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Loki knows something is amiss before he has even opened his eyes.

The gears of his mind work rabbit-quick to assess his surroundings. The softness of the bed beneath him is vastly different from the cobble and stone he’s used to. A warm patch of what must be sunlight is split across his face, warming him to the tips of his toes. A weak but growing smell of cooked meats permeates his nose and rumbles a stomach distinctly free of starving pains.

Yes, something is very, very wrong.

He opens his eyes to a high, marble ceiling. His fingers splay across the bedding and find soft surfs and silk. To the right of him a high window lets in a gentle breeze.

He is in his room.

He is home.

No, not home. Home is but an abstract fantasy. Still, he would know the gold and ivory detailing of Odin’s palace anywhere.

Before he can conjure a proper panic the doors to his chambers are opened. Instinctively he reaches beneath his pillow for a knife but finds nothing. Just as he’s reaching for the bedside chamberstick just as a tiny handmaiden bustles into his room.

She drags a cart dawned with clothing behind her and only pauses when she sees him standing bolt upright in bed. She bows deeply. “Good morning, Lord Loki.”

Loki is speechless, but the woman hardly pays him any mind. She lays the clothing out on the edge of his bed, then grabs one of the large pots from on top of the cart.

“I will draw your bath, your majesty,” she says before disappearing into the bathroom.

It isn’t until he hears the sound of water filling the tub that Loki realizes he’s tearing the silk bedding in an iron grip. Only after she has left, bowing deeply and bidding him a good mourn, that he releases his hold and silently screams.

Something is very, very wrong.

____ ____ ____ ____ ____

It is while in the steaming bath that Loki allows logic to overcome emotion and actually think.

First, he takes stock of himself. Starting with his toes, he tightens and moves every inch of his body until he’s reached his head. No injury, no strain and pull on his muscles when he stretches a limb. He feels fine—healthy even. That itself is odd. The memory of pain, white and hot and uniquely devastating, still lingered in his mind even if its very existence had been wiped somehow from his body.

With a flick of his wrist, he lifts the bottle of scented oils on the bath’s edge and tips it into the tub, then lowers it back to its perch gently. The telltale undercurrent of power thrumming underneath his skin is the first soothing hint of familiarity so far. So his magick remains intact, then. The relief that washes over him sinks him further into the bath’s cooling water.

Next, his surroundings.

He knows this bathroom like he knows the taste of blood. This is his bath chamber. He knows that view from his window, the one that looks directly out to the fighting grounds where he’d spent youth watching Thor train and best Asgard’s finest men and women where his perch allowed him the facade of pretending not to care. He knows this room well enough to pick up on the subtle deviations; that crack in the mirror where his younger self had thrown a brush handle in an act of petty rage and rebellion is all but a mirror, replaced by flawless glace that reflects Loki’s own confusion and budding terror back at him.

So, this is Asgard. Warped and perverted it may, but there is no doubt in his mind that this is She.

With a deep breathe he tries to push place the blanks and recall how he had gotten here.

The last thing he remembers is falling.

The memory itself makes his chest seize up and his heart leap into his throat. For what felt like forever, there had only been falling. Darkness and adrenaline had painted his tongue bitter and blackened his already dark mind into a void. Were he not mad before, that fall from the Bifrost would have flayed his sanity to nothing for sure.

Maybe he has fully cracked after all. Perhaps that fall from the Bifrost, of seeing Odin’s final resigned disappointment and Thor’s anguished face, has snapped the last vestiges of his sanity, leaving him this.

Why ‘this’ is his old bedroom in Odin’s palace he doesn’t know why. He doesn’t wish to either.

Sighing shakily, he settles more fully into the bath until the water meets his chin. Pushing past the fear and discomfort and memory brings, he digs deeper for an answer. Bits of memory trickle back into his mind slowly.

After the fall there had been an insurmountable pain, but even though that Loki had crawled. To lie still was to advertise oneself as easy prey; whether there was another living soul in the blackness had been irrelevant. So he’d crawled, belly dragging across black soil so fine bits must have still been embedded in his lungs. He’d crawled until…

A knock on the door startles him nearly completely out of the bath. Scowling, he barks, “What?”

A mousy-looking chambermaid, different from the one before, pokes her head and regards him fearfully.

“Prince Loki, my lord, they are ready for you in the dining hall.”

Loki grips the edge of the tub in tight fists. Who ‘they’ were he could only wonder in a dull trepidation.

The chambermaid had taken the liberty of laying his clothes out on the bed. He thumbs the fine material between his fingers, both in awe and fear of their familiarity, before quickly dressing and making his way down the hall.

The palace looks much the same as how he’d left it., of which Loki is surprised. The halls of the palace still gleam in the same gradient gold much suited to Thor than he.

The scorch mark on the stone where a young Loki had teased his brother into throwing a bolt of lightning at him, narrowly missing, was wiped clean.

The smallest of tells that this world is only a mirror’s faction of the real one.

The great hall is bustling when Loki enters. He hugs the wall and enters cautiously out of habit. The attempt is for naught, though, as he is spotted almost instantly by none other than Fandral.

“Loki!” the warrior calls out jovially, “come! We’ve been waiting for you.”

The crowd shouts a boisterous agreement. Loki is so taken aback by the warm welcome that he doesn’t even flinch when someone claps him heartily on the back and guides him into the throng of merry Asgardians. A cup of mead is thrust into his hands amid more friendly slaps to his back. Even after he’s pushed unceremoniously into a chair at the raucous table.

At the head sits Odin with Frigga by his side. His surveys the room with a pleased expression before his eye locks onto Loki’s. Loki goes stone-still under the Allfather’s gaze. At once he doesn’t know whether to grab for his dagger or run and hide like the frightened little boy Odin never fails to make him feel like. But in a flash, Odin’s assessing look is replaced with a smile accompanied by an acknowledging tilt of his cup.

“My son,” he says with a twinkle in his eye. Even though his voice has barely raised the entire hall falls quiet. “Good of you to finally rouse yourself from your bed.”

The room erupts in a laughter. A few nearby warriors slap him good-naturedly on the back. Loki has long been the source of being laughed at. He is not sure what to do with being laughed with.

One of the Asgardians who cuffed him, a burly fellow with a beard as tangled as the limbs of Yggdrasil herself, barks, “Ay, that just means he’ll be well-rested for the hunt. Won’t you, Loki?”

Several dozen pairs of eye swivel toward him expectantly. Loki forces down the instinct to scoff. He hasn’t been invited on a hunt since he was nigh to Odin’s knee. Thor was the great hunter of the family, lauded for his strength as well as his sportsmanship. The use of magic in the sport, as it had been made clear to Loki on several occasions, was akin to spitting in the very face of fairness. No better than cheating, really.

But now everyone is looking at him not only like he belongs, but as if his very presence is crucial to their stupid, silly game.

(Ah, princeling. But it is)

“Let us hope I don’t fall asleep on the horse,” he jokes.

Another bout of laughter. Someone slaps him on his back and sloshes mead from the side of his cup. He turns to bear his teeth but faltes when he is only met with smiling, adoring faces.

“Well, you heard that man,” Volstagg says. “Let’s ride!”

____ ____ ____ ____ ____

Loki, Sif, and the Warriors Three set out to track a boar deep in the woods.

What an experience that had been. No one objected when Loki used magic to tangle the creature’s legs in tree root to trap it. Fandral had even complimented him on his craftiness with a hearty slap on the back.

Strangest of all was that Loki enjoyed himself, just a little. Years of being brushed to the side and forgotten had tainted his memories of these hunts; he’d almost forgotten how much fun it was to track a beast, to use his cunning and wit to bring home a prize fit for an army.

Volstagg heaves the catch onto the table amid a chorus of approving grunts and comments. The maidens surround it to check for imperfections. After nodding their approval in almost perfect unison, they carry the animal off on shoulders much too small to comfortably bear the weight and slip off into the kitchen.

“Well, Loki was the one who caught it.” Loki overhears Fandral telling a group of enchanted maidens, heaving bosoms all but spilling out of their blouses. “I struck the fatal blow, of course, but one must give credit where credit is due.”

Sif scoffs. “Loki did most of the work. Or are you forgetting how quickly you tripped in those shiny new boots you’ve been bragging about?”

Hogun snickers under his breath. Volstagg takes a break from watching the kitchen door forlornly to belt a big, belly laugh.

Loki watches the display openly. A part of him preens under the praise. The novelty of being openly adored seeps warmth deep into his bones. For a moment he forgets these people are his enemies.

The other part of him can only wonder again at where he is. It’s truer to him now than ever that wherever he is standing is not Asgard, not really. Even when Thor had been cast out by his fault of own arrogance and bloodlust, the Warriors Three held him in as high regard as a dog to its master. In what lifetime would Sif defend his honor in the same breath Fandral praises him?

And what of Thor in this perversion of Asgard?

Loki still hasn't seen him. Thor wasn’t at the gathering this morning, and he wasn't at the hunt either. So far none of the others have made mention of him. A naughty thought strikes him suddenly: if Thor’s friends are lapping up to him as if Loki were his brother, perhaps Thor exists in this world as Loki did in his?

The thought tickles him. Thor, the outcast of Asgard. Odin’s second born. Bathed in the shadow of Loki’s greatness.

He snorts involuntarily.

Ah, but where is Thor?

The Warriors Three are engaged in a lively debate about the nature of the hunt. Sif hangs back, close enough that he can see her eyes shifting over to him, an unspoken question embedded deep within.

He picks up a flower from a nearby pot and approaches her cautiously. Of them all, Sif has despised him the most openly.

“Thank you for defending my honor against Fandral,” he says with a smile that doesn’t meet his eyes. “Had you not stepped in I’m sure he would have told half the kingdom he took the thing down with his bare hands.”

She laughs. “Oh, I know it.”

