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How long we were fooled

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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.

Chapter Text

For a space of years, or decades, or a millenia, all is well.

Loki and Thor are as they have ever been, brothers and compatriots, victors side-by-side in countless battles, conquerors and peace-makers, brilliant princes gleaming next to each other at the banquet, sharing light.

And they are more, far more: Loki bespells a door so that it binds their chambers, and never does another day pass when they are both in Asgard that they do not share a bed. They have each other every night, and as Thor promised, often twice or more in the mornings.

And it is enough for Loki, it is everything to him, until it is not.

Thor, perhaps too glutted now on triumph and pleasure, becomes by turns brazenly bold and brash, cocky to a fault, so that it seems more and more that Loki barely recognizes him.

Thor begins to listen to no one save his own arrogant self-assurance, dismissing even Loki’s opinion, even when Loki is astride him and most convincing.

All of Loki’s tricks that once brought Thor to bear, and to listen to logic before running headfirst into foolishness, start to fail him, one after the other. Speaking to Thor is now as effective as addressing a brick wall, and even lying with him loses appeal.

In bed Thor is blasé, careless, the old tempestuous way he used to touch Loki replaced with the apparent expectation that he will always have this and need not strive to win Loki over after all. If their bedroom is a quest that Loki laid before him, Thor has faltered and lost the road.

Loki awakens one morning in the cold dawn before Thor’s coronation. Thor’s arm is cast over his body with casual, easily assumed possessiveness -- as though Loki belongs to him, is owned by him, one more bauble in Thor’s voluminous treasure-pile; and Loki discovers that he could despise Thor again.

When he tries, it comes easily enough, like opening a door that was wedged shut against the howling wind.

The old hatred, the oldest feeling, older even, he thinks, than love -- the buried animosity for all that Thor is given that Loki will never have -- it twists in him, twists him. Rotted bitterness and bile gather on his tongue, waiting to be swallowed.

Loki lies still, the problem turning over and over again in his mind as the sun rises, and Loki weighs Thor on the scales of justice and judges him to be unworthy.

Who is Thor, a brutish imbecile, to take a throne that would be better in Loki’s hands, to wear a crown on his empty head -- a crown he’d once, in the depths of pathetic naivety, whispered that he’d share with Loki if he could? Was this a man fit to rule?

The answer arrives swift-footed.

Later, as he dangles from the Bifrost, Loki contents himself that at least some of his schemes have not failed. The horror-shock of Loki’s betrayal woke Thor up from his lazy assumptions, caused him a kind of soul-deep pain and humbling that Loki could never have brought about otherwise.

Since he learned who and what he really is, an outer monster to match the inner one he’s always pretended not to be, Loki wants to laugh and laugh and never stop. All of Loki has been dancing on a knife’s edge between feverish laughter and the kind of incandescent rage Thor thrice wielded; and Loki wishes on the Bifrost that he’d been able to hold onto some of Thor’s lightning.

Wouldn’t it be positively poetic to strike his so-called brother now with the once-forbidden fruit of their desire. Isn’t it amusing to know that they do not even share blood after all their hand-wringing torment, that they share nothing anymore at all.

The more that Thor tries to save him, the more that Loki hates him, hates him, hates him.

So Loki lets go on the bridge, knows this the final wound that he can deliver, one that will cut Thor to the quick and spread poison through him.

As he falls into darkness, Loki is laughing.

And on and on. What fun to play with Thor’s Midgardian toys, to wreak destruction in all the places that are soft in Thor’s heart. He tortures and torments Thor’s strange new friends, he plans ruination for that backwater of a world. He drops Thor from the sky in a glass sphere, hoping that both will shatter, knowing they will not.

He cannot be rid of Thor. He tries, he tries.

He remembers the question he used think upon, before Heimdall sent him to save Thor on a grey blasted planet: Perhaps if Thor were truly dead Loki would be released from this curse that binds them, might finally know relief.

So he tries. On Midgard, he miscalculates, and when it is over it is worse than Loki could have projected, in all the violent dreams he dreams now. They win; Thor wins, and Thor leads him muzzled and chained like a common dog back to Asgard.

No, it is as though Loki is less than a dog. An animal Thor would pity, and even pet; but he never looks at Loki when he can prevent it, and does not speak to him save for harsh commands.

Thor stands that way, at attention, unseeing, while Loki’s punishment and sentence are doled out, and he is to be locked away for good. Thor claims the prize of delivering Loki to his jail, and marches him there, so that Loki can be cast once more into darkness. Loki admires this last petty cruelty, at least: he would have done the same.

But where the dank dungeon corridors curve down into obscurity, when they are out of sight, Thor spins and suddenly has Loki pressed against the wall. His blue eyes are wild with distress, and his voice is a study in suffering.

“Brother,” says Thor, into Loki’s ear, “come back. I cannot bear to have you so far away.”

Loki could not speak then even if he were not gagged, and despite himself his knees go weak, so that Thor must keep him propped up. Thor’s arm around him leverages Loki to his cell, and when they reach it, Thor lowers him to the ground and sits beside him for a while, as they might have sat on a soft lush hill in Asgard, or a barren planet covered in ice and cloaked in dusk.

Thor does not visit him after that, and imprisoned, Loki has more time to think than ever before.

When all plans of escape and retribution are exhausted, he finds that he is tired, a bone-aching weariness that goes deeper than the body. In every way he is spent: of anger, of hate, of plans and plotting, of loneliness, of darkness, of pride. Curled up in solitude at night, he craves warmth, though he has ever loved the cold.

His only comfort is his lady mother, her regal beauty and kindness unfaded, her sadness almost too much for Loki to bear. She comes to him as often as she can, and Loki begins to feel something that might be a thaw. Around her he softens, loses some of the terrible spite that has overtaken him all these solitary years; she loves him still, she tells him every time.

Even a monster bends to its mother’s yoke.

The thaw begins as a trickle, grows into a rivulet, branches into tributaries, seeks passage out to sea. Loki speaks to her, and confides in her, and tells her all that has passed, save the secret that is his and Thor’s; though he wonders, from time to time, if she has guessed at it.

“Do you remember,” says Frigga one day, straight-backed and elegant in her chair, which is pushed as close to Loki’s cage as can be, “the first time that you disobeyed me, my son?”

My son: she will never rescind or deny that, even if it is a lie; from Frigga’s lips it springs true. Her lips are a flower from which wonders can bloom. She is embroidering a vest, in green and gold, that is meant for Loki to have, though it will be a fight with Odin to get it to him.

Loki is also sat as close as he can to her, cross-legged and leaning against the barrier that divides them. He quirks a smile. “Surely, it was in the cradle,” he says.

Frigga shakes her head. “You were a well-behaved child, curious and always asking questions, grasping after books. Some little pranks on your nursemaids, and on your brother, of course, when you discovered how easily you could trick him.”

Loki’s heart squeezes in his breast, and Frigga lays down a stitch with fine golden thread. Then another: “No, you never refused me any request, nor acted out of course with me, until the day when you were fifteen, and Thor needed your help. You fled my grasp, and went to him, and you brought him back to us. I wonder,” says Frigga, ignoring the flash of pain across Loki’s face, “where that Loki is now. My son who would run headlong into a conflagration, to ensure that his brother emerged safe on the other side.”

