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Vikings Weren't Into Metal

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Thor thinks that it's his moping around the palace that finally makes Frigga cave and tell him how he can travel back to Midgard without the use of the Bifrost.  He won't ever admit it, though, since he's the God of Thunder and gods don't mope around their palaces.  It's just not done.

When she does tell him how it's done (slipping from space to space, wriggling into areas that are slick and tight and more suited to someone like his not-brother) he waits for a moment where he won't be missed from the långhus or from Asgard in general.

(After all, he rationalizes, he's not king yet so who's going to miss him?  The Warriors Three are still telling tales about their journey to Midgard and that's kept everyone else more than interested.  So, if Thor vanishes for a few days, more than likely everyone will still think that he's pining over Lady Jane - he's not! - and has gone to have a sulk in his rooms.)

Before he leaves for Midgard, he goes to see his mother in her spinning rooms so she knows where he's gone, in an effort to stave off her worry and appear as responsible as he would like to think he is.  Before he has a chance to knock the doors open and allow him entrance; Frigga sits by the window where the light is best while she spins for whatever project she is undertaking.  Thor waits for her to finish her section before speaking; he learned as a child that to interrupt his mother would throw off the balance of the project and would make her unhappy with him.  The wheel comes to a stop and Frigga smiles at him, though not the smile that she would freely give before the incident on Jotunheim.  This smile is soft and sad and Thor wants nothing more than to make his mother smile as she did before.  He wants before; before Jotunheim, before Midgard, before Loki left or vanished or died.

"You're going now?" she asks as he sits beside her on the bench; she all soft, golden, and delicate while he is nothing but hard lines and bulk.

"Better now than never, I feel; if Heimdall had seen him, he would have told us.  But Heimdall has not seen him, which means that he cannot be - Loki cannot be gone from us.  He cannot."

Frigga smiles that sad smile at him again, and it breaks his heart.  His mother was not made to endure hardships as the ones he and his not-brother had put upon her.  She takes his hand into hers and presses a soft kiss to it, like a good-luck charm or a wish for his safety.  "I trust your heart in these things, Thor, but remember: Loki was more skilled in the ways of concealment than we know.  If he does not wish to be found, you shall not find him, though I hope that you will bring him home.  Asgard is not the same.  None of us are the same, though many say that it was better to see the back of him.  He is still my son."

Thor nods and doesn't know what to say.  He was never good with words; that was Loki's area of expertise.  When Thor would come up with a plan to steal desserts from the kitchen, Loki would come up with the excuse to give to Frigga or Odin.  Loki was the one that could woo any maiden with his words (not that he put it to good use, in Thor's mind); Loki was the one that could convince Heimdall that it was a good idea to let Thor and Loki explore any of the other realms without constant supervision.

(Though, in hindsight, it may have been since that Heimdall saw everything anyway, he only let them go to make them think that Loki was convincing enough to get away with what they got away with.)

After a few moments of silence, Frigga sighs and pats his hand.  "The Allfather will be back soon.  If you are going to travel to Midgard, now would be the perfect time.  You remember everything that I told you?"

"Yes, mother.  I have gone over it in my sleep.  I have confidence that I will be able to make it to Midgard.  If the worst should happen, though," - and here, Thor can't help when his voice wavers - "I have left a letter to father."

Frigga stands and for a moment, Thor doesn't know what she's doing until she brackets his face in her hands and presses a kiss to his forehead.  "All blessings upon you then, my son.  I feel that you will succeed."

Without a backwards glance, she lets go of his face and goes into the next room and shuts the door behind her.  Thor sits in the silence, looking out the window into the afternoon sun.  Most missions are better started off in the secrecy of night, he thinks, but on this afternoon most - if not all - of the warriors are submerged in their food and drink.  Perhaps, though, leaving in the bright of day would keep his mother's blessing upon him; it feels as though he's going to need it.

After minutes alone, Thor stands and makes his way out of his mother's rooms.  He should be making his way to the dining hall at this hour, so he can't take the ordinary path.  Instead, he takes the hidden passageway that Loki discovered (of course) when they were still in their teens that leads out into the forest.  His goal is a thinning of the boundaries between Asgard and Midgard that, if you concentrate, you can pass through.  Thor had done it a few times with Frigga at his side, but doing it alone was a different matter.

As he walks, taking care to hide in the shadows, Thor goes over the steps of the magic in his head.  Find the rift in the middle of the forest close to the spring.  Once found, make sure that it feels right for travelling through.  To feel right, it must feel slick and tight all at the same time.  Thor compares it to that time he forwent ordering new armor after a growth spurt and was trapped for a day before he went to his not-brother (who laughed at him for at least ten minutes) in order to be oiled up and extracted.  It was unpleasent, and that is how the rift feels.  After making sure that it's a safe rift, you have to picture where it is that you want to land.  In this case, Thor wants to land outside Puente Antiguo in hope that his Midgardian friends will be able to help him find Loki.  Then - and this is the part that Thor hates with a passion - you have to throw yourself into the rift in every sense of the word.  And hope that you land on your feet.

The first time that Thor went through the rift with Frigga, they landed somewhere in the far north of Midgard (or far south; Thor had no idea) and, in addition to almost falling off the snow-covered mountain that they ended up on, Thor landed face first.  In front of his mother.  Needless to say, he thought it only had to get better from there.

It didn't.

The second time, while Frigga landed nicely and properly on the bank of a river, Thor landed in the stinking marsh tributary.  The red pollen that covered the surface of the lake not only took ages to wash off his clothing, but left a foul stench something like rotting meat.

The third time, though he made a better landing, ended with a split lip and bruised ego after he tripped over his own feet.

Thor does not like this mode of transportation.

The journey to the center of the forest takes the rest of the afternoon, and the sun is just kissing the horizon when he arrives to the rift.  Thor sits on the tree stump across from the rift to get some of his strength back.  Rifling around in his pack for a moment, he finds the packet of dried beef he packed for this exact purpose and consumes it, watching the rift as he does so.  It's visible but not at the same time.  It's just a slight glitter in the gloom that, if he wasn't looking for it, he would never see it.  As he doesn't have the magic that Loki does, he can't really feel it either.  Frigga tells him that it feels like a gap in your perception that makes it able to be found, but you must look very hard for it.  If Thor squints, he imagines that he can see the glitter of the universe beyond it but he doesn't know if that's his imagination or if it's reality.

By the time he feels more rested, the sun is sunk halfway beyond the horizon.  There's no time like the present.  Thor stands before the rift, taking deep breaths.  It's nothing like the Bifrost.  Where the Bifrost is like a Midgardian highway where you can see where you're going, the rifts go directly from one realm to the other without a gap.  It's like being pushed into a pool of ice water with no warning; frightening and brutal.

After one last deep breath and picturing Puente Antiguo clearly in his mind, Thor throws himself into the rift.

Thankfully, he lands on his feet.  Without opening his eyes, he inventories himself: Mjölnir at his side, pack on his back, armor complete.  He has all of his appendages down to every finger and toe, and his hair is still attached to his head.  It's hot and dry, which feels right, and when Thor cracks his eyes open it looks right.  It's nearly dark here as well, which is also good.  

When he turns around, a brilliant sight greets him: the outskirts of Puente Antiguo and, in the distance, the round building that houses his Midgardian friends.

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Sticking to the shadows still - after all, he neglected to change out of his armor but his friends won't mind - Thor approaches the round building and watches his friends work for a moment.  SHEILD has given them their equipment back, he can see, and Jane is hunched over one of the tables while tapping away at one of the smaller contraptions.  Darcy is next to her, gesticulating grandly about something.  Erik is standing apart from them before a wall with pictures and number pinned upon it, something like what was there before they had actually witnessed the Bifrost.

Thor is glad that they have not been bothered by his absence, but is more pleased by the thought that none of them had given up their quest to solve the mysteries of the world.

Coming from the shadows, he knocks on the glass of the door and all three heads turn his way.  For a moment, none of them move and it is almost as though they can't believe their eyes: how can this be possible?  Then the doors have opened and Jane's arms are around his neck, her face pressed to his and Thor smiles.

"I promised you that I would return."

Jane doesn't answer, but holds him tighter for a long moment before pulling away and pulling him inside.  He manages to wrangle his pack off before she pushes him into a chair, and then Darcy is at his shoulder babbling a mile a minute.  Erik is smiling down at him and gives his hand a firm shake.  Thor lets them fawn over him for a moment before raising his hands, gesturing for a moment of quiet.

"I am pleased to be back on Midgard, my friends, but I am not here for your enjoyable company alone.  I am on a quest that I require your assistance with."

Jane flops into the chair across from him.  "You mean you're not here to stay?  We could use your help with the calculations, you could tell us more about the Bifrost, we could see it again -"

"The Bifrost has been destroyed," Thor interrupts.  "It will not be repaired for eons, for ages of your time."

"Then how did you get here, if it's been destroyed?" Jane demands, leaning forward.  "If you used a similar way to get here, we would have had another spike - another Einstein-Rosen Bridge; it would have been in our data!"

Jane gets up and goes back to her electronic contraption, tapping away at the buttons.  "There hasn't been a spike in any data since a few days after you left, and that was negligible, it was barely anything."  She whirls around.  "How did you do it?"

"Before he answers that, I think I'd like to know how the Bifrost was broken."

Thor turns and smiles up at Erik.  "The events are interconnected.  I cannot tell the tale of how I arrived here without starting from when I left you, my friends."

Jane comes back to her chair and sits down on the edge of it, elbows on her knees and her face in her hands.  "Does this have to do with your brother?"

Thor's smile fades.  "It has everything to do with Loki."

After Thor finishes his story of what has happened since he left Midgard - the fight with Loki, the awakening of the Allfather, how he learned of the rifts, and even how much he missed his brother - the four of them just sit in silence for a while, each in their own thoughts.

"So, Loki's not really your brother, right?  You're not even, like, the same race?" Darcy asks, breaking the quiet.

"As you say.  My father adopted him after defeating the Jotuns, the Frost Giants."

Darcy makes a soft noise as she thinks for a moment.  "Do you think that the spike we saw, the really little one - do you think that could have been him?"

Jane looks at her as if she had just solved all of the problems of the world.  She rockets out of her chair and goes back to the table, rifling through pages and pages before stopping.  "The spike was barely a quarter of what we saw when you first landed here, Thor.  If the Einstein-Rosen Bridge was closing, since the Bifrost had been broken -"

"It would have been a smaller gap between the worlds," Erik finishes, getting up to join her.  "If we can triangulate the location of where the spike was, we can locate the impression and see if it was, in fact, the Bifrost closing up."

"And because we have the date of the spike - three weeks ago - we know when it happened, and we can try and use some of the SHEILD technology to try and track what happened there -"

Jane and Erik are going back and forth with technical plans, making lists of what would need to come with and how things will work; what can you get through airport security?  Can SHEILD get them through faster?

Thor tilts his head back and relaxes.  Now that Jane and Erik understand - now that they know what it is that Thor needs their help with, he knows that they will find his not-brother, no matter how long it takes.  The only difficulty that they will have is that, unlike when Thor was exiled to Midgard and stripped of his power, Loki left and kept his magic.  Loki was always skilled at hiding in Asgard but here on Midgard, where he is virtually unknown, he could be anyone.  Often, when they wanted to go exploring, Loki would change both of their shapes in order to conceal who they were.  Thor knows which shapes Loki preferred, but that means that he only has a small advantage.

A hand presses into his arm; Darcy has moved next to him.  "Hey.  You want some Poptarts?"

Thor chuckles.  Darcy may not be as knowledgeable in the matters of space and travel, but she is brilliant at being kind and helpful; perhaps whatever this "poli-sci degree" is that she always speaks about has made her that way.  "Lady Darcy, that sounds like a wondrous plan."

By the time that Jane and Erik have decided what needs to be done, Thor and Darcy have demolished an entire box of strawberry Poptarts (the only good kind, Darcy insists, are the fruit ones, so those are the only kind he knows of though Darcy has mentioned something called "s'mores" before).  Licking the crumbs for her fingertips, Darcy smiles and tosses the box into the garbage.  "Just like old times!"

"We've managed to triangulate the landing zone within a 5-mile radius which, although it sounds large, is a pretty small area.  The way you landed before was like a meteor hit, so it won't be hard to miss," Erik says, pointing out a circled area on the map.  "It's far from here - you'd think that it would have been here, because that's where the Bifrost hit last time.  But, this impact zone is in Massachusetts, somewhere called the Quabbin Reservoir."

"We must make haste, then!  We must travel to this area and find Loki."  Thor grabs up his pack and slings it on, then detaches Mjölnir from his belt.  "I cannot carry all of you at once, but I can make trips back and forth."

