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it's been a long, cold, lonely winter

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Thor starts from fitful sleep, as he so often has of late, and listens to the quiet of the morning.

It is midsummer on Earth, and though it is too early to be awake, sun streams in through the glass doors that open out of his chamber onto the treeline. The compound is quiet, though, and for a moment Thor wonders what it was that woke him.

This place belonged to SHIELD, once. Now it houses the last remnants of Asgard, those who staggered blinking back into the world after the blast that destroyed Thanos and all of the Infinity Stones in one bright burst of light. There seems to have been little rhyme or reason to who returned, to what was undone and what was not. Thor cannot answer why Wakanda celebrates the return of her King while the Sanctum Sanctorum still lacks its guardian; or why Thanos’ daughter has returned to greet her friends and yet still mourns her lover. He can only be selfishly, dizzyingly grateful that Loki sleeps in the room beside his own, weakened and haunted, perhaps, but whole and alive and here.

Loki. Before he can stop himself, Thor is halfway to the door, the tiled floor cold beneath his feet. Like most of the rooms in the compound, this was never meant to be a sleeping-chamber, and there are precious few creature comforts to be had.

Not that Thor is complaining. Not that anyone is.

He closes his own door and taps at Loki’s, not really expecting an answer. They haven’t shared a bed since Loki’s return, the careful equilibrium they built in those days aboard the Statesman a thing of the past. He rather thinks that Loki is avoiding him.

(If anyone had told him, back then, that he’d soon miss the aftermath of Asgard’s destruction, that he’d see it in his dreams bathed in the golden light of a remembered idyll, he’d have thought they were crazy. Impossibilities are the stuff of his life now, it seems.)

There’s only silence in response to his knock. He opens the door carefully, though that it allows him in at all is an encouraging sign. Loki’s magic may be depleted, but he’s still perfectly capable of repelling unwanted visitors. The room stands empty, though, and for a moment Thor can’t help the way his heartbeat speeds up, the tight little knot of fear that makes itself felt in his gut. Some part of him still fears waking to find this all a dream, his world unmade once more

He grounds himself with a hand on the wall. The glass doors are open, the curtain that covers them pulled aside, and a trail of footsteps, flattened into the grass, leads into the woods. Loki’s departure must have been what woke him.

The wet grass is calf-high, morning dew soaking through the sweatpants he slept in, but once he reaches the treeline the ground is warm, rich earth and moss under his bare feet. He moves quietly, listening to the sounds of early morning. Birdsong in the branches above him; the whirr of insect wings as something buzzes past his ear.

Loki stands in the centre of a clearing, a few minutes’ walk into the trees. He has his back to Thor, his face raised to the pale early sunlight that spills down upon him. The blanket from his bed is clutched tight around his shoulders. He doesn’t move, doesn’t give any sign of hearing the short, relieved breath Thor lets out at the sight of him; and perhaps that is what gives Thor the impetus to approach, to close the distance that has opened up between them. In the weeks since the resurrection, Loki has seemed almost as far beyond reach as he did in death, and Thor’s hands ache to touch him, to feel him solid and real beneath them.

Still, he stops a single pace from where Loki stands, uncertain of his welcome. Loki turns his head a fraction, and Thor sees that his eyes are closed, face still upturned to the sun like a plant seeking sustenance. The light catches the edges of his profile, making him look, for a moment, like something bright and alien, not quite of this world.

His nose wrinkles in annoyance, then. “Stop hovering. It’s irritating.”

Thor smiles at that. “I’m not hovering.”

“Then tell me what you want, brother.”

“Must I want something? Maybe I just came to see you.” He tries to keep his tone light and easy, though he fears he’s not entirely successful.

“Well, here I am,” Loki says. “You can go back to bed now.” He’s trying for casual dismissiveness, Thor can tell, but there’s the faint hint of a tremor in his voice, and so instead of doing as he’s told, Thor takes that final step closer and lays his hand on Loki’s shoulder, atop the blanket.

Loki’s shivering.

That’s enough to make Thor blink in surprise. It has always been Loki’s habit to cover himself up in a protective carapace of leather and gold, nary an inch of skin on show—but he has never in his life complained of the cold. Even as a child, in winter he’d stay out long after Thor and the rest of their friends had retreated indoors to thaw their hands and feet before the fire, enchanted by the frozen landscape. Thor had grumbled, then, unhappy to be bested by his brother even in something so small. After he learned Loki’s true parentage, he learned not to mention it.