Loki presses his lips until they are white with strain. “Mother--”

“I think that he is here still,” says Frigga. “I think he never left. We change with time, all creatures do; but our truths are not easily undone, and love is the hardest knot of all to unwind.” When she looks up at him, Frigga is smiling like the sun on fallow ground. “I will always love you, Loki, as you love me. I would have you think on that, for I am nothing, a mite blowing past, compared to what your brother means to you, and you to him.”

And she leaves him, the silken scraps of the vest folded up on her chair, before Loki can find the words to tell her that it is not true.

Loki never finds the words.

When they tell him of Frigga’s murder, when they tell him she is lost to him forever, Loki first tries to rip apart his cage, and then himself.

He screams, he bleeds, he beats his own flesh black and blue. He weeps in wrenching, convulsing sobs, he growls and gnashes at the air. His magic explodes from him in vengeful fits with nowhere to go but to destroy the few comforts of his cell anew. He tries to turn it on himself but even in this he fails: it will not end him.

With his mind he tears into tables, savages chairs limb from limb, decimates the books she brought him to read. Then he gathers the paper scraps in his hands and rocks back and forth and back and forth, begging for her forgiveness. All his spells cannot knit the pages back together.

His first thought on Thor’s approach is that he’ll never give him the satisfaction of seeing Loki laid so low. So he sends a haughty illusion, crisply dressed and coiffed, to greet Thor, but his brother sees right through him.

Loki is too tired to pretend any longer. He lets Thor glimpse the truth of it, Loki chalk-white and dishevelled and bleeding and finally, utterly beaten, and he thinks that may be why Thor, against every odd and instinct, asks for his help.

Thor gives his speech about hoping that the brother that he knows is somewhere still inside this shipwreck of a stranger, and Thor threatens to kill him, almost like an afterthought, if he is betrayed again. Loki smiles at him. It is as though they are seeing each other again in the old way, for the first time in a thousand years, in perfect harmony and understanding.

Strength floods back into his loose limbs and Loki can stand again. He enjoys the sharp pain where he has pierced his foot, a reminder of their mother’s stitches.

Their renewed accord extends into the mission. They have lost too much to play at games.

While Jane Foster sleeps ensorceled on deck and the ship sails through air toward certain Dark Elf’d doom, Loki follows his brother to the cabin below without speaking.

They fit back together with a sort of desperation that never came upon them before, not even the first time. Then, they were full of uncertainty and thoughts of anxious dread, even as they revelled in each other at last; ever after, they were over-confident and cocksure, smug with what they were getting away with.

Now they are transformed: they have come through separation and betrayal, known what it is to struggle to death-blows and back. They are aware that any moment they might return to that clashing state, so unstable is their ground.

They do not have the threat of shared blood any longer, nor its comforts; they need not lay claim to that damned word, brother, though they discover that neither can give it up.

Thor is as angry as he is sad, and the whole first bout he takes Loki hard against the creaking wood, holding Loki pinned at the throat. Loki supposes he rather deserves that, and since he cannot tell Thor how grateful he is to have what he never thought he’d have again, he only stares back at Thor and gasps and yields.

So that when Thor throws him to the ground for their second go, yanks Loki onto his hands and knees and flattens him beneath the thunderous crush of his body and the furious pounding of his cock, Loki has no more shame left in arching up under Thor and begging him for more. And more, and more, all.

By the sixth or seventh time their flesh is raw and exhausted, yet still does Thor thrust inside him, this time caught in the vise of Loki’s thighs, his face pressed to Loki’s bruise-strewn and bitten neck. By the twelfth, or perhaps it is the twentieth, there is nothing left in them but tears leaking from their eyes and broken sounds from broken men.

They do not speak about it, which is for the better, Loki thinks, considering the plan he is formulating that will set Loki free and free Thor from having to worry about him again. Death has always seemed to Loki to be the only certain escape for them, and so it is a facsimile of death that he gives to Thor and takes for himself.

He nearly falters on the battlefield, to witness the anguished grief with which Thor clutches him, as he bears Loki through what he believes to be his dying breath. Thor holds him so tight, and shouts his defiance at the skies; and Loki turns himself grey and rather fantastically dead-looking, and he only makes it through because he thinks, again and again, inside his head like a litany, Just a bit melodramatic, brother, even for you.

All is dazzling plenty on Asgard, after Loki dispatches Odin and claims the throne with a simplicity he should have thought on long ago. He never need replace Thor on this seat; only their accursed patriarch required doing away with, and he tucks Odin into a corner of Midgard and sets out to enjoy his hard-earned reign.

Loki flatters himself that he proves to be the sort of ruler he always thought he would be, had anyone given him half a chance.

He is shrewd and beneficent, far more generous than his father ever was, taking care to make every decision brought to him in blatant opposition to what Odin would have chosen to do.

He stops all ongoing conflicts and brokers a lasting peace. He recalls Asgard’s warriors and gives them a much-needed respite and such a bountiful pension that no one dares question their sudden windfall.

He patronizes the arts, raising statues, sponsoring choruses, encouraging festivals, promoting poets, and when he grows bored midway through his first year, he composes for the stage himself. The people delight in the tale of the tragic brothers, and Loki’s own errant reputation is rather improved. As Odin, he decrees that the play be shown regularly, and helps establish travelling productions.

His only worries during this time is the thought that one day Thor will return, as one day he must; and Heimdall, who glowers at him with amber eyes and knows exactly who this Odin is.

Loki doesn’t intend to execute Heimdall for treason, only calls him to trial to put some fear into him; but Heimdall vanishes from his bonds, and Loki tries not to think on it. Better for them both if Heimdall has fled.

And then the day is come when Thor lands back on Asgard, gleaming and resplendent, looking somewhat scorched but swaggering in the confident way that carries him after a successful battle.

Loki swallows down the sight of him, drinking deep, and knows his game will soon be up, and he finds he hardly cares. He’s had a delightful run of it, but Thor in the flesh again is more than enough.

Loki knows that he’ll never fool his brother in this, and so returns to his true form with something like a sigh of relief. It’s a relief, too, that Thor pushes him aside just before Mjölnir can return and cause any damage, not that Loki believed for a moment that he was in real danger. Still, that shove out of the way feels promising.

As they prepare for the journey to retrieve their father in Midgard, they argue back and forth, and Loki cannot remember when he was last so happy. Thor is absolutely apoplectic at Loki’s latest deception, and angriest about their father’s exile; but his fury is worn thin by his shocked and rather flattering gratitude that Loki yet lives.

Thor’s respite from grief is so robust that Loki feels a little bad for putting him through it, and decides to make it up to him.

Thor tries poorly to hide this reaction at finding Loki alive. But when they are alone, with Loki magicking up clothes for them to wear to Midgard -- something practical and comfortable for Thor, and something haute couture for him -- Loki banishes all the fabric between them with a wave of his hand, and Thor doesn’t even protest.

Then Loki goes to his knees on the cool marble and spends an hour elaborately and creatively apologizing with Thor’s cock down his throat.

That he ever could have renounced this cock seems patently obscene. Now Loki has given up an empire to have it back, and gladly.

After that Thor is considerably more agreeable, but he delays their leaving to spread Loki out on his bed, the bed they shared so many nights for so long and then, after Loki fell, never again.

