gone.

 

* * *

 

The third time that Thor is gripped by lightning, it has been some years since Loki last saw him.

After the night in the brothel, Thor left on a quest that turned into many more quests.

He was a danger to Asgard as he was, he claimed; he would seek the answer on other worlds. There was no other way he knew how to attone for the damage he had caused, he said.

Odin, sorrowful, agreed that it was the best course. Only Frigga, Loki heard, begged her son to stay, to let them find a solution to his ailment together.

Loki heard about it secondhand because he was not in attendance at that family council. He stayed locked away in his rooms, staring at nothing in particular, until word came that Thor was gone. Even after, for long after, he stayed locked away.

When he emerged at last there was nowhere that was safe.

His sanctuary, the library where he was once happiest, now seemed haunted. It was as though he could still see Thor, sprawled in his preferred chair, could still hear Thor, nattering at Loki about nothing, asking him idiotic questions about magic just to needle him.

Was the need in Thor even then? Had he known it? Recognized it? Named it?

Was that why he tried so hard to gain control, studying with a diligence he had never given any other lesson?

Had he wanted Loki in the library when they sat shoulder to shoulder in the darkest hours of the night? Had he thought on doing the unthinkable, taking Loki right then and there, where anyone might find them? Had he imagined what it would be like if he laid Loki across the desk and --

Loki avoided the library for months. But the entire palace positively reeked of Thor; at every turn there was another memory; and Loki considered whether he might leave as well. Only when he saw the way his mother’s face blanched at the suggestion did Loki decide against it.

To lose both her sons to the unknown would be unbearable, he saw, and for Frigga’s sake alone he stayed.

Here, the hayloft over the stables where they had first gotten drunk on mead stolen from a banquet, laughing and whispering of their own ingenuity. There, the sparring ring where they circled each other, a hundred thousand times, curiously well-matched for all the difference in their builds. Just beyond the ring, the field where Thor first loosed his terrible lightning, stopping only when Loki came to him.

Loki stays in Asgard, but he fears that he is going quite mad. The more he tries to push his brother from his mind, the more he tries to forget, to despise Thor, the stronger his aching desire grows.

Now that Loki knows that Thor shares his torturous secret, Loki’s waking life becomes a far greater torment than when the secret was buried deep and his alone to keep.

One gray day passes into another. He smiles, falsely, for his mother, he scowls at his father when his back is turned. He writes and receives letters. He spars with faceless opponents. He studies, growing more powerful, but for what?

He falls to planning, to plotting, to what he will do when he escapes this drudging existence. His thoughts become ever more chaotic and deranged to distract himself from screaming.

Sometimes it no longer works, and he goes deep into the forest, and he sinks to his knees, and he screams and screams.

Days become weeks, months, years. Thor does not return.

If he did, Loki does not know if he would cast himself at his brother’s feet or try to murder him on sight. Perhaps if Thor were truly dead Loki would be released from this curse that binds them, might finally know relief.

He spends perhaps a decade considering this question.

The third time it happens, Loki is sparring with Volstagg.

His brother’s companions will never like him much, but when they are with Loki they fool themselves that they are somehow closer to their precious absent Thor. When Loki is with them, he is there to remind them, like a knife slowly twisting, that Thor left them behind too.

Volstagg dodges a blow that would have landed wickedly indeed, then makes a sign to hold. Loki frowns at him, his battle-lust high; but Volstagg jerks his chin, indicates. With a respectful dip of his head, he backs up and away, leaves Loki to face Heimdall alone.

Of course it would be Heimdall. Loki always suspected that one day he would bring tidings of Thor; he goes out of his way to avoid the man’s presence. Heimdall appeared unbothered. Loki knows that Heimdall does not trust him, and for this Heimdall might be the second-smartest man on all of Asgard.

Loki has long been fearful of what Heimdall may have seen -- what now he sees. But he won’t give Heimdall the satisfaction of seeing him afraid.

“I don’t care,” he says before Heimdall can speak. He jerks the lacing on one gauntlet tighter, until it hurts. The pain feels soothing, grounding: it reminds Loki not to go to Heimdall and shake him like a doll until he spills out all he knows of Thor. “Take it up with my father.”

“Your father cannot help him,” Heimdall says.

If Heimdall had run him through with his fabled sword he could not have wounded Loki more, nor knocked the breath out of him half so well.

“I do not care,” Loki repeats, but it still sounds like a lie, and not a good one at that. His tone is dull and weak, unconvincing.

Heimdall’s fantastic eyes take him in. His eyes sing of sorrow. “Thor will die,” he says.

Loki has a dagger in his hand. No, two daggers, one in each; he does not remember drawing them. It takes every fiber of restraint not to go straight for Heimdall’s throat, to tear it out for daring to say such things.

“Speak your piece,” says Loki.

“There was, some months ago, a tavern-brawl in a far-off place,” Heimdall begins, and Loki has a flashing memory of a time when he and Thor used to sit on this man’s knees while he spun fantastic tales for them, stories of worlds that only he could see. Loki turns away.

Heimdall says, “Thor defended himself, as we might expect; but one of the men involved died because of his wounds. Thor was taken to trial, and judgment passed.”

Something that feels suspiciously like laughter bubbles up in Loki’s throat. “You’re telling me my brother is to be executed for a barroom fight?” A thread of the laughter escapes; the danger seems not so near after all; a god who could have ruled whole galaxies is called to execution for his impetuous, ridiculous temper when lost to his cups. It’s so pathetic that it’s practically poetic.

