If you ask Loki, he's never been the bad guy of the story. He might have attempted total genocide on more than one occasion, might have deceived his brother and everyone who has made the mistake of trusting him with anything at all, ever, but somehow, he's managed to play his cards right for at the moment sitting on the throne of Asgard. Sure, it's only because the true ruler, his brother Thor, is currently away on a mission - doing something Loki couldn't care less about - but as maintaining peace in the nine realms is the one thing closest to Thor's heart, Loki has currently, for the time being, decided to take a break from trying to conquer the world. It might also be because Thor has left him in charge, him, of all people, and although Loki considers Thor's unwavering trust in him utterly idiotic, given the chance to be second in command and take Odin's old seat with permission - for once - has it's perks. And as he's currently lounging on the seat of the king with his feet in the air and a bowl of grapes in his lap, Loki is, in fact, quite satisfied.
After defeating their long-lost sister and successfully stopping Ragnarök, Loki has decided to allow himself some time to relax before coming up with his next scheme. If you can even call it relaxing for he's worked very hard on finishing his next play about the downfall of Hela (one where he's the true hero of the story and his beloved brother, now eternally indebted to him, comes across as the somewhat dumb but lovable character whose one sole purpose in the play is to blunder everything until Loki comes to save the day), he's assisted in rebuilding and mending the palace after the destruction by telling everyone else what to do, and even performed a couple spells to rebuild Asgard's defenses. The fresco in the ceiling of the throne room has been repainted to show Thor as their new leader, Loki at his side - and even though it isn't his first choice, Loki has to admit Thor isn't absolutely horrendous when it comes to the art of ruling.
In Muspelheim, where riots had commenced after his brother's triumph over Surtur, Thor had been summoned to ensure everyone's safety and thus, Loki has enjoyed several days of peace and quiet as Thor has taken his newly found friends (who for the record Loki isn't overly fond of) with him to bring peace among the Eldjötnar of Muspelheim. Loki had been glad to be asked to stay and watch over Asgard as stepping his foot on the fiery, smoky realm of the fire giants isn't something he'd call, in Thor's words; great fun. Plopping another juicy grape into his mouth, Loki slides down the chair and settles into an even more comfortable position, closing his eyes to properly cherish the moment.
The doors to the throne room open and in walks a guard, banging the marble floors with his spear as his words echo through the various chambers of the castle;
"I announce the arrival of Thor Odinson; god of Thunder, king of Asgard, protector of the nine realms and his brave warriors; Valkyrie-"
"Alright, alright, save the rest," Loki interrupts him with a wave of his hand and readjusts his position in the chair just in time to see his brother walk in through the open doors with the sunlight behind him, giving him quite a godly halo. With age Thor has truly grown to reach his full potential, in both his abilities and his looks - even though thanks to their sister, he's now missing an eye.
"Brother, I have returned!" Thor bellows, grinning wildly as he crosses the vast, ornate flooring with brisk steps, "And I come bearing gifts!"
"I take it went well as you are in such great spirits?" Loki grins, standing up and taking a few steps down the chairs to meet his brother half way. With one of his eyes missing the resemblance to Odin is uncanny, but Thor is taller, more handsome than Odin ever was, and most importantly he is Thor, in every way a better man than the previous ruler of Asgard Loki had grown up calling father.
"It was incredible, you would have loved it, Loki," Thor pauses to stand in front of him, meeting Loki's gaze and then eyeing him from head to toe gleefully. "The throne suits you."
"Just don't get too used to it," comes Valkyrie's voice from behind Thor where she, together with the rest of Thor's miss-matched group he calls his friends stand dripping mud and ashy soil, looking quite out of place in the ostentatiously magnificent, luxurious hall. Korg and Meak are next to her - two odd ones out - and comical though their appearances might be, Thor has for some reason given them important positions in the Asgardian troops. (Thankfully the Hulk has been sent back to Earth - Loki would not be able to handle that on top of everything his has to deal with now being back on Asgard as himself.) Loki gives Valkyrie a look of pure contempt, gets an identical one in return and then turns to face Thor again.
"A token of their appreciation," Thor pulls something from a bag he's been carrying, presenting a glowing glass orb about the size of Loki's head, filled with something that looks like swirling fire and magma orbiting an impossibly black core. "I thought you might like it - it's the essence of the most destructive volcano in Muspelheim, if not all the nine realms, it's hidden powers are said to rival that of the Aether's according to the legends of the Eldjötnar."
"And you are absolutely certain you're willing to gift this to me?" Loki continues to grin, accepting the present with both hands and inspecting the orb with keen eyes. It feels slightly warm in his open palms but he feels no power, at least nothing that his seiðr can detect - but the item is undeniably beautiful and unmistakably valuable. "I can't feel anything."
"The power is hidden, you see," Thor explains, giving him a compassionate smile that feels like a pat on the back. Thor might not be the smartest one in the bunch and though Loki often considers him as stupid as a doorknob, he isn't that dumb - handing Loki a weapon such as the Aether would be like waving a bloody carcass in front of a lion and expecting it not to eat.
"Power or no power, I'm impressed - it's extraordinary."
"Well then," clearly pleased, Thor turns to his warriors as Loki tells the guards to the take the orb to the treasury, "Now that peace has been returned to the nine realms, I say this calls for a feast!"
"I don't think I've ever went this long without a drink," Valkyrie tells Korg on their way towards the dining hall where festivities are often being held. Miek's robotic exoskeleton feet are unable to find proper footing on the slippery marble floor and he skids after them in quite a comical fashion, but Loki and Thor have already turned their attention back to each other and it goes unnoticed.
"You must join us, Loki," Thor says fondly, "I must tell you everything."
"If you insist," Loki rolls his eyes but joins him anyway, taking his brother's side as their footsteps naturally fall into a matching pace. Lately, things between them have been pleasantly comfortable.
The banquet lasts all night. The castle's vast dining hall is filled with the remaining soldiers and their families - the sound of their laughter and banter echoes in the high ceilings, and the air is filled with the scent of roasted meat and malt. Barrels upon barrels of hundred year old ale is being carried from the cellars and goblets are being filled to the brim. The light of a thousand candles flickers on the gold covered walls as music begins to play and they all get drunk, toasting for peace and for Thor's reign over the nine realms. New songs of their conquests have been written and are being performed, praising their new king who had come to their aid in the most desperate time of need. After the wreck their sister Hela had caused on their home world, after the deaths of so many, they all deserve a night of celebration - and even Heimdall joins them, sitting at the opposite end of table and observing the festive folk with a good-natured smile. Loki watches his brother from where he's seated on his right side, his joyous expression and the way he shines as he raises his chalice in a dare.
"Valkyrie," Thor exclaims drunkenly, "I challenge you to a drinking competition!"
Valkyrie throws her head back in laughter, banging her goblet against the table and spilling beer everywhere, "Thor Odinson, I accept!"
"You are mad," Loki says truthfully before emptying his own drink. Will his brother never learn?
"Watch this and weep, brother!"
"Oh, I am weeping," Loki mutters under his breath. More beer is being poured and the noise is starting get on his last nerve as Loki prefers a more cultured evening of theater and music to a night of binge drinking.
"And then I banged the fire giant in the head, like this," Korg tells him, continuing a story that's been going on for the past thirty minutes, miming animatedly with his hands, "And then Thor came in and I was like, hey man, I've got this, but then there were, like a dozen of them, and they all attacked him but they didn't notice me as I'm made of rocks, you see. Very handy on Muspelheim which is a planet made of rocks exactly like me, quite a coincidence, eh?"
"Truly," Loki hums, barely listening as he watches his brother down his fifth goblet of ale while Valkyrie is already at her seventh. Thor should already be well-aware of Valkyrie's love for booze for anyone who tries to beat her at her own game ends up under the table with a hangover terrible enough to make the loser crave the sweet release of death the next day.
"Except I'm made of perishable rock and not the fiery kind, you know, so the trick is you gotta hit them like this," Korg shows him exactly how with the closest butter knife, "Unless you had water and a hose, of course, as they are fire giants, you know, maybe you could spray them to death, ha ha! Get it, man?"
"As undoubtedly interesting though this story is, I'm afraid I'm compelled to escort my drunken brother to his bed chambers," Loki says coolly, watching as Thor sways dangerously while trying to fill his goblet as Valkyrie, seemingly unaffected by the tremendous amount of mead they've both consumed, has apparently forgotten about the competition to flirt with the maid who's been bringing new jugs of ale to their table.
"Thor," Loki leans in to unclasp his brother's fingers from the cup, "I think it's about time for the king to retire for the night."
"Oh, is it?" Thor looks to him with a drunken, shit-eating grin, "Loki, you're still here!"
"Yes, I'm here," he says patiently, getting up from the table while trying to duck away from his brother's suddenly affectionate arms. It turns out to be quite hard for Loki has also downed a respectable amount of beer during the night, though nowhere near as many goblets as Thor. Several chairs are knocked over when Thor gets up from the table, throws an arm around Loki's shoulders and leans into him: "Your hair is so pretty," Thor sighs as they start to wobble towards the exit, "I miss my hair."
"You are so drunk," Loki says, finds himself smiling and bites the inside of his cheek to stop it before anyone notices - otherwise people might start to think he's gone soft and start to find him approachable. The last thing Loki wants is to listen to other people's problems.
They take the curving staircase that leads to their bed chambers, their feet landing heavily on each stone carved step, the candles normally illuminating the interior burned out as sunrise is almost upon them, already painting the Asgardian sky in hues of soft orange and gold behind the arched windows. The door to Thor's room is the second on the right, and Loki pushes it open with his hip while dragging his half unconscious brother with him and unceremoniously dumping him on the bed. He doesn't bother with the silken bed covers but aids enough to pull off Thor's boots, then helping him remove the chest plate of his armor as Thor's fingers are helplessly tugging at the wrong part of the opening. Loki is glad their people cannot see this pathetic side of their king.
"I feel like giving you a hug," Thor says warmly, watching as Loki's fingers work on removing his clothing and lifting a hand to gently place it on Loki's neck, the tips of his fingers drawing circles to the nape of his neck. Loki considers this to be Thor's favorite part of his body for he's always grabbing him by the throat or taking hold of his neck to try to speak some sense into him which, of course, has famously never worked.
"I'd prefer if you didn't."
"Where would I be without you, brother?"
"You'd be dining in the halls of Valhalla instead of Asgard," Loki tells him gloomily, hating how the simplest, most innocent touch from his brother causes shivers to run down his spine, hating it so much he pulls away as soon as the task is complete, wanting to be as far away as physically possible, "Or you'd be joining our sister in Helheim for all eternity, trapped as nothing more than a forlorn soul."
"Then I am glad you are with me for Asgard needs you," Thor looks at him and smiles earnestly. This is exactly why Loki needs to dislike him. Thor's overwhelming honestly has always been something Loki can barely understand where as to him lies come quite naturally; flow off his tongue without any effort like a mountain stream that runs down towards the sea.
"Go to sleep, you drunken fool," Loki concludes and leaves the room with a swish of his green robes. Even if Loki lived a million years he'd never admit it out loud - but it is in fact to a certain extent kind of nice to have his brother back.
The next morning dawns with a sudden raise in temperature. It's been a while since the last equally hot summer's day as the seasons in Asgard are often mellow and pleasant, and after such a party, the entire kingdom seems to still be in deep slumber due to last night's festivities that had probably continued until the wee hours of the morning. As the castle is going through a thorough cleansing it's best to stay out of the way for the scent of mead still lingers in the air and the unfortunate individuals who have to pick up after everyone aren't certainly going to be pleased to see the state the dining hall has been left in. Loki wouldn't be surprised to hear had the rambunctious celebrations, once again, ended in drunken physical confrontations over the last barrel of ale. After all most of the Aesir, in Loki's humble opinion, haven't been blessed with notable intellect.
Loki is lounging on his back in one of the garden pools of the hidden courtyard of the castle, sporting a pair of Midgardian sunglasses on the tip of his nose, enjoying the cooling spring water that flows down directly from the mountains and fills their baths. The day is hot, like the long days of summer in his youth and Loki intends to appreciate it fully for as long as it lasts. A shadow descends upon him, blocking the heat of the sunlight and Loki cracks an eye open to see his brother looming over him.
"Nice glasses," Thor grins, taking a seat next to Loki in the water and straightens his legs, "You're really going for a specific look with those Ray Bans."
"You know, I suppose I've got to hand it to them," Loki closes his eyes again, unbothered by his brother's playful remarks, "These are a genius invention, Midgard isn't as primitive as it's made out to be."
"You speak so highly of them, are you by any chance suffering from a heat stroke?"