Loki is rather stunned when, in stark contrast to Thor’s treatment on the airship, Thor moves over him with painstaking care. He draws out the reunion of their bodies, kissing Loki slow and deep, doing only that for what feels like an egregious amount of time to kiss anyone without proceeding to main events. Yet none of Loki’s silent or vocal urging gets him anywhere at all.

Before they leave the bed Thor will have kissed every single inch of him, and many inches, twice; he will make Loki come once in his mouth, Thor’s hollowed cheeks around Loki’s cock quite possibly the most beautiful sight that Loki has ever seen, though he’ll let his mouth be sewn shut before saying so.

Then Thor makes him come again without touching his cock at all, Thor’s tongue, shockingly wicked, working its way within Loki to hidden depths while Loki thrashes.

Thor looks all too pleased with himself thereafter, and Loki must look as though a mountain landed on him, which is quite how he feels, and he narrows his eyes.

“Who taught you how to do that?” Loki demands, suddenly so sick with jealousy that he could ruin this transcendent resurrected rapport and go straight for Thor’s throat until Loki gets a name and a target to kill.

But Thor only laughs, damn him, and is finally shifting Loki into place, angling up Loki’s hips to welcome him. He thrusts inside with one smooth, exemplary stroke, and it feels like coming home. Thor does that again, and again, until Loki forgets that he is jealous, forgets where they are or why anything in Nine Realms matters beyond Thor’s apparent dedication to fucking Loki to within an inch of both their lives.

“You did,” Thor says, a good while later, still pressed deep.

“What?” What is his idiot brother even talking about? Talking distracts from the fucking.

“You taught me that. It was in one of the books you were always leaving around the library for me to find.”

Ridiculous that even now Loki should turn pink. “I -- ah -- never.”

“You did,” Thor asserts again. “The first time I took up one of those books, you were so quick to snatch it away from me; this guaranteed that I would, of course, now have to read it.”

Loki considers this, humming. “Sometimes,” he says, wrapping his legs securely around Thor, tightening their binding, “you’re not quite as stupid as you look.”

“My thanks,” says Thor, with just the slightest lift of his eyebrow and a hint of arch sarcasm that drives Loki as wild as his cock is driving him. “And you are not half so devious as you appear.”

Loki is outraged anew. “Is that so!”

“Yes,” says Thor, bending Loki in half so that he might kiss him. “But don’t worry, brother. I’ll never tell, so long as this time you stay by my side where you belong.”

Loki means to fight him, and intends to protest, and considers further schemes; but instead he focuses on kissing Thor back, and giving as good as he gets, and it is a long time yet until they get to Midgard.


* * *


On Midgard, everything changes. It changes so fast that the time thereafter becomes a blur:

They meet an absolute bastard of a sorcerer that Loki doesn’t get to gut, though he swears one day he will.

They find and lose their father.

Loki’s grief is unexpected, poignant and pointed, a hidden blade slipped between his ribs; but what slices through muscle and bone is the way that Odin leaves them, what he names them: I love you, my sons. Even now, even after all that came before. I love you, my sons.

Thor’s grief turns him suddenly irate, lividly righteous, and he lashes out at Loki as an outlet; and then their intimate family drama matters not at all, for it expands by multitudes.

They have a sister, and she’s a bigger bitch than even Loki has ever aspired to be.

If she wasn’t trying to murder them, he thinks he’d like Hela quite a lot. He admires her on sight.

But fight her he will, as she leaves them little choice. He hasn’t found Thor again to give him up so soon.

It’s taken out of Loki’s hands. He sails through space on shattered bits of the Bifrost beam, looking up only to see if Thor will follow, or somehow finish her; and then the rainbow pathway fades from sight.

He lands on Sakaar rather gracefully, all things considered.

Thor must be dead -- Thor is surely dead, and Loki compartmentalizes that away for later. His brother is dead at the hands of a sibling who makes Loki feel rather less like a monster by comparison. (I love you, my sons.) It’s good for Loki’s self-esteem.

He pulls himself together (Thor is dead), dusts himself off, and is taken by scavengers to meet the master of this place (Thor is dead). It’s quick enough work to convince the scavengers that Loki has value beyond food or fighting, that he is the sole heir (Thor is dead) to a great empire.

When he is brought before the Grandmaster, Loki recognizes a kindred spirit in slipperiness. It is a matter of days before he persuades the Grandmaster of his worth, and a week to secure a rank and place that rises and rises.

It is easier than Loki ever imagined to let others use his body, and to use theirs in return; he minds not at all, because Thor is dead.

It does not matter who touches him now, one cock or cunt or newly encountered alien orifice is the same as any other, and Loki does excellent work. With the aid of his magic and his shapeshifting he can put on playacts such as Sakaar has never seen before. He ensures that his performances will become the stuff of Sakaarian legend.

He manages to impress even the Grandmaster, who is older than the birth of the universe and so dreadfully bored because of it. Before long he is often called to the Grandmaster’s side or to his bed, earning the coveted title of favorite.

Loki is given all that he asks for: a lavish suite, servants who wait upon his pleasure, full wardrobes of exquisite dress, access to every corner of this strange and lurid kingdom. He rather likes it here, and spends his sleepless night mapping out on the ceiling how he will one day seize power. He never sleeps anymore. Thor is dead.

One day there is a fuss about a new fighter who will provide some fitting entertainment. Loki is unimpressed by the gladiatorial stable, but he is certain to position himself in the Grandmaster’s hall that day. Competition for the Grandmaster’s attentions must always be sized up.

Then Thor is not dead, and Loki returns to life.

With his heart a trapped bird, its wings beating in his breast, Loki draws on his most deceptive reserves. He continues the story he regales the tittering crowd around him with. They applaud as he describes descending from the Bifrost. He does not tell them that after he let go, all that he could see for an eternity of nothingness was his brother’s face before him, so shocky with betrayal and despair and vibrant with love that Loki began to wish he had not let go after all.

He does not look at Thor, bound to one of the Grandmaster’s infernal devices and raging mad, save from the corner of his eye. It is not enough: not nearly enough time to soak the fact of Thor’s living through his skin so that he is no longer made only of desert sands and dunes.

But a minute later it ceases to matter, for Thor spots him, and hails him with immediate relief and happiness, the irredeemable idiot.

Thor would not know subterfuge if it smacked him in the face, never pauses to guess that Loki’s position here will be the key to saving them both. The Grandmaster frowns to hear of their relation, so Loki attempts to deny it, but Thor would ever claim him.

To his relief the Grandmaster seems unconcerned about what they are to each other, so long as Thor will fight.

Thor will fight.

He goes to visit Thor in his gladiator’s pit as an illusion. He is so glad to see him whole that Loki tries not to grin too much that their usual states of freedom and imprisonment are reversed. He does his best to convince Thor of the most prudent course of action, one that cannot fail if they work in concert.

Together they could bend this world to their will, carve out a kingdom that is truly theirs to rule side-by-side, earned through blood and toil and time.

But Thor, of course, can only think of Asgard. Loki has rather expected this. He baits his brother to get his anger up, knowing that a trapped and goaded Thor cannot lose against any opponent set to him, no matter what the Grandmaster has dredged up from the refuse of galaxies.