Loki feels better than he has in years. “Have father send an emissary. Surely--”

“It is past all that,” Heimdall says. “Thor wanted to stand and accept their justice, be what it may. I could not persuade him otherwise.” Loki turns back, raw with jealousy that Heimdall has spoken with Thor. “The method of their punishment was exile to a barren planet that they maintain as a prison. It is vast; many are condemned to wander there, but never find each other. There is just enough nourishment that one may live, for a time, until they do not wish to live any longer in such a way.”

It’s quite astonishingly cruel. Loki must admire the choices of this distant race. He still does not understand why Heimdall is telling him any of it. He lifts his shoulders, shrugs. “If you’re so worried about Thor, I don’t see why you can’t just fetch him back. The Bifrost will--”

“I cannot bring him back as he is now,” Heimdall says, almost gently. “He is no longer himself.”

Loki flushes hot, then goes cold all over. “What did you say?”

“He is as he has been twice before,” says Heimdall, and this time it is he who looks away from Loki’s searing gaze. “My heart is with Thor, and fears for him, but my loyalty is sworn to Asgard. I could not return him here as he is now, to the heart of the Bifrost, and risk our destruction.”

Loki says, “How long?”

“He has been there some weeks,” says Heimdall, “surviving well enough in solitude. This morning, after he awoke, something changed. The lightning found him, and I am afraid if left unchecked it will finish him.”

Loki is already walking away before the final words lodge in his heart like ice.

“Loki--” It cannot have been easy for Heimdall to come here to him, to ask Loki to do this. Heimdall has always seen too much. But his affection for Thor transcends all else. He can hear the edge of despair in Heimdall’s voice as he calls after him.

For once Heimdall does not see. Loki is already heading towards the Bifrost. He scowls at Heimdall over his shoulder. “Go and fetch your fucking sword, then. We haven’t all day.”

In the Bifrost antechamber, Heimdall lays an approving hand on Loki’s shoulder, which Loki forgets to flinch away from. Then Heimdall twists the sword, and Loki is flooded with light.

He comes down on a world that was chosen as a prison with precision. The sky is black, and there is only the barest sliver of a distant moon; it is so dark here that the stars cannot be seen, if there are even stars anywhere close. Formidable, unscalable mountains seem to rise up everywhere, and what life there is skitters quickly into the abundant shadows when Loki lands.

It is cold, very cold, but that state has never bothered Loki. He is almost comforted by the icy gust of air that greets him. It is easier to stand here cloaked in frozen darkness than to look forward, where Thor sits wrought with light, his head in his hands.

His brother should look terrible. He is ragged and dusted over with grey dirt, from what must be long, endless nights asleep on the ice-strewn ground; he has lost some of his great golden girth to weeks of hunger. His beard is overgrown, and his once-silken hair is matted.

But Loki drinks in the sight of him. He might stand and stare at Thor like this until time unravels and all the suns go supernova.

Thor is incandescent. Where before, when he was like this, the lightning sheathed him like a cloak, now he seems shot through with it. It does not clothe him, it radiates out from his eyes and ears and mouth.

It appears as though, with no violence he can inflict, no chaos here to cause, Thor’s brutal energy has turned inward. He no longer seems to be altered or changed by it, but has accepted it under his skin as part of himself. He does not lash out at anything; all that remains is backlash.

Heimdall is right: it will eat him up from the inside until there is nothing left of Thor but ashes.

It is, Loki thinks, permitting himself a singular moment of satisfaction, a rather advanced version of how Loki has felt for years.

Then he goes to Thor and drops down beside him, just close enough to touch, though he does not. All is quiet save the roll of thunder above, and the buzz of electricity beneath Thor’s skin.

Thor does not seem at all surprised to see him. He barely turns his head, wrapped up entirely in misery. Loki wonders what could have possibly felled his defiant brother at the last. Surely Thor would not be shattered by a little time alone in an inhospitable place.

He starts when Thor addresses him. They have been sitting for a while in silence, almost easily, side by side as they once might have sat on a soft lush hill in Asgard.

“Leave me, shade, I beg of you,” Thor grits out. “This torment is too much.”

Loki cranes his head and blinks sideways at his brother. It dawns slowly that Thor does not think that he is really here. He considers this. “You see me often, then?”

Thor laughs, an ugly croaking sound. “Ah, Loki,” he says. “Would that I never had.”

Loki goes still. All words flee from him.

Thor says, “The dream I woke from this morning was a cruel one. You laughed at me, and said that I would die here; far worse, you said that I would never see you again.” There is a crack of furious, agonized thunder overhead. The light within Thor intensifies, as though feeding on his anguish. “Then I saw you not, though your shade has been a comfort to me here. I admit that I am fair glad to see you once more; but now I ask that you go. Let me perish without the shadow of all that I have lost.”

“Just a bit melodramatic, brother, as far as final speeches go,” Loki says. “Even for you.”

Thor lifts his head.

Perhaps the Loki of his hallucinations is not quite so barbed of tongue. Thor’s hand shoots out, his reflexes still improbably quick despite the state of him, and he seizes Loki’s wrist.

When his hand closes around Loki’s flesh, feels the thumping rhythm of Loki’s pulse, Thor groans. His jaw sags.

Loki,” Thor breathes.

“Yes,” says Loki simply, to all of it.

Thor is dragging Loki towards him at the same time that Loki is reaching for Thor, and they are upended, going down in a tangle of limbs. Then Thor is over him, Thor is on top of him and heavy between his thighs, and though Loki is laid out on an unforgiving frozen ground he has never felt so warm. Thor’s body balanced over him is better than the finest furs. The lightning beneath his skin might well ignite Loki also, but not if Loki has anything to say about it.

Even now, even faced with his own looming end if he does not act, Thor hesitates. Thor will always be an insolent, unbearable fool, but he is Loki’s fool; and his death belongs to Loki also. Loki will not let it arrive today.