"Wait, Thor, hold on!  You can't just - you can't just go, it's halfway across the country, first off, and second, you don't even have any suitable clothes to fit in here.  You can't walk around in your armor; people will think you're crazy," Jane rattles off, "And, we have to take some of this equipment with us, so you'd have to take all of that, too.  There's a better way."

"What way is better than flying?" Thor asks.  "Do you not trust me?  You had trust in me before I left for Asgard.  I do not understand."

Jane just rubs her face with her hands, and Thor gets the feeling that, once again, he's missing something here.

"I do not like this idea."

"Well, it's the only thing that will get us and all the equipment there in a short amount of time, Thor, so you're going to have to deal with it."

"How do you know it will stay in the air?  How does it not fall?  We cannot see the innards of this - beast, how does it remain aloft?"

Jane rolls her eyes and hands him a booklet titled First Time Flyer Tips.  "Airplanes are a magic thing, Thor, that follow the laws of physics and aerodynamics, using lift generated from forward airspeed.  Read this.  It'll explain everything."

"I would feel far better travelling by Mjölnir, for I know how she works."  Thor flips through the booklet, dubious, as Erik and Darcy settle in beside him.  "How do we know this is not a plot to derail us from our quest?"

"It's not, Thor, I promise.  Now be quiet and watch the safety video."

A film begins to play on the back of the seat in front of Thor, and he pays attention to it; the first rule in his little booklet, after all, is to make sure you follow all safety regulations.

Halfway through the flight to Massachusetts, they encounter turbulence and Thor's armrest will forever bear a distinct handprint; they also discover that Thor is allergic to peanuts.

Jane has never been happier to get off the plane.

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So far the highlight of the trip has been finding out how much Benadryl it takes to knock out a Norse god (it takes eight, by the way; by the sixth pill Thor's drowsy and Darcy imagines that drugged Thor is much like drunk Thor) in order to get from Boston to Worcester.  Thankfully the peanut allergy isn't so severe as to warrant a hospital trip, as Thor still doesn't have an ID that won't ping alarm bells, but it's enough to make Jane state with a certain finality that there will be no exploring any reservoirs in any shape or form until the next morning.

The only problem is that, once in Worcester and at the hotel, it takes both Jane and Erik to get Thor into the hotel and on a bed.  Darcy just follows behind with the luggage trolley, amused.

When Thor finally wakes up, it is with the sense of two things: one, that airplanes should be quickly and viciously eradicated, and two, that he could eat an entire table full of food.  Whatever drugs Jane had given him, they were very good at removing his "allergic reaction" to the nuts from the plane.

(Secretly, though, Thor is sure that they were planted by someone attempting to ruin their quest - his quest - to find his not-brother.  He's a god, after all; how in the nine realms could be have a food allergy?  It's just not possible.  There must have been something else in the villainous nuts.)

Rolling off the bed, Thor spots a note on the table.  It says his three friends are in the adjoining room, making plans for the beginning of their quest tomorrow, and would he come over so they can go out to dinner?

Thor supposes that starting the quest can wait until the morning.

Jane has managed to get an SUV for their drive to the reservoir, since travelling in close quarters is bad enough, but throw a gigantic Norse god into the mix? No thank you.  (Darcy had said that she wouldn't mind sitting in the back next to Thor, since Jane and Erik need to be up front to navigate, but that only earned her a sharp look and made Jane even more emphatic that they needed a larger vehicle.)

Jane tells him the drive is only about an hour long, which pleases him because he knows his time on Midgard cannot be much longer; if he's gone for more than a few days people will start to get suspicious.  This is his third day here, and if there is no lead that he can take back to Asgard the quest will be a failure.  As they drive, Erik explains some of the equipment that they'll use: state-of-the-art imaging software and computers (which Thor has determined are most useful for looking up information, though this "internet" that Darcy has shown him is both vast and confusing), heat radars, ground scanning machines - the list seems to be endless.  If it helps him find Loki, though, it will be worth it.

They stop off at a building that has a sign proclaiming it the Quabbin Visitor's Center and while Jane and Erik go inside to speak with the director, Darcy remains outside with Thor.

"So, if your brother tried to kill you, and take over Asgard, and kill us, why are you looking for him?" she asks, handing him one of the carbonated beverages they purchased before leaving the hotel.  This one states that it is ginger ale flavored, but it tastes like neither; Thor likes it anyway, though.

"He is my brother.  I have always looked for him, even when he would have preferred that I did not.  We were not always fighting each other.  There was a time when we were the closest of comrades," Thor says, looking up at the sun before turning to look at Darcy.  "I fear, though, that there has been something that I have ignored."

"The fact that he can turn, you know, blue might be it."

Thor laughs softly.  "That Loki is Jotun makes no difference to me. We will always be brothers.  Though, I regret that my father did not tell him.  Perhaps that is why Loki has vanished.  I would bring him home to show that, no matter his transgressions, he has a place in Asgard among those that love him."

Darcy pats him on the arm, reminding him of his mother for a moment.  Darcy is young, yet in her own way she knows what to say to make him feel better about things.  They have not known each other for very long, but Thor feels like he could talk to her forever and without judgment.  "Well, I don't know much about psychology - I only took one class in it, I'm a poli-sci major, you know - but I would think that being told that you're a big blue ice giant and then having to step up to the throne after your brother's been kicked to the curb wouldn't be easy.  It'd make the most sane people crack, and he's a god, I think that counts against the whole 'sane' thing."

They sit in easy quiet for a moment, until Darcy asks, "What are you gonna say when you find him?"

"I have not yet decided.  There is so much to say and too few words in which I can express them."  Thor lobs his empty can into the garbage and walks to the edge of the road.  It butts up against the wall of the reservoir and the water laps gently at it.  If he were not here to look for Loki, this would be a nice place to sit and think quietly, not that Thor was ever any good at that.  He is too high-strung and full of energy to sit still for long periods of time.  No, that was a skill of Loki's; he could sit in the same place for days if they let him, reading books and taking notes and practicing spells.

Maybe, when he finds his not-brother, they will come here and Loki can try to teach him how to enjoy solitude.

Thor is surprised when Erik tells him that the director of the reservoir is allowing them free access to the area; at least, once they have shown him their SHIELD badges and given him the assurance that they won't damage any of the flora or fauna he lets them. (That they've told him if they acquire any meteor chunks they will give them straight to him is also working in their favor. When Jane tells him the price a meteor fragment can fetch, Thor tells her that all of Asgard is built upon that kind of rock. Erik's eyebrows nearly merge with his hair. Thor re-thinks telling them that the throne room is built of gold. It just feels like it would not be that good of an idea.)

Jane tells everyone the history of the reservoir itself; it was once a valley but there was not enough water to service the towns there.  The government then flooded the area, flooding four towns and various other places.  Some of the old cellars and buildings remain, and some of the roads go straight up to the water's edge.  That's their destination, one of the town ruins.  The epicenter was calculated to be there, and so that's where they will start, Jane says.  The director has kindly loaned them two small vehicles that will be able to go over the terrain in a way that will cut down on their travel time even more; on foot Jane says it would take half the day, but on these small vehicles ("four wheelers", Erik calls them) it will take about an hour.

Jane and Erik lead on one of the small vehicles, and Thor and Darcy follow on the other.  Halfway through the journey, and after a few near-death experiences, Jane puts Darcy in charge of driving.  Thor is a little put out, but understands nonetheless.

(Darcy, on the other hand, was all right with his driving, and when they finally spot the clearing the director mentioned she blows past Jane and Erik, does a couple of donuts, and then comes to a skidding stop.  The look on Jane's face and Thor's laugh is worth the scolding Erik gives her.)

After a sound scolding, Erik and Jane begin to set up the equipment.  There's no Bifrost imprint here; Thor would have spotted it right away, first off, and even though he does not have the magical capabilities that his not-brother does, he can still sense the residue of it and it does not exist here.

Thor begins to stroll around the edge of the clearing, trying to see if there's any feeling that makes him want to go one direction or another.  It's like a blank page; there's no feeling, no prick that makes him want to go one way over the other.  The only thing that he can feel is the slight breeze that ruffles the leaves, the warmth of the sun.  Midgard is a beautiful place, in its own way.

"Thor!  The equipment's ready."  Jane waves him over and shows him one of the tiny computers.  "The electromagnetic field detector will show us any high levels of - well, of electromagnetism.  The Bifrost imprint gives off an extraordinarily high EMF signature.  And, since there's not a lot of electricity here, there shouldn't be a lot of interference.  So, all we have to do is sweep the area and mark down any areas that we encounter with a high reading."

Erik hands him one and shows him how to turn it on.  "We're going to go in widening circles, Jane and I in one direction and you and Darcy in the other.  Darcy will be driving," he adds sharply, "and you'll take the EMF detector.  It will beep when it gets to the level we want it.  You'll stop, and Darcy will use the GPS to mark the coordinates.  Understood?"

Thor agrees, even though he only understands that when the little computer beeps, they stop and Darcy does something with the other little computer and they continue onwards.  "Yes, Erik.  Will we meet back here?"

"Yes.  We'll take levels for two hours and then meet back here - program that into the GPS, Darcy," Jane answers, "because the two of you could get lost in a paper bag."

Darcy rolls her eyes.  Thor doesn't understand the reference, but inferences that it's a jab at his sense of direction.  On Midgard, everything is turned around and not what Thor's used to but on Asgard, he and Hogun are two of the best trackers.  It's a worthy skill to have, be it for chasing prey or chasing the enemy.  No matter; he'll use the Midgardian technology to find his brother.  He slaps Erik on the shoulder and Erik stumbles forward a step, but he grins.  "Let us go, then!  We shall go to the left."

"We'll go right, then, and we'll all meet back here in two.  Be careful," Jane emphasizes.  She and Erik climb on their small vehicle and set off.

As soon as they're out of earshot, Darcy looks at Thor and tells him, "We can do this in less than two hours.  We need to beat them.  You up for it?"

"Lady Darcy, I was born to beat everyone.  Let us ride!"

Chapter Text

Darcy and Thor do, in fact, make it around their designated area faster than Erik and Jane.  The problem with this kind of winning, Darcy says, is that there's never anyone around to gloat to, since it was only a race to half of the people.

The data they have collected is disappointing at best.  There were only three spikes - none of which have a scent of ozone that the Bifrost would have left.  Thor consoles himself with a packet of Poptarts that Darcy gives him, because he was hoping to find the spot himself.  They sit and wait for Erik and Jane to get back from their half of the area, and they don't have long.

Jane and Erik come whipping around a corner, dirt and leaves spraying out behind them.  (Does that count as being gentle to the flora and fauna?  Thor does not believe so.)

"We found it!"

Thor and Darcy sit motionless for a second before scrambling into action.  Thor grabs Darcy around the waist, ignoring her protests, and starts the four wheelers, then peals around and follows Jane and Erik back to the Bifrost site.  After a few tense minutes, Thor feels that familiar tingle and spark - they're close, they're very close.  He swings around in front of them, and his internal sense of direction urges him left, around the tree, past that large rock, and then - it's there.

The imprint is faint, very faint, but it's a full Bifrost landing.  Whoever came out was in one piece.  He stops the small vehicle just short and lets go of Darcy.  Thor kneels down and presses a hand to the swirling lines and patterns.  If her had found it earlier, from this alone he could determine who came through the Bifrost.  There is nothing left, though, no mark to tell him who fell.  In his heart of hearts he thinks that it must have been Loki, it must have been his not-brother that fell through the last remnants of the Bifrost.

"Have you taken your measurements?"

"All of them, and the numbers add up like they did when you arrived.  The signature is fainter, there was less disturbance - but if it was closing because the bridge broke that would make complete sense."  Jane kneels down beside him and rests a hand on his shoulder.  "What do you think?"

"I think that I must take counsel with those most wise in Asgard.  I must take a remnant back home, and have them pour over it.  If I go quickly, I shall be able to return here within two days' time."  Thor looks sideways at her.  "Do you have something with which I can carry the soil back with me?"

"Oh - oh, yes," Jane says, and after rummaging in her pack for a moment produces a plastic bag.  She holds it open for Thor, and he scoops up a handful of soil and carefully pours it in.

Jane closes it and places it back in her bag with care.  "You're going to go, then?  Back to Asgard?"

Thor stands, then offers Jane a hand.  She takes it and, after standing, Thor brushes the soil off her hands.  "I must, yes.  But only for a short time.  After conference with the great minds of Asgard, I will be able to determine who came through.  Then I can track them as I would whilst hunting.  For now, though, we must return to the hotel."

Jane nods but it's stiff and forced, and again, Thor feels as though there is something that is keeping him from seeing the entire picture.

When they make it back to the hotel, it's two hours past noon; this gives Thor plenty of time to make it back to Puente Antiguo and then back to Asgard. Try as he might, Thor cannot find a rift close to their present location, and it is easier to fly back to the rift he knows is open and safe.