He twirls a flower in his hand and feigns idle fascination with its roguish hue. “Though I imagine if Thor had come along he would have seen that as a challenge.”

Her brow wrinkles. “Thor?”

He turns to her and nods. “Yes, Thor. Would that not be your preference?” He presses.

Her eyes narrow. Loki wonders at idly her hair, still dark instead of the sunlight gold of her youth. Had a mischievous young Loki of this realm cut her too? Was it childlike playfulness in place of scorned jealousy that made him do it?

Either way, dark hair suits her much better. As far as he’s concerned, she’s was done a service.

Sif snorts and punches his arm good-naturedly. He returns her smile even as he swallows a wince.

“Haha, very funny. Is this one of your little pranks? Tying to make me think I’ve gone mad?”

Loki’s eyebrows fly to his hairline. “What?

“Is this ‘Thor’ one of your mythical little friends?” She teases.

He opens his mouth, but words fail him Sif’s brow wrinkles as he continues to gawk not unlike a fish. He searches her face for a hint of mischief. It would not be a shock to learn this entire scenario was a ruse. Bitter payback from a woman scorned, aided by a realm full of people who only wish him harm.

The thought turns his mouth to ash. No. It wouldn’t be a shock indeed.

But there is nothing in her face that suggests she’s lying, and he would know. He’s much better at the act than her—than anyone. She only shows honest confusion and a hint of wariness, as if she believes Loki to be playing her too.

He forces a laugh and shakes his head. “My mistake. I think I’m confused.”

Her eyebrows knit with worry. “Are you alright? We were out in the sun for a long time. I don’t know why you insisted on wearing such heavy garments.”

Loki waves her off. “I’m fine, truly. Though I must confess my attempts to impress with my wardrobe were futile with you present, Lady Sif, looking remarkable as always.”

He waits for the inevitable scoff, at best—at worst, a slap—but none comes.

Instead, she blushes.

The kitchen doors open and the smell of freshly cooked boar wafts into the Hall. A group of men rushes to take it from the straining arms of the tiny maidens and bring it to the table. The other members of the staff scramble around the strapping soldiers with plates of vegetables and glasses of mead. Volstaff is already grabbing at his cutlery, a crazed look in his eye.

“Prince!” Someone in the crowd calls. “You’re the one responsible for bringing us the feast! We demand a speech!”

The crowd echoes this sentiment heartily. Fists pound rhythmically on the table as shouts of “Speech! Speech! Speech!” fill the hall. Volstagg pulls himself away from the feast long enough to join in, along with Sif and the rest of the warriors three.

Something warm curls itself pleasantly in Loki’s belly. For a moment he looks and takes it all in, looking out at a sea of adoration. A kingdom just for him. Not real, of course—no way could this ever be real—but the voice that reminds himself of that fact is quiet against the cheers of his reverent audience.

It only takes a lift of his hand for the room to fall silent.

A person could get addicted to that kind of power.

“I see my good friend Volstagg is practically famished as is, so I’ll make this brief.” He raises his glass to smatterings of laughter and looks out at the public. They look back at him in fascination, eager for his word. Rosy-cheeked and joyous. Adoring.

“Long live Asgard. May she never fall!”

The room roars.

____ ____ ____ ____ ____

Were there anyone around who truly knew him to witness it, Loki might be ashamed at how quickly he becomes accustomed to his new life.

The air in Asgard tastes sweeter. Perhaps the Asgardians think so, too; everywhere he goes he only sees warm smiles. Not a soul regards him with disgust or suspicion. Faces light up when he walks into a room. Small children wave gleefully at him when he goes into town. Maidens blush and act coy in his presence. More than one shopkeeper has stopped him in the street to offer a free meal.

For a time Loki would pause beside reflective surfaces and stare at himself, wondering what people saw when they looked at him now. The only thing he ever saw looking back at him was easy affection.

The voice in his head is quieter now, though not silent. Loki doesn’t dwell on that much, nor does he dwell on his relative inaction in discovering its source and its ties to his current predicament. There were times in the beginning when he would slip away to the library to prowl texts of magick in search of an answer, but those have been fewer and fewer as the months have trudged on. It’s not as if there have been any dire effects to… whatever this is. Each morning he makes sure to take stock of his mind and finds no pieces missing, no madness in place of logic and reason.

Besides, in due time he will fix this. He may not have answers now, but that doesn’t mean he won’t eventually. Despite what mortals believe, the universe has a finite number of doors. Loki must only find the right key.

(What is there to fix if one door leads to true happiness and the other true madness?)

It’s not as if voices are new to him; many voices occupied his mind when he had gone mad. The words he hears whispered against confines of his mind belong to a woman with a honey-sweet voice, while the ones before had been all too familiar: Odin’s, Thor’s, Sif’s—Frigga’s, even, at one particularly dark moment. But now that seems like such a long time ago. That Loki had been mad with jealousy and injustice and anger. Their situations are not the same.

(The newfound propensity of referring to himself, his true self, in the past, as if it were some barely known acquaintance long since dead, is another thing he cares not to dwell on.)

Loki sighs and rubs at his eyes. The dim orange light that spills through library windows tells him the day is all but gone. The words on the page in front of his swim before his tired eyes. How long has he been here searching for an answer to a question he doesn’t even know? His stomach growls noisily in the silence.

Ah, very long indeed.

He slips a strange of hair in the page he’s been reading—never a fan of carelessly folding the top of the page down to mark it as Thor favored—and closes it. Today’s search has yielded no new information, but that is fine. He’s not particularly upset. He’ll just have to try again tomorrow.

“Prince Loki?”

Loki jumps and whirls around to face a maiden. For a split second he’s not looking at a maiden as the soft sound of the voice suggests, but a beast. A monster. Then he blinks, and it’s only a maiden, round-cheeked and smiling.

Sleep deprivation. That must be it. It’s been a while since Loki has spent his days in the company of books. Isolation and somnolence can play tricks on the mind something wicked.

He clears his throat and nods stiffly. “Yes?”

“Lord Odin has requested to see you.”

The woman leads him down winding corridors to what he knows to be the throne room. He keeps a pace of two steps behind her, still uneasy from his hallucination earlier, and watches her intently. She doesn’t morph into a beast or other ill illusion, and by the time they reach the doors of the throne room, Loki feels ridiculous for even assuming. He’s sleep-deprived, not foolish.

The feeling of unease returns in earnest when he’s left alone to await the Allfather. Memories flood back to him, bitter and dark, and his fingers clench at his sides. The mix of emotion is undefinable. There's anger, rage, grief, loss—and something else of which he can’t quite put a name. But it doesn’t hurt like as imagined. Instead, those emotions sit on his tongue like the aftertaste of a spoiled apple. He feels… numb. Numb to a hurt that doesn’t permeate anymore.

Something catches the corner of his eye. He turns to see the mural of his family, except it’s not that at all. His breath catches in his throat as he examines it. There are Odin and Frigga, and himself—but no Thor.

The image is so jarring he takes a stumbling step back. It makes sense, he knows, that if Thor doesn’t have a presence in his world, he wouldn’t be up on the family wall. That doesn’t make it feel any less wrong, any less sour, that Thor has been...

The word ‘forgotten’ comes to mind, but that isn’t correct. ‘Forgotten’ implies Thor was ever there at all.

Thor has been erased.

He reaches out, touches it. A part of him expects the image to crumble and fall away, but it’s cool and solid beneath his fingers.

“I must admit, that portrait is rather flattering around the waist.”

Loki jerks at the sound of the Allfather’s voice. Odin strides through the shadows with a chuckle. It takes Loki only a beat to recover. He forces his lips to turn up into the semblance of a smile.

“If you’d like we could call someone to come fatten you.”

The quip comes out curt instead of playful. This aspect of this new world Loki has yet to become used to it. When he looks at Odin, all he feels is anger and pain, even though the eyes that look at him hold only pride and affection.

Odin chuckles as he comes to a halt beside him. He eyes the mural thoughtfully as if seeing it for the first time. He brings a warm hand up to clap Loki on the shoulder. It takes every ounce of his will not to skitter away.

“Now, you be nice, boy,” Odin chastises, but it’s devoid of bite. His eye twinkles as if the two of them are in on a secret together. “Someday you’ll be plump old, too.”

Anger rises then, sudden and unbridled. Perhaps his memories have been clouded with rage as Thor suggested, but Loki cannot remember a time when Odin was so easy and cheerful with him. Never in his life has the Allfather been so genial with his stolen, abomination of a son.

Odin squeezes his shoulder, ignorant to the parade of wicked thoughts in Loki’s mind.

“Someday this will all be yours, you know,” he says with a heavy seriousness in his voice. “I hope on that day that you are ready.”

Loki allows himself a sardonic smile. His coronation, should that day so arrive, should go off without a hitch. After all, there will be no envious younger brother to spoil his celebration.

“Oh, I will be,” he replies. The promise comes easily. It’s not as if he will be here that long.

(But if you are not here, then where will you be? Why not choose the throne over darkness and disorder?)

Odin turns to face him, so Loki turns to him in kind. From this close, he can see the tired lines etched into the Allfather’s face. Odin has lived many lives and conquered many realms. If Loki were a different person—someone who didn’t have such intimate knowledge of him, someone who wasn’t held in his hands and taken from a barren land as a war prize—he might admire him. Gods, he might have even wanted him as a father.

Odin grips both of his shoulders in strong, sure hands and looks into his eyes. For a split second, Loki fears he knows and that it (whatever ‘it’ is) is all over.

But Odin only squeezes his shoulders again with a definitive nod, as if he’s decided something.

“I know you will be, my son. Of that, I have no doubt.”

____ ____ ____ ____ ____

“I see the slave auction is back,” Fandral sighs wistfully.

They’re in Alfheim, chasing a rumor of mighty game high in the Alfheimr mountains. The hunt was unsuccessful—this one Loki knows Fandral won’t readily take credit for—so they’ve given up and ridden into town in search for tamer adventures. They’ve dismounted and sought refuge under the shade of a tree in the market square while Hogun procures them sweets from a nearby cart.

