Seeing as Thor is incapable of expressing himself subtly, Loki waits until he's nearly finished cutting his hair before he speaks. He knows from experience it's best to do these sorts of things when Thor is sitting and he is armed.
"I have a favor to ask," Loki says.
True to form, Thor turns his entire head and shoulders to look up at him. Luckily, Loki pulled the scissors back when he spoke so as not to relieve Thor of one of his ears. Thor watches him with a brow cocked. It's a look Loki doesn't have to decipher. He isn't one to ask a favor.
"A favor," Thor says. "You want to ask me a favor."
"I believe those are the words I said."
Loki cuts at the air once with the scissors. He does this cut about once a month for his brother. Thor has taken a liking to keeping his hair short, seems to trust Loki to do it, and though Loki has always preferred Thor's hair long, he obliges. He owes Thor certain things, now. Besides, though he wouldn't admit it, Thor loves getting his hair cut. When Loki buzzes the sides, he swears that Thor purrs.
"What sort of favor?" asks Thor.
Loki taps his shoulder so he'll turn back around. Loki shaves down the edges, watches the fine blond hairs snow down to Thor's neck.
"I'm needed on Jötunheim."
"Needed? Since when are you in contact with Jötunheim?"
"Since I'm the heir to the throne—hold still." Loki evens out of the neckline and decides he's finished. He wipes the fine hairs away from Thor's neck and shoulders. They always do this in Thor's room, even though the light is better outside. "Anyway, I'll need to leave at once."
Thor nods, slowly.
"You're not speaking plainly, brother. What favor do you have to ask of me?"
"You must come with me to Jötunheim," Loki says.
"Me? I don't understand. You have as much say in Asgardia as I, why would I need to join you?"
"Ah, well." Loki notices a hair he missed. He clips it neatly with the scissors. "They may be under the impression that we're married."
Thor turns and stands so quickly Loki barely has time to take a step back. Thor looks about as angry as Loki imagined he would, and part of him feels a bit bad, truly, but he refuses to ignore how achingly funny the whole thing is.
"And why," Thor says tightly, "do they think that?"
He's stalking towards Loki now, maybe doesn't realize it. Loki takes quick steps back, clings to the scissors in his hand in case he has to use them.
"We've been ruling Asgardia together and they just assumed—who was I to tell them—"
"So you just let them think we're married?"
"Well, they seemed quite taken by the idea," Loki says. "They adore you."
Thor pauses, which is thankful, because Loki is nearly at the wall. "Of course they do. But that isn't the point."
"The point," Loki says, "is that Jötunheim is in ruins, I am the heir, and I cannot ascend to the throne without a mate. Jötunheim is even more a slave to tradition than Asgard was. They'll continue to suffer unless I help them. Unless we help them."
Thor's face twists with revelation.
"Didn't you try to destroy the entire realm once?"
"Well they don't know that," Loki says. "I don't think."
Thor makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat, and Loki feels a desperation in him he hasn't felt in years.
"Please, brother," he says.
He hasn't said please to Thor in earnest, not since Thor brought him back. The word takes the heat from his eyes, softens his features in the way Loki remembers, the way he has come to know and adore and also makes him feel strangely guilty.
"How long?" he asks.
When he died, there was nothing. Not at first. At first, there was just blackness, and Loki could not see, could not hear, could feel nothing. He had no concept of time. Maybe the nothing lasted years, maybe a second. Loki just knew the sudden call of his name by Thor. His voice so clear. He sounded heartbroken, feral, hopeful. And all at once Loki felt himself surge forward from nothing. He came back naked, in a forest, shivering and coughing up black liquid, the soft shocks of life moving back through him. But Thor was there, he was there, and he pulled Loki to him, covered him in a blanket. Called him brother.
The first breath Loki took came as a sob.
What he learned after: Thanos had been defeated. Not just defeated, killed. Gone. The Time Stone had been used to bring back most of the Æsir. Thor was the one who fought to bring Loki back. Thor was the one who said he was bringing him back, that he missed him, and if anyone wanted to stop him, they were welcome to try. No one did.
Thor brought Loki to Asgardia, floating above Midgard with the help of magic and a few of Thor's very capable human friends. It was there that Thor asked Loki to stay with him. To be his advisor. Rule by his side. It was there that Loki felt the sun on his face again. Saw himself in a life he could live.
It was on Asgardia that Loki said yes.
They travel using Stormbreaker. When Loki first saw it, he joked the axe wasn't quite big enough, but Thor handles it with a grace Loki has to admire. Heimdall is left in charge during their absence, which Loki has assured Thor will be no longer than a week. Heimdall asks if this is wise. Loki finds that profoundly amusing, since nothing he and Thor have done in the last five hundred years or so has been very wise.
"It has to be done," Thor says, and nothing else.
He eyes Loki from the side. Thor was a bit keener on the idea of pretending to be married until Loki reminded him that they had to pretend to be married. Now he just looks sullen. Loki still finds it thoroughly amusing, though now that they're actually going, Loki also feels strangely nervous. He stiffens when Thor wraps an arm around him and lifts Stormbreaker into the air.
"I hope you know what you're doing," Thor says.
"I rarely do," says Loki, humming.
"How reassuring," Thor says, and they're off.
They're met at the border by Ulmer. He's been Loki's contact through most of this. Actually, he was the one who first sent a crow to contact Loki, once news of his resurrection made its way around the Nine Realms. Before he died, before everything changed, Loki might have ignored Jötunheim's attempts to contact him. As it were, this isn't before. It's not. And everything is different.
Ulmer has fur draped over his shoulders as he stomps through the snow to them. His red eyes are appraising, but welcoming. He stops before them and bends to one knee, bows.
"Loki-Prince," he says.
"Please stand," says Loki.
Ulmer does. He turns to Thor. "Thor, son of Odin. We welcome our prince's sváss."
"Your what?" Thor says.
Loki pinches his side and hisses, "Be quiet."
Ulmer eyes Loki, and for a moment Loki thinks he's caused some offense.
"My prince," he says. "I am most pleased you've come. But I think it would put everyone more at ease if you were to drop the Allfather's illusion."
Loki's breath chills. He hadn't thought of that, not once. He can feel Thor turn his gaze to him but doesn't return it. He swallows once, then nods.
He never feels a thing when he drops Odin's glamour. That's always been the strangest part to him—that the two skins feel the same, when everything about them is different. Loki glances at his hands, sees they've inked blue. When he looks up, Thor is staring at him as if he's never seen him before. It occurs to Loki then that Thor hasn't—not like this. All at once Loki wants to cover himself. Thor will not stop staring. It's as if he thinks Loki is something to behold. Ulmer clears his throat to draw their attention.
"Come, then. Let us go to the palace."
The Cask of Ancient Winters is gone for good, but Jötunheim has done some rebuilding. Even during his campaign of terror, Thanos hadn't touched the realm, and why should he have? Jötunheim was never known for much. After they lost the war with Asgard, many didn't know of them at all. It surprises Loki to see the spiraling white towers inside the capital, the movement of Jötnar. Even the children are taller than him, and that fills Loki with a bitterness he doesn't like. A lot has changed for him, but he remains what he is.
The doors of the palace are flanked with guards, two of whom open the doors for the three of them. The inside is as white and plain as the front of the palace, but the walls are lined with family crests, and there's a fire lit in the center of the room. Thor walks faster next to Loki so he can feel that warmth.
"Your husband," Ulmer starts, and Thor and Loki both simultaneously trip into each other.
"Which—" Loki swallows. "Do you mean me or Thor?"
"Thor," Ulmer says.
"That's me," says Thor, straightening. "I am a husband."
"Loki tells me you are fond of hunting. We've organized a hunt near our western borders that I think will please you."
"That's…" Thor gaze drops to Loki, then back to Ulmer. "Fantastic. Very good. Thank you."
Thor hates hunting, actually. But when Ulmer asked Loki what Thor enjoyed, Loki's tongue failed him. He thins his lips to avoid smiling. Ulmer leads them left to a stone staircase.
"You must be exhausted from the journey," he says. "I'll show you to your room so that you may rest."
Neither of them picks up on the singularity of the word until Ulmer opens the door and for a moment Loki forgets they're pretending to be married and almost asks if this is a joke. He remembers himself quickly, thanks Ulmer, and shuts the door, which is no easy feat, given that it's three times his size.
Thor sees the one bed and laughs. "Of course."
"We've shared a bed before," Loki says.
"You must think yourself very clever right now, brother," Thor says.
"No," says Loki. "I think myself clever always."
Thor grunts, neck straining to take in the vaulted ceiling.
"Why would you tell him I like hunting? I hate hunting."
