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“Clearly, I’m in charge.”

Thor whips around, the matted tangles in his hair slapping him across the face. There, just across the cabin, is Loki. Ice drips from his long hair, and his clothes are torn and tattered. There is a great wheal of bruises around his throat, but his chest rises and falls as it always has.

Thor blinks twice, and then again more slowly. Nothing changes. This is no fever dream, no illusion of drink and pain dancing across his vision as he falls to sleep at night. He has not touched a drop since his mother’s option rid him of the poison in his veins, and it will be a long while before he braves the bottle once again.

Quill has a blaster out, trained on Loki. Thor finds himself reaching over, pushing it down with no effort at all. Around him, the rest of the Guardians slowly lower their weapons and fists, yet Thor can feel how tense they still are. Drax glances at him with an eyebrow raised, but Thor says nothing at all. His mouth is dry as bone, and there are no words left to escape his throat.

“No disagreements?” Loki asks, light and airy as though all are welcoming him with open arms. He stalks across to where Quill and Thor both stand in front of the navigation display. His footsteps tap against the metal of the ship’s floor, and his leathers rasp against one another. When he reaches Thor’s side, Thor can smell him and can feel the warmth of his skin.

He reaches out. His fingers shake as they cross the air before Loki, and his skin crawls with goosebumps. Loki cocks his head to one side as he watches Thor. He does not move as Thor’s hand lands on the back of his neck, pulling him close.

Loki is solid and real. His face is lined with the ten years after his fall from the Bifrost, and his clothes are those of Sakaar, not Asgard. He is no phantom dream, no young man caught after wreaking havoc on Midgard. He is no trickster with the Tesseract in his hands, escaping from Tony Stark and the small man whose name Thor does not know. Instead he is Thor’s brother. He is the man who died for Thor, the man who swore to him that the sun would shine on them again. Thor looks past Loki to where the light of a distant sun streams into the ship.

Loki did not lie.

He is here, somehow, just as he was. Thor’s breath speeds up. His heart pounds against his ribs, thudding so hard that he wonders if everyone can see it pounding in his chest. The rest of this ship fades into darkness, until all he can see is Loki’s pale face and glittering eyes. He topples forwards.

***

Thor comes back to himself with his back against the console. The deck is hard under even his soft ass, and he’s slumped over. Loki kneels in front of him, his hands on Thor’s knees. For a moment, Thor catches how his lips are pressed together and his tightness lurks at the corners of his eyes. But then it’s gone, and Loki stands, grinning around.

“Is the Thunderer breathing?” Drax asks from somewhere above him.

Thor looks up. All of the Guardians are gathered around, save Rocket, and as Thor watches, he comes bounding up from deeper in the ship.

“What are you doing on the floor?” he asks, “and who the fuck is that?”

Thor reaches up, and Loki takes his hand. It takes a few moments for Loki to heave him off the floor. Thor flushes as he staggers up.

“There, now he’s not on the floor,” Loki snaps. “And who are you?”

“I’m his friend,” Rocket fires back.

“And I’m his brother,” Loki says.

Heat fills Thor’s belly. Loki still counts him as a brother. Even after all this time, even after how much Thor has failed, Loki still believes him. His thoughts break off as Mantis gasps.

“You’re-” she starts “Oh.”

Thor blushes even harder. He’d forgotten how easily she’d read his pain and his want just after the Guardians rescued him. Loki raises an eyebrow. The whole ship falls silent. Thor can hear his own breaths.

“Did I faint?” he asks into the quiet.

“Yes,” Drax says. “Do not feel ashamed. It is natural after long battle.”

Thor tilts his head to one side, biting his lip. He wasn’t ashamed until Drax said anything. Quill sighs, tucking his blaster back into its holster.

“So, Thor’s-brother-who-we-all-thought-was-dead, what are you doing here?”

“Didn’t we say that I was in charge?” Loki asks, his voice slippery and sweet.

The Guardians are silent once more, and Thor finds a laugh bubbling up in his throat. Their eyes are wide and their mouths gape a little as they look at Loki. No one moves until Loki taps on the nav console, pulling up a blue-green planet on the display.

“Can you guide your ship here, little raccoon?”

“Can I-” Rocket splutters, “Can-” He turns to Thor, wrinkling his snout. “You didn’t tell me your brother was an idiot.”

“He’s not,” Thor says, his voice a little too soft.

“Sure sounds like it,” Rocket starts.

“You didn’t answer the question,” Quill reminds him. “Maybe I should fly, if you’re not sure you can.”

Rocket mutters incomprehensibly, looking around at them all. Then he throws up his paws.

“Where is here, exactly?”