Re-clad in his armor and the soil from the Bifrost site safe in his pack, Erik drives Thor outside the city to a deserted field.  When they stop, the two men just stand in silence for a time, gazing at the sky.

"You don't think that you'll be gone that long?"

"If my friends are not busy, as I said no more than two days.  If they are, perhaps a bit longer.  They are skilled in the ways that I require, though, so my expectations are high for my swift return."  Thor gives Erik a half-smile.  "Do not fret for me, my friend.  Remain here, and I will return to you."

"It won't be me you're returning to," Erik says softly.  "I told you before, Jane's like a daughter to me.  She thought that you were never going to return, and now you're back - but you're trying to find your brother.  She deserves to know if you're going to stay for good - and if it's with her, Thor."

(There's a moment of bursting clarity in Thor's head and he realizes that he was never good at grasping the obvious.)

"My friend, I fear you know the answer to that.  I am Aesir.  The Lady Jane - as lovely as she is - is not.  Had I not gone back to Asgard, had the Bifrost not been destroyed ... perhaps then, the rest of our lives could have been spent together.  But now that I am back in the good graces of my father and of my people, there are expectations that I must live up to.  The time I spent on Midgard before has only put that into sharp relief.  For that, I am sorry, my friend.  I am not sure how to put this into words to the Lady Jane."  He traces the patterns on Mjölnir with the tips of fingers.  They blaze brightly for a moment, almost like she knows that they are returning home soon.

"Thor, the way you have said it to me would be good enough.  It's just that - she deserves to know.  She's spent all this time looking for you, for a way to get back to you.  You owe it to her," Erik urges him, putting a hand on Thor's shoulder.  "Only bad things can come from not telling her the truth."

"You are wise, Erik Selvig.  Very wise.  I will take your words to heart, and on my return, I will speak with the Lady Jane."  Thor claps Erik on the shoulder, and reaches out to steady him when his knees buckle.  "Until then, my friend.  Await my return."

With that, he raises his hammer high and takes to the air.

The first thing he does on his return to Asgard is to hide the letter he left in his rooms for his father. He tucks it inside a box that Loki had made for him. It opens only to his touch, no matter how hard someone could try to open it. It is also unbreakable, save for a swift hit from Mjölnir; Loki could not spell the box against it as he was unable to lift the hammer to ascertain its form.

The second thing he does is steal away to the kitchens to pilfer some of the fresh apples from Iðunn's orchard. The kitchen maids swat him with their towels but laugh as he absconds with two of them, and he knows that word will not get back to his father. These apples are almost burnished all gold, perfect for eating. He skulks around the palace - well, as much as his bulk will allow him to do so - and finds himself in his mother's garden. The golden pillars give way to well-tended bushes and trees, and the ground is resplendent with flowers and plants, some of which Thor can't even name. He retreats to his favorite spot to think (to which Loki would say, "Not that you do much of that, anyway") underneath the boughs of a gigantic linden tree. The late afternoon sun slants through the branches, and there's only about another hour of light left. It's warm still, though, and Thor takes a moment to eat his stolen treats and think about how he's going to get what he needs while here.

It will not be easy to seek council with Mímir. He could go to the Norns, but they always require something in return for answering questions, and the journey to the base of Yggdrasil would take weeks, which he doesn't have. Speaking to Mímir is the only answer. The problem lies with the fact that Mímir is just a head, and is kept in the treasury. Perhaps if he convinced his mother ... but no, he doesn't wish to bring her into his troubles more than he already has. The thing to do is sneak by, or just ask his father outright.

Though his father does not see all as Heimdall does, if he sits upon Hliðskjálf and thinks on what his son has been doing, he will see what Thor has been doing and that Thor has taken council with Mímir without the Allfather's permission.

With a sigh, Thor tosses the apple cores into the pond next to the linden tree; they bubble and froth, and two lilies bloom out of the water.  It brings a soft smile to Thor's face - that is one of the first enchantments Loki learned how to cast, and did it as a gift to Frigga.

He supposes that it would be best to go and speak with his father and get permission to get council from Mímir.

He waits until after the dinner feast to approach his father. Even though Thor was once almost king, approaching Odin Allfather on the throne with Gungnir in his hand still makes Thor feel as though he is a foot tall. After a low bow, he makes his way up the steps and waits until he has the attention of his father.

"Father, I would ask a boon of you."

Loud enough for Thor to hear but too soft for anyone else, Odin responds.  "You would seek council from Mímir about your quest on Midgard that you seek to hide from me."

"I seek to hide nothing from you, father.  That is why I have come to you," Thor pleads.  He can feel his error now, feel that he should have never gone - should have never left without permission.  He should have asked his father to look for Loki, but he knows that the answer would have been no.  He knows that he had to go and risk displeasure, but now he is more worried that Odin will not grant him permission to speak with Mímir.  It is imperative that he find his not-brother, and he explains as much in a soft voice.

Odin listens without moving, save to tighten his grip on Gungnir.  "Why would you seek to bring the serpent back into the house of Odin?"

"Because he is my brother.  Because he deserves to be home, the only home that he has ever known.  Loki is - he must - Loki deserves to know how he is missed."  The words make his throat tighten and make his breath whistle through his lips.  "I am less without my brother, father.  Loki and I are two halves; silver and gold, light and dark.  He deserves to call Asgard home just as much as I do."

"Even though he sought to destroy it?"  Odin finally turns to look at him through his singular eye, and it burns through Thor.  "Even though he sought to destroy you?"

"He did it to teach me a lesson, which I have learned.  He sought to make our kingdom a better place, though he did it in ways that only made sense to him.  Father, I - I want to show him that he was right about me, but - but did it wrongly."  Thor tightens his fingers on the arm of the throne and his final plead ekes through his lips and it is almost too much to bear; he cannot break down, not here, not in front of all the warriors of Asgard.  "He is my brother, and I love him, and I want him to come home."

Odin watches him for a moment, watches as his chest heaves and his hands shake.  Thor is full of constrained emotion, holding back the words that want to burst from him.  Though it has only been a few weeks from his return from Midgard, Thor has grown and advanced.  His heart is still the place of thought, where he holds all of his emotions, but he has learned to withhold his initial thoughts and wait for his head to catch up.  The Golden Prince of Asgard has learned what Odin sought to teach him for centuries.

"I grant you permission to hold council with Mímir."

Thor relaxes, sagging slightly to the ground where he kneels next to the throne.  The strain goes from his hands and his shoulders; his head tilts to one side and Odin realizes that Thor is moments away from tears.  When he is sure all attention has strayed from the two of them on the golden seat - save for Frigga, who has not stopped watching since Thor climbed the steps - Odin rests his hand gently on top of his son's.  Thor's fingers press upwards, the only mark that he seeks the comfort of his father's hand like he did as a child.

The moment is broken as Thor stands and bows lowly to his father and descends the steps of Hliðskjálf, stopping to press a kiss to his mother's cheek before rejoining the Warriors Three.

The next morning (after sleeping off an ale-head that could have split trees and rendered a mortal man incapacitated) Thor goes down to the treasury.  Odin waits at the doors and they go in together, father and son taking matching steps.  Mímir's head is at the end of the long hallway, atop a pillow.  Thor does not know the magic that sustains him and does not wish to know.

They stop in front of it.

"Thor, Odin's Son, ask your question."

"I seek Loki, once Odin's Son, now Laufey's Son.  Long has he escaped our sight.  I have proof of a Bifrost landing on Midgard, and ask that you tell me how to ascertain if it was left by him."

Mímir is silent.  His eyes flutter open, milky and blind with age and magic.  The focus on Thor, still, and it makes him just as nervous as is did the first time that Odin showed the head to him.

"Loki, the son of Laufey has many tricks up his sleeve.  Seek out the spring in the blackened forest and catch the water in a crystal cup.  Boil it over a purple flame and add the soil from your realm.  The smoke will spell out your answer, Son of Odin."

The eyes of Mímir flutter shut, and Odin steers him out by the elbow.  Thor slumps against the wall outside of the treasury; the usual guards are not there, and Thor appreciates his father's foresight.  He rubs his face with his hands and presses the heels of his hands into the sockets of his eyes.  Odin's hand rests on his shoulder and the pressure grounds him, allows him to center himself.  It vanishes after a minute.

"Now you know how to bring Loki home.  I worry that the outcome will not be as you hope, my son, but I will not stop you if you choose to carry on."

Thor looks up, and at that exact moment he knows that, though Odin will never say it aloud and will more than likely never tell Loki to his face, Odin misses his son just as much as Thor misses his brother.

It only makes him want to bring Loki home more than before.

Chapter Text

Sif and the Warriors Three offer to come with him to the Blackened Forest, but it's just as easy for him to go alone.  Though it sounds difficult, it's an easy enough journey; about an hour on foot, downhill all the way.  It's a quiet walk to the source of the spring.  Thor doesn't know where the spring came from or how it came to be, but it bubbles from the forest floor and goes to reaches unknown; Thor and Loki had once planned to follow it to the end, but they never had the chance.

One he finds it, he plunks himself down in the dirt and begins to build a fire.  Once he was old enough and the guards were allowed to take him on patrols, they taught him how to build a fire (among other useful talents for surviving in the wild).  It's almost a mindless task now, and in a matter of minutes the fire is snapping and burning.  He feeds it sticks from a golden box that Frigga gave him, and it becomes deep purple almost gently, shifting from color to color until it settles.

Thor watches it for a moment before pulling a crystal goblet out of his pack.  The head of the pantry wasn't pleased at all to let it out of her sight, but at Frigga's gentle persuasion she let it go, though Thor had to promise to bring it back unscathed.  He sets up a tripod over the fire, then leans over and dips the goblet into the stream.  He's tempted to take a long drink from it, but perhaps afterwards, when he's found out if Loki did indeed come through the Bifrost.

Setting it carefully over the fire in the tripod, he waits without moving for it to boil.  Because the stream is so pure, it takes longer than it normally would, but after a few minutes it bubbles away.  Reaching in his pack, Thor pulls out the plastic bag of soil and sprinkles it carefully into the water.  It just becomes mud and Thor thinks that Mímir must have been lying to him, tricking him into a foolish act to mock him.  Without warning, though, it explodes and Thor topples backwards, hand flying to Mjölnir.  The fire gives off pulses of light like a dying star, but before he can loose her from his belt, the light ceases and the mud has become swirling blue smoke within the depths of the goblet.  Thor sits back up and the smoke floats gently out of the goblet, until it spells out a name:

Loki Laufeyson

If Thor sheds a few tears, there's no one in the forest to see him.

He's packing in his room when Sif pokes her head in. "Leaving again?"

"Yes.  There are things that require my attention elsewhere."

"Elsewhere wouldn't happen to be Midgard, would it?"

Thor glances sideways at her, stalling for a moment.  "You know there's no way for anyone to get to Midgard until the Bifrost is rebuilt."

Sif leans against the column next to him, watching him with hooded eyes.  "There's no way to get anywhere until the Bifrost is rebuilt.  Which leads me to believe that you aren't sharing what your quest is, my friend."

Letting his head fall forwards for a moment before standing, Thor shrugs.  "Some things, Lady Sif, are better left secretive.  After all of our adventures with each other, you should be well aware of that."  He shoots her a smile and she rolls her eyes.

"Well, are you going on this quest alone?  You shouldn't; Loki could be waiting for you, Thor, and we don't know where he is."

"Loki is ... not my concern at the moment."  It's a bold lie, but Sif nods and doesn't catch him at it.  It reminds him again of Loki.  Those that disliked him called him Liesmith or Silvertongue; sometimes they mocked his status as a God of Mischief, calling him the Mischief-Monger.  Any time that they would use these in his hearing, Thor would pummel whomever spoke of his brother in that manner.  Fond of playing tricks or not, Loki was a god just as Thor was, and should have been treated as such.

"If you think that you'll be safe, then it is not my place to argue with you.  I just wish to caution you to not let your guard down.  He tried to kill you, Thor.  He tried to bring down Asgard."

"I do not need reminding of what my brother has done!" Thor bellows, slamming a hand down on the table next to him.  "If I say he does not concern me, then he does not concern me!  Why must my judgment be constantly questioned and undermined?  I am not a thick-headed child to be cautioned and instructed!"

Sif has jumped away from the column, closer to the door.  "I meant no harm by it, Thor.  I am just - we are all just concerned for you."

"I do not need you to be concerned for me; I need for you to trust me in all things.  Which includes allowing me to leave within a few minutes, Sif.  I go alone."

Sif doesn't look like she agrees, but with an dip of her head she backs towards the door and leaves.  Thor wishes it needn't be this way, but to get his friends involved in his search for Loki would just make it look like a vigilante mission to apprehend him; that is not the goal of his search.