"I thought husbands loved hunting," Loki says.
Thor loses interest in the ceiling and his eyes are all over Loki again. Loki considers pulling the illusion, but he won't concede the weakness. Instead he busies himself by looking about the room. It's huge—made for giants. Thor could stand on Loki's shoulders and they still wouldn't reach the top of the doorframe.
"I've never seen you as Jötunn before," Thor says.
Loki feathers his fingers over the carvings on the walls, ancient runes meant to protect the room.
"It's temporary," he says.
"It doesn't suit you ill."
"This conversation does."
Thor snorts and falls face first onto the bed before he rolls to his back. It's dark outside already. There's never light for long on Jötunheim. Loki feels exhausted, suddenly. He drops his overcoat at his feet.
"Loki," Thor says. "Tell me what a sváss is."
Loki climbs next to him on the bed, kicking his boots off as he goes.
"Go to sleep, Thor," he says, and Thor goes quiet.
He wakes in the night to Thor curled around him. Loki can feel Thor's breathing against him, the chill of his skin. He must be freezing here. Thor, who came with him. Thor, who brought him back. Loki pulls the furs up around their shoulders, shifts so Thor gets more of his warmth. He sleeps again.
They're woken up far too early by a servant who throws their door open. Loki hisses at the light that enters and burrows into the pillow. Thor rolls away from him quickly, as if they're not pretending to be married. As if they've been caught.
The servant bows and tells them it's time to break fast.
"Yes," Thor says, bleary-eyed and staggering from the bed. "We'll be down in a moment."
The door shuts again. Loki turns slowly and watches Thor stumble to the adjoining bath chamber before deciding to join him. They wash up quickly, silently. Loki decides that something feels off, but he can't figure out what. They dress and descend the stairs, follow the smell of food to the dining hall. Loki grabs Thor's wrist quickly.
"Don't forget we're married, brother," he says.
"Are we?" Thor says. "I'd almost forgotten why we're here."
He blinks sweetly. His fake eye falters a moment before it catches up with his real one, and he looks a fool. Loki is thankful he has it, though. And he's thankful to the raccoon that gave it to him, even if Thor insists on calling it a rabbit.
They enter the dining hall and there's a long table before them set with so much food Loki is instantly afraid they'll be expected to eat it all. Some of the food he doesn't even recognize. Warriors and advisors sit at the table but stand when they enter, bow, sit again. Thor and Loki move to the two empty chairs. Thor steps ahead of Loki quickly.
"Husband," Thor says, with the most amused tone.
He pulls Loki's chair out for him. Loki stares.
"What are you doing?"
"Please be seated," Thor says, and everyone is staring and Loki could murder him.
He feels heat rush to his cheeks. He sits quickly, jumps when Thor pushes the chair in as well. Thor's quiet laugh tickles his hairline. Loki's hands turn to fists on his thighs a moment before he relaxes. Everyone looks enraptured by Thor's chivalry, and of course they do. There's an uncomfortably long pause before Loki realizes he's supposed to start the meal. He clears his throat and grabs his goblet.
"Let us break fast," he says.
The Jötnar move all at once like siblings fighting over sweets. They shovel meat and fruit onto their plates, murmuring and laughing amongst each other. Some even forego the cutlery, which Loki doesn't fault them for. Jötunheim often went through periods of extreme famine. If you found food, you didn't take the time to look for a fork as well. Next to him, Thor eats like a giant, uses his fork more like a shovel, smiling through mouthfuls of food. The Jötnar give him approving nods. Loki looks at his own neat cuts of meat, frowns, and keeps eating.
They're halfway through the meal when Ulmer speaks.
"We hope you will agree to a tour of Jötunheim today," he says. "We are eager for the future king to see how we've rebuilt."
"And I am eager to see it," says Loki.
Ulmer motions to Thor and tells him, with a great swell of pride, that he'll be joining their most skilled hunters on their hunt today. Loki sips from his goblet neatly, eyes cast upward.
Thor swallows a too-large bite of meat and says, "How…wonderful. Thank you, Ulmer."
They linger a while longer, slow in their eating until Loki cannot manage another bite. He dabs his mouth with his napkin.
"Thank you for such an extravagant meal," he says.
Loki stands before Thor can go for his chair, before Thor can even stand. He puts a hand on Thor's shoulder and presses his lips and nose to Thor's short hair. Inhales the scent of him like this is some intimate ritual between them. Then he lets his lips drift to Thor's cheek, dangerously close to his mouth, and instead of a kiss gives the tiniest lick against Thor's beard. Loki feels Thor's muscles jump when he squeezes the meat of his shoulder. He knows he has a lazy, smug little smile on his face, but he can't help himself. He'd started to feel woefully out of control of the situation for a moment there, and he can't let it happen again. The room is silent. Thor's chair scrapes loudly on the floor as he stands, uneven in his steps, and follows Loki out.
Thor waits until they're on the stairs before punching Loki's shoulder. Loki laughs, even though the punch tags him into the wall.
"Very funny, brother," Thor says, and shrugs his shoulders as if adjusting himself.
"Enjoy your hunt," Loki tells him.
"See if I bring you anything."
Thor takes the stairs two at a time to get ahead of him.
Once Thor is out of sight, Loki misses him. He's suddenly reminded of why he's here, really here. He has to prove himself to his people, make a good impression, take up the mantle as king. Thor is already in their good graces—he's loved wherever he goes, and he's saved the universe a few times over. Loki has never been so lucky. The reminder of that makes something ugly stir in his belly, only it never gets enough traction these days as it used to. Loki won't allow it to, anyway.
Ulmer and two other sentries take Loki beyond the palace and into the main town. Loki looks back to the line of trees and fallen snow where Thor had been, but he's gone, now.
Jötunheim is…trying. Loki feels cruel thinking it, but the realm is nothing like Asgard, doesn't even compare to Asgardia. Growth comes more rapidly to Jötunheim now, though, and most of the smaller bands of clans and villages have moved into the main town. That's made them stronger, more of a community. Ulmer explains this to Loki, but he doesn't need to. Loki can see it. Can see them helping and gathering and building. There's just no direction. After Loki killed Laufey, no one took over. They're in desperate need of leadership. That's what Loki is here for, after all.
Ulmer takes him down into the valleys, where some Jötnar still seclude themselves. Ulmer tells him there's been quite a bit of infighting, mostly in an attempt to bring them all together.
"You can imagine we've spilled more blood than we've managed to save," he says.
Ulmer stops just ahead of him, ankles in the snow. It's a relatively mild day—barely any wind, no snowfall. The sun feels warm on Loki's skin.
"I know I spoke vaguely before you came, but most of the High Council are in agreement," he says. "We mean to see you king before the week is up."
"Would you accept such a burden?" Ulmer asks.
Loki steps to Ulmer's side. "I would."
"And your husband as well?"
The word husband startles Loki less than it should. There's a strange air of comfort in the word, even if it's a lie, maybe because of it. He hasn't actually talked to Thor about this, not at length, but Thor wouldn't have him do anything else. He would encourage him to take the throne. And because Thor would want that, Loki wants it as well.
"He—my husband accepts, yes," Loki says.
They walk again. The sentries in front of them pass a glance back to them. Loki feels judgment in their stares, and remembers Ulmer's words from earlier.
"You said most of the High Council are in agreement, which leads me to think there are some who are not."
"You…" Ulmer's voice drops to a whisper. "You are our prince, the rightful king of Jötunheim. But it is not easy for all to trust a king who once tried to murder his predecessor."
Of course, Loki thinks. That's why Thor is here.
They circle back to the palace by midday around the same time Thor is returning from the hunt. Loki is relieved to see him. After his talk with Ulmer, he spent the rest of the day convinced the Jötnar were staring at him, thinking that they knew him. He felt itchy and anxious. At least Thor's stares Loki can mostly decipher. Thor beams at him from across the courtyard, some kind of beast slung over his back. It looks like a boar, but far too big.
Once Thor gets close enough, he lobs the beast onto the ground.
"What is this," Loki says, lip curling.
"For you, my husband," Thor says. "I know how much you love the hauls of my hunts."
"Oh," Loki says, with all the false enthusiasm he can muster, "you spoil me."
Ulmer has them return to their room to rest, which is well enough, because Thor certainly smells like he's been hunting. He takes a bath with the door open, steam filtering into their bedchamber. Loki sits on the sill of the window and looks out onto the town below. From above, the Jötnar look like normal-sized Æsir. Thor calls to him from the bath.