Loki shrugs his hand off. “Don’t,” he says, and pulls the blanket tighter around himself.

“Loki.” Thor doesn’t move to touch him again, not yet, but nor does he move away. “Brother, are you well?”

The laugh he gets in response isn’t quite a laugh, short and choked-off. “I’m fine.” Loki is holding himself very still, the line of his shoulders stiff with tension.

Thor sighs and closes the last few inches of space between them so that he’s standing near enough to touch, near enough to smell the sharp, piney tang of the oil Loki uses to tame his curls. “Is that so?” he says, gently, and reaches out for his brother once more, his right hand finding the place where Loki’s is fisted in the blanket.

Loki doesn’t pull his hand away, and Thor guesses—hopes—that is a good sign.

“Do you remember our first midwinter hunt?” he goes on. “How you mocked me for complaining about the cold? You were so smug. I was furious.”

Loki exhales, still not quite a laugh. “Your face was a sight to behold.”

“I’m sure of it,” Thor agrees. Encouraged, he brings his other arm up to wrap around Loki’s waist, pressing them gently together. For all his worry, there’s a small, absurd rush of relief at being able to do this, at feeling his brother solid and real beside him when in so many dreams, for so many months, he melted away like a ghost.

Loki allows it for a moment, going still within the circle of his arms. He turns, then, pulling back a little—but not entirely, not out of Thor’s reach—to search Thor’s face. His own expression is pinched, dark shadows under his eyes. “If you’re so worried about my health, brother, use your influence to find us some more comfortable accommodations. It shouldn’t be too great a challenge, if the humans love you as much as you claim.”

Thor ignores the barb, and the urge to rebuke. The people of Earth have been more than generous already, finding them food and clothing and a place to live amid all the chaos of the resurrection. But of course this is not about that.

“I only—” he starts to say, and then stops. Heartfelt words have rarely served him well where Loki is concerned, too easily turned back on themselves and twisted into new and ugly shapes, and he has no doubt of Loki’s ability to imagine some slight against himself in Thor’s need for reassurance.

Instead of finishing his sentence he simply pulls Loki back into his arms, and after a second’s hesitation, Loki goes with it, letting out a deep, shuddery breath and allowing his head to fall forward onto Thor’s shoulder.

He stays there for a long moment, and Thor is on the verge of relaxing when he says, “You do know this can’t last.”

His face is still hidden against Thor’s shoulder, so Thor can’t look him in the eyes. Instead of pulling away to try, Thor tightens his grip on his brother. “What makes you so sure?”

(He tries to ignore the tight knot of dread that makes itself felt in his guts, because Loki’s right, isn’t he? How can he not be? No peace, no reprieve, ever lasts.)

Loki gives an incredulous snort. “Have you paid attention to anything in our lives this past decade?” His long fingers flex nervously, as though he’s not sure whether he wants to keep clutching the blanket around himself or hold onto Thor instead.

Thor turns fractionally so they’re cheek-to-cheek, the lashes of his good eye brushing Loki’s face. “I was there,” he reminds his brother, gently. “I lost everything too.” I lost more, a small, selfish part of him thinks, I lost you, again and again, but there is no good that saying it could do, so he doesn’t. “Don’t you think that’s more reason to make the most of what we have while we have it?”

“While we have it,” Loki repeats, thoughtful. “Do we have it? Truly?”

There’s something more in his voice than mere pessimism, or even the nervousness of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Something terribly lost and uncertain. Thor cups Loki’s cheek in one hand, fingertips buried in his hair, and gently turns Loki to look at him. Their faces are close enough now that they’re sharing breath. Loki blinks fast, throat working as he swallows.

“Loki.” It comes out sounding like a question.

There’s a long pause before Thor gets an answer. And then: “I didn’t really know what it was like, before. Feeling the cold.” Loki speaks slowly, meditative, and Thor finds himself holding his breath, afraid to disturb the moment. Loki’s confidences are rare things indeed, and rarer still given like this, in quiet and intimacy and not in the heat of some fight. “I don’t mean—I was aware of it, but I didn’t understand how it could hurt. How it could get into your bones and stay there. And now…” He trails off, not that there’s any need to complete the sentence.

Thor can’t help but dread the answer, but he asks anyway: “Where were you? After—after Thanos?” How often he was haunted by the thought of Loki’s body floating forever in the void of space, cold and alone. But Loki’s spirit, he’d hoped, was elsewhere. Somewhere better, somewhere peaceful.