“How barbaric,” Sif spits.

The sight isn’t so uncommon; after all, they’re not exactly in the most upscale part of the city. Loki looks over to where a large crowd is gathered around an erected stage. Upon the stage, a line of shackled men and women wait with heavy heads to be drawn to the center and have their attributes announced so that they can be sold to the highest bidder. The crowd is so dense and so loud the Loki can barely make out the barking of the auctioneer above it.

“It may not be an honest day’s work, but it is work,“ Loki says, for no other reason than to be contrarian. “Despicable it may very well be, but this is putting food on someone’s table.”

“What soul could enjoy food born of other people’s miseries?” Volstagg muses aloud. No one answers him.

The noise of the crowd quiets to a small furor as a petite, wheat-haired girl is ushered off the stage and into the grabbing arms of a large, hulking man. Her new owner.

Hogun returns with an armful of sweets: fruit doused in honey and coconut. Loki curls his lips at the sight; he’s always hated coconut.

Before he can voice a complaint, his voice dies in his throat as he catches sight of a figure on stage. Time slows to a slug’s crawl as the crowd seems to part, bringing the figure further into view. He drops his sweet apple on the ground, limbs locking.

“Don’t waste good food!” Hogun scolds.

Loki barely registers him, barely register anything at all but the figure in chains in front of him.

No.

It can’t be.

His legs move before he even has a chance to make sense of the scene before him. That can’t be Thor in that cage, chains tied around his wrists and ankles, stripped bare save for an immodest cloth around his wait. His skin glistens with sweat in the high heat. Golden hair dull and wet, falling around his face like a curtain, obscuring his face.

But those eyes. He would know those eyes anywhere.

Somewhere behind him Hogun is calling out to him, but Loki ignores him in favoring of muscling his way to the front of the crowd. When he gets to the stage the breath in his lungs is squeezed out as he lays eyes on what is undoubtedly his brother, chained and submissive, hair falling into his face doing little to hide the resigned grimace marring his sharp features.

“Next up with have number five,” barker announces.

The crowd breaks out into an appreciative rumble. Behind Loki, a woman murmurs to her a wiry woman, “Sturdy and strong. Could help with the harvest this summer.”

“Not too bad to look at, either,” her companion murmurs back coyly.

Loki wants to rip out their throats.

Up on the stage, the barker walks over to Thor and places a hand on the top of his head. Loki bites back a scream as Thor merely bows under the guiding weight without the barest flicker of a fight.

“Number Five is a strong worker. Very obedient. He is used to working tirelessly in the fields and is quite amiable with other slaves.” A hand smooths down Thor’s shoulders and grasps his biceps. “For those of you not in need of a field worker, Number Five is very agreeable to other activities—”

Release him.”

The words slip from Loki’s lips like snake venom. Around him, the crowd has fallen into a hush. The auctioneer’s cheerful facade falls into an annoyed grimace as he scans the group for the source of the disruption.

His gaze falls on Loki and Loki straightens his backs and puffs out his chest to play the part of the regal king. The crowd parts like waves as the bystanders begin to take notice. Some hastily bow and drop to their knees, eyes equal parts reverent and fearful.

“Your majesty!” The barker’s face lights up once more. He turns to the crowd and gleefully announces, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have in our presence Loki, Prince of Asgard!”

The crowd erupts in applause. Loki grinds his teeth together so he won’t spit the bile currently churning in his throat.

Quietly, he takes a breath. When he speaks again, it’s in a calmer, though no less deadly tone.

“I said” he hisses, a storm barely contained, “release him. At once.”

The voice carries in the stillness around them.

“Your—your majesty. My prince. Please. I, ah, I cannot.”

Loki’s hackles rise, seething with the sting of denial. A quiet part in the back of his mind wonders at how quickly he’s become accustomed to not being denied his whims.

“Yes, you can.”

At this point, the crowd is quiet with tension. The barker looks increasingly uncomfortable.

“Your majesty, please. This is my livelihood.”

Whispers and murmurs break out like the beginnings of a fire. Small and flickering but with the promise to grow into something uncontainable if Loki doesn’t act. His first instinct is to smite the infuriating rodent where he stands, but that’s not what a prince would do. That’s not what Thor would do.

But rage has settled thick and heavy within him, and it takes long enough to collect himself for the barker to become sweaty and agitated.

“How much?” Loki spits the bitter words and ground between them.

His eyes go wide, but he isn’t reckless enough to ask for clarification. “F-five hundred coin. Your majesty.”

Five hundred coin for the great thunderer. Five hundred coin for his brother’s life.

Loki throws the coins at the barker’s feet. The man doesn’t bother to count it or scrape them from the floor before he signals two bulky guards to grab Thor and lead him down the steps and to Loki’s feet.

Once Thor is out of sight the barker quickly moved on to the next slave, clearly eager to put the confrontation behind him. Loki holds his breath as his brother is lead toward him with his shoulders hunched in on himself and his hair dangling in front of his face like a curtain. His gait is submissive and fearful, so unlike Thor that for a foolish second Loki believes—hopes—that maybe this is someone else.

But Loki knows there will be no such miracle. For when the figure looks up, it’s his brother’s eyes staring back at him, steely blue and void of life.

Loki swallows thickly. “Release him from his chains.”

The guards share a look but are intelligent enough not to press the issue. The heavy chains tying his wrists and ankles fall to his feet with a noisy clang Loki cannot hear over the pounding of his heart.

“Thank you, Master,” Thor mumbles tonelessly. He bows his head again, shielding his eyes, and Loki has never been more grateful.

Neither Loki, Thor, or the guards speak as they help march Thor to where his party is gaping openly. He pays them no mind, too fixated on Thor mounting his horse with an unsteadiness that is so unlike the thunderer Loki knows. The thunderer Asgard loves.

It’s Fandral who finally breaks the silence. “Er, what’s happening?”

Loki doesn’t answer him. He begs the guards off and mounts the horse in front of Thor. The feeling of his brother behind him almost threatens to bring forth the unspeakable sorrow and confusion swirling within him, but he swallows it down forcefully.

“We will return to Asgard at once,” he announces in a voice that brooks no argument.
At his sides, Thor’s fingers twitch and grasp at air, uncertain.

“Am I… am I allowed to touch you, Master?” he murmurs, soft and unsure.

Loki grinds his teeth to seal in a scream. When Heimdall opens the gates to Asgard Loki makes sure to leave a bit of scorched earth in their place.

____ ____ ____ ____ ____

Heimdall says nothing when they touch down in Asgard. None of them do, but he feels their questioning eyes roaming over him as they make a silent trek back to the palace, begging for answers he cannot give.

The decision to buy his brother was an impulsive, spurned by raw emotion that leaves him shamefaced now. Through all the pain and confusion one emotion stands out, cold and familiar: bitterness. It is difficult not to feel cheated. He knew, God’s he knew this—this illusion was too good to be true. All this time he’s been waiting for the other shoe to drop, and now that he has, he tastes none of the sweetness from before; now there is only bile.

There are strings attached to everything. The universe has never given Loki a gift; it was foolish to think this could have possibly been one.

(Is it not?)

(You, adorned in gold and praise atop of a throne while your brother festers as an underlining stripped of magic and power?)

That was never Loki’s dream. Yes, he wanted to be praised. Yes, he wanted Thor to know hurt. But more than that—more than anything—he had wanted to be Thor’s equal. He wanted to stand beside him, not as a mere accessory or afterthought, but as a complementing centerpiece.

To have the world look at him the way Thor did. Like he mattered.

No, this isn’t his dream. This is a waking nightmare.

Once inside the palace walls, Loki stops abruptly, suddenly at a loss for what to do. He needs a drink. No, he needs several drinks.

“Prince Loki, where would you like us to take your companion?”

Loki turns to where Thor is bracketed between two guards. Thor has several inches on them and pounds more muscle, but he’s shrunken in on himself so that he looks fragile surrounded by them. The guards are expressionless, which Loki is thankful for given the circumstances, but a part of him wants to grab a glass and smash it in their still faces.

“This is your prince!” he wants to scream at the top of his lungs. “You imbeciles! You utter wastes! Do you not recognize Odin’s only born, the future king of Asgard?”

He shakes himself violently. He has to swallow twice before he can speak with any level of authority. “Take him to my chambers. Grab him a meal from the kitchen and a change of clothes.”

The guard nods silently and signals to the rest. Loki watches them take his brother away as the crater in his chest expands.

A hand on his shoulder gently turns him until he’s facing Frigga. She smiles, but her eyes are guarded.

“My son, I heard you had returned from Alfheim. How was your trip?”

“You could just ask me why I bought a slave, Allmother.”

She smiles tiredly, not even flinching at his icy tone. “Okay. Why did you buy a slave?”

He swallows thickly. “I don’t know.”

“Loki,” she sighs. Loki grits his teeth at her disappointed tone. “We have no need for that kind of help here. We are fully staffed with proud, Asgardian men and women who want to be here, men and women who are compensated for the work they do here.”

“I know that. You know I know that.”

“Then what is this? Oh, my son, do not tell me you brought that poor man here to—”

“No! How could you even think, for even a second—”

“I don’t know what to think!”

“Of course,” he spits, suddenly feeling wild. “Of course you would think so little of me that—”

Frigga places a mollifying hand on his arm. Loki didn’t realize until just that second that he was in danger of floating away on a wave of old anger and resentment until her touch anchored him.

 

“I am not your enemy, Loki,” she says evenly. “I only wish you would not be so secretive when you bring a stranger such as this into our home.”

A stranger.

That’s right—Frigga doesn’t know that the filthy, ragged man he dragged through realms is her first—her only—born.