The goal is still the same, and now he is even more keen to reach it now that he knows Odin knows and does not necessarily disapprove of it: to bring his brother home.

When he gets back to Worcester, it's raining, absolutely pouring like it never does in Asgard.  The temperature is cooler now than it was the days before; it's summer here and though Thor prefers the warm to the cold, the couple of degrees it has dropped pleases him.

He has had the foresight to change into his Midgardian clothes before entering the hotel again, Mjölnir in his pack.  It is strange, wandering around the hotel without his friends to guide him but he finds the mechanical lift without trouble.  He takes it up to the floor that his room is on and once there, collapses on the bed and sleeps.

A hand on his shoulder wakes him what seems like only minutes later.  Erik is smiling down at him, Jane and Darcy behind him.  "Everything went well, Thor?"

"As well as could be expected, my friends!  It was a success, speaking to whom I needed in Asgard."

"So?  Was it Loki coming through the Bifrost?" Jane asks, her smile wide and open.  "Were we right?  Were our numbers right?"

Thor nods.  "My brother came through the Bifrost, yes.  Where he is now, though, is the matter that we must attend to.  I am going to search the city tomorrow to find him.  Though he can use his sorcery to hide himself, I know what it feels like and can pick him out of a crowd."

"You're going to search a city with almost 200,000 people in it for him?  He'll be like a needle in a haystack!" Jane throws her hands in the hair, exasperated.  "That's almost impossible."

"For my brother, I would fight until Ragnarök and beyond," Thor says, "and nothing will keep me from finding him. this you must understand."

There's nothing but silence for a moment until Erik raises his eyebrows and claps Darcy on the shoulder.  "Come on, Darcy, let's go get dinner for everyone."

"But I'm not hungry!"

"Well, I am, and I'd like the company."

Darcy sighs and rolls her eyes, but gets up and follows Erik out the door.  Jane and Thor sit in silence again.  It's heavy and awkward, but Thor knows why Erik left.

"I am afraid that I may have been not entirely truthful with you, Lady Jane."

"I'm sorry, Thor!"

"Is this some kind of ritual on Midgard?  I have been hit by your vehicle - twice now - and Darcy has used her little electric machine on me, those at the healers used a drug of some kind, though I was Midgardian then.  Now, I have been struck in the face by you.  I don't understand."

Jane presses the pack of ice to his nose (a little harder than she should be, Thor thinks, but then he might deserve it) and smiles crookedly.  "Yeah, well, maybe you shouldn't tell a lady that you can't be with her and then tell her it's partially because you need to find you brother.  It's not good form."

"But I did not lie to you!  Had I lied I could understand being struck about the face, as that is how Lady Sif would often retaliate, but I have not yet lied to you about anything," Thor says, but it's edging dangerously close to a whine.  "This does not seem fair."

"Life's not fair, Thor."  Jane pulls the ice pack away from his nose.  "Well, the swelling's gone down and since you're a god and all, you should be fine in a while.  I am sorry, though you did earn it for leading me on like you did."

Thor looks at himself in the mirror.  For being as thin as she is, Jane packs a wallop.  Trained properly, Thor thinks, she could rival Sif in a fight.  That's something he should look into - after the Bifrost is fixed, getting Sif down to Midgard to train Jane.  After he finds his fiend of a brother, though.  "Again, I apologize.  But I was honest with you, just - later than I should have been, perhaps."

Jane scoffs.  "Do you think?  Just a little.  Come on, Erik and Darcy should be back with dinner.  You can explain your injuries to them."

"I'm sure that Erik already knows, and Darcy is not as naive as we would like to think."

The next morning (though it edges closer to afternoon), Erik and Jane are back to the Bifrost site for more measurements. Darcy has decided to follow Thor around, if only because she likes teaching him about the world and mocking him subtly in equal measure. She'll be a help, because although he spent time on MidgardWorcester is nothing like Puente Antiguo.  The hotel seems to be in the center of the city and Darcy introduces him to "pub food" that reminds him of the little drinking holes on Svartálfaheim that he and the Warriors Three and Sif would go to after a rousing fight somewhere.  He likes the ale they serve, with warm brown bread and noodles with cheese.  He tells Darcy as much, and she seems pleased to pay for lunch.

As they walk around the city after lunch, all of a sudden Thor feels it - the prickle and pop of Loki's magic.  It's tart and sharp and Thor makes an about-face to follow it.  It brings him in sharp angles all over the city, Darcy jogging to keep pace with him.

It stalls after an hour of walking, and Darcy rests on a bench for a moment.  "Would you mind telling me why we're making zig-zags all over the city when I'm so full from lunch if we don't rest, I'm going to puke it all back up?"

Thor sits down next to her heavily, patting her on the shoulder.  "This is not nearly as difficult as if we were doing this on Asgard; it is hill here, but Asgard has mountains.  Your legs may hurt, my Lady Darcy, but soon you'll be able to traverse hills as though they were flat plains."

"You didn't answer my question, big guy."

"I have caught my brother's magic.  I can smell it.  It's like I'm a dog, chasing after my prey.  He is here - I just have to find him."  Thor waves his hand in the air.  "But, it's stopped here.  I can't find it.  It's like he's been here for the longest time."

"Well, let's just look around here, then.  There are places to lurk here - he'd like to lurk, right?"  She looks around, as if he's going to pop out of the shadows to prove her right.

"Lurking is his specialty.  How do you think he got me into trouble all these long years?"

Darcy laughs.  "I figured you could do that all on your own.  You seem pretty good at it."

Thor turns around and scrutinizes the street behind them.  "Tell me, Lady Darcy, what is this 'metal and hardcore?'"

"What is what?"  Darcy turns around as well.

"That sign proclaims that for the next two days there is something called a 'metal and hardcore festival.'  I know what a festival is, but what of the others?"

"Oh.  Well, it's a - it's a type of music.  See those guys?"  She points at a group of men standing outside the building.  They look rather like warriors, with long hair and beards, though they're extremely lacking in muscle.  "Those, my friend, are metal heads.  They listen to metal music.  Or hard rock.  Death metal?  I'm not sure, it's not my thing.  I'll get some for you!"

She pulls out her miniscule computer - Thor thinks she calls it an "eye pod", but it looks nothing like an eye - and fiddles with it for a second before handing Thor the little ear inserts.  "This is metal."

The music is loud and brash, but underneath the cacophony there is melody and Thor likes it, likes the way that it sounds like rage and solitude.  Where some music is the calm before the storm this is the storm, and that might be why Thor likes it.  He lets it cycle through a few of the songs that Darcy finds for him, and he can't help but like it.  He tells Darcy as much after pulling the little things out of his ears and she clutches the device to her chest.  "You're not going to throw it, are you?"

Thor laughs loudly.  "No, my Lady Darcy!  But I would like to see it in person.  Your little music box is not enough.  How would we get into this music festival?"

"We'd have to buy tickets at the booth there, and - hey!  Who's going to pay for them?  ME, that's who!" Darcy shouts as Thor bounds over to the ticket booth she had pointed out.  "You're going to owe me big time, Thor!"

By the time that Darcy's paid for the tickets, Thor has made friends with some of the men standing outside of the building where the festival is being held. At first, Thor thought that they had to be related to the Vikings, those stalwart warriors that used to worship his family all across the northern half of Midgard. One of them, Paul, says he is from a place called "Jersey," and Jeremy came all the way from "the big apple"; another friend comes along, Thomas, who says that he's a native of Worcester (which confuses him for a second, since Thomas says "Wooster" and that is not at all how the city's name is spelled).  Thor tells them his name is Donald - the name that they used before - but he's going to have to consciously remember that is his name all night.

Darcy rolls her eyes when Thor introduces her as "Lady Darcy."  He's never going to be able to fit in here.  He's a spoiled god through and through.

When Paul asks him where he's from because of his accent, he can't come up with a place until Darcy saves him by telling them Sweden, which Thor remembers is the same place that Erik hails from.

Even though Thor and Darcy don't fit in the way they're dressed, his new friends - Paul, Jeremy, Thomas, and their female friends whose names Thor can't remember - haul them back to their hotel and outfit them in t-shirts with bands on them, like "true metal heads should" (though Thor thinks that the name is a falsity, because it doesn't turn his or Darcy's head to metal; in fact, all it does is fit tightly and remind him of the shirts worn under his armor).

When they're alone for a moment, Darcy tells Thor that she's called Erik and Jane on the tiny little phone she carries; they're not pleased that they are spending a night on the town but they understand that Thor's trusting an instinct that no one else has.

The eight of them make their way down to the venue and Thor is amazed at the computers that the guards use to validate their tickets for the festival; when the others look at him strangely, he explains that he grew up rather sheltered and hadn't been allowed a computer or any other technology.  He mentions that it was his brother that was good at figuring new things out, but since he's missing he hasn't been able to get a handle on this world.

Thor inadvertently sparks their interest telling them that Loki is missing.  He tells them the truth - embellished, of course, he's not that dense, thank you very much - but ends it telling them this is the kind of thing that Loki was interested in, hence the reason they were in Worcester.

It doesn't count as a lie if you're telling it to protect someone, is it?

The moment they're inside the building, Thor can feel the buzz of Loki's magic again; it's heady and intoxicating, and Thor needs to find it - find him. Thor's senses are tuned to the feel of it, and he maneuvres his way around the people milling in the antechamber before the stage.  Darcy trails behind him, hand fisted in the back of his shirt. He stops in the middle of all the people, gazing around and trying to pinpoint the wild energy that his not-brother gives off like a fire gives off heat. Darcy whispers that she's going to go back to the others for a minute, make an excuse about buying shirts to them, but Thor barely hears her.  It's dark and humid, the heat of the people almost confusing in its intensity, but that doesn't truly matter.  All his attention is on the hunt.

It weaves around the room and Thor knows that Loki is using it for something, keeping his guard up letting the power pulse through him.  It means that he's disguised or bewitching people; Thor's betting that he's disguised.  Slowly, he begins to make his way through the vendors and the people, waiting for a moment as Darcy returns to him and wraps an arm around one of his own.

"He's here, isn't he, Thor?"

"Yes," Thor whispers, "but he's leaking his magic, so he's using it."

After making his way along half of one wall, pausing every now and then for Darcy to purchase something to make their lie to his new friends a truth, Thor feels an infinitisemal spike in the scent of Loki's magic.  He stops, acting as though he's looking at shirts on the wall of one seller.  What little magic he possesses he marshals forward and stretches out - one of the few magics Loki taught him to find hiding enemies, but he often used against Loki himself to search him out after a fight between the two of them - and there, just in front, to the left, no, right more!

He knows this man, knows him like the back of his hand.  He sets a hand on his shoulder, and the other turns around; Thor knows then, and breathes it out - "Loki."

The other's face tightens and Thor smiles because only Loki would react like that, a reaction without real response.  Loki is wearing a face not his own, but Thor knows it is Loki just as he knows Mjölnir's handle when it's under his hand. "I'm sure we don't know each other."

"Come now, Loki, the chase is up."  With that, Thor reaches out again with his tiny magical core and touches Loki's, and the other's eyes widen and then narrow, hand going out to push Thor away but Thor barely moves.  Loki's not-face scowls and his magic tightens sharply and then dissapates to almost nothing.

"By the Garmr's Gate, let me go, you oaf."

If there was any other confirmation needed in Thor's mind, that was it.

Chapter Text

"I would see you in your own face, brother."

Loki sneers and the face that isn't his twists and blurs and after a moment it's the face that Thor knows like his own.  Loki has lost weight and the sharp angles and planes of his face are even more pronounced than they once were; his lips are pressed tight together and Thor thinks of Loki like a cat backed into a corner, all teeth and sharp claws.

"Happy, now?  You've found me, you can take me back to Asgard to have me punished in the långhus in front of the þing, and maybe you can sew my mouth shut once more, this time with thread that shan't break. Will you bind me, or pin me down with Mjölnir and bring the full assembly to Midgard?"  Loki's lips pull back in a full snarl and his magic bursts out of him like a fire, hiding the three of them from the humans around them.  "How shall Loki Liesmith be punished this time?  How will the might of the Allfather and his golden son be known across the universe?"

Darcy's fingers bite into his arm and Thor tries to think of a way to get her away from here, away from them just in case Loki turns his rage on her.  Think as he might the only way would be to harm his brother - which he will only do if the situation absolutely calls for it.  As far as Thor is concerned, the situation can yet be diffused.

"No, Loki, not like that.  I would have you come home to Asgard as my brother, as a prince, and sit in the långhus and drink ale and eat hot meats.  I would have you come home to mother, who misses you terribly, and to the library that seems empty without you."  Thor's hand tightens on Loki's shoulder and his thumb presses into the sharp edge of Loki's clavicle.  Loki flinches but doesn't pull away.  "I would have you return to Asgard and call me a fool while I spar in the pit, to have you mock me when my words fail me.  I would like you to come home for those reasons and so many more, for so many things that I cannot even name them."