Loki swans into the suite to watch the gladiatorial battle, seeming unruffled. He hasn’t a care. Thor will win, and take his place as champion, and curry favor; and in the end it will become all the easier for them to turn the tide from the inside.

Then the Grandmaster’s champion is the last creature in Nine Realms that Loki expects or hopes to see. At the abomination’s appearance Loki can read the destruction of all of his finely woven plans, see his own death in a roar of unbridled green fury. Thor, an ardent fool, whoops with delight to see his old teammate.

Despite his creeping fear, Loki quite enjoys the ensuing fight. Never has he seen Thor so mercilessly out of his element. Once he would have soundly kissed the maestro who arranged for such a symphony of violence with Thor at its epicenter. But Loki is resolved to never kiss the Grandmaster again.

When lightning erupts from Thor, Loki sits up very straight.

The creamy white leather of the couch he perches on vanishes, the Grandmaster dwindles to nothing. The roaring crowd is lost, falls silent. Even the Hulk fades from Loki’s view.

All he can see is Thor, wreathed in lightning, the electricity under his skin, his eyes blinding. Magnificent.

It has been so long that the sight of Thor like this, the remembrance of what the lightning meant for them, threatens to stop Loki’s heart as it did once before. With difficulty, Loki breathes, and the world slides back into focus; he is sweating, his mouth gone dry.

Even when he betrayed Thor, even after all of his betrayals, the lightning had never seized his brother again. They thought it gone for good, a problem that was fixed -- or at least satiated; their problems are never fully fixed. Since the day that Loki lay down with Thor on a planet of silver ice, the only storms were wielded through Mjölnir.

Mjölnir, which is no more. The hammer that once was. Can it be that there is still lightning in Thor that Loki could not reach? Has it been dormant for so long? What changed?

Everything has changed for Loki: Thor, alive. Their father, lost. Their sister, rabid. Mjölnir, crushed. The Hulk, unreasonable. He puzzles through it. For Thor the same is true, and even more pressing: Odin was ever more his father. Hela threatens the kingship he was told all his life belonged to him. Mjölnir, the extension of his arm, is gone. The Hulk, his friend, will not recognize him. Loki pretends to look at him like a stranger, looks, perhaps, like a stranger himself.

If this power in Thor is born of hopelessness, as it was when he thought Loki out of reach, perhaps it is now rekindled with Thor so close to his end.

Loki watches, and thinks, and broods, and narrowly avoids a foolhardy attempt to destroy the Grandmaster, when the petulant son of a bitch shocks Thor into compliance rather than let him win. From his sumptuous seat, Loki can see that his brother is still breathing on the ground. It is enough for now. He slides the knife that came into his hand away.

Then Thor escapes captivity, somehow, his monstrous friend a friend again, and Loki vows to find him.

He allows himself to be too distracted by the Valkyrie: she is a fascinating woman to be sure, lovely, horrible, with a temper that matches Thor’s and a vast well of self-hatred that Loki recognizes and exploits.

He enjoys the memory that haunts her most, great women and winged horses falling from the sky under his sister’s wrath, but it is, in hindsight, perhaps the wrong tack to take with her. She bests him, and binds him, and Loki finds himself presented to his brother again in chains.

When the plan to escape Sakaar is finalized, the woman and the beast who has changed his skin for the scientist’s leave them alone to complete their part in it.

Thor crouches down before Loki, not bothering to hide his amusement at Loki’s predicament, and perhaps a bit too pleased with Loki’s bound status than their circumstances permit.

Loki considers what he will do if Thor taunts him, or, worse, chooses to leave him tied like this, a clean break between them once and for all, on a world that knows them not and will not care what they do.

But Thor leans in, and then he is kissing Loki, familiar and fierce and possessive as ever, implacable as a wave seeking the shore. Loki’s mouth opens beneath his brother’s; he wishes to be drowned.

Loki makes a small, airless sound before he can stop himself, but it proves useful, for Thor begins to tear away his chains as though they are made of so much paper.

They sit together, breathing fast after the kiss, their foreheads pressed.

“I thought that you were dead,” they say as one.

Nervous laughter overtakes them then, and terrible fear for Asgard that they cannot voice; and though he will deny it later, Loki quite throws himself into Thor’s arms.

The momentum rocks Thor backwards onto the floor, and he pulls Loki with him. Down, down, back under their roiling waters, down to the place of stillness and heat. It is but a moment’s work to free Thor’s cock from his breeches, and to magic Loki’s away; another whispered spell that Loki learned on Sakaar and he is more than ready.

He sinks onto Thor’s cock, grateful, too grateful, takes all of him without stopping, though the effort is considerable. Before his time here, he might have paused. Thor’s hands palm Loki’s thighs, and Thor’s hips buck up, eager to meet him halfway. Thor raises himself up on his elbows, chases after Loki’s mouth to kiss again, but Loki shoves him back.

Loki rides him, hard and sure, giving Thor a show such as he never has before, knowing now -- he’s seen it on many of the Grandmaster’s mirrors -- exactly what he looks like, like this. Loki is lithe and graceful, his night-black hair is airborne; his eyes are flashing green.

Thor stares up at him open-mouthed. Loki has learned, these months, such a repertoire of tricks to drive a man or woman or what have you mad with lust, and drunk with pleasure, and speechless with yearning; and he uses every single one at his behest.

When Thor, looking quite stunned, gives over to him faster than he ever has, when he comes undone under Loki’s hands and would cry out save for Loki’s fingers in his mouth, Loki shows his final trick.

He strokes himself to completion with the aid of an invisible hand, striping slick wet across Thor’s chest just as Thor spills inside him, fills him, wills him into murmuring of his gratitude that they are whole again. It is the kind of combined ecstasy that Loki was quite certain he would never have again, and now he tilts down and he kisses Thor, Thor’s reward for not being dead. Loki thinks that he can taste lightning lingering on Thor’s tongue.

Thor’s eyes are so wide, oh, he looks as though he may never blink again. Loki permits Thor to tug him close and clasp him to his chest, their bodies still joined. It is past all indulgence now, they risk ruining the plan’s timing with tardiness, but Thor won’t let him go.

“Tell me who has done these things to you,” says Thor, his voice a tremor. It is the change in the wind, the gathering tension before the sky falls and all the air becomes a storm. “I will kill each of them while you watch.”

Loki tries very hard not to laugh. Instead, he yawns and rolls his eyes, attempting to impart to Thor how little the others mattered. “That would be quite a lot of murder, brother mine,” Loki says, and he kisses Thor’s cheek to soften it. “It was not against my will, if that eases your thirst for mass slaughter. It was simply an easier way to stay alive here than trying on a gladiator’s helmet, and a good deal more pleasant. I did not care at all.”

“But, Loki--”

“You were dead,” says Loki, now entirely finished with the conversation. “I did not care.”

And Thor goes quiet after that, and eventually he lets Loki pull back and separate them. He stays silent while Loki cleans up the mess with a wave of his hand, while Loki’s invisible hands right their clothing.

Too quiet. Thor in a brooding mood never bodes well for either of them: when he speaks after too much time spent in thought something is liable to explode, often literally.