Loki sobers then. As strange as it is, he feels both pity and envy for her, for not knowing. The weight of this truth feels fit to snap Loki clean in half, but he cannot fathom whether it would be worse to see Thor and not know who he is—to look and not remember how it feels to gaze into blue eyes and see nothing but affection and care staring back.

“Are you here because the All-Father wishes to have words with me?” he asks. When she shakes her head, he visibly relaxes. “Then I’ll take my leave. If he wishes to speak, he knows where I’ll be.”

____ ____ ____ ____ ____

The barrage of questions and niceties Loki has to contend with on his way up to his room leaves him agitated and raw. Playing the part of Prince of the People is exhausting; he has no idea how Thor endured it so long. Then again, Thor was always genuine in his enthusiasm to the point where Loki would become giddy just watching him entertain.

He is relieved to realize not many people have learned of Thor’s arrival; Heimdall has duty only to Odin and Frigga to inform of what he sees, and Loki supposes his friendship with Fandral, manufactured as it is, is strong enough to keep his notorious propensity for gossip at bay.

He’s waited all evening to return to his brother, but now he stands before the doors of his own chambers and cannot bring himself to even grip the handle. Walking into this room feels not unlike walking to his own execution, and Loki knows that feeling well.

Thor startles when he pushes open the doors. He’s perched on a chair facing the window, but he teeters on the edge with his boots planted firmly as if he isn’t sure whether he should sit or stand.

“Stay where you are,” Loki says.

Thor doesn’t relax back into his chair, but he sits properly now. His eyes flick up to Loki’s, then back down.

Loki’s legs feel weighed down with lead, but he forces himself to walk until he stands before his brother. In this position, standing while Thor sits, he towers over his brother. That, like everything else in this Gods forsaken nightmare, feels wrong.

“Look at me,” Loki says. Thor looks up at him obediently, fingers digging into the arms of his chair. “Do you know who I am?”

His brother hesitates, blue eyes flickering this way and that.

“You’re my—my master,” Thor answers with uncertainty. “Prince Loki of Asgard. Odinson.”

Loki forces his fists to unclench. To Thor, this must seem like a trick question sprung just to confuse him. He wonders if Thor’s previous masters liked playing mind games like that. He banishes the thought as quickly as it comes.

He takes a steadying breath and tries again. “Do you know who you are?”

Somehow, Thor seems even less sure of this. “I…”

The confusion on his brother’s face is heartbreaking, but all it does is incite a burning anger in Loki’s belly.

“Yes, your name,” he hisses. “Your name, dammit, what is your name?”

“I—I don’t have one, your majesty.”

Spoken plainly; an indisputable fact. Something that Loki should know.

Loki shakes his head but doesn’t know how to fit the words together to tell Thor that he’s wrong, that he does have a name, and that name strikes fear and awe into the heart of every soul from the barren mountains of Jotunheim to the deepest pits of Muspelheim.

Anger melts from him then, leaving only exhaustion in its place.

“You must be hungry,” Loki says instead of pursuing the matter further. He tries to force a smile but doesn’t know what benefit it holds. “I will call a servant to bring you food and draw you a bath.”

“Yes, Master. Thank you, Master.”

Don’t—” Loki stops himself and takes a deep breath. This time his voice is softer, “Don’t call me that. Call me Loki. Do you understand? Only Loki, not ‘Master.’”

“Yes, M—Loki. I understand. Thank you.”

Loki doesn’t look back when he leaves.

____ ____ ____ ____ ____

When Loki returns Thor is in the same spot, but he’s been washed and dressed in clean clothes. Loki hadn’t specified to the maids he’d given curt orders to what Thor should wear, so he isn’t sure why he feels so jarred seeing Thor in soft robes—the kind a wealthy commoner might wear. Something Thor—the real Thor—would have never picked out for himself.

Picking out one’s clothes implies freedom of choice. This Thor has never known such a luxury.

When Loki saw him at the auction he had been dressed in only a pair of ratty grey trousers. In the heat of the moment he had neglected to register the scars on his brother’s body, but now that he’s been cleaned and clear of dirt they stand out on his arms. Most of them have faded to
Thor used to show off his scars of battle proudly, happy to regale a swooning maiden of his tales of daring bravery. But these are not scars to be proud of; it’s a not a fight if you can’t fight back.

Plates licked clean are neatly stacked on the far table. Loki perishes the thought that his brother, always the first to arrive to the table and the last to leave, has been starved. How long has this Thor been ravenous without relief?

Loki shakes himself and forces himself to smile. “I see you’ve finished your meal. I hope it was to your liking.”

Thor sits straighter. “It was delicious, thank you, sir.”

“No need to thank me. You should be thanking Brynhild in the kitchen. She and the rest of the maids have to reckon with both feeding an army of brutish men and cleaning up after them, yet she still gets them to cook up something delectable every evening.”

Thor stands and bends to pick up the plates. “I can assist with the cleaning—”

“No,” Loki interjects. He doesn’t want his brother out of his sight, not like this. “No, they’ll be fine. You… stay. Rest. It’s late.”

Thor looks out the window where the first few stars pepper the darkening sky. His eyes drag back up to Loki’s briefly before falling at his feet.

“Where would you have me sleep?” He asks toward the ground beneath.

Loki looks around the room. Minus the chairs in the nook by the window, the bed and the lounge are the only things soft enough to sleep on. There are plenty of guest quarters in the palace, too, but the thought of letting Thor out of his sights, even for the night, leaves him feeling cold.

“You can sleep here, with me. I will send for someone to bring extra bedding for you.”

Thor’s face goes instantly blank. He looks at the bed and nods once slowly. Blue eyes drag back to green, and Loki can’t make sense of the emotion in his brother’s eyes.

When Thor speaks, his voice is expressionless. “What would you have me do?”

Loki’s brow furrows. “What?”

Thor shakes himself. His expression slides back into his default defense position with his shoulders hunched and his eyes cast down.

“I’m sorry, your majesty. I would be honored to sleep in your quarters with you. Thank you.”

Loki doesn’t bother to correct him. The day has been Hel and the longer he’s awake the more he feels his tenuous grip on sanity begin to slip.

Instead of going back to the room and waiting for a servant to drop off Thor’s bedding, Loki brings it back personally. The palace has been all whispers since Thor arrived. Loki doesn’t want his brother to suffer through any more of it than he has to.

He places the stack on the lounge. “There are sleep clothes in here. I’m going to take a bath, so feel free to change out here. Would you light the fireplace for me?”

Thor doesn’t look up from his feet, but he does nod his understanding. Loki slips passed him and closes the door to the washroom behind him.

Loki stays in the tub long after the water has become tepid. When he emerges the room is dark but bathed in warm light from the fireplace. It takes a beat before Loki finds Thor standing in front of the bed with his hands wringing at the hem of his shirt clothes.

“I wasn’t able to find any extra bedclothes in your size,” Loki says. Thor jumps and whips around to face him. “Sorry, did I startle you?”

“No, your—Loki. Not at all.”

The shirt is pulled tight across Thor’s chest and shoulders to the point that Loki feels one wrong inhale could have him ripping through the material. Heat rises to his cheeks and he turns his attention pulling down the bedspread. He doesn’t turn around until he’s collected himself, though staring into his brother's eyes leaves him with a dirty, exposed feeling.

“You’ve had quite the day,” he says. “You should turn in and sleep.”

Thor nods wordlessly but doesn’t make a move from his spot. Loki slips into bed and sighs at the feeling of cool sheets on his skin. The roaring of the fire and the softness of his pillow helps to ease the tension that has been tightening his limbs since he set foot in that slave auction. Honestly, Loki had been afraid he would be too wired to sleep and that even if he managed to drift, the thoughts that have been plaguing him would pick at his dreams like vultures to carnage. Now, though, he slides easily into the warm embrace of sleep.

A dip in the bed startles him awake. he bolts upright with his fingers already tingling with magic, instincts fighting against fatigue as he seeks out the threat in the dimly lit room.

When he spots Thor attempting to crawl into bed with him he lowers his hand. “What are you doing?” Loki all but shouts.

Thor freezes. He swallows audibly and curls his fist uncertainty in the bedding beneath his fingers.

“I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. I had assumed—”

He doesn’t understand what Thor had assumed—he doesn’t want to understand what Thor had assumed. The confusion and mounting panic in his brother’s voice make Loki grit his teeth.

“I do not care what you assumed,” he hisses, “you are to sleep on the lounge as I told you. Now go.”

Thor retreats to the far end of the room. Loki watches as he gathers the bedding and curls up on the lounge with his back toward the bed. His frame is so big he makes the sizable furniture look small and uncomfortable, and Loki feels a pang of guilt intermixed with his embarrassment and bewilderment.

Sleep eludes him after that, his mind a storm of questions and fears. What could Thor have possibly been looking to do when he crawled into Loki’s bed? Loki’s first thought is, of course, that his brother had attempted to kill him. That theory makes him shudder with fear, but he would be lying if he said he didn’t understand the motivation. As a slave, Thor must have been carrying resentment and anguish on his shoulders for Gods know how long.

But he hadn’t looked angry, nor had he looked guilty when Loki awoke and demanded to know what he was doing. His expression had been resigned, as if ready to take on an unpleasant yet inevitable task.

No, there is no possible way Thor could have assumed that Loki wanted… did that mean there had been others who…?

The realization turns Loki’s stomach and sends ice through his veins. Finding Thor in that cage had been a blow Loki doesn’t think he’ll ever recover from, but knowing what he must have endured with his previous ‘owners’—it’s more than he can bear to think about.

There is a temptation to be angry at Thor for allowing this to happen. This Thor may be different in almost every aspect from the real Thor but he’s still a massive wall of muscle. If there is a soul in the nine realms Thor couldn’t best in a fight, his brother sure hasn’t encountered them. Not even his younger (fake, liar,, Jotun) brother could banish him using all the underhanded, dirty tricks he knew.

But this isn’t that same Thor. This Thor was found with his spirit already broken.

