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War is an art, love is a science

Chapter Text

Army encampments were noisy places. Besides the regular din of thousands of people living together, there were the sounds unique to war. The blacksmiths at the travel forges shoeing horses and repairing wagon wheels and notched weapons. The ring of steel on steel from soldiers at practice. Voices hoarse from battle cries raised in merriment and anger both. Horses and oxen huffing and stamping and whinnying and bellowing. The rasp of swords and spears being sharpened.

Thor was so used to disregarding the constant ongoing cacophony that the disturbance currently going on at the prisoners’ wagons was notable for its ability to catch his attention.

“What is the problem here?” he demanded in his best field commander voice. A handful of his men were bleeding and groaning on the ground. One had been knocked clear through a stack of equipment, his still-smoking boots the only part of him visible. Another lay with his neck at such an angle that Thor feared he would not rise again. The source of the commotion appeared to be the Jotun prisoner crouched by the side of one of the wagons.

He was wearing not one, but two sets of the magic-dampening cuffs they kept on hand for prisoners of a sorcerous persuasion. The circle of soldiers closing in around him looked terrified for all that they outnumbered him five to one. The prisoner himself did not look terrified, he looked angry, and his eyes spit fire.

“You’ll not come near me with that,” he snarled. One of the soldiers had a golden collar in his outstretched hands and it visibly wavered as the man gulped.

“Fandral!” Thor barked. “Report.”

“We captured this one this morning,” Fandral said, crossing his arms behind his back and clearly ill at ease. “Or rather, your sister did. He took out an entire infantry company himself first.”

Thor gave Fandral a hard look.

“He’s a, ah, magic user, as you can see, and, ah…” Fandral’s usual glibness seemed to have fled him. “Well. Your sister wanted him for herself. She brought him here and instructed us to bathe him and, I believe her words were, ‘adorn him properly.’”

“So this Jotun took out over a hundred of our men single handedly, and yet she left him here alone with, what, twenty of you?”

“Well, she did put the two sets of cuffs on him first...one wasn’t enough…”

Thor sighed blackly. His damned sister. She’d always had a propensity for toying with her prisoners like a cat with a mouse and usually left them in about as good a state - bloody, mangled, and dead. He’d spoken with Fandral about this before.

“Firstly, your orders are always to come to ME about prisoners despite ANYTHING my sister tells you.”

“I know, but she was quite...insistent.” Fandral had the good grace to look embarrassed. He winced. “Violently so.” He nodded towards the man with the broken neck.

Thor ground his teeth together.

“Secondly, has anyone bothered to figure out who this prisoner IS?”

“Well, there hasn’t been much time to --”

Fandral winced again as a shout went up from the men and the soldier with the golden collar went sailing through the air and hit the ground with a thud.

Norns spare him the company of idiots. It was obvious to Thor that they had captured Jotunheim’s sorcerous prince. Loki. Ordinary Jotnar soldiers did not possess this level of magic or battle prowess. Ordinary Jotnar soldiers did not require the personal intervention of the Goddess of Death herself to capture them.

His father would have to be notified about this.

“This is Prince Loki,” Thor said flatly. “Laufey’s son. And had you done as Hela wished this war would drag out ten times as long as it already has.”

Fandral visibly paled.

“ENOUGH!” Thor bellowed at the men still trying to draw in closer around the Jotun. He strode towards the prisoner and hauled him up by the chain connecting his wrists. “I’ll escort the prince to my own tent, where he will be provided the comforts that befit his station.”

“Do you expect my gratitude?” the Jotun sneered. “Whether I’m in these wagons or your tent, I’m just as much of a prisoner.”

Impossibly, Thor felt magic trying to push against him, icy and hostile. It sparked a tiny flame of fear deep in his gut. He’d never seen anyone able to use seidr at all once a single pair of Odin’s magic-dampening cuffs had been put on them, much less two. He kept his face stony and sent a brief shock of lightning through his own hands that made the Jotun stiffen in surprise.

“There’s more where that came from,” Thor warned, his voice pitched low for their ears alone. “And even if you somehow manage to incapacitate me, we’re in the heart of my camp and I doubt it will be so easy to deal with three thousand of my soldiers. Or I could let Hela have at you. It’s up to you, but I would recommend coming with me and remaining silent.”

“You’re Thor, then,” the Jotun said.

“Aye.”

The Jotun prince dragged his eyes up and down Thor’s body, taking in his windblown hair, his dusty leathers, his tattered cape.

“I thought you’d be...bigger,” he said with a delicate curl of his lip, voice dripping in disdain.

Thor shocked him again, slightly harder. The Jotun finally fell quiet and Thor could see his legs tremble briefly.

“Silent, I said.”

It was good that glares couldn’t actually wither, or Thor might have crumbled to dust on the spot.

Thor turned to Fandral. “Get them to the healers,” he said, jerking his head towards the men on the ground. “Bring me a raven. And, by Ymir’s bloody balls, don’t keep any more prisoners from me.”

Chapter Text

Most of the army slept under makeshift canvas shelters or the stars, but Thor had a rich red-and-silver pavilion equipped with a travel bed that folded cunningly in on itself, a table and chairs of similar construction, several chests of miscellaneous necessities, a rack of armor and weapons, piles of furs and pillows, and several braziers. Jotunheim was cold, and the braziers were his favorite part of the whole setup. He also had two trusted Valkyrie guarding his pavilion at all times, and his mother had woven an enchantment into the walls to keep out unwanted intruders.

“Beds are in short supply,” Thor said. “But I’ll have more furs and pillows brought in. It will be soft enough.”

“Lounging on a down mattress while your men sleep on the ground like beasts?” the Jotun said, needling.

“Aye, and why shouldn’t I? It heartens the men to see their prince given proper respect.”

“Respect, in this case, meaning comfort for your ass.”

“Shall I have a gag fashioned for you?”

They glared at each other. Thor raised his hand and let sparks play on his fingertips and the other prince bared his teeth in a silent snarl.

“I’m surprised you’re even offering me the ground,” the Jotun continued nastily. “There’s a perfectly serviceable headboard to tie me to right there. I wouldn’t make a willing bedmate, but surely the struggle would be a reward for you in itself--”

“Enough,” Thor said angrily, stalking over to the table to clear off the strategy map that he had left sitting out. “I don’t rape people.”

The Jotun followed after him, still talking. “Oh, so we’re people now? Maybe you don’t rape, but you seem to have no problem murdering as many of us as you possibly can. I saw you fight at Hrafn Fjord, you rode the lightning down and laid waste to hundreds of us, I can still smell the stench of their electrocuted flesh--”

“This is war,” Thor said grimly, clenching his jaw as he rolled the map up too tightly, shoved it into its hard cylindrical case hard enough to crumple the end. “Of course I did. What would you have me do, hand out sweets?”

“Would that be such a bad thing?”

A voice cut through their argument, low and dark and smooth.

“I’m sorry, boys, am I interrupting something?”

The Jotun prince snapped his jaw closed with an audible click and his hands curled into fists. Hela’s silhouette darkened the doorway as she pushed the flap aside and strode in like it was her tent and not Thor’s.

“Poaching my prisoners out from under me, little brother?” she asked, that perpetual one-sided smile playing at her lips. The Jotun took one abortive step towards her, his mouth twisting in fury. She rolled her eyes and took the hammer from her belt in one fluid motion, pushed it against his chest until he backed up, then shoved him backwards into the pile of furs at the foot of the bed and left the hammer sitting on his chest.

“Where were we?” she said with a falsely pleasant contralto, turning back to Thor. The Jotun struggled ineffectively against the hammer’s immovable weight behind her. “Ah yes. My prisoner.”

“He’s not your prisoner anymore,” Thor said. “This is Laufey’s son, Loki. He’s a royal hostage now and I’ll not have you damaging him.”

“Is that so?”

“It is, and I’m sending Father a raven about it immediately.”

Hela made a sad clucking noise. “Always running to daddy.” She turned back to where the Jotun was still squirming under Mjolnir and regarded him as one might look at an especially naughty puppy. “Prince Loki then, is it? How’s that side, love? Paining you terribly much?”

“His side?”

“Have a look for yourself. Keep him if you like, little brother, he’s more to your taste than he is to mine anyway.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know exactly what I mean.” Hela laughed then, and summoned the hammer back to her hand. “A pity you didn’t stay with me,” she said to the Jotun as he struggled back upright. “I’d have draped you in gold and jewels and silks. You’d have been a sight to behold.”

“Aye, before you pulled his fingernails out and turned his ears into a necklace.”

“Mmm, there is always that.”

She paused at the tent flap on her way out.

“I’ll let this one go easy,” she said. “But you’re down a favor. I do keep score.”

Three quarters of the tension in the room left when she did, and Thor felt like he could finally draw a proper breath again.

“What did she mean about your side?” Thor asked finally, turning back towards his hostage.

“It’s nothing,” he said, looking away.

“With Hela, it’s never nothing. Come here.”

“Absolutely not.”

“Shall I call her back in, then?”

The Jotun made a noise of disgust. Pointedly, he sat on Thor’s bed instead of the floor, glaring at him as he did so, daring him to say something about it. He raised his arms as much as his cuffed hands would allow.

“My right,” he said tersely. His arms were bare to the shoulder, his blue skin covered in delicate whorls and spirals. Whether they were natural or inscribed, Thor had no idea. A long fur tunic covered his torso and fell almost to his knees. Now that Thor was closer and actually looking, he noticed that the right side was slashed open, the fur at the edges of the gash clumped together with dried blood.

“Hold still while I cut this off,” Thor ordered. “I’m not going to cut YOU, stop being so jumpy.”

Thor’s knife parted the tunic easily enough, and he eased it away from the wound. The Jotun hissed.

Thor had never really touched a Jotun before. He’d fought enough of them, sent them flying with his fists, stopped their hearts with his lightning, but this was different. It surprised him how much the other prince’s skin felt like his own, albeit much cooler to the touch.

“This is a nasty cut,” Thor said. “But I should be able to take care of it here. Somehow I think that if I left you to the tender mercies of the healing tents that I’d just end up with several tents full of dead healers.”

“You’re learning.”

“I’m going to clean this, then I’m going to send a message to my father and we’re going to figure out what to do with you. In the meantime, you’re going to stay here and you’re not going to cause me any trouble, because if you do I’ll fry you like a fish in a pond. Understood?”

Their gazes locked, blue and red, two princes raised with a lifetime of limitless pride and an unwillingness to back down, and some tiny spark of understanding passed between them.

Finally, Loki nodded, once.

“Good. And let’s eat. I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”

Chapter Text

Thor rarely ever spent any time during the day in his tent. There was simply too much to do. He debated dragging his new captive around with him, but aside from not wanting to hear Loki’s relentless badgering all day, he also didn’t want to give the enemy prince any information of his own army’s inner workings. Leaving Loki alone as things currently stood, however, filled Thor with disquiet.

He settled on adding a third set of magic-dampening cuffs to Loki’s already-burdened arms (that tendril of magic he’d felt alarmed him terribly), tripling the Valkyrie guard on the pavilion, and recharging and redirecting his mother’s enchantment on the tent walls. The enchantment was nominally to keep intruders out, but it was attuned to Thor specifically and if he focused on it he could shift it to prevent passage in either direction for everyone except him. Hela wouldn’t like it, but she didn’t like anything, and he couldn’t bring himself to care about her mood at the moment.

The first day of Loki’s captivity, Thor came back in the evening to find Loki sitting serenely in the middle of Thor’s bed, legs folded and eyes closed. All the braziers were knocked over, the coals scattered and cold on the ground. Thor decided to ignore the obvious slight in favor of the confusing one.

“Have my braziers managed to offend you as well?” Thor asked. “I had thought that to be my own specialty.”

“It was too bloody hot,” Loki replied without opening his eyes.

“I can see my breath,” Thor pointed out.

“I’m a different species than you are, if you hadn’t noticed.”

“You’re hilarious.”

“I know.”

With only a small amount of grumbling, Loki allowed Thor to inspect the stitches he’d put in the previous night. They were holding reasonably well and didn’t appear to be infected, although Thor wasn’t entirely sure if signs of infection were the same for Jotnar.

“You’ll tell me if this begins to pain you,” Thor said. He was gingerly dabbing the wound with a lavender salve to both disinfect and speed healing, and the smell reminded him pleasantly of recuperating from all the scrapes he’d gotten into in his youth.

“Yes, I’ll tell you if the large gaping wound in my side pains me. It’s paining me now. And now. And now.”

“I’m trying to help you,” Thor said sharply. “I meant only that you might be aware of signs of infection that I’ve missed, but by all means, let yourself fester and rot if that’s what you wish. I’ll lose no sleep over it.”

Loki snorted. “I’m sure you won’t.”

But he remained quiet as Thor changed his dressings, and throughout the evening meal, and he gingerly arranged himself in his nest of furs afterwards.

Thor thought about lighting all three braziers again out of spite, but the Jotun looked so small and alone and pained that he couldn’t quite bring himself to it. He brought a rock hot from one of the many campfires into his bed instead.

The rest of the week passed in much the same way. Thor left in the morning and returned in the evening, tended to Loki’s side, ate a late meal, and went to sleep.

Loki alternated being incredibly rude and sarcastic with being withdrawn and quiet, but occasionally he was neither and they had whole minutes at a time that passed in agreeable conversation. Those minutes were few and far between, but they were a pleasant surprise.

By the seventh day, Thor was starting to worry about Loki’s wound. Words spoken in anger aside, he didn’t actually want Loki to die of infection. The diplomatic fallout would be catastrophic.

“It’s not healing as it should,” Thor fretted. “It looks like the stitches are being constantly pulled at and torn. What are you doing in here all day?”

“Practicing.”

Thor felt that stab of fear in his gut again. Loki’s magic was incredibly powerful; if he had been trying to figure out a way to use it even through the cuffs… Almost unconsciously, Thor began to gather lightning in his fingertips.

“Practicing what?”

“My forms.”

“Your…?” What did he mean by that? Shapeshifting forms? Thor had heard tales he couldn’t quite believe on that count, of horses and--

“Forms. For glima?” Loki raised his arms and the three sets of chains swayed between them and he pantomimed a move that looked like some kind of martial art.

Thor breathed a sigh of relief and let his lightning dissipate. “We have glima here too, but there are no standard forms to practice.”

“I can’t help it if your people aren’t civilized.”

Thor ignored the jab. He was getting rather good at that. “Why are you practicing glima forms in my tent?”

Loki sighed dramatically. “Well, the three M’s can only take up so much of my time.”

Thor knew that Loki was just itching for him to ask what the “three M’s” were, so he decided to not to. This was what he had been reduced to, petty games with a captive who had nothing better to do. He gave Loki a look and raised his eyebrow until Loki couldn’t stand it anymore and gave in first.

“The three M’s,” Loki said, ticking them off on his fingers. “Masticating--” he nodded his head towards the remains of dinner, “meditating, and--”

“Murder? Mayhem? Magic?” Thor asked.

“No. Masturbating.”

Thor tried to hide his guffaw with a cough and just ended up choking instead.

Loki looked so pleased with himself, the bastard.

“Oh yes, I’ve done it everywhere...you may want to burn your sheets...and your blankets...and your table...and--”

“ENOUGH. You are wretched. Have you really...No, I don’t want to know. Don’t tell me. Norns.”

“It is very boring in here all day,” Loki said. “Very. Boring.”

Thor scrubbed his face. “I can see. I’ll find something for you to pass your time that doesn’t include either ripping your stitches or defiling my linens.”

“That would be appreciated.”

“I think that’s the closest thing to ‘thank you’ that you’ve ever said.”

Loki bared his teeth in something that almost resembled a smile. “Don’t get used to it, thunder boy.”

Chapter Text

The wound in Loki’s side hurt, sometimes enough to steal his breath away, but the real pain of captivity lay elsewhere. Physical wounds healed. The blow to his pride was greater.

And being cut off from his seidr was excruciating.

Loki had been able to sense magic his entire life and had started learning how to control it almost before he learned how to walk. It was everywhere, in all things, the underlying shape of reality, a vast and rich tapestry for him to reshape as he saw fit. Losing it was like simultaneously going blind, deaf, and tasteless. It ached like a phantom limb, and made him feel hollow and brittle.

Ruffling Thor proved a rewarding diversion from the constant yearning, but sometimes he couldn’t rouse the energy even for that.

Thor.

There was a puzzle he hadn’t quite figured out yet.

Loki hated all Asgardians impartially just on general principle, but he had always reserved a special seething little corner of his heart for its royal family. Protectors of the realms, they called themselves, but warmongering dogs would have been a more apt term. The Allfather had always favored conquest over diplomacy, and Jotunheim was merely the latest in a long line of territories he’d set his murderous children upon.

And now Loki was in the tent of one of those murderous children.

Only somehow Thor didn’t seem quite as evil as all that.

Hela had been cruel, of that there was no doubt. But the younger brother…

Well, cruel wasn’t the right word for him. Brash, maybe. Arrogant and violent, definitely. But there was something more that Loki hadn’t found a way to categorize yet.

