To begin, Thor thinks it is Loki he sees.
He’s so certain of it.
There is the same slim build. The same dark hair. The same pale features so different and more sharply angled than his own.
There is the same proud elegance in the body’s stance. That simple grace, with no real show of effort.
In that moment, Thor’s heart soars. He leaps to his feet, turning away from the Bifrost’s edge, ready to run and embrace his brother.
He can scarcely manage the sounds, his throat is drawn so tight. Choked with so many things he wishes to say. So many desperate confessions and pleas and questions. He cannot think of where to begin.
One thing he will not do is question what miracle has returned Loki to him from the dark abyss that lies beyond the edge of the Bifrost’s jagged rim. The place Thor has come to sit and mourn and wish his brother home every day.
But the moment passes.
He looks again, breath held over a trembling heart.
No. No, it is not Loki.
The eyes are all wrong.
A similar light behind them, perhaps. A familiar tilt of the chin upward in exactly the way Loki would do upon Thor making yet another blunder. But it is not his brother.
Thor’s hands release their tension. Sorrow weighs down his shoulders.
“I’m sorry,” says the being, the lightest of smiles upon its lips. “Did you mistake me for someone else?”
“Yes,” says Thor, low and miserable. He drops his chin and shakes his head. Lifts a hand to touch his brow. “My apologies...”
“It’s quiet alright.” The being moves forward, calm and confidence in its walk. Though it is dressed in Asgardian garb, Thor cannot rightly place its features anywhere in his memory, save for how they remind him of Loki. He cannot even say for certain whether it is a man or a woman.
It brushes by him with hardly a concern and slips to the Bifrost’s edge, standing tip-toe to look down over the cosmic winds. Still a swirling mass of clouds and color below.
“I’m rather accustomed to it.”
“Who are you?” Thor watches the being carefully, though he makes no move to stop it. The Bifrost had been deemed unsafe, and Heimdall given strict orders to keep any would-be spectators from the bridge. How this one managed to slip by his watch Thor cannot think to question, his mind still reeling from what his eyes wanted so desperately to see.
“You know me already,” the being smiles. “You’ve known me for quite a good portion of your life, Thor, Prince of Asgard.”
“I don’t understand...” Thor shakes his head again. It is difficult to think.
For a moment the being stands, grace incarnate on the bridge’s broken edge. Hot wind rises from the stars and whips at its attire, trailing long wraps and scarves of gold and scarlet. Dark hair curls along the back of its neck.
“I am everything you have ever wanted,” it says, “but could never have. I am the joy you feel every time you take to sky and feel the sun move imperceptibly closer to your grasp. I am the pain in your chest as you lie awake at night and feel your heart squeezed so tight you can scarcely breathe.”
Thor watches. Listens. But comprehends little.
He wonders if grief has driven him mad.
The being laughs. Turns on the ball of its bare foot.
“I am Desire,” it says. “And I have come to lay my claim upon you.”
Thor can only stare, as of yet unaffected.
“I’ve watched you for a long time, Prince Thor.” The being moves closer. It lifts a finger to touch his chin, lift his face that their eyes may meet. “And I’ve decided the time has come. You’re one of mine.”
Thor cannot summon the energy – or interest – to push the being’s hand away. He can only avert his eyes after a moment of looking upon that face. That face that reminds him too much of someone else.
“I do not know your meaning, stranger,” he mutters, pulling away with an effort. “And I have no patience for games now.”
The being laughs again and pats his shoulder. Smooths down the folds of his cloak. Just as Loki used to do.
“Oh, do not worry, little prince. This really has very little effect on the course of your existence. It’s more of a courtesy visit. And I wanted to meet you.” It smiles. So winningly. “You have always been one of my favorites.”
Thor tightens his jaw against the urge to give in to his temper. To shout and rail and lash out against this intruder with its riddles and unwanted teasing. He wants so badly to do something. Anything. Punish. Weep. Destroy. Anything, so long as it means he may take action where before he had not.
He closes his eyes, shutting out the stranger’s image.
A soft hand touches his face.