"Ha, ha - weren't you supposed to be somewhere?" Loki rolls onto his stomach and glances up at Thor's shirtless form from behind the black frames of his glasses, wet waves of dark hair cascading down his shoulders, "Had you not promised to accompany Heimdall to a hunting trip this morning?"
"Heimdall is feeling under the weather after the feast so I asked Valkyrie but she's taken one of the kitchen maids to her bed and kindly told me to piss off," Thor explains cheerfully, "Besides, the day is simply too hot to be running after bilgesnipe, they must be even more bad-tempered than usual. I do not want to get trampled. Why are you here and not in the library planning your next move to overthrow me?"
"That comes after. At the moment, I'm trying to avoid getting trampled by the servants cleaning the castle."
"Fair enough," Thor says and lays his body down next to Loki in the shallow water, closing his eyes and getting into a comfortable position with one, muscular arm hooked behind his neck. Loki watches his profile, the patch covering his bad eye and wishes Thor wouldn't wear it for it reminds him too much of their father - of Thor's father - whom Loki still harbors quite a grudge against. Thor would still be the most handsome of the gods - even with only one eye.
"I'm here because I wanted to thank you," Thor continues to speak with his eyes closed, his voice low, sunlight kissing his skin, "For taking care of everything while I was away - I wasn't sure I could leave the kingdom in your hands but against all odds, you've done well, Loki."
"No reason to thank me."
"I still want you to know I appreciate it."
They're quiet for a moment as a gentle breeze causes the water to ripple pleasantly against bare skin but Loki does not avert his gaze from his brother, trying to find traces of dishonestly from his peaceful expression. Is this how things could be between them had Loki not went and tried to destroy Thor's most treasured realm out of spite and jealously? Had he not found out his true heritage and the fact that they aren't truly brothers at all, would life be like this day; calm and polite and harmonious without the threat of violence? Would pledging undying allegiance to his brother really be that bad when Thor had plenty a time proved how much he truly cared about Loki by forgiving him, time after time, no matter how badly Loki had wounded him? Had he not mourned for Loki the times he had faked his death to get out of a difficult situation, had he not worn a lock of Loki's hair braided into his before their time on Sakaar to have something to remember him by? Had he not told Loki he thought the world of him?
A cloud drifts in front of the sun, momentarily casting a shadow over their bodies and Loki turns away, pushing himself up. Such weakness, he thinks, such sentiment, not wanting to admit how much his brother's words mean to him. The world basks in sunlight again but Loki's heart is hardened once more - in the cool spring waters of the garden the skin of his hands seem to take on a blueish tint, his eyes playing tricks on him, and Loki is reminded of how different they truly are, how different he is, and he does not turn to look as his brother shifts next to him, reacting to the footsteps approaching the pools.
"There's been a ruckus in the kitchens," it's one of the young servants Loki does not know by name, catching his breath as he explains, "A fight has broken out and we can not stop it."
"I'm coming... Really, how bad can it be?" Thor tells him, gets up and gives Loki a grin and a shrug before chasing after the servant. For a moment, Loki's gaze follows him until he readjusts the sunglasses and sinks back into the cooling water, closing his eyes and focusing on the warmth of the sun. After a few days of hard work, Loki deserves a vacation.
One of Loki's favorite things about Asgard has always been the view from the largest balcony that looks down upon the kingdom, high enough to see all the way to the Bifröst, rows and rows of buildings spreading all around the castle, glimmering in the colors of the setting sun. It's a magnificent view and during his times away from home, from Asgard, it had been one of the things Loki had missed the most. As children they had often came there to watch over the world that would one day be theirs to rule, of the people far down below whose lives would one day depend on one of the two princes to take the thrown and follow in Odin's footsteps to watch over the nine realms. As he watches the view, the memory of being denied his birthright still stings.
The doors to the balcony burst open and in marches his very angry looking brother, scratches all across his bare arms, and for a moment Loki thinks he's out there to get him and takes a few steps backwards, bumping his behind on the railing, but Thor seems to be in a bad mood for some other reason that doesn't have anything to do with Loki. A quick mental recap later, Loki realizes he hasn't actually even done anything to make his brother mad - not since Thor's return because the day has simply been too hot to even lift a single finger - and relaxes slightly as Thor joins him on the balcony to look at the view. Loki has still not gotten used to being on the same side.
"I have been... Breaking up fights... All day!" Thor huffs, catching his breath and showing Loki his right arm, "I've been scratched, bitten and beaten by fists, you wouldn't know how hard it is to stop a fight without using too much force. I could call a lightning blast to scorch all their asses but no, everyone seems to have forgotten that!"
Loki looks at him and lifts one eyebrow, not feeling sorry at all; "Oh dear brother, how hard it must be to be powerful like you."
"Shut up, Loki," Thor says, turning to face the city, "All of Asgard has gone mad. This heat has put everyone on edge and the banquet last night... It might have been a bit too wild, I should have told the servants to stop pouring the beer."
"Are you actually admitting you had, perhaps, a bit too much to drink?"
"Not in a million years," Thor laughs, glancing at the shorter man suspiciously, "You have not, by any chance, put something in the ale, have you?"
"I did no such thing," Loki tells him honestly and Thor gives him a little smile, meeting his gaze until Loki has to be the one to turn away for he suddenly feels uncomfortable. The way Thor is staring at him makes him feel like he is indeed guilty of something - what it is Loki has no clue - and he nearly jumps out of his skin when Thor suddenly touches his cheek with his forefinger.
"You caught sun, here," Thor says, now tapping the tip of Loki's nose, "You have freckles. Have you been laying out in the sun all day?"
"Did you just poke my nose?" Loki asks, absolutely flabbergasted, just to make sure he isn't losing his sanity. Thor, for one, can't be in his right mind for he has never done things like this to Loki, not even as children, as he has always feared Loki's bite just enough to leave him be.
"What?" Thor lets out a barking laugh, "Why are you acting like it's a crime?"
"You're the one acting really strange, brother."
"Loki," Thor sighs, smiling patiently as he reaches for Loki's wrist to wrap his fingers around it, drawing soothing circles to his palm, "Can't I be happy to have you here?"
Loki reacts on pure instinct. It happens so fast Thor has no time to process what's going on as Loki conjures a dagger and nails Thor's hand to the balcony railing, then stepping backwards to get out of the way with a knife in each hand, fully prepared to strike, but Thor doesn't initiate a counterattack. Instead he lets out a yell, yanks the knife out and pulls his hand free before tossing the weapon to the ground with a clatter.
"You stabbed me!" Thor states, utterly shocked, and tries to stop the bleeding with his uninjured hand by applying pressure to the wound. Thick drops of blood dribble down between his fingers.
"Oh, grow up, like it's the first time," Loki hisses, finding his hands to be shaking which is why he hides them behind his back, "It's hardly a scratch."
"I'm bleeding all over the floor!"
"Since when did a little blood scare you so much, brother?"
"Why did you stab me?" he's really mad now, crossing the distance to yell at Loki's face, "Could you at least give me a reason why you've done this, Loki?"
"You touched my hand!" Loki shrieks right back, acknowledging how utterly ridiculous his words sound as soon as they come out of his mouth but it's too late to take them back now and so he stands his ground, cursing his brother to the depths of hell. Thor has no idea, no idea, if he knew, he'd stay as far away from him as physically possible, not even spare him a glance, and though Loki has buried the secret deep - locked it in and discarded the key - the hidden sentiment he harbors for his brother comes bubbling up to the surface every time their skin comes into close contact. Ever since they day Loki had found out they weren't truly related by blood it had became almost unbearable - in another life they could have been something else entirely - and the only way to deal with those feelings had been to twist his longing into the shape of hatred for his brother. He's been high-strung and prone to violence for so long at this point it's become impossible to distinguish a simple, well-meant touch from an incursion.
"Oh, that, truly a grave offence!" Thor grabs him by the neck and shoves him against the nearest wall, pinning Loki in place as their eyes shoot daggers at each other. "If I still had Mjölnir I would shove you down to the ground and... I would put it on your chest until you... Until... Would make you surrender..."
"Alright, alright, I yield," Loki's voice comes out raspy, admitting he might (just this once!) be in the wrong but Thor doesn't let go, his fingers squeeze tighter, the expression on his face enough to bring a lesser man to his knees. Half expecting a lightning spark to emerge from Thor's one good eye and a bolt of electricity to fry him where he stands, Loki tries his best to keep his face from showing any emotion at all.
"Why do I even bother?" Thor mutters, more to himself than to Loki as his grip finally melts into a mere touch, his thumb brushing against Loki's Adam's apple as he gulps audibly. "You are a violent, devious, treacherous snake and yet, time and time again, I think it will be different somehow after everything we've been through. I'm truly nothing more than a fool, aren't I?"
"Let go of me, brother."
"Let go of me, now!" Loki insists, punching Thor's chest and to his great astonishment is released, almost losing his footing as Thor is no longer supporting most of his weight. An apology burns Loki's tongue but he refuses to spit it out for the life of him and so he gapes there for a moment, opening and closing his mouth like a fish before storming off. Thor is left clutching his hand in the balcony, shaking his head unable to understand Loki's reasoning.
Loki spills cold water on his face in the bathroom of his bedchambers, still shaking from suppressed anger. His expression in the mirror shocks him; cheeks flushed red, his eyes wide, every muscle in his face taut like he's about to come apart at the seams any moment now, and it's all because of Thor, because of their stupid fight Loki had not meant to start in the first place. Cursing, he bangs the marble sink with both of his fists, items hurtling to the floor, and then grips it for support, trying to will his breathing to calm down. When he opens his eyes, the skin of his hands has taken a blue tinge and the drops of water still left glistening on the marble have turned to ice, frost spreading from Loki's fingers on it's own. Startled, he withdraws his hands, happens to glance at the mirror, and yes, the blueish green of his eyes appears quite red in his reflection, his normally pale complexion an appalling shade of icy azure.
"No, no, no," Loki mutters, bringing his hands to the light and inspecting them closely - but the blue color of his true Jötun skin has already started to fade like it had been nothing more than a trick of the eye. Could it be that Odin's glamour has started to wear off now that he's dead? Loki shakes his head to get his hair out of his eyes and then pushes it back, walking in circles in the spacious bathing room to stop the panic building up inside his stomach. He hates his Jötun form, despises it, for it reminds him of every lie that's been fed to him since the day Odin brought him back from Jötunheim to raise as his own offspring. The rush of dread slowly subsides, giving in to the initial feeling of shame - his outburst had indeed been totally uncalled for - but admitting his faults has never been one of Loki's many virtues. Entering his bedroom, Loki pulls back the drapes of his four-poster bed, lays down on his back and stares at the high ceiling with his fingers crossed over his chest, while in his mind a fierce battle against his pride rages.
Loki considers breaking into the vaults where still, to this date he isn't allowed to enter, and entertains himself with the idea of taking the Tesseract and unleashing enough chaos to go up to his brother's room and murder him in his sleep. He thinks about letting loose the Eternal Flame that stills burns buried deep in their vaults and torching the kingdom until nothing but ash remains, or now that his true Jötun form has shown itself to Loki once more, maybe opening the Casket of Ancient Winters wouldn't be a terrible idea. He goes through every weapon he knows to be hidden inside the palace's vaults, thinks of a thousand ways to kill his brother but nothing seems to ease his troubled mind, not one bit, and so, Loki swallows his pride and leaves his room though it's well past midnight.
There are guards standing by his brother's door but distracting them is easy; Loki simply conjures a double and makes them chase it to the furthest northern wing and unceremoniously bursts in through the doors without knocking.
"Alright, you win!" Loki exclaims loudly and spots his brother sitting on the end of his bed removing his boots - Thor seems to only be mildly surprised to see him, not alarmed in the slightest. "I apologize."
"Excuse me," Thor leans back on the bed, the widest, dumbest grin splitting his face in half, "Care to repeat that?"
"I apologize," Loki mutters, suddenly aware of standing there in his night clothes while Thor is still fully dressed, "A temporary lapse in my judgement, I shouldn't have stabbed you."
"Hold on," Thor holds up his hands - one of them lightly bandaged, "Let me get this straight, you're admitting to being wrong?"
"I'm not admitting to being wrong, per se," Loki circles around the subject, irked by the look of pure amusement in Thor's expression, "I'm just telling you I'm sorry."
"Quiet, I want to remember this moment until my dying day," Thor closes his eyes for a moment and places a hand over his chest. "My dearest little brother, finally seeking reconciliation."
"I will stab you again if you don't shut up," Loki tells him, dead serious as he takes a seat next to Thor on the bed, "This time you would have had it coming."