When Loki felt too gray and washed out to needle Thor and all of his energy was devoted to simply existing for another minute longer in this hellish place, Thor was...almost kind. Almost.

Loki still hated him. Thor had still been responsible for the death and destruction of far too much of Loki’s homeland for a little wound-tending to change his heart.

Loki often fantasized about killing Thor in his sleep. Despite the Thunderer’s smug belief that he was more than a match for Loki, it would have been pathetically easy to slip a knife between his ribs while he snored. But there were still three thousand soldiers and an angry Goddess of Death between Loki and freedom, and he didn’t even have the smallest sliver of seidr to fall back on right now, so the moment he stilled the breath in Thor’s lungs would be the moment he signed his own execution order.

Best to wait. His father would negotiate his freedom soon enough.

In the meantime, apparently he was playing chess.

Thor had taken Loki’s complaint of boredom so seriously that he had managed to scrounge up five books, a stack of blank parchment and ink and quill, a shabby lute that refused to stay in tune, a creased and dogeared set of cards, and a chess set.

Again, Loki refused to name it actual kindness. He had threatened Thor with a tent full of spunk, after all.

But, more often than not, when Thor returned in the evenings now it was to sit down with Loki and play chess with him.

Loki eyed Thor now over the board. The Aesir’s brow was furrowed in thought, one hand stroking his beard pensively. He was positively swathed in furs, his breath coming in visible puffs, and his odd, otherworldly blond hair lay in stark contrast to his mantle of black wolf pelt.

Knocking over the braziers had been a fit of impotent rage on Loki’s part more than anything else, but apparently Thor had taken that to heart as well. He’d never relit them.

“If you think any harder you might sprain something,” Loki said. It was a half-hearted jab at best, something to fill the silence with more than anything else.

Thor didn’t even bother responding. He just looked up at Loki through lowered brows, maintaining eye contact while he picked up a piece and moved it.

“Check.”

Loki glanced down at the board in surprise. Apparently he’d been too distracted to notice the trap Thor had been luring him into. Suddenly impatient with the game, with himself, with everything, Loki made an exaggerated show of moving to pick up a piece and knocking the entire board over with the chains swinging between his arms.

“Oh my, clumsy me, I’m terribly sorry,” he said, all teeth.

“Are you well?” Thor asked.

Loki found himself taken completely aback at the incongruous response, the words themselves as well as the tone they’d been delivered in. Concern, or a good facsimile of it.

“What do you mean?” he asked, recovering. “How could I possibly be well in a place such as this?”

Thor sighed. “I meant only your side. You seem less...fiery than usual.”

Loki huffed, but felt himself deflate just a little. In truth, it had been a hard day. The isolation was eating at him. He hadn’t looked at anything more than ten feet away from him (for that was the size of the tent) in over a week.

“It is merely that mocking you is so easy it makes for poor sport indeed.”

“Is the entertainment I provided you sufficient? The food? I assumed you eat the same things that we do, but--”

“Pfaw!” Loki spat. “The wound is nothing.” Then, without meaning to, “I miss the sky.”

Which was true.

“Perhaps--” Thor started.

But Loki felt a madness seize him, that same impatience that had made him knock the chess board over.

“I miss the wild land thrumming with energy beneath my feet, the snows that fall a fathom deep, the ancient trees whose roots are older than I am. The ice that sings when the wind hits it just right. The free and open air ripe with the taste of spring. Yes, we have a spring here, did you know that? I miss the lights that dance in the heavens at night, how on the longest night my people stand outside under their flickering beauty and sing with them until the sun finally rises.”

Thor was staring at him now, but Loki couldn’t stop.

“I miss my people. My brave, wonderful people who so selflessly sacrifice themselves to keep yours out, who water the ground with their life’s blood until even the very earth weeps for them. Who still manage to carry on surviving and loving and finding joy even in this time of sorrow. I miss - I miss--” He held up both arms so that the chains pulled taut between them. “I miss all that I am cut off from. So forgive me if I am ‘less fiery’ tonight. Entertaining you is not high on my to-do list.”

Loki was breathing hard now and he couldn’t decipher the look on Thor’s face. Wordlessly, Thor rose to his full height. Loki expected to be struck, or perhaps electrocuted again, and he tensed himself for the inevitable violence.

But instead, Thor merely strode from the tent. The stars were visible for a brief second as the flap opened, then the fabric fell back down with a soft swish and Loki was alone.

Chapter Text

It took Loki a long time to fall asleep after that, and he woke shortly after dawn to Thor shaking his shoulder.

“Up,” Thor said tersely.

Loki rubbed the groggy sleep from his eyes and squinted at the light pouring in the open flap. Thor gave him a look, like he expected Loki to be leaping out of bed and raring to go.

“Can I relieve myself at least?” Loki asked sourly, and Thor nodded his assent. “Keeping me company during the day now?” he said, trying to piss as loudly as possible into the chamber pot while Thor stood there with his arms crossed and his eyes squeezed shut. It was petty even for Loki, but pettiness was the only tool he really had left.

“Come on,” Thor said, jerking his head towards the tent flap.

“Come where? I can’t exactly leave--”

“Now.”

Loki set his jaw and clanked his way over, rattling his chains enough that it annoyed even himself.

Thor held up his open palm as though it were resting on an invisible wall at the tent’s threshold, and the air shimmered silver. He took hold of Loki’s chains and then, to Loki’s surprise, pulled him through the doorway.

The breeze on Loki’s cheeks felt thrilling after being cooped up so long in the still air of Thor’s pavilion. His eyes fought to adjust to the glare and he was still squinting as Thor hauled him over to some kind of block that had been set up several yards away from the tent.

For a terrified instant Loki thought they meant to have his head.

He didn’t even have time to struggle before Thor was pulling the chains between Loki’s arms tight across the cold metal surface - and Loki’s panicked brain finally realized that it wasn’t an executioner’s block, it was an anvil. A smith was there waiting for them. Her gnarled sooty hands filled Loki’s vision as she set a chisel to where the chains connected to the manacles and began to strike them off.

Loki fought to control his breathing and slow his heart rate as the chains fell away one by one.

The instant the last one was parted, he launched himself at the smith, yanking the knife from her belt and knocking her to the ground in one motion. Whirling, he threw himself at Thor, blade raised high to plunge into his neck.

Thor, however, seemed completely unsurprised. The neutral expression on his face didn’t change as he effortlessly caught Loki’s wrist in one hand, his thumb digging in painfully until, gasping, Loki was forced to drop the weapon. Knowing the futility of it but unwilling to give up so easily, Loki tried to hit Thor with his other fist, but Thor caught that one too - he tried to knee Thor in the groin, and nearly bit his own tongue off instead when Thor sent a jolt of electricity through him.

“Stop,” Thor said, not unkindly.

Loki bared his teeth and Thor shocked him again, just hard enough to make him stiffen, and when it let up Loki’s legs gave out from under him and he sank, defeated, to the frozen dirt. Thor let go of his arms and Loki wrapped them around his own middle, hunching over himself, letting his hair cover his face. The metal of the manacles on his arms suddenly felt as heavy as a mountain. He felt tears prick his eyes but refused to let them fall.

Attacking Thor in the middle of the camp had been idiotic to begin with, but Loki never would have forgiven himself if he hadn’t even tried.

Loki heard Thor’s voice rumbling something to the smith, and then he was lifting Loki up by the shoulder and bringing him back to the tent, pushing him through the shimmering silver barrier. Thor himself remained outside.

“I am going to keep you company today,” Thor said, crossing his arms. “And we are going to talk.”

Loki huffed out an incredulous laugh.

“Oh really?”

“Really.”

Loki watched in growing disbelief as Thor sent the Valkyrie guards away, then sat down on the ground just outside the open tent flap.

“I’m not going to talk to you,” Loki said flatly. He turned his back to the doorway and moved to the other side of the tent, as far away as he could get. His arms felt shockingly free, and he spread them wide, groaning at the stretch he’d been unable to achieve in weeks. It pulled at his stitches, but it felt so good he couldn’t stop himself. He stretched his arms behind his back and over his head and kneaded at his own shoulders, his muscles crying out in relief.

“More comfortable, I hope?” Thor asked mildly.

“Comfortable? Comfortable?” Loki spat, turning to glare. He wanted to punch Thor’s stupid cowlike face. The truth was it felt amazing, and Loki was furious that he’d been reduced to feeling grateful simply for the ability to use his own arms, all at the whim of a stupid bloody Asgardian. There were a thousand biting things he could say, but Thor wanted him to talk, so Loki pursed his lips shut and remained silent. Instead, he made eye contact and climbed into Thor’s bed, stretching out luxuriously and closing his eyes.

Inside he still felt small and cramped, and actually just wanted to curl up in his nest of furs and lick his wounds like a wild animal, but it was all about the show.

Let Thor grow impatient at Loki’s unwillingness to talk and leave.

But Thor never did anything that Loki wanted him to do and hardly ever even did the things that Loki expected him to do, and today was no exception. Thor sat there, as completely unperturbed as he had been all morning, and after about ten minutes of silence he started talking.

His voice was deep but gentle, and though at first Loki tried to ignore it, the words washed over him in lapping waves and Loki realized that, just as Loki had spilled his heart about Jotunheim last night, Thor was telling him of Asgard.

Loki didn’t want to listen. He didn’t want to hear about the great crashing waterfalls where the spray created a permanent maze of rainbows, or the summer thunderstorms that cracked the sky in two, or the white sand beaches, or the rolling fields of sunflowers, or the perfumed apple orchards heavy with golden fruit.

But Thor told him anyway, with a warm fondness in his voice that Loki had never heard before.

At some point Thor shifted around to lean against the pole next to the door so that he was angled slightly away from Loki, looking out on the camp, and the lack of those blue eyes boring into him made Loki feel a bit lighter. He sat up and moved to the edge of the bed, resting his forearms on his knees and tracing the edges of the manacles with a fingertip.

Thor kept talking, about the palace he’d grown up in and the farmland surrounding it and how it changed with the seasons, how in the spring he would walk the fields with the people who farmed it and use his gifts to wake the land with every step he took, drawing forth the tiny green shoots and imbuing them with strength and purpose.

And then he started talking of the people, and Loki had to close his own eyes again.

Asgardians were dogs. Loki knew this. They were rabid dogs and they killed his people and came back and did it again. But the way Thor spoke of them...

“Stop,” Loki said, not really more than a whisper, but it was the first word he’d spoken.

“Tell me of your people,” Thor said. “Please. I would know more of them.”

“I’ll not give you more rope to hang us with,” Loki said, standing and beginning to pace. “Why should I tell you any more than I already have?”

“Because when you did, I...Loki.”

Loki turned at the sound of his name, startled. At home he was usually called “Your Highness” or “Prince Loki” and his unadorned given name sounded so odd coming from nearly anyone’s lips, much less this foreign prince’s.

“I realized...I know nothing about Jotunheim,” Thor said. “Nothing at all. My father sent me here, and I do as he commands, but...I confess that until you came here, I had never given your people any thought other than strategizing how best to win a battle against them.”

“‘Came here,’ like I just popped in for tea and decided not to leave--”

“Please. Let me...I thought that...well, honestly I thought that you were savages. But I am coming to realize that I was wrong. Very wrong.”

It was Loki’s turn to stare at Thor now, the way Thor had stared at him last night, completely perplexed.

Thor continued. “And I thought that perhaps you thought the same of me and my people. And--”

“And you thought to win me over by telling me that your country is beautiful and you’re not all monsters?”

“No. I thought...I just wanted to share with you what you had shared so passionately with me. That maybe...we might come to understand each other more.”

“I’m still a prisoner.”

“Aye.”

“I tried to kill you an hour ago. Why do you care whether we understand each other?”

Loki came over and sat on the ground on the other side of the open flap, leaning against the other pole, and they sat, Thor on the outside facing out, and Loki on the inside facing in. Everything was so strange and Loki felt so off balance that he wasn’t sure what to make of any of it. Railing against Thor with sarcasm and pettiness would have been easy to do, but Thor’s genuine effort made the idea of it feel cheap and shallow, and despite himself Loki had felt a small corner of his heart softening during Thor’s pretty speech.

Thor was quiet for a moment, but then he said, “Don’t you feel like this might be bigger than just the two of us?”

Loki rolled his head to the side to look at Thor’s profile. The sunlight caught his hair and beard, limning the strands in gold, and the pale sweep of his neck looked so tender and vulnerable.

“That maybe we were supposed to meet?” Thor said. “That maybe - maybe we could be the bridge that lets our people understand each other?”

“End this endless war,” Loki murmured, a tiny bloom of hope taking root in his chest.

Thor looked over and caught Loki’s eyes. “Aye.”

Suddenly unable to bear the scrutiny, Loki rose and paced over to his furs. “Ask me again tomorrow,” he said. “And perhaps I’ll have an answer for you.”

“Thank you.”

Loki closed his eyes for a moment, and when he looked back the doorway was empty.

Chapter Text

Now that his arms were unencumbered, Loki finally washed his hair in the basin properly. He wove it into a plait while it was still damp, nearly as thick as his wrist and long enough to pull over his shoulder, and tied it off with a bit of leather from Thor’s toiletries. He hissed when he had to raise his arms, for his little stunt outside had pulled at his stitches terribly once more, and he chided himself for continuing to not let them heal properly. Any other wound would have been nothing but a scar by now, but it seemed that being touched by the Goddess of Death herself was a bit of a different story.

Hela. He could still see the savage glee she had attacked him with when he closed his eyes, and he still burned with shame that she had subdued him in battle and then again so nonchalantly here in this tent. He had fought well, though, he knew that he had. The number of enemy soldiers fallen to his hand testified to that. Loki’s father would be proud, despite this setback.

Laufey was always proud of Loki, and Loki proud to be called his son.

The afternoon passed slowly, as it always did, although at least today he was able to pick at the lute now that his arms were free. Had he been anywhere other than here it would have been a pleasant enough diversion. He managed to lose himself in it for a bit though, and so it was that Thor’s return startled him, the notes limping to a stuttering halt under his suddenly leaden fingers.

“I did not mean to interrupt,” Thor said, moving farther into the tent and beginning to remove bits of his armor. “Please continue.”

Loki could find no snappy retort but neither did he wish to engage in pleasantries, so he remained silent and simply stowed the lute away.

Thor washed his face and hands, then wrapped himself back up in furs, poured them each a measure of mulled wine that he had brought in with him, and gestured to the chess set still set on the table.

Thor was a queer beast, Loki decided. Authoritative and fierce, physically imposing and incredibly powerful, and yet...there was this incongruous gentleness to him, and thoughtfulness, and a clear intellect unclouded by vainglory. Loki was sure that if he had been the prisoner of either Odin or Hela that he would not have received treatment a tenth as honorable, never been heard out in any manner other than as a gathering of intel, and might very well be dead or rotting in a cage even now. Definitely not drinking mulled wine and playing chess with a desperate mad hope for peace still lingering in his chest.

“Is the night very cold for you?” Loki asked, taking his place at the table.

“It is,” Thor allowed.

“I wouldn’t mind if you lit one of the braziers and kept it close to you.”

Thor smiled. “How charitable of you.”

“I am a magnanimous benefactor. It’s one of my shortcomings.”

Thor hid his laugh in his cup so that all Loki could see was his crinkling blue eyes. Thor’s laugh was a deep and rich thing and suited the generousness of his mouth.

Their apparent truce from earlier extended to their game, and the few words that they exchanged were done so in quiet amicability. The warm wine and the extra heat from the coals burning in the brazier brought a slight pinkness to Thor’s cheeks and loosened the tightness of his hunched shoulders, and he let his furs fall open and loose around him. Loki found himself staring more than once, to his great consternation, and decided that it must just be because Thor was so exotic looking.

They grew tired before the game was done, and left it on the table while Thor gathered a wet rag and fresh bandages and the lavender salve for Loki’s side. The old bandages were crusted with dried blood where Loki had pulled at them earlier, and Thor gently removed them and washed the area clean.

“Tomorrow is Winternight,” Thor said, dipping his fingers into the lavender salve and beginning to dab it on the wound.

“Oh.” Loki had lost track of time completely, it seemed, but the world had continued on without him. Thor’s hands were so warm on his skin they nearly burned.

“I hope that we can talk more, if you’ve had enough time to think on it. And if you promise not to try and stab me again, I have something to show you.”

Loki regarded Thor cautiously, but as Thor’s gaze met his he could detect no artifice in either Thor’s words or expression.

All of Loki’s instincts screamed at him to lie and deflect, but to his surprise he was actually telling the truth when he said, “Very well."

Chapter Text

It had been cloudy all day, snow falling on and off in fat soft flakes, and Thor kept glancing up at the sky in irritation. It was going to be one more annoyance to deal with. Clearing that featureless mat of gray wouldn’t require much effort, but he didn’t like to go mucking about with weather patterns without good reason. Sometimes it caused a cascading reaction that resulted in terrible storms, and he wasn’t in the mood to have to potentially unsnarl a huge mess.