“Thor,” Loki says. He allows himself a dreamed-of indulgence, and he reaches up to tuck a lock of Thor’s tangled hair back behind his ear. It is, perhaps, the tenderest gesture that Loki has performed in all his life. “Let me draw this from you once more. I think, when we are through, that it shall not trouble you again.”

Thor looks wrecked. “If you kiss me as you did before, I fear I will not be able to stop.”

“Idiot,” says Loki with breathless affection. “That has always been where this was driving us.”

Thor blinks at him, dazed. His eyes are all lightning. “I would never have asked this of you, Loki,” he swears. “Never.

“I know,” Loki says, for all that his heart is wedged beating in his throat, and it is difficult to speak. “That is why it is freely given.”

He tilts up before courage and decision can falter, and seals his mouth over Thor’s.

Thor shapes an inarticulate cry that is quieted by Loki’s lips. Now, at the very last, finally granted permission, Thor is desperation incarnate.

He kisses Loki again and again, again and again and again, curling a covetous hand into Loki’s hair. He kisses Loki’s cheeks, his closed eyes, his forehead, nudges Loki’s chin to kiss up and down the line of his throat. He is trying to swallow Loki whole.

For a long time Loki can but cling to Thor and allow himself to be consumed. The lightning spreads through Loki also, but with every fervent kiss he frees more and more of it from Thor, draining it away and grounding it in the earth beneath them.

With every kiss he gains back more of his brother. Already Thor’s eyes are starting to lose their brilliant, dangerous hue. But it is not enough.

Loki knows that he must have all of him.

Loki runs his tongue along Thor’s lower lip and rolls his hips; just a little, but more than enough. Thor shudders full-bodied against him, rocks the impossibly hard and imposing length of his arousal against Loki.

Thor’s eyes are wide. He moves to kiss and tongue at the curve of Loki’s ear, wrenching a shaky gasp from Loki. Then Thor murmurs, soft and secret, as though there were anyone on this godsforsaken planet who could hear them: “If you only knew how I have thought on you.”

“On me, indeed,” Loki allows, trying for sarcasm to mask his own unfettered hunger. Loki is famished. He is ravenous.

“And you,” says Thor, nipping at his ear, “tell me, Loki, say that it is true: you’ve imagined us like this?”

Before they were old enough to have words for it. Before there were words at all.

As long as he has drawn breath and could feel Thor close enough to reach for.

How Loki wept when they grew too big to share a bed, and the swooping relief that came when Thor still stole into his room at night to sleep beside him.

How Thor left his bed and did not return once they were old enough to know the words for this. As they grew older and Loki read the names for what he wanted from too many books he was not supposed to find in the library, he cannot remember a day when he did not think of this.

Of Thor, always Thor. A hateful and vicious affliction to bear, but his. Loki’s curse.

He was put together wrong, he knew, it was a mistake and impossible that Thor should be his brother, that Thor should be the only person he ever wanted to touch and be touched by, and the only one Loki should not have. Even Loki, an adept now of spells that bite deep, would never wish this condition on any other.

Oh, how Loki imagined. His fantasies darkened from what it might be like to kiss Thor into heated visions that left him sweaty and tangled up against his sheets. That left Loki damned.

Thor would set aside their stolen mead in the hayloft, roll Loki over and take him with the same ferocity as the animals in the stables below. Thor would best him in the sparring ring, and claim Loki before all who watched as his prize, tear off their armor and rut hard inside him for anyone to see. Thor would lay him slowly down on their shared desk in the library, tease him carefully open until Loki begged him not to keep them apart a moment longer. Thor would --

Thor, always Thor, always, always Thor.

“A time or two,” answers Loki. Then he quirks his lips so that Thor will know that he is stretching the truth.

Thor leans in and licks joyfully into Loki’s mouth. The storm-frenzy is lessened, now, with Loki’s closeness, with Loki’s acknowledgment of what they are and what they must be. Thor’s eyes are almost blue, the wind does not tear at their hair. Still, it is not enough.

“If you let me have you,” Thor says, “I will bury myself in you for days.”

Loki is set alight, both with the proof of his own fathomless desire and the crushing need emanating from Thor. He cannot believe that they denied this; it seems to come naturally now that they are agreed. They have never been so at peace.

“Ambitious, aren’t you,” Loki chides, trying to distract from his uncertainty at how best to proceed. Thor grins and drags his tongue along all of Loki’s collarbone that he can reach.

“Extremely,” says Thor, like a promise, and Loki shivers.

Loki is afraid that his inexperience -- not of mind but of body -- will give Thor reason to pause. There is no way that Loki will survive being put off again, he thinks, if Thor tries once more to stop what they have started. Thor will most certainly not live. Loki decides not to tell him.

He sits up instead, pushing Thor back imperiously, as though he has undressed with this haughty grace for the dozen fictional lovers he used to weave tales about for Thor. He pulls the tunic up and over his his head, then shakes out his hair. He tries not to smile at the way Thor watches him, silent and awestruck. This is serious business, thinks Loki, but he smiles anyway.

He turns, and casts the tunic behind him so that there will be something between his skin and the icy ground, though he still does not mind the cold. Then he lies back down, takes in a reassuring breath and the sight of Thor’s gaze tracking him with reverent anticipation, like Loki is revealing something infinitely precious and not a body his brother has seen countless times before.

He puts up his hips and tugs free of his leathers, and then Thor is there, pressing bruising kisses to the tender valleys of Loki’s thighs, driving a startled exclamation and a burst of shivered pleasure out of Loki. There are still stormclouds under Thor’s skin, and everywhere he kisses feels charged. And where he touches --

Thor’s hand takes hold of Loki’s cock, and Loki arches like a drawn bow, feeling strangled as he keeps down a sound he knows would sound like keening. Thor’s hand is big and firm and familiar, as though this, too, he has already done with Loki a thousand times or more; but how can he know, already, exactly, how Loki likes best to be stroked?