Who knows, maybe before some wicked creature had sunk its teeth into him he was similar to the Thor Loki knew well, the one who held up his conquests and boasted of besting foes in battle with a glorious grin on his handsome face.

That handsome face is still there, but Loki does not know if a smile has ever graced it.

Loki chances a glimpse across the room to the lounge. Thor lies with his back facing Loki. His spine is ramrod straight. The unnatural stillness of his figure lets Loki know he is still awake. He doesn’t allow himself to wonder what horrors could have instilled such alertness in his brothers.

Loki doesn’t sleep for a very long time.

____ ____ ____ ____ ____

A week passes before he has to speak to anyone about it.

That particular feat is easy, as no one seems to want to approach him. Maybe it’s the permanent grimace that has found itself a home on his face or the uneasy air that surrounds him these days. Either way, Loki is grateful.

Despite the litany of whispers and the prodding looks from the staff, and the disappointed sighs and notable absences of Sif and the Warriors Three, no one brings up the slave their prince bought from a foreign land and keeps shielded away from prying eyes. Loki wouldn’t say things are going back to normal—especially not now that he’s acutely aware that nothing about this world he inhabits is ‘normal’—and while he isn’t at all at peace, he can at least hear himself think again. That has become vital now that his search for an answer to get out of this mess has become more urgent.

Be it fear or respect that keeps the questions at bay, Loki is grateful for the silence either way.

So of course, the All-Mother corners him after breakfast one morning. There is no judgment in her eyes, only warmth and curiosity, so Loki relaxes minutely even though he knows what is going.

“Loki, my son, you know I trust your judgment implicitly, but I wish you would tell me what you are doing.”

Loki gazes at Frigga with a smile more solemn than wry.

“I wish I knew myself, my queen.”

Frigga smiles sadly and reaches up to brush a strand a hair from his face. He has to physically stop himself from leaning into it.

He remembers when he was younger and she’d read him and Thor stories before bed. She always stroked their, pausing only long enough to turn the page. Loki would be asleep before he found out how the tale ended.

“What is it about this man?”

Loki swallows thicky. He feels caught-out out, though he doesn’t know why. What is it about that man, that man who is not his real brother? Why does he feel a deep aching in his chest? Why does his mere existence make Loki want to set fire to a place he once considered perfect?

“I… he—Allmother, you don’t understand. Thor, he—he needs me. He needs me.”

There’s a desperation in his voice that pleads for Frigga’s understanding.
Maybe she does, or maybe she only thinks she does, but she smiles at him and cups his cheek with a simple nod.

“You’ve always had such a capacity for kindness,” she muses. “I remember the time you came home crying because you had witnessed a hawk swoop down and grab a kit from its hole.”

Loki’s breath catches in his throat. That story is true; amid all the elaborate fabrications in this artificial Asgard lies this one kernel of truth. Except Frigga left out the part where Thor had gone back to the tree with him the next day and helped him build a shoddy barrier out of wood and cloth to shield the rest of the rabbits from predators flying overhead. Thor had been so proud of himself for coming up with the idea, and Loki was so grateful, so pleased, to watch his older brother spring into action. Thor had been a hero in his eyes long before he was a hero in Asgard’s.

The memory fills him with an anguished longing that renders him speechless. Frigga must mistake his silence for something else because she wraps him up in a tight embrace. Loki wants to go limp in her arms and unload the weight on his shoulders, and for a split second he thinks he might just tell her all of it: that none of this is real, that the man sitting in his room right now is the true future king of Asgard, that the man in her arms masquerading as her son is a Frost Giant capable of only pain and destruction.

But he doesn’t, and he won’t.

He squeezes her back briefly before pulling away. Concern colors her clear eyes but he leaves without allowing himself to be swayed into falling into the trap of their compassion again.

She isn’t real, after all.

None of this is.

____ ____ ____ ____ ____

Three months.

It has been three months since Thor has been here under his care, under his ownership, and Loki is no closer to finding an answer to break himself from this hell.

Three months Loki has been in this sham existence where he is Odin’s adored only son and his brother flinches away from his touch.

The voice in his head is all but silent these days; Loki likes to pretend she knows her days are numbered and that he’s close to finding a solution. Most nights he has to be roused awake from where he’s slumped over an ancient text in the library by a maid and shooed off to bed. To bed, where Thor always waits with wide-eyes and the smallest sigh of relief when Loki leaves him on the lounge, and where his brother falls asleep across the room with his spine as straight as steel.

Thor at least is somewhat different. Not better, but different. Loki’s weariness at letting his brother out of his sight hasn’t diminished, but a month into Thor’s stay in the palace Loki noticed an anxiousness about him. Being cooped up in a room, no matter that it is larger than the simple cage Loki had found him in, leaves this Thor as antsy as the real one when left with nothing to do.

A month in it occurred to Loki that he didn’t know what level of education, if any, his brother had.
That prompted him to introduce Thor to his personal bookshelves. Unlike the palace’s library, Loki’s personal collection consisted mostly of spells and grand tales of adventure. Thor, predictably, had little interest in magic but gravitated to the tall tales like a moth to a flame.

Not long after Thor was introduced to his books did he finish most of them; it was as if he had been as starved for knowledge as he was for food. After that Loki had some of the palace servants bring up weights for Thor to train, the way the real Thor favored. Thor enjoyed that development most of all. Instead of twiddling his thumbs fretfully in the corner or re-reading books he’s taken to exercising by the open window, usually while Loki studied ancient texts for an answer to his predicament.

It reminds Loki of their youth when Thor would train in the fields while he read books and practiced his magic, quizzing Thor on useless trivia while he exercised. That was around the same time Loki started to take notice of his brother’s body and how his muscles moved under his golden skin—and he also took notice of the maidens watching the same display. He took to practicing and reading in the library after that.

Now Loki has taken to reading in the corner by the window while Thor lifts simple weights, and it’s comforting in its nostalgia.

After Thor devoured almost everything Loki had in his bookshelf, including the spellbooks, Loki brought down a handful of texts on various subjects from the palace library he thought his brother might enjoy. Thor enjoyed the books on foreign languages most of all—the same way the real Thor enjoyed learning how to communicate with new people in far away places. Odin always said it was of the many reasons that Thor would be a great king.

Thor has his nose in one of those books now. There’s a storm raging outside and raindrops splatter noisily against the window. The sky is oddly vacant of thunder and lightning; the irony is so bitterly enlightening that Loki can’t even bring himself to laugh.

He knows Thor isn’t reading because his lips don’t move along with the words on the page—a borrowed habit of the real Thor’s that Loki used to loathe but now finds himself treasuring.

“Well?”

Thor looks up at him with wide eyes. “Your majesty?”

“You have been eyeing me for the past half hour. Clearly, you wish to say something. So, go on then. Speak.”

Thor makes an aborted attempt at shaking his head, a lie dying on his lips. He closes the book but keeps a finger pressed between the pages to mark his place.

“I—what do you want from me, your majesty?”

“What?”

Thor’s expression turns even more anxious. “I’ve been in your beautiful kingdom for months and I have yet to be put to work. I-I had assumed, your—Loki, that you wanted me to be stronger before you assigned me to a task, but I have been training for several months now and I haven’t… so I assumed…. If it’s—am I not yet powerful enough? Because I can—”

The thought of Thor being unsure of his own strength would laughable in any other circumstance. As it stands his rambling doubt only irks him.

“I can point you to a mirror if you are uncertain of your power,” Loki quips, gaze dropping pointedly to Thor’s bulging bicep.

Thor folds in on himself self-consciously, though Loki notes the hint of a pleased, albeit bashful, smile tugging at his lips before it’s drawn into a grimace.

“I’m sorry, I’m speaking out of line—”

“No,” Loki says, “I asked you to speak and you spoke. You did nothing wrong.”

Wind bellows outside and rattles the window. Thor peers down at the book in his lap with his bottom lip caught between his teeth. Inexplicably, Loki can only think Beautiful.

What do you want from me, your majesty?

He isn’t stupid; he knows exactly what Thor is implying. It’s what everyone around the palace— around all of Asgard by now—are implying. They think there is no other reason for the quiet, unattached prince to purchase a slave from a foreign realm and keep them locked in his quarters. Granted, he hadn’t been thinking of the optics when he chose to keep Thor sequestered away from prying eyes, but there’s no erasing that now.

Loki turns his attention to the rain coming down outside, suddenly unable to look at his brother. The idea that he could want that from Thor, even if it is the logical conclusion to any outsider looking in, makes his skin hot with anger and something distant and bitter: shame. Loki has wanted… he’s always wanted, but never like that.

“You know I’ve always enjoyed storms ever since I was a little boy?”

Thor startles at the change of subject. He opens his mouth hesitantly but Loki continues on.

“Actually, that’s not entirely true. I was afraid of them for a time. I didn’t know what they were or what they meant. All I saw were the clouds gobbling up the sun and leaving things cold and loud. My… my brother, though, he loved them. Of course, he was a very loud boy.”

Thor’s expression is of quiet wonder. There isn’t even a hint of acknowledgment in those blue eyes Loki both loves and loathes. He wonders at what point, if any, he’ll ever stop looking for recognition in those eyes. If he’ll be forced to search forever and never find it.

“One day my brother and I were playing far outside the palace walls—farther than we should have been because children have ways of finding trouble—when the clouds suddenly grew dark and lightning began to crackle. I skid to a halt mid-run and looked up at the sky, terrified.”

“The rain started to come down and my brother yelled and whooped. He was having the time of his life, meanwhile, I thought the world was coming to an end.

“I always thought my brother was a bit of a brute, but he was so gentle that day. Do you know what he told me? He said, ‘Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean it will hurt you.’”

That understanding nature never extended to Frost Giants, though his brother didn’t make it a habit of defending monsters.

“Where is your brother now?” Thor whispers.

“He’s dead.”