But he needed the sky clear tonight.

Thor went about his usual duties, but they left him feeling hollow today. In truth, he had been deriving less and less satisfaction from them for quite some time, but he had pushed his unease to the back of his mind, ignored it. It was easier by far to follow his father’s orders than to waste time on pointless introspection.

But Loki’s impassioned words the other night had been like a bucket of water thrown on Thor’s head, washing the grit from his eyes, and it was like he could see for the first time in centuries. It was curious how much could change in so short a time. Two days ago Loki had been little more than a headache to come home to after an already exhausting day, and now…

Well, Thor would not use the word “friend,” but something icy had begun to thaw between them. Tentative ally, perhaps?

Thor remembered it now, the fire that had blazed from Loki’s eyes, his proud shoulders, the slight shake in his voice, the barely contained fury and grief - they were not the words of a savage, or a monster. They were the aching cry of a people - a people - that were being ground out under the heel of Thor’s father and his sister, and, yes, even Thor himself.

And for what purpose?

Jotunheim was of no strategic importance. Its land held little in the way of riches. It seemed to Thor that Asgard had invaded merely to invade, to show that it could, to bring all the Nine Realms under its sway for no other reason than Odin’s limitless pride.

When Thor had strode from the tent that night, he had left the camp and taken himself to an overlook one of the scouts had found. The moon had been full, and under its gentle light Thor looked out on the rolling land spread beneath him, the black of the pine forest, the deep purple of the snowy hills. To the right, a cluster of lights, probably a settlement. Were they even now preparing for the Asgardian army to descend upon them and slaughter them in their beds? Thor preferred to meet warriors in sanctioned combat, but he knew that Hela had never shied from civilian casualties. And he, shamefully, had never really tried to stop her.

Thor had remained on the overlook until the first weak fingers of sunlight began to creep over the horizon, thinking new thoughts and feeling new feelings, and trying desperately to orient himself.

Sometime in the darkest coldest hours of the morning the sky had begun to dance in curtains of green and Thor had gotten what he hoped was a good idea.

He was going to bring Loki there tonight. Winternight, the longest night of the year. He was going to show Loki that he had been listening.

Now if only those damn clouds would clear up.

After lunch, Thor sorted through his afternoon messages. Still no word from the Allfather about what to do with Loki. Field reports. Inventory reports. Supply requisitions. A note from Hela in her spidery script - “Having fun with your new pet, little brother?” That one he crumpled up and threw in the fire.

Thor stopped by his pavilion briefly. When he lifted the flap he saw Loki lying on his side in his pile of furs, his back to the door. He’d taken his tunic off and Thor could see his sharp shoulder blades, the elegant curve of his spine. The slight dip at his waist flaring into the globes of his buttocks where his leggings had ridden low. When Loki heard him, he sat up and turned around, blinking eyes still heavy lidded and glassy with sleep, and his hair cascaded in a messy tumble around his shoulders and down his back.

Thor found his tongue quite stuck to the roof of his mouth for a moment, but rallied quickly.

“We’re going out tonight,” he said gruffly. “Into the hills. Do you require any outerwear?”

“Er. No. I...No. I don’t.”

“Do you know how to ride a horse?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“No matter, as long as you don’t mind walking.”

“After being cooped up in here I shall love walking. In fact, I believe I’ll never complain about it again.”

Now Thor found himself imagining those long legs striding purposefully, Loki walking free and easy under the endless sky, and suddenly hated himself for keeping Loki caged like an exotic bird. Not that he’d had much choice, had he?

“I’ll hold you to that,” Thor said, unable to help the smile that quirked his lips, or the teasing that seemed to come naturally between them. “You do love to complain.”

A dramatic sigh. “You know me so well.”

“I must eat with my captains tonight, but I’ll come for you afterwards.”

Loki spread his arms wide and cocked his head. “I’ll be waiting.”

Chapter Text

When Thor came to collect Loki, he was playing the lute again, his gaze distant and his fingers meandering over the strings in a haunting wistful melody. They were long and deft, those fingers, and Thor wondered when he had started noticing things like that.

The ghost of Hela’s words echoed in his head. “Keep him if you like, little brother, he’s more to your taste than he is to mine anyway.” Irritated, he pushed it from his mind.

Thor also wondered what Loki was playing, if it was a well-known song in Jotunheim, a folk song or a lullaby perhaps, or something played in their court...or if it was just the music that was in Loki’s heart at the moment. There was so vanishingly little that Thor knew about Jotunheim or its youngest prince.

In the past he would not have cared. He simply killed enemy warriors, he didn’t stick around to hear the songs of mourning that followed.

“What are you playing?” he asked now.

It was a mark of how far they had come in the past few days that Loki told him instead of turning it into some kind of insult.

“A Winternight ballad,” he said. “It seemed appropriate.”

“It sounded sad for an occasion that marks the happy return of the sun.”

Loki shrugged. “To you, perhaps.”

Thor couldn’t argue with that. “Are you ready to go?”

“Does it matter? You are, so I must be as well.”

At the doorway, Thor held out his hand expectantly. Loki hesitated and gave him a strange look before placing his hand in Thor’s, and then Thor drew him through the barrier.

It was still snowing softly as they made their way through the camp, and if any man dared wonder what the Prince was doing walking his captive about in the open, they were too smart to say so. At the edge of camp Thor stopped briefly to speak with one of the sentries, and then they went past the circle of light and warmth and out into the darkness.

The two sets of footprints trailing behind them started out far apart in the open cleared-out area around the encampment, Loki’s spaced wide and erratically as he stretched legs that had long been confined to five paces at a time, his enthusiastic bounding steps written in the snow for those who had the inclination to look. Here Loki’s tracks stopped where he had paused to look at the moon peeking through a tiny break in the cloud cover; there where a snow hare had burst unexpectedly from the underbrush and its tiny pawprints crossed orthogonally to theirs before disappearing into the shadows.

The two tracks grew closer together as the trees took over, the steps more careful and measured.

Thor wondered what it would look like if you could pull back and see all your tracks laid out behind you this way, a snaking filament stretched out behind you telling the tale of your life. And when two people met, those formerly separate threads came together for a day or a week or a year - a lifetime - pulling apart and coming back together. Perhaps that was what your weave in the Norns’ tapestry looked like. Your fumbling footprints woven together with everyone else’s, until one day they ended and your thread was cut.

It was a morose thought and yet beautiful. Much like Loki’s Winternight ballad, come to think of it.

How many threads of the tapestry had this war been responsible for cutting? How big the bloodstain? Could he and Loki find some way to end the senseless violence?

As they walked, snowflakes collected on Thor’s fur mantle, but where they landed on his hair or face they melted into tiny drops of moisture. The ones that landed on Loki didn’t melt. They stayed frozen, perfect tiny flakes frosting his hair and his shoulders. After Thor had ruined Loki’s tunic cutting it off of him the first day, Loki had asked for a length of fabric and he wore it much like a toga, wrapped around his torso and over one shoulder; even though most of his shoulders and his arms were bare he didn’t look cold at all.

“Where are we going?” Loki asked, murmured really, soft and low, seemingly loathe to break the hush. His breath didn’t even frost in the air.

“Not far now,” Thor said, just as quietly.

The overlook was nearly as spectacular as it had been two nights ago. There was something to be said for the aesthetic appeal of the snowfall, although it wasn’t quite as breathtaking as it had been when the air was clear and the moon was full.

Loki walked to the very edge of the drop-off, his feet dislodging the snow at the edge so that it fell off into the darkness. “Well this is lovely, but I don’t understand,” he said, his back to Thor.

“You said that you missed the sky. And that on Winternight your people sang songs under the lights. I thought you might like to--”

“To what? Celebrate?” Loki said, a sarcastic edge to his voice.

Thor fought the urge to squirm. Maybe this had been a poor idea. “Yes?”

“There aren’t even any lights tonight.” Loki’s back was still to him and Thor could read nothing in his tone.

“About that,” Thor said, making a decision and hoping it wasn’t going to bite him in the ass later. He raised his arms and called to the skies. The clouds parted, pulling away from each other in wispy tendrils, and the snow abruptly stopped as the moon and stars came out and flooded the land below them in silver light.

“Well,” Loki breathed.

“You promised to tell me more of your people, as well.”

Silence.

“Among my people, it is our custom to give each other gifts this night,” Thor continued. “I have nothing material for you, but what I do have is the promise to lend my ear. That I will try to hear you fairly and that perhaps together we may try to find a way to approach our fathers about--”

“Peace.”

“Yes.”

“You are cruel in your kindness,” Loki said finally, turning. “To let me taste my freedom like this, only to promise to lock me up again afterwards. You’re giving me a gift, you say. Your ear. An easy gift to give, from your position. Safe. I know a better one.”

Loki walked towards Thor now, until he was no more than a handsbreadth away, his eyes searching.

“Let me go,” he said. “Unbind me and let me go back to my people.”

“Loki--”

“I can do nothing here. Let me go home and we’ll meet again under a white flag and discuss peace as equals.”

“We are equals.”

Loki held his arms up so that the manacles gleamed between them in the moonlight, his face full of mute reproach.

“I can’t do what you ask,” Thor said, as gently as he could. “You know I can’t.”

Loki huffed and turned away, crossing his arms, his braid swinging heavily.

“If you were in my position you’d do the same,” Thor said. “Don’t tell me you wouldn’t.”

Loki laughed humorlessly. “No, you’re right, I would. You’d be too valuable a bargaining chip.”

“I’m sorry.”

“The truly worrisome thing is that I believe you when you say that.” Loki paced back over to the edge of the drop-off. “If I didn’t have these cuffs on I’d jump,” he mused. “I’d turn into a bird and fly away.”

“I wish I could let you. One such as you does not deserve to be caged.” Thor’s voice sounded strange in his own ears and the words hung oddly between them.

They stood silently for some time. Eventually Thor brushed the snow from a log and sat down. Loki was a dark silhouette against the star-spangled sky, as still and cold as a statue carved of ice. Thor wished Loki would talk. The silence seemed to grow, not uncomfortably exactly, but...expectantly. Patience, Thor counseled himself.

When the first glimmers of aurora appeared, Loki let out a long breath. “The sky is finally awake,” he said. “I am glad. If it doesn’t wake on Winternight, it’s a poor omen indeed.”

Thor opened his mouth to speak, but Loki held up a hand to forestall him.

The green smudge in the sky expanded, luminous and shifting.

Loki lifted his face and parted his lips. He paused for a moment, and then a wordless song began to pour from his throat. Softly, at first.

His voice was deep and rich, resonant, and inexplicably Thor felt goosebumps raise on his arms and a shiver go down his spine. He rose and came to stand next to Loki, shoulder to shoulder with their faces tipped upward. Loki’s voice spiraled up between them, growing in volume and intensity.

When Thor glanced over, Loki’s face was limned in green where it caught the lights from above, and his eyes were fixed to the heavens. Thor found himself wanting to run his thumb along that sharp cheekbone, and discomfited, he turned his gaze back to the sky as well. There was purple there now as well, and the two colors danced together.

It was beautiful. Thor felt deeply touched that Loki would share this with him.

Even if his cloud-clearing managed to cause a storm later, Thor couldn’t help but think that this had been worth it.

Loki turned to Thor and held both hands up, palms facing Thor. He nodded down at Thor’s hands. Thor held his up as well, and Loki brought them together. Loki’s hands were cool and dry against his own.

The song came to an end, Loki drawing their palms up over their heads and letting go, spreading his fingers wide and bringing his arms down in a large arc; Thor quickly mimicked him and earned himself a small half-smile that he couldn’t help but return.

“There was your gift,” Loki said. “And now I shall have mine.”

They went over to the log Thor had claimed earlier and sat on opposite sides of it.

Conversation began haltingly, almost awkwardly, and more than once Thor nearly caused inexcusable offense with his ignorant questions, but it grew easier and easier as the night wore on. Thor offered more insights into his own people as well, and found himself laughing uproariously both at Loki’s incisive wit and also at his more outlandish misconceptions.

By morning they had turned to earnest discussion of how the war had started, of the hearts and minds of their respective fathers, of how they might best approach the idea of a truce. Despite Loki’s skill at war, It was achingly clear how much he loved his people and wanted them simply free to live their lives without fear of bloodshed. The more Thor and Loki talked the closer they moved towards each other. Loki stopped just shy of their knees touching, and his words came out in an excited rush.

He was so different from the snarling viper that Thor had brought to his tent that first day. He had always been a spitfire, but when that temper was turned to something he was passionate about he seemed so much younger, warmer, more hopeful. So good. Beautiful. Thor couldn’t help but wonder, if they had only met under different circumstances...

When dawn came they walked back to camp. This time their tracks were right next to each other, in step, their threads for right now running perfectly parallel.

Thor found himself stealing glances at Loki’s profile as they walked and hoping that they might continue to do so for a long while yet.

Chapter Text

The strange bubbling lightness inside Loki’s chest lasted until they reached the pavilion once more, and, laughing at some jest, he slipped his hand almost unthinkingly into Thor’s and Thor pulled him through the barrier.

The night had seemed a dream, but here in the light of morning was the reality. He was still a prisoner.

Even so, his spirits didn’t fall completely. His eyelids, on the other hand, were well on their way south.

“I’m going to sleep until tomorrow,” Loki groaned. “Don’t bother trying to talk to me. I’m asleep already.” Thor’s light laughter followed him down as he dropped heavily into his fur pile.

He startled awake moments later to Thor touching him lightly on the shoulder. With a huge effort, Loki wrestled his eyes open to see Thor’s anxious grim face hovering over him, all traces of laughter fled.

“What?” Loki said sharply, trying to cover his own answering anxiety with irritation.

“We’ve finally been summoned.”

*

Thor was in and out of the tent all morning making arrangements, the grim cast never leaving his face. Loki lay in his furs with his eyes mostly closed yet unable to sleep, feeling alternately exhausted, on edge, and annoyed, and all with a vague undercurrent of dread. His fingers flexed uselessly, aching to grab onto seidr that he couldn’t feel.

Odin. He’d finally be face to face with the murdering dog.

He imagined tackling the old man to the floor, Loki’s face the last thing he saw before Loki tore his other eye out and strangled him to death. He imagined trussing the bastard up like a pig and dragging him home kicking and screaming to Laufey. He imagined tying Odin to his own throne and making him watch one of his own people killed for every Jotun he’d slaughtered.

It was all idle foolishness, but it distracted him from the cavernous hollow in his breast that had taken over when Thor had told him they’d been summoned.

For all that Loki hated being here and for all that he would never admit it out loud, at least in Thor’s tent he felt...safe.

Thor was poring over a map at the moment and Loki studied him through a crack in his eyelashes. Thor’s expression was so serious and shuttered, his brow so stormy. It reminded Loki of the first day he’d been taken prisoner, when Thor in his towering glory had strode fearlessly up to him and shocked him senseless. And yet, just last night, Loki had seen that same face laughing and smiling, had seen it full of open wonder and sincerity and even tenderness. They had connected, they truly had, Loki was certain of it. Their words had been more than just words, they had been -- what had Thor called it -- a bridge between their people? But not just their people -- it had been a bridge between them.

Unbidden, Loki remembered the way Thor had looked at him when Loki had in his overexcitement scooted close enough that he’d nearly ended up in Thor’s lap, and it brought a perplexing curl of heat to his belly.

That Thor, the man, seemed a different person than the stony commander in the tent this morning.

Loki knew which Thor he preferred.

He felt the troubling desire to draw the other Thor out, to ease the tension from his face with caresses and kisses and --

Horrified, Loki squeezed his eyes shut.

He had been here for too long. He needed to get out.

He was clearly going mad.

“Up,” Thor said brusquely, coming around the table.

Loki felt the brief urge to resist out of spite, but he was so tired and his heart was so confused that he couldn’t muster the energy. He stared stupidly at their linked hands when Thor pulled them through the doorway, and left his own in Thor’s grip a second or two longer than necessary.

He felt dumb and slow, like an aurochs. He didn’t even care where they were going.

It turned out to be the healers.

“His side,” Thor said impatiently, arms crossed. Was there a hint of worry hiding in there? “He needs to be able to ride a horse. Fix it.”

That and the healer unceremoniously ripping the bandage off Loki’s side jogged him from his stupor.

“A hor--OW! YMIR’S TOENAILS, WOMAN! A horse?”

Thor gave him a look that clearly said ‘shut it’ and ‘later’ simultaneously. Loki felt anger start gathering. How dare Thor keep him captive and yet speak such pretty words to him and act so concerned all the damn time and make Loki have any feelings for him at all other than the hatred he was due? And then after all that, to act like Loki was the one being an inconvenience?

“What caused this wound, Your Highness?” the healer asked, squinting at Thor’s even row of stitches and running a soft finger around the edge.

“My sister,” Thor said, just as Loki was sneering, “I cut myself shaving.”