Loki shakes his head. “I don’t know. Only that it was dark. Empty. And so cold.” He breaks off, eyes distant, a shudder running through him.

“And you are not there now. You’re here, for as long as you wish to stay.”

Another one of those not-quite-laughs. “What makes you so sure?” Loki parrots back at him.

Thor’s hand moves of its own accord, curling around the back of Loki’s neck to bring their foreheads together in the old, accustomed gesture. His thumb brushes against the pulse point in Loki’s throat and he pauses there a moment, seeking the reassurance of his brother’s heartbeat.

Loki flinches minutely at the touch, and Thor pulls his hand away. He dips his head, pressing his lips to the spot in silent apology. He half-expects another flinch, but after a moment Loki exhales and leans into him, some of the tension going out of his body, though it feels more like surrender than relaxation.

“You’re afraid this is a trick,” Thor says, searching his brother’s face. “Why?” He hesitates. “Loki, if you know something—”

Loki shakes his head quickly. “No. But it all seems rather too good to be true, doesn’t it? Half the people killed within spitting distance of an Infinity Stone brought back, and I just happen to be one of them? Forgive me if I’m not celebrating yet.”

He’s still shivering. Thor presses another kiss to his temple, fingers stroking through his hair as though he’s trying to calm a skittish animal. That Loki allows it perhaps speaks more of his distress than anything else.

And is it truly so unfounded? Loki has played enough cruel tricks of his own over the centuries. Perhaps it’s only natural that he fears the universe retaliating in kind.

Thor thinks back to the frantic days before they found Thanos, the makeshift headquarters in Wakanda a semi-organised chaos of Stark and Shuri’s technology and the ancient books of lore that Wong had hunted out from the Sanctum’s library. Most of it is a blur, in hindsight, but a few important details stand out.

“Destroying the gauntlet was supposed to restore what was lost,” he says, slowly. “Not simply dead. Perhaps those of our people who did not return had already found their places in Valhalla, or in Hel.”

“And you imagine neither would have me.” The old, familiar edge is in Loki’s voice, and Thor kisses him again, this time at the corner of his mouth.

“I think maybe the world is not finished with you yet.”

“Is that supposed to be comforting?”

“Perhaps.” He keeps his voice low, meaning for Loki to feel his words as much as hear them. “I am not done with you either, you know.”

That ought not to be worth much as comfort, either, for since when has his presence ever kept Loki safe? Still, Thor has little else to offer, so he must hope it is enough.

Loki doesn’t reply; not in words, at least. He makes a small, choked off sound in his throat and lets the blanket fall from his shoulders, pressing his palms to the swell of Thor’s chest as though he’s trying to absorb Thor’s heat through them. His hands are cold, and Thor folds them in his own and presses a kiss to the knuckles of each in turn. He would share all the warmth, all the life, in his body if such a thing were possible, and since he cannot expect to say it aloud and have it believed, he must show it instead.

The pad of Loki’s thumb brushes over his lower lip, hesitant, barely a touch, and then Loki’s hand moves up to cup his cheek, fingertips at the corner of his eye socket, brushing a strand of growing-out hair from his face. They stand together for a moment, just touching, and later Thor will not be certain who moved in for the kiss first.

It doesn’t matter, really. Their lips meet and it’s like a river crashing over them, tentative to desperate in an instant. Loki’s arms are around his neck and Loki’s tongue is in his mouth, and they are pressed together all along the length of their bodies, Loki trembling against him as though he will shake apart. Thor holds him fiercely close, kisses the tip of his nose and his pale cheek and the curve of his neck above his black t-shirt. It’s still strange seeing Loki dressed this way, unadorned and unprotected, and his sharp intake of breath as Thor sucks at the exposed skin makes Thor’s heart beat faster, his cock stir to sleepy life inside his sweatpants.

If Loki feels it, he doesn’t object; he seems intent on pressing himself closer, the fingers of one hand curling in Thor’s hair, the other clutching at the thin fabric of his t-shirt. It’s like he wants to crawl inside of Thor and keep himself warm there, curl up behind his ribs against the muscle of his heart.

And if it were possible, Thor thinks deliriously, he would allow it.

He can’t; but he can do the next best thing.

He disentangles himself, earning himself a look that’s equal parts lost and indignant from his brother, and grabs for the blanket that Loki let drop a moment ago, spreading it out in the sunlight and sinking down onto it. Loki takes the hand he reaches out and lets himself be pulled into Thor’s lap to straddle his legs. Thor slides his hands up beneath the hem of Loki’s t-shirt, palms flat over the lean muscles of his back, fingertips skating over the notches of his spine. If this were some other, easier time, he might summon a crackle of lightning, let the shock fizz over Loki’s skin just to feel him squirm.