“You all stink,” Loki says. “Thus, we are heading to a planet famed for its bathhouses.”

“You don’t smell too good yourself, pal,” Quill says.

Thor finds his lips drawing back from his teeth and his fists clenching at his sides. He almost takes a step towards Quill, but Loki speaks before he can.

“Yes, being mostly dead will do that to a person. Now, are we going or what?”

The rest of the Guardians shrug, eyes wide and a little too shell-shocked to object.

“I am Groot.”

“Well then,” Loki says, “Since the Tree agrees, let’s get going.”

***

The planet, Lumin, is only a short hop away from the void where Loki found them, and Thor hardly has a chance to look his fill at his brother, let alone ask him the questions that bubble at the back of his mind before they touch down on the surface.

“Three days,” Quill calls as Rocket, Groot, and Drax bound down the gangplank towards the glimmering marble city in front of them. “I’m leaving your asses here if you’re not back. Three days!”

Rocket flips him off with one blacked-nailed finger just before he disappears around a corner.

“And I’m not rescuing you if you end up in jail,” Quill yells, but Rocket’s gone. Drax pauses, and turns towards the ship.

“That is quite unkind, Quill.”

Quill throws up his hands, then grabs his headphones and slams them over his ears. He, too, vanishes around a corner, and Thor is left with Loki next to him and Mantis watching, eyes fixed between the two of them.

“Well, come along, Thor,” Loki says.

Thor trips as Loki’s hand finds its way into his as they step off the ship. He looks down where Loki’s delicate fingers clutch his meaty ones, and bites his lip. Loki’s skin is pale against his, even with how much time Thor has been spending inside lately, and he looks even smaller than Thor remembers. It’s all Thor can do to hold his tongue as he follows Loki.

Loki leads him through winding streets lined with pale white bricks. Strange scents drift across them, and Thor’s mouth waters as the pass down a corridor lined with stalls selling freshly roasted meats. His footsteps slow.

“Thor?” Loki says.

Thor shakes his head and he speeds back up, walking almost next to Loki. Loki says nothing else, only turns down a new street. This one ends in a building all of marble, with high columns flanking its wide bronze doors. They climb the steps together, and Loki raps on the door, giving it three quick knocks, and then four slower ones.

The door swings open slowly, and warm light glitters inside. Loki pulls Thor after him when he enters.

“It’s been a long time, Master Loki,” the doorman says. He’s small, humanoid, with bright red hair and pale skin.

“I was… sidetracked,” Loki says. “I trust I am still in good standing with the club?”

“Of course. Would you and your companion like to visit rooms first, or go straight to the baths?” The doorman’s nose wrinkles a little as he asks the question, and Loki giggles.

“Clearly the baths, if that’s your expression.”

“And your companion? Will he be with you your entire stay?”

Loki nods.

“Of course, sir. I’ll have someone take your shoes and clothes up for you if you leave them just inside the changing room.”

Loki nods, and sweeps down the corridor leading away from the door.

“What is this place?” Thor asks, catching up with him in a few long strides.

“A private club. One of my favorites. I used to come here often when we were younger.”

“You did?” Thor asks. He does not remember any such thing. Yet there were years where they hardly saw each other, and perhaps it is not surprising that he does not remember much of them.

“I did,” Loki says. They step though a soft curtain into a room paneled in wood, with benches lining the side, and little linen baskets beneath them. Loki pulls one out and then turns to Thor.

“Well, go ahead. You can leave your clothes here. They’ll launder them and leave them for us upstairs.”

He doesn’t wait for Thor. Instead he starts to unfasten his tunic, peeling it away from his chest and folding it carefully. He’s half naked in no time at all, and Thor turns away, blushing once again.

There are no towels in the room, nor robes of any kind. Nothing to hide their nakedness after they strip bare. Years ago, when he and Loki shared a bathroom on Asgard, he would not have hesitated to rid himself of shirt and trousers and follow his brother into this club of his. Even a few weeks ago, in his drunken stupor, he wouldn’t have cared. But now, things are different.

Thor plucks at the edge of his shirt, drawing it up inch by inch. It catches on the swell of his belly, and Thor’s cheeks grow even redder. He tugs it off quickly then, tossing it down on the bench in front of him. He follows it down to unlace his shoes, bending over and keeping his eyes down. He does not want to see Loki staring at him, to see the grimace on his brother’s face, the pity in his eyes.

When Thor has his shoes the rest of the way off, he stands again. He pulls down his trousers as though if he does not tear them free, he will never rid himself of them. They come off so quickly that he hears a seam rip, His boxers slide down with them, and then he’s naked. Thor shuts his eyes for a moment, trying to steel himself to turn around.