“Ah,” the healer said. “That explains it.”

She went to fetch something from the other side of the tent and Loki glared daggers at Thor’s stupid impassive face.

“Princess Hela’s power is Death,” the healer explained as she came back over with a pot of evil-smelling cream. “Her touch causes flesh to forget that it’s alive, makes it nearly impossible to heal on its own. You’re lucky this isn’t worse.”

“How did I not know about this?” Thor demanded.

The healer shrugged apologetically. “I’m sorry, Your Highness. You don’t tend to spend a lot of time with the healers yourself. And Princess Hela...well, she doesn’t tend to leave many patients alive. I can wake the flesh up a bit, and then you’ll need to rub this on it at least twice a day if not more. It will leave a nasty scar but it should heal.”

“Do it.”

Loki bit his tongue to keep from saying something rude, then kept biting it because the healer’s hands started glowing yellow and she pressed them to his side and by the Norns, it hurt. It was agony. Blinding. He heard a whimper and realized it was him, and that sweat was rolling down his forehead and his hands were bending the frame of the cot where he was clutching at it. With a gasp he let go. He started to fall sideways but strong hands caught him before he pitched onto the floor.

Thor. Loki held onto him with shaking arms, the morning’s emotional turmoil momentarily forgotten.

“Shh. Hey. Are you ok?” Gentle words. Gentle eyes. The man, not the commander.

Loki shook his head and held onto Thor, struggling to get his breath under control.

“Twice a day. Your Highness.” The healer was holding the pot of cream out expectantly.

“You didn’t say it would hurt,” Thor said.

The healer looked at him quizzically. “It’s just a Jotun. I didn’t think it would matter.”

Snarling, Loki tried to launch himself at her, but Thor’s arms held him back.

“They don’t know any better,” Thor was murmuring. He tightened his hold as Loki struggled. “They don’t know. We’ll teach them. Peace, Loki. Peace. Please.”

With a frustrated growl, Loki gave up the struggle and let his head fall forward, exhausted and spent. Suddenly it all seemed worthless.

“Why can’t you people just leave me alone,” he ground out miserably. His life had been happy before the Asgardians had showed up. Uncomplicated. He’d had his family and his magic and nobody treating him like an animal, no agonizing injuries, no confusing Thunder Gods. “Just leave us alone. What have we ever done to you.”

“It does matter,” Thor said to the healer. “And you’ll not do anything like that again. Our Jotun prisoners are to be treated with the same respect as our own soldiers.”

“As you wish, Your Highness,” the healer said, but the look she gave Loki was full of distaste.

Loki leaned heavily on Thor when they left. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on putting one foot in front of the other and not the throbbing in his side or how nice Thor’s arm felt.

“We leave within the hour,” Thor said softly as they walked. “If I had Hela’s hammer I could fly us there in hours, but as it stands it will be several days’ journey by horse. Since you don’t know how to ride and we can’t take a wagon, you’ll ride double with me. Loki. Loki?”

Loki had straightened up and moved several paces away from Thor. He tried not to stagger. “Like a child,” he said bitterly.

“Like an injured man who can’t ride a horse,” Thor said. He smiled just a little, a tightening of his lips more than anything else. Loki realized that Thor was just as exhausted as he was. “And who probably shouldn’t be trusted with one, anyway.”

“Yes, we can’t have me trying to escape.”

“Loki, this will be a good thing. We’ll talk to my father, convince him that a treaty is preferable to this war -- we can use you to bargain for your father’s ear, bring us all together --”

“Use me to bargain like I’m a piece of meat.”

“A child, a piece of meat. Loki. You’re a political hostage, please, this is the only way. I’m on your side, you know that.” Was Thor trying to convince Loki or himself?

“Do I?” Loki rounded on Thor, spitting, banging the metal on his wrists together. “Do I?

They stared at each other for a moment, Loki with ebbing fury and Thor with sad serious eyes. Thor looked away, and when he turned back the man was once again hidden behind the commander.

“We’re tired,” Thor said firmly. “You’re hurt. Go sleep for an hour. Then we leave.”

When they reached the tent, Loki threw himself onto Thor’s bed and was asleep the instant his head touched the mattress.

Chapter Text

The monotonous clop-clop-clop of the horses’ hooves threatened to send Loki straight back to sleep, and he kept jerking his head up every time he started to nod off.

Loki had been almost disappointed when he realized that he and Thor would not be traveling alone, and he tried very hard not to examine the reasons why. They had a score of Valkyrie riding with them. In retrospect it seemed obvious; the Prince and a high-ranking prisoner could not travel by themselves through enemy territory without some kind of guard, despite Thor’s powers.

So, Valkyrie. Among them a stern-faced woman who Thor referred to as “Brunnhilde” and who regarded Loki with open hostility. Hostility, disgust, condescension...Loki was getting very tired of everyone but Thor looking at him like he was something unpleasant they had stepped in.

He couldn’t see Thor’s face right now but he could feel his warm broad chest pressed all against his back.

He tried not to think about that, too.

The next time Loki nodded off, he woke to an arm around his middle and a burning pain in his side that made him yelp.

“Sorry,” Thor said in his ear, his breath warm and hot and startlingly intimate. “You started to fall.”

Loki hissed and shifted uncomfortably to get Thor’s hand off his wound, and Thor withdrew his arm -- but not completely. His hand still rested on Loki’s hip. Nonchalantly. Like it had just happened to fall there. But there it was, heavy and hot even through the leather of Loki’s leggings. Loki felt it with every nerve in his body and he and Thor both knew exactly what it meant.

A thousand little things clicked into place at once. Loki hadn’t been the only one with mad desires, apparently.

It was too much. Thor was everything right now. Captor, benefactor, foe, friend, enemy, co-conspirator. Loki’s future, his very existence, maybe even the existence of his people, hinged entirely upon Thor. He could not add this new identity to the list now, too. He could barely even force his mind to think the word -- lover.

Not like this. Not when he was this man’s prisoner. No matter how beautiful Thor’s smile was or how pretty his promises were or how much, if circumstances had been different, Loki might have liked to...

But circumstances were not different.

“Don’t,” Loki croaked out, taking Thor’s hand and moving it off of him. “Thor.” He couldn’t bring himself to say ‘please’ but the pleading tone of his voice communicated it well enough. Thor’s name felt like lead on his tongue. He wondered if he’d ever actually called Thor by name before.

Loki felt Thor exhale in a rush, his breath ruffling Loki’s hair. Loki’s heart hammered in his chest. He didn’t think that Thor would show him violence, he knew him better than that now, but if Thor chose to press this here there was nothing Loki could do about it. But Thor didn’t say anything at all and his hand didn’t return, and eventually Loki started breathing again too.

The horses plodded on.

Perhaps an hour later, Loki felt Thor touch the back of his shoulder, and he was about to turn around and give him an earful, but then he realized that Thor had finally nodded off himself and his forehead had fallen forward onto Loki.

Loki let him sleep.

*

They stopped at dusk to make camp. Thor’s giant war pavilion had been left behind at the main encampment, and two of the lowest ranking Valkyrie made short work of setting up his travel tent. Far from the ostentation of his brilliant red pavilion, this one was small and drab-colored. The ceiling was higher at one end and lower at the other. Both sides were too low to stand. The higher end held the folding table and chair and it left just enough room for two bedrolls squeezed together at the lower end.

“Cozy,” Loki said drily. “I don’t suppose I could get a tent of my own, instead?”

Thor gave him a look and sat down to look at the map. “We should be two, perhaps three more days if the weather holds. And if the weather doesn’t hold, well…” He wiggled his fingers and made a silent ‘ooh’ with his mouth.

They ate snow hare roasted over the fire and ale-soaked hard tack and more ale to wash it all down. Brunnhilde glared at Loki so much that it nearly put him off his food, not that he had much appetite to begin with. The last few days had been trying.

Thor left him by the fire to go back to the tent and write his correspondence and Loki finally snapped at her.

“Do you have a problem?”

“No problem,” she said slowly, pretending to consider her words. “I just don’t see why you get such special treatment. I’ve never seen a prisoner eat food with the rest of us before, or ride the Prince’s own horse -- or sleep in the Prince’s own tent --” She raked her eyes up and down his body lewdly.

“It’s because I’m so pretty,” Loki said with venomous sweetness, baring his teeth. “Obviously.”

“I bet you’re sucking the Prince’s own c-”

“Enough.”

Thor had come back into the circle of firelight, and Brunnhilde shut her mouth swiftly.

“Loki’s station is equal to mine and I’ll not have this kind of talk. Hold your tongue, or next time there will be lashes.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” she said, and removed herself to one of the other fires. Loki watched her go with narrowed eyes.

“I don’t need you to fight my battles for me,” he said petulantly to Thor.

“It is not a battle that needs to be fought at all. She cannot say such things.”

“But she’s thinking them. They all are. Look at them.”

“Let them. It matters not.”

Loki spat and stared into the fire, his mouth twisted downward.

“We need to tend to your side,” Thor said. “The cream-”

“I don’t want anything that wretched healer gave me,” Loki said. “The lavender one was working fine. She said so herself, that it had healed more than she thought it would have.”

“The lavender, then.”

Loki closed his eyes and imagined Thor’s hands on him, lifting his tunic, dabbing the salve on so gently like he always did, massaging it in with those huge warm fingers, so strong and yet capable of such tenderness…

“I’d like to do it myself tonight,” Loki said. “If you don’t mind.”

“Of course.”

Loki’s eyes were still closed and he couldn’t read Thor’s tone and didn’t dare look at his face.

Chapter Text

Even though Thor woke up close enough to Loki that strands of his hair were in Thor’s mouth, the distance between them felt huge.

”Don’t. Thor.”

Thor hadn’t realized until the moment Loki had told him no how much he actually wanted to touch him. The way they had been sitting together on the horse had just been so natural, the way he caught Loki so instinctual, and the hand that had fallen on Loki’s hip had been all unthinking...but the way he left it there had not been.

It had been stupid though.

Of course Loki rebuffed him. The entire situation was laughable.

Only now Thor realized why he looked at Loki as often as he could, why he cared so much about his opinion, about his wellbeing.

The pre-dawn light softened the harsh angles of Loki’s cheekbones. His face looked so gentle in sleep, his lips half parted, the nearly perpetual furrow in his brow smoothed out. It would be so easy right now to reach over and brush that wild fall of hair back from Loki’s face and kiss the bare shoulder peeking out of the furs. Loki might not even wake up. Instead, Thor flexed his hand and then put it under his own head, pinning it down.

Maybe once all of this was over.

Maybe after they met with his father. Odin would surely see the merit in their argument. He had to.

Worry gnawed at Thor’s belly though. The message summoning them had borne Odin’s seal but it had been written in Hela’s hand, and every reason that Thor could think of for that seemed worse than the last.

Loki stirred next to him and Thor banished the worry to the back of his mind.

“Morning already?” Loki mumbled, burrowing deeper into the furs.

“Morning already.”

“Tell the sun to sod off. My entire body aches. My saddle sores have saddle sores.”

“Sorry,” Thor said unapologetically. “Salve, then we eat, then we go.”

Loki sat up cursing, then touched his side and scowled. “I hate to ask, but can you look at this? It itches so much it’s nearly distracting me from the saddle sores.”

Thor couldn’t help but grin when he lifted Loki’s tunic. “It’s finally begun to knit!” he announced happily. “I think I can take these stitches out right now.”

“Thank the Norns,” Loki groaned. “Outside. It’s so dark in here you’ll probably chop my arm off by mistake.”

They emerged blinking from the relative darkness of the tent. An icy fog hung over the ground this morning and Thor already felt its damp cold settle into his bones. He was used to it by now, but he missed Asgard’s feasting hall and its roaring fire a great deal. Maybe he’d see them again soon. He’d settle in with an entire cask of mead and six...no, eight chickens...he’d see his mother’s dear face smiling as he recounted his feats…(maybe Loki would be seated at his side, an honored guest, their hands touching under the table…)

He sent one of the Valkyrie to fetch them breakfast and set to work carefully slicing through each stitch in Loki’s side with the tip of his dagger.

“Thank you,” Loki sighed, finally letting out a tiny shudder as Thor pulled the last one out.

“What was that I heard?” Thor said, one side of his mouth lifting in a smile. “Do my ears deceive me?”

“I can call you Thunder Boy again if you like,” Loki smirked. “Just so you don’t get uppity. And remind you how you stink like you haven’t showered in weeks, which you haven’t, and--”

“I yield, I yield,” Thor laughed.

“Your Highness.”

Their laughter died out. One of the Valkyrie stood fidgeting, food in one hand and beer in the other. Her blonde hair was coming out of its braid and her cheeks pinked under Thor’s gaze.

“Pardon me, Your Highness. My lord.” Loki started at the honorific, and Thor realized suddenly he’d probably heard nothing but insults since he’d been captured. “I have your breakfast. And. I just wanted to apologize for my-- for Brunnhilde’s words yesterday.” She shifted her weight nervously. “I just thought you should know. There are those among the women who think that you’re under the prisoner’s spell. And also those of us who know that’s nonsense. But -- well, Brunnhilde lost her brother in the company that was taken out --” her eyes darted to Loki “-- and she’s just...she’s hurting, Your Highness. Please be lenient with her.”

“Thank you --” Thor began expectantly.

“Sigrid, Your Highness.”

“Thank you, Sigrid. Your concern has been noted.”

She sketched a quick bow and left hurriedly. Thor watched her go and scrubbed his face in sudden exhaustion.

“It is good she came,” Loki said quietly. “I forget, or maybe I never really let myself think about it...that the war hurts your people as well.”

“Aye,” Thor said. He felt a decade older and ten times as sober as he had ten minutes ago. “It does.”

“Why was she so nervous?”

Thor grimaced. “I was a bit more bloodthirsty in my youth. Brunnhilde would not have gotten off with merely the threat of lashes. And if it had been Hela, she would probably already be dead.”

“Ah.”

Thor wasn’t sure what the look on Loki’s face meant.

“This particular war isn’t the only thing I’d like to end,” Thor said. “I’ve stood by silently while Hela rampages for far too long. I do not share her taste for spreading despair.” He found his good humor from earlier had quite evaporated. Thor knocked his beer back and handed his food to Loki. “I find I have little appetite. You need the energy more than I do. Excuse me.”

Chapter Text

Loki tried to settle into the rocking motion of the horse beneath him, but between his soreness from an entire day in the saddle yesterday, and Thor being all prickly and ramrod straight behind him, it wasn’t easy.

After the strangeness at breakfast, Thor had disappeared until it was time to go again. When he returned he practically threw Loki up onto the horse stony-faced and silent and had not spoken a word since then. He was not the man today, nor even the commander, but something else. The prince, perhaps.

Without Thor’s conversation to distract him, Loki found his mind wandering. He kept looking to Sigrid and where she rode side-by-side with Brunnhilde, the two woman occasionally leaning towards each other and speaking, then sitting up straight again laughing. It left him with a curious ache. Brunnhilde had been nasty to him, but Sigrid’s words had taken Loki’s anger away and left nothing but weary resignation behind. His hands were bloody as well. The war made monsters of all of them. And monsters though they may be, they were still simply people - who could still find joy in each other somehow.

He wished that right now he and Thor were leaning their heads together and laughing, speaking in low tones meant only for each other’s ears. That he was not cuffed and seidr-blinded, not a prisoner. That he wasn’t filled with nameless dread over what would happen tomorrow when they reached Odin’s camp.

Mid-morning they came across an abandoned settlement. The houses appeared untouched, but they were clearly cold and uninhabited, and many of the tools of daily life were simply strewn across the ground, likely dropped where their owners had stood. A lonely cat hissed when it saw them and disappeared in a streak of orange fur.

“Watch out for ambushes,” Thor ordered. Many of the Valkyrie shifted in their saddles, put hands to weapons. “I have seen this before. It may be a trick.”

“You’ve seen this before?” Loki asked as they cautiously skirted the outside of the buildings.

“Aye,” Thor said. “A town that appears empty that my soldiers enter searching for food and tools, only to be set upon by screaming warriors that drop from the trees as they try to make their way out with laden arms. It is a cowardly tactic.”

“It is a necessary tactic,” Loki said harshly. “Warriors fall on you from the trees? Or are they simply farmers with pitchforks and torches? Our standing army is practically nonexistent. We don’t have a tenth the training or equipment that you do. What else are people supposed to do when their homes are besieged by professional soldiers?”

Oh he was angry. He was furious. On behalf of his people who’d had to resort to such things, at Thor for denigrating them. He was practically shaking.

“Let me off this horse,” he said, trying to struggle down, but Thor’s arms came around him and held him fast. “Let me OFF, you rotten creature.”

“Stop,” Thor said, his voice rumbling into Loki’s ear and sending an entirely unwelcome shiver down his spine. “Don’t be ridiculous. Loki. Stop.”

Loki’s struggling was ineffectual, but it was the Valkyries’ stares more than anything else that made him quit, and he sagged back against Thor, blinking back tears of angry frustration.