Loki decides to head it off at the pass. He gets to his feet, brushes the last evidence of sex -- of their mutual surrender -- from his sleeve. “Stop it.”

“Stop what?”

“Whatever you’re thinking. Stop it.”

Thor also stands. He advances, and on a very old instinct, Loki stumbles back from him.

“You love me,” says Thor.

“Shut up,” Loki snaps. “You’re embarrassing yourself.” Why is he the one slinking away, like stalked prey?

“You love me,” Thor says again, striding forward so that Loki runs out of room. Loki’s back impacts the wall. Were he able to focus he would pass straight through it and be gone from here. “You love me, Loki, just as I love you.”

“You’ve gone madder than usual,” Loki says, but there’s nowhere left to go, and Thor is bearing down.

“Say it but once,” says Thor. He puts his hand to Loki’s cheek. The other makes a gentle fist in Loki’s hair. “You’ll feel better.”

Loki is trapped. “I’ve tried to kill you half a dozen times,” he offers, scrambling.

“Hmm,” Thor agrees. “They never took.”

“I could kill you right now,” says Loki.

“You could,” Thor says. “But that wouldn’t stop it from being true.”

“Stop this right now,” says Loki, but his voice is wavering. Perhaps he is the one going mad. “Brother--”

Loki.” Thor will bore holes straight through him if his eyes keep on like that. “Loki. Enough.”

It feels as though Thor has reached into his chest and is rooting around for the words. Loki gasps for air. Mixed-up syllables burn on his tongue like brands. “I don’t -- you --”

Thor kisses him. It is a chaste, closed-mouth kiss, such as they have only shared once before: in a brothel previously on fire, in a chamber of death, when Loki drew away the lightning and discovered that the secret he kept was theirs to share. Thor kisses him, and though Loki has no lightning, something as powerful is torn out of him. Its leaving rends him in half. He is exposed, cracked open, red and raw. There is nowhere he can hide where Thor cannot find him.

“I love you.” Loki wants to shut his eyes, doesn’t want to see Thor’s face. But a dam breaks. Suddenly he can’t keep it back at all. He can’t stop saying it. He is mad. “I love you. Is that what you wanted to hear, Thor? I love you. Take it and be damned. I love you. I--”

“Yes.” Thor’s grin is wide enough to stretch back to Asgard and brighter than the Bifrost to guide them there. “Don’t you feel better now?”

Thor ducks the first blow that Loki aims at his head, but gets a fistful of the second. After that they are kissing too much for Loki to land another punch. But he will.



* * *


When they go into battle to retrieve the Grandmaster’s ship they have never been more in sync. The huge guns they wield they raise in time as one. They fight parallel, eyes on each other’s blind spots, cutting a gorgeously wrought path of destruction on their way to the docking bay.

The plan that they have agreed to is a good one, though Loki is loath to be left behind.

Thor, his teeth set to Loki’s neck, had insisted. “You’ll be the second line of defense,” he said, “and the only hope for Asgard if all else fails. Brother, as badly as I want you by my side when I face her, this is so much larger than us. If I cannot defeat our sister, I will go to Valhalla without regret, to know that you may still escape with our kingdom’s hope of tomorrow.”

Loki wanted to laugh; he wanted very much to weep. Instead he angled his head to give Thor better access to his neck. “Quite the speech,” he said. “Have you been practicing that one?”

“I had to do something to pass the time when I was locked up.” He could feel Thor smile against the hollow of his throat. “Korg wouldn’t play chess with me.”

“The plan is fine,” Loki told Thor, and he ran his fingers through the shorn cut of Thor’s hair that he would never admit to liking half so well. “But it needs a little finesse. We have to make them believe that you’re really leaving me to my own devices, or they’ll never let me stay long enough to collect your freedom fighters.”

“I yield to my trickster,” Thor breathed against Loki’s ear, raising all manner of suggestive scenes they didn’t have time for. “What do you suggest?”

In the elevator, just as they practiced, they banter convincingly after they complete the first stage of the mission.

Thor teases him that Loki is better off remaining here, he suggests that the time has come for them to part. Whether the elevator is under surveillance they do not know for sure, but Loki does not have to try hard to feign the way his face falls. It cuts too close, it is almost too much like the truth, when Thor wonders aloud if Loki still has any good in him.

He is not a good man, Loki knows. But lacking all good intentions and inclinations is no longer a state that attracts him. Not when his reward for playing along is the bruise that Thor laid into the soft bend of his neck, a blossom blue-purple-black that takes the place of unspoken oaths. Thor had murmured that he’d make it bloom anew when they found each other again.

It’s rather optimistic of Thor, Loki thinks, considering what awaits him on Asgard, but he’ll hold Thor to this promise, and keep the ones he made to Thor. This time he will.

Then, in the elevator, Thor improvises with an inane idea to undertake an adolescent prank they used to use to disarm unsuspecting opponents, and Loki absolutely does not have to pretend at his annoyance.

Finally he gives in, and he wraps his arm around Thor’s neck -- was that the root of Thor’s insistence? How they once held onto each other like this, when they could not otherwise? -- and he becomes dead weight against his brother’s chest.

Loki braces himself for what will come after, when Thor will toss him through the air, and all the while he tries not to think that this trick is, by every likelihood and calculation, the last time that he and Thor will touch.

It is over much too quickly.

Loki sends an illusion to make it look like he has betrayed Thor yet again. Thor counters with a brief zap from the obedience disc, which hurts like fucking hell. For that Loki doesn’t have to act at all.

Thor looms above him, a tall strong sunborn shape. He says his final piece, and his eyes never leave Loki’s.

I love you, Thor mouths, and then he goes to meet the end of their world.

The rest of it proceeds entirely according to plan. Eventually Thor’s misfit collection of cellmates arrive to find a ship of their own, just as Thor had predicted, and they find Loki too.

They trust him with a childlike innocence that makes Loki wish he had the liberty to take off with them and never look back. Given time he could shape this moronic band into a force to be reckoned with. They would worship him. But he hasn’t the time.

They easily agree to the idea to help Asgard.

“For sure, man, for Thor,” says Korg, an eyebrow-raising pick for their de facto leader. “Love that guy.”

Don’t we all, thinks Loki, and he charts in a course for Asgard.

When they arrive Loki knows that they are too late. Hela has bested his brother, their people are bleating sheep on the Bifrost. There is no hope; he is piloting the ship straight into its grave.

But because Thor asked it of him, because Loki cannot imagine a better death than this one, he summons all his armor and steps out onto deck, the splendid curve of his horns catching in the fading light.

He makes a scene out of his arrival, so that Thor will see and hear him, so that Thor will know, at the last, that this time Loki stayed by his side.

He looks up at Thor from the bridge before he joins the melee, and Thor smiles back with such proud and tender joy that it is more than worth it.

All of it has been worth it. Loki lacks regrets.

Then Loki must glance away, for the ruin of his brother’s eye is such an outrage that if he looks again he will transport himself to the balcony where Hela holds court, and fly at her with his own claws. She’ll destroy him, no doubt, but it will be eternally satisfying.

But he is needed on the bridge. Thor will not forgive him if Loki turns this into a family affair while any chance remains of the citizenry’s escape. Thor is like that, gallant, stubborn, fearless, even held as he is in Death’s actualized hands.