But this is now, so instead he keeps his touches firm and gentle, pressing Loki tight against him and nosing against the thin fabric of his t-shirt. He’s fully hard now, aching with it, but doesn’t move to do anything about it until he feels the answering twitch of Loki’s cock, the tentative way his brother rubs against him. Then he moves his hand to the front of Loki’s pants, stroking gently at the bulge he finds there. It’s only gentle, questioning, but Loki breathes out, deep and shuddery, and lets his head fall forward, his lips soft at Thor’s hairline. They move against one another, breathing hard in the early-morning quiet. Loki’s cock fills under his touch, and Loki clutches at him as though drowning, but it isn’t enough. Probably nothing ever will be, but all Thor can do is try.

He stops what he’s doing to tug at the hem of Loki’s t-shirt. Loki stills at the absence of his touch, blinking back at him wide-eyed for a moment, and he is so beautiful that Thor surges up to kiss him again, full on the mouth. That distracts them both for a long moment; but eventually Loki seems to remember himself and tugs his shirt off over his head. Thor rids himself of his own and gathers his brother back into his arms, teasing with his lips at the ridge of Loki’s collarbone, laying open-mouthed kisses over the soft skin of his chest.

He’s cold, still. Thor wraps both arms tightly around his waist and uses his weight to roll them both over, laying Loki on his back on the blanket in the sunlight. Loki stretches out beneath it, opening himself up to the light and warmth, and Thor moves to cover Loki’s body with his own, and kisses him, and kisses him. If he is the only thing that can anchor Loki to this world, then he will do it; will stay here with him forever, until this world ends too.

Thor ignores his own arousal for now, focusing instead on kissing Loki thoroughly, slow and deep. Loki, so often suspicious of his attentions, for once seems content to let him do it, pressing up against him. His hands are cold at the small of Thor’s back, and when icy fingers dip beneath the waistband of his sweatpants, Thor is the one who shivers.

That earns him a smile, small but present, and he decides immediately that it is worth it. Still, when Loki’s hands reach lower, grasping at the meat of his arse, he lets out a gasp that’s not entirely dignified.

“Complaining, brother?” Loki murmurs against his mouth, though even now there’s a hint of something more than teasing in it. “This was your idea.”

“It was,” Thor agrees, and moves to nip at his earlobe. “A good one, I think.” If there’s a little too much sincerity in his voice, Loki doesn’t comment on it. The breath catches in his throat at the scrape of Thor’s teeth and he throws his head back. His hands may still be cold, but there’s the pale pink beginning of a flush making its way up his chest. It looks, Thor thinks, like progress.

Loki plucks at his waistband again and Thor takes the hint, tearing himself away long enough to wriggle out of his pants. By the time he does it, Loki has shed his own, too. Not by magic, for once; he still hasn’t the strength to use it for such trifles. There’s something irresistibly abandoned about the sight of his clothing tossed carelessly aside on the forest floor. Loki so often guards his desire, lets it show only in answer to Thor’s own, but now he reaches for Thor as he sinks back onto the blanket, cool fingertips brushing over the muscles of Thor’s belly and curling into his hips.

Thor lets himself be guided gladly, settling between Loki’s parted thighs and pressing against him. He muffles a groan as their cocks slide together—Loki is as hard as he is now, hips shifting to rut against him—but the warm press of their whole bodies together, all skin against skin, makes him dizzy with relief. It’s comfort as much as it is lust, and he knows that Loki feels it too. It’s in the way his arms wrap around Thor’s waist, in the way he presses his face to the curve of Thor’s neck and holds himself still there, his breath coming hard against the skin.

It’s as close to an admission of need as he’s ever likely to give, and Thor strokes at his hair, putting all the reassurance he can muster into the gesture—I’m here, I have you, whatever is in my power to give, I’ll give it to you—before he reaches down between them to take Loki’s cock in his hand.

Loki breathes out a quiet, “Oh,” always so sensitive to his touch, before silencing himself. Thor does not mind that he does so: he can feel everything he’s doing right in the way Loki’s cock twitches in his hand, in how he cants his hips up into Thor’s touch. Thor thumbs over the sticky-wet head, touch light enough to be a tease; uses his fingers to spread a glistening smear of precome up the length of his brother’s cock.