"I just wasn't expecting such sentiment from you, Loki."
"Enjoy it while it lasts, I'm already about to change my mind."
They're quiet for a moment while Thor removes his shoes and kicks them away, then beginning to remove his armour to get more comfortable. Loki doesn't offer him a helping hand but gnaws the inside of his cheek, sensing the shift in the atmosphere as Thor is clearly about to speak his mind and Loki has no choice but to await judgement.
"My touch... Does it disgust you?"
Loki had not been expecting this. He turns to face his brother but Thor has busied himself with taking off his wrist bracers to avoid locking gazes, like he's nervous, and Loki can't wrap his mind around it, not at all, and where as a couple minutes ago he'd been fully in control of the situation, he now has no idea where it's going. Conversations never seem to go according to Loki's plans.
"Of course not," he says and it's true - nothing about Thor disgusts him, on the contrary.
"I only wish you would think of Asgard as your home again," Thor says as he places the remaining pieces of his armor on the carpet and turns to look at him, "I know you do not think you belong here but you do, it doesn't matter if you're Jötun, you're still my-"
"So you just wanted to give me a hug, or something? Fine, go ahead," Loki interrupts, just because the word Jötun feels like the cruelest insult coming from his brothers lips even though he knows there to be no malicious intent behind it. Compared to having this conversation a hug is surely the lesser of two evils.
"I'm not going to give you a hug when you look like I'm about to punch you in the gut or knock out your teeth."
"Just do it - wait, I dare you to do it."
"I wasn't born yesterday, Loki," Thor reminds him, completely aware of the stiffness in Loki's posture but still spreads his arms to initiate a hug and tentatively, Loki shifts closer until Thor manages to engulf him in a heart-felt embrace.
What starts as the most awkward hug (Loki's arms glued to his sides as Thor squeezes him and pats his back) quickly melts into something softer as Loki's arms circle around Thor's waist and timidly hold him back. He rests his cheek against Thor's shoulder and closes his eyes as one of Thor's hands finds the nape of his neck and strokes the topmost prominent knobs of his spine, fingertips disappearing into Loki's dark hair and the fight leaves him, just like that, and Loki allows himself to be held, breathing deeply through his nose. His fingers twist in the worn fabric of Thor's undershirt when chills course through his body, from the top of his neck all the way down to his toes, eyes closing, and it's the closest thing to bliss he's felt in a long time, cradled in the arms of the brother he so cherishes. It's impossible to tell how long it lasts for when they break apart, Loki feels like he's traveled through the Bifröst, seen all the colours of the rainbow and crossed the vast expanse of space to get there. It's just a hug, he tries to remind himself, but it's been years, years since the last time anyone's held him.
"Loki," Thor says, cupping his face, thumbs caressing Loki's brows, the apples of his cheeks, the tips of his fingers bumping against his eyelashes, "Your skin is so cold, are you alright?"
"It's nothing," Loki's voice comes out surprisingly soft, like he's been reduced to something wholly different than the self he'd grown up to be. When he looks at his brother's face a sudden, but not unexpected rush of desire courses through his veins, strong enough to make his stomach churn - oh, how he aches to run his hands up his brother's biceps, wrap them around his neck and bring their lips together - but Loki pushes the sensations aside with admirable determination.
"I did not mean to insult you by calling you a snake."
"None taken, I know how much you admire them," Loki smiles - the first real smile in ages - and it doesn't help that his brother's hands are still cupping his cheeks for the touch is making him feel strangely sappy and affectionate, and in Loki's book that is never a good thing.
"I do," Thor admits, wearing a matching smile as they look into each other's eyes and for a second, less than a second really, Loki gets the bizarre impression that Thor is going to kiss him.
He pulls away instantly, removing his brother's hands from his cheeks and stands up, straightening his clothing just to have something to busy himself with as Thor relaxes on the bed, leaning back on his elbows and watches him with a peculiar expression. Loki curses his brother's good looks, wanting to transform him into something that would repulse him, like a worm or a pair of dirty socks, reminiscing on the time when he still felt envy rather than lust when laying eyes upon his not-really-brother. Unwilling to let his gaze travel down the length of Thor's gorgeous body, Loki worries on his lower lip in deep thought.
"You could stay the night," Thor then says, like there's in fact nothing outlandish in such a request, "Sleep here, like we did as children."
Loki stares at him, eyes wide with astonishment until suspicion takes over, his eyebrows furrowing, and then leaves the room muttering you are mad under his breath. What in the nine realms has gotten into his brother? Since when has Thor been so keen to spend time with Loki of all people?
The doors to his brother's bedroom close with a bang as Loki escapes to the hallway, making his way towards his own sleeping quarters and doesn't stop until he's safely locked himself inside. With a flick of his fingers the candles scattered around his room ignite, flames casting long shadows on the walls and Loki hurries to the light, rolling back the sleeves of his night shirt to look at his hands. There's nothing abnormal about the color of his skin, not even a hint of blue, but still, Loki suspects something odd to be taking effect for the sudden attention Thor has been giving him certainly isn't regular behavior.
"Am I doing this?" he whispers to himself, slowly twisting his palm, the light catching on his painted fingernails. Still nothing. He calls to his seiðr, closing his eyes and letting the magic fill him but everything is as it should for he can't sense any changes in himself, only the heat inside his extravagant room, and so, Loki opens all the windows to let in some fresh air before finally going to bed.
The next morning dawns equally hot. The atmosphere in the castle isn't what is normally is as on his way to have breakfast in the courtyard Loki runs into Valkyrie, who happens to already be drunk with a different maid under her arm, a pair of guards arguing loudly about gambling and a kitchen chef hitting a servant boy in the head with a pan. Usually the workers in the castle can never been seen or heard which is why Loki barely knows them by name but today they are generating ruckus everywhere he looks, like it's some secret annual pandemonium-day Loki has somehow failed to hear about.
"Not getting involved, not getting involved," he grumbles under his breath, trying to ignore the strange disarray all around him - he just wants to enjoy his breakfast of cheese and fruit and drink his herbal tea in peace - and even though he has always been one to enjoy full-blown chaos, to practically thrive on wreaking havoc, when it isn't his own doing (as far as Loki knows) it isn't nearly as satisfying. And so, merely out of spite Loki sits in the garden sipping his tea while he watches a bunch of young soldiers-in-training, now in various states of intoxication, deface a marble statue of Odin by drawing angry eyebrows on him. The side of his lip twitches in amusement as the youngsters spot him, expecting Loki to be mad but instead he lifts his teacup in a mock toast and tells them to continue. If only his adoptive father could see his beloved kingdom now. Loki can't hold back a snicker.
At noon, the temperature reaches a new high. It seems to ease the turmoil a bit for the guards that have been bickering by the library doors where Loki has been trying to read for the past couple hours, now solely settle for lethargic jeers, drops of sweat rolling down their temples in their heavy coats of armor. Sighing with relief, Loki closes a book he's been absent-mindedly flipping through and reaches for another until a deafening bang causes him to spill over a bottle of ink. Startled, he turns around to see one of the guards squeezing the other in a choke hold and as anger flairs in him, he conjures a blast of magic strong enough to nail them to the opposite walls, heavy books plummeting to the ground around them. The guards try to wiggle out of the spell, glued to the spot, with zero success while Loki continues his reading like nothing out of the ordinary hadn't just taken place.
When the servant bringing Loki his late lunch in the afternoon threatens him with a kitchen knife, telling him; if you deceive the king once more I will single-handedly gut you the same way I have prepared your pheasant, Loki has had enough and decides to go find his brother. Thor is not in his bedchambers, not in the throne room, not in the dining hall - but eventually Loki finds him having a holiday in one the courtyard pools where he had joined Loki on the day before. He's floating in the water with his eyes closed - without a single care in the world - and though the carefree sight of his relaxed brother rubs him in all the wrong ways, he still finds it slightly amusing.
"I have received a death threat with my lunch on this lovely day," Loki sneers through his teeth as his day clothing transforms into swimwear on his way to the water. "Usually they wait at least until dinner."
"Huh?" Thor cracks his one good eye open, disappearing in the water before resurfacing closer to Loki, "From whom?"
"A kitchen servant."
"And do you consider that kitchen servant a worthy opponent?" Thor grins at him, walking backwards, waist deep in the pool now that Loki is approaching him, beaming with glee.
"Of course not," Loki tells him, eyeing his brother suspiciously, "Are you not the least bit worried about what's happening in your treasured kingdom?"
"Sure I am, there's just nothing I can do - unless you've been deceitful, brother, and really have been casting a spell on everyone here all along?"
"Sadly, I'm not familiar with such a spell-" Loki starts, but ends up with a mouthful of water as Thor manages to somehow grab a hold of his arms until Loki loses his footing and ends up submerged in water, coming back up to the surface with his hair plastered to his face.
"You... Absolute moron!" Loki lunges at him, latching onto Thor's neck and attempts to get revenge but his brother overpowers him easily by capturing Loki's waist and pulling him under. He struggles, knowing that the strength his brother possesses has always been more than enough to have the upper hand in physical combat which is why Loki had, in fact, learnt to be cunning and rather use his wits in the first place - but for now he lets his brother have his fun and tries to escape by slipping away from Thor's grasp. It's a good workout if anything.
At first Thor lets him slide away to catch his breath before yanking him right back, and the match goes on for a while - just like it was as children - until all of a sudden Thor no longer seems to want to let him go. Hugging Loki to his chest, Thor squeezes him a bit too tight, so tight that the air escapes Loki's lungs and he breathes bubbles that dance all the way up to the surface, and when they finally re-emerge from the water, the arms around him do not yield but keep holding him, intimately, one of Thor's palms on his stomach and one on his chest, touching, and though Loki is sure he means nothing by it - Thor would never - he can't bring himself to make a single gesture to force him to stop. Swallowing thickly, Loki allows his brother to support his weight, leaning to his chest, and he feels Thor's breath tickling the shell of his ear as arousal warms his already overheated body. Why does it have to feel so good to have Thor touch him?
It ends as unexpectedly as it began. Thor's hands leave his body abruptly, making a splash in the water as he moves away and Loki turns to face him, heart beating madly in his chest hoping not to find him looking disgusted. But Thor stands there, his mouth open, staring at Loki from head to toe like he's never laid eyes on his brother before, lips clearly forming the sound whoah.
"What?" Loki demands, counting on his silver tongue to somehow still salvage the situation, just so happens to glance at himself and notices the blue of his skin, the markings of his Jötun body and panics, patting his arms, his chest, his face, and immediately tries to return his Aesir appearance by seiðr but it doesn't work.
"No, no, no, no," Loki whines, trying to get out of the water as quickly as possible - the warmth of the air now feels truly suffocating - and he trips on the stony steps that lead away from the pools, unaware of his brother helping him back up in his pointless craze to escape his own body.
"Loki, calm yourself," Thor tells him sternly, "See, it's already starting to change back to normal."
Taking one of Loki's hands, he lifts it to the sun to show him the fingers that are morphing back to their original state, painted fingernails and all; "You do not have to hide your true form from me, brother."
"We are not brothers!" Loki yells at him, unnecessarily rude in his anguish, wrenching his hand back to himself. "Has your one good eye stopped working, too? I am not doing this on purpose, something is happening to me - I would never in a million years call this my true form! I would never even want you to see it!"
"Have you considered the possibility that the Jötun in you simply doesn't enjoy the heat and therefore causes disturbance in father's spell?"
Loki had, indeed, not considered the possibility. He opens his mouth to reply with a sarcastic remark but as nothing comes to mind, settles for glaring at Thor's irritatingly kind face with exasperation as he takes a hold of Loki's shoulders to calm him.
"I think I might be causing this," Loki shares the thought that's been bothering him, "My Jötun form is trying to break out and somehow making everyone around me start acting crazy. Have you not noticed anyone behaving strangely?"
"I've never heard of such a thing, do the Jötun possess similar magic?"
"I truly do not know, I haven't exactly been mentored in the dark arts of the Jötun. Never had anyone to teach me."
"But it doesn't seem to affect me, I haven't done anything out of the ordinary, now have I?" Thor scrunches his eyebrows in deep thought while rubbing Loki's collarbones with his thumbs rather intimately.
"Well..." Loki hums, glancing down at his brother's hands and then back at his face, causing Thor to immediately pull his hands to himself, now looking rather shocked as well as ashamed.
"Shit," Thor cusses, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly, "I think you might be right."
They look at each other in silence for a while, both trying to fit the pieces together and figure out a solution until Loki turns to leave, his day wear reappearing on his body as he goes, Thor grabbing his discarded clothing from the pool side and following closely in his wake.