He doesn’t get a chance. Loki’s hand comes to rest in the hollow of his back, and Loki’s chin finds its way to his shoulder.

“Aren’t you going to fold those?” Loki asks.

Thor shrugs.

“You said they were to be cleaned.”

“Fair,” Loki says. He pulls away, taking Thor’s hand once again. “Come on, I haven’t had a bath in five years, and I doubt you’ve had many either.”

***

The room is huge, opulent, with a gold rimmed tub as big as a small pool and beautiful redwood fittings. A shower is fixed to one wall, and Loki uses it to rinse himself before making his way to the steaming water. Thor follows, his arms crossed over his chest, and faces the wall as he too rinses himself. When he turns back to the tub, Loki is standing in the center of it.

“Come on,” Loki calls.

Thor doesn’t know what to cover with his hands as he crosses the floor with Loki’s eyes on him. There is just so much he wants to hide, and his hands are only so big. Loki watches him all the way to the tub with an expression on his face Thor cannot place. It is not one of pity, not this time, and not of mocking laughter, like the faces his friends wore on Midgard. No, it is something else. Thor sinks gratefully into the water the moment he can. A wave of it spills over the tub as he lowers himself in, and he blushes yet again.

“What’s that about?” Loki asks.

Thor blushes even harder. “I-” he starts, then swallows hard. “You don’t have to lie, Loki. You’re not doing a good job of it. I’m an embarrassment, I know.”

“You’re what?” Loki asks, his voice high.

“Don’t make me repeat it too often, Loki,” Thor answers. He buries his face in his hands, sinking onto one of the benches that ring the tub’s walls.

“I was not…” Loki trails off. Thor peeks at him from between his fingers, water dripping down his face and soaking his beard.

“I’m not stupid, Loki, no matter what you think. I know how much of a disappointment it must have been to come back to this. I’m not even king anymore.”

“Who wants to be king anyway?” Loki snaps. His voice is sharp enough that Thor drops his hands from in front of his face, staring at his brother. Loki crosses the pool and grabs Thor’s hands, holding them tight.

“Loki, what?” Thor asks, not sure how to finish the question.

“It’s boring, and more work than it’s worth,” Loki snaps. “And anyway, what good could you do running some little colony on Midgard. You’re meant for more than that.”

“And I failed. You have to know. I failed.”

“You did not,” Loki snaps, his hands tightening on Thor’s.

“You weren’t there,” Thor says, and finds, horrified, that his voice breaks on the words. “You didn’t see what I did.”

“I saw,” Loki says. He settles onto the bench next to Thor, still holding Thor’s hands tightly. “I saw everything.”

“You were dead,” Thor says. “I saw that more clearly than anything you could know.”

“You think so, Thor? I saw you face a star and come forth with a weapon worthy of your might. I saw you try to slay a nightmare, in such a way as we were taught, striking at the heart so that the head was left for questioning under geas if needed. I saw you kill my murderer, and I saw you and those witless Midgardians triumph yet again. Tell me once more, how you have failed.”

“I should have gone for the head,” Thor chokes out the words.

“Why? That was not as you were trained.”

“I should have known,” Thor grimaces.

“Are you truly a god, to know all? Are you a witch, to read the future and the strands of the tapestry of life? Arrogant as always, Thor.”

Thor knows he should be insulted, but all he can think about is how.

“Loki, you… were you alive? How do you know all this?”

“No. And yes. Do you remember when we were young, and I used to make journeys through the worlds, learning from the great masters?”

Thor nods. He had missed his brother terribly on those journeys. It was perhaps when they first began to grow apart.

“Well, they were not just to learn. I set in place a great working of power then, one that would hold me caught in the blank space between death and life, one that would keep me there until I could find a path I crafted back to the land of the living.”

“You what? I did not know such a thing could be done!” Thor gasps out the words. “Could Mother? Could Father?”

“Could?” Loki shakes his head, his nails digging into the back of Thor’s left hand. “Perhaps. Yet they never would have. It is not something that one is… intended… to do. Nor allowed to.”

“Why?”

“It is not without its dangers. Make the path too unstable, and you will be trapped there forever. Make it too large, and any spirit crossing the boundaries will be able to turn back and live once more.”

“But you did anyway?”

“When have I ever been concerned with such things?” Loki laughs.

Thor laughs too, but slowly the laughter dies between them. He is left staring into Loki’s deep green eyes, into the sparkling light that he thought he would never see again.

“I still don’t understand,” he says finally. “How do you know what happened while you were… there?”

“That place is not like a realm, nor even like Hel itself, nor Valhalla in its glory. It is a state, a timeless, formless void. All around you is the grey mist of nothingness, yet if you reach out, you can see scenes of the world that still breathes and lives. I reached out. I watched.”