Loki sheds layers as he goes, the humidity sticky on him. He startles at the blue of his skin. He keeps forgetting. This is the longest he's ever spent in this form. Thor is splayed out in the bath, body steaming, eyes closed. He opens his real eye when Loki enters, smiles.
"You look like you had an awful time hunting," Loki says.
"That boar nearly suffocated me." Thor opens both eyes and picks at the dirt in his nails. "How does the rest of Jötunheim fare?"
Loki sits at the edge of the tub. He tells Thor what he saw. Taking over as king of Jötunheim would be the best thing for them, and would allow them to take Asgardia's aid without wounding their pride. So it's settled.
"Is it?" Thor asks.
Loki frowns. "I just said it was."
"You sound uncertain."
"When have you ever known me to be uncertain?"
Loki tries to push off the edge of the tub, but Thor grabs his wrist. Holds him.
"Brother," he says. "This isn't a binding contract. You aren't required—"
"This is what I want."
Loki speaks softly, surely. Thor settles back into the bath but doesn't release his wrist. His thumb traces an indentation on the back of Loki's hand, openly curious. Loki finds he can't move. Can't even speak. No one has ever touched him like this while he's been in Jötunn form, which has been only a handful of times. The markings on his skin are things Loki himself hasn't even taken the time to explore.
Thor blinks as if waking, remembering, and releases Loki's wrist.
"You do realize," he says, clears his throat, "that they'll find it odd if either of us marries someone for real one day."
Loki stands and resists the urge to rub at his wrist where Thor held him.
"Not if I divorce you before then."
He expects Thor to laugh, but he only sinks deeper into the tub.
Thor spends the next day being utterly charming—holding doors open for Loki while they tour, pulling his chair out at every meal, waiting for him before walking down the hallway. He even bows at one point and kisses Loki's hand, must think himself very clever for it, so Loki trips him outside and delights at Thor falling face-first into the snow. The Jötnar seem besotted by the gestures. Thor beams at him every time, and Loki cannot stop the blush from coloring his cheeks. He's not sure how a Jötunn looks when he blushes. He imagines it's not a sight to behold.
They wind down the evening drinking in the Great Hall. There's a hug fire crackling, but Thor is still wrapped in fur, tankard of mead resting on his thigh. They sit with Ulmer and Yngvar, one of the hunters that Thor met yesterday, and also a king's guard. Loki opts for wine. He sits with his legs tucked under him, feels warm and pliant. There's rare beams of wood on the ceiling of the Great Hall, carved with markings Loki doesn't understand. He thinks he might, if he'd been raised on Jötunheim. There have been times where Loki has imagined what his life would have been on Jötunheim, had Laufey not abandoned him. In a way, it's so easy to imagine, yet at the same time, it's impossible. Asgard was his home. Odin and Frigga, his parents. And Thor, well, he has always been everything, whether Loki wants to admit it or not.
Yngvar downs his drink and pats Thor affectionately on the head. Even seated, Yngvar and Ulmer are twice as tall as them. Loki feels miniscule in comparison.
"Thor," Yngvar says. "You must tell us how you came to be Loki's sváss. Tell us of your marriage."
Thor, who was taking a sip of mead at the time, abruptly chokes on it. Yngvar slaps his back with one broad hand and Thor pitches forward, coughs.
"Oh," Thor says. "Oh, well. It's…" He wipes his mouth with his palm. "It's a long, boring story. You wouldn't want to hear it."
"Don't be shy, Thor," Loki says. "Tell them how you came to adore me."
"You tell the story better," says Thor, and Loki feels the color drain from his face.
"I'd like to hear Odinson's version," Yngvar says.
Thor looks at him sharply. Loki takes a long, languid drink of wine. Reclines. Ulmer actually leans forward in attention, which is strange, because he's talked nothing but business since Thor and Loki arrived. Thor looks between the three of them, and Loki cannot tell if the flush on his cheeks is from the alcohol or the attention.
"Fine," Thor says. "That's fine. It's a story. So prepare yourself for a story."
He takes another, longer drink.
"I've…known Loki all my life." Thor is looking down into his mead now. "I've always loved him. He's clever, clear-headed, mostly. Devious. A terrible little weasel, if I'm being honest. But smart. And the times I thought I lost him were too much to bear. He's always been there for me, even through the times he's betrayed me. Loki is…I hold him most dear to me. Above anyone."
"No," Yngvar says. "The story! Tell us the story."
His voice shocks Loki. For a moment he forgot anyone else was there.
"Yes," Thor says. "The story."
He's not a very good storyteller. Never has been. But when he starts speaking Loki knows the moment he's talking about. They were only three hundred years old, give or take. Asgard always had mild summers that bored Thor and sent him looking to get into trouble. Well, he'd found it. Spectacular trouble, in Muspelheim. Loki was still a novice in magic at the time, gifted nonetheless. He was the one who found Thor.
"And do you know what he said?" Thor pauses for a drink, and Loki realizes that he doesn't remember. "He said, 'I had to stop reading to come for you, you big oaf.' He was furious. But seeing him…that was…I was sure I was going to die, and I prayed I would see Loki one more time. And once I did I couldn't stop smiling. So I suppose that was when."
The room falls silent. Loki doesn't remember why he thought it would be funny to encourage this. Thor finally looks up, right at him, and his smile is soft, almost secretive. Loki feels something lurch in his chest and suddenly is sure he might cry.
"He snores, though," Thor says. "Terribly."
"That's you," Loki says.
Thor slams his tankard down. "I've never heard myself snore in my life."
Loki is so relieved by the banter he forgets Ulmer and Yngvar are in the room until Ulmer stands to refill his wine.
"Aye," Yngvar says. "That's a nice story. It'll be hard once Loki-Prince is here, won't it?"
Loki says "What?" at the same time as Thor. He looks to Ulmer, who runs a hand over his blue scalp, palming the ridges there.
"Wouldn't he stay here?" Yngvar asks.
"Well…no," Ulmer says. "Loki-Prince has made it known he would like to stay on Asgardia, but would make trips here, would he not?"
Loki does not look at Thor. "Of course."
"Why," says Yngvar. "He's of Jötunheim."
"I'm an Odinson."
He used to have a hard time saying the word without spitting it, then later, after Odin died, without trembling over it. Now he finds it a source of pride. Yngvar shifts to face Loki, aware of his height over him.
"But you are Laufey's kin."
"Laufey abandoned me. Laufey did not raise me."
Yngvar takes a calculated sip of his drink.
"How can you take the throne, if you don't consider yourself one of us?"
"I'm the rightful heir," Loki says.
He can feel Thor getting defensive, knows he's squaring his shoulders. Loki doesn't want this to escalate any further. He exhales, but magicks a blade into his palm just in case.
"I welcome my Jötunn blood," he says to Yngvar. "But Jötunheim is not my home. Still, I would see it prosper, if I'm allowed."
Yngvar remains tense a moment, then relaxes, nods.
"I just wanted to make sure Jötunheim's best interests are in our prince's heart."
Loki isn't sure who he's speaking to, and doesn't answer.
They finish their drinks in near silence, until Loki announces that he's tired. When they got upstairs, Loki heads straight for the bath and lets his body pool into it, limbs loose from the alcohol. He waits until the bathwater gets lukewarm before getting out. He enters the bedchamber with a towel wrapped around his waist. He half expects Thor to be asleep from the amount he's had to drink, but Thor is sitting upright on their bed. He has the furs draped over his head. When he sees Loki, he lets them petal at his hips.
"Oh," he says, a breath, then snaps his jaw shut.
Loki freezes in place. "What?"
"You…" Thor is staring at him even though it's clear he's also trying to look away. "I didn't realize the markings were…all over."
Loki flushes again, doesn't know why he can't seem to stop since they've arrived.
"Don't gawk, Thor, it's unbecoming."
"I'm not—" Thor huffs, stands. "Loki, please. Give me some credit. May I?"
He walks forward without finishing, though Loki is certain he already knows what he wants. Loki is caught between stabbing Thor or just allowing him to see him in a way he really hasn't before. He hasn't decided by the time Thor gets to him, and by then it's already too late. Thor does not touch him. He just stares, which is actually more frustrating. His eyes are everywhere: Loki's eyes, his face, his shoulders, chest, stomach, legs, arms. It's like he's touching him, only he's not, and Loki feels himself going crazy from it.
"You can just—" he hisses, and grabs Thor's hand. "You can touch me."
Loki presses Thor's hand to his sternum and hears Thor audibly inhale. There's a time that stretches between them where Thor doesn't move. His hand just sits against Loki's sternum, sure and warm. Then his forefinger twitches, moves against the markings there. And finally, finally, Thor's hand wanders and Loki hadn't realized he was waiting for it until it happens. Thor trails his hand over Loki's chest, follows the path of the markings down to Loki's belly, thumb swirling the pattern near his bellybutton and Loki's stomach muscles twitch without his permission. Thor's hand drops dangerously low to Loki's towel before he remembers himself and pulls his hand back.