“Don’t talk to me,” he hissed when Thor opened his mouth. Thor spoke anyway.

“I’m sorry,” Thor said. “I spoke out of habit and thoughtlessness. You’re right. I should not call them cowards.”

“They’re ten times braver than any of you Asgardian dogs could ever hope to be.”

“You’re right, they are brave.” Thor paused, but didn’t seem done speaking. Like he was thinking. Loki clenched his jaw until Thor continued a moment later. “You have done much to change my heart these past few weeks,” he said finally. “But it is hard to undo so many years of ignorance. I am trying.”

Loki let out a long breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. He sat up straight again and Thor’s arms fell away. Absurdly, Loki missed them.

“I’m trying too,” Loki said finally. “But it’s not easy.”

“No,” Thor agreed.

Damn the man, anyway.

“Do you think the rest of your people will change their hearts as gladly as you have?”

Thor was silent for long moments. They left the settlement behind them and no warriors fell on them from the trees, nor any farmers either.

“Asgard has been at war for as long as I’ve been alive,” Thor said. “Our conflict with Jotunheim is relatively new, but it is simply the latest conquest that my father has set his mind to. My people grow weary. It is something I’ve been ignoring for years as I followed my father’s commands. But...I think my people are as heartsick at losing their sons and daughters as yours are. I think they will welcome peace, if we can manage it.”

“Your people are bigoted.”

“They are ignorant, as I was. We will teach them. And your people as well, so that we may understand each other.”

“What you speak of will take years, decades, centuries.”

“Aye.”

It should feel hopeless, but somehow with the words coming from Thor it was lighting that spark of mad hope in Loki’s chest again.

“We’ll have to work together closely,” Loki said, tone carefully neutral, turning his head to the side so that he could see Thor from the corner of his eyes.

“Very closely.”

Thor’s voice was full of promise and there were the shivers again, straight down Loki’s spine. He inhaled deeply and faced front again. Thor’s hand was resting on his own thigh and Loki lightly touched the back of it with two fingers.

“Were circumstances different…” Loki said, trailing off. He couldn’t finish the sentence. He shouldn’t even have started it.

“Were circumstances different.”

Thor turned his hand palm up and they pressed their hands together for a moment before Loki snatched his away and wrapped it around the pommel of the saddle, gripping it far too tightly.

This was madness. Utter madness. One moment he was ready to fillet Thor like a fish, and the next he was holding his hand. So many emotions battled in his chest he didn’t know which to feel.

The exchange seemed to have lifted Thor’s black mood from the morning though, and he was much more himself afterwards. They talked as they rode. Possible plans for the future. Easy banter. Thor always took Loki’s needling so well, it was impossible not to poke at him. Laughter.

Loki’s inner maelstrom began to settle. That spark of mad hope grew. It was aching and dreadful. There was so much more now to lose.

They stopped for the night and Sigrid brought them their food again. Loki smiled at her and she smiled back at him and that felt a little like hope, too.

They retired to their tent and Loki, against his better judgment, allowed Thor to apply the salve again. It was truly awkward and painful trying to twist around to do it himself, he told himself. There was no reason to cause himself any more pain than he was already in. And if Thor’s big warm hands lingered as they rubbed in gentle lavender-scented circles, neither of them would say anything about it.

And if when they laid down on their bedrolls they happened to come to rest two handspans closer than they had the night before, neither of them said anything about that either.

And if their littlest fingers touched, and hooked together. Well.

“Thor,” Loki whispered into the blackness. “I’m frightened about tomorrow.”

“I won’t let anything happen to you,” Thor said softly. “I swear it.”

“I’m not frightened for myself. I promised my life for this cause long ago.” Loki blinked and felt a tear slide down his cheek and he squeezed his pinky around Thor’s. “I’m frightened for what will happen to my people if we fail.”

“We won’t fail.”

Thor sounded so sure, so matter-of-fact. Loki wanted to believe him.

But here in the dark, the hope was harder to hold onto.

Sleep didn’t come for a long time.

Chapter Text

Thor woke before the dawn with a cold lump of dread heavy in his stomach.

All he could think of was Odin’s orders to report with the prisoner, bound with Odin’s personal double-raven seal, but written in Hela’s handwriting, her leggy scrawl crawling across the page like spiders.

Something was wrong. Deeply wrong. The summons should have come sooner. It should have come in Odin’s own hand. Hela should have nothing to do with this.

But she had from the start, hadn’t she? She was the one who had captured Loki, and she had not been planning to treat him well. Thor had thought her ignorant of Loki’s identity, but what if she hadn’t been? What if she had done it on purpose?

But then why had she surrendered him to Thor so easily?

Thor’s usual mode of operation did not deal in shoulds or useless speculation, it dealt in the certainty of the hard-edged present. No use in crying over what might have been, do your best with what is. Fear and doubt were not companions he was accustomed to.

But things had changed, had they not?

Thor could just make out the dark lump next to him that was Loki.

This part at least had changed for the better. Of that there was no doubt at all.

Thor shifted under his furs and heard Loki exhale, his voice floating out from the pile of furs.

“You’re awake too?”

“Aye.”

Thor started to rise and Loki’s hand shot out and grabbed his. The contact was a surprise, though a welcome one.

“Where are you going?”

“Just to relieve myself,” Thor said. He gave Loki’s hand a squeeze. “I’ll be right back.”

Night still clung to the hillsides and the cold was bone aching. Thor stumbled a few paces away from the tent and his breath and his piss both steamed in the frigid air. Behind him the Valkyrie were stirring to life, preparing to break camp just after dawn.

Just as Thor was about to turn back around, a raven lighted on a branch a few feet away from him. It stared at him, silent and huge and otherworldly. Thor held his breath and waited for a second one. The raven kept staring at him with beady eyes while Thor counted his heartbeats. Neither of them moved for a long moment, facing off as still as statues, until finally the raven took off in a buffet of feathers and nearly raked Thor across the face with its claws as it winged away into the darkness.

“What’s wrong?” Loki asked the second Thor was back in the tent. “Your face. You look like you’ve seen a draugr.”

“I wish I had seen a draugr,” Thor said, scrubbing his hands over his face. “It would be a better omen. There was a raven. Just the one.”

“We see ravens every day, I hardly understand the fuss--”

“It was one of my father’s. It never means good things.”

“Thor…” Loki trailed off.

The uncertainty in Thor’s own heart was one thing, but to hear it echoed so plainly by Loki was almost too much to bear. Thor wished ardently that he could just take Loki in his arms, strike his shackles, take him far away from here, away from the hatred and the bloodshed, somewhere they could just be Thor and Loki and love each other in peace…

Love?

His heart stumbled in his chest.

The Mighty Thor did not love. He honored his mother and feared his father and loathed his sister and he rained terror from the skies. His bride was battle and his glory was the storm. What good was love? Love didn’t win wars.

Maybe it could end them.

“Thor,” Loki said again, reaching out to touch his shoulder. “Are you well?”

Thor took Loki’s hand in his again and pressed a long kiss to his knuckles, the most he would allow himself.

“No,” he said, his voice rough. “But it’s time to go.”

Was he being a coward right now, or very brave? What was the proper name for someone who felt like they might be making a catastrophic mistake but did it anyway?

He supposed he would know in a few hours’ time.

*

Odin’s scouts saw them as they approached, which Thor had expected. One stayed to greet them and the other took off back towards the camp.

“Your Highness,” the remaining man said, putting his fist over his heart, and Thor didn’t know if it was his own suspicion making him see things or if the man looked pale and nervous. More nervous than soldiers usually did in his presence, at any rate.

“He was a twitchy one, wasn’t he,” Loki murmured as they rode past him.

Thor clenched his jaw. “Aye. Keep your guard up, I mislike the feeling in the air this morning.”

“My guard is always up.” Loki twisted at his cuffs, a nervous gesture. “I just wish…” He sighed.

“You wish you had your magic.”

“...yes.”

“I do too.”

He felt Loki stiffen in surprise.

“Hold still and act like nothing is happening,” Thor whispered. Using as little movement as possible, he loosened a dagger from his leg sheath and slowly worked it up and out. “Hide this under your tunic,” he said under his breath, pressing it to Loki’s palm. “Just in case.”

*

A group of armed men on horses met them as they rode into camp and the leader thrust a rolled up parchment into Thor’s hand before he’d even had time to dismount.

“My father,” Thor said darkly, forcefully shattering the wax seal and ripping the scroll open.

When he saw what it said, he crumpled it into a ball and slammed his fist into his leg.

“What is it?” Loki asked, turning his head to look back.

“Orders,” Thor said through gritted teeth. “I’m supposed to lead this squadron out to investigate a report of enemy activity. Now.”

“Now?”

“Sigrid!” Thor barked. “Take Loki. Make sure my pavilion is set up and keep him there. Do not let them take him to the prisoner’s wagons. Do not let anyone in to talk to him. Go get General Hogun for backup if you need to, tell him that Thor needs a favor. Keep him safe. Do you understand?”

Sigrid’s eyes darted back forth between them and the waiting squadron. “Yes, Your Highness.”

Thor leaned in closer and spoke in low tones. “If I’m not back in three hours, go get General Hogun anyway.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” she said, more softly, and briefly locked gazes with Loki. “Ready?” she said.

Loki twisted around to look at Thor, his brows drawn up in worry and...something Thor couldn’t name. Thor did not want to let Loki off his horse. “I’ll be back,” Thor promised. “Three hours. Count the seconds.”

It would have been so easy to slip his arms around Loki’s waist and bury his face in his hair and kiss him goodbye, but instead Thor watched with stony face as Loki slid from the horse and looked back up at him with huge serious eyes.

“I’m counting,” Loki said.

Thor wheeled his horse and left.

Chapter Text

Two hours and fifty seven minutes and a lifetime later, Loki heard Sigrid’s voice outside the tent.

“Your Highness! Wait, I have someth-”

But then Thor was pushing the tent flap open and striding inside and their eyes met and Loki nearly collapsed in relief. He didn’t even realize he was holding his arms out until Thor was in them and he was in Thor’s and they clung to each other like drowning men.

“You’re here,” Thor said, squeezing him tighter. “I rode back first, before the others, I rode my horse into a lather, I feared-”

Loki pushed him away by the shoulders. “You’re covered in blood,” he said, his heart twisting. “Are you hurt?”

Thor shook his head. “It’s not mine.”

Loki’s stomach lurched. “Whose?”

“Loki…”

Whose?

“The orders were merely to investigate...but we were set upon…”

“By bears? Ice spiders? Bandits?” Loki felt his voice shaking. He knew the answer already. He thought he might be sick.

“No,” Thor said roughly. “A small force of Jotun warriors.”

Loki shoved Thor away and whirled around to stalk across the tent. He angrily knocked his cuffs together, the ugly clang far too loud in the close quarters. He felt bile rising in his throat. He had trusted Thor, cared for him, suffered for him, and to be repaid this way...

“How many,” he said, his voice deadly calm. “How many did you kill.” He turned back. Thor was still just standing there, his arms at his sides. His armor splashed in blood that was not entirely dry. His face smudged and dirty. A cut on his temple bleeding sluggishly. “How many did you kill.

Thor stared at him grimly, his eyes sad and his lips pressed together in a thin line, and that was an answer in itself. “Loki, this is war, you know that-”

“I thought we were ending it!” Loki cried, his voice tearing from his throat in anguished fury. He was pacing back and forth now, unable to stand still, the rage forcing his body into movement.

“We are!” Thor exclaimed. He took an abortive half step towards Loki, but Loki held his arm out.

“Then why did you - how could you -”

“I had to go,” Thor said. “I can do nothing to help our cause if I am cast aside for treason before we even meet with my father.”

Loki scoffed and started pacing again. “You could have run at the first sign of danger!”

“You weren’t there!” Thor growled. “We didn’t have a choice. Was I supposed to tell my men that they were not allowed to defend themselves? Tell them to stand fast and be slaughtered like sheep?”

“AND WHY NOT!”

“Loki, you are beyond reason-”

Thor’s face was stormy now and the air was crackling, but Loki could not contain himself.

“And you are a murderer,” Loki hissed.

Thor let out an incredulous bark. “Fine words, coming from the person who single handedly killed a hundred of my own men mere weeks ago.”

“It doesn’t count as murder when you’re putting down dogs,” Loki spat.

Thor inhaled sharply and clenched his jaw, put his hands on his hips and gripped so tightly his knuckles went white, cast his eyes to the ground.

Even as incandescent as he was, Loki felt his heart crack. He’d thought they’d understood each other. He’d thought they’d shared an ideal, a purpose. That they had found in each other unlikely allies, and friends, and...

Loki felt his rage start to turn into despair.

“Were all your words just empty promises?” he said, pleading. “One minute you speak to me of peace, and the next you come back to me knee deep in Jotun blood. What am I to believe?”

He stepped closer.

“I wanted to believe you.” Loki felt his voice tremble. “I did believe you.” Thor remained silent and Loki wanted to scream. “Look at me,” he demanded. He shoved Thor’s shoulder. “Look at me! I thought you cared about this!” He shoved Thor again, and again, beating against his chest with both fists. He felt tears hot on his cheeks. “I thought you cared about any of this! I thought you cared about me-”

Thor caught his wrists and yanked him closer, and one of Thor’s hands went to his neck, and for a half a heartbeat Loki thought he'd finally gone too far and that Thor would strangle him or electrocute him or both.

He was closing his eyes in surrender when he felt Thor’s breath hot on his face -- and then, stunningly, for a long and terrible and wonderful instant, Thor’s lips fierce and tender upon his own.

“I do,” Thor said, his voice gravel and woodsmoke.

They stared at each other, Thor’s hand still cupping the back of Loki’s neck, Loki’s chest heaving, his world rocked. He didn’t know whether to claw Thor’s eyes out or throw himself back into his embrace.

“Your eye,” Thor said, frowning.

Loki ripped himself away and covered his face in his hands. This wasn’t happening. None of this was happening. They were still in the tent on the way here and he was simply having a bad dream…

“What’s happened,” Thor said, not a question, reaching for Loki’s arm to pull him back around. “Tell me.”

“Your sister,” Loki said bitterly, “is what happened.”

Thor cursed loudly.

“I knew the timing was wrong, I KNEW it, those warriors that attacked us, it was a trap, she wanted to separate us, she wanted to get you alone...Oh, Loki…” He pulled Loki’s hand away from his face and with his fingertips touched the bruise starting to spread from his eye to his cheekbone. “What has she done?”

“She came moments after you left,” Loki said, closing his eyes. “Sigrid had no time to get your friend, or to do anything else, please don’t blame her -”

It had been the longest three hours of his life, Loki was sure of it. It had dragged on for three years, more like. Hela’s sneering face. The weight of her hammer immovable on his chest. The vile words that spewed from her lips, her anger and violence when he didn’t answer questions to her satisfaction.

The terror that far off in the snowy wilderness something unspeakable was happening to Thor.

In truth, he had not expected Thor to come back at all. And then he had, and at the sight of him well but covered in Jotun blood all of Loki’s fear and rage had bubbled over and...

“Hela hit you?”

Loki laughed with no humor, every bone in his body aching. “She...questioned me. Extensively.” Why he was downplaying it, he didn't know. Some stupid part of him that still hated to admit weakness, maybe.

Thor gathered Loki into his arms again and Loki let him. The physical comfort felt so good that he nearly wept again. Was he still angry? Did it matter anymore?

“She’s trying to tear us apart, can’t you see?” Thor said. “We can’t let her.”

“She wanted to know about us,” Loki admitted. “She seemed to think that we were plotting or...or f-fucking...she seemed surprised and upset that you hadn’t been...m-misusing me…” Norns, he was weak. Weak and pathetic. No matter that this had been one of the most trying days of his life. This was behavior completely unbecoming to a prince. He tried to pull himself together.

“She has become unhinged,” Thor said. “She must be stopped. When we meet with my father--”

“Oh, damn your father!” Loki cried, pushing away.

“We’ve come this far,” Thor said helplessly. “Would you give up now?”

Loki stared back at him, his despair written plainly across his face for he made no attempt to hide it, and he was just opening his mouth to answer when Sigrid pushed into the tent.

“Your pardon, Your Highness, my lord. The Allfather will see you now.”

Chapter Text

Odin’s war pavilion was perched atop the highest ground in the middle of the camp. It made Thor’s look like a lean-to in comparison. It was the size of a longhouse, a hulking monstrosity of ivory and cloth-of-gold covered in fluttering pennants and raven sigils. Only seidr could be keeping the fabric of the walls so pristine, which was wasteful and a display of power both. Odin always had been fond of ostentation. Thor had been as well, and once he’d found his father’s travel accommodations properly grand and befitting a king. Now, though, it seemed nothing but a reminder of how much they’d taken from other realms.

Loki stared at the pavilion as they drew closer, and Thor stared at Loki. He noticed things now that he hadn’t earlier in his haste and passion - the ginger way Loki was moving, the slight limp.