The magic burning around them skitters and jumps and when Thor looks out of the corner of his eye, it's gold and glittering and cold.  It sparks against everything it touches as the people mill around them, oblivious to the three hidden in the room.  It twists up Loki's legs and around his midsection and Thor thinks that it has to be melded to his spine somehow, it has to connect to Loki viscerally for Loki to be able to stand up so straight when the pressure of it makes Thor want to fall to his knees and plead.  For a moment Loki just stares at him, eyes like green gems in pale stone or snow.  The muscles in his neck are so tight and corded that Thor imagines that one sharp poke and they'd snap apart like glass.

Loki turns his eyes to Darcy.  He doesn't say anything, just looks at her for a moment and she stares back.  She hasn't let go of Thor yet but this doesn't seem to bother neither her nor Loki.  Her nose notches the air as she tilts her head up to look him full in the face and Loki's snarl dies down to a frown and Thor relaxes.  His not-brother will not fight him, not today.  He won't harm any one here - at least, not in the way that would make Thor harm him.

The magic drops down to a simmer and the grip Darcy has on his arm relaxes; even though her grip is nothing like Sif's he'll have marks from where her nails dug in until later that night.  Without a word Loki turns and begins to walk away and Thor follows him without hesitation, Darcy trailing behind again.

If Loki is a cat, sleek and mischievous and dangerous, then Thor is a dog, he thinks.  Big and playful and sometimes dumb, he will admit.

They follow Loki to the door, making their way through the people with the aid of Loki's magic keeping them from being held back. The doors to the stage area have opened and Loki stands near the edge of the arena, watching people. He says nothing for a long while and neither do Thor or Darcy, until Darcy slips away and Thor knows that she's gone back to their new friends. She'll wait for him, though, before going home. Darcy seems like she can't keep her head on straight but Thor knows that it's a perfected act.  Loki's eyes follow her again before those eyes turn back on to Thor.

"You cannot make me leave.  I paid for the ticket, I intend to use it."

"Paid for it with false Midgardian money, I wager."

"You have always thought so little of my talents.  No, I found work, abhorrent as it may be, with false documents.  The money is real enough," Loki sneers.  Thor can't imagine his brother doing anything like work, and tells Loki as much.  All it gets in return is an even deeper sneer and a roll of his eyes.

Though Thor will never admit it - well, okay, maybe, if he were hard pressed - he was pleased to stay for the concert. The energy of it and the crush of the people remind him of battle but with less carnage (though, to his surprise, people still thrash around and push each other but it seems amiable, as though they don't mind it and rather like it).

The best part is watching Loki lose himself in something again, watch the way his eyes slide shut by a fraction and his lips part as though he's whispering some incantation to the air in the room.  The sweat gathers on his brow and slides back into black hair and Thor is shocked when his mind whispers to him to lick it from his skin it will be as the sweetest mead the best ale the freshest apples and all Thor can do is close his eyes and will the image away.  When he opens his eyes again and glances at Loki, he's swaying to the music and his fingers clench around nothing, and it's like Loki is worshipping at some kind of altar, some strange ritual that Thor has never seen before, and before he can stop himself Thor slips his hand into Loki's.

Loki's fingers press down into his and it burns and Loki's hands have gone Jotun and Thor doesn't care, doesn't care that Loki isn't his blood brother or brother at all, just that he's there and real and Thor will never let him go again, he'll never let him run away and get lost.  Thor can feel his skin cracking and breaking but it doesn't matter, because this is Loki and nothing has ever mattered between them before, so why should it start now?  The warmth of the room presses in close and through the pain Thor knows that his hand will never be the same, even if it heals completely; the ridges that wind around Loki's fingers as on all Jotun will be burned into his flesh and everyone will know what happened but Thor can't bring himself to care if people know.  He doesn't know how long it is before Loki looks at him sideways, eyes liquid red, like blood or rubies, blue tinged around his lips and his nose but nowhere else on his face.

Loki's lips part and Thor imagines that he's going to say something but nothing comes out, and Loki's teeth bite at his lips before the pain in his hand recedes and Loki has squashed his real self away again, locked it into his soul.  Thor can't bring himself to look down at his hand but after a moment there's a dull flare of light and his hand is whole again, but there are new lines ridging across his palm and fingers.

Loki doesn't let go, though, and for the rest of the night Thor can't take his eyes off of him like Loki is going to vanish again, even when Darcy and the others come back and they listen to the music together.  Loki doesn't let go of his hand until the night is over and it's time for all of them to go their separate ways.  Darcy gets the phone numbers and emails and "twitters" of everyone (Thor has no idea what a "twitter" is and doesn't want to know, especially if it is like the "face book" she has already shown him).  They shake hands and grin and grab a few beers before it's just the three of them again.

Loki's face is blank as Darcy chatters away about how much fun it was, how good of time she had and how she has decided that Thor won't owe her anything for the night, aside from the cost of the shirts she got him, because everything went better than expected.  The night is cool as they make their way up the hills of the city.  Darcy goes quiet for a moment, before blurting out, "I was expecting more blue, to be honest."

Thor cringes and prepares himself to protect his friend, angling his body slightly to be able to take the blows for her, but Loki just looks at her for a moment before shrugging fluidly.  "The best magicians can hide themselves at will; what makes me any different, mortal?"



"My name," she says slowly, "is Darcy.  Darcy Lewis.  Not 'mortal' or 'human' or 'Midgardian' or - or 'sweetheart', not that you would call me that.  If you call me Darcy, I won't call you anything other than your name, and we'll be even."

Loki side-eyes her, taking her measure before nodding tersely as they stand before one of the lights that tells them when it is safe to cross the street.  "We have an accord, Darcy Lewis."

"So, blue?"

Loki looks at her, openly surprised.  Thor supposes that no one's ever shown any indifference to a Jotun in Loki's presence, but Thor can see why it wouldn't matter to people on Midgard.  They've tried their best to see beyond differences of skin or birthplace (though not perfectly, Thor knows, but better than Asgard has) so to Darcy, maybe that Loki is a different race wouldn't matter.  Loki's jaw works for a moment and then he's pale blue and shining under the light of the moon, dappling silver on the high planes of his face for a split second before he's milk-pale and Aesir again.

Darcy tilts her head sideways and squints at him.  "Yeah, that's pretty cool.  No irony intended.  I like."

Loki's shoulders roll like packing himself away makes his skin tight, but he gives Darcy what Thor knows is a smile, and they walk in silence after that, Loki letting them lead the way.

As soon as they get back to the hotel Thor begins to worry that Loki will vanish before they talk, since Jane is here and the last time he and Loki spoke and it involved Jane, there was fighting and bridge breaking and general misery for all parties involved.  Darcy once again proves that she's not ignorant of the tense situation, however.

"I'm going to go up and get the others - I feel a late-night pizza run situation has arisen but you're 'too good' for pizza with us, so neither of you are invited.  You'll have to find your own place to be gods or something," she tells them before heading off to the elevator and leaving them behind.

"Would you prefer to go elsewhere, brother, or will this suffice?  The rooms here are nice - they have a machine in the room that chills beverages that we can use."

Loki hisses through his teeth.  "I am not your brother, Thor.  I never was.  I won't ever be your brother again.  And, for your information, if a hotel of this caliber doesn't have a fridge in each room, it's a shame."

Thor grabs at Loki's hand again but Loki won't let him catch it, so Thor palms the small of his back instead, which stills Loki like someone's cast a spell on him.  "Then we'll go upstairs and talk, Loki.  The two of us, as it was before."

Loki lets Thor guide him to the elevator and Thor is thankful when they don't meet the others en route to the room Thor and Erik share.  Loki sits down at the small table with his back to the wall and facing the room to make a quick escape if the need arises, Thor knows.  Thor goes into the "fridge" and gets them both a bottle of water and sets Loki's down before him and cracks his own open, draining it all at once while sitting down across from Loki.

Loki doesn't speak and Thor can't think of where to begin, can't think of how this conversation is going to go or how he's going to convince Loki to come back home, come back to him.  Thor opens his mouth a few times before setting the empty bottle gently down on the table.  He slides his chair back and moves to Loki's side, nudging the table out of his way with his hip before doing what he has wanted to do since he first laid his eyes on his not-brother.  He locks eyes with Loki as he drops to his knees and sits there for a moment, before leaning forward and pressing his face into Loki's side, right above the jut of his hip where his face has always fit like it was meant to be that way.

When they were children and Thor would get in trouble for fighting or yelling or pulling a girl's hair, Thor would come to Loki and they would sit like that as Loki would put little plaits into Thor's hair, letting Thor tell him why he did what he did and how unfair their parents were, and it was just play, and Loki would comb them out and start over again until Thor was relaxed and boneless and nearly asleep.  When they got older Thor decided that wasn't how a future king should act but it never failed that when something was truly bothering Thor, when something went pear-shaped and nothing could fix it, Thor would knock on Loki's door and Loki would let him in and they would sit for hours like this.  Sometimes Thor would fall asleep and Loki would humor him, spelling them a blanket until Thor woke up and went to bed, pulling a protesting Loki behind him like a child's sleep toy.  Loki never fought him long, though, just long enough to make his protests known, before they would burrow together under Thor's or Loki's furs like small animals getting ready for the long winter.  Thor would wake before Loki would and watch his brother sleep, how unguarded his face was when he wasn't conscious.  The tightness would fade away and Loki would look gentle and docile and adorable - though Thor would never tell him that, because Thor liked having a tongue or fingers or toes or other appendages - and Thor would pull his fingers through Loki's hair until Loki woke and pulled away, complaining about smelling like Thor now and wanting a bath.

What seems like decades go by, before there's the softest touch of fingers at the base of his skull and Loki's pulling his hair from the pony-tail he keeps it in on Midgard, and Loki's hips shift and both hands begin to stroke along the curve of his skull.  If Loki can feel tears soaking through the Midgardian pants he's wearing, he doesn't say anything but presses his fingers ever-so-slightly more onto Thor's skin.

At that moment, that precise moment, it's like nothing has changed between them.

Chapter Text

Thor is not as light as he used to be, or as young, and his knees start to ache after an amount of time that he really can't name.  Loki hasn't stopped touching him, hasn't stopped passing his fingers through his hair and Thor hopes deep within his heart that Loki won't leave tonight.  He can feel Loki's muscles tensing and releasing under his cheek and gently, as though Loki were a skittish colt to be tamed and bridled, Thor lifts his hand from his knee and curls his fingers into the crook of Loki's knee, then strokes it down the back of his calf and wraps his fingers around a delicately boned ankle.  Loki's hands pause for a moment but then start again, letting Thor press his fingers into Loki's skin.

After another moment, Thor pulls away completely and tilts his head back, looking Loki full in the face.  He staggers to his feet - his legs are asleep and numb - and holds a hand out to Loki, the hand that's lined and veined with the same marks that Loki has.

It's a moment of terrifying stillness, when neither of them move and it's almost as though neither of them are breathing and Thor swears that he can feel his heart beating in his throat and that Loki knows it, knows how vulnerable Thor is right now.  And then, then, Loki reaches up slowly and takes Thor's hand, his fingers interlocking with Thor's, and he stands and allows Thor to pull him close and bury his face in the join of neck and shoulder.

"Loki," Thor chokes out, intent on pleading and begging his brother for something that he can't name but Loki shushes him wordlessly and Thor can't hold back the sob that squeezes through his throat and into Loki's shoulder.  He pulls Loki closer, as close as he can, fingers biting into Loki's back and hips and Loki's arm wrap around his bulk as best they can.  Thor can feel every breath, every twitch, and he wants to remember this moment, the moment that he found his brother once again and maybe as the moment when his brother decided to come home to him.

Thor shuffles in Loki's arms, toes off his shoes, and gives Loki time to do the same before pulling him backwards towards the bed and collapsing down on it.  Without totally letting go of him, Thor manages to get them both under the sheets and pulls the blanket over them as well.  The lights go out and Thor knows that Loki used his magic to do it, and then hears the soft snick of the lock at the same time.  The Midgardian clothes aren't the most comfortable to sleep in, but they'll have to do as there is no time to get them proper sleeping clothes and Thor knows that Loki won't take well to sleeping bare as they used to do as children.  Without really thinking about what he's doing, Thor slips a hand under Loki's thin t-shirt and presses it against the knobs of Loki's spine and for a moment he's afraid that Loki will become Jotun just to spite him again, just to make him hurt, but Loki just rolls his shoulders once and then settles down.

Loki's hands move from where they are wrapped around his back to wedge between the two of them, not to push Thor away, but just to get comfortable.  His fingers curl under Thor's chin, pressing and stroking at the curve of his jaw and between that and the sound of Loki's heart thumping against his ear, Thor is asleep in minutes.