"Thank you," he says, and doesn't look at Loki. He sounds out of breath.
Thor curls into bed and Loki dresses, follows. They keep a respectable distance from each other.
"Good thinking tonight, with the story," Loki says in the darkness.
Thor snores in response. Sometime later, he curls into Loki again, one arm slung over his belly, thumb pressed against the indented marking near his ribs. Loki's heart jumps into his throat. In the silence, he curses himself.
The weather is vengeful that morning. Gales too intense to venture outside. Most Jötnar can handle the winds, but Thor and Loki are actually small enough that there's a good chance they could blow away, so says Ulmer. Something about the howl of the wind outside the palace makes them both shockingly lethargic. After they break fast, Thor and Loki return to their room and nap for several hours. Loki wakes before Thor, restless suddenly. He sits again at the sill of the window and watches the blinding snow whip by. His body is strangely warm, trancelike. He's not sure how long he's staring, just blinks heavy at the sound of Thor waking. Thor's hand reaches across the bed for Loki's body, jolts upright when his side of the bed is empty. Thor looks for Loki with unmistakable panic, scrambles until he sees Loki seated at the window. Relaxes.
'What's gotten into you?" Loki says.
"I thought—" Thor swallows, breathes. "For a moment I thought—"
He never finishes. Doesn't have to. He pushes his hand through his shorn hair and smiles as if embarrassed. Only it's Loki who feels a prick of shame in him. He extends an arm and Thor comes to him, lets Loki pull him to his side.
"I was watching the storm."
Thor presses close to the window.
"I can barely see a thing," he says.
Loki nods, hair brushing Thor's chest.
"I have to admit something," Thor says. "And it's selfish."
Loki looks to his brother and regrets it the moment he sees how earnest Thor's face is. Loki can't even find it in himself to make a joke. He shifts. Waits. Listens.
"What Yngvar said last night, about you staying in Jötunheim…I wouldn't like that."
Loki very, very carefully keeps his eyes on Thor.
"But I'm not staying."
"I know," Thor says. "But even the thought of being apart from you while you visit fills me with rage, brother. I don't like it."
A particularly strong gale rattles the window, pulls a start from both of them. In the distance, Loki thinks he can see mountains, a horizon, something, anything. He wishes to see sun again. He thinks of long years Thor spent without him, a blink in their lifetime, really, but long enough. Loki knows well it was too long.
"The High Council meeting will be held in a few hours," he says.
"Did you not—wait, how do you know that?"
Loki shrugs, casual. "I may have sent a few concealed clones to eavesdrop. I imagine Ulmer will by to tell us—"
There's a knock at the door.
"—Now," Loki finishes.
He's right, of course. After all, there's only so many formalities and niceties they can take part in before it's time to get into the reason why they're both really here. The rest of the High Council has to agree that Loki is trustworthy enough now to be the king of Jötunheim. Loki has been dreading this particular part of the trip, but he's ready to get it over with. Three days has been more than enough. Ulmer leaves them with the request that they come to meeting room in two hours time.
"What should we expect from this?" Thor asks.
He's pacing their room now. He grabs the fur blanket quickly from the bed and drapes it over his head again.
"Anything," says Loki. "Hopefully I'll be able to sweet talk them into seeing just how good I've become, but I wouldn't place bets on that, brother."
"Don't sweet talk," Thor says. "Just be honest. Just be you…mostly you. And it will go fine."
One thing Loki has always admired and hated about Thor is his optimism. The meeting with the High Council devolves into shouting about ten minutes after it begins. Loki already feels dreadfully small in their chairs, and itch of defensiveness worms its way through him, burrows deep and threatens to bloom.
"We are talking about a Jötunn who murdered his own father and nearly sent us all to ruin but a decade ago," one says. Loki can't remember his name. "I can't see how allowing someone like that to ascend to our throne is wise."
It's a ridiculous opposition, considering the amount of Jötnar leaders that have been slain by their children—Loki didn't come here ill-prepared. Besides, Loki had tried to do far worse, though he thinks it's wise to leave that bit out. He honestly hadn't considered Jötunheim's fate for years. He assumed Laufey had another son, or some distant cousin, anyone, really. But Jötunheim had just spent the last decade quarreling about what to do with themselves, and in the end, had done next to nothing.
"You have no other option," Loki says, even-toned. "And I am not the same…Jötunn I was then. I barely knew who I was."
"And how do we know you don't intend to simply finish the job now?"
Thor exhales loudly. "I hardly think my bro—my husband came all this way to become king only to destroy Jötunheim. If he wanted that, there are other, easier ways, I assure you."
"Is that a threat?"
Loki stands sharply. The room falls quiet.
"The only threat to Jötunheim is its lack of leadership. I want to remedy that. I want…to be a better king than my father. But if you would rather Jötunheim continue to fall into ruin, then by all means, deny me my birthright."
There's a beat of silence. Ulmer opens his mouth to speak, but that same loud Jötunn talks again. Loki thinks he's the ugliest one in the room.
"How are we to take seriously the words of someone whose nickname is Loki Liesmith?"
Thor's voice comes so loudly that Loki physically jumps. Thor stands with him. Loki can see that he's shaking in anger. Physically shaking.
"I have saved this universe more times than I care to admit. I have seen my share of evils, and I am telling you that Loki is not here to ruin you. If you trust me as much as I've heard, as much as you say, then trust me when I say that Loki is worthy of this." Thor looks to Loki quickly, then back to the High Council. "I will not sit here and allow you to dishonor him."
Something swells in Loki. It's both ugly and beautiful and calming and frightening. Thor sits again but Loki remains standing. He actually stopped being able to feel his legs some time ago. The ugly Jötunn is silent a moment, considering.
"Loki-Prince," he says. "Your husband speaks very highly of you."
"He does." Loki wipes his palms against the table. Odd, he thinks, that they're suddenly sweaty.
"Can you tell us now that he speaks with certainty? With truth?"
"Yes," Loki says.
Thor is watching him, Loki knows he is.
"Thor wouldn't lie. Not even on my behalf."
Loki sits. The room is silent again, for the longest it's ever been, before Ulmer clears his throat and finally speaks.
They take dinner in their room. Loki doesn't say a word. Every time Thor attempts to speak, Loki shoves more food into his mouth. He's not even entirely sure what he's eating. He won't look at Thor, either. Dragging Thor here, having him stand up for Loki when Loki isn't even sure this is what he wants—he can't bear to look at him. He knows Thor is watching him, though. Thor is what Loki calls a loud watcher. Something about his gaze feels like he's talking to you. It's hard to ignore.
They eat on the floor by the hearth, faces orange from the fire. Loki eventually is too full to take another bite. He pushes his plate away, stands. He wants to look out the window again, feel like there's an end to this place. He wraps his arms around himself even though he's not cold, then drops them. Thor is still seated behind him, and Loki feels guilty now for making him sit in silence this long.
"I can't do this without you," he says.
"Loki," Thor says. "I don't believe there's a thing you can't do. Except conjure lightning like me."
Loki ghosts a laugh. When he turns, Thor is standing. Loki hadn't heard him get up at all. He's illuminated by the fire, golden, has always been so tan and beautiful and hard to look away from.
"Is that why you let them think we were married?" Thor asks.
Loki finds he isn't ready to speak yet, which is odd. Usually he's always trying to talk his way out of things, sometimes into them. It isn't until Thor says, "Talk to me." Says, "Please," that Loki relents.
"I want to help Jötunheim."
"But I don't."
Loki exhales and tries to quell the frustration growing in him again.
"I'm not making sense."
"No, but, I think I'm following."
"I still hate them."
Thor reaches for him but Loki steps just out of his reach, blinks rapidly at the ceiling.
"Don't you want to help them?" he asks.
Thor shrugs as if he's not committed either way. "Their climate is terrible and their décor is hideous, but yes, I do."
"Then so do I."
"You don't have to do anything for me, Loki."
Loki laughs, a real laugh, even if it's the most hollow sound. "I do."
Thor is looking at him like he's broken his heart. Like out of all the beings in this universe, it is Loki who's done it, Loki who has that power and that power alone. He steps closer again. Loki doesn't move.
"We could leave," Thor says. "Remember when we were younger and we used to sneak out our windows? It could be like that."
It's such a nice sentiment that Loki does take a moment to remember. Mostly remembers Thor stepping on his head trying to climb over him, the two of them always collapsing with giggles. Heimdall always caught them.