He tried to catch Loki’s elbow as they walked, but Loki jerked away.

“What else did she do to you?” Thor asked in low tones, trying to draw as close as possible as they walked.

“I’m fine,” Loki said shortly.

“No you’re not.”

Loki snorted. “Of course I’m not. I haven’t been in a long time, and I won’t be any time soon. And what do you expect to do about it?”

Loki.”

“Let’s just get this fiasco over with so I can go get traded like livestock or have that hammer dropped on my feet again or get beheaded or whatever it is your wretched father has planned.”

Loki sped up and Thor followed, full of sorrow and anger in equal measure. He wanted to rail at someone, anyone. He wanted another fight. He wanted to smash things until the ghost of Loki’s lips on his own didn’t burn and burn.

He wanted to kiss Loki again.

But what he actually wanted, more than anything, was simply for Loki to be happy. To have good things. To be healthy and free of care and worry and to once again know joy and peace. To no longer be a prisoner and no longer hurt.

Thor wanted to give him these things and he couldn’t, and he felt truly weak for the first time in his life, and it terrified him.

And Loki - alone and scared, far from home, his magic bound, his body tattered - sweet, brave Loki - was striding forth with no hesitation and with his head high into what would be either his salvation or his doom.

Thor might weep, if he knew how.

“Loki,” he said again, but Loki didn’t stop or turn.

The sloping ground carried their feet upward until they were brought up short by Odin’s personal Einherjar. Their spears came down across the pavilion’s entrance.

“Move,” Thor growled.

Their spears didn’t waver.

“Move,” Thor said again, more loudly. “We are expected.” He stepped directly into the personal space of the closer guard, their faces mere inches apart. “Or shall I move you myself?”

The man gulped. “I’m sorry, Your Highness,” he said. “We’re under strict orders-”

In the past when Thor was in such a high state he probably would have lifted the man by the throat and simply thrown him aside - but that was something Hela might do, and he wished nothing more than to be as little like Hela as possible anymore. And Loki was watching, and damnably it made Thor want to try to be a better person. But the rage had to go somewhere, and with a wordless snarl he called a lightning bolt and exploded a nearby barrel.

The Einherjar flinched but neither altered their position.

Thor was halfway considering calling lightning down on the entire pavilion when at some unseen signal the Einherjar uncrossed their spears and waved Thor and Loki forward.

Clenching his fists, Thor stepped over the threshold into the antechamber and waited for Loki to draw even with him. Thor remembered their soft words in the dark the night before, Loki’s fear of failure, the vulnerable hitch in his voice, the way he had let their hands touch - none of that was in evidence now. Loki’s jaw was set and his eyes were hard. His gaze met Thor’s and they stood together for a moment breathing.

“We approach side by side,” he said for Loki’s ears only. “As equals.”

The fabric between chambers parted of its own accord, beckoning them onward, and a voice floated in from the room beyond.

“How noble of you.”

All the hairs on Thor’s forearms stood on end. Out of the shadows of the dimly lit receiving room stretching in front of them a figure emerged, tall and lean, with a headdress like the legs of a spider dropping on its prey.

“Little brother.”

*

Snarling, Loki immediately dropped into a defensive crouch, his teeth bared.

“Oh please,” Hela said. She looked down her nose at him like she was regarding something unpleasant to scrape off her boot. “Like that will do any good.”

“Where’s Father?” Thor demanded harshly. “If you’ve harmed him--”

Hela laughed, a rich deep chuckle. “So suspicious,” she said, drawing the word out sibilantly.

“I’m warning you--”

“Is that my son I hear?”

There was a chair in the middle of the room, large and ornately carved, and a man leaned heavily on one of its arms, his back bent, his neck stooped.

“Father!” Thor cried in dismay. He had not seen his father for a year at least, but this creature before him seemed to have aged a millennium in that span. His hair had gone white, his skin gray. His cheeks sagged from his face and the one eye that peered at Thor appeared dull and filmy.

“Help me sit,” Odin said, holding his arm out. Thor started to move forward, but Hela sneered at him and pushed past, running her hands back along her scalp and melting her headdress away, to take Odin’s elbow and steer him into the seat.

Thor gaped.

Never in his life had he seen Odin ask for help, and never in his life had he seen Hela offer any.

“Oh, close your mouth, you’ll attract flies,” Hela said. She leaned down to whisper something in Odin’s ear. Her hand squeezed his shoulder.

“What is going on?” Loki hissed at Thor’s shoulder, startling him. Thor had been so transfixed by the bizarre show going on in front of him that he hadn’t even noticed Loki moving closer.

“I have...no idea,” Thor admitted.

“What is she doing to him?”

To…?”

But Loki was right. This was clearly no daughterly affection. Odin’s gaze lost focus and he seemed to slump a little further into his chair with each word from Hela’s poisonous lips.

Thor had been caught flat footed, but he was starting to get over the shock and anger was rapidly crowding in to replace it.

“Stop speaking, witch,” Thor growled. He felt lightning start to gather at his fingertips. “Father, why is she here?”

“Why am I here?” Hela said. “Why are you here? It’s been weeks since you took the Jotun prince captive. What exactly took you so long?”

Thor felt like he must be going mad. “I did not receive a summons until three days ago.”

Hela tutted and leaned into Odin’s ear again. “See the excuses he makes?” she murmured.

“Father, I wrote to you immediately, the first day I had him--”

“Silence,” Odin said.

“What do you think he’s been doing all this time?” Hela said to Odin, low and smooth, but her kohl-rimmed eyes never left Thor’s face. They bored into him, glittering. “He’s been colluding with the enemy, look at them. Look at how close they stand. Look at how the only bruise on the Jotun’s body was delivered by my own hand.”

“Why would I mistreat a prisoner?” Thor demanded. “Prince Loki is royalty. He has taught me much about Jotunheim and its people--”

Hela scoffed. “Jotuns aren’t people.”

“They are,” Thor insisted. “And Loki is a good person.”

Odin made a noncommittal noise and shifted in his seat.

“Father, please. I have learned much in these past few weeks, and we come to speak to you about a way to sue for peace. End this bloody campaign. Our own people are weary of this conflict, and with Prince Loki’s help we could yet end it peacefully.”

“Jotunheim has much to offer,” Loki said, stepping forward. “We are rich in resources and our seidr masters are the finest in the nine realms. We would make valuable allies. If you will but allow me to speak with my own father, I am sure he would agree to negotiate terms for my release--”

“See how they try to lure you into their trap,” Hela said into Odin’s ear. “See how they conspire. We should release the Jotun back to Laufey in pieces.”

“You would not dare,” Thor snarled, moving in front of Loki instinctually.

“The Jotun has bewitched you,” Hela said, raising her voice and sauntering forward. “You jump to do his bidding. We should send back his head and nothing more.” She cast her arm out to the side and a blade appeared in her hand. “I could do it right now.”

Odin sat silent through it all, looking from one of them to the other.

Thor raised his own arms and they were wreathed in lightning, tendrils crackling and licking.

“Or maybe,” Hela said. “I should just hurt him, break him, put him in a collar like the beast he is, parade him around for all to see.”

“Father, end this!” Thor cried. “She is mad, can you not see? She would have us escalate this war catastrophically!”

Odin said nothing. Hela took a step forward, Loki took a step back, and Thor knocked Hela’s blade from her hand with a crack of lightning.

Hela laughed.

“Father, please, Loki has done nothing wrong!”

“He’s a Jotun, he doesn’t need to do anything wrong,” Hela sneered. “He simply is wrong.”

In a last desperate plea, Thor caught Odin’s eye. “What would Mother think?”

Something seemed to pass across Odin’s face, a slight shake of his head, and he sat a bit taller.

“Stand down, my daughter,” he said. “We will not kill him. Nor will we let him go so easily. You offer me nothing but empty promises,” he said to Thor. “And the expansion of our empire is fruitful. We will keep this Loki for now. But Hela is right, he has filled your head with stories and lies. You will no longer be in charge of his captivity. He will be sent to the wagons and made to do labor like the rest of the prisoners. So shall it be.”

Thor and Hela both started protesting at the same time. “You can’t possibly--” “But Father--”

Odin snarled wordlessly, cutting them both off, and when they fell silent he slumped back down in his chair.

“I have spoken,” he said. “GUARDS!”

Thor felt everything crashing down around his ears. Nothing could have prepared him for any of this. And now Loki was being taken away. The Einherjar were even now grabbing him by the arms, and he was struggling, and his panicked eyes met Thor’s. And Thor caught his hand, but then it was being wrenched from his grasp, and the last thing he saw was Loki disappearing out into the glaring sunlight and all of their hopes with him.

Chapter Text

Thor stormed back to his pavilion, cape streaming behind him, his thoughts awhirl.

So many things made sense now. The pieces all slotted into place in his mind.

The single raven loomed large in his memory, how it had stared into his soul in the predawn light that morning. Thor knew now that its brother must even now be back in Asgard delivering a message to his mother, for Odin always sent word ahead when he thought the Odinsleep would take him soon.

No doubt he had felt it coming upon him and Hela had seized upon his weakened state to take advantage, whisper in his ear, sap his strength. That was the only explanation, for Odin would have been too strong to fall susceptible to her magic otherwise. And now she was using that advantage to...what? Hela and Odin had usually seen eye to eye on things, what would make her want to wrest control from him?

That was a question for another time, however, for now Thor needed to act. Hela wanted Loki dead, which meant he was in danger. And if Loki was in danger, Thor was going to do something about it, consequences be damned.

Hela had said that Loki was bewitching him. She was close to the truth, but the truth was far more damning than that. For although it was no spell, Loki did indeed have power over him now; he had crept all unbidden past Thor’s defenses and taken root in the very foundations of his heart.

“Sigrid, Brunnhilde, with me,” he barked as he strode into his tent.

The two women looked at each other and then followed, and stood at attention with their arms behind their backs.

“Tell me exactly what happened while I was gone,” he said.

Sigrid told him. Hela had appeared before they’d even had time to start setting up (because she knew my pavilion was enchanted against her, Thor thought angrily) and grabbed Loki by the braid and hauled him to the nearest tent. Sigrid had considered going to get General Hogun, but since Hela already had Loki there seemed no point; he wasn’t afraid to stand up to her, but he did not outrank or outpower her. So instead Sigrid stood outside and waited.

“I could not tell exactly what was happening inside,” Sigrid said, not meeting Thor’s eyes. “But it sounded unpleasant.”

“It sounded horrifying,” Brunnhilde said flatly. “I have no love lost for that Jotun scum, but I will give him this; Princess Hela was hurting him badly and he never said a single useful thing to her. If she had asked him the color of the sky he would have said orange just to spite her.”

Thor had been growing grimmer with each word from Sigrid, but Brunnhilde’s hit him like a physical blow. Oh, Loki. He deserved nothing that had happened to him and yet still bore it all with such strength that it broke Thor’s heart. Fierce love welled up in his chest, and his resolve hardened.

“I am going to ask you to do something that will get us all executed for treason if we’re caught,” he said. “I am not ordering you. If you wish to walk out now, then do so. But know that if we succeed, we have a chance to save a life and end this war early. We have all lost much. I hope that you wish to see the end of it as much as I do.”

“Why are you asking me? Your Highness.” Brunnhilde shifted uneasily.

“Because I need Sigrid, and you need each other. I did not want to separate you.”

Brunnhilde took a deep breath and stared at her feet. Sigrid met Thor’s eyes. “This may end the violence?” Sigrid asked.

“Aye.”

“I’m in. If…” She looked at Brunnhilde and her face softened. “If she is.”

Brunnhilde looked up at Sigrid. Thor turned his back.

“I’ll give you a moment,” he said. “But only a moment.”

Thor heard them murmuring behind him and he crossed his arms behind his back and counted out a minute three times. When he turned back around the two women met him with grim determination on their faces.

“Tell us the plan,” Brunnhilde said.

*

It was a simple plan, if foolish. As the highest ranking prisoner, Loki would be chained up in his own wagon separate from the others, with more guards. After nightfall, Sigrid would relieve the guards, claiming orders from Thor personally. Thor himself would visit the head gaoler on some pretense, pocket the key, and show up moments later. They would free Loki and meet Brunnhilde in the woods, who would be waiting for them with three horses and enough supplies to get them to Utgard, the capital of Jotunheim and the location of the crown palace.

If all went to plan, they’d bring Loki home to his father, King Laufey, who by Loki’s account was actually quite a reasonable man and would be overjoyed to see his son again. He may even be disposed to listen to Loki’s arguments for peace. Thor would stay behind to deal with his own father and Hela. Which Thor didn’t even know how to begin to approach yet, but first things first. Getting Loki to safety. And freedom. And not shackled and imprisoned and beaten and insulted and carved to pieces by Thor’s insane sister.

If all did not go to plan, they’d all likely be killed.

Thor did not fear death. Living was preferable, of course, but doing nothing to help Loki would fill him with far more regret than dying for him ever could.

As they planned, Thor pressed his fingers to his lips and remembered the feel of Loki’s on his own. How for just a moment Loki had kissed him back. He wondered if the strength of Loki’s feelings for him echoed his own. He thought it might, but in the end it was unimportant. Thor would do this for him whether Loki returned his love or not.

How strange, this new perspective. How surprising. Thor had not known that this well of emotion existed in him.

He wondered, if they survived, what they would become to each other. Enemies once more? Friends? Something else entirely?

None of that would matter if Hela got to Loki first, so Thor banished his chattering thoughts and focused on the task at hand.

I’m coming, Loki. For better or for worse, I’m coming.

Chapter Text

The plan was stupid, but Thor supposed he should not have been surprised that it was going off more or less as intended. He was still a Prince and a Commander after all, feared and respected both, and no one expected him to be up to anything treasonous; his orders were never questioned. The supply requisition to be delivered to Brunnhilde was met with nothing more than an irritated grunt from the quartermaster, the order for the guard change with a shrug.

When Thor went to speak with the gaoler about the condition of the prisoners, he did not even have to steal the key. The man simply gave it to him when Thor expressed his desire to personally question the Jotun Prince.

Thor was unsure how he’d get the magic-dampening cuffs of of Loki, but he was certain he’d figure out something. He usually did.

The prisoner wagons were at the edge of camp. This was hill country, all pine forest and granite outcroppings, and the prisoners were kept hard up against a sheer rock face to block at least one avenue of possible escape. Thor strode there now with purpose, head held high, his face as hard as the granite surrounding them. If anyone tried to delay him he wasn’t sure he wouldn’t fry them on the spot.

But no.

That was a relic of the old Thor, the bloodthirsty Thor who would never have considered doing any of this. The Thor who Sigrid had feared when she defended Brunnhilde to him. But seeing how much Loki loved and respected his own people had opened his eyes, inspired him to try and do the same, to exercise empathy and compassion that he had been sadly lacking for a very long time.

Still, though, he felt the lightning gathering under his skin, ready to strike in an instant if it was needed. Hopefully it would not be.

The sun had set but it was not yet completely dark. Thor saw Sigrid first, her white armor seeming to glow through the dusk. Good. She had made it, and there were no other guards that Thor could see.

Behind her was the dark shape of a wagon, and through the bars Thor could see a silhouette sitting on the floor. His pulse quickened.

“Sigrid,” he said, when he drew even with her. “All is well?” He could not tear his eyes away from the wagon.

“Yes, Your Highness,” she said, nervously fingering the hilt of her sword. “But we should hurry.”

“Aye.”

“Thor?” Loki’s voice, soft, cracked. Hopeful.

Thor was at the wagon in an instant, his hands wrapping around the bars, pressing his face as far through as he could. Loki threw himself towards him, but was stopped short by the chains around his ankles. They were bolted to the floor. Thor thrust his arm through the gap and Loki reached out as well and their fingers tangled together. Thor felt like his heart might burst. His stony face cracked and a stream of words came bubbling forth.

“Loki,” he said. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’ve come to free you.” Loki inhaled sharply and his hold on Thor’s hand tightened. “You were right, this was foolish, we never should have come here, I should have let you go earlier, ages ago. I pray you can forgive me, please.”

Loki smiled, tight-lipped and shaky, and his eyes shone with unshed tears. “Just get me out of here,” he said raggedly. “And then I’ll forgive you all you want.”

The key was in Thor’s hand almost before Loki had finished speaking. The lock was just opening when Thor heard Sigrid let out a cry of surprise, and he whirled around, hands already lit with crackling electricity.

“What a happy reunion. I’m truly touched.”

There in the gloom, seemingly materialized from nowhere, one hand on her hip and the other toying with her fingernails, was Hela.

“Out of the way, little brother, I have a Jotun to kill.”

“I think not,” Thor growled. “Why are you doing this?”

“Doing what?” Hela sounded amused. “Killing your little prize? Is it not enough that it angers you and amuses me?”

“No, it is not. You are playing at something here, sister, and I would know what it is.”

Hela sauntered forward, caressing Mjolnir’s grip like it was a lover. “Come now, I’m sure you can work it out for yourself. You only look stupid.”