Heimdall hails Loki’s arrival as though no shadow ever fell between them, and those remaining who can fight rally at the sight of him. In many ways it is the best day of Loki’s life, which is fitting for the last.

He is hailed by the flock of their people as a savior as he gives himself that title. Why not seize all? Thor loves him. He loves Thor. They are here together, sharp thorns in their bitch of a sister’s side. There has never been a more auspicious day to die.

To see Ragnarok! He’ll meet his end and turn his eyes on Thor before he closes them.

Loki knows well enough that there is no place saved for him in Valhalla. But perhaps if he equips himself well enough here, he’ll earn the chance to sit outside its golden doors, and hear the sound of Thor’s warm laughter within.

The fog of battle descends on Loki then, and all his training takes over. He stabs and thrusts, slices and maims, guts and eviscerates, leaps and rolls and comes up again and kills. He kills and kills and he dances through the muck and kills some more.

Can the undead die? It’s a philosophical question that would encourage further examination, but the things in bones and armor stay down when Loki runs them through, so that’s enough for now.

They come at him but they do not know what he has faced. They are brittle before him, they are already ashes.

In his mind’s eye Loki can see Thor circling him in the sparring ring, Thor’s face young and untroubled and whole, both of them laughing as they refuse to relent.

How often they forced a tie between them. Then they would collapse together, spent, and sit back to back, and talk until their muscles were strong enough to let them move again. Sometimes they did not move for hours, but stayed leaning on each other, speaking of everything and nothing.

Loki has matched the God of Thunder. These aberrations, these desecrations of Asgard’s dead, they cannot touch him. He sends them gladly back into their rest.

Something is happening on the balcony, and for the first time Loki is afraid. He does not think that he can watch Thor die, yet if he does not, what honor will there be for Thor in his final throes? Thor would care about the honor.

How can Loki not look, and see, so that he may move quickly to follow his brother into death? Together they might at least share the journey to the land of the dead before they are parted.

Loki looks up --

All the clouds split clean in half, then regather, darkening to blackest black, and thunder shakes the palace to its foundations. Bolts elaborate in their fury rain down from above, and as Loki watches, Thor, clad in pure energy, never more a god, blasts their cursed sister straight off her feet.

Hurts, doesn’t it, thinks Loki, with immense satisfaction. Then the fight around him regains speed and purpose, and he kills some more, on instinct; but he cannot take his eyes off of Thor, radiant in the sky. The lightning wraps its way around his strong torso, around and around and around, close to the skin like a lover’s caress.

Loki smirks to see the lightning, his old friend and nemesis. Should it be needed, he knows just the cure for Thor’s condition.

After Thor becomes a storm the bridge-fight is a rout, but Hela is not so ingeniously dispatched.

He meets his brother halfway on the Bifrost.

“You’re late,” says Thor. But he looks as though he would take Loki into his arms, take him on the rainbow pavement for all of Asgard to see, if the end was their own to shape.

“You’re missing an eye,” Loki replies, barbed, to distract himself from going to Thor, to let Thor take him up, because the battle is as yet not won and everything around them is unbalanced on the brink: the hovering ship, their people, their friends, their enemies, their sister.

Loki’s brother who loves him has lost an eye and gained access to the turbulent heavens.

Thor has a plan.

Loki watches him hatch it, amazed; then astounded when Thor turns to him and gives him the most important role to play. Loki is cast in the starring role of the last play in the world.

The plan is madness; the plan is total destruction, Ragnarok, the reckoning. And Thor wants Loki to start it. It means death, it means more than death, it will destroy death. It is the end of everything.

It is a sign of Thor’s trust and faith in him that is so pure that Loki could plunge into the waters of this conviction and swim deep in it and never find its bottom. He accepts his part. He looks at Thor, at Thor’s eye that is fixed upon him, at the place where Thor’s eye should be and only pain is. Then he goes.

There are priceless, reality-shifting items in Odin’s vault that have intrigued Loki for entire Midgardian lifetimes. Had he more time he would secure them all, study them all, use them all to unlock the secrets of the universe. But each grain of time that drops from the hourglass means Thor will be facing Hela unaided, will mean Thor wondering if even after all that has passed Loki will give in to his nature (he is not good) and will betray him.

But Loki has only one remaining trick up his sleeve -- or rather, down it -- he takes the Tesseract, tucks it away. For safe keeping. For the future. It will prove useful; it must. Thor need never know until he knows.

It’s ironic, Loki thinks, as he hauls Surtur’s heavy crown to catch on his father’s flame: in the end he is the ruin of Asgard after all.


* * *


Thor is king.

Thor is sat upon his throne, a king of nothing save a lost ship of lost souls, and he wears no crown. But something changes in the set of Thor’s shoulders, which are kept very straight; the tone of his voice when he speaks to his subjects is sonorous; and there is more wisdom in that single eye than than he displayed in all their long years of kingmaking.

Had this Thor been the one in Loki’s bed on the cold morning of his coronation, Loki would have judged him, and seen a man worthy of his bent knee, the kiss of fealty that he presses to Thor’s ring. He would have proudly occupied the space at his brother’s right hand that is now his.

Had this Thor been that Thor, Loki never would have left him, never would have let go of the color-paved path, never would have fallen and broken. He cannot say how they would have fared, for the past where he turned away from Thor is as far away as the palace where they slept, and as crumbled.

Now Loki bends his knee, he kisses the ring, he takes his place. He knows that all of this is temporary, transient, that it will only last until the next encountered threat or until all their food and air runs out. But Loki has long thrived in ephemeral states, and he will enjoy it while he can.

Thor is king, and he has taken to giving Loki commands.

After quarters are assigned, Thor orders him onto his back and does not let him off of it for the length of many light years.

Loki has a duty, after all, to ensure that all of the newly emerged lightning is safely contained on board ship. Thor in an unexpected fit of energy might kill them all, so Loki must be thorough. Loki works at this task, dutifully.

Thor orders him to abandon the small berth that Loki claimed and take his worldly possessions -- a suit of leather, a hidden Tesseract, two blue daggers -- and move into Thor’s chamber to stay.

Thor so ordains: it is impractical and wasteful for Loki to keep that space when he is ever in Thor’s bed at night, and in the morning, and most afternoons. Better to let someone else have at it.

They share a room that is theirs and it is not a secret.

That they share a bed is not unknown. There is no one left to mind.

Heimdall, Loki thinks, has always known; perhaps known before even they knew. He watches them together with the same clear eyes he ever has.

Their people care not: there are many more tangible things to worry about, and he and Thor do not make the list. Besides, all know now that Loki is not of Thor’s blood, that Loki is not even of Asgard. Their opinion of him has vastly improved due to his actions on the Bifrost and his part in initiating the apocalypse, and by the reception of a certain play, a tragedy in his name. And they are accustomed enough to the strange practices and unpredictabilities of Asgardian royalty.

What did Thor tell him Valkyrie called it? Ah, yes: The whole golden sham. Loki quite took to her after he heard that.

Valkyrie is unconcerned. She has lived as long as both he and Thor combined, and, to hear her tell it, her keen eyes have seen every permutation of every thing. Besides, she says, there is little harm in loving in the aftermath of loss; there are so many greater harms than that. Loki likes her more and more each day, and in his role as quartermaster takes care to set aside the finest bottles for her.