"I'd love to see you jump head first into the snow," Loki says. "I really would."
Thor hugs him without warning. Loki grunts but doesn't pull away, though he doesn't really return the hug, either. Thor presses his lips to Loki's hairline. The short hairs of his beard tickle.
"You don't need to clean up after me anymore, Thor," Loki says.
He feels Thor smile against him. "I thought you were done lying, brother."
"Thor," he says, quite serious.
Loki pulls back, and Thor is so close to him. There's the faintest brush of color on his cheeks and the whole thing comes crashing down on Loki right there, like the weight of the entire palace crushing his fat head. He loves Thor. Doesn't just love him. Is in love with him. And when he wonders how long Loki can't pinpoint it and thinks maybe it's been over five hundred years. His heartbeat picks up so quickly he's half-afraid Thor can see it moving in his chest.
"What?" Thor asks. "What is it?"
"It's nothing," he says, aware as he's saying it it's one of the worst lies he's ever told. "You'll get lines if you keep fretting like this."
"I will not."
Thor rubs absently at his cheeks. The color in his cheeks, if it was ever really there, is gone. Loki is a fool, but of course he always has been. Even in resurrection he's still hatching schemes that end up exploding in his face. What scares him the most, is if Thor asked him to marry him right now, really marry him, Loki might damn well say yes.
He finally forces himself to move, hopes Thor doesn't notice how his legs shake.
"I'm tired, brother," he says. "Let's sleep."
"All right," Thor says, after a pause that lasts far too long.
When Thor resurrected him, Loki came back weak as a newborn. After he finished coughing up the black remnants of his death, Loki couldn't even stand. Thor had to carry him, swaddled in the blanket he'd brought, to a place Loki didn't recognize.
The first few days, Loki was laid up in bed so weak Thor had to feed him by hand, had to mash up food and pour it into Loki's pathetic little mouth. Even swallowing hurt. But Loki eventually felt strength bloom in him again. He felt alive. He still had to sleep a great deal because he couldn't do much else. Thor tended to his every need. Thor sat by his side in a chair that was laughably small for him. Thor carried him to the bathroom and bathed him.
After the first week, Loki had enough strength to sit up and ask where in the Hel they were. The room reminded him of his on Asgard, just smaller. Thor smiled at him. The kind of smile Loki knew he was responsible for and so the weight of that physically hurt. And it was then that Loki decided he would carry that weight, for as long as he could stand it.
"We're home," Thor said.
In the morning they get word: Loki is to be crowned king of Jötunheim tomorrow.
As soon as the servant leaves, Loki starts to drag himself from the bed. He feels oddly calm. Almost numb.
"I see the High Council has come to an agreement, then."
Thor frowns. "There's still time if you—"
They're interrupted by Ulmer's knock. He enters with his hands folded, formal. Loki wonders if it's possible for him to relax at all. Of all the Jötnar, he's the only one Loki's seen so far who keeps his chest covered by furs at all times.
"Tomorrow, you will be Loki, King of Jötunheim," he says.
"If the title fits," says Loki.
Ulmer hesitates at the door and Loki knows that's not the end of this. Of course it won't be this easy.
"There's something else," Loki says. "Go on and say it."
"It's nothing terrible," Ulmer says.
He sounds relaxed about it, actually, so Loki put his guard down.
"The High Council wants you to marry in a Jötunn ceremony today, before your coronation tomorrow."
Loki's stomach drops to his feet.
"I realize you already married on Asgardia," Ulmer says, "but those were by Æsir customs."
"We, uh—" Thor says. "Right. We did marry. There. On Asgardia."
He turns his head very slowly towards Loki, who's half on the bed and still deciding if he should continue to leave it or jump straight out the window behind them. Thor looks a bit wild-eyed, like he thinks Loki is going to come up with some brilliant plan to get them out of this. Loki has nothing. He clears his throat and finishes getting out of bed.
"It would appease the people to see it," he says.
"Very much so," says Ulmer.
He knows they have no choice. And Loki agrees, nearly trips over himself when Thor agrees with him. But of course he would. To refuse such a thing would be insulting and jeopardize Loki's position. Ulmer tells them the ceremony will take place just after they break fast, and leaves them. As soon as the door shuts, Thor jumps from the bed.
"Loki," he hisses.
Loki ignores him and heads for the bath chamber.
Thor grabs him by the shoulders and spins him around, looks like he's barely keeping himself from shaking Loki, or worse, having an absolute meltdown.
"Are we really getting married?" he says. "Loki—are we about to get married?"
"Of course not," Loki says. "No. Maybe. I don't think it's binding."
Loki's stomach is still swimming at his feet. What he wants is to transform himself into a snake and slither into a crack in the wall until the whole thing blows over. What he wants is to marry Thor in front of thousands of Jötnar and keep him for himself for the next eternity. What he wants is nothing. Everything. He's in love with Thor.
He slips from Thor's grip and starts the bathwater.
"What are you doing?" Thor asks.
Loki peers up at him from where he's bent over the tub.
"Seeing as I'm about to be married for the first time," he says. "I'd like to have a bath."
"All right," Thor says slowly. "That's fair."
He stands in the bath chamber looking too big for himself and finally says, "I'm going to trim my beard."
It's a colder day in Jötunheim, Loki can tell by how much Thor is shivering. The situation is sort of amusing, considering Thor is dressed as he normally is, just covered in furs, while Loki is draped in a traditional fur and wearing nothing but a loin that's really too big for him. There's metal clasped at his wrists and ankles, and had he horns, there'd be metal for those as well. The Jötunn who dressed him seemed quite begrudging about that.
He and Thor are standing side by side underneath an ice shelf, a few hundred Jötnar below them, watching. There's sun today, at least, and it lights the ice like a jewel, washes it in color that Loki admits is breathtaking. Ulmer steps just behind him and Thor. He's the one conducting the ceremony, which Loki is endlessly grateful for.
Ulmer speaks. Talks about the endless beauty of Jötunheim, the sacred tradition of binding two beings as each other's sváss, and it occurs to Loki that he has no idea what's about to happen. He never thought to research this. In all his long years he never imagined this would happen, certainly never imagined that he might want it. But he does. He does, and Loki feels guilty for it, for dragging Thor into this. Lying by omission. He is endlessly, hopelessly selfish. Especially, and maybe only, when it comes to Thor.
"And now," Ulmer says. "I will begin the binding ceremony."
That pulls Loki from his thoughts. He gives a first glance to Thor, who has a sweet, nervous smile on his face. He adores Loki, and Loki knows that, which makes him feel all the worse. And at the same time, selfishly, he loves it.
He is Loki, after all.
Ulmer instructs Thor and Loki to raise their arms side by side, Thor's hand on top of Loki's. Then he produces two cords of cloth, no thicker than a few inches, one colored red, the other blue. He wraps the red tightly over Thor and Loki's joined hands. The cloth is soft, frayed at the edges.
"This symbolizes the blood you choose to share as you join your souls."
He takes the blue cloth and wraps it over their hands in an opposite pattern. Loki exhales.
"This symbolizes your connection to our realm, to each other, as beings."
Ulmer pulls out another cloth that Loki didn't see before, this one gold, brighter and thicker than the other two. He ties it over them again.
"And here, now, this cloth joins you to each other into eternity, as sváss, as lovers, as complements to each other."
Ulmer steps away but the cloths tighten again, almost painfully so, then all at once the sensation stops, and when Loki looks down, the cloths have disappeared from their hands. Now it's just Thor's hand on top of his.
"The binding ceremony has been completed," Ulmer says. "We will light every torch in Jötunheim tonight."
Loki feels a rush of water in his ears. He doesn't remember walking from the ice shelf with Thor, or the applause of the Jötnar. He keeps thinking Thor will make a joke, any kind of joke, but Thor just walks with him silently, his hand on the small of Loki's back. He's not even shivering anymore.
They don't even get to be alone or talk until the night. Loki is so exhausted he feels like he was just resurrected again, and Thor looks about the same, but Ulmer intercepts them near the palace and tells them it's now time for feasting.
"Right," Thor says. "Feasting. How long does one feast after a Jötunn wedding?"
"All day, at least," says Ulmer.
He means that quite literally. The palace is stuffed with Jötnar, and there is food everywhere, alcohol, dancing. The dancing is something to behold. Loki can't discern a rhythm to it, it shakes the ground, and at one point Yngvar looks like he might pick Loki up for a dance, which is most unfortunate, as Loki will definitely have to stab him for that. Luckily, Thor intercepts by asking for another tankard of mead, and Yngvar dances his way with Thor to the drink table.