"Where are you going?"
"To the library," Loki tells him, "There must be books on Jötun magic in mother's secret archives."
The library is just as Loki had left it earlier on the day. The two guards he had glued to the opposite walls with a charm haven't moved but are now dozing off, books spread all over the floor, a puddle of spilled ink on the ground. Thor gives him a disapproving but slightly amused look - an obvious; Loki, you should not have done this - but doesn't make a comment as they navigate through walls of books to get to one of the hidden doors at the far end of the library. A statue of a griffin opens an entryway behind one of the bookcases as Thor presses it's eye and they enter a hidden room that still, to this day, bears the scent of their mother. Her notes on the only the desk of the room haven't been touched, nor the bouquet of flowers that has shriveled and shred almost all its petals - everything is as it had been while she had still been alive. Thor is left standing in the doorway as Loki traces the backs of the dusty books piled on the shelves with his fingertips, hoping to find something that'll speak to him in soundless whispers telling him to pick it up.
"I can sense her seiðr," Thor says quietly, "It's like she never left."
"She's long gone," Loki's voice doesn't show emotion though he certainly feels it too. He had hated their father but their mother... She had never shown Loki nothing but kindness. Loki had loved her with all his heart even though she had not truly been his mother at all.
"You have her magic."
"And you have her strength," Loki says, choosing one of the heaviest books and handing it to Thor before gathering a couple more to bring them to Frigga's old desk. The subject of their mother's untimely death is something they have rarely discussed as it still pains them both too much to find proper words.
They stay there for hours - Loki sits in his mother's old chair while Thor takes a dusty armchair in the corner, shuffling through pages and pages of ancient texts in age-old books, some written in strange tongues neither of the two knows how to interpret. As the shadows grow longer and the sun sets behind the Bifröst, Loki lights the candles that haven't burned since the unfortunate day of their mother's passing. The books tell them all about their history; how the nine realms were formed from the abyss of Ginnungagap, of the elements of fire and ice, of Ymir, the first of giants and their ancestors. They read about each of the realms, of the world tree Yggdrasil that connects the threads of the universe, of the goddess Freya who had introduced the art of seiðr to the Aesir women - but there is no record of Jötun magic as all the books are written from the perspective of the Aesir and the Vanir. Knowing the history of their enemy clearly hasn't been a priority to the people of Asgard.
Sighing deeply, Loki closes another book and glances at his brother who appears to have fallen asleep. The air in the room is stuffy and hot, dust particles floating in the air above their heads, and Thor grunts in his sleep, a drop of sweat rolling down his temple. Without thinking, Loki reaches out a hand to place it over Thor's forehead to wipe away the sweat, feeling the warmth of his skin and Thor opens his eyes slowly, his gaze unfocused and feverish. Loki's cooling touch seems to soothe him though as the sides of his lips curl into a lazy smile and he takes Loki's hand, bringing it to his cheek instead.
"Your touch is like ice," his voice is lower than usual, "How are you so cold?"
"You know why," Loki tells him softly, unaware of the affection showing on his features.
"I- I'm not feeling well," Thor furrows his eyebrows, "It's too hot, I can barely think straight."
"We can call it a night, this is useless anyhow," Loki admits as he gets up from the table - then instantly hurrying to his brother's aid as Thor can barely stand up from the chair on his own. The pit of Loki's stomach constricts with unease as he wraps his arm around Thor's waist to keep him upright as Loki walks him out of their mother's study, constantly glancing up to his brother's face to make sure Thor doesn't suddenly lose consciousness and slump over him for he is much heavier than Loki. What could weaken his brother like this?
The way to Thor's room from the library is excruciatingly long. There's music coming from somewhere in the castle but Loki doesn't concern himself with it - they can burn down the whole palace for all he cares - as his one sole purpose at this moment is to make sure Thor is okay. The air is a bit cooler in the stony staircase that leads to their private quarters and it seems to ease their journey a bit for Thor can make the steps on his own, some of his strength coming back to him as they approach his door. There are no soldiers guarding the hallways which in itself is quite suspicious but all things considering, Loki figures, they have probably gone and joined everyone else in the madness. As they enter the room, Loki helps his brother down to his bed where Thor takes a seat, removes his shirt and wipes the sweat away from his face and chest with it before tossing it to the floor.
Loki makes a move, attempting to go and open the windows but Thor pulls him back by the waist, gripping the back of Loki's emerald green robes and yanks him close.
"I was only about to let some air in the room-" he starts to explain, words dying on his tongue as Thor decides to hug his midsection, pulling Loki between his legs and pressing his face to Loki's clothed stomach. His hands find their way between the many layers of the luxurious fabrics Loki wears, lifting his undershirt and then, Thor presses his mouth to the naked skin just below Loki's navel, kissing his stomach.
Unable to hold back a gasp, Loki's fingers fly up to Thor's short hair and pull on it, fingernails digging into his scalp, but Thor has no intent of stopping for his hands are now rubbing circles on Loki's lower back, caressing with eagerness, his beard scratchy against sensitive skin, his tongue wet and oh-so-warm, and Loki can do nothing but stay in place, horrified but so touch-starved his lips part in heated breaths as Thor continues to press open-mouthed kisses to his abdomen. The long robes Loki wears over his underclothing fall to the floor as Thor looks up to meet his eyes, and in his gaze Loki sees it; the arousal - and it both scares him and thrills him to his core for it is the one thing Loki has always longed for, hopelessly craving for his brother to bed him like he's bedded so many before that were not deserving of Thor's affections. No-one's ever good enough for his brother - no-one but him.
"Spend the night," Thor's breathing comes out equally shaken, his hands sliding down from Loki's hips and hesitantly cupping his ass, like trying to coax him into something unspeakable.
"I can't," Loki whispers, voice breaking - he knows Thor doesn't really want this - and reluctantly removes Thor's hands from his body and holds them in his, their fingers entwining.
"I'm merely asking you to sleep here," Thor says, squeezing Loki's hands, "Your skin is so cool it soothes me to hold you - please, Loki."
"I..." Loki swallows thickly as he wipes a drop of sweat from Thor's forehead with his palm, "I don't..."
"I don't think I can sleep without you, it's too hot, and I need to rest," Thor begs, keeping his pleading gaze on Loki's face as the latter plays with the short strands of Thor's hair. A subconscious, hidden wish to shelter his brother from the world and fulfill his every desire slowly takes over, tilting the scales inevitably. He simply can't say no.
"Fine, just don't-" Loki starts unsurely but Thor has already pulled him back to his embrace, toppling them over to the bed. Loki lands on his back as Thor plasters himself to his side, burying his face in Loki's black hair with his arms wrapped tightly around Loki's waist, one of his thighs snug between his legs, and Loki lays there like a lifeless figure, staring at the ceiling above Thor's bed desperately trying to focus on things that disgust him rather than turn him on. As children things had been simple and innocent, but Loki has lived over a thousand years and become corrupt like all gods before him, impaired with the pleasures of the flesh he tries so hard to deny himself.
Loki thinks about getting beaten up by the Hulk while one of Thor's hands finds its way under his shirt and strokes his chest, swallows thickly as Thor's fingers discover a nipple, and then thinks about the time he had accidentally walked in on the Grandmaster having private time with a tentacled creature and seen way more than he had bargained for. He thinks about the repulsive food he'd had on Sakaar, thinks about the time he'd consumed so much ale he'd truly thought he was going to die the day after, and then thinks about that unfortunate event when Meak had accidentally laid eggs on top of Loki's newly polished shoes. It does the job well enough until Thor's breathing slows down, exploring hands stilling, and as Thor drifts off to sleep Loki does so too, though his sleep is restless and filled with vivid dreams of his brother's touch.
When the next day dawns, Loki wakes up to the mattress shifting beneath him as Thor pulls his hands that have held him all night back to himself to get up from the bed. Loki watches his brother's shirtless form - the muscles in his back as he pulls back the sheer curtains to look at the view of Asgard - and Loki pushes himself up to a sitting position, his hair a tangled mess of black. The amount of rest he's gotten isn't nearly enough and Loki wipes his eyes, annoyed to be woken up so early but something has seemed to alarm Thor, for he opens the window and lets the scent of smoke drift into their bed chambers. He turns to look at Loki, expression conflicted, and though his gaze lingers on Loki's exposed chest and neck, doesn't return to the bed which is a sign he still hasn't lost his sanity like every Asgardian suddenly seems to have.
"We need to take care of this," Thor says as he gets dressed, Loki's view of his magnificent body now obscured by clothing, "You must help me, Loki, if I... If I start feeling unwell again I fear what might happen."
Loki doesn't feel the need to say anything. He nods in understanding and as his feet hit the floor he's already dressed in full battle gear, following his brother out the door and to the nearest balcony where they jump to the lower level and then down to the ground to reach the city as quickly as possible. There are pillars of smoke rising towards the skies here and there, the streets littered with garbage, the people of Asgard looking either exhausted from the heat or from being at each other's throats all night. Heading towards the closest smoldering building, they spot Heimdall trying to talk sense to a few members of the common people who seem guilty of starting the fire. Thor no longer has Mjölnir and so he carries a mace - one similar he'd picked out on Sakaar before his battle with the Hulk - which he now points at the people's faces, demanding answers.
"They have burned down the tavern because it ran out of mead," Heimdall tells them, also looking quite feverish and sweaty, "I do not sense sorcery but this madness can not be explained. Suddenly every Asgardian seems to completely lack the sense of self-control."
"I should leave," Loki turns to Thor to tell him as a crowd of people suddenly bursts through the doors in the opposite building chasing after one in their group, causing more chaos, "If it's truly my fault, it's possible that with my departure-"
"No way," Thor raises his voice, grabbing Loki's wrist rather painfully, "Asgard needs you!"
"Asgard doesn't need me, you are their king," Loki tells him tenderly, voice barely audible over the ruckus going on around them. With a loud bang the roof of the tavern collapses as the fire is being put out by some brave individuals that have not yet completely lost their minds.
"Maybe not, but I need you, Loki," Thor says, looking earnest - and though the words warm Loki's heart so much that time seems to slow down for he has never wanted to kiss his not-really-brother more, Loki glances at Heimdall in the need for guidance.
"You swear you have not bewitched everyone?" Heimdall speaks to him in a grave voice, just to make sure Loki hasn't planned this all along. "This sure does seem like one of your grand schemes, Loki."
"As far as I know, no, but-" Loki starts, lifting one of his hands to show Heimdall as it's begun to once more take on a shade of blue - he has no reason to lie; "Look, it's happening again - for some reason my Jötun form has been wanting to show itself and I fear some change in me has been causing all this."
"Your Jötun-self can hardly do that," Heimdall says immediately, "Have you forgotten my eyes see everything that happens in the nine realms, even Jötunheim, and during my lifetime I have not witnessed such magic. The art of Jötun magic lies in elements rather than tricks and spells."
"Then what..." Thor wonders, meeting Loki's equally astonished eyes. Nothing seems to make sense.
"I believe Asgard is under attack by some force we cannot yet see," Heimdall tells them, wiping sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, "Something that is trying to reduce our minds to something primal so that a takeover would be easy like child's play. Look around, have you ever seen anything like this?"
They're all quiet for a moment, all thinking of possible enemies until Thor looks at Loki and Heimdall in turns and gives them the order to go put out the fires. Finally releasing Loki's wrist, Thor lets him go as Loki spares him one more glance before storming off to the direction of the next cloud of smoke rising towards the skies in the horizon. The enemy might be headed for Asgard but for now, ensuring the safety of every citizen would naturally be Thor's first priority.
Putting out the fires turns out to be a bit difficult with nearly every Asgardian at his back trying to attack Loki. It hardly comes as a surprise as Loki is perfectly aware how disliked he is in the kingdom for trying to kill Thor on several occasions and successfully managing to banish Odin to the realm of Midgard before his death, or letting the frost giants into Asgard so desperately wanting revenge for his stolen birthright - come to think of it, Loki's list of wrongdoings is indeed extensive, but he'd hoped to have redeemed at least some of it by coming to the aid and rescuing their people from Hela while Thor's battle against her had nearly destroyed the entire planet. If it hadn't been for him, many more of the Aesir people would have lost their lives.