“So beautiful,” Thor says against his skin. “So strong. How long I’ve admired that you can wear your many forms so well.”

Loki feels a hot red flush creep up from breastbone to cheek. He pokes at Thor’s ribs with a pointed toe, impatient. “Stop trying to flatter me,” he says. “I have seen your charms at work far too many times to be so easily swayed. Besides,” and now Loki swallows, his mouth gone dry, “I told you, you can--”

Can I.” Thor sits back on his haunches, then strips free of his tattered clothing with a speed that leaves Loki breathing much too quickly. Thor’s powerful body has always been an object of fascinated obsession for Loki, so different than his own; and even now, grimy with gray earth, heavy with the scent of musk, leaking light and throwing off sparks, Loki has never seen anything as stunning as the sight of his brother waiting above him. “Can I, Loki.”

“I said--”

Tell me.” Now Thor is fast upon him, pushed to urgency that they are skin to skin at last. Thor’s cock, long and thick and beginning to worry Loki with its perfectly preposterous size, is so hard against Loki’s thigh it must be painful.

When Thor shifts in place, his eyes burning, Loki has a moment of total freefall where he thinks that Thor will part his legs and thrust in without any preparation whatsoever. Thor will take him roughly, no further preamble, will grind them into the ice and filth. It will hurt, perhaps quite badly, and Loki has never wanted anything more profoundly in his life.

Yet Thor keeps talking. Thor is ever talking. “I wish to hear you speak it.”

Loki tips his head, pulls an affronted expression. “Fuck you.”

And despite the quivering restraint in his arms that Loki knows is barely holding Thor back, Thor grins. “You nearly had it,” he says.

What is unrestrained is the happiness in Thor’s voice. The sound of it strikes such a chord with Loki that he does not do what he would otherwise, what his instinct urges him to do, which is to slap Thor across the face for such impertinence.

Instead, Loki says, his voice halfway to a purr, “Brother--” and oh, yes, that’s exactly right.

Thor’s eyes, the lightning nearly banished, darken further. He spits into his hand, a move that Loki watches cautiously, then reaches down between them, and --

Oh.” They groan the word together, in such unshakable sync that suddenly they are both laughing; but just as quickly the laughter fades. Thor is easing one finger inside Loki, who hisses despite himself and spreads his legs to help. Just this finger feels enormous.

Loki’s heart thuds in his chest with every struggling breath, and he knows, all at once, that even as a master of deception, he’ll never deceive Thor in this.

Thor is watching him too intently. A flicker of uncertainty crosses his face, as he pushes further inside and meets tightly-held resistance. Loki is desperately trying not to fall apart, but when Thor plies him with two fingers, Loki cannot swallow down the gasp that betrays him.

“Loki,” Thor says, shockingly low, sounding shocked. His voice breaks on Loki’s name, a cresting wave run up against the sea wall. “Have you kept yourself for me?”

“I -- I didn’t,” Loki manages, and then Thor’s fingers twist within him, and the unexpected jolt of pleasure lights up all the shadowed corners of his mind. “It wasn’t for you,” he tries again, lying terribly, closing his eyes so that he needn’t see Thor’s face. “It wasn’t, I -- I --”

Thor kisses him then with astounding possessiveness, so fiery and unyielding that just this kiss, Loki thinks, may be enough to take away the rest of the lightning.

It takes all the breath from Loki’s lungs. Thor’s tongue plunders Loki’s mouth, as though kissing is a skirmish that must be won, and he moves his fingers with terrifically renewed determination.

It is all too much, too much. Loki breaks away from Thor’s mouth and says, “Thor. Thor, please,” and the words are barely loosed before Thor is pulling free his fingers, spitting again to slick his cock, angling Loki’s hips up with both hands. He looks at Loki once, as though to be certain that what is happening is real; Loki catches and holds his gaze, and nods, and then Thor is thrusting into him.

The world stutters to an end. Existence winks out like a snuffed candle.

Loki, lost in sudden darkness, more than a little unhinged, at first decides that it is because they have at last transgressed too far, and the very laws of nature are rising up to strike them down. But something that feels like Thor finally fitting inside him cannot be wrong, for it is perfect.

Then Loki is back, back in his body, back in his body with his back on the frost-limned ground and Thor above him and in him. Thor pitches forward, the expression on his face like he has been smashed to pieces and then put back together again.

Through a haze of several seconds Loki figures out that his heart had leapt, then stopped, then started up again, shocked by the massive bursts of lightning that pour from Thor and flood through him. Then the world was reborn, and there was light.

Thor is moving into him all unawares, mouth open and breathing hot on Loki’s neck, and Loki thinks that he will keep this to himself.

Thor need not know that at the moment of his claiming, it was such that Loki died and then came back again. His insufferable brother has a big enough head already. Loki would never hear the end of this.

Instead, Loki slips his hand down between them (he is not trembling), to where Thor is still only halfway in, and he puts his fingers around Thor’s cock -- around Thor’s cock and helps guide him still deeper. He won’t let Thor have all the glory. He’ll seize as much for himself.

It hurts. It hurts like falling in love hurts, like suffocating obsession, like learning that all that you desire is requited but still beyond reach. It hurts because it must, but Loki welcomes the pain, relishes it and adores it, treasures this harbinger that announces there is no going back now.

Thor is taking him, Thor wants him, Thor is the first to have him, and no matter what else comes to pass there will be no undoing this.

What they are making here -- love and hate and lust and war and once-secret things that have no names save new ones of their invention, a language only they will speak -- what they are making is irrevocable. This alone will bind them as blood and titles and duties and honor never could.