“You watched me?” Thor asks. His voice rises. “Why? How could you bear it?”

“How could I bear it?” Loki chuckles. “You speak as if you are a burden to look at.”

“Aren’t I?” Thor whispers.

“What?” Loki asks. He releases one of Thor’s hands and reaches out, tipping Thor’s face up. Thor tries to pull back, so Loki cannot feel the softness that lurks beneath his beard, but Loki holds on tight.

“Thor, what is this?” Loki asks.

Thor shrugs. He cannot turn away with the grip Loki has on his face, but he does not need to look in Loki’s eyes, not right now.

“Do you not know?”

“Know what?” Thor mutters, his voice caught in his throat.

“You are beautiful, Thor. You have always been beautiful, and you were through these past years, even as you suffered.”

“You’re a poorer liar than you used to be, Loki.”

“Thor, look at me,” Loki snaps. Thor raises his eyes from where he’s fixed them on the water lapping over the rim of the tub. For a moment Loki holds his gaze.

Then there are lips on his.

Thor’s heart pounds, his hands fumbling through the water, frantically pawing around him, though he is not sure if they are to push Loki away or to pull him close. Loki pulls back after a moment, flushed, breathless.

“Do you remember, that last night on the ship, when you took me and held me in your arms, and we slept?” Loki asks, his voice soft.

Thor nods wordlessly.

“I have wanted to do that ever since.”

“That is not possible,” Thor says. “Not if you have seen everything.”

“It is. Thor, it is. I have wanted you, hated you, needed you, for all my life. I have died for you, and you have mourned me in your turn.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Thor whispers.

“Why not? What worse fate could come to me now? You will not abandon me, of that I am certain.”

“I am not… I am not worthy.”

Loki laughs, long and loud. He sobers just as Thor starts to squirm, pulling back from his brother.

“You, who lifts Mjolnir still, who was offered kingship and gave it away freely, you are not worthy?”

“Not of this,” Thor says.

“If you don’t want this, Thor, just say so. No need for such excuses,” Loki hisses. His voice is familiar in its bite, and Thor latches onto it.

“It is not an excuse,” he shoots back. He shoves away from the wall, brushing his hands over his body, showing himself to Loki. “Look at me.”

“I see my beautiful, powerful brother,” Loki snaps. “What am I supposed to see?”

Thor isn’t sure how to answer. Loki stands too, as Thor tries to find the words. He crosses to Thor, setting his hands on what little waist Thor has left.

“Fat or thin, prince or wanderer, you are still you, Thor. I want you. And what I want, I get. Unless, of course, you don’t want this.”

“I do,” Thor says almost inaudibly. He’s never told anyone, never admitted it out loud before, but he needs this. He was so close to telling Loki, that last night before Thanos attacked their ship, and yet something had held him back. Now, there is nothing he can say but the truth, nothing left for him but Loki’s arms reaching around him.

“So let yourself have this,” Loki tells him. “Indulge in something with me once again, brother.”

“You would still call me that, here, like this?” Thor asks as one of Loki’s hands runs up and down his broad back. Loki laughs.

“First you want me to name you brother, now you question it? Make up your mind, Thor.”

“I would… I would have you as I have always had you, as brother. Yet… also as lover,” Thor admits.

“There, was that so hard?” Loki asks.

“Yes,” Thor says. Loki’s hand has found its way down to his ass, and is squeezing and molding the soft flesh there.

“Well then,” Loki says. “We shall have to work to make it easier. Because I intend to hear it many times a day from now on.”

“You do?” Thor asks. He feels as though he is in a dream, as though he will open his eyes and find that Loki is a phantom. Yet this is too real for a dream, and Loki’s kiss to the soft curve of one of his pecs is too unexpected.

“I do. Among other things,” Loki bites one of Thor’s nipples, and Thor whimpers as heat shoots straight to his cock. “Like that.”

When Loki pulls away, a line of spit hangs between his lips and Thor’s soft chest. Loki reaches out and smears it with warm fingers. He stands up full height once again, and tilts his chin up.

Thor finds himself kissing his brother before he can think it through. He finds himself licking into Loki’s mouth and pulling Loki against him without a care, their naked bodies pressing together. Loki’s narrow hips and sharp bones push into him, but Thor hardly notices as he loses himself in his brother’s mouth.

A shiver still runs through him when Loki’s hand roams across his side, and Loki’s nails drag against his soft belly. Yet it is not as strong as it would have been just minutes ago, and Thor pushes it away to lose himself in Loki’s mouth once more. He doesn’t believe Loki, of course, not what he said about Thor. But maybe, just maybe, someday Loki will be able to convince him.