Luckily for Loki, altering his appearance by seiðr has always been one of his strengths and it doesn't take much effort to send doubles of himself to patrol around the kingdom while disguising his true self in the form of a tall, intimidating looking guard. This way he can walk the streets and help to the best of his abilities without the fear of getting stabbed in broad daylight. Even Thor doesn't recognize him in his disguise as he moves past Loki a few times in his haste to get to the other side of the city, protecting the people from themselves though it appears quite useless for every normally law abiding, sophisticated citizen now behaves like a mindless savage. His brother's lightning splits the sky in half several times while Loki conjures unbreakable shackles to bind everyone together (a new trick of his), shouting; it's for your own good, you morons, as they bombard him with death treats that Loki doesn't bother to listen. The few guards that haven't yet lost their minds take the citizens down to the castle's dungeons to make sure they don't bake out in the sun.
Securing every citizen takes all day. As the temperature continues to rise towards the boiling point their work starts to get slightly easier, for the heat has become so unbearable even as the sun begins to set that even the few people left roaming the partly demolished streets seem to lose their remaining vigor and start falling down, every bit of energy drained from their bodies. It's so hot that the air seems to fluctuate before Loki's eyes like ocean waves, causing distortions in his view of the city. Asgard is eerily silent as Loki transforms back into himself, also completely exhausted as he makes his way towards the castle and finds his brother sitting on the golden staircase that leads up to the entrance hall, skin covered in ash stains and sweat. He lifts his gaze to look at Loki as he approaches, shaking his head in wordless communication and Loki takes a seat next to him, offering a hand without the need for words. Thor takes it and brings it to his cheek, Loki's cooling touch like heaven to him, and he lets out a sigh while Loki watches, hoping he could offer something more than his touch.
"I fear this is a battle we cannot win, brother," Thor says gravely, "They've already overpowered us and we still don't even have the slightest clue what we're up against. Without its people, Asgard is defenseless."
"Asgard will never surrender, you know this, not until none of us are left standing."
"I'm weakened," Thor turns to meet Loki's eyes, looking terribly anguished, "I doubt I can last another day like this when my mind has started to feel like scrambled eggs, like I can barely control myself. It's like Ragnarök all over again but maybe this time, it'll be the end for us all."
"Then I will stand in the way of the enemy until my dying breath for I do not intend to betray you this time," Loki assures him, hoping to ease his brother's troubled mind the only way he can.
In the evening, Thor summons a council of everyone strong enough to still be left standing. The turnout is nothing to brag about as only Heimdall, Valkyrie, Korg and Meak and a handful of soldiers show up. Everyone apart from Korg and Meak seem feverish, dazed and slightly injured, like they can barely sit at the table - Thor included - and though they all seem to be truly struggling to control themselves, they still listen to their king as Thor opens the meeting with the little bit of intelligence they have gathered so far.
"Asgard seems to be under the effect of some mysterious force," he tells them, clearly trying not to sound defeated, "We do not know what it is or what it wants from us, but it's causing us all to lose our minds and we must continue to fight it."
"It doesn't seem to affect you though," Valkyrie stares at Loki from the opposite side of the table were she's seated, irritatingly perceptive even though her face is drenched in sweat and she's obviously having a hard time.
"It does not," Loki admits, looking around the table at their tired faces, "I'm thinking it has something to do with me being Jötun."
"It also doesn't seem to affect Meak or Korg," Heimdall states, removing his helmet to wipe the sweat ouf of his eyes.
"I thought we'd just been having a party," Korg shrugs, "Figured you Asgardians like to properly let loose, you know?"
"A spell that only affects the Aesir, geez, I wonder who the culprit is," Valkyrie continues, rolling her eyes and tapping her fingernails against the table. Heimdall reaches over to touch her arm in an attempt to calm her. "Sounds an awful lot like the time Loki-"
"Loki has proven his loyalty lies with Asgard on this," Thor says, "Try to keep your mind clear, do not let the spell-"
"What are we doing sitting around the table like a bunch of idiots when we know perfectly well whose fault this is!" Valkyrie continues, standing up from the table and drawing her sword to point it at Loki's face, "I never trusted you, not for one second after I found out what you're capable of!"
Loki lifts both of his palms as a gesture of surrender, leans back in his chair and raises a single eyebrow; "Care to elaborate on that, scrapper 142?"
"Wipe that smirk off your face, Jötun traitor!"
"Do not call me that!" Loki hisses, his chair falling over as he stands up abruptly, banging his fists against the table. He doesn't even have to look - the expressions on everyone's faces give it away instantly - and Loki just knows he's unwillingly changed to his Jötun form again at the most inconvenient time. Frost spreads across the table from where his fingers have touched it and he withdraws them, not wanting anyone to see him like this, and so he spares one more glance at Thor before storming off, leaving everyone sitting at the table looking truly puzzled.
Loki curses every gold covered surface that shows his reflection on his way to his room. The blue of his fingers as they grab the door handle catches Loki's eye, long fingernails and all, and as soon as he's behind closed doors Loki screams, expecting a burst of magic to send everything in his room flying. When nothing happens Loki panics even more, dreading what will happen in case he changes forms during an enemy attack. He won't be able to save Thor, not to mention what's left of their people if his seiðr continues to have performance issues in this form - he'll be utterly defenseless for Loki doesn't have a single clue how to wield his Jötun powers. Sinking down onto his bed, Loki squeezes the bed covers in his fists, his hands leaving frost over every bit of fabric he touches and then places them on his lap, watching as they finally begin to take on a color that resembles his Aesir skin. When the enemy does in fact decide to invade Asgard, in this form Loki will only be able to throw snowballs from his balcony and hope for the best.
Several hours later, when Loki has already gone to bed, Thor bursts in through the doors without knocking. Glancing at his brother's feverish face, Loki merely lifts the thin, silken comforter he's been sleeping under and immediately understanding the gesture, Thor pauses to take off his shirt before sliding underneath the covers with him. Wrapping his arms around his younger brother's form, Thor glues himself to Loki's back and squeezes him tight, pressing his bearded face against Loki's shoulder and inhaling deeply, Loki's scent and the coolness of his skin instantly pacifying him. Though Thor feels like a furnace pressed up against his back, Loki relaxes, finding utmost satisfaction in the fact that Thor needs him, and for a second he hopes things would remain this way as Asgard continues to suffer from high temperatures for all eternity and everyone but them would perish. He would keep Thor cool and let everyone else die. All the windows to Loki's room are open but there's no breeze, nothing, no sway in the curtains, and the room is dark and quiet as is the rest of the castle, somehow eerily still.
With another deep lungful of air, Thor's hands slide underneath Loki's night shirt and find their way to his stomach. Caressing the skin with both open palms Thor shifts even closer, exhales, fondling the flat of Loki's chest as his lips seek solace by kissing the shell of Loki's ear. Without seeing anything, Loki continues to stare into the distance, frozen in place as Thor withdraws one of his hands long enough to brush Loki's hair away from his neck and then kisses it with an open mouth, playfully drawing a bit of skin between his teeth. Eyelashes fluttering, Loki swallows thickly and tries to remember all the things that had held back his arousal on the other night but the thoughts do not come - he can barely remember his name for Thor's mouth on his skin is eager, his hunger for Loki undeniable and so Loki can't bring himself to tell him to stop. Why Thor is doing this he has no clue, but it feels too good, like it's nothing more than a dream he's going to soon wake up from and find himself alone once more. Loki tries to calmly keep breathing through his nose but suddenly he can't draw in enough air, lips parting in shuddering pants as Thor begins to slowly rock his hips against his ass. Damn it.
He's hard, that much is obvious, and it feels even bigger than Loki had imagined in his most forbidden fantasies but it's all for real - Loki can almost taste what it would be like to have Thor fuck him when he moves in such a way, and so he pushes back, ever so slightly, unable to keep his eyes open no longer. One of Thor's arms circles his hips to keep him close while the other tries to turn Loki's face enough to reach his lips but this is where Loki draws the line, desperately determined to keep facing away from Thor as his lips travel down Loki's jaw. In an attempt to control his arousal, Loki slides a trembling hand between his legs to push his cock down over his clothing but Thor's hand follows right after, covering Loki's hand with his own and applying just the right amount of pressure to make Loki whimper. At first he uses Loki's hand to touch him, sliding it up and down the shape of his length hidden beneath Loki's clothing before shoving his hand aside to simply cup Loki's cock with his palm, rubbing the growing wet spot in his breeches with his thumb. His fingers slide lower, easily covering everything between Loki's legs with a large hand until he finds what he's looking for, pressing fingertips against what would be the most hidden part of Loki's body.
"Take off your clothes," Thor grunts - the first thing he's said since he came into Loki's room uninvited - and his voice is deliciously low and so filled with desire that Loki complies without question. He grabs the back of his shirt and pulls it over his head before pushing down his pants, hurriedly freeing himself of the clothing - the bed shifts as Thor also lifts his hips to undress and then he's back, their naked skin coming into contact for the first time. With his cock pressed up against Loki's thigh, one of Thor's hands slides between their bodies and as his fingers find Loki's hole, they circle the entrance briefly before simply pushing in.
"Oh, fuck," Loki moans, heartbeat in his throat as he pushes back, toes curling from pleasure as his brother fingers him like it's the most natural thing, his cock pressed tight against Loki's thigh. Thor attempts to kiss him again but Loki is too out of it; he buries his face into the pillows, mouthing the fabric as his body convulses with gratification, pre-come already staining the sheets. The fingers pull out before sinking back in, curl, repeat, add a third finger, and Loki can think no more. With every push Loki loses a bit of his sanity, back arching against Thor, biting his lip to keep from keening. He could come just from this, he's so turned on Loki can no longer tell where his body ends and Thor's begins until, far too soon, Thor withdraws his fingers to embrace him again. As if at this point a mere hug could satisfy him - what a laughable idea - and Loki groans in disappointment, eyebrows furrowing.
Loki's fingernails dig into Thor's forearm in annoyance, now overwhelmingly tense, until he realizes that he, too, can probably touch all he wants and rolls over to face his brother. Their eyes meet, equally delirious with desire, and first Loki touches Thor's chest, then his bicep, then his abs, nails leaving marks on his perfect body and oh, how he wants to map every inch of skin with his mouth, lick every bit of skin until his tongue goes numb. Thor does the same, hands roaming over Loki's body like he's been longing to touch him all along, clearly wanting to discover places he's never known before. Simultaneously clasping each other's faces, Loki watches as his thumb slides between Thor's lips, touching the wet underside of his brother's lower lip, brushing against his teeth, wanting so badly to steal a kiss from his mouth and allowing every bit of his remaining resistance to crumble - but Loki won't.
They breathe into each other's mouths, neither of the two breaking eye-contact even as Loki lowers a hand to wrap his fingers around Thor's cock instead. The look on Thor's face makes it all worth it - a perfect picture of bliss - and Loki moves his hand slowly, experimentally, to find out exactly how his brother likes it while Thor's gasps tickle his lips. He grabs Loki by the neck and pulls him closer, their foreheads pressed together, thumb sliding into Loki's mouth and pressing on his tongue, their lips nearly touching as Loki moans wantonly around the finger. Thor keeps his face in place with a rough grip on his lower jaw as Loki strokes him off, his tongue coming out to taste the skin of Loki's cheek. Loki still refuses a kiss, even with Thor's thumb hooked under his tongue exploring his open mouth for Loki will not let him touch his lips with his.
But with their foreheads pressed together it makes it too easy for Thor to try and kiss him again and again until Loki has no choice but to turn his face the other way, knowing that had their mouths touched he would never want to have anyone else's lips ever again. However - Thor doesn't give up, mouthing Loki's chin, his cheek and the side of his lips until Loki forgets to keep moving his hand to focus on trying to evade his brother's attempts to kiss him, nearly giving in, but then does the only thing he can think of to put an end to it. With a flick of his wrist he summons a dagger and presses it to his brother's throat, forcing the blade against Thor's Adam's apple without breaking skin and climbs over of him, straddling Thor's hips as he keeps the weapon there with a trembling hand to make sure Thor stays put. Thor doesn't seem to be surprised in the slightest - he swallows uncomfortably, leaning back on his elbows to watch Loki, completely unashamed to ogle his naked body now fully on display, the beginnings of a grin melting on his lips as Loki reaches back with his free hand and takes a hold of the base of Thor's cock to guide it inside himself with practiced ease.
It isn't exactly painless but somehow Loki manages, his breath getting caught in his throat as the head slips inside, the muscles in his thighs straining from keeping himself up. Slowly, he lowers himself down onto his brother's cock, ragged gasps escaping his lips though Loki tries his best not to make any sound but it is, indeed, quite large and it's been a long time since Loki has done this with anyone. His hair falls over his face as he struggles to keep the knife pointed at Thor's artery, overwhelmed with satisfaction from finally having Thor's cock inside him. When he starts to move he's shaking all over, planting a hand over Thor's stomach for support and he looks his brother right in the eye, Thor's mouth going slack from pleasure as he watches Loki ride him. Loki tries to keep it slow, he really does, but it feels too good and he finds himself moving faster, his eyelashes begin to flutter, eyes nearly closing and the dagger feels heavy in his hold, slipping from his fingers as Thor's hands sneak around his hips to help him move. He throws his head back as Thor yanks him down properly, hips meeting Loki's movement in a matching rhythm, thrusting up to him with enough strength to make Loki see stars.