Loki moans then, still stunned by the depths of his own need, still, as yet, unfulfilled: Thor is going much too slowly. Loki curves up from the ground, tries to work Thor farther in. He rakes his nails down Thor’s back with something like venom, feels his nails bite and draw blood; he lifts a leg that is no longer visibly shaking and hooks it around Thor to urge him harder, faster, to remind Thor of what they both are capable of accomplishing.

He looks up at Thor’s shattered expression, at the light in Thor’s eyes, like Thor is cherishing every inch of progression. Thor is infuriatingly, pompously proud of his self-restraint.

Thor gazes down on Loki with quiet veneration, doting, as though Loki were a fragile bride brought to her wedding bed. As though Loki must be treated gingerly, like something delicate and worth keeping.

Loki snarls.

He drops his fingers from Thor’s cock, gathers momentum in his arm, then does as instinct bid him moments before, and he slaps Thor clear across the face. The blow lands, connects, is forceful enough to snap Thor’s head sideways. As Thor blinks, more startled than hurt, Loki does it again, this time with his weaker arm, this time with his hand balled into a fist.

Thor shudders, halts, cock halfway buried, every muscle on his continent-wide arms bulged with the strain of it. “Loki,” he says, his voice dense with confusion, “what have I--”

Loki slaps him once more, still harder. “You have done nothing,” he says, almost spitting the words in outrage. “You act as though I must be coddled, even after all that we have come through. You move as though you might take me, but that I could not take you.” And he goes to swing again, wanting to see Thor’s lip split and bleed for the insult.

Quick as -- quick as the lighting still within him, Thor grabs hold of Loki’s hands. He pulls them up and over Loki’s head, cinches strong fingers that clasp like manacles around Loki’s wrists. He’s breathing fast with the exertion of pinning Loki down and the inexorable slide of his cock yet deeper as his weight and momentum shift upwards.

“No,” says Thor. His eyes are entirely his own again: unwavering, steadfast, dedicated. “No, that I did not intend. I know that you are my equal, brother. I know that only you are that.”

A brilliant spike of mingled victory and unleashed longing thrills through Loki. He tests the steely grip of Thor’s hands, knows that he could break away with great exertion if he chose, but he chooses nothing of the kind.

“Prove it,” Loki says, with bared teeth.

He watches Thor and so he sees the instant when Thor becomes resolved. Then Thor is holding him down and Thor is driving all the way in all at once. Loki refuses to gasp, so that in the end it is his own lip that is split when he bites clear through.

It is Thor’s turn to look triumphant. He pulls out and slams back inside Loki with all of the ferocity that Loki could feel bunched up in his muscles, that Loki could feel him so idiotically trying to keep back. Now he gives over to Loki everything that he has.

There it is: Thor rages once more, rages within Loki, as all of that pent-up fury and desire and vicious aching need has wanted to do since they came of an age to do something about it.

He fucks into Loki not with abandon but with wildly purposeful intent, and Loki tightens his legs around Thor, his wrists still trapped, and he puts his head back and revels in it.

It’s good. It’s so, so good. No. No, not that. Good is a weak and paltry word that cannot begin to encompass how this feels. Good is for mating mortals bleating somewhere in their beds. Good cannot touch them here.

Loki thinks on other words.

It is savage, the way that Thor holds him down and fucks him and fucks him and fucks him as though he never intends to stop. Perhaps he does not. Perhaps he cannot.

It is violent, the rivulets of blood that Loki spilled down Thor’s back as his nails cut cruel paths, how with his hands trapped he uses lips and teeth to mark Thor as his, while Thor responds in kind.

It is spectacular, making Loki arch up like his body is upon a rack of pure pleasure, its screws tightening. The liquid waves of electricity that travel up his spine are from Thor’s cock alone, no otherworldly magic necessary.

It is dangerous, Loki is filled to the absolute brink, stretched and pushed past any trials he has borne before; on certain thrusts he thinks that Thor might split him clean in half and he is satisfied that he will tear Thor apart as it happens.

It is tender, how even in the midst of the most ruthless fucking, Thor will drop his head and press his lips to Loki’s sweaty brow; how Thor will look Loki full in the eyes, so that there is no doubt about who they are, and how Thor’s eyes watch him with wonder. It is tender when Loki, seeking, tilts up his chin and finds Thor’s mouth and kisses him gently, satisfies the first dreamy way he ever dreamed of touching Thor long ago, when their world was young and they were young.

Most of all it is a crucible, in every definition that word lays claim to. It is the fiercest challenge they have ever faced, a test of every limit and permutation of self. It is a blazing forge upon which they are melted down to their essence and transmuted into something entirely new. It is a moment (or it is many hours, or perhaps, thinks Loki, they have been here for days, or whole centuries have wheeled past while Thor strives within him and Loki receives and takes) -- it is a moment from which all that comes after will be radically changed and impossibly different.

As Loki suspected, there is no way to revoke this, even should they wish for such a thing.

There is no way, now, to deny or forget the way they fit together, two bodies that slot with equal parts ease and agony: the ease of fractured halves finally joined, and the agony to know that they cannot remain like this, that they must be set asunder again.

There is no way they can ignore that they are shaped for each other in form and spirit. No one else in Nine Realms could play the parts they’re playing now.

The riotous turn of Thor’s hips, the unceasing thrust of his cock, the way his hands fasten Loki’s hands to the ground: anyone else would have broken long before, but Loki exults.

The absolute tenacity with which Loki rocks against Thor, Loki’s unquenchable hunger for more, and more, and more, the way Loki’s legs envelop Thor and keep him inside, the anchor he’s always needed: anyone else would have been devoured long before, but Thor rejoices.