“If you could have anything,” whispers an androgynous voice close to his ear, “anything at all, what would it be?”
Thor’s eyes snap open. He looks to the stranger, rage and grief boiling together in his storm-ridden glare. He may very well give in to violence after all.
“What is this?” he growls.
The being is not intimidated at all. It lifts its other hand instead, its touch cool, brushing his cheek and smoothing back his hair as easily as his mother had done when he was a child. With the same knowledge and intimacy.
“I love how much you want,” it says, with unhidden appreciation. Eyes fluttering half closed as though basking in a sweet intoxicant. “So many others, they want. Over the course of their lives they want for many things. But their wants are fleeting and feeble compared to yours. Mere velleities. When you want, you want with your entire being. Your heart. Your soul. Perhaps it’s because you’re Asgardian. You throw yourself so completely into what you desire you almost become it. There is never room within you for compromise.” It giggles. Delighted. “It is so very gratifying.”
Thor feels heat flush his cheeks. He doesn’t know why, beyond that he feels suddenly very exposed. As though this stranger has just reached into his chest and pulled out a part of him he never thought he would see. And never wished to.
It’s enough to leave him speechless.
The being smiles, and draws back, standing once more at arm’s length with its hands upon his shoulders.
“Now,” it says. “I’ll ask you again.”
Thor feels his heart beat wild in his chest.
“If you could have anything...right now...what would it be?”
Hands clench at his sides. Thor closes his eyes tight. He tries to stifle the rising urge in his throat, but the words come unbidden. Escaping before he can rightfully know them.
Though, perhaps, he’s known them all along.
“I want my brother back,” he all but sobs. A jagged, broken sound. “I want Loki.”
The being grins.
And steps back.
“Take my hand, and you will see him again.”
Thor’s eyes snap open again and he looks to the stranger, hope daring to rise.
“This is my mark,” says the being, suddenly no longer smiling. But very, very serious.
It holds out its hand to him, palm open and flawless and pale.
“Take my hand. For what you have devoted to me, I will give you something in return. That is...” That smile again, small. Coiling to strike. “...if you truly want it.”
Thor hesitates. But only for a moment.
In his heart, he knows he has already decided.
He takes the stranger’s outstretched hand and clasps it at the wrist in the manner of warriors.
And holds on.
As the Asgard he knows vanishes around him.
Elsewhere, on a small, dead rock floating in the dead of space with only other dead rocks for company, Loki is curled up as small as he can make himself.
He takes shelter in the ridge of an impact crater on the asteroid’s darker side. The light of alien suns is too harsh to bear when it rotates into them, the cold and dark too maddening when it is turned away. Loki feels himself caught between two extremes with no reprieve from either.
So he hides as best he can, shivering, waiting for his eyes to dry and his heart to bleed its last that he may gather himself and move on.
Apathy is the only salvation he can see, hovering far over his head. Just beyond his reach.
He doesn’t notice the figure until it speaks.
“Well now, this is a sorry state of affairs, isn’t it?”
Loki snaps taut. Draws himself along the rock lining at his back for protection. He arches and bristles like a cat.
At first, he thinks it is Thor. The way the figure leans so casually over the rock edge, weight slouched. The tilt of the head. The way the hair falls forward just so over its eyes that it almost begs the hand to reach up and comb it back into place. For a moment the figure is backlit by a blinding star, casting its image in silhouette, and Loki thinks it is Thor and for a painfully light, suspended moment, he feels hope. Hope that someone has followed him here. Hope that he will be saved.
But the asteroid turns. The light shifts and the being’s face is revealed.
It’s not Thor.
Loki scowls and feels a dagger twist deep in his gut for having allowed himself to believe.
“Who are you?” he snaps, paying little heed to the crack in his voice.
The figure is unimpressed. It sets its chin in one hand, and leans over the crater’s edge, looking down at him with some measure of consideration.
“Let me answer your question with another,” it says, in a voice neither male nor female.
Loki narrows his eyes.
The being only smiles.
“If you could have anything right now,” it says, expression alight, “anything at this very moment, what would it be?”