It's dawn, or perhaps dusk, and the room is bathed in soft, golden light. There is a woman standing in front of the tall windows, taking in the view over Asgard.
"Jane?" Thor asks, disbelieving. She looks over her shoulder at him, smiling, and he takes a step forward, then another. It's impossible that she is here, Thor thinks as she turns, and for a moment, her eyes almost look green.
It's impossible that she is here.
He has her by the arms before he realizes he's moved, hope and anger and fear surging forth within him.
"Stop," he says, his voice low, angry. "Stop wearing her face."
She is perfect, and she is wrong; it hurts to look at her. She lifts her chin, the look in her eyes speculative.
"How did you know?"
Thor shakes his head, mulish; it takes several heartbeats before she does him the courtesy of doing what he asked. He feels it before he sees it, the form he's holding onto gaining height and width, and then, Jane is gone and in her place --
"Loki." Thor knows he's holding on too tight, must be leaving bruises on Loki's arms, but finds himself unable to loosen his grip. Loki doesn't seem to notice.
"Brother," he says, and Thor is unable to parse his tone. The greeting could be sincere, or Loki could be mocking him. Thor finds himself not caring one way or the other, the reality of having Loki in front of him, alive and whole, overwhelming everything else.
"Don't ever do that again," he says, using his hold on Loki to shake him a little, and is met with a raised eyebrow.
"I thought you'd rather see her than me." Loki's tone is detached, but the look in his eyes is venomous, accusing. "She's the one you want. Isn't she?"
"Not if it means losing you," Thor says. He doesn't want to choose, and it's not what he meant -- don't ever disappear like that again, don't ever die, Loki, I forbid you -- but it's the truth, and while Loki never quite got the hang of telling the truth himself, Thor believes he deserves it nonetheless.
Loki scoffs, but he doesn't twist away from Thor, not even when Thor leans in until their foreheads touch.
"I've missed you." It slips out, another truth, and Loki turns his head away.
"You know what I am," Loki says.
"You're my brother. You're --" mine, Thor doesn't finish. His brother, his friend, his advisor, his confidant; his. It's impossible to imagine a life without Loki at his side, and he's been trying, these past few months. He doesn't want to have to do it anymore.
"I never took you for a liar," Loki says, even though it's clear from his tone that he doesn't believe his own words. "It doesn't suit you."
He touches Thor's abdomen, his fingertips cool against Thor's skin. Thor looks down and frowns, puzzled: he's wearing those black pants Jane gave him, and no shirt. That's not right. Loki meets his eyes with a look Thor is familiar with, waiting for Thor to figure it out.
"I am dreaming." Thor wants to be wrong, for Loki to shake his head and tell him to try again.
Instead, it's Thor who ends up shaking his head as Loki nods. Despair is an emotion he wouldn't have recognized before his time in Midgard, but he's familiar with its tendrils now, can feel them reaching for him.
"You are dreaming, yes," Loki says, pressing his palms flat against Thor's stomach, a welcome, alien touch; "but that doesn't make me any less real."
"You fell," Thor says, frustrated, lost. "Where are you?"
"I am here, with you." Loki slides his hands up until he's resting them on Thor's chest. His right hand turns into a claw, his nails pressing half-moon crescents into the skin over Thor's heart.
"Where are you when you're not with me?" He asks, and Loki tilts his head, looking contemplatively at his hand before lowering it.
"I'm always with you." He leans down to press his lips against the marks, and Thor's breath stutters. Loki moves up, his cheek brushing against Thor's neck, his jaw. His voice, when he speaks, is a hot gust of air next to Thor's ear. "You're like a sickness I can't shake."
Thor has a hand in Loki's hair before he can think about it, and he uses his grip to pull Loki's head back, just a little too far for the angle to be comfortable.
"Then I do not wish for your health." His voice catches in his throat, comes out as a snarl. It's an inane thing to say -- unlike Loki, he has little patience for riddles and metaphors -- but he's frustrated and afraid, and no matter what Loki has done or what grudges he bears, Thor doesn't want to be rid of him.
Loki's smile is all teeth, unfriendly, and Thor doesn't want to hear what he has to say; he doesn't think before he covers Loki's mouth with his own, the press of their lips muffling the sound of Loki's surprise. Thor means to keep it short -- he only wanted to stop Loki from speaking, it's a dream, it doesn't have to mean anything -- and then Loki kisses him back. He feels Loki's hands slide into his hair, long fingers cradling the back of his head, fingertips against bone, daring him to try and pull away. Loki turns the kiss into something ungentle and fevered, like it's a fight he thinks he can win. His sharp teeth bite into Thor's lower lip, drawing blood. Thor growls, his hands hard on Loki's shoulder blades, his lower back, dragging him in until their hips collide. He pushes his tongue into Loki's mouth, and Loki licks the traces of blood from it, moans as if he likes the taste.