There is no way back, only forward. They have not spoken in some time, save for sighs and grunts and groans and bitten-off curses; but their eyes are locked, and Loki can see that they understand each other. This is, he knows, the most harmonious that they will ever be, for even if they merge like this again -- when they do -- it will not be the same.

Never again will Loki be untried; never again will Thor need him to siphon the lightning away. What once was the most hidden of desires is now enacted in the flesh, and it is better for both of them, Loki knows then, than they could possibly have conceived; better, and infinitely worse. If they sought a final resolution they have failed. Hereafter they must continue to live apart, though now they know that wholeness is real, that completion exists, and that it is not theirs to keep.

This is, Loki thinks then, not their trial but their punishment.

“Come back,” murmurs Thor, as though he can see the churning machinery of thought kick into motion behind Loki’s eyes. “I cannot bear to have you so far away.”

Loki finds that he has run out of words. He kisses Thor instead, distracting him long enough with his tongue to maneuver one hand free. The other stays caught in Thor’s clutches, stretched high above Loki’s head, but the liberated hand plunges into Thor’s hair, grasping after fistfuls of gold.

Loki tugs hard, to feel how that makes Thor speed his hips; then he tugs as hard as he can, to feel Thor break from their kiss and moan, low, into Loki’s mouth.

One of Thor’s hands is also unencumbered, and now it slides down Loki’s body -- takes a circuitous route, drags the pads of fingertips from Loki’s nipples to his belly, veers over to trace the cliffs of his hipbones, and at last encloses Loki’s cock in a firm, knowing grip. Thor strokes him once, twice, again, and then on the fourth stroke thrusts deep into Loki with exceptional timing, and Loki breathes out: “Yes.

This singular word, restored to him, may be all that Loki can speak, for as Thor repeats his effort, Loki says it again. “Yes.” Thor’s hand on his cock, coaxing; Thor’s cock inside him, fucking; all of Loki a sudden firestorm. “Yes. Yes.

The heat is originating in Thor, the last, deepest recesses of lightning, but now it enters Loki too, and he struggles to dissipate it, dizzy with their increased exertions. For a space of time Loki holds onto lightning also, feels it alive and thrilling under his skin: he thought that it would hurt, but it does not. There is no pain. No, it is sublime indeed to be charged with the kind of power that could bring down empires, that could send anyone, even Odin, to their knees.

Loki remembers then the abject admiration he experienced twice before, to know the extent of Thor’s destructive capacity. He wonders, fleetingly, if he should take all of it from Thor after all, or if it wouldn’t be better to let some small seed of this live in him, ready to grow again -- this time under the right circumstances, at Loki’s direction.

The lightning had overwhelmed Thor because of him: was it not truly Loki’s to command?

Before he can fully grasp it, Thor sends the thought flying from him, moving now so relentlessly into Loki that there is no space left for anything else: only Thor’s relentless rhythm, and Thor’s hand working skillfully on Loki’s cock, up-down-up, Thor’s other hand closing all the tighter where it is bound to Loki’s wrist. It is as though Thor has guessed what Loki began to consider, and set about to banish even his ability to reason.

“Brother,” Thor says. “I would see you undone.”

Now Loki cannot look away from him, cannot conceive of anything that is not Thor within and without him, the heavy weight of Thor’s sungold body, the heavier weight of his eyes, miraculous as oceans.

Loki opens his mouth, to agree or disagree, he knows not; words are still a struggle to speak; and so Loki does not know what he will do until he hears himself say, “Together.”

He won’t give Thor the satisfaction of watching him unravel at seam and sinew and not be allowed the same. This success, this conquest, this descent, it is theirs to share, and the spoils must be divvied up equally.

Certainly Thor, if given the time to make his case, would plead some nonsense about wanting to see Loki contented first before taking his own pleasure, but Loki wants nothing of posturing chivalry.

“Together,” he tells Thor, “or not at all.”

Thor manages an impressive expression, which is to look both poleaxed and determined all at once. His thrusts do not falter, nor does his hand on Loki; no, his pace increases, gathers urgency. Thor propels them toward the brink, and Loki wraps all of himself around Thor, tightens up everywhere, to send them over.

“As you will it,” says Thor, his forehead pressed to Loki’s, his eyes on Loki’s eyes, and that is what it takes for Loki to give up and surrender: he arches against Thor and cries out loud enough that all the lonely exiles on this planet must hear him, and look around in lust and fear; and he spills hot over Thor’s hand and the shared skin between them, he spills and spills.

Loki is plunged so far and suddenly into euphoria that he almost forgets to keep his eyes open, to watch as Thor comes with him, as he commanded; but in the end he does not forget. He cannot, for as Thor’s own cry shakes the ground around them and sends the sky into a cloud-whipped frenzy, he gives of himself into Loki his seed and the last of the lightning.

It spreads its electric web through Loki, lights him up, makes him gasp anew and come again; a handy trick, Loki thinks through his rapturous daze, as he clings to Thor and rides out this unexpected aftershock even as he is ridden.

Then Loki lets go of the lighting, all of it finally gone into the ground beneath them, and Thor is saying his name in between beseeching kisses, as though he means to call Loki back to him from afar.

Loki realizes that his eyes, unfocused, are staring at nothing over Thor’s shoulder. He fixes his gaze on Thor’s face, which looks at though he’s seen the secrets of the universe and been forced to relinquish them. Loki rather knows the feeling.

“Not bad, for our first try,” Thor says hopefully, shakily, trying for a levity that does not arrive. But when he gives a nervous laugh Loki joins him, and they laugh together, still one merged body, the laughter verging on hysteria.

“Get off,” Loki says after a while, unconvincingly, with an unpersuasive shove at Thor’s shoulder. “You’re terribly heavy.”