“You want the war to continue.”

“Oh, very good.”

“And you want the throne.”

“Mmm, a nice bonus.”

“But why do all this? Father wants this war as much as you do.”

“Does he, though?” Hela looked from Thor to Loki and her eyes narrowed. “That one’s father has been making overtures of peace ever since we took him, and our dear old dad seemed like he thought it might actually seem like a good idea.”

Loki’s mouth had fallen open in surprise, and honestly Thor was shocked as well. Odin, of all people, had been thinking about making a treaty?

“Father,” Loki whispered.

“Anyway,” Hela said, singsongy, “I have a hostage to murder. Move aside. Don’t make me set Mjolnir on you, it will just be embarrassing.”

“No.”

Hela laughed, a cold chuckle lacking any trace of humor. “Come now, I have no time for games.”

“I said no.”

“Oh, you are tiresome.”

With one fluid motion, she loosened Mjolnir from her belt and backhanded Thor with it, sending him flying away from the wagon. Thor hit the ground hard, but he still had enough wits about him to call down a lightning bolt straight on Hela’s head.

She went rigid as the electricity coursed through her, which gave Thor enough time to scramble to his feet and summon more lightning to him. It gathered in the air, under his skin, in his bones, filling him up until it was spilling out from his eyes and wreathing him in jagged tendrils. The sheer power of the storm was a terrible and savage sort of joy, begging to be unleashed, and Thor struggled to contain it within himself and not let it simply destroy everything in sight.

“GO!” he roared at Sigrid. “Get General Hogun! Get backup!”

Sigrid turned to flee. At that moment, Hela broke free of the electrocution paralysis; a blade materialized in her hand and she hurled it at Sigrid’s retreating back. Thor bellowed and knocked it from the air with a lightning bolt.

This was bad. This was worse than anything Thor had imagined when he imagined this plan going wrong. Hela was nearly unstoppable. She was the Goddess of Death, and death was her domain - she dealt it as easy as others breathed. Her judgment once passed was implacable, inevitable. A force of nature.

But Thor was a force of nature in his own right, the storm made flesh, and he had the power of desperation on his side. It would have to be enough.

“Don’t fight me, Thor,” Hela rasped. “You’ll lose. I’ll kill you too if I have to. Hogun and his band of weaklings will show up and they’ll find you and your whore both dead, and I’ll blame it all on the Jotun. And then Jotunheim and Asgard both will froth at the mouth for this war to continue.”

“You are,” Thor snarled, lightning dripping from him to writhe and disappear against the ground, “the worst.”

“Alright, now you’re just boring me.”

Two long blades formed in her hands and she flung them at Thor. He ripped the sword from his own belt, incandescent with electricity, and slapped them aside. He and Hela both leaped into the air at the same time, faces twisted in fury, and came together with a bone-jarring impact.

Their fight ranged around the entire open space available to them. Hela was strong, as strong as he was, and nearly impervious to any attack he could throw at her. He tried anyway.

The Thunderer never went down without a fight.

Well, generally he didn’t go down at all. The odds this time, however, were not looking great.

She dodged every attack. She hit as hard as an avalanche. Thor was knocked down again and again. She was toying with him. It drove his anger to new heights, and he felt the sky begin to rumble, his fury and frustration writ large.

With a roar, he called down a massive lightning bolt, the largest he’d ever summoned. It ripped through him, raw and wild, and he channeled it straight through Hela’s body. She jerked spasmodically, and in the momentary lack of defense he brought his electrified sword around in an arc and buried it in her side.

He froze, gasping, chest heaving, still holding onto the sword - watching in horrified fascination - and he waited for her to fall. Her head lolled backward. He had done it. He had actually done --

Hela laughed.

“This is such fun,” she said, raising her her head back up. She was grinning terribly, wide-eyed and manic and with far too many teeth. She grabbed the sword by the blade and pulled it from her side, twisting it out of Thor’s grasp. “It’s so hard to find a proper fight nowadays. But really, playtime is over now.”

She flipped the sword around and lunged. Thor felt the blade tear into his left shoulder, a white-hot agony, and with a hoarse cry he fell to one knee. The pain was wretched but the despair was worse. He had failed. He had done his best and it had not been good enough, not even close.

Distantly, Thor heard the rattle of chains. He forced his head up. Loki. He was still trapped in the wagon, chained to the floor, and he was trying desperately to wrench the chains from the wood.

Hela looked over too, and sneered.

She left Thor half fallen on the ground with the sword still jutting from his shoulder and stalked towards the wagon.

“NO!” Thor cried out. Frantically, he called down lightning bolt after lightning bolt until the air stank with ozone and everything within sight was electrified and standing on end. Hela kept walking. He ripped the sword from his shoulder and hurled it at her like a spear.

She looked back at him, frowning with impatience, and threw Mjolnir.

It shattered the sword like glass. Its momentum didn’t even slow. It kept coming. And coming. Straight for Thor’s face.

Thor knew that nothing could stop it once it had been set on its path. Only Odin and Hela could lift it or move it or affect it at all. And it was coming so fast, and Thor’s body was so exhausted and slow, he didn’t have time to throw himself out of the way.

Uselessly, he threw his right arm out like it could protect him, as if it could possibly stop the doom hurtling towards his skull.

The head of the hammer smashed into his outspread hand.

And it stopped.

It stopped.

Thor gaped.

The uru was warm and alive in his hand. Its touch sang through him, the last song of a dying star, impossibly dense and impossibly expansive all at once, and he felt it reverberate down into the core of his being. Not it. She. More intimate than a lover, and though he was experiencing this for the first time in his life he felt like he had known her since before he was born.

“Oh,” he said.

Hela squinted in disbelief. “What?”

Oh,” Thor said. He grinned.

Newfound energy surged through him. He threw Mjolnir into the air, sailed up with her, and then straight down to land in front of Hela with concussive force, knocking her back and making her stumble. Mjolnir sang in his hand. Her song was joy and righteousness and his blood thrilled in his veins. He caught Hela square in the chest and sent her flying in a long arc into the trees.

“Thor!” Loki screamed.

Thor vaulted up into the wagon. Mjolnir made quick work of the chains bolting Loki to the floor, and he scrambled up and clutched at Thor’s arms.

“Go,” Thor said, voice rough. “I’ll hold Hela off here. Brunnhilde is waiting for you in the woods south of here.”

“Not without you,” Loki said desperately.

“It’s the only way.”

“You’ll never defeat her! You can’t stay here! You have to come with me!”

Thor cupped Loki’s cheek with one hand. “I can’t.”

“Thor, please! I--”

Loki went wide-eyed and Thor felt another burning pain, this time in his left side. One of Hela’s blades stuck out through his front. Thor stared at it stupidly. Were there any organs there on the left side? It couldn’t end like this, could it? She yanked the blade backwards and Thor came with it, falling out of the wagon to land heavily on his back.

“I’ll take that,” Hela snarled, holding out her hand towards Mjolnir like she expected the hammer to come flying back to her.

Nothing happened. Thor felt a horrible sort of glee mingling with the pain. Mjolnir had abandoned Hela completely. She was his now, his. He almost laughed, but it hurt so much it came out as a strangled wheeze.

His momentary elation fell instantly.

He gave a wordless cry. Loki had launched himself out of the wagon onto Hela’s back, Thor’s dagger raised high, and he sank it deep into the juncture between her neck and her shoulder.

She threw him off like a dog throwing off water.

Thor struggled to his feet and she whirled back to face him.

“Do you honestly think you can beat me?” she said, trying for her usual falsely honeyed tones, but the effect was marred by the hoarseness of her voice and the manicness of her eyes. “You are nothing. Nothing!”

A spear formed in her hands. She caught the side of Thor’s skull with the flat of the blade and his head rang like a bell. The next blow he blocked with Mjolnir, and the next, but he was falling back, weakened from blood loss and the two wounds he had taken already.

Hela feinted low and he fell for it, swinging Mjolnir down to connect with nothing but empty air, and then his head was being snapped to the side, and the bone crunched and it was on fire, it was burning up, burning away, like no pain he had ever felt before, and he gasped from somewhere deep inside of him--

He fell onto his back again and Hela loomed large over him, her spear raised to drive through his guts--

And Loki was there. He had thrown himself between them.

His forearms were still encased in those awful magic-dampening cuffs, three on each arm, metal from wrist to elbow, and he held them up crossed in front of him like a shield.

Hela’s spear rang against them and sparks flew.

And one of the cuffs cracked. The crack flared and grew and the cuff fell off in two pieces.

Loki’s hand was suddenly glowing.

With a wordless howl of rage and elation, magic poured out of him. It hit Hela in the face and spread, encasing her in ice from head to toe, and in seconds she was completely immobilized under six inches of ice, her mouth locked in a feral snarl, her kohl-rimmed eyes two dark holes in her face.

“Loki,” Thor gasped.

Loki turned back towards him and there was such a look on his face that Thor felt his heart twist in his chest. It was tender and despairing at once.

“You’re missing an eye,” Loki said hopelessly.

“What?” Thor brought his hand up to touch his face where Hela had gotten him with the spear, and the ruin of it under his fingers was too much to take in. “It doesn’t matter. Come here.”

“That won’t hold her for long,” Loki said fretfully. "I only have a little of my power back, it was the best I could do, we have to go--”

Loki reached down and hauled Thor to his feet.

“Come here,” Thor said again. He tugged on Loki’s arm until he extended it outwards, then he held it fast with his left hand and raised Mjolnir with his right. “Look away.”

Loki squeezed his eyes shut and turned his head and Thor dashed the cuffs from first one arm, then the other. He felt Loki shudder under his hands and then groan in relief as the last one fell away.

“Running will only delay the inevitable,” Thor said, eying Hela’s frozen form. “But we’ll never beat her like this.” He looked grimly around them - open ground, a few rocks, trees, the empty wagon, some wooden crates - and all of it sitting at the base of that rocky cliff face. The rocky, crumbling cliff face.

“Can your magic trigger a landslide?” Thor asked. “A rockfall? Can we bring that cliff down on her head?”

Loki looked up at the cliff, considering, and he nodded.

“Yes.”

“Do it,” Thor said. He doubled over and clutched at his side as a fresh wave of pain washed over him. “I’ll stay here,” he ground out. “And hit her from the ground. After you do it, run. Don’t look back. Brunnhilde is waiting...go home...go back to your family…I’m so sorry about...everything...”

Loki’s hands were firm on his upper arms, holding him up, searching his face.

“Why do all this for me?” Loki asked. “Am I really worth this?”

Thor smiled weakly. “I did not know what love was until I met you,” he said. “You’re worth everything.”

“Don’t you dare die,” Loki said, voice shaking. “Do you hear me? I forbid it.”

“How could I deny you anything?” Thor said. “So I shall live. Go, now. Before it’s too late.”

He gave Loki a gentle push away and turned back towards Hela. The ice holding her was already beginning to fail. But then Loki’s hand was back on his arm, pulling him around, and Thor did not even have time to breathe before Loki was surging up to kiss him, fiercely, his lips trembling and salty with the tears that had spilled down his cheeks.

“This is not goodbye,” Loki said, low and intense. Then he was gone, disappeared into the night.

Thor felt bereft and euphoric at once. The sound of cracking ice made him whip back towards Hela. He called Mjolnir to his hand and she came gladly, singing of battle and glory. Together, they reached up into the heavens and called out.

Thor had learned how to harness his control over the storm early in his manhood, but it had always been an instinctual thing. The storm was still wild, untamed, hard to manage. He never released its full fury because if he did there would be no way to contain or direct it and it would destroy friend and foe alike, possibly even himself.

But with Mjolnir in his hand, it was different. She was ancient, powerful, full of multitudes. She easily drank up all that Thor could pour into her, and contained it, and translated it into something usable.

For the first time in his life, Thor reached for the storm and took in the entire thing.

The sky cracked open with a howling wind and a terrible wonderful incandescence and a clap of thunder like a drum from the deep.

The ice finally fell away from Hela, but she had moved no more than an inch before the lightning took her. It poured into her and through her, illuminating her from the inside out. The thunder grew louder, and Thor realized it wasn’t coming from the sky. The cliffside was beginning to crumble. Pebbles first, then rocks, then boulders bouncing down.

Hela was a blinding column of light and still Thor poured more into her. It was glorious. Mjolnir sang and it resonated in every part of him until they vibrated at the same frequency and he nearly wept at the intensity of it all. Maybe he was weeping. It was impossible to tell.

The earth groaned and the rest of the cliffside fell. Loki had done it.

It crashed down, shaking the ground under Thor’s feet, and Hela was buried in seconds under uncountable tons of rock.

Thor finally collapsed.

The last things he saw before he closed his eye were Sigrid and Hogun’s horrified faces.

*

*

*

Thor woke, swimming up groggily out of unconsciousness. Sudden adrenaline jolted through him, his body still straining to fight, but then he realized he was lying in a cot with the green walls of a healer’s tent surrounding him, and his heartbeat started to slow.

“Your Majesty,” said the healer at his bedside, bobbing her head.

He tried to sit up and pain lanced through his side and his shoulder and he flopped back down with a groan. Some part of his brain remembered how Loki’s wound from Hela had failed to heal and he forced his voice to work.

“Hela’s corruption,” he croaked. “Did you remove it?”

“Yes, although…” The healer trailed off uncertainly. “We could not save your eye, Your Majesty. I’m so sorry.”

Ah.

Well.

It was a steep price, but…

“My sister,” he said. “Is she…?”

She must be, or he wouldn’t be here.

The healer swallowed nervously. “Dead, Your Majesty. Or at least we assume...no one has been able to excavate--”

He waved his hand and she stopped talking.

“Fetch me a messenger,” he said. “And take a dictation for my father--”

“I’m so sorry again, Your Majesty,” the healer said, “but your father has fallen into the Odinsleep.”

Thor exhaled heavily. “So I am King.”

“Yes, sire.”

Well, that explained why she had been calling him ‘Your Majesty.’

“The Jotun prisoner?” he asked, not wanting to hear the answer but needing to know.

“I don’t know anything about that sire, I’m sorry,” she said, bobbing her head again.

“Gone, sire,” said a voice from the doorway and Sigrid entered the tent. Thor breathed at least one sigh of relief. “Escaped, or buried.” Her eyes on him were knowing. “Brunnhilde and I,” and she said Brunnhilde’s name very deliberately, “searched the woods and could find no trail.”

Thor closed his eye and relaxed into his pillow. It was much to take in.

“Everyone leave me,” he said.

But first, perhaps, some sleep.

*

*

*

The next day Thor met with his generals and advisors. It took the entire day and all of his energy. The scale of his fight with Hela had terrified most of the camp and had been visible for leagues in every direction and he had much to explain and smooth over, and then there was the matter of the succession of power besides. Some of his council thought he should be crowned immediately with a ceremony, some insisted it wasn’t necessary, some thought he should return to Asgard, some that he should stay with the army in Jotunheim. It all gave him a headache, and he kept reaching up to rub his ruined eye and stopping himself short.

He was missing Loki, and badly, but he consoled himself with the idea that Loki was even now on his way back to Utgard. It was hard to keep his mind present.

They adjourned for the day with no firm plan, and he finally returned to his own pavilion.

He had no wish to take over Odin’s. He did not know how long he would be ruling in Odin’s stead, but he had no intention of following in his father’s footsteps.

Sigrid and Brunnhilde flanked the entrance to his tent, and his face broke into a smile when he saw them, perhaps his first since he’d woken.

He put a hand on each of their shoulders. “I thank you,” he said. “Truly and sincerely, I thank you for all that you tried to do and have done for me. I won’t forget it.”

He entered the pavilion before they could stammer out any ‘you’re welcomes’, sparing them the embarrassment of trying to do so to one of his rank.

Weariness descended on him like an anvil.

Someone had thoughtfully left him an entire decanter of brandy and he took a swig directly from the bottle before going over to pick up the hand mirror from the wash basin. He had not gotten a good look at himself yet, not properly.

It was the same eye his father had lost, his right, though Thor had chosen a black patch instead of a gold one. Ruefully, he studied himself in the mirror, turning it this way and that, running a finger along the edge and wincing. Would he ever be able to fight properly again? It hadn’t really hit him all the way yet - he kept feeling like if he just tried enough he could open his eye again -

“It suits you.”

Thor dropped the mirror with a clatter and whipped around.

The air in the middle of the room shimmered and Loki appeared. Proud and tall and unhurt and so beautiful and so beloved that Thor’s heart felt like it might burst from his chest.

“You’re here,” Thor said stupidly.

It suddenly all seemed worth it, every speck of misery on this whole agonizing road.

“I’m here,” Loki agreed. He held his arms out, hesitant, a little uncertain. “Give us a kiss?”

*

Chapter Text

The first time, Thor had kissed Loki, and Loki had been too beside himself with anxiety and anger and shock to appreciate it.

The second time, Loki had kissed Thor. There had been no guarantee that either of them would live to see the next hour, much less the next day, and it was far too desperate to be passionate.