Thor wakes to the bright light of morning shining through the blinds directly on his eyes. For a few minutes, he doesn't know where he is aside from the fact that he exists and it is warm and bright and he has his Loki back.

That thought makes him sit straight up in bed, and Loki's not there and Thor thinks that he's lost him again, lost Loki to the world and he'll never find him again and the idea makes him feel faint and pale.  The last time he felt like this was when he was exiled to Midgard, the flush of fear of the unknown and terror at being alone.  He swings his legs over the edge of the bed and elbows on knees, rubs his face roughly, trying to regain control of his emotions.  Thor presses his fingers into his closed eyes until stars blossom in the dark and holds his fingers there to where he can't take it anymore, and gets up to shower.

Erik hasn't come back - Thor guesses he stayed with Darcy and Jane - and it's a relief, that he won't have to explain to him what happened and why Loki isn't with Thor anymore.  Thor kicks his shoes under the table in a fit of anger, and notices that there's still another pair that certainly aren't Erik's; it's then that he realizes that they're the shoes that Loki was wearing the night before and that means that Loki hasn't left him, hasn't run away again.  He spins around in a tight circle (and if anyone was watching, which Heimdall might be, but he would never say anything to Thor, they would laugh at the look on his face and that he nearly trips over Loki's shoes) and the door to the bathroom is closed and the shower is running.

He bursts in without really thinking what he's doing and the room is thick with steam.  Loki always took scalding showers, almost too hot to handle and Thor wonders if it's because he's Jotun, ice inside, that made him crave heat and warmth.  He would sidle up to Thor when they were children in the throne room and slip his cold hands into Thor's larger, warmer ones, until his hands were a little warmer but they never stayed that way.

Loki whirls around in the shower and makes a strangled noise of surprise as Thor stumbles into the shower, still completely clothed, and wraps his arms around his not-brother as Loki tries to squirm out of his grip.

"Thor, you fool, let me go, you brute," and tries his best to slip away but Thor is still stronger than he is and if Thor doesn't want to let go, well, there's no getting away unless Loki uses his other talents.  Loki sinks a sharp elbow into Thor's solar plexus and in that short moment when Thor's grip lessens as the wind is knocked out of him, Loki transports him out of the bathroom and back into the main hotel room, still soaking wet.

Loki comes out then, wrapped in the hotel bathrobe and steaming mad, hair tangled and eyes wild.  "How dare you, Thor, how dare you, what made you think that you could do that?"

Thor stands there, grinning like a fool and dripping on the carpet, watching Loki pace back and forth in front of the bathroom door trying to tighten the belt on the bathrobe to no avail because it is in Thor's size and Loki is slight where Thor is bulky.

"What crazed notion got into your head that just because you have found me - and not even on you own, might I add - you have no right to assume that I will allow your relationship to return to what it once was because, let me remind you, I am not your brother and I never was!"

Ordinarily Thor would be offended at the tone Loki is taking with him, but he's trying to squash the smile that blooms across his face and silence the little voice that keeps saying tangle your fingers in his hair pull his head back lick the water from the curve of his neck fuck him into the ground until he begs you to never stop and other filthy things that Thor does not acknowledge, thank you very much.

"I'm not something to be - pulled and held and reigned in, Thor, and you should that by now, and - why are you smiling at me like that, you golden fool?"

Thor thinks that he should have a witty comeback, something wordy that Loki would buy and take as truth, but what comes out of Thor's mouth isn't what he thinks he meant to say.  "I was afraid you had left me."

Loki stops his pacing and squints at Thor, pulling the robe tighter around his thin form, and as if he can't believe he has heard what left Thor's mouth.  "You what?"

"I woke, and you were no longer there.  I thought you had left me again, and I couldn't bear it.  Then I saw that you had not, and - and I was overjoyed."  Thor advances slowly on Loki as if one wrong move will cause Loki to bolt (which it might, since Loki's always been a little skittish, exacerbated by the time he spent as a horse, and his time spent on Midgard hasn't seemed to remove his paranoia).  "You have no idea how much - how much I have wanted you to come home, how long I have waited to find news of you or anything of the sort.  Heimdall had seen nothing but I know you couldn't be dead."

He stretches out his hand and Loki rears back a step but then stops, his eyes still narrowed and his face pinched in mistrust but he lets Thor straighten out the collar on the bathrobe and then push tangled hair out of his face.

"I wanted to find you so badly but I could not, I have none of your powers, Loki.  I was bent on it and for the longest time I was afraid that I wouldn't ever find you, but I wanted to.  I wanted to find you and bring you home, even if only for a short time, and stay with you.  I don't want to lose you again.  I want you, Loki."

Thor realizes what's come out of his mouth the second after he says it and Loki's eyes widen (almost comically, if Thor wasn't so terrified of the outcome) and Loki goes even paler, paler that Thor thought was possible.  His hands clutch at the bathrobe and his knuckles are white, and neither of them say anything for a long moment.

Loki reaches out and strokes a thumb over Thor's cheek, over the faint scar there from when Thor was on Midgard alone.  Thor closes his eyes and leans into the hand, leans into the cold that Loki has always been.  There's a tingle of Loki's power and then his clothes are dry and warm, and Thor opens his eyes again.  Loki's resplendent in his Midgardian clothes, dressed as Thor imagines someone with great power would dress, like that moment in the SHEILD bunker; fine silks and linens and his hair slicked back into its proper coif.  Thor smiles but Loki doesn't smile back, just looks at him with this strange wide-eyed expression that Thor has never seen before.

Loki's face softens minutely and all he says is, "Oh, Thor," before he blurs at the edges and then vanishes completely, and Thor is alone, alone again, alone because of his own stupidity and lust.

Thor falls to his knees and he is empty, empty and blank and vastly cracked open.  He had Loki, had what he had wanted the most in all the realms and he lost it, lost it because he couldn't control his own mouth.  It feels as though his heart has shattered in his chest and there's no way to piece it back together.  Loki ran from him, just like when the Bifrost was broken, and Thor cannot even blame it on his father and the way his father treated Loki.  No, this time it is wholly Thor's fault that his not-brother is gone.

Erik returns later in the morning and finds Thor in the same position, Darcy trailing in behind him, and knows instantly that something has happened between Thor and Loki; she sits down next to him and his heads lolls on her shoulder, his hand curling into hers.

Erik pulls a chair close and rests his hand on Thor's shoulder, and they sit there until Thor starts to drop off into sleep and the others push him back into bed.

He doesn't dream.

Chapter Text

It didn't take much time for Darcy and Erik to tell Jane what had happened. Jane sat with Thor in the hotel room, reading her books and working on papers while Thor slept and thought and slept some more. Occasionally he and Jane take walks around the city in silence, sharing lunch and coffee in obscure little shops with interesting names and themes. It's an easy way to try and forget what had happened, forget what Thor had done to his relationship with Loki. Every time he goes to sleep, though, Thor can't help but replay what had happened in his head and it makes him even more miserable.

After spending another week in Worcester, Jane and Erik coax Thor back to Puente Antiguo to spend some time there.  Darcy quietly tells Thor that maybe Loki just needs some more time to think things over, since whatever happened must be a lot to take in, and though Thor isn't sure how true that is he agrees with his friend and travels back to New Mexico.

They rent what Jane calls a "full size van" that is comfortable for all of them to ride in for the long journey, as Jane tells Thor that she doesn't want a repeat of the airplane incident.  The trip will take them almost all the way across the country and with stops for eating and sleeping clocked in, it will take them about a week if they drive around 400 miles a day.  It's slow and steady, and the trip calms Thor's nerves as they thrum along the roads, the hum of the pavement lulling him to sleep most of the time.

Darcy is normally the one to wake him up when they make pitstops - Jane and Erik seem to want to give him space but Darcy does the exact opposite, making jokes and small talks and when Thor seems to want space to himself she lets him sit and brood but doesn't go far and when she thinks he's done enough, she pesters him endlessly.

He likes the rolling hills of the northeast to the flat plains of the middle of the country, but the flatness also allows him to see across the landscape and Darcy schools him on the places they pass through and stop at, occasionally making Jane and Erik stop at some historical landmark so she can take pictures and post them on her face-book page.  Darcy tries to convince Thor to play around on this "web-site" as well, but he prefers to watch her work at it than participate.

Sometimes, Thor forgets what has happened as they drive across the country and listen to music, and Erik works constantly on the computer when he's not driving.  Thor thinks to ask him once or twice what he's working on, but he never bothers because he doesn't understand much of Midgardian science anyway, which reminds him of Loki and how he never understood magic, and the cycle starts all over again.

When they finally reach Puente Antiguo, Thor has begun to realize that there is nothing that he can do to find his not-brother when he doesn't really want to be found in the large Midgardian world.  Loki might not even be on Midgard anymore; Loki has enough talent to move across the Nine Realms and all the spaces in-between without being caught, and if that's how he wants to live the rest of his long life, nothing can stop him.

For a day, Thor thinks that he should go back to Asgard and wait for Loki there, but the thought of going back to the Golden Hall without it makes his stomach twist and flip with the bitter taste of failure and he pushes the idea out of his mind.  Instead, he decides to stay with his Midgardian friends and help them in any way that he can, though his talents lean more towards drinking and fighting than being useful.  When Jane and Erik decide to renovate their headquarters, Thor helps them move all the equipment and rides with Darcy to the renovations store where he learns more than he has ever wanted to about crown molding and paint types and power tools and how to lay down tile.

(Thor asks Jane why they need hammers when Mjölnir would be quite sufficient to help build the inside of their new abode. Jane declines politely, and Thor can't figure out why. The Midgardian hammers aren't nearly as efficient as his hammer, but Thor chalks it up to a Midgardian peculiarity.)

Eventually some SHIELD operatives show up and within a short amount of time Jane and Erik have a hefty amount of money with which to furnish their round home, as well as buy some new equipment with which to continue their research.  Jane delights in choosing colors for the walls and fabrics and new computer parts and things, and even though Thor doesn't understand much of it she still asks his opinion and includes him in their decisions, which makes his heart flutter with happiness at being needed by someone.

The four of them work at the building together, figuring out what works and what doesn't (for example, when laying carpet, one should not let a lamp fall from a table, otherwise the carpet will burn and catch fire and set off the sprinklers, causing a setback) and that painting without opening the windows can even make gods get high.  They all have headaches the next day and spend most of it lounging around in Jane's camper, watching what she calls "b horror movies" that Thor decides are a perfect way to waste time.  The next night, Darcy introduces Indiana Jones and Thor decides he rather likes the whip-carrying explorer, though he is confused at the last movie's depiction of aliens, since Darcy has referred to him as an alien and he looks nothing like the aliens in the movie.

It takes a little over two weeks to finish the renovations, and Thor finds that he's happy to have been using his hands to help create something.  He never did anything like this in Asgard; there were craftsmen and masons to do the work if things needed to be fixed or built and though Thor watched occasionally, it was not a task for a prince.  That he could point at the building and tell people that he was the one to help fix it up, that he laid that tile with Darcy and helped Jane paint the walls and clean the windows was a source of pride that welled up in him like the cup full to the brim.  That he could understand the workings of Midgardian electricity and knew how circuits and wires worked was especially pleasing, since electricity is a source of life on Midgard; that when he flicked a light switch he could picture in his head how the wires fired and traveled from point A to point B made him proud to be able to learn and understand, something he always left to Loki previously.

Thor thinks that, had Loki stayed, he would have been proud of Thor even if he never actually told him.

Loki wasn't ever afraid of getting his hands dirty, as delicate and spidery as those hands were; Loki was always making things or learning how things worked and even though his hands were delicate, they held such power within them that Thor was always surprised when Loki tightly gripped his hands, was always surprised at the dexterity that Loki had.  Loki learned with his hands, where Thor learned with his eyes.  Loki would stroke books and trace the words with the tips of his fingers, then take notes in his distinctive uphill-backhand and once those were dry, he would do the same thing, committing everything to memory.  In contrast, Thor would watch his instructors perform a fighting stance or execute a stop-thrust and within a few repetitions he would be able to repeat it passably and after a week's practice he could perform it flawlessly and transition into other forms and stances with accuracy.

Loki would make fun of Thor for his physicality and Thor would do the same for Loki's reliance on books but it was never cruel, never ill-intentioned.  They had an understanding that seemed to waste away the older they got, until it was nothing but anger and misunderstandings and sadness.

It was a surprise when Sif appears at the doors late one afternoon, much like when he was first banished to Midgard.  He takes her up to the roof as the sun sets and they sit in companionable silence, watching as the sun sinks below the horizon and the sky fades from bright red to mottled purple.  She turns to him as the last of the sun vanishes.

"You've been gone for over a fortnight."