“A moment, only.” And Thor finishes the way he stared, kissing into Loki’s hair, his cheeks, the swells and shallows of his throat, Thor’s tongue is against his ear.

Then he reclaims Loki’s mouth, and Loki, with his hands freed, forgets to pretend at vexation. He winds his arms around Thor’s neck to draw him yet closer, and they kiss for a long time; it might be the turning of entire seasons somewhere else, but Loki neither knows nor cares.

Finally even bodies such as theirs cannot hold together, and Thor must leave him, which he does, though both their faces speak of suffering at the separation. Loki, bereft, lies quite still upon the ground, until he bats at Thor’s hands when his brother courteously tries to cover him with the remains of tattered clothing.

“The cold is restorative,” Loki tells him, honest for once, and Thor looks doubtful, but shrugs. It is Thor who has at last begun to shiver, and with an impatient sigh Loki tugs him back down beside him, allows Thor to drape himself across Loki and leech from his body heat.

Thor reaches tentatively and brushes dark hair back from Loki’s brow, hesitant about the reception of his touch, as though he had not just fucked Loki to the gates of Valhalla and back.

Thor asks, quietly, “Is it gone now? It feels gone.”

“The lightning?” Loki considers. Not a single sizzle or crackle remains under his own skin, and Thor appears entirely restored. All of Thor’s old self is here, all of his awful stubbornness and inane willfulness and the annoying adoration in his eyes when he looks at Loki, which Loki rules not so annoying, at least for now. “Yes, I think so. You wanted me, and when you could not have me, it spun you out of control; now you have had me, and I see no reason why it should return.”

Thor props up on one broad arm, the better to examine Loki’s face. “And if I am denied you again, brother?”

Loki swallows. He wants to turn away, but he does not. “I cannot imagine that will be the case.”

Thor’s smile is bright and warm with their secret. “I would be with you every night, Loki,” he says. “And twice in the mornings. I love only you.”

Loki closes his eyes. The cold air around them keeps his head somewhat clear, keeps him cradled in a pocket of reason while Thor has none.

He knows that he should say something caustic; he knows that he should cut Thor off at the knees; he should say, right now, “We are mad, and gave in to madness out of necessity. But you are heir to Asgard, you will be king, these things you want will never be; you must forget what we made here, what we discovered that we are.”

For a wretched stretch of breaths Loki considers seizing the memory of this at the root and ripping it from Thor entirely. It would be the most prudent way to proceed, the best course of action.

Loki opens his eyes. “We will do what we can,” he tells Thor.

Thor kisses him as though no further assurances are needed, and gathers Loki to his chest, and for a quiet time they watch the impenetrable black sky to see if they can sight any hidden stars.

Loki thinks, and thinks, and thinks.

In a life where he has never gotten what he wanted, where he has always been second best, the spare, the one who came out wrong, he finds that when faced with it he is not smart enough, nor sacrificing enough, to give this up.

Thor, were he in Loki’s position, with Loki’s abilities, would do just that: for the good of them both, for the salvation of their kingdom, he would take this burden from Loki, let the knowledge of their disgrace and their glory fade away.

Thor would want to shoulder this, bear it alone for Loki’s sake, and it is precisely because Thor would do so that Loki does not.

Besides, a voice whispers in Loki’s head: there is so very little that is Loki’s alone to keep, but Thor is precisely that.

Loki is not a good man, he knows; and it would take someone inclined to martyrdom to relinquish Thor now that he belongs to Loki. A martyr, or someone irredeemably unfeeling, and while Loki knows that he is not good, he cannot cease to feel.

Every part of him is ruled by volatile emotion, and for much of his life, all that he has wanted is Thor. Is there a man or woman or entity in existence who would give up their heart’s desire when it is firmly in their grasp? Would anyone do so for as flimsy a thing as honor, save Thor?

Loki is decided, and so he lets himself card fingers through Thor’s tangled hair, working free the knots. Thor makes a contented sort of sound beside him and seems to relax, tension leaving his body; after some minutes of Loki’s careful work he laughs.

“Hmm?” says Loki.

“I was thinking on how long I have not bathed for, and how sorry I am to have made you filthy, though I am also not so sorry,” says Thor.

Loki wrinkles his nose. “I have been trying with limited success not to think on that.”

Thor inclines his head. “I would lick you clean, should you let me, brother,” he says.

Loki suppresses his reaction at such an offer, which is a full-bodied shiver, and picks instead at a particularly stubborn knot. “I think a thorough bath will quite suffice, when we return.”

“As you say,” says Thor, sounding regretful. Then he laughs again.

“I fail to see what is so amusing,” Loki says, though it is good to hear that Thor does not seem crushed under the weight of their transgression. It is a passing fear that any moment Thor will come to sudden grips with what they have done, and attempt to grovel for some kind of pathetic, unwanted forgiveness at Loki’s feet. Loki is resolved to kick him in the face if such a thing comes to pass.

But Thor says, “It occurred to me, all at once, what sights our Heimdall may have seen.”

Loki frowns. “I’m glad you find the prospect humorous. He could destroy us with a single word to mother and father.”

“He will not,” Thor says, easily, entirely unconcerned. “I know him well, and he will not. Besides, did he not send you here to me?”

“The decision was my own,” says Loki sharply.

“Oh, that I never doubted,” says Thor, still infuriatingly calm. “No one has ever succeeded in persuading you to do something you are set against, my Loki. Not even me.”

Loki refrains, only just, from tearing the remaining knots clean out of Thor’s mane and having done with it. “I am not yours,” he says, but his voice emerges soft and sluggish.

Thor looks at him. Just looks. Doesn’t rage, doesn’t whine, doesn’t try to wheedle or persuade. He stares at Loki, and Loki stares back, and both of them are willing the other to drop the gaze first, but neither does.