The dagger falls from his grip and clatters to the floor as Thor pushes himself up, triceps flexing as he takes a better hold of Loki's waist to keep him in his lap by wrapping an arm around his midsection, roughly grabs him by the neck and finally succeeds in forcing their lips together in a life-changing kiss. Loki whimpers into his brother's mouth, meeting his lips with such eagerness the kiss immediately becomes sloppy, their lips unfamiliar with each other but starved to find out more. He clutches Thor's short hair, desperately trying to keep him close as they fuck, whimpers turning into hoarse moans that turn into intimate, shuddering sighs. His brother's tongue tastes like lightning and sin, like the deepest craving of Loki's frost giant heart, and in that moment he doesn't care if their lives were to end tomorrow for right now, Loki has everything he's ever wanted.
Their lips do no part when Thor wraps a hand around Loki's cock, squeezed between their bodies, and he strokes it slowly, thumb gliding over the tip until Loki's mind goes blissfully blank from being so close to climaxing. With feverish, jerky movements Loki covers Thor's hand with his own and shows him how he likes it, and as Thor continues to lick his mouth and fuck him, Loki comes with a deafening gasp. His release makes a sticky mess on Thor's fingers and their stomachs but Loki doesn't notice as he's clinging to his brother for dear life for he wants to be closer, so much closer, so that their bodies will never be apart again, crazed kisses softening into languid ones in the height of passion.
As soon as Loki's done coming, Thor dumps him on the bed and flips them over. With Loki on his back on the silken sheets Thor suddenly has that much more room to work with and he makes use of it, yanking Loki's legs around his waist while Loki remains boneless beneath him, slightly taken a back by the intensity of his orgasm and the sudden change in position. Thor grabs him by the neck like he so often does, squeezing a handful black hair in his fist as his hips start to rock in a rhythm that makes Loki's eyes roll to the back of his skull, his back arching from the bed. The drag of his brother's cock inside him is like heaven.
Loki has lived over a thousand years but he's never been fucked quite like that before. Their lips meet again - though kissing barely works with the way Loki keeps gasping for air with every thrust - and it isn't too rough, nor too slow, it's just perfect, and Loki curses every lover his brother has had for none deserve it like he does, none are worth his affections, and Loki groans in the back of his throat from jealously, nails digging into Thor's scalp to punish him for not giving this to Loki earlier. Thor doesn't seem to mind for he lets out a moan, burying his face into Loki's shoulder as his thrusts become jerky and deep, the pace irregular, and he grabs Loki's ass in a rather brutal grip as he comes, a hoarse grunt muffled by the pillows and Loki's sweat-slick skin. They stay like that for a while; Loki draws patterns into Thor's shoulder blades with his fingertips, eyes closed as his breathing slowly returns to normal while Thor plants open mouthed kisses to his neck, neither of the two talking as though uttering a single word would somehow break the spell.
When Thor reaches down to pull out, Loki turns to face the other way, biting his lip from slight discomfort and a sudden fear of rejection. If Thor were to leave now it would break his heart - but Loki can't even finish the thought for the heat of Thor's body returns to him, his lips finding Loki's yet again and they kiss lazily, mouths glued together until they both fall asleep.
They fuck again after a few hours of rest. Thor has him on his stomach, face squished in the pillows with one of Thor's arms wrapped around his midsection to keep his hips raised, his ass exactly where Thor wants it, and as Loki squeezes the silky sheets in his fists whimpering from pleasure, Thor sucks purple marks to the pale skin of his neck and his shoulders. It's so good Loki nearly feels like he's about to pass out, his orgasm momentarily overwhelming him, and for a brief moment toys with the idea that Thor is, in fact, the god of fucking rather than thunder - though he would never in a million years admit it out loud, especially to his brother. After Thor comes inside him once more, Loki drifts right back off to sleep, so mentally and physically satisfied that the bed is as welcoming as a fortress of clouds after a long day, his limbs heavy and aching for relief only sleep will bring him.
It can't have been more than a couple hours when a strange sound alerts him. Thor is plastered to his side, sleeping with his mouth wide open while still somehow managing to maintain his gorgeous appearance, so it can't have been him to cause the noise - but yet the sky rumbles like lightning, like cartwheels on a stone paved path, and Loki jumps out of bed, his clothes reappearing and covering his naked body as soon as his feet hit the ground. He hurries to the largest open window, looking at the horizon and sees that the protective shield he'd conjured upon the kingdom is melting away as another deafening blast rattles every item placed on a surface in his bed chambers. Loki's eyes widen with panic, nearly tripping on his cloak as he makes his way back to the bed to awaken his sleeping brother.
"Wake up, Thor," Loki tells him, shaking him roughly in his fear, "Wake up, you lazy wimp!"
But Thor doesn't open his eyes. His eyes remain closed, his expression peaceful and as the terror building inside him reaches a new high, Loki makes sure he isn't dead by hovering a hand over his nose and lips to check that he's still breathing which he is.
"Asgard is under attack!" he yells again, slapping Thor's cheek with enough force to make his brains rattle. His skin is hot, like he's running a high fever, but Loki doesn't have the time to stay there and try to will him better for all their lives are in danger and he needs to do something. For a second he contemplates escaping, thinks of all the secret passageways that lead out of Asgard that only Loki is familiar with, considers just grabbing his brother and disappearing - but knowing Thor would kill him had they somehow made it out alive and left the rest of the kingdom to die, immediately abandons that trail of thought. That Thor could never forgive.
"I hate you so much," Loki sneers from between clenched teeth, caressing Thor's cheek and pressing a single kiss to his sweaty forehead before leaving the room.
Meak and Korg are standing in the grand foyer of the castle in full battle gear as Loki enters the room. As the entire castle vibrates from another thunder-like boom, he pauses to stand in front of the pair, eyeing them from head to toe, unimpressed.
"Really?" Loki lifts an eyebrow, "You two morons are the only help I've got?"
"They're all passed out, we tried everything, man, ain't that right, Meak?" Korg tells him and Meak whisks his bladed hands in circles in agreement. They don't seem to mind that Loki has just called them idiots, in fact, they don't seem to realize that they're all about to die at all.
"I suppose you'll just have to do," Loki says as he opens the doors and steps out into the yard, just in time to see the sky above the Bifröst erupt in colors as the spell comes apart, battleships emerging in the horizon where a flaming red portal has just opened as they make their way towards the edge of the city to try and keep the fighting as far away from the castle and Asgard's vulnerable citizens.
The ships don't look even vaguely familiar - Loki is positive he hasn't seen them before - but as the warships begin to land, spitting out warriors in smoldering ember armors, he does recognize them as the fire giants of Muspelheim, a realm Loki has never visited. With a blaring scream, he conjures as many doubles as he possibly can to distract the troops, causing enough chaos for his real self to approach what appears to be the mother ship descending upon the Bifröst bridge, successfully blocking anyone from attempting to get out of Asgard through it. As Korg and Meak start swinging their weapons, bringing down several Eldjötnar with ease, Loki finds himself mildly surprised by the skill he hadn't expected to witness from the two. The doors to the ship now parked on the bridge open, letting out a puff of smoke before a tall figure appears, distinctively female though clad in heavy armor.
Her height is considerable, her shadow falling over Loki as she approaches, her skin a shade of deep fiery red, her eyes two glowing, blazing pits. In her hand she carries a flaming sword that's taller than Loki, already intimidating in itself, and as she swings it before Loki's eyes, pointing it at his head, the two blades Loki has conjured and now clutches in his hands feel utterly useless. He should have entered the treasure vaults and picked up something he could have actually used against such a formidable enemy but in his haste he hadn't thought of it.
"Loki of Jötunheim," she booms, her voice a low rumble, like sounding from somewhere within the depths of great mountains. "I thought you dead."
"And who are you, if I may ask?" Loki lifts both of his hands, hiding the blades (he can't rely on combat on this, he's got to talk his way out of this somehow) and showing his palms in an attempt to signal her he has no intention to attack when so immensely overpowered.
"I am Sinmara of Muspelheim, Surtur's consort, the commander of his army and I seek revenge upon his death," she announces, emitting a bit of smoke from her mouth as she speaks, "I wish to reclaim his crown and lay waste upon Asgard by bringing forth Ragnarök and completing Surtur's work."
"Oh," Loki tilts his head, mind now racing a thousand miles an hour, rewinding back to the day that now feels like a lifetime ago when Thor had returned from his trip to Muspelheim victorious, the wonderful artefact Thor had gifted Loki, "Oh. A token on gratitude my ass. I'm curious, how does the spell work?"
"It opens a gateway to Muspelheim if brought here by the Aesir - the summoning of your brother was a mere ploy," she tells, slowly approaching, her face split up in an unsettling grin, "Did your people enjoy the present, prince of Asgard?"
"And all this?" Loki gestures vaguely at the deserted city, ignoring Sinmara's words, taking steps backwards as Sinmara's blade is now far too close to the tip of his nose. He should have thought of this sooner but Loki had forgotten all about the damned glowing orb - at the time it had seemed like nothing more than a mere gift, he'd felt no magic whatsoever pulsing from it but then again, since the orb had been brought to Asgard his seiðr had been all over the place, and seiðr was an art of the Aesir after all. Then there had been the distraction his idiotic brother had provided - greatest one of all - and no matter how intelligent Loki normally considered himself to be, he had to admit the past couple days he hadn't been his brightest with Thor suddenly wanting nothing more than to touch him.
"Simply a side effect," Sinmara explains, "But one that undoubtedly works in our favor, see, it strengthens every hidden desire, every murderous intent until what's left of your people are a bunch of drooling half-wits that can't tell an enemy from an accomplice. Clearly your true heritage has protected you from it as it only works on the Aesir. Now step aside, Jötun!"
They've reached the city now, Bifröst bridge left behind Sinmara's considerably wide back, and all around them, Loki's clones are trying to hold of the troops by distracting them. It's tiring him but he can't give up just yet though nothing at all that could somehow save them comes to mind. Glancing around them, Loki swallows thickly with no escape in sight. He should have ran into the vaults and grabbed the Tesseract and used it against her, but no, Loki had went into battle with nothing but bare hands and his malfunctioning magic. The infinity stone might have been enough to kill her.
"I must apologize but that's not an option," Loki denies politely, "I suppose you couldn't just take back Surtur's crown and leave?"
Loki barely manages to duck as Sinmara lets out a raged scream, swinging her sword so close to Loki's face he can feel the swish of steaming hot air. He summons daggers and flings them towards her - only to have the enemy easily swat them away. His weapons and tricks are useless up against brute force - Loki has learned that the hard way - but he can't help but try, sending daggers flying after another until they no longer for some reason appear in his grip. Loki glances down at his hands while evading another blow, notices they've begun to turn blue once more, and nearly trips trying to back away from Sinmara's fiery sword in sheer panic.
"Not now," he groans under his breath, trying to will himself to return to normal but the illusions he'd conjured earlier now melt away like butter when he can no longer keep them up. Korg and Meak are still fighting back to the best of their abilities, trying to hold of the fire giants attempting to approach the palace where the people have been locked away to ensure their safety but they can't possibly keep an entire army away with just the two of them.
Now completely defenseless, Loki fails to notice another slash of Sinmara's blade through the air and gets hit right in the chest. The impact sends him flying until his back collides with the ground, wind getting knocked out of him, and Loki reaches to touch his chest with his fingertips, expecting to see blood but finding none. He pushes himself half up while Sinmara approaches, glancing down at his torn clothing - the sword should have sliced him in two, no question, but for some reason, it doesn't seem to have affected Loki. An overwhelming sensation of thrill travels through his body, one he's never felt before, and instinctively, he knows it to be his Jötun magic finally presenting itself to him, protecting him. Loki doesn't bother getting up from the ground as Sinmara reaches him, not expecting to find him in one piece after such a blow.
"Oh please," Loki grins with nearly all of his teeth showing, and where as less than a minute ago he'd been sure of his inevitable demise, is now beaming with confidence, "Is that the best you can do?"
Sinmara lets out another frustrated yell and raises her sword to strike - before it can land Loki simply grabs it, his blue fingers wrapping around the blade that feels like nothing, and he watches, equally as surprised as the fire giant as the frost that spreads from his fingers causes the sword to shrivel into a scorched piece of rusty junk metal, the fire that once burned within the weapon suffocating and dying away.