Jötunheim is illuminated by fire, even in the highest mountains. The entire realm is celebrating Loki's marriage to Thor. Try as he might, Loki can't even pretend what happened earlier wasn't real. Thor is his sváss now, at least by Jötunheim's standards. For the rest of their days, Loki and Thor will be married in this snow-cursed realm. Loki would drink but he doesn't feel like he can put anything in his body at all, so he watches from the shadows, thankful he's small amongst the Jötnar.
Thor stays remarkably sober. At some point into the night, he slides next to Loki, the two of them hidden by a pillar.
"I think I've had enough of this," he says. "Have—"
"Yes," Loki says.
He casts them invisible and they make their way up to their room. Once the door is shut, Loki immediately pulls off the metal braces at his wrists and ankles and rubs feeling back into the skin. The ruckus downstairs continues, but it's muffled. Loki sets the braces gingerly on the side table. Thor is seated on their bed. Farther from Loki than normal.
They're married. Loki starts to regret their escape from the festivities. Now that they're alone he doesn't know what to do with Thor. Loki tugs at his loin, which keeps insisting on sliding too low on his hips. Thor watches the movement, eyes glazing, then clears his throat.
"Well, this is a fine mess we've gotten ourselves into," he says.
"Our fake marriage," Loki says, chuckling.
Thor thins his lips.
"I have a feeling what happened today was very real."
Loki isn't sure he's ready to talk about this. He doesn't answer.
"Does it upset you?" Thor asks.
"The way my people dance upsets me," Loki says. "Did you see them? No style—"
Thor stands, and all at once is too close to him. If Loki steps back, he'll collide with the side table. He stays achingly still. Wishes he had more clothes on. He wishes, he wishes.
"Does being bound to me upset you?" Thor asks.
In the space before he answers Loki is dead all over again, betraying Thor again, trying to kill him, losing himself and finding nothing in return for it. All at once he is alive in Thor's arms again, gasping for breath.
"No," he says, soft as a blink.
"Odd that it doesn't upset me either," Thor says.
Loki swallows past the impossible lump in his throat. He hasn't heard properly. He couldn't have.
"Thor," he says.
"Tell me what sváss means," Thor says. "Please. What does it mean that I am your sváss?"
Loki mouth drops open without his permission, and he finds he doesn't care anymore, he just doesn't.
"It means you're my beloved."
"Oh," Thor says, more a breath than anything.
Loki is considering pretending that was a lie when Thor kisses him. Loki is expecting it in the same way that he's not expecting it at all. He kisses back anyway. He wants to. He grabs hold of Thor's shoulders and kisses him, presses into the solidness of him. They don't speak. They communicate solely with touch, with looks. Loki is the one who moves them towards the bed. Thor is the one who first pulls at the ties of Loki's loin, which falls away too easily. When they're naked, Thor pulls back to admire Loki's body and the lack of contact is actually painful to Loki. He pulls Thor into him and they tumble to the bed, Loki crawling over Thor, naked and hard.
"Oh fuck," Thor says. "Loki. Loki, is this all right?"
"Yes." Loki presses himself against Thor, against his cock. "Thor, fuck me. Please."
Thor hauls Loki into his lap and holds Loki's ass open with both hands. His thumb rubs gently at Loki's hole, so soft that Loki shivers and nearly cries out.
"We need—there must—"
Thor reaches blindly into the side table and Loki is both appalled and pleased to see there's oil there. Like the Jötnar were expecting this. Well, of course. They're married, after all. The thought of that has Loki's thighs shaking. He grabs the oil from Thor and dips two fingers in.
"Hold me open," he says.
Thor stares at him like those are the most erotic words he's ever heard. He makes a strained nose when Loki breaches himself. Loki's mouth drops open and his hips push forward of their own accord. Thor's grip on his ass is almost too tight, but Loki loves it. He loves it. He stretches himself with little patience, which might be a poor choice, considering the girth of Thor's cock. He's too worked up to care. Loki fucks in a third finger quickly and pulls out, braces himself against Thor's chest.
"Do it," he says. "Dammit, Thor, do it."
Thor fucks into him like it's a kiss. The push of his cock past the first ring of muscle has Loki tensing, cursing. They pause a moment so Loki can adjust, toes digging into the mattress. Thor is big, all of him, and Loki will never admit this to him, but it makes him harder. He must weigh twice as much as Loki does. Thinking about it makes his pelvis ache.
"More," he says.
Thor obliges him. He eases Loki onto his cock and then places his hands at his hips, grip so gentle Loki is actually angry at him for it. Like he deserves to be treated so well. Loki rocks forward and Thor's head thrashes back onto the mattress.
"Like that," he says.
"So I'll be doing all the work, then," Loki says.
Thor's laugh is breathless, but he cants his hips up and his cock kisses that much deeper, into some spot Loki isn't sure has ever been touched before. Loki lets out a sound so raw and open he's actually embarrassed, but the feeling passes once they start fucking in earnest. Thor's hands alternate between holding Loki's hips and spreading his ass open, exposing his filled hole, and Loki rides Thor for all he can get. Thor occasionally lets his thumbs trace the patterned markings on Loki's hip bones and it tickles, makes Loki feel like he's going crazy.
"Loki," Thor says, "Loki—you feel—you're so tight—"
There's a flash of light outside, takes Loki a moment to realize it's lightning until the thunder follows, like an earthquake.
"Is that—" Loki can barely breathe. "Was that you?"
"Yes. I'm sorry, I'm sorry—you're just so—"
Loki grins and folds in to kiss Thor. It's the kind of kiss that puts beard burn all over his face, and Thor's tongue mostly laps his chin at points. Loki pulls back just enough to lick up Thor's lips, so overwhelmed by the feeling of Thor he can't do anything about it and doesn't want to.
"Thor," he says. "My husband. My sváss."
Thor comes. It's unexpected, and his grip on Loki's hips goes bruise tight as he spills into him. The feeling of it pulls a moan from Loki that vibrates in his throat. Thor starts to soften in him, Loki can feel it, but he keeps fucking Loki, thumbs massaging his markings again.
"I want to see you come."
One of his hands steals to Loki's cock and moves over the head and shaft rapidly. Thor looks near tears from overstimulation but he keeps going, and the thunder outside grows louder and Loki feels something wet prick at the corners of his eyes.
"I love you," Thor says, slurring. "I love you, I love you, I love you."
Loki comes in Thor's hand, shaking.
They sleep a few hours, then Loki wakes to Thor tracing the length of his spine. The touch sends a shiver through him. Thor's finger dips between the cheeks of his ass, barely touches his hole.
"Some of me is still inside," Thor says, and Loki thinks that should gross him out, but Thor says it with such reverence Loki only blushes.
Thor shifts on the mattress. Loki waits, breath caught in his throat. The only warning he gets is Thor's breath on his lower back before his tongue presses against his entrance, insistent but gentle. Loki immediately jumps to his hands and knees.
He can't even get the word out. His hips twitch mindlessly into the sensation, obsessed with Thor's tongue searching and prodding and wet. Loki feels absolutely panicked by how good it feels, can hear his breath coming too fast. He keeps thinking that Thor will stop at any moment, and that terrifies him even more, has him moaning and throwing his head back and just begging. He doesn't know for what.
"Thor, please. Please." Loki twists his fingers into the sheets of the bed. "I can't take it."
Thor pulls away that easily and Loki flat out sobs.
"No, don't stop. You can't stop—"
Thor goes in again, moans into him and Loki feels it bone deep. His toes curl in anticipation of anything. Thor licks the hottest, filthiest stripe up the inside of him and pulls back. Loki is ready to kick him until he hears Thor slicking himself.
Thor takes him again, this time from behind, and Loki feels so desperate for it he wants to crawl away. The way Thor moves his hips, Loki understands that Thor wants him to come first, and he does, spills onto the mattress and collapses to his stomach, spent. Thor follows on top of him, whispering something, but Loki is too fucked out to listen. He falls asleep with his nose pressed painfully into Loki's shoulder blade. Loki hums, and outside, the storm has calmed.
A servant wakes them again in the morning. Loki cannot stand these damn servants constantly coming in. Thor drapes the fur blanket around his naked body in a show of modesty Loki has never seen. The servant barely blinks before telling them that Loki will be attended to soon. The coronation. Loki had almost forgotten.
"Ulmer says you are permitted to return to Asgardia once the coronation is finish."
"Ah," Loki says.
Their trip is coming to an end. But he knew that. He knew this had to end. Once the servant is gone, Loki presses his bare feet to the floor.
Thor's voice is soft behind him.
"Where are you going?"