Some other time, he might be minded to draw out the teasing—but not right now. He takes Loki’s length in hand and strokes him firmly, leaning down to kiss along the curve of his neck, wet and messy. Loki trembles against him, makes a low, pleased sound. His eyes are closed tight, and Thor nuzzles against the side of his face, all the while keeping up his ministrations.

“Look at me?” he says, soft enough that Loki will be able to pretend he hasn’t heard it, if he prefers.

Loki hesitates a moment; but then his eyes flutter open, and when he comes it’s with his gaze locked on Thor’s, breath stuttering in his chest, hips bucking up helplessly as his spend rushes hot over Thor’s hand and his own belly.

Thor watches his expression for a moment, heedless of his own aching hardness. He will never tire of how Loki looks in these moments, how his face softens and he loses his guardedness, at least for as long as it takes him to regain his breath. It’s as close as the two of them ever get to peace, and he’s fully prepared to let that be all the pleasure he takes this morning. Only when he makes to roll his weight off his brother and sit up, Loki locks both arms around his neck, eyes narrowing.

He laughs, a little breathlessly. “What’s wrong, brother?”

Loki’s fingernails dig into the muscles of his shoulders. His hands are still cold.

“Is this all you have to give me?” he demands. It ought to be a tease, a challenge, but his voice is tight and nervous again.

Thor dips his head to kiss his brother’s cheek. “What would you have of me?”

“You know what,” Loki tells him, one leg coming up to wrap around Thor’s hips, and Thor cannot suppress a groan of desire.

They have no oil, but Thor cannot countenance tearing himself away from his brother right now—and, judging by the fierce expression on Loki’s face, he doubts he would be allowed to. Instead, he uses his fingers to gather up some of the mess of spend on Loki’s skin, and reaches down, and back, to circle Loki’s rim with the tip of his forefinger.

Here, at least, he’s warm, and somehow, this feels all the more intimate for it.

Loki exhales something that might be yes, or please, or—more likely—something else entirely when Thor breaches him with two fingers, spreading sticky wetness inside of him and then slipping deeper. He crooks his fingers, seeking, until Loki tenses beneath him, screwing his eyes closed in what might be pleasure or discomfort, or both. Loki’s cock remains soft against his belly, and he gasps with the overstimulation, but he spreads his legs further, asking wordlessly for more.

Thor could not deny him if he wanted to. He slides his fingers free and slicks up his own cock with the remainder of the mess on Loki’s stomach, and slowly, slowly, he eases inside.

It is a sweet torture, but he holds himself still there until Loki’s heels kick at his buttocks and Loki’s teeth nip at the cord of tendon along the side of his neck. “If you don’t move,” Loki tells him, “I might kill you.”

He draws out inch by inch and pushes back inside the same way, and then does it again, and again, not even really setting a rhythm, just pressing in deeply enough that their bodies are flush together and he feels the frantic beating of Loki’s pulse from the inside. It’s as close as they can possibly get, and yet it still feels inadequate. He wants to reach to the core of his brother and chase out the cold and the uncertainty and fear.

It is not in Loki’s nature to be so comforted, of course. Thor can only give him this, hands and mouth and cock and unspoken promise, and hope that it is enough.

It’s something, at least; judging by the way Loki clenches up around him on each thrust, and by the small, needy sounds that escape him and that he doesn’t quite manage to muffle against Thor’s skin.

The strain of holding back becomes too much, at length, and Thor picks up his pace with fast, shallow thrusts. Loki grabs at his arse, urging him on, legs tightening around his waist to take impossibly more of Thor’s cock into himself. His other hand comes up, tightens in the strands of Thor’s hair, and it’s that sharp shock of sensation that sends Thor over the edge, his balls pumping themselves dry as he buries himself deep, Loki holding him there so tightly it feels as though he means to bruise his claim into Thor’s skin.

He sinks forward, breathing hard, and Loki gives a soft, “Mmf,” of complaint. But when Thor makes to sit up and slide out of him he refuses to let go.

“Just—give me a minute,” he says, voice a little unsteady. His eyes are still closed, but the look on his face is open. Peaceful, for now.

Thor’s heart overflows with promises—I will give you every minute of every hour of every day, I’ll give you everything—but he knows better than to make them aloud. Instead he lowers his weight onto his forearms and lays his face against the fall of Loki’s hair, and stays there with him just a little longer, entangled in the warmth of the morning sun.