Loki’s notorious Silvertongue speaks the lie so smoothly it almost doesn’t feel like a lie at all.

“I’m so sorry,” Thor says sincerely. He doesn’t know he’s given sympathies for his own death.

Loki takes in his brother’s face. He looks less exhausted and rundown than he did the day Loki bought him, but the years of travail have taken their toll. The hard lines of his face make him look older, even as his lost, uncertain look makes him look guileless.

When Loki speaks, his voice is devoid of emotion.

“Don’t be. I don’t intend to leave him that way for long.”

____ ____ ____ ____ ____

Seven months in and things have almost struck a balance.

Thor still clumsily catches himself when calling Loki ‘your majesty’ or—Loki shudders—Master, but he doesn’t look as dead inside as he seemed all those months ago. For the first time since this dream turned into a nightmare, Loki feels like he can breathe.

So it only makes sense that it would go all go to ruins.

Thor is lifting weights in the room while Loki pores over another spellbook that might hold the key to his escape from this waking nightmare. Loki has found that his brother won’t ask for water or a fresh towel even when he’s parched and sweating a puddle into the floor. He’ll pant and wheeze but never once even think to inconvenience by requesting a glass. This has forced Loki to anticipate his brother’s needs. He’s always been able to read Thor through a mixture of his brother’s openness and his own intuitive nature, but this Thor is much harder to read without their shared history.

Thor drops a heavy weight onto the floor and it clatters noisily. Loki flinches glares at him.

“Sorry, Loki!” Thor stammers. He’s drenched from head to toe. No wonder the thing slipped from his grip.

“If you need a towel you should just ask for one so these things don’t continue to happen.”

Thor shrinks into himself under the criticism, light as it is. Loki rolls his eyes but gets up and grabs a towel from the bathroom. When he offers it with a cocked brow Thor stares at the thing as if he expects it to bite even as he gingerly takes it with a murmured “Thank you, Loki.”

Loki sits back down at his desk and flips the text back over. Not like he could remember what the unhelpful thing said if he tried. Not when Thor is toweling himself dry only a few feet away.

Heat prickles across his skin as he discreetly watches the display from the corner of his eye. Thor wipes himself down efficiently, like a soldier. The rough terrycloth drags across the planes of his stomach glistening with sweat. This Thor is built much the same as the real one, but with muscles earned through harsh labor rather than willing discipline.

Loki swallows, then swallows again.

A familiar heat pools into his stomach as he continues to watch, like some lecherous pervert watches a bathing maiden. The joke is Thor isn’t even being enticing on purpose. This is a far cry from the Thor that would strut around with his shirt thrown across his shoulders as he greeted swooning Asgardians with a confident, charming smile. Loki would roll his eyes at the shameless display even as his cock filled with want. The same way it’s doing now.

He stands so abruptly that the chair skids across the wooden floor, starling Thor. Blue eyes catch his

“I am going to grab something from the kitchens. I missed breakfast this morning. Are you hungry?” He asks, knowing Thor would never ask for something he wanted.

“No, thank you, Loki.”

He flips the spellbook face down to keep his place. Before he would have kept his place with a feather or string rather than risk straining the spine of his book. There are much more pressing concerns, now.

Things are different now than when he first awoke in this new Asgard. Seven months ago Loki couldn’t have stepped foot into the hall without a chorus of warm salutations greeting him. Now people keep their heads down and speak to him softly with tight-lipped smiles.

He pretends not to notice for the most part. Not caring, on the other hand, is a nearly impossible feat. The irony is as bitter as it is apparent; he has enjoyed the brief pleasure of what it is to be as loved as his brother, only to slowly lose it right before his eyes.

Not for the first time, he considers that this world, this simulation, might be a punishment, but it’s hard to believe there is any in all the realms who would be so creature so cruel.

Hunger had been an excuse to put distance between himself and the siren call of Thor’s skin, but the more his head clears the more peckish he becomes. He had stayed in to research during breakfast.

Just as he rounds the corner toward the kitchens the sound of giggling halts his step. He hasn’t had the patience to deal with people for several months now. The thought of having to play the happy prince for a mindless crowd turns his stomach sour.

“What else do you think a prince would do with a rugged slave, Sigurðr?”

He freezes in his tracks.

They’re talking about him. They’re talking about him and Thor.

In the real world, when he’d first learned of what the people of Asgard thought of him, Loki had learned to shut it all out. When he’d gone mad he’d opened himself up and let their anger and neglect fuel him.

Neither of those options is appealing at the moment, so he only stands frozen, listening helplessly.

“Do you really think Prince Loki would do something as shameful like that? That doesn’t seem like him.”

“Oh, don’t be so naive. Royals are used to getting what they want when they want. That includes people.”

“Mmhmm. I agree. Besides, could you blame him? I sometimes see the slave working out when I drop his meals at the door. Those arms…”

“It’s despicable, don’t get me wrong. But it is a future king’s right, after all.”

There isn’t a single coherent thought in his mind when he rounds the corner and slams his fist against the wall. The women squeak whirl on him, condemnation in their face before they see who it is. They shrink almost immediately, shame-faced, and it would almost be amusing was there not a storm of sick rage swimming in his belly.

The women huddle together like startled rats, holding their breaths as they wait for him to react. They know he heard their filthy slander. They could probably feel the fury wafting off in him waves.

He turns on his heels and stalks back toward the room. Red colors his vision and acid flows through his veins. The plethora of emotions he feels is overwhelming, almost enough to make him fall to his knees and retch right there. But he doesn’t, can’t. He has to get to Thor. He has to—He doesn’t know what he has to do, but it’s the only clear thought in his head.

When he bursts through the door Thor is running a finger of the spines of books on the shelf.

“Loki?” Thor stammers out, apprehension immediately present in the lines of his face.

Thor has been wary around him since the beginning, but he hasn’t looked outright terrified of him for months. Until now. The picture Loki must make right now to strike that kind of fear in his brother’s mighty blue eyes for even a second—it almost makes Loki falter.

But the fire in his belly refuses to be quelled. He walks until he’s crowded in Thor’s space. Thor is a few inches taller, but he bends himself uncomfortably until his eyes are somewhat level, though he refuses to meet them for longer than a second.

Thor fears him. Thor has always feared him. Loki had maybe been able to convince himself of his brother’s progress, but it had all been a lie. Thor had asked him what now feels like centuries ago what Loki intended to use him for. Loki hadn’t given him an answer, but he’d naively hoped that Thor would understand his intentions, while perhaps not pure, would never be so filthy and base. Despite his feelings or the want his brother’s flesh stirred in him, he had tricked himself into believing this Thor had the same mindlessly faith in him as the real one.

He doesn’t. He’s been compliant and agreeable, but he’d

“Do you think I keep around as my own personal whore?”

No delicacy or subtlety; he aims right for the thought. The verbal blow lands, causing Thor to reel back and stumble to the ground. He makes to stand, stammering denials and nonsense all the while, but Loki places a hand on his shoulder to still his movement. Thor’s bare chest rises and falls rapidly as Loki lowers himself to the ground in front of his brother.

 

“What do you want?” Loki asks softly.

“I-I’m sorry, Loki?”

Loki stomps a foot almost petulantly. “You heard me, Thor. I asked what is it that you want.”

“Whatever you want, your majesty.”

Loki’s breath catches in his throat.

He has always wanted Thor.

He could, a sinister part of him whispers. He could live out his fantasy and take every bit of what Thor is offering. He isn’t real—none of it is real. It wouldn’t matter if he slipped

(It is a future king’s right, after all)

The guards, the onlookers, even Sif and the Warriors three, they all think that’s why he took Thor under his care for in the first place. They expect it. Thor expects it.

And, oh, he has wanted this for as long as he remembers. From his youth, when he first realized that Thor’s touch no longer brought just comfort and reassurance but also conjured a stirring in his cunt, to adulthood, when his dreams of ruling Asgard alongside his brother became bittersweet fantasies that made him ache in all sorts of wicked ways.

But not even when he was consumed with the blackest parts of his soul had he ever dreamed of taking anything from Thor. He’s only ever wanted Thor to give, wholly and enthusiastically, his attention and devotion. But now Thor’s attention and devotion are being offered to him in blood and chains, and it turns him ill. The thought turns the contents of his stomach and rises bile in his throat. Even the suggestion of touching Thor when he’s broken and vulnerable makes Loki want to claw out the black from his own soul. His fingers twitch with the yearn of destruction.

He has a thought, quick and irrational, that even now with Thor shackled by submission he refuses to give Loki his eye. His time and consideration still dangle in front of him like a piece of meat to a starved animal.

“Damn you,” he whispers into the echoing stillness. “Damn you, Thor.”

Thor jolts and looks up at him with wide, terrified eyes. Loki almost scrambles back in shock; it is the first time he has made eye contact since Loki bought him from the stacks. His eyes are the same blue they have always been.

Seemingly catching himself, Thor once again lowers his head to stare down at the floor. When he speaks against his voice is tight, “Sir?”

Loki is puzzled until he realizes: this must be the first time this Thor has heard his own name. The pain that comes from that revelation is swift and gutting.

“Thor,” he speaks his brother’s name as if it were an ancient spell, the syllable delicate and pronounced. “Your name is Thor.”

Thor doesn’t answer, but then again Loki isn’t quite sure what his own question is meant to be if it is one at all. He only wishes for Thor to speak, to acknowledge who he was before today.

“Do you know that that is your name? Do you know your purpose?”

The question isn’t meant to be a trick, but Thor looks caught out. “My… my purpose is to serve you–”

No, “ Loki interjects. “That is not your purpose. That is not you. Perhaps you have been fooled into believing that by some wretched, soulless creatures, but I am telling you now that it is not. You are no simple laborer, no common man’s toy. Do you understand?”

Thor doesn’t speak. Loki doesn’t know if it’s because he doesn’t agree or if he has been rendered speechless by the ferocity of his tirade.