Loki doesn't look at him. He can't seem to bring himself to, in the light.
"To bathe," he says.
He shuts the door to the bath chamber.
He doesn't see Thor most of the morning. Ulmer fetches him so he can be attended to for the coronation. They dress him much like they did for the binding ceremony, only Loki gets more furs, this time. His hair is brushed back, neat. Loki sits like a doll and allows this, feels a soreness deep in him. A pleasant ache.
"I wouldn't be nervous," Ulmer says.
Loki blinks at him. "I'm not."
The coronation feels like nothing more than a formality. No one speaks out. There is no fight. Loki is crowned, and Thor is there beside him, looking confused and hopeful. And when it's done, it's done. Loki is king. He doesn't have a strong feeling about it either way, except a vindictive delight that Laufey must be in Hel somewhere cursing him.
There's more feasting, afterwards, though not nearly as raucous as the day before. Loki spends a lot of time speaking to his new advisors, carefully avoiding Thor. He does a pretty good job of it, too, until Thor corners him with his entire stupidly big body near the toilets. Thor hasn't been this close to him since he was inside of him last night. Loki's skin goes tight from the memory.
"Brother," he says. "Enjoying the festivities?"
"You're acting very strange, Loki. If this is about last night—"
Loki shrugs him off, quite literally.
"We were overcome with the lie, pretending. It's fine, brother."
Thor physically leans back. "Is that what—"
"Yes," Loki says, voice tight. "It is. We're going back to Asgardia now, we don't have to pretend to be married anymore."
Loki presses his thumbnail into his palm. He wants to be rid of this skin. He wants to be rid of all of this.
"You don't have to do this for me again. How lucky for you."
Thor wants to say something. Loki can see it all over his face. He doesn't, though. He falters, and suddenly the room is loud with Jötnar again. Thor doesn't understand and Loki doesn't know how to explain it to him. Thor can be terribly dense, sometimes. So he's thankful when Yngvar comes over and starts talking about rebuilding the armies, asking Loki when he'll grow any damned bigger.
And later, it's Ulmer who sees them off.
Loki speaks privately with him on the snow bank while Thor waits with Stormbreaker.
"I'll return by the next moon," Loki says. "As discussed."
"Yes," Ulmer says. "Will your sváss be joining you? I know Yngvar would be eager to take him hunting again."
"Ah," Loki says. Sváss. The word is so intimate, Loki never thought he'd use it in his life. "Thor has much to attend to in Asgardia. But we'll see."
As soon as Ulmer turns away, Loki brings back Odin's glamour. There's a beautiful relief in feeling like he fits into his skin again. It isn't that he minds his Jötunn form anymore, not much, anyway, just that this is how he's always known himself. He joins Thor below the snow bank. Thor blinks at Loki's paled skin, says nothing. Not a word. He hasn't so much as made a joke since they spoke at the feast.
"Ready?" he asks, finally.
"Utterly," says Loki, and the sky cracks.
Loki has done a lot of foolish things, in his long life. Stealing Iðunn's apples was probably the first. Trying to win at a wrestling match with Thor. Then there were worse things, such as letting the Jötnar into Asgard, trying to take over Midgard. Loki likes to think he's been given a clean slate since his resurrection, so he counts asking Thor to pretend they're married the second most foolish thing he's ever done.
The first is thinking everything will be normal after they return to Asgardia.
In a way, things are normal. He and Thor rule together, hold court, see that other realms are given aid. It's just that the tension between them is so awkward they can barely be in the same room together. And what's worse, no one seems to want to be in the same room as them, either.
When they first came back from Jötunheim, Valkyrie saw them, and all she said was, "Holy shit, what happened to you two?"
Thor just laughed, said, "Every single one of my toes is frostbitten."
Loki can't recall him having attempted a joke since. He looks at Loki all the time, pretends like he doesn't. Loki does the same to him. He's starting to think he did the wrong thing. He's not sure of anything anymore. Things felt so simple, when Thor brought him back. There was no tension between them, not really. They touched more than usual. Sometimes, Thor stayed in Loki's bed with him, but Loki knew that was because Thor had missed him terribly. He didn't even poke fun at him for it. And Loki…Loki wanted him there. He just can't ask Thor to love him in the way he does.
He goes back to Jötunheim during the next moon. Yngvar is the first to ask where Thor is, and Loki makes the excuse all too easy that Thor is a busy god and couldn't make it. Perhaps next time. He works with Ulmer to communicate with the clans that like to remain rural to make sure they have enough supplies. Jötunheim's dry season, as it were, is due to hit by next month, and they can't afford another famine. Being called Loki-King is going to take some getting used to, but overall he doesn't find ruling a realm in earnest all that terrible. It feels good, to do work like this. Mostly, Loki wants to be left on his own and remain as lavishly self-indulgent as he's always desired, but this isn't so bad. Thor is surely proud him. That helps.
When he returns to Asgardia, Thor's raccoon friend is waiting in his room. Rocket sits on Loki's bed, takes a bite of an apple right from the stem.
"No pets allowed in here," Loki says.
"I ain't a damn pet," says Rocket.
"Apologies, I forget, since you follow my brother around like one."
"A captain always checks up on his crew, dickwad."
Rocket shoves the rest of the apple in his mouth. He and Loki appraise each other a moment, then grin. They liked each other, in a way that they can't stop throwing barbs at the other. Rocket has never broken into Loki's room, though. Something is definitely going on, and also most likely has been stolen.
"If you're looking for Thor," Loki starts.
"Actually, I'm here to see you."
"Oh? What an honor."
Loki shrugs off his overcoat and hangs the garment up.
"Wouldn't believe the security in this place, though, geez—"
Loki tunes out a moment. Rocket talks, sometimes because he just likes the sound of his own voice, Loki is convinced. He removes his boots and shoves them into the closet while Rocket babbles on.
"—here on Thor's account, though."
Loki's head pops up. "What?"
Rocket hops off the bed and walks towards him. Loki can hear the sound of jewels in his pocket, wouldn't be able to if he didn't have god-like hearing, but here they are. They're the decoy jewels Thor put out, Loki can tell by the sound. He smiles despite himself.
"Thor's been all…depressed and shit," Rocket says. "I don't like to see the guy depressed. It ain't pretty. I mean…Thor is pretty no matter what, but seeing him depressed also makes me depressed."
Loki's heart does that awful, traitorous thing where it pangs.
"I…that's nothing to do with me—"
"Aw, bullshit. I saw the guy cry over you. It's always you. So whatever you did, fix it."
It's a little hard to take Rocket seriously, small and raccoon as he is. But if even he can see something is off, then Loki is truly an idiot. He's done something wrong, made Thor think he's done something wrong. Loki brings his fingers to his lips. Chews at the pad of his thumb.
"I went about this the wrong way," he says, then squints at Rocket. "I'm not discussing this with a raccoon."
Thor is on Midgard today but Loki knows he'll be back tonight. He can wait. Rocket seems satisfied that Loki is going to do something at least, so he shrugs and starts making his way out. Loki hears the jewels again, and he just can't help himself.
"I wouldn't pawn those jewels if I were you," he says. "They're fake."
Rocket spins on his paw. "Son of a—"
"You'd do much better with a Midgardian jewel shop," Loki says. "But I would never advocate for that."
"Nah," Rocket says. "And I'd never advocate for you to fuck your brother, but you should definitely do that."
Loki considers turning Rocket into an actual rabbit, though as it were, he decides against that. Rocket opens the door only doesn't leave right away.
"It's good," he says. "To be loved that much. Or something. I don't know."
Then he goes. Loki attempts a nap. He can't sleep. The windows are open, the weather is perfect. He should be dreaming of Frigga and Odin. Instead he lies in bed until the sky is dark and he feels that Thor has returned. Loki tells himself he'll give Thor an hour to get settled before he goes to him.
He lasts ten minutes.
Thor is halfway undressed when Loki barges into his room. He pulls his tunic to his chest like a shy maiden, like Loki hasn't seen him naked thousands of times, like they didn't fuck each other just last month.
"Loki," he says. "What are you doing—"
"I'm sorry," Loki says.
Thor pauses. Squints.
"Did you just apologize? Do you need me to pretend we have a child together now?"
Loki takes careful steps towards Thor, who finally drops the tunic-shield from his chest. He's so much to look at. Sometimes Thor's very presence overwhelms Loki completely. Thor's room is dimly lit, smells like him all over. Thor's tunic is hanging limp in his hand and Loki takes it from him.
"I am sorry I asked you to pretend to be married to me," he says.
"Why?" Thor asks.
"What do you mean, 'why'? I'm trying to apologize."