“Are you not?” says Thor, slow and careful, daring Loki to deny it again.

Loki wants to pummel that stupidly gorgeous face with his fists and maybe with claws grown for the occasion. He wants to summon such a maelstrom of magic that Thor will be seized and tossed far from here, as Thor had blasted him across a charred room long ago.

He wants to sink into Thor’s embrace and kiss him and take Thor’s tongue so deep into his mouth that Loki will be all that Thor can ever taste again.

“That --” Loki manages at last, “that remains to be seen.”

“Ah,” says Thor, leaning forward as though he has heard only the last part of Loki’s thoughts. He looks pleased. “Then there are further challenges ahead of me that must be met, if I am to win you. It is well; I am elated to hear it, and to undertake what trials you set for me. I would prove myself worthy.”

“I hate you so much,” Loki whispers, meaning it, and meaning its opposite. But Thor swallows up the words when he kisses him, and then Loki is not sure if he spoke them at all.

 

* * *

 

If Heimdall knows, he never tells.

He welcomes them back on the Bifrost with a hearty embrace for Thor, and to Loki’s astonishment, a matching one for Loki, Heimdall’s arms appreciative around him. He bids them to make themselves presentable for an audience with their parents, who are anxiously awaiting word.

Loki allows Thor to clasp him close in one arm and fly them with Mjölnir over the splendor of Asgard below, so that they may pass without close inspection. He pretends to be unmoved as they soar around glittering towers and proud spires, but he thinks that Thor can feel how his breath catches in his throat.

They find the bathing chamber off of Thor’s rooms primed and waiting, and since it has never raised eyebrows for them to share the space together after an adventure, they indulge in it. Already they are incautious, but it is difficult to care after what they have come through.

They occupy the same huge basin cut into the stone, revelling in the hot, scented waters, and sometimes splashing each other idly. Then Loki produces a fine-toothed comb from thin air, and despite Thor’s grumblings manages to pry free the last of the mats and tangles from his brother’s hair, until it falls smooth and spun-gold again. After that Thor stops grumbling and is pleased enough that he even lets Loki trim his precious beard into a comelier shape.

It is well that Thor dismissed the servants, for their bodies are mottled with bruises and bites that are impossible to explain without giving themselves away. Before the bathing hour is up several more will be added, though Loki thinks that he mutters half-heartedly into Thor’s mouth to have a care, anyone might step inside and find them here.

They do not have a care.

Despite his trepidation about facing their parents, Loki’s heart has never felt so light. They speak of what to say not with shame but with cunning design. Loki convinces Thor to let him do most of the talking, since Thor is an appallingly poor liar, and Thor agrees without argument: he is too busy rubbing soap in concentric circles through Loki’s hair, then down his neck, his back, his chest, then lower.

Loki was afraid that returning to Asgard might plunge them into reality and guilt and doubt, but it is proving to be quite the reverse; every moment together feels stolen and delicious, every furtive touch so wrong that it veers fantastically right. This is something that only they share. It is a private citadel whose walls they raised around them, and no one else can reach them here.

Eventually, they dress: Thor in shining armor, Loki in fine dark leathers, and Loki conceals any visible bruises through his arts -- cosmetic first, then magic if the shadow of their mouths on each other still remains.

At last they are suitable to be seen, but before they leave Thor’s chambers Thor pulls Loki to him. He cups Loki’s face between his hands.

“Don’t,” Loki starts, but Thor has always been a fool.

“Brother,” says Thor, his eyes fixed with sincerity, “know that if you were any other, this audience would begin with a plea before the Allfather to let me marry you.”

“I said, don’t,” Loki snaps, wrenched by the falling feeling of loss that seizes in his belly, then the hot sharp pain of it like a knife thrust in to finish him. He can see their carefully laid plans threatening to unravel all at once.

Thor does not stop, but lifts his stubborn chin. “Perhaps I shall ask anyway. Such things are not unknown in royal families.” Now his eyes are glinting. “I believe it was you who gave me that particular history to read, when we used to sit in the library.”

“I will murder you where you stand,” Loki says with equal sincerity. “Thor, brother, listen to reason: down that path lies only Asgard’s ruin, and our separation. Say nothing -- tell them nothing -- let no one ever guess -- and our lives remain our own to do with as we please.”

Loki knows more than mere reason is required. His heart pounding, he steps in and kisses Thor with all of the boundless passion he’s tried to keep tamed since they landed back here. He kisses Thor for so long like that that surely even as thick-headed a romantic lout as Thor must be persuaded to follow his lead.

He lets go, and sees with satisfaction that Thor seems to deflate, to be defeated, under the force and proof of their mutual wanting. Loki knows that he has won.

Only --

“Only tell me this, and I’ll no longer speak of it,” says Thor. “Were you not my brother, would you say yes, if I went to my knee before you? Would you wed me, rule with me, be mine in name as well as body, Loki, as I have ever dreamed?”

“Thor--” Loki is trembling and forgets to pretend that he is not. He cannot stop the shaking of his hands, or else he would use them to hex Thor on the spot, freeze his blasted tongue to the roof of his mouth and put an end to this farcical nonsense.

Loki takes in a steadying breath, glances away and wills himself to appear impassive. “Thor,” he tries again, “it matters not at all what I would do, or what you might have of me, if we were not what we are. That can never be, and it is a child’s game to pretend otherwise. I’ll not play.”

And Loki stands with his arms crossed, closed-off, until at last Thor relents and does not ask again. But before they go before their parents, Thor tips Loki’s face up, and looks full into his eyes; and even so accomplished a deceiver as Loki cannot hide the answer there, which is yes.