Thor nods, poking at the fire he's started in the pit with a stick.  "I have been busy."

"Busy doing what, Thor?  People have started to notice that you've been gone from court and that you haven't been sparring in the ring."  Sif leans forward and rests her hand on Thor's knee.  "What are you searching for so desperately?"

Thor can't look at her, can't make eye contact with her or she'll know, Sif will know what he hides in his heart and the thought that he can't share what he's doing with one of his oldest friends hurts.  He stays quiet, stays clammed up, and finally Sif says in a near-whisper, "It has to do with Loki, doesn't it?  It has to do with your brother."

It's his name that hurts and Thor hunches over as if he's been sucker-punched and the tale spills out of him in a torrent, spills out of him in such a way that he can't control it.  From finding out that Loki is Jotun to going to Worcester, Sif listens without a word and when Thor finishes with what happened in the hotel room she sits there, staring into the fire, hand still on Thor's knee.  The night is silent except for the breath that wheezes past Thor's lips and Sif says nothing for a long moment.

"It is not possible for Loki to hate you as you seem to think that he does.  I do not think that he has it in him to hate you, Thor.  Dislike you, be angry with you, yes, but hate you?  No.  I think Loki hates himself more than anything, hates that the Allfather never told him who he really was.  You, of all people, know how Loki is - it takes time for him to decide what to do."  She moves her hand from his knee to his hand, gripping it tightly (the one without the scars, thankfully, or he'd never hear the end of it).  "You never gave up before.  Why do you give up now?"

Sif has to strain to hear his response over the pop and crackle of the fire.  "To want another man - a man that was once your brother - is an abomination.  It is not proper, especially not for a future king.  How could it ever be allowed?"

"When has that stopped you, my friend?" Sif leans forward and grips his hand with both of hers, squeezing tightly.  "When has Thor Odinson ever listened to his critics?  When have you ever listened when someone told you not to do something?"

"This is different."

"How is it different, Thor?" She lets go and turns his face toward her, making him look her in the eye. "How is this different?  You have always been there for Loki and now you can be there for him again, even if we don't understand why you would wish him to return.  When have you let what others think cloud your heart?  You are Thor Odinson and wield the hammer Mjölnir; why should you fear what others have to say?"

Thor says nothing, and Sif continues.  "You are one of my oldest friends, Thor.  You saw in me a warrior when others just saw a fair maiden, sister to Heimdall and nothing else.  You allowed me to fight as few others have.  If you could do that for me, how could you fear what people may have to say about how you feel for Loki?  I admit that I cannot understand it, but that does not mean I will not follow you in battle or remain your friend.  It is those that do not understand that are not worth listening to, Thor Odinson.  It will be difficult, that much is true, but would it not be worth it in the end?"

Thor nods, a stutter of his head, and Sif knows that Thor has yet to hear the truth in her words. Some in Asgard will speak behind their back if they do return, some will say that Thor cannot be king, but most will see what Sif can see: that Loki is a son of Asgard just as Thor is, for he has never been anything else. Though he is not Aesir, Loki is a prince of the realm, and that has not and will not change. If Thor returns to Asgard and Loki returns with him, the people will be made to understand the love that Thor has for Loki - Thor would make them understand through brute force if he had to, and Loki would use his tricks to worm his way back into the good graces of the people.

But Sif knows that Thor will not hear the truth in her words until Loki says them, and that's how it's always been between the two of them.  Even as children, Thor wouldn't believe the truth of something unless Loki looked it up and confirmed or denied the claim.  When they thought no one was looking, Loki would teach Thor the lessons that Thor had missed when he was out fighting rather than attending.  Sif could see that there was something there - anyone could, if they watched and observed as Sif did, as she learned from her brother - but it wasn't her place to point it out, even as one of Thor's best and oldest friends.

She sighs and stands, looking down at Thor with her hands on her hips.  "I shall inform the court that you are assissting the Lady Jane here on Midgard, as you promised her before the breaking of the Bifrost.  I would recommend that you return soon, my friend, as we all miss you.  Shall I visit you again?"

Thor shrugs, the movement sheltering his face from Sif's eyes.  "I leave the decision up to you, Lady Sif.  I shall remain here for a time longer.  It clears my head, to be free of the machinations of the court.  Perhaps in another week I will return to my duties.  I cannot run from them forever."

"As you will, Thor.  Just know that we are here for you if you have need of us."  She squeezes his shoulder and the weight is comforting, grounding, and then she descends the ladder back into the building and outside.  He watches her walk out of Puente Antiguo and imagines that he can see her all the way to the rift, though that's impossible, and fancies that she turns and looks at him one more time before returning to Asgard.

Thor stares up at the stars and the universe swirls overhead.  The stars are in different formations here but he can pick out the planets and constellations as he is used to seeing them and it gives him some comfort that somewhere, hopefully, Loki looks up at the same stars.  As a child, Thor wasn't interested in the cosmos because it was always there, always visible, but Loki loved them.  He would wake Thor in the middle of the night and tug him out to their shared balcony and point out shapes and people in the stars, teach Thor the names of them in languages Thor didn't know, and tell him about the worlds and realms around them.  When Loki was in his pensive moods, Thor would silently observe him looking up, looking out, and those were the moments that Thor loved Loki most, those moments when it was all Loki and his thoughts, free from tricks and anger.

Thor spends the night watching the stars and the moon wheel overhead, and it's not until the moon begins to set that he finally falls asleep and dreams of reuniting with Loki in Asgard, standing tall and proud before Odin Allfather, a prince once more.

When he wakes, the sun has risen and a shadow is falling over his face.  The air is still cool, not yet the heat of midday, so it can't be too far into the morning.  He stretches on the chair and his joints crack and pop; though it pleases him to sleep out of doors, the chairs are far from the comfort he is accustomed to.  When he opens his eyes fully, expecting to see Jane or Darcy (or maybe even Erik) it's a surprise that renders him motionless that it's Loki hovering over him.  He can't sit up or blink or breathe or anything, and Loki just looks down at him from where he's seated next to him, where Sif sat the night before.

Loki doesn't say anything, just watches him lay there and Thor thinks maybe this is just one of Loki's shades, a projection to taunt and tease him, to make him regret the words that seemed to have been said eons ago, in a different life.

Finally Loki tears his gaze away and Thor is unpinned and he sits up.  Loki licks his lips and looks back at Thor, and his eyes are tired and worn.  Thor hasn't seen Loki this tired in a long time, if this is actually Loki, and he doesn't know what to say or do or be, and it's like the first time Thor was put before the court and had to speak and he can feel his heart in his throat again.

Loki's lips part his tongue darts out, worrying the corner of his mouth and it catches Thor's attention and Loki knows it, uses it to his advantage to hold Thor to him when he finally speaks.  "We must talk, Thor.  There is much that needs to be said."

Chapter Text

Thor sits, wordless, and Loki does the same for an indeterminable amount of time, until Loki sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose.  Thor doesn't know if Loki expects him to speak first or if he should wait for Loki to begin, so all he does is sit and press his fingers to the pulse point in his wrist, making sure he's awake and alive and that this isn't a dream.  It feels as though were Thor to stand he would tilt over from the adrenaline pumping through his veins, the fight-or-flight mechanism working overtime to try and save him from whatever fate it is that Loki has planned for him.  No matter what that fate is, though, Thor will accept it with relish and try to understand the meaning behind it.

"For the first time in a long time, the Wordsmith is having trouble speaking.  What you do to me, Thor ... what you have always done," Loki murmurs into the wind, eyes fixed on the skies flowing above them.  "How shall we begin?  Will you tell me all that you have thought or dreamed, or shall I tell you how I feel about the situation we have created for ourselves?  What shall the Thunderer and the Trickster speak of first?"

Thor still can't speak, his mouth opening and closing a few times before he looks away, towards the sun still rising into the sky, and then Loki's there, in front of him on the end of the chair, lips pulled back into a snarl and the words hiss through his teeth, like steam through a grate: "If you can't speak of it, you shouldn't be thinking of it, brother dear."

Without moving, it seems, without actually thinking of what he's doing Thor has his hands around Loki's neck and is pulling him forward, pressing his lips to Loki's and when Loki gasps in surprise (and Thor's brain whispers to him I have him I have him I have finally surprised him he's mine this is what I've always wanted) Thor licks his way into Loki's mouth.  He tastes of smoke and sweetness and ice all at the same time and for a moment, a moment of clarity Thor remembers that if his brother turns Jotun and doesn't heal him his mouth will never be the same, but Loki doesn't, just lets Thor kiss him and press his thumb to the pulse in Loki's neck, the other hand tangling in the hair at Loki's nape.

Thor's going to pull away since Loki's not responding and he fears he's ruined everything again, because he's stupid and impulsive and listens to his heart before his head, but then Loki seems to relax and Thor can feel his gentle acceptance of the situation.  When Loki begins to lean into him it's such the antithesis of what Thor expected that a soft, strangled noise breaks away from his throat and into their lips and he can feel Loki's pleasure coiling around them as Loki reaches out and presses his fingers into Thor's knee, stroking the muscles there that quiver with tension and worry.

When Thor does pull away and Loki chases him backwards for a moment before catching his reaction, narrowing his eyes and pressing his fingers to his lips, the voice in Thor's head is positively gleeful and shouting with mirth.

He can practically hear Loki grinding his teeth that Thor has, for the moment, beat him at his own game, flushed out a reaction that Loki has kept buried within him for an amount of time that Thor doesn't know and it's a moment of pure triumph and love and ridiculous sentiments that Thor can't name.  He can still taste Loki on his lips, and the taste is one that he'll never forget or get sick of or ever stop wanting; now that he's had it, he wants to keep it, and Loki will have to give him a good reason why this can't happen.

Thor just sits there and smiles, grinning like a fool and Loki glares at him but Thor thinks he's not actually angry, just put out that he hasn't made Thor think Loki hates him or something that his mind has made him think.  Finally Thor says, "Actions are easier for me than speaking of what my heart holds."

Loki scoffs.  "That's what gets you into trouble, Thor, that you act before thinking.  You are lucky in that I did not smite you simply for thinking about what you have just done."

The playfulness lacing his tone makes Thor writhe with happiness, with pleasure that Loki understands and maybe even wants what Thor has to offer, what Thor has been afraid to give to him for all the long years that Thor has been aware of what he felt for Loki.

He knows that he and Loki will have to speak of things that have happened, wrongs done to the both of them and maybe they will reach an understanding, maybe they will be able to really get to know each other again after all these long years of fighting and sadness.

"So now you know, Loki.  Now you know the wickedness that lies in my heart," Thor says, pulling Loki's fingers down from his mouth and trapping them in his hand.  "You know what the son of Odin is hiding deep within him, and you have the power to choose what to do with it.  I would gladly give to you my heart, let you keep it for your own if you would have it.  Or, you could reveal me as unworthy to the throne of Asgard for my unnatural lusts and make our father find a new heir.  You have the power to choose, as you have always had regarding me.  I would know your choice, Loki Laufeyson, if only so that I could shape my next steps."

"Our father," Loki whispers, as though the words taste strange on his tongue.  "What does the Allfather know of your lewd goals?  What are his words?"

Thor shrugs and Loki rolls his eyes at the inelegant gesture.  "He wishes you home, though not for the same reasons that I wish you home.  I feel as though he regrets all his actions toward you, he regrets not telling you of your heritage at a time when you would grow into it and understand who you were.  He wants you to come back to the House of Odin, though for what purpose I know not.  That only he can or will tell you, Loki."

Loki's breath hisses through his teeth and the expression on his face is savage and fragile all at the same time.  "'The House of Odin,' you say, when it was the House of Odin that cast me out from the inner circle, that sewed my lips together, that banished me from Asgard because I tried to keep it safe!  The House of Odin, yes, what purpose would I serve the House of Odin?  Court jester, maybe, or whipping boy?  Yes, that is the purpose that Odin has for Loki Laufeyson."

Loki stands and his savage anger and beauty takes Thor's breath away as Loki walks to the edge of the roof, resting his palms on the edge and his head bowed.  If Thor didn't know Loki as well as he did, he would think Loki was crying but Loki doesn't cry (not any more, at least).  "Why return to the House of Odin when I will be cast away again, like a broken toy?"

Thor gets up quietly, approaching Loki at the edge of the roof slowly, fearing that if Loki is distraught enough that he might throw himself off the edge (though, he reminds himself, Loki is completely capable of healing himself, and if he survived a fall through the breaking Bifrost that he would survive a two-story fall to the ground, but still).  Softly, gently, he palms the small of Loki's back with his right hand, his thumb tracing over the bones he can feel even through the jacket of Loki's suit.  The other hand twines with Loki's on the metal edge, feeling the delicate bones of Loki's hand shifting as Loki tightens his grip on Thor's fingers.  Loki shifts sideways and rests his shoulder in the middle of Thor's chest, turning his head to breathe against Thor's cheek and Thor takes the opportunity to press kisses to the parts of Loki's face that he can reach without moving: cheek, ear, temple, curve of the chin.