“Hey, that’s nice, I think,” is Korg’s input.

The Hulk shrugs.

Dr. Banner might have more to say, but Thor tells Loki he thinks that Bruce’s opinion would quite align with Valkyrie’s.

Everything else is dirt and debris slowly expanding in space.

One night, Thor orders him to stay.

They are abed, the sweat of exertion long since cooled, Loki pouring over the day’s supply manifest with a hovering pen, Thor beside him with a book on the history of the gladiatorial games on Sakaar. Its binding is a loud clash of garish hues.

Miek found the book and others like it and, incredibly, a whole hidden storage bunker of canned foods by accidentally falling from his crawl through an air duct straight into the room. Thor gave him a medal for the effort and the discovery.

They are entangled as they ever are: Loki has a leg slipped through Thor’s legs; their arms are flush; Thor holds the book in one hand so that the other can sift its fingers through Loki’s hair.

All is quiet and still and calm; and Thor says, “Stay.”

Loki looks up. He’s been chewing on the end of his pen, a bad habit from a very long time ago, a time of quills and libraries. He sets the pen aside. He supposes they were always going to come to this.

He tries on a half-smile and an arched brow, like it means little. “Is that an order, your grace?”

“I would make it the law of the land,” says Thor, “if I thought I could enforce it.” He softens the severity of his tone by adding, “And we have, of course, no land.”

Loki spreads his hands across the coverlet so that he has something to do with them. “I don’t see where I would go,” he says, testing the waters, skipping a flippant stone across them.

“Loki,” Thor says. “You know what I mean.”

“Every now and then I’m capable of translating what you say into sensical speech, true,” Loki says lightly. “But sometimes it’s just too thick-headedly impenetrable, even for someone of my linguistic abilities.”

Thor says: “I ask, I order, I beg for you to stay. I lie awake at night with you in my arms, long after you think me snoring and take your rest. I count the minutes that we have shared, and I try and calculate how many we have left. You know I was never good at figures. But I try, Loki, I do. I wonder if I will get to hold onto you for a space of days, if we will meet another ship and I will lose you to it, or perhaps all of us will be lost. I hold my breath to think that we could have weeks. A month would sustain me for a decade. The thought of a year robs me of all reason. But it is the uncertainty that unmans me.

“Will you go? Could each day bring your departure? Are you planning on how you will leave, even as you stand by my throne, even as we laugh and dine, even when I am within you, whispering your name? Do you hear it? Or are you already thinking on how you will vanish, how you will forget? I think, and I think, and I think, and I think that this thinking must be a shadow of how your mind works, and that grieves me, for I am so tired. I thought I could do it. I would stay silent, take what you give me with both hands, keep you close for as long as you let me. I know I should be afraid for what remains of Asgard, and what we face: but I am not afraid of anything when you are beside me, save that I will roll over and reach for you and find you not there. And so I can stay silent no longer. I must order you to stay, so that you will tell me, Loki: will you go?”

It is, quite likely, the longest speech that Thor has ever given, and though it has its share of dramatics, Loki cannot tease him for it. Loki opens his mouth, but nothing emerges. After a moment he closes it. He feels awash in the speech’s lines, caught in their riptide; he treads water, seeks air, clarity, time.

“Brother,” Loki says at last, delicately, “I did not know you labored so.”

Thor flashes quickly into anger. “How could I not? Do you think -- do you think I play at this, this life we’re building here? Do you think it means nothing to me, to have you in the place I’ve wished for, my closest advisor and confidant, my better right hand, who knows the answers before I ask for them? Do you believe that I or any of us could continue on without you -- perhaps Korg should be appointed quartermaster?”

Quick to anger, quick to lose it, quick to let sorrow fill its place. Thor’s eye on him is soft and sad. “Do you suppose I would fast recover to find you gone from my bed, when yours is the only body I want to touch -- the only that I have ever wanted? Have you forgotten how my need for you nearly destroyed us both? Do you know that I awaken in the mornings so that I might see your face, and at night count my blessings that I can embrace you, and all the time between is tormented by thoughts of how best to have you? Brother, do you not know?”

Loki clears his throat. His heart is thudding in his chest, beating out a drumming sort of erratic battle-song; he wants to clap a hand over his mouth and bite his fingers, for shock; he wants, very badly, to disappear; he wants, with aching fervor, to launch himself at Thor and to be caught and never released.

“It seems that we should speak more,” Loki says, mild, “about many things. I can tell you I did not think on it quite like that. We are very different, you and I; our approaches vary. But I am listening now.”

Thor’s face is such whirl of desperation, and hope, and fear, and love: love above all, after all, love first and last.

Loki draws a shallow breath. “And if I say that I will stay?”

“I’ll believe you,” says Thor, so swiftly there is no room for doubt, “even if you call me a fool. I will hold you, and sleep again at night, and be content. But content is simply a floor from which better things can be built upon. I strive for more. I want what I have always wanted.”

Loki holds out a hand to stay him. But Thor, though considerably more prudent now and tested and tempered, is still as bullheaded and unswerving as he was eons ago: when they sought to hide the marks of newfound lust from their parents and quaked at the approaching audience.

Thor takes Loki’s face in his hands. “I failed to ask you properly and hear your answer once before. I’ll not make the same mistake. So I ask now: will you marry me, Loki Laufeyson of Jötunheim, Loki Odinson of Asgard, true brother of my heart? Will you be my consort, share my throne, live as the other half of my life? I have loved you since I learned the word, and it was you who taught it to me; I will love only you until my last breath leaves my body. If I do not find you in Valhalla, I will leave it behind, and I will sit with you in the land of the dead until Yggdrasil grows into dust.”

“Just the right amount of melodrama this time,” Loki says, his lip curling. Then he breathes out: “Thor. Yes.

Thor looks punched. No: if Loki had rammed a mean fist straight into his kidney, Thor would be worlds less surprised. He was probably expecting a punch.

“Yes,” Loki says again, to be sure that they’ve both really heard it, and now that he’s said it and can’t take it back it sounds like the finest sound that he’s ever heard. If yes were a pigment he would roll around in it to wear the proof on his body. “Yes, I will, since you’re fool enough to have me. Half of the galaxy will call you mad; the other half does not know me yet, but surely will. King Loki, Loki the King -- you know, I never got to hear that even once when I was playing our father on Asgard, but it has a pleasing ring. I--”

Thor kisses him, so exuberant and full of rapture that Loki quite forgets whatever point he was going to make next. He kisses back, his eyes open, both of their eyes open, threading his fingers through Thor’s shorn hair, taking the thrilled and thrilling plunge of Thor’s tongue into his mouth. He wraps himself around Thor, skin to skin, and they shove book and supply manifest far away from them, all histories and troubles for a moment forgotten.

Another breath and Thor is hard and ready and then deep inside of him, but Thor rolls his hips lazily, luxuriously, the sex an afterthought, as though he simply wishes to be as close to Loki as he can.

“Say it again,” Thor pleads, kissing along Loki’s jaw. “I must hear it again, and again, or I’ll think you’re tricking me.”