"No," Sinmara's voice now trembles but Loki doesn't pay attention for the sudden sense of power now filling him, of magic so strange and wonderful coursing through his veins Loki can barely see what's in front of him. He lets out a delighted laugh, slightly delirious, and points his palm towards the enemy as ice explodes from his fingertips; sharp, pointy spears that travel through the air and nearly decapitate Sinmara as she struggles to dodge.
Loki continues to laugh, no longer worried in the slightest about the fate of Asgard for he knows they have nothing on him, and wondering just how powerful he truly is, Loki kneels on the ground and places his hands to the paved city street, letting the magic flow from him. More ice erupts from his fingers as it covers the ground near him, the surrounding fire giants collapsing from it's strength, and Loki blinks, eyelashes fluttering in pleasure from the sheer ease of it all. The frost covers the nearest buildings, windows breaking from the sudden drastic change in temperature, the roofs and the city streets quickly covered in ice. When the cold reaches the palace, the front doors of the castle burst open - Loki glances over his shoulder and sees his brother running towards him along with a few others that have awoken, and lets out another laugh for it all makes sense now. Why he'd been so hopelessly fighting back when every bit of his instincts had been warning him, desperate enough to make him change forms unwillingly, and still, he had not listened even though the answer to all Loki's problems had been hidden inside him all along. His ice could easily put out the fire.
Sinmara seems to have gathered herself enough to try again as she surges towards Loki, shrieking; kill him, as she runs but Thor lands on his feet right between them and hits her with a lightning blast strong enough to throw her back to the Bifröst bridge, electricity crackling in the air. Loki looks up at the sky where several new spaceships have appeared, more troops coming to their enemy's aid although they have no chance at all now that Thor is there at his side protecting Asgard - but the portal burns angry red in the sky above them like an open wound.
"Loki," Thor turns around to face him, their eyes meeting, "Go to the treasury... Destroy the orb, I'm sure that will close the portal. I'll hold them off."
Loki doesn't stop to ask how Thor knows - he must have come to the conclusion on his own after seeing who their enemy is - and Loki nods, removing his fingers from the ground and hurrying back towards the palace instead. He jumps over slain bodies of the Eldjötnar, feet slipping on the ice covered staircase, and hopes the ice he has conjured doesn't instantly melt and make everyone mad yet again.
The air inside the treasury is still stuffy and hot as Loki enters, for with the events of the past couple days nobody has most likely stepped inside in a while. He walks past the Tesseract, fingers twitching with urgent, selfish want, but ignores it, as well as several other valuable and dangerous artifacts locked away to keep them out of Loki's devious reach. The orb has been placed in the far back of the long hallway, now looking through his Jötun eyes obviously emitting a wave of destructive magic, but Loki is certain touching it won't harm him if it truly is from the realm of Muspelheim. Placing a hand over the protective glass shell, Loki feels the warmth beneath his fingers, for a moment admiring it's strength before smashing his fist through the glass to get to the smoldering core.
It only burns a bit. Fire doesn't stand a chance against an endless supply of ice, and Loki closes his eyes, smiling as the magic flows from his fingers, long Jötun nails digging into the soft center as whatever spell that had been hidden away dies along and freezes with the pitch black core. When Loki removes his hand the only thing that's left is mere rubble, the sacred item thoroughly destroyed, and immediately, Loki senses the shift in the air as it returns to normal. Some of the ice has melted into a puddle of water on the ground, but the core no longer burns. It feels like he can finally breathe again, the air fresh and dewy like on the first cool day and a rain shower after a long summer. Even deep in the hidden vaults under the castle, he can hear the joyous screams from the palace's courtyard where the battle must have advanced to and knows they've felt it too or seen the portal to their home realm disappear. Loki exhales deeply, suddenly overwhelmingly exhausted and much to his delight, no longer has the slightest difficulty in transforming his appearance back to Aesir. The newly awakened strength of his elemental Jötun magic still remains at his fingertips, but somehow tucked away, for the first time in harmony with his mother's seiðr. Loki knows how to call for it now, it's always been there, and he can't wait to show Thor what he can do.
On his way back up he opens the dungeon doors to let out the citizens who have returned to their regular state of mind to now let them join the fight and Loki does so too, enjoying the familiar feel of a dagger in his hand as he makes his way towards his brother slashing through enemy warriors just in time to see his eyes crackle with lightning as Thor manages to land the final blow. Sinmara crumbles, her bones turning into nothing but ash, and the battle's been won - once again - the remaining soldiers defeated with ease by the hands of Valkyrie, Heimdall, and Korg and Meak who, against all odds, have somehow managed to stay alive through it all. The gateways in the skies have closed up again and the morning sky has returned to a regular shade of pleasant blue.
Thor turns to smile at Loki, a grateful, genuine smile, but Loki doesn't return it as the memories of last night wash over him like a tidal wave and unexpectedly fill him with fear - what if Thor is going to despise him now? What if he regrets sharing a bed with Loki given the state he'd been in? What if he doesn't remember it at all? Loki hasn't given the possibility a single thought in his haste to save his brother's treasured kingdom.
"I always told you you could be so much more than just the god of mischief, brother," Thor tells him heartily, beaming with pride and Loki searches his gaze desperately for a sign that he hasn't forgotten, that the night meant something to him, as it did to Loki, and it hadn't been merely caused by the spell.
"You could have died," Thor continues, eyes filled with affection as they often are - Loki continues to look for a sign, the smallest signal, but this is the way his brother has always looked at him, nothing has changed at all. Loki's heart feels like it's shriveled up and died together with the cursed orb, the magic of last night disappearing with it.
"For me it would hardly be the first time," Loki says pompously, now turning his eyes away, "Or the last."
"No more tricks, Loki, especially not of that kind," Thor says, oblivious to the fact that Loki is becoming more and more upset by the second, "We will rebuild - once again. I wonder how long it will take for every single living creature in the nine realms and beyond to realize Asgard can never be conquered."
"Asgard has indeed been through a lot."
"We've been through a lot," Thor agrees, watching as Loki turns his back to leave, "We wouldn't have made it without you, you must know that."
"I'm tired," Loki tells him, removing his battle helmet and carrying it under his arm as he goes. Thor doesn't follow him and for that Loki is thankful - for now he wants to hide in his bed and think - there's so much he needs to process and Thor being one of the problems, Loki doesn't want to see his moronic face right now.
During his lifetime, Loki has never seen the castle in such a state. Everywhere he looks there's mess; in the hallways, in every room he passes, spilled ale and discarded goblets, even some curtains have been pulled down and several paintings and statues have been defaced. In his exhaustion he barely notices, the made up reason for excusing himself now becoming reality as his feet take him to his room where the windows are still open, filling the space with fresh air. Closing each one, Loki pulls the curtains before taking a seat from the bed and removing his clothing the old fashioned way. His fingers struggle with the closures, unbelievably stiff from exhaustion, until Loki gives up and just wishes them away using magic, wondering why he'd even bothered in the first place.
The bed still smells like his brother. His own skin still smells like his brother. As Loki hides his face into one of his pillows he inhales deeply, suddenly wide awake even though his eyes were barely able to stay open moments ago. He pulls the blanket up to his ears, shivering in the coolness in the room after so many days getting used to the heat but he's still not warm for he misses Thor's heat, the shape of his body molded to Loki's smaller frame. Releasing a groan, Loki rolls over to his back and stares at the ceiling, gritting his teeth. Either Thor doesn't care that they've fucked, he's trying to ignore it or he simply doesn't remember. Loki has no clue which one it is and he's most definitely not going to ask, but it still hurts not knowing - though actually knowing could hurt that much more. Last night feels like it happened a thousand years ago yet the memory is still fresh, almost tangible, and if Loki were to close his eyes - which he refuses to do - he could certainly still feel his brother inside him. He has not washed since their coupling and in a way, a part of Thor is still inside him. Loki can almost feel his lips against Loki's, the passion in his kiss, the way Thor's hands held him down as they fucked. Swallowing thickly, Loki rolls over to his other side and covers his face with a pillow, chanting forget it forget it forget it in his head.
He manages a bit of sleep during the long afternoon hours. It feels like a few minutes but when Loki opens his eyes the room has gone dark and the distant sound of the rebuilding and the chatter that the wind carries up to his room have quieted as most Asgardians have returned to their homes. Thor still hasn't shown up. How long has it been? Loki wonders as he gets up from bed, trying to ignore the gnawing sensation of disappointment eating his insides. He'd been expecting his brother to at least want to have a talk, to go over every single detail of the battle with him and find out exactly how Loki had succeeded in holding Sinmara off before the others had joined the battle, but no, Thor had probably stayed down helping the citizens who, in Loki's opinion, at least for the rest of the day should do just fine on their own. Thor had already saved them once today - like that wasn't enough - but then again, this was probably one of the reasons Thor was the king and Loki was not.
Loki conjures a robe to cover his sleeping clothes as he makes his way out of his room and to the large balcony overlooking the realm of Asgard. Placing his hands on the railing, he leans against it and watches the city, the glimmering of the Bifröst bridge in the distance, trying to memorize the view. In the dark the destruction isn't visible to the eye - everything looks as it should, like nothing bad had ever happened here - and it's the most at peace Loki has felt after waking up that morning. Light flickers in the windows of the various buildings down below, like stars in the night sky, and Loki continues to admire the view while pondering whether they'd be better off without him. Thor would be heart-broken, of course, but they've had their reconciliation and would their paths one day cross again, they wouldn't instantly try to murder each other. At least Loki would not.
The door to the balcony opens and out walks Thor, still dressed in his armor and his flaming red cape - Loki doesn't turn to spare him a glance as his brother joins him, for a while simply looking at the view together in silence.
"I had the strangest dream last night," Thor tells him hesitantly - at this Loki does give him a side way glance, trying to seem uninterested even though his heart has nearly leapt out of his chest at his brother's words.
"Hm?" Loki hums to let him know he's listening, all of a sudden hyper-aware of the close proximity of Thor's taller form, his hand nearly touching Loki's on the railing.
"You were in it," Thor continues, voice filled with uncharacteristic uncertainty. Loki leans his hip against the railing, crossing his arms over his chest and gives his brother a suspicious look, a single eyebrow raised in question.
"And what was I doing in your dream, dear brother?"
"It wasn't that much what you were doing than it was what we were doing," Thor explains, clearing his throat, "Except that it wasn't a dream at all, now was it, Loki?"
Loki takes a moment to think before he replies. "No, I suppose not."
Thor sighs, mimicking Loki's posture and turning to face him. They look into each other's eyes in silence, what feels like minutes passing, and Loki's not going to break the eye-contact first no matter what - Thor's got to give him this if nothing - until Thor lifts a single hand to brush it against Loki's cheek. An entire body chill courses through Loki's system which is just great - even at a time like this he can't will his body to despise his brother's touch, especially now that it's acquired a taste for it.
"Why would you let me do that to you?" Thor's voice is anguished as he continues to caress him, fingertips disappearing into Loki's hairline. This he hadn't been expecting for Loki had been anticipating something more in the lines of: it was a mistake, or, we can never do it again.
"What?" Loki sneers rather rudely, trying to find answers in Thor's one good eye.
"If the spell didn't have an affect on you, why would you?"
"Why?" Loki repeats incredulously, "Why?"
"Yes, why," Thor says, starting to get annoyed, his fingers sliding to the back of Loki's neck and grabbing it.
"Are there no wheels turning in that thick head of yours? Are you blind as well as you are dumb?" Loki's eyes turn narrow, "Because I wanted it, you absolute moron."
"You wanted it?" Thor looks puzzled, squeezing a chunk of Loki's hair in his fist.
"You want me to spell it out for you?" Loki is getting more mad by the second - if Thor would only stop touching him it would be that much easier but nothing in the world would make Loki pull away from his grip on his own for he needs a push - he likes to think he's strong but he's really not, not when it comes to Thor. "I know you didn't want it now so can we just pretend like it never happened and cover it all with lies? Isn't that what our family is so good at?"
"Oh, I wanted it," Thor tells him, equally irritated, "The spell can't amplify what isn't already there - Korg told me everything Sinmara explained to you on the bridge. Every hidden desire, isn't that what she said?"
"I-" Loki starts, spellbound, suddenly out of words as he looks into Thor's eyes but can't come up with anything else to say. He opens his mouth again, closes it, and to his absolute horror, realizes Thor must, in fact, be right on this rare occasion. Sinmara had indeed said that, though Loki hadn't taken the time to consider what it actually meant. Every hidden desire?