“Well?” he hisses, the word dripping with venom. “Don’t you have anything to say? Ah, unless that is what you are after all. Is it, Thor? Are you a coward and a plaything?”

He slaps Thor across the face so swiftly his palm tingles with the aftershock. He pays the stinging pain no mind as he draws back to do it again. Thor rears back with the force of it, but he makes no attempt at moving away. Accepting this punishment like he has been trained to accept everything else, meek and without a fight.

Loki draws back to strike him again.

This time his wrist is grabbed before he can make contact. The power in Thor’s grasp makes the bones in his wrist creak and protest. For a wild, thrilling moment he thinks Thor is going to hit him. He can already taste the blood in his mouth and feel the sting on his cheek. The thought isn’t at all unpleasant. In fact, Loki feels himself craving it, wanting the way it leaves him wild and feral.

Then, Thor drops his wrist as if he’s been burned and it’s over before it has even begun. The glimpse of the angry, righteous thunderer Loki has hated and loved and vilified and worshipped is closed behind a wall of fear and submission once again.

Thor stares up at him in horror. His expression shocked as Loki feels.

“Master—your majesty—Loki, I’m so sorry. I’m so very sorry. Please, please forgive me.”

The swift apology sounds wrong is Thor’s tongue. His brother has never shied away from putting him in his place. The rational part of him knows that this isn’t his brother and that Loki shouldn’t expect him to react the way that the real Thor would, but that part is only a whisper next to the internal scream of frustration plaguing his mind.

He grabs Thor’s wrist and wrenches it up. Too stunned, Thor only watches with his mouth agape.

“No, don’t apologize. You want to hit me, don’t you? Do it.”

Loki releases Thor’s hand but sticks out his neck in offering. Thor looks confused and frightened, which only spurs Loki on more. He shifts on his knees until he’s in Thor’s face and panting in his brother’s face like a mad dog.

“Why hesitate? Hmm? What would the world think if Thor, mighty thunderer, Odinson, allowed himself to be pushed around by his weakling younger brother?”

He balls his hands into fists and hits Thor on the arm. Thor flinches but doesn’t make a move to strike back or even defend himself.

“Is this really Thor, Asgard’s greatest warrior, sitting here spineless before me? Are you not outraged? Well? Are you simply going to cower like a child and let yourself be humiliated by Laufey’s bastard son?”

Loki’s words get louder and louder the more Thor sits and watches him with terror coloring his clear eyes. He wants to see righteous anger bleed black into his brother’s eyes and turn his soul as black and fiery as his own. He wants to, needs to, see anything but that foreign fear on Thor’s face.

In a moment of wild abandon, he does the only thing that seems fit to accomplish that.

A Thor with fists too tiny to grip Mjolnir’s handle once boasted he would slay all the monsters that plagued their realm. Loki decides to see if that bloodlust somehow still lives within him.

With a flick of his wrist and a cracking of seidr in the air, he drops his illusion of Asgardian skin. Blue snakes up his body like vines, and Loki has to close his eyes as his body transforms into its natural form that feels anything but.

Once its the transformation is complete he opens his eyes with a shaky breath. Thor’s hands that had been wringing frantically in front of him as he witnessed Loki’s collapse into madness have stilled. His eyes are impossibly wider, and his mouth moves as if to s

Loki clutches Thor’s collars in his blue, clawed hands and shakes him. “Well? Show me, Odinson, how mighty you are! Show me why they call you the Slayer of Beasts! Show me you still know your name!”

For a small eternity, nothing but the sound of their breathing fills the room.

Thor raises his hand gingerly and Loki feels a flurry of emotion so fierce it leaves him light-headed: triumph at appealing to Thor’s baser hatred for the Jotun race to coax him into being active instead of passive; anguish at losing the love of even this pale shadow of his brother.

He braces himself for a blow that never comes.

Instead, a hand gently brushes across his cheek, starling his eyes open. Loki didn’t realize he was crying until he saw his tears glistening on his brother’s fingers.

There is no trace of fear in Thor’s eyes now. They’re wide with something akin to reverence.

“You’re beautiful,” he whispers it like a prayer.

A sob is ripped from Loki’s throat. He jerks out of Thor’s grasp and lurches to his feet on calf leg. Thor stares up at him with his hand still outraised, fingers wet with the evidence of Loki’s pain.

“No,” stammers, shaking his head. He takes retreating steps back as the image of the man who isn’t his brother blurs in front of him and tears slide bitter into his mouth. “No, no, no. No.”

There suddenly isn’t enough air in the room

He has to get out of here. This is no way to live. This isn’t living.

With a strangled grunt he rises to his feet and stumbles out of the room. Thor calls out to him but Loki ignores him

Nothing in any of the books had been helpful. He’s searched for answers for a year now and to no avail. The only thing that has even come close to a viable solution is—

Loki stands abruptly.

Yes. That’s it. It’s the only way.

He races from his room and down the hall to the library. The answer was there all along, so obvious he feels a fool for not recognizing it sooner.

(No. Loki, you must not do this)

One of the many books of lore Loki had grabbed from the library had mentioned Svefnthorn, the sleep thorn. He had come across it one of those nights when desperation had wrapped around his throat like a living thing.

This had to be a dream, it was the only thing that made sense. Who knew what was happening to him in the real world right now? How long has passed

(Isn’t this everything you’ve ever wanted?)

No. No.

(Everything you’ve ever asked for is here. You are loved, cherished, praised. People adore you. You are the rightful king of Asgard)

It isn’t real. None of it is real.

(It may not be real, but it is real to you))

Maybe in the beginning, but certainly not now.

(You don’t even know if it will work)

“But I have to try.”

Heart pounding and blood rushing in his ears, Loki runs aimlessly. He knows what he had to do, and it’s so cathartic and liberating that he almost cries from the relief of it—but he doesn’t know how. The urgency keeps his feet moving, but he doesn’t know where he’ll end up when they stop.

He skids to a halt when he notices light spilling through the crack in the Throne Room door. The adrenaline pumping in his veins tells him to go, but the weakness in his heart has him slipping inside.

The eyes of the mural seem to track his movements as he slowly makes to stand in front of it. It is no less jarring to not see Thor standing proudly next to Odin and Frigga. The picture, much life everything else in this world, is incomplete. Imperfect.

An imperfect image of a happy family, content in their naivety, not knowing they’re all missing a limb.

His fist connects with stone before he’s even thought to do it. Pain lights a fire from his knuckles up, but Loki only pulls back and hits it again. He feels the same shallow ringing in his blood as when he struck Thor—an empty sort of satisfaction that leaves him thrilled and shamefaced in equal terms.

He screams and cries, if only because no one is there to see or hear.

“Loki, are you alright?”

Loki freezes. He turns around and comes face to face with Odin, standing at the open door of the room. The Allfather’s voice is filled with concern, but his expression is as passive as ever.

Loki stares down at the blood on his hands. He is not alright.

“What do you think?” He whispers to the forgery of his not-father.

Odin takes a step forward and Loki steps back.

“What ails you, my son?”

“I don’t belong here,” Loki says monotonously, staring up at the mural.

The Allfather’s eyes widen. “Of course you belong here, and you’ll be king of this land before long. It is your birthright.”

“I was not born here though, was I?” Loki spits.

Odin doesn’t flinch. “No, you weren’t. I took you in from the cold when I found you, and I know you have always felt that makes you an outsider. But you are not. You are the future king of Asgard, but more importantly, you are my son.”

How cruel, Loki thinks, how devastatingly cruel. Whatever it is that wants to keep him here locked inside his own mind has used a very dirty trick indeed, and Loki wants to cry with the injustice of it all.

Choking down rage and sorrow like every other bitter pill forced down his throat, Loki squares his shoulders and looks him in the eye. Fine, if whatever is keeping him here wants to throw these fantasies at him, he can indulge. If only this last time. Besides, if he doesn’t hear it now, he likely never will again.

“Are you proud of me, father?” Loki whispers,

“I’ve always been proud of you, my boy. You will make a great king someday.”

How easy it would be to believe—to take those words as the gifts they are and forget everything else. For a fraction of a second he falters, but it doesn’t last long. He steels himself and looks at the imitation head-on.

He hadn’t noticed until just this second that this version of the Allfather has the wrong eye color.

“I’ve longed to hear you say that and to mean it almost all my life,” he says in a fierce whisper. He doesn’t know why he admits it. Maybe it’s because none of this is real and it ultimately won’t matter. Not even in his darkest, most pathetic moments had he ever allowed himself to wonder what Odin might say. “So, thank you, I suppose, for allowing me to know what it might feel like to be loved.”

He turn on his heels and stalks down the hallway. Every nerve in his body screams for him to turn back. The voice in his head is just one long, continuous scream. In the distance he can hear the sounding of several pounding feet. A pursuit. Who, or what, is doing it, Loki does not know. Is afraid to know.

The library is empty and cold when he bursts through in search of a place to hide. The towering shelves are bare and the air is still. It looks as if no one has set foot in this place for several millennia, though he knows he was here just last night.

The sounding of pounding feet grows louder. Loki’s chest constricts as he struggles to breathe. Panic pieces through him like a stake to the heart. He grasps his chest as if to keep the blood in end.

Then, from the corner of his eye, a window.

He runs toward it before he can make himself sick with the reality of his decision.

The pounding feet get louder and closer. His fingers shake as unclasps the lock and throws the windows open. A violent gust of wind materializes at once and threatens to knock him back, but he squares his feet and climbs to the ledge anyway.

He closes his eyes, too afraid to look down. The door to the library bursts open just as he takes a step off the ledge and falls, falls, falls—

____ ____ ____ ____ ____

”Breathe.”

The word floats through a fog to reach Loki’s ears. Urgent. Clipped. Spat in a panic.

”Breathe! Damn you, Loki, I need you to breathe.”