“King Loki,” Loki pronounces clearly, then gasps at a thrust from Thor that curls his toes, and he laughs, and relents. “Yes, Thor. Yes, I’ll marry you. Our wedding will be spoken of throughout every Realm forever. I have had the color schemes picked since we were ten years old. And the decorations will be of--”

“Later,” Thor says, but he kisses Loki to gentle the interruption. “I will delight with you in every detail, when we are able to plan. It distresses me that I cannot offer you now the luxuries that you are due.” He thrusts instead with just the steady pressure that sets Loki humming, hitting exactly right. When his hand curls around Loki’s cock and starts to stroke, Loki moans and thinks he can put off thought of their wedding dress for at least another hour.

“There is but one thing that I have,” says Thor, and Loki watches a faint but scrumptious blush paint his cheeks. Sexual innuendo here would be heavy-handed, though Loki is in a forgiving mood. But Thor says, “Your ring.”

Loki swallows. His mouth goes dry and his mind runs wild with curiosity. “Presumptuous,” he says, but he is inordinately pleased. He tightens his legs around Thor’s waist, tightens up on his cock. “Though you needn’t have done that, brother. Our people have few enough things to remind them of what was. You should likely trade it back to whoever extended it to you out of monarchical piety.”

Thor looks as though the words “our people” from Loki’s lips will be enough to cause him to spend. His loses his rhythm, then regains it with speed and focus, burying himself as far into Loki as he can go.

“No,” Thor says, his effort considerable as he strains to speak and fuck, both actions crucial. “It has always been yours. I won it, on my first raid with father. He let me have my pick of the spoils -- one piece, he said, that would prove thereafter that I’d shown myself worthy. I chose the ring for you.”

Loki is dizzy, both with the approach of his own exquisite unwinding and sudden, unnerving confusion. He rides back against Thor, thinking. “That was a summer when we quarrelled. I was so angry that I was not allowed to go, some claptrap about an heir’s initiation. I didn’t talk to father for months, and I was half as bad to you.”

“True,” says Thor, unworried, hurrying them toward the precipice. “I contented myself with the idea of the ring, and a fantasy of presenting it to you, and how pleased you might be.”

“But,” says Loki, “we were only seventeen that summer.”

“Yes,” says Thor.

“That was before the brothel night,” Loki says, not quite trusting his voice.

“Yes,” says Thor. “Of course I could not give it to you, not even as gift, because I knew what I intended it to be, and to see it on your hand that I could not kiss would have been too much a torture. So I kept it hidden, and secret as the secret that I thought was mine alone to bear. But, Loki, if I had known what I know now, I would have asked you then.”

Thor,” Loki says with a considerable depth of conviction, because he is spilling over in the bare space between them, trying hard to puzzle through Thor’s tale and also puzzling not at all as he nearly whites out, white-hot pleasure running through him in an ecstatic pulse. Thor, watching this, works fast to hold himself inside and follow, pressing Loki’s name into the ridge of his collarbone as he comes apart.

Thor does not withdraw, but settles over Loki, keeping his weight from being too heavy by propping up on one arm. “I wear it on a special chain around my neck. One of mother’s pet sorcerers spelled it for me for a goodly amount of gold, and didn’t care to ask why. I have worn it since. Even when you left.” Thor looks away, one eye glancing down at the past; just as quickly, he raises it again. “Especially then. It was a talisman, I thought, of the love I had for you, and like that love, it never left me.”

Thor ducks his head. “Take it, Loki. It belongs to you.”

Loki’s hand is not shaking as he reaches. It is not. That would be distracting, and he needs to concentrate. Preposterous to think that Thor has been wearing an invisible enchanted token all these countless years, and Loki never noticed: but he had not been looking for it.

Now, with his senses extended, it shines clear as sunlight, bright links of gold looped around Thor’s neck, a brighter circle suspended. He traces a sign of revealing above Thor’s breast, and it phases slowly into view. Loki is not shaking, but his motions are oddly dreamy as he unhooks the clasp. He barely recognizes his own hand.

The ring and the chain pool into Loki’s grasp, and he closes a fist around them. The gold is warm from the heat of Thor’s body, yet still retains a metallic chill that feels grounding. He is holding on hard; the links bite his skin.

Thor’s expression is expectant, but when Loki urges him back with hands and hips, he sighs, and pulls slowly out, and sits up cross-legged on the bed when Loki does. They sit facing each other, mirroring each other.

“I have not been fair,” Loki starts, examining his closed hand. “I have never played fair. You spoke your truth to me, and I responded with mocking, making light of heavy things, as I do. It was not fair.” He draws in air, lets it out; he studies Thor’s face, Thor’s curious eyebrows knit. “Before we first lay together, under conditions that were not encouragingly hygienic--”

Thor twists a grin at that, but Loki is already doing it again, veering off into jokes and sarcasm; he stops and starts again. “Before we did so, you asked me if I had thought of us like that. And I teased you, and said I had, perhaps a time or two. I did not tell you my truth: that I had, I had, since we were small, since we were smaller than I can remember being. When we were old enough to know what it was to want, wanting you became the occupying obsession of my life. In between resenting you, of course, for some imagined slight or stupid thing you did.”

Is he functionally incapable of speaking honesty without barbs? At least Thor does not seem to mind; he watches Loki, rapt. Loki tries a third time: “What I mean to say is that I love you, Thor, son of Frigga, son of Odin, and that is why I said yes. I have always loved you, and I suppose I always will, even if we come to be rent apart again. I am not a good man; but since you will have me anyway, for your sake I will try not to be a bad one. But if you would know another secret, it is that I never love you more than when I hate you.”

“Plot against me once a month,” Thor offers, “and I’ll weather the surprise for you.”

Loki laughs, but Thor’s eyes are dangerously bright, as though with unshed tears, and if he spoils Loki’s first attempt at actual tenderness with joyous weeping they’ll get a jump-start on a new hating phase.

So Loki must speak quickly before his will fails him or Thor cries. “Then I ask you in return. You call us equals; let us be equals: tell me. Would you join your life with mine, so that I can name you friend, enemy, brother, captor, lover, husband, king? Will you accept all that we are?”

“I would,” says Thor, solemn and careful. “On my life, which is now also yours.”

Loki leans in and kisses Thor. It is a chaste kiss, close-mouthed, such an incredibly small thing to have rewritten the lives they might have lived without it. It was given twice before: in a room blackened with death and despair, and later against a wall on a gaudy world where both of them were found to live again. Now it is here, where all is vibrant color, and it is a secret no more. It is an unbreakable oath.

Then Loki opens his hand. As Thor watches, practically vibrating, Loki slides the ring from its chain. It is a slender thing, wrought in gold, and old, very old. Carved sigils, faded with age, whisper words of magic; they speak of protection and longevity and luck and, in the center spirals, entwined like a knot, they speak of love. A small set stone, pale as milk but iridescent, like lightning frozen, seems to change in shape and color from every side as Loki lifts it close.

After Loki looks for a long time, he feels Thor touch his wrist. “If I may,” says Thor, and Loki nods.

Thor takes up Loki’s hand, and slips the ring onto his finger. It is cold and warm, and then it is balanced, and Loki can hardly feel its weight, because he can feel everything.

Thor bends, and presses a kiss to the ring, to Loki’s hand, as he said he used to imagine, in all their too-long years that are now the before.

“It fits,” Loki says.