"You're the one who's been stupid if you had not realized how I feel about you Loki, I'm always telling you how much you mean to me," Thor says, his voice taking a more gentle tone as if speaking to a small child.
"Yes, well, as a brother-" Loki still tries to deny, unable to believe what Thor is telling him. It can't be.
"Not just as a brother," he says, now smiling as the grip he's got of Loki's hair loosens slightly, melting into something closer to a caress. "You said it yourself, we aren't really brothers at all - but maybe there's something else we could be."
"Oh," Loki says dumbly, completely disarmed, and then Thor kisses him, leaning in to close the distance between their lips to press his mouth against Loki's, grabbing Loki by his chin and tilting his face to the side to align their faces better. With a sharp intake of air Loki gasps, nearly losing his balance as Thor draws him closer by the waist, kissing him deeply with his tongue in Loki's mouth in no time, his beard scratchy against Loki's skin. When Thor pulls away far too soon, Loki is breathing embarrassingly fast, clasping the chest plate of Thor's armor in his open palms for the ground feels shaky beneath his feet as Loki struggles to understand that for once, he's actually managed to get what he wants. All it took was putting his life on the line for Asgard. Had he known, Loki might have done it sooner.
"I wish I could have seen you out there, it must have been truly awesome," Thor speaks softly, lips nearly brushing Loki's, "You had all that power in you and you never used it before? How come?"
"I didn't know how - but once Sinmara struck me and I realized her blade had no effect on me, it just came to me... Like..." Loki tries to put it into words, finding it hard to speak with Thor pressed so close to him.
"Like an instinct," Thor helps him, "It must be like lightning comes to me."
"I-" Loki tries to say but Thor's lips are on his again, sticking together, and he reaches up to twist his fingers in Thor's short hair, the realization finally catching up to him and filling him with uttermost joy. Thor wants him - possibly just as much as Loki does him.
"You've never been more beautiful than you were out there-"
"Stop talking, just stop talking," Loki breathes, certain he's going to implode if Thor continues for he's already gotten so much and he isn't sure he can handle any more and so he presses closer, sharing the same air between kisses, gluing himself to Thor's body with both arms wrapped around his waist. Thor holds him just the same with one hand in Loki's hair, one around his midsection, slowly leaning in until Loki's pressed up against the balcony railing, and it should be weird - it's Thor after all - but somehow it's not; nothing comes to Loki as naturally as letting his brother's hands underneath his clothing by untying his robes to allow him to reach some naked skin, and Thor's kisses are just as feverish as they were the night before, his caresses just as eager as Loki basks in his embrace, eyelashes fluttering in pleasure as Thor begins to kiss his neck.
Throwing his head back, Loki looks at the vast expanse of stars above them and grins - in this moment he's the one in control, the one who holds all the power - until the smile disappears from his lips with a quiet, breathless moan, and he's nuzzling the top of his brother's head with his cheek as Thor's kisses move towards his exposed collarbones. Their lips meet again as Thor comes back up, only briefly, for Loki places a hand over Thor's crotch and makes him break the kiss with a pleasured groan, hips shifting slightly to thrust into Loki's palm. Still unable to believe Thor wants this - wants him - Loki tries to find traces of hesitance from his brother's expression but simply gets his lips feverishly kissed again, Thor's tongue in his mouth, his hands sliding down his back and all the way into his pants where they grab a hold of the flesh of Loki's ass. Half wanting to have Thor fuck him right there where anyone who happened to glance up might see, Loki reluctantly twists away from Thor's arms and takes his hand to pull him along instead.
"Come," he says breathlessly, his own arousal clouding his mind as Thor's lips brush against his neck on their way out of the balcony. They make it to Thor's bedroom which is closer; Loki with his robes untied, Thor following closely, the door to Thor's chambers closing after them with a soft bang in the silence of the room now only disturbed by their labored breathing. Kissing while they approach the bed, hands roaming over each other's bodies, Loki begins to remove his clothing but Thor stops him by taking a hold of Loki's wrists and guiding them down.
"Let me," Thor whispers, pausing to stand between Loki and the bed, and Loki complies, breathing shakily and watches the fascinated look on his brother's face as he focuses on undressing him. Thor unwraps him like a present; first letting the emerald green robes Loki had been wearing drop to the ground, his gaze lingering around every bit of exposed skin before going for the next article of clothing. He pulls Loki's undershirt over his head, smiling as a lock of wavy hair falls out of place and tucks it behind Loki's ear, then kissing his way down Loki's bare chest and kneeling in front of him on the floor to stick his tongue into Loki's navel while his fingers tug on the closure of his sleeping pants. Loki continues to watch, heat creeping up to his cheeks as Thor frees him of his clothing, fabric pooling around his ankles and then, lets out a rather embarrassing sound when Thor takes him into his hand and brushes his lips against the tip of his cock.
He could come from the view alone, from the sight of his still fully dressed brother on the floor before him giving the head a hesitant lick and Loki gasps, muscles in his stomach twitching from trying to control his climax. Clearly, Thor hasn't done it before which somehow makes it that much hotter - but Loki is already at the edge and he's going to come too soon if Thor continues even for a moment longer. Yanking on Thor's hair to warn him, Loki's front teeth dig into his lower lip as the pressure of his forthcoming orgasm intensifies - Thor seems to get the drift for he pulls away before it can happen to glance up at Loki's expression. Loki turns his face away as Thor gets back up, not wanting his brother to see his flushed cheeks but what can he do when Thor takes a hold of his jaw to twist his face forward, eyes him tenderly as if seeing him for the first time, gaze filled with something that looks an awful lot like love, and Loki struggles to keep his face neutral when on the inside he feels like his shell has been cracked open to show the vulnerable core beneath.
He's like water in Thor's arms as he moves them over to the bed, letting himself be man handled, and on their way his magic seems to work on his own as Thor's clothing disappears from his body before they even manage to hit the sheets. Thor lands on top of him, their lips crashing together, though with their naked bodies now fully pressed against one another Loki gets so out of breath he can barely keep up with Thor's feverish lips. Thor's hands are everywhere, roaming over his body groping everything within his reach and as Thor's hips begin to rock, lips finding a good spot from Loki's neck to devour while he thrusts against Loki's inner thigh, for the moment Loki allows himself to lose all control and just feel. He doesn't resist when Thor guides his hands over his head and holds his wrists down with one hand, doesn't tell him to hurry up and fuck him even though Thor takes forever just kissing Loki's knee and caressing his calf before he bends a single leg to grant himself more room between Loki's thighs. When Thor's fingers finally find his entrance Loki's eyes roll to the back of his skull, jaw slack, mouth open with ragged pants, and Thor moans as well as he feels Loki from the inside with two fingers, slowly pushing them in and out of him.
"I want to eat you out," Thor murmurs into Loki's ear - his voice so deliciously low it makes Loki's cock twitch - and he barely registers what his brother is saying before finding himself flipped onto his stomach, face buried in the bed covers. The tongue comes next; down the curve of his lower back towards his buttocks and Loki cries into the pillows, not bothering to hide just how much he likes it as Thor begins to lick him open. He spreads his legs wantonly, lifting his ass to get closer to Thor's mouth, nails digging into the sheets, and Thor gives it to him; pushing two fingers inside together with his tongue. Loki can't help it - his moans turn into pathetic whimpers as he comes, shuddering with pleasure for Thor's tongue never leaves him, licking and sucking at his hole until Loki starts to get oversensitive. He's hard again, cock squeezed between his stomach and the stained sheets, hair sticking to his forehead, eyelashes wet, and doesn't care how pitiful he sounds as he lays there with his eyes closed, gladly accepting everything Thor might want to give him.
When Thor finally pulls away Loki has gone boneless - not even an ounce of strength left in his body after such a climax - but Thor yanks him up to his knees and supports Loki's weight for him by wrapping an arm around his midsection, Loki's back leaning against Thor's chest, his erratic breathing in Loki's ear as Thor takes a hold of his cock to guide it inside. They both moan when the head enters him with ease, the muscles in Thor's thighs going tense until he's fully inside, and Loki throws his head back to rest it on Thor's shoulder, swallowing thickly in the heights of pleasure. Their bodies are covered in sheen of sweat even before Thor starts to move, going slow at first, his thrusts languid and shallow like they've got all the time in the world. Loki tries to blink away the wetness in his eyes, covers the hand Thor's got on his stomach with his own and gently strokes the back of his hand with his thumb, somehow finding the energy to start pushing back to meet his thrusts.
Thor moans quietly, hiding his face in Loki's neck and holds him tighter, like he never wants to let go again, and Loki would laugh - he's so delighted - but it's too intense for him to do anything other than try to remember to keep breathing. Thor brushes Loki's hair away from his neck to kiss it as the pace begins to turn faster, taking Loki's hips and grabbing them roughly for support as he rams into him - and what was tender at the start now begins to feel like Loki had not indeed been the only one to harbor secret desires when it comes to his brother, for the way Thor fucks him is like he's been yearning to do it forever.
"Fuck," Loki moans hoarsely, eyebrows knitted, so turned on he's beginning to get light-headed - but it won't take long now; he still remembers the way his brother's breathing started to hitch right before his orgasm hit him last night and it's happening again, his movements becoming jerky, his groans in Loki's ear getting gruff. Loki takes a hold of his cock to stroke himself off rather violently, his hand soon covered by Thor's, and within moments, they both come roughly at the same time. For a second Loki's vision turns white and he squeezes his eyes shut, a drop of sweat rolling down his temple as the second climax makes his head spin - but there's something incredibly soothing about the way Thor holds him, how his arms encircle his body like they're trying to shelter him from the world and Loki calms down, turning his head to the side to kiss Thor's cheek as he sways them slowly, both still up on their knees.
Thor nuzzles his cheek against Loki's lips before finally lowering them to the bed to be able to properly kiss him, one hand finding Loki's neck and grabbing it like he so often likes to do. Their lips stick together lazily, tongues coming out to brush against one another, and like before the fucking, Thor takes his time kissing him while coming down from the high. The hands that earlier were eager to blindly grope every part of Loki's body are now tender, slow like the kiss, and they caress him in mindless patterns as the two of them settle into a comfortable position on the bed.
"I love coming inside you," Thor mumbles into Loki's mouth breathlessly, and Loki has never heard his voice sound quite like that before - so blissfully sated. Loki's heart makes a leap in his chest for he can't wait to hear more filth coming out of his brother's mouth as he's certain this is hardly going to be the last time they're going to fuck.
"I can tell," Loki grins, biting his lower lip to stop himself but he can't help it - it feels like his cheeks are being pulled up to form a smile by some invisible force. Possibly magic.
"Wipe that smirk off your face, Loki," Thor tells him but he's grinning too, equally giddy. It feels like there was never a barrier between them to begin with, like nothing bad had ever happened and though Loki knows it to be a childish thought for grudges are carried and hidden deep, he still can't find a single trace of remorse from Thor's affectionate gaze.
"Ooh, what are you going to do, brother?" Loki lifts a single eyebrow to challenge him, tongue coming out to wet his lips but Thor simply pulls him into an embrace, tucking Loki under his arm and holding him there, glued to his side. Thor's not going to have any of it - not even a single trick - and maybe it's alright to simply let the bickering seize for the night.
"Just wait until tomorrow to find out," he groans, now starting to sound sleepy. Loki rubs his cheek against Thor's chest and yawns, unable to keep his eyes open any longer, inevitably lulled into sleep by the comfortable silence and the warmth of Thor's body.
"Loki?" Thor sounds sleepy as he speaks, making Loki reluctantly re-open his eyes.
"You will not leave Asgard, will you? You must promise me," Thor's voice comes out painstakingly adorable in his uncertainty, causing Loki's heart to swoon. Thor is truly not very intelligent if he thinks Loki's going to leave now - no, Loki intends to thoroughly enjoy having his brother all to himself and to bask in the heat of Thor's affections to his heart's content. Come to think of it - being the king's lover is surely going to have its perks.
"I promise," Loki tells him honestly, shifting on the bed to get even closer - and it is true as for the time being, taking into consideration the fact that he's currently lying in the king's bed with strong arms wrapped around him, Loki is, indeed, not planning to flee any time soon. He might not have the throne, he might not have the reign over a nation long ago untruthfully proclaimed as his birth right, he doesn't even have an army or the Tesseract - but at the moment he does have Thor, the great protector of the nine realms who Loki cherishes more than anything in the world, and he's sharing his bed with him like a lover, like it was meant to be that way from the beginning, wanting him, his mind set on only Loki, no-one else, and if you ask Loki... It's just as good as being the king.