He tries, but there’s nothing there to breathe.

”Loki, please. Please, you have to try. Don’t leave me. I just found you again.”

Thor.

For a fleeting, impossible second he thinks the Gods have made a mistake and that he is in Valhalla. Then he sees the troubled face of Jane Foster looming over Thor’s shoulders and the thought is banished.

He gasps, and a rush of air fills his lungs. Blue eyes look back at him shining with unshed tears.

“Loki, you’re home.”

____ ____ ____ ____ ____

On Midgard, in the guest room of Jane Foster’s diminutive home, Thor tells him the story of the witch.

“When you felt, I-I was lost, brother. I didn’t know… I had no way of knowing if you were safe, if you were even alive. searched everywhere for you. Everywhere. I heard rumor you were on Midgard, Alfheim—even as far as Knowhere. Eventually, rumor held that a witch had taken you to the depths of Muspelheim”

Rain comes down in buckets outside and cracks of thunder echo across the sky. If Loki has ever felt more at peace, it was too long ago to remember.

Thor paces the worn carpet with quick, heavy steps as he speaks. “She had captured you—I’m not sure how—but she took you underground and placed you underneath some sort of spell. When I found you she was sucking your life force.”

“Svefnthorn,” Loki supplies.

Thor nods gravely. “How did you break it?”

“I killed myself, of course.”

Thor comes to an abrupt halt, sucking in a breath so quickly it whistles through his teeth. He lifts a hand out toward Loki. It hangs in the air before dropping back down to his side.

“Loki…” Thor whispers, stricken.

Loki clears his throat and segues to a less troubling topic. “How long was I gone?”

“Two months. You have been missing, here, for two months, though I do not know how long the witch had you under her spell.”

“I was there for almost a year. In the… in the dream.”

“And you killed yourself to awaken,” Thor says. A fact, not a question.

Loki nods. “It was the only thing I thought might work.”

Thor nods again. The lines in his face are deep and his expression grim. His footfalls are heavy as he erases the space between them until they are a hair’s breadth away from one another. Outside another crack of lightning lights up the sky.

“What was it like?” he whispers.

Loki looks up toward the sky and thinks of the first few months in the dream-Asgard. How adored he was, how happy.
He smiles, bitter and wry.

“It was perfect.”

Now Thor sounds as if he is barely breathing. “If it was perfect, why would you take your own life just to leave?”

“It was supposed to be perfect, that was the point of the spell. She needed to keep me there so she could suck the life out of me. The trouble was that it wasn’t perfect, not really. It was… off. Wrong.” He turns to his brother. The entirety of Thor’s attention is focused on him. This, that enraptured look of love, reverence, and sorrow—it’s everything he has ever wanted. But he falters under it now.

He makes to wrap his arms around himself but then balls his fists in an act of defiance against his own wretched insecurities. He looks Thor in the eye and doesn’t speak until his lips stop trembling.

“Because you weren’t you.”

Later on, when Loki is dazed and sated, he will insist it was Thor that bridged the space between them.

The touch of Thor’s lips is like a balm to the soul; Loki almost cries out in relief. The kiss is uncharacteristically chaste. Thor is coiled power and dominance. He is thunder and lightning and rain and wind. There are snatches of moments in Loki’s youth where he would watch, shamefaced and aroused to the point of whimpering, as his brother ravished a maiden until she was weak in the knees.

But there is no trace of that swashbuckling sway in this kiss. His brother’s lips are surprisingly soft as they yield under his touch. His skin is warm when Loki raises a tentative hand to grip his bicep, moaning involuntarily when he feels the muscle there.

Loki feels coveted. He feels treasured. It’s so overwhelming that he almost pushes Thor away. Instead, he slides his fingers up to fists the collar of Thor’s shirt and anchors him there.

He almost whimpers pathetically when Thor pulls away.

“Bed, now,” his brother growls.

Despite the command, Thor scoops him up in his arms and places him gently down on a stiff mattress covered in sheets with yellow flowers. Loki isn’t left waiting long.

Thor strips him with hands both gentle and demanding until Loki is laying bare beneath him. Loki feels the instinct to cover himself up from those piercing eyes, but he resists by fisting his hands into the sheets and breathing out shakily.

Thor sucks in a breath and shakes his head, as if in disbelief. “You are so beautiful.”

The words threaten to crack the last bit of self-control Loki has managed to hold onto since waking up in Jane Foster’s shoddy little home. Emotion wells up in his chest, so potent and cloying he might choke, and the vestiges of his self-destructive and self-defeatist nature spike in response.

In a blink, before he can second-guess himself, he sheds his Asgardian skin to reveal the cool blue underneath.

Thor makes a sound as if he’s been punched.

“Am I beautiful now?” Loki whispers.

The Thor of the dream-Asgard had looked at him with reverence when he’d bared his Jotunn skin to him. What a shock that was, when Loki had been expecting disgust and rage. You’re beautiful, Thor had said, and Loki hadn’t known at all what to do with those words.

This is a test to see if there had been a kernel of truth in that charade, and Loki has made sure to stack the deck against himself.

He flinches when Thor reaches up a hand to trail from his temple to his chin.

“Always.”

The word is presented so free and so plainly as if Loki is truly the most precious thing in this world. A sob is ripped from his throat as Thor leans down to whisper the word once more into his ear.

Always.”

Their movements are a frenzy after that. Thor seems set on lavishing every inch of his brother’s blue skin with licks and bites. He only pauses to admire the purple bruises his lips, teeth, and hands leave on Loki’s skin before resuming his expedition. Loki’s head swims with the overwhelming pleasure of his brother’s touch, his love.

All of the teasing and whispered promises have him so riled that when Thor finally slips inside Loki actually sobs in relief. The thrusts start off slow as they adjust to this novelty of it all, but eventually, Thor picks up the rhythm of his hips until every thrust steals Loki’s breath away. Everywhere Thor’s skin touches his is fiery hot, and Loki readily leans into the flame.

“More,” he whimpers, wild and open. “More, Thor, please.”

He tangles his fingers in Thor’s long, blonde locks—and the way the blue peeks through spun gold makes him squeeze his eyes shut tightly, for just a moment—and tugs. Thor goes willingly until their foreheads are pressed together and their eyes are locked together. Thor’s eyes are startling blue and alive, not dulled by capitulation and fear, but vibrant and alive. He bends under Loki’s hand, not by submission but permission

“Don’t leave me. Don’t you ever leave me again, Loki,” Thor growls. A particularly hard snap of his hips wrings a cry from Loki’s throat.

Thor.”

“Tell me you won’t leave me again,” he demands, voice as rough as dry tree bark.

It’s a foolish thing to promise.

And after his crimes, there is little reason to believe the Allfather would allow him to into the kingdom again, and certainly not as a free man. Loki now knows there is no point in denying that he would follow Thor anywhere, but what if they meant walking into a trap he might never escape from? Would he crawl back to Asgard and face a million hateful eyes just to cling on to a pair that looks at him as if he planted the very seeds of Yggdrasil?

“I will never leave you again, Thor. Never.”

Thor captures his lips once more just as he buries himself to the hilt inside. Loki tightens his grip on Thor’s hair and moans as their tongues dance together. Every inch of his senses are filled by Thor. The taste of his tongue, the hard lines of muscles on his back, slippery with sweat. His scent, the earthy with just a breath of summer rain. He tights his thighs around his brother’s waist and tries to bring him impossibly closer.

“Take me,” Loki babbles, far past the point of any semblance of control. “Take—everything, I’m yours, Thor. Never leave you again, never—”

Thor groans deep in his throat, picking up the pace of his hips until the slap of skin against skin starts to blend into the roar of thunder outside. Lighting crackles outside and lifts the hairs on Loki’s arms as he comes with his brother’s name on his lips.

It only takes a few more snaps of Thor’s hips before he still and follows Loki into bliss, letting out a moan so deep it rumbles in Loki’s stomach and prompts his cock to spurt out another weak burst of come.

Thor collapses on top of him, spent. Loki makes an involuntarily groan under the pressing weight and presses his thumbs into Thor’s side until he chuckles and rolls to the vacant side of the bed.

They lie there in silence as the sound of rolling thunder recedes and the pattering of rain picks up. When Loki looks down he sees his brother’s spent wet between his spread thighs and his own seed cooling on his stomach. His skin is still blue, and the shock of it has him grabbing for the thin sheet to cover himself.

Thor grabs his hand and stills his movements. Loki allows the covers to be pushed away and out of his reach. He allows his brother to run his fingers slowly up from his thighs and through his spent, and when Thor presses those fingers to his lips and closes his eyes and accepts them readily.

Loki whimpers and Thor frowns, mistaking the sound for one of discomfort. He brushes hairs from his forehead to plant a kiss to the skin.

“I apologize for… not taking it easy on you. I should have been mindful of any injuries you might have sustained.”

Loki smiles. Of course, Thor would apologize for the vigor of his fucking even as his partner lays with stars in his eyes right in front of him. He grabs Thor’s hand and brings it to his lips.

“You don’t hear me complaining, do you?” He murmurs against the skin.

“We’ll have to have one of the healers look you over when we get back to Asgard.”

“You speak as if I’ll ever be able to step foot in Asgard ever again.”

Thor frowns. “We will deal with that as it comes.”

The words aren’t as comforting as Thor surely means them to be, but Loki nods anyway. Thor wraps his arms around him and pulls Loki in until he’s tucked beneath Thor’s chin. The cocoon of warmth their bodies create helps to ease some of the anxiety creeping into the forefront of his mind. He places a hand on Thor’s chest and marvels at the stark contrast of blue and bronze.

Loki knows the future is bleak for him. Going back to Asgard with his tail between his legs and the scorn of the nation leveled on his back isn’t ideal, and as he watches Thor slowly drift off he knows his brother will be going back home alone. But for now, in the safety of his brother’s arms, this is alright.

This is enough.