Loki chuckles wetly and Thor realizes that Loki was close to tears even if none fell, and then Loki turns to curve into his whole body, head tucked under Thor's chin, one arm around Thor's back and the other tangled in the fabric of Thor's shirt.

"Then where you go, Loki, I will go.  I won't let you go alone, not for the rest of our long lives."  The words come out in a whisper and Thor wonders if Loki has heard them, though the chance of him not is slim to none, and he worries that he's overstepped his bounds again.

"Even if it means you cannot or will not take the crown?" The words are said against the skin of his throat and Thor feels them more than hears them, and it takes a moment for Thor to answer.

"Even then, Loki.  Even then."

"I am not capable of caring for someone, Thor.  I will hurt you.  I will run.  I cannot guarantee that this will be a happy relationship.  I cannot guarantee you anything, except that you will have my anger and my hate to deal with even if they are not directed at you," Loki mumbles and Thor thinks that he might be ashamed of how he deals with things.  "I do not want you to think that we will prance among wildflowers and kiss under the moon and live a perfect life.  Even here on Midgard, our relationship will draw stares and cruel words and hate.  Can you deal with that?"

"For you, Loki, anything."

"Anything?" It's asked slyly, and Thor knows that voice.

"Within reason, Loki.  Within reason, because anything does not include the destruction of Midgard or Jotunheim or anywhere else unless proven that it is needed."

Loki chuckles into Thor's throat.  "You know me more than all others, Thor."  He pulls away to look Thor in the eyes, and there's a soft smile on his face that Thor hasn't seen for centuries, he's sure, but it's more welcome than anything else right now.  "If I ask you to, will you save me from myself?"

"Only if you promise to do the same thing for me, Loki," and Thor brackets Loki's face in his hands and presses a kiss to his forehead, lingering there to trace his nose down the arch of Loki's own and back to his lips, and they kiss again.  Like the first, it leaves Thor breathless with pleasure that Loki is not pulling away or fighting or turning Jotun to spite him, to teach him a lesson, and Thor knows that Loki's more starved for affection than he ever imagined, that Loki has never had the affection that Thor has had all his life.  Loki's hands wrap around his wrists and holds him there and Loki chases Thor's tongue back into his mouth, and that Loki wants to know him as Thor wants to know Loki makes another noise squeak up through his throat and his hips stutter against Loki's.

Loki laughs as he pulls away but it isn't cruel, it isn't mocking, and levity sparkles in his eyes as he kisses Thor once more, quickly this time.  "Not on the first date, Thor; I'm not easy."

The laugh that Thor lets loose makes Jane jerk up from her work and look up at the ceiling, her lips thinning for a moment until she smiles and goes back to her data points.  Darcy smirks knowingly, and Erik just sighs and continues working at his computer.

Things might just be back to a semblance of normalcy.

Chapter Text

It was long established that where Thor was all action and brawn and spirit, Loki was thought and stealth and quiet.  Loki imagines that this is why they were such a lethal duo as children, because there was Loki who came up with the plans and spurred Thor into action, and Thor who would enact them and make sure they wouldn't get caught (and if they did, it was Loki's mouth and Thor's face that got them out of it).

Now, though, Loki has to wonder if there's not some hidden super-intelligentsia in Thor's mind that he employs to get Loki to do what he wants (since, ordinarily, it's the other way 'round), that makes Loki cave and soften and generally follow Thor around like some love-sick maiden.

Which he is, most assuredly, not.  Not at all.  Not even the tiniest bit.

(Unless you include his female form, which he does not, since it's a shape change of choice and not something that he was born as, much like his horse-shape.  Just because his entire biology changes doesn't make him more or less a man, though some would say otherwise.  He wonders if Thor would like his female form as much as he likes the other forms, but it's almost painful to imagine if he doesn't.)

Which leads Loki to think about his current situation: standing in the middle of the god-forsaken Midgardian desert whilst Thor susses out a time-space rip, preparing to return to Asgard to ... well, he doesn't quite know, and that makes him uneasy.  He supposes that he could help Thor find it, but it's amusing to watch him tromp around in the desert heat in his full armor while Loki uses his magic to keep himself cool, and it takes his mind off their return to the Golden Hall.

It took some time for Loki to return his armor to its former glory, since the fall from Asgard hadn't done it any good and it's difficult to find a worthy metal smith in Midgard that isn't going to bollocks up the delicate balance of metal and magic that he's put into the gauntlets and the breastplate.  He finally just took to the task himself, buying all the necessary equipment with the meager salary made at a bookshop he found a job at and working out the kinks and the dents.  The bookshop turned out to be a blessing, for it held all sorts of esoteric books on metal work and filigree and the owner allows - or allowed, since he's not returning there - him to take the books home, as long as he returns them in proper condition.

After weeks hammering and polishing and impregnating the metal with power, it finally returns to its former glory, though Loki had anticipated never wearing it again.  Fate's a funny thing, though, and he doesn't know what to think about standing in the Southwestern United States in 105 degree heat, waiting for Thor to find his blasted portal.  Loki already knows where it is, but this is Thor's return mission, not his, so there's no point in assisting.

With a cry of success, Thor finds the rip in space and beckons Loki over - and Loki's not going because of the joy on Thor's face, he's not - and as Loki stops next to him, Thor wraps thick fingers around his wrist.

"If you do not wish to go, Loki, I understand."  Thor's looking at him as though Loki will crack him over the head with his helm and bolt, and it hurts in the smallest amount that Thor would think that way of him, but Loki hasn't made it easy for Thor to think any other way about him for the past decades.

Loki rolls his shoulders and knows that Thor means well, means to leave him a way out but Loki has never been one to obviously run from his problems; to back out now, to return to his tiny apartment in Worcester and his books and his boring, mortal life would be hiding from his problems in a way that Loki can't bear.  It's different when he can lie and squirm his way out of unpleasant situations - that's one of his many skills, after all - but when faced with direct challenges, Loki doesn't back down.

"No, Thor.  It is fine, don't worry.  If I wish to leave, I have my ways."  Loki twists his wrist away but, lest Thor think he doesn't want the contact, twines his fingers with Thor's.  He doesn't know if it's more for his comfort or Thor's.

The sight of the Golden Hall makes panic curl in Loki's stomach, and the urge to run and hide in the catacombs is nearly overwhelming. It's only because Thor's warm palm rests in the small of his back, giving him some strength that he doesn't bolt, doesn't turn tail.  They stand in a hidden archway for a time, watching the people come and go.  It's almost surreal for Loki, as the last time he was in Asgard he was king and was trying to do what was best in his own twisted way - Loki acknowledges that he went about it the wrong way, so wrong, but how else could he have made Thor see?  Thor stopped listening to him years ago on matters of war and peace and only the most drastic action would have made him stop and do things differently, so Loki did it, and all it got him was being tossed off the Bifrost.

(Not so much "tossed" as "voluntarily let go of Gungnir", he reminds himself.)

If he turns his head slightly, he can see the shattered remains of the Bifrost where Thor would have let them both die than destroy Jotunheim or Midgard and that familiar hatred burns through him for a second, but he reminds himself that Thor is his, not that pandering mortal woman, and nothing can make him let go, nothing.  Heimdall still stands at the edge, looking outward, and Loki knows that Heimdall has seen their return but he doesn't seem to care.  At least, they haven't been accosted by guards and Loki hasn't been tossed into the deepest dungeon or made to pay the heaviest weregild that Odin can come up with.  He supposes that he'll be made to return the Casket of Ancient Winters (though it is, by rights, his, as the killer of Laufey and therefore ruler of Jotunheim, so Loki wants to see Odin try) and probably made to help return the Bifrost to its former glory, though with his magic the task will be not as difficult as it seems.

Loki takes off his helmet and tucks it under his arm, letting the wind blow through his hair before turning to Thor.  "I would prefer to not die tonight, Thor.  I have survived this long, and I intend to keep it that way."

He can feel Thor tighten up next to him, muscles tense and corded and Loki fears that it's his fault, that he's upset Thor.

"I will never allow that to happen, Loki.  Ever."



That Thor would protect him over all others replaces the panic still curled in his middle with the warmth of affection, something Loki hasn't felt for someone in a very long time.

They end up sneaking into the Golden Hall and there aren't many warriors eating, which pleases Loki more than he can tell. He doesn't replace his helm, simply because it limits his perception and view and if he needs to run and take Thor with him, the loss of it will not upset him. Odin sits on the throne and Frigga is next to him, guards lining the steps.

Well, that rules out the idea that Heimdall didn't tell anyone of their arrival.  There would be no guards on a quiet night like this, so there must be a reason.

Without waiting for Thor, Loki steps into the open and marches down the center of the hall.  It takes people a moment to notice him, but when they do the whispers start, then the shouting, and it's all Loki can do to keep walking, to block out the noise around him, except for Thor's heartbeat that he can sense behind him.

When he reaches the bottom of the throne, he almost expects the guards to take him down, hewn his head from his shoulders, but they don't move a muscle.  Loki pauses and then Thor's next to him, Mjolnir in his hand.  Without looking Odin or Frigga in the eye, he sets his helm on the lowest step and slowly, almost glacially, he kneels, head bowed, waiting for his judgment.

As long as he and Thor are not separated, as long as he doesn't die, as long as his magic isn't taken (as long as as long as so many conditions, Loki) everything will be fine.  Everything will be fine.

His knees begin to ache and he thinks that this is it, he's going to stay in this position forever, warriors shouting for his head, for his death.  The end of Gungnir slams down onto the floor with a shower of sparks and everyone quiets, acquiescing to Odin's command.

Loki can hear Odin coming down the stairs and he stops before him, using the bladed end of the spear to tilt Loki's head up, the edge pressing into the base of his chin.  Loki swallows and knows that even if Thor were to act now, even if he were to strike Odin down, Loki would be dead before the hammer's blow fell.  They lock eyes and Loki can't suppress another swallow, jiggling the spear where is rests against his skin.

"I would have you take your true form, Loki Laufeyson."  The words are a command and Loki shifts instantly, frost riming the blade and Odin looks down at him and Loki can't tell what the Allfather is thinking, what his fate will be now that all of Asgard knows of the serpent in their midst, knows that Loki is not Aesir and never was.

"For your acts while acting king, you cannot and shall not be punished."

The words make Loki close his eyes in momentary relief, but Odin's next words make them snap back open.

"For the act of leading to the breaking of the Bifrost, I, Odin Allfather, sentence you to complete the repairs, alone and unassisted.  For the injury of Heimdall, guardian of the Bifrost, you shall pay to him one full week of work.  Do you accept these terms, Loki Laufeyson?"

Loki's lips part and nothing comes put, until he wets them and tries again.  "I accept the terms, Odin Allfather."

Gungnir is pulled away and Odin still stands above him, his lone eye burning through Loki and Loki remembers that Odin sees more than most people and understands more as well, but that does nothing to dampen his fear.  They just stare at each other, until Odin quirks his lips and he's smiling at Loki, smiling at him like he was a young child again that got caught breaking into the kitchens for a midnight snack.

"Then rise, and take your place in the House of Odin, Loki Odinson."

The words bite through him, and for a moment Loki wants to rip the smile off Odin's face but he takes it for what it is, not what he makes it: it's Odin's way of apologizing, and Loki will take this small forgiveness for his many crimes and coax more out of Odin at a later time.  Odin ascends the stairs again but Loki can't rise, or won't, maybe, until Thor wraps a hand under his arm and helps him stand.  He squashes the Jotun back inside of him before taking Thor's hand, and together they make their way to where Frigga sits at the high table.

Frigga presses a kiss to his temple, then to his cheek, smiling at him even as she cries.  Loki brushes away her tears, murmuring as they sit, "Hello, mother."

The warriors are still rumbling their discontent, hands on sword hilts, ready to fight at a moment's notice and Thor sees this and Loki can practically hear the wheels turning in his head as he squints at them.  More people have entered the hall now, and Loki wouldn't be surprised if the whole of Asgard was aware of his return.

He is surprised when Thor presses a whiskery kiss to his temple, mirroring Frigga's actions, but when Loki turns to him to ask him what he's doing Thor kisses him and Loki reacts automatically, mouth slipping open to allow Thor entrance before he can realize where they are and what they're doing.  Thor pulls away and smiles, and turns to his meal.

Loki can feel the flush flowing across his face and down his back, and he glances at his mother only to see her smiling softly before she pats his hand and turns to her own meal.

The warriors say nothing.  Loki looks up at them and they look back, until they turn away and Loki's won, at least for the moment.

All that matters is his mother, and his happiness, and Thor.

Everything will be fine.