This time, the third time, there was no way to tell who had begun it, for they stepped towards each other as one, and Thor tipped his face down at the same moment that Loki tilted his up, and Loki fisted his hands in Thor’s cape but Thor was already sliding his hand around the back of Loki’s neck, and they kissed each other with all the pent up hunger and frustration and relief of their whole weeks-long ordeal.

Loki had been doubting his sanity in returning directly into the heart of enemy territory, but here in Thor’s arms with Thor’s mouth devouring his own he felt all of his doubt melting away.

After Loki had buried Hela under an entire mountain of rubble he had turned himself into an owl and begun winging his way straight towards Utgard. He had been giddy at first. He was free - free! He could fly anywhere that he wanted in the entire world and no one could stop him. And his magic, oh his magic! When that connection had come roaring back it was like he was finally alive again after weeks upon weeks of listless gray death. It was coming home to himself and greeting himself with open arms and it was glorious.

He had flown for half the night before coming to ground to rest.

And when he had, sprawling unceremoniously in a snow drift, exhausted, the night sky had come alive with dancing lights, and the weight of everything had fallen heavily on him.

All he had been able to think about was Thor’s face on Winternight, illuminated by this same flickering glow, so open and pure. Thor’s face tonight, torn apart by Hela’s spear. How could Loki have left him? He had been willing to commit treason to free Loki, had taken so many grievous injuries, had attacked and slain his own kin, with no hesitation or fear - and all with words of love on his lips.

Running was the smart thing to do, but Loki had not been feeling very smart. What he had been feeling was a very idiotic pull back into danger towards those very same lips. He needed to know that Thor was still alive and well. He wanted to hear more words of love. Wanted to taste them with his own tongue, see how they fit into his own mouth.

If somebody had told Loki a month ago that he would crave any kind word from any Asgardian, much less declarations of love from Asgard’s prince, he would have laughed himself sick.

But somehow in the interim two enemies had become friends, and two friends had become something more. Was love what had grown there in the spaces between? Was love the thing making an idiot of him now?

And so what if it was? What was love, anyway? It was really nothing more than a random assortment of chemicals, produced involuntarily, that the brain was powerless to resist. It wasn’t as though something as rational as choice was involved. If Loki did love Thor, and wanted to go back to him, how could he be faulted for succumbing to simple science?

So he had flown back and now here he was, in Thor’s pavilion once again, a victim of his own chemistry perhaps, but a willing one, kissing and being kissed as he never had before. Being swept up and swept away by the sheer strength of the feeling rushing through him now. It wasn’t as though he had never touched Thor before, but this was different. Those last remaining walls of anger and fear and repressed desire were crumbling under the onslaught and it stoked a fire in Loki’s belly. He wanted more. Needed more.

Without thinking, Loki went to slide his arms around Thor’s shoulders, and Thor flinched away from him, hissing. Thor must have seen the dismay on Loki’s face, because he began apologizing immediately.

“Sorry! Sorry,” Thor said. He stepped back in and stroked Loki’s cheek with his thumb. His fingers curled around to the back of Loki’s neck, possessive, in a gesture Loki was coming to realize that he liked very much. It sent a shiver down his spine, made his toes curl and his face grow warm, and he pressed into Thor’s touch. “I heal fast, but not quite that fast,” Thor murmured.

“Let me look at it.”

After Loki’s own experience with Asgardian healers he had no faith at all that they had done an adequate job on Thor’s injuries. Thor let Loki lead him over to the bed and sit him down.

“How does one remove all…this,” Loki said, gesturing at his own chest in pantomime.

“My armor?” Thor said with amusement. “You’ve watched me take it off before. Many times, as I recall. Sometimes it seemed like you couldn’t look away-”

Loki snorted. “Like you were any better. Pawing at me with that salve day in and day out. Come, show me.”

Thor showed him where the clasps and buckles were, and Loki eased the armor off of him. The wounds Hela had dealt were nasty; she had run him clear through his left shoulder and left side both. Nothing looked infected, but that was the best Loki could say about it.

Tcha,” Loki said, wincing and skimming his fingertips delicately around the edges. “You Asgardians. You do know a bit about healing, but you lack finesse. This would not suffice for even the lowest of our own healing apprentices. Hold still.” He closed his eyes and reached out with his seidr. The merest whiff of Hela’s touch remained in the heart of each injury and he banished it, then gathered up the jagged edges of the split energies inside of Thor and brought them back together, stitching them smoothly and evenly, bringing his cells back into harmony. When he opened his eyes again, the angry redness of Thor’s skin had faded and the weeping wounds had been reduced to silvery scars. “There,” Loki said with satisfaction, admiring his handiwork.

Thor was staring at him with a stricken look on his face. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“For what?”

“That you had to endure your own injury for so long without your magic to heal it.”

Loki felt his heart twist. He could think of nothing to say in reply that wasn’t either biting or stupidly sentimental. “Your eye next,” he said instead, and took Thor’s head in his hands.

He nearly groaned aloud when he saw what had happened. Loki had been harboring some kind of vague hope that if he got hold of Thor with his seidr that he could persuade his eye to grow back. But Hela’s touch had burned it away completely, burned away even the memory of an eye from Thor’s body, and there was simply nothing left. The savagery of it was astonishing. The edges of Thor’s energies were brutally ripped and torn. Loki was able to smooth them at least, and when he did he felt Thor sigh under his hands.

“I can’t bring it back,” Loki said, unable to keep the sadness from his voice. “I had hoped...forgive me. You should not have to suffer so hideously for my sake.” Loki was sad for himself as well, though saying it aloud would be the height of selfishness, for Thor’s eyes had been lovely to behold and now he would be forever denied their full beauty.

“You’re alive,” Thor said. “And so I am not suffering at all.”

Loki felt his face grow warm again. Norns, he was like a boy, that such mawkishness was making him blush. He slid his hands down from Thor’s temples to his cheeks and bent down to kiss him again. Thor offered his mouth up willingly and slid his own arms around Loki’s waist.

“I had not thought to see you again so soon,” Thor said.

“Neither did I,” Loki admitted. “But it seems that sometimes my heart overrides my logic.”

“I’m glad for it.”

Thor was bare to the waist now and Loki couldn’t help but run his hands down past Thor’s collarbones and over the swell of his chest. He was so warm, his flesh firm yet yielding under Loki’s exploratory touch, and curiously smooth. Like a child who had not yet grown into their markings, though Thor was no child. He was a man, large and strong, and Loki wished to know him as a man.

“Why come to me now, when before you rebuffed me?” Thor said. “What has changed?”

“Everything. I am my own now, you see, and I can give freely that which I was not willing to have taken from me.”

Thor’s eye pierced him, and his voice was husky and dark, and it twisted Loki’s stomach most delightfully. “And what have you come here to give?”

Loki answered him with another kiss, and this time he licked into Thor’s mouth until Thor’s own tongue answered his hungry demand. The flame in his belly roared to life again and they groped at each other, desperate for closeness, until Loki pushed Thor onto his back and climbed on top of him.

“You should tell your guards not to disturb us,” Loki said, He mouthed at Thor’s neck while Thor’s hands kneaded at his waist, and ahhh, Loki wanted this so badly it was a wonder he didn’t just tear all of their clothes off immediately. “Your father does love to send messages at the most terrible times.”

“Mmf,” Thor said, because Loki had found his mouth again and was doing very insistent things with his tongue. “Wait,” Thor gasped, pushing Loki back. “My father, he’s...it’s hard to explain, there’s this…” Thor made a wordless noise of exasperation. “I’m the King right now. At least temporarily.”

Loki sat back, floored, and his voice was high and incredulous. “You could have led with that,” he said.

“I’ve been rather distracted,” Thor said pointedly, squeezing Loki’s waist.

“Do you know what this means?” Loki asked excitedly. “You heard Hela, my father already wants to make peace, you can sign the treaty yourself!”

Thor grinned. “I can.”

Happily, Loki leaned in to attack his mouth again, but Thor pushed him back once more. His face was serious now. “But this is only temporary. Anything I sign...my father could go back on once he comes back to himself. I could make no guarantee that Asgard would honor its part once I am no longer King.”

Loki’s sudden elation gave way just as quickly to disappointment and he felt his face fall.

“I have another idea, though.” Thor said. He paused and searched Loki’s face and Loki looked back at him, trying to read his expression and failing miserably. “It’s a bit unorthodox.”

“I refuse to believe you’ve ever been orthodox a day in your life.”

Thor couldn’t help the small smile that flickered across his face.

He reached one hand up to stroke two gentle fingers down the side of Loki’s face and it was so tender that Loki felt his breath catch.

“Marry me.”

Loki blinked.

Then he guffawed.

The laugh came out before he could stop himself, and he stuffed it back in quickly, but his lips stayed curled upwards in a smile. Thor must be joking. There was no other explanation.

“Marry me,” Thor repeated, and he was smiling for real now. “If we get married then there’s nothing anyone could do about it.“

Loki couldn’t stop smiling. “You’ve gone mad,” he said dramatically. “I suppose it was only a matter of time.”

“Not mad,” Thor said. “Just for once in my life my desires and what’s best for my realm and what is in my power to do are all in perfect alignment.”

“Absolutely mad,” Loki said, reaching down to run his hands up Thor’s chest and tickle at his armpits. “Stark raving.” Thor was squirming underneath him and Loki laughed and dug at his ribs until Thor growled and flipped them over so he was on top, then leaned down to plunder Loki’s laughing mouth.

“I suppose the wedding would have to be incredibly lavish,” Loki said, trying for a conversational tone that came out far breathier than he intended, because Thor’s huge bulk was crushing him to the bed in the most exquisite ways. “You’d be absolutely ravishing in a gown.”

“Mm, so would you.”

“I would, wouldn’t I? Double gowns, then. And what of heirs?”

Thor was nosing in behind his ear and his voice was muffled. “Oh I suppose we’d have six or seven children, don’t you think?”

“And you’d bear them yourself, I take it?”

Thor pulled back to look at him. “Well no, you would, wouldn’t you?”

Loki had thought they were teasing each other, but Thor’s face and voice looked surprisingly serious.

“And how exactly would I do that?”

“Don’t you have...I mean...aren’t you capable of bearing children?”

Loki stared at him for a moment in pure, unadulterated bafflement.

“Are you…? You’re serious?”

Thor sat back and ran an embarrassed hand over his hair and Loki propped himself up on his elbows to look at him. “I thought...I mean that is...our biology texts…”

“Just spit it out.” Loki wasn’t sure what he was feeling right now other than abject confusion.

“On Asgard they teach us that Jotnar are all one sex.”

Loki had been teetering towards rage, but the entire thing was so ridiculous he tipped into hysteria instead. He started laughing, a titter at first, and then a giggle, and then a full belly laugh, until he had tears in his eyes and Thor was trying not to laugh at his laughter.

“One sex?” he managed, before devolving into hysteria again. He flopped down onto his back with tears in his eyes. “So your people can’t tell the difference between male and female Jotnar simply from looking at us and decided we must all be ONE SEX? Ymir’s arse hairs, this is the funniest thing I have ever heard in my life. I’m MALE, Thor. Dear Norns. So you thought, what, that I had a cunt down under my cock?”

Thor was red-faced, but to his credit he managed to answer the question. “Well...yes?”

“You adorable creature, it’s a good thing I love you because this is THE most ridiculous thing that anyone has ever said to me in...ever.”

Thor’s face broke into a radiant smile and Loki’s stomach flipped.

“So you do love me, then?”

Loki’s laughter died down. He found Thor’s hand and interlaced their fingers.

“Well I suppose it depends,” he said. Thor’s misconception had been hilarious, but it also had implications which were quickly sinking in. “Do you still want me here in your bed even though I don’t have a cunt?” He was surprised to find that he was nervous about the answer.

His fears were short-lived though, for Thor pressed a long kiss to the back of his hand, and when he looked back up his gaze was as intense as ever.

“More than anything. Would your people still let us marry? On Asgard we have no such prohibition, but I know that sometimes in other realms--”

“Of course. We’re not savages.”

“Then it makes no matter. And we won’t lack for heirs, because how could we after we adopt all the war orphans--”

Thor.” And then Loki was pulling him back in for a kiss, his emotions all a tangle.

He didn’t know if he was actually entertaining this notion, but he did know that he wanted Thor right now, desperately, even more than he had before. They were a chaotic tumble of limbs as they tried to rid each other of their clothes simultaneously while staying connected at the mouth.

Loki moaned when Thor’s hand wrapped around him and he bucked up into Thor’s fist. He reached for Thor as well, but then Thor was holding both of them together in one palm and Loki gasped, because how could Thor’s hand be so huge? and his fingers dug into Thor’s shoulders and his breath stuttered in his lungs.

“How I’ve wanted you,” Thor breathed, rocking their foreheads together and looking down to see them sliding against each other.

They came apart together and then lay entwined afterwards, Thor with his great heavy thigh thrown over Loki’s hip, Loki curled up against the broad plain of his chest. Thor’s fingers traced the patterns on Loki’s skin.

“Well?” Thor asked, startling Loki out of a doze.

“Hmm?”

“You never gave me your answer. Will you grant the King of Asgard your hand?”

“Hmm. Maybe.” Loki’s tone was light, playful, belying the internal turmoil Thor’s words were invoking.

“Maybe? Maybe what?” Thor’s tone was warm and fond and his hand stilled its stroking.

Loki looked up at him. “I came back here because...well, never mind why I came back here. The point is I can’t stay. I need to go home. There is much I need to do. And so do you. You need to withdraw your army, and we need to come together under the white flag and settle our terms. And then…”

“And then?”

“Well, then...it depends on how good the King of Asgard is at courting the Prince of Jotunheim.”

Thor laughed. “You’d have me court you formally?”

“Oh yes,” Loki said, smiling mischievously. “We wouldn’t want to do anything improper, would we?”

Thor gathered him in closer and Loki tilted his face up for a kiss.

“I expect I’ll have to make many diplomatic missions,” Thor said.

“Many, MANY missions.”

“And I suppose I’ll have to make my case...I’ll need to be quite persuasive…” Thor’s mouth was doing something wicked to Loki’s neck now, and Loki squirmed.

“Extraordinarily so,” Loki agreed, running his hands down Thor’s ribs to his hips and around to squeeze the perfect globes of his buttocks.

“If you’d like, I can begin now…”

Loki’s reply was lost to a sigh as Thor’s mouth moved down his body.

Thor made his case quite thoroughly and Loki came with Thor’s name on his lips and Thor’s hair fisted in his hands and his heart full to bursting.

They barely slept that night. It remained unsaid that the memory of this time together would need to sustain them for the foreseeable future, and they each seemed desperate to take all that the other had to offer.

They couldn’t keep their hands off of each other, and the night passed in a haze of lust and sweat and ragged breaths, of hot wet mouths and groping hands in the darkness and whispered confessions, of rough frenzied coupling and then, later, the long slow tender slide of their bodies against and inside of each other.

Sometime in the early hours of the morning, Thor finally fell asleep with his head cradled against Loki’s chest, and Loki kissed his damp brow before rising. He washed and dressed in seidr-induced silence.

He’d already said his not-goodbye once and he didn’t wish to do it again.

Thor would understand.

There was a weapons rack in the corner and Loki selected the sharpest looking dagger he could find. He stood over Thor’s sleeping form, drinking in the sight of his bare chest rising and falling, his relaxed face so peaceful in sleep, his hair spread over the pillow like a golden cloud. As carefully as he could, Loki gathered up a small lock of Thor’s hair and cut it off with the dagger.

He bent over Thor’s desk searching for quill and paper, and when he found it he left Thor a short note.

A small token to remember me by, he wrote. I took some of yours as well. In Jotunheim we braid locks of each other’s hair into our own to signify devotion to a loved one. I shall wear yours behind my ear, for that seems to be your favorite place to touch and kiss, and every time I see it I shall think of you. Until we see each other again ~

Loki took the dagger and cut off a lock of his own hair and left it coiled up on top of the note.

He looked back at Thor one last time, memorizing this moment, steeling himself.

Loki shimmered invisible and slipped from the tent, and once he reached the edge of camp he leaped into the air, his arms melting into wings, and took off into the sky.

Jotunheim fell away beneath him. The hills and valleys shrank until it looked like he could reach out and pluck them, his kingdom, his land, his people, all slumbering in peace. And now, just maybe, that peace would continue into the morning, and then the next day, and the next. And Loki would see Thor again, and instead of coming to him in shackles or in desperation, he would come to him in robes of silk and a crown of ice, and his own heart would know peace as well.

Loki was leaving a part of his heart behind in Thor’s tent, but he knew that Thor would return it to him, and so he looked forward to the future in joy instead of sorrow.

There would still be much work to do, but he would not be doing it alone. He and Thor had faced the Goddess of Death together and won. They would win this too.

The morning sun broke over the horizon, a thin sliver of brilliance sharp as an arrow, pointing Loki’s way home.