Loki wrings Thor's tunic in his hands, struck by sudden nerves.
"But tell my why you're sorry," Thor says.
"Because…" Loki pause, shakes his head. Thor's shirt is twisted to near ruin now, but Loki can't stop himself. "I want to be good now, Thor."
"You are good, Loki."
"No," Loki says.
He lets go of the shirt. It crumples to the floor. Loki leaves it, walks the length of Thor's room. For all the time he spent unable to sleep earlier, Loki hadn't actually worked out what he wanted to say.
"You didn't have to, you know," Loki says, back to Thor. "Sleep with me. I'm glad you did, but you didn't need to do that for me."
In the silence, Loki can only hear the fires crackling. When he turns, Thor is watching him like Loki just told him something ridiculous.
"Has resurrection made you stupid?" he asks.
"I—" Loki frowns. "Hey."
"Did you really think that I only slept with you because I got too into the lie?"
When Thor says it like that, it does sound a little stupid. Loki pulls his lip into his mouth and chews at it.
"Oh Loki," Thor says. "Loki, I love you. I brought you back because I love you. You don't owe me anything for that."
Loki releases his lip from his mouth and tastes blood. "But I do, Thor, I really do. I owe you everything."
"No," says Thor. "That's not how this works. We aren't going to spend the next thousand years with you trying to please me just because I brought you back to life. I'd rather you stab me again."
Thor is speaking so calm and rational that Loki feels like he's been insane this entire time. Maybe death really did fry his brain. What he really wants, right now, is for Thor to just hold him. The ridiculous thing is, Loki isn't even sure how to ask for that right now.
"Do you remember the story I told Yngvar and Ulmer?" Thor says. "About us?"
Of course Loki does. He's thought about it every night since.
"You were so angry," Thor says, and he's smiling. "But I was so happy to see you, I thought I could have kissed you. I wanted to. You have to know, Loki. Don't pretend that you don't. I said it so many times that night. Didn't you hear me?"
"You love me," Loki says, voice cracking. "I know you love me. You'd do anything for me. You've done everything for me. But—"
"You're not listening," Thor says. "You are my sváss, Loki."
"Thor." It's punched out of him.
"Do you…" Thor looks uncertain for the first time. "Do you want that?"
Loki holds Thor with his eyes. "Say it again."
"You are my sváss."
"You are my sváss. Mine. I mean it. Come here."
They meet halfway. Thor nearly trips over his own tunic trying to get there, but once he does he hauls Loki up to him, kisses him something savage. Loki wraps his legs around Thor's hips without thinking, hands on Thor's jaw, holding, sucking, kissing.
"Why," Thor says between kisses, "do you insist on thinking stupid things?"
"I don't know," Loki says. "No more talking."
So they don't. So they take each other to bed. So it's less frantic, this time, but no less explosive, Loki's chest heaving by the time he's naked and under Thor, legs bracketed by Thor's hips. Thor strokes his cheek.
"It's actually strange to see you like this," he says.
"Did you really think being Jötunn looked all right on me?" Loki asks.
"Of course I did," Thor says. "I thought you said no more talking."
Loki kicks Thor's back with his heel and Thor just laughs.
It isn't until a few minutes later, when he's got four fingers inside Loki, that Loki starts squirming with hesitation.
"You're going to—" he says. "Are you going to cause a storm again?"
"I might," Thor says, and blushes so deeply Loki thinks he might come right then. "I can't help it with you."
"Everyone is going to know." Loki digs his heels into the mattress to try and ground himself. "People saw me come here."
"So let them," Thor says, with a tremor of possession in his voice that makes Loki's cock twitch.
The sky lights up when Thor fucks him. Loki feels so stuffed full he can barely breathe and it's incredible, puts him on the edge of something so devastating he can't even name it. Thor's body is this glistening, rippling movement of muscle that Loki recognizes as his, with a pleasure so intense he has to reach out and bite Thor's shoulder. Has to hold it in his mouth. The way Thor holds his legs open has him dangerously aroused. He fucks Loki with less desperation than the first time, but no less vigor. Only Loki wants to be ruined. He needs to be.
"Does my ass bore you, Thor?" he asks, despite not being able to keep his voice in check. "Because I'm bored."
"Loki," Thor says, takes the bait that easily, and hauls Loki into his lap, arms wrapped so tightly around him Loki is positive he hears a rib crack.
Loki proceeds to come so hard he actually loses consciousness for a full four seconds.
He pushes Thor down after the blood returns his head and gives him the laziest blowjob, kitten-licks up and down Thor's cock. Thor is already near his limit, and when Loki attempts to take him down and chokes, Thor comes, blubbering. Loki swallows what he can. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, which Thor apparently finds incredibly endearing, because he pulls Loki on top of him and holds him close. He drifts into a doze. Loki watches him for a while, his Thor, his sváss. The sweat on his skin is cooling.
Thor's eyes are blissfully closed still. Loki grabs his face with both hands, squeezes. Thor's eyes snap open.
"Ow, Loki, you're—"
"I love you," Loki says.
Thor smiles. "I know."
He wakes the next morning nestled under Thor's arm, face pressed into Thor's left pectoral. Loki tries to shift back into sleep, but notices Thor is watching him. He looks like he's been awake for some time.
"What?" Loki's voice cracks from disuse.
"You didn't become Jötunheim's king just for me, did you?" Thor asks. "Say you that you didn't."
"I don't mind it," Loki says. "Truly."
"Oh, you're a mess," Thor says, and kisses him.
"I mean it," Loki tells him.
Thor is silent again for a moment.
"But did you not want to believe me?" he asks. "That I loved you?"
Loki's death at Thanos' hand was the most painful one. Feeling the collapse of his trachea, the way his blood vessels burst in his eyes. Thor watching helpless from the ground. All because he couldn't leave the Tesseract alone.
"Maybe," Loki says. "After everything I've done…it seemed…too good."
"You mean this?"
Thor flexes his right bicep and Loki kicks his shin under the covers. Thor's laugh shakes them both. They stay like that a moment, with nothing wrong, not a damned thing.
"I suppose we should eat and allow Valkyrie to have her freak out," Loki says.
Thor laughs again. "That is something I want to see, actually."
Loki eases him from the bed and absolutely refuses to let Thor know he might be a little sore. It's a good sore, but Thor will be insufferable about it for days, so Loki stretches discreetly while he looks for his clothes. Thor takes his sweet time getting up. He looks satisfied to spend the rest of the day naked, and quite frankly, Loki wouldn't mind.
He's nearly got his tunic on again when Thor wraps him up from behind, slots his chin onto Loki's shoulder.
"What if we were married? On Asgardia. Right here."
Loki accidentally laughs and feels immediately guilty. "You can't be serious. We're bothers."
"We were raised together. But our bond was always more than that." Thor shrugs against him. "We're already married on one realm."
Loki attempts to turn his head sharply, but Thor's own head is blocking the way, so he settles for frowning deeply.
"That's your reason? We're already married on Jötunheim, so why not here?"
Thor steps away. Loki turns and Thor goes down to one knee and Loki knows exactly what that means but still stands there looking stupid because Thor is the only being in the universe with the power to do that to him.
"My reason is that I love you. More than anyone or anything. Marry me, Loki," Thor says. "Be my husband."
Loki tries to make his mouth work, but his heart is very busy trying to work its way out of his throat.
"I'd offer you a dowry," Thor says, "but we sort of own it together—"
Loki drops into Thor and kisses him. It's like that for a moment, just long languid kisses, something blissful behind every one. Then Loki pulls back and says, "You do realize that if you try and divorce me, I will have to kill you."
"I am aware of this," Thor says. "Yes."
And they do marry, they do. Quietly, under the stars, and Rocket insists on carrying the rings no matter how many times Thor explains to him that there aren't any rings because Æsir don't even do that. Rocket's response is that if two adopted god brothers can get married, then he can carry rings down an aisle, so he does. There's a part of Loki that knows he's cheated something, because he does not deserve this, not in any lifetime. The thing is, Thor does. And maybe that's why.
They leave Asgardia together, shortly after, and travel to Midgard. To Norway, where their father passed. They spend hours on the fjords just leaning on each other, not speaking, not needing to. The only sound is ocean, the whisper of grass in the wind. Loki watches the horizon. He remembers a time when he did not think he'd see a horizon again.
"Loki." Thor touches his wrist, gentle. "What are you thinking?"
"That I am glad of this," Loki says.
"Of all of it."
Loki takes Thor's hand in his, and their fingers fit together as easy as bones and joints that have never known death or pain or sorrow might. They fit. Thor squeezes Loki's hand. They walk together into sunlight.