Thor has never allowed himself to want this. It's wrong, he knows it is; he can love Loki as a brother, a friend, a confidant, but not like this, never like this.
It doesn't feel wrong. Even with the throb of pain from where Loki bit him, the blood, it doesn't feel wrong. Thor tries to believe it doesn't matter because it's not real -- but he's never been a liar, and it's too late to start now.
It's real, it matters, and he doesn't stop.
He's hard, the throb of arousal and want in his blood familiar, known. Less familiar is the press of Loki's body against his own, hard and lean and desired; he frames Loki's hips with his hands to feel the way they move, the barely controlled, wanton little circles creating friction, heat, need.
"Loki." Their lips brush as he speaks. Loki hisses at him and uses his teeth again, gentler this time, a warning. Thor slides a hand down to Loki's backside and uses his hold to encourage Loki to move harder, grinds his own hips against Loki's with more force and focus. The sound Loki makes is very nearly a purr; he's looking at Thor with half-lidded, poison-bright eyes, and his nails are digging into Thor's skin with casual cruelty.
Thor doesn't think either of them will last for much longer; he's right. A few more moments and Loki shudders against him, his head falling back, his mouth open and unaware of its own vulnerability. Thor follows him over the edge, making no attempt to prolong the inevitable. His body curves around Loki's, and he presses his face against Loki's neck, breathes in. Beneath the distinctive musk of arousal, the metallic tang of blood, the leather and pine and paper and ink, there is something sharp and fresh and cold that makes Thor think of arctic springs, of hard winters and frozen rivers and sunlight on snow.
The moment fades, its heat dissipating. Thor doesn't want to let go, but he doesn't resist when Loki squirms in his arms, pushes away from him.
Loki looks wrecked. His hair is a mess, his mouth swollen, his skin smeared with blood. Thor doubts he's much better off, himself. It's the look in Loki's eyes he doesn't like. What they did, it's not something Thor saw coming. He should regret it, but he doesn't; the thought of waking up and finding it was really nothing but a dream makes his insides twist far worse than the thought of having to deal with the reality of what Loki means to him.
But there's something spooked in Loki's eyes, something Thor can tell is on the verge of turning ugly. Loki licks blood from his lips and smoothes down his hair; Thor wishes he knew the right words to keep whatever lies Loki is telling himself from taking root. He's always known Loki better than Loki thinks, but never as well as he should.
"Will you come home, Loki?" He asks. "Will you come to me in flesh and blood instead of sneaking into my dreams, so unsure of your welcome that you seek my company while wearing someone else's skin?"
Loki's mouth twists. He doesn't look at Thor when he speaks.
"Home? To be punished and imprisoned, to be taught a lesson and then cast aside, forgotten? Asgard is not my home."
"Mother misses you. Father will forgive you. Think you so little of us, are you so sure of what you believe to be true, that you would forsake all you knew and all that love you?"
"Think you so little of yourself that you would welcome me with open arms despite all I've done? Despite all that I am?" Loki spits out, his skin turning blue, his eyes bleeding into red.
"If it made you happy," Thor says, stepping closer, "I would cut out my heart."
He takes Loki's hand in his, feeling the bone-deep coldness of it for barely a second before Loki's Asgardian skin flows back, the bite of winter hidden away like it never existed.
Loki holds himself still, looking at their joined hands.
"You don't mean that," he says.
"I have always loved you," Thor vows; "I always will."
Loki shakes his head and laughs, a bitter, unhappy sound.
"What is it like in your head, I wonder?" He looks up, his eyes like jewels, unreadable. "For everything to be so simple, so grand. For you to actually believe the foolish, half-witted things you say."
"You can insult me if it makes you feel better," Thor says, unmoved. "If you're so tangled in your own lies that even the simplest truths have become unrecognizable to you."
Loki lifts his free hand and touches Thor's cheek, feather-light. It feels like a goodbye.
"Your anger," he says. "It used to be like lightning. What have you done with it?"
"Father's lessons are not unjust. Before I was forced to learn humility, the storm controlled me. Now I control the storm."
Loki drops his hand and looks away.
"That woman again," he says. "I do not wish to hear how her love changed you."
"I care for her greatly," Thor says, tightening his hold on Loki's hand when he makes to pull away, "nothing will change that. But it wasn't her alone that made me see that Father -- and you, Loki -- were right about me. I won't let you use her as a reason to disappear again."
"You won't let me." Loki's voice is dangerously flat.
Thor yanks him close, his hard-won control threatening to unravel.
"That's not how I meant it. Must you twist everything I say and ignore everything I mean?"
Loki presses his lips into a thin line, his fingers twitching against Thor's.
"I don't know what you want from me."
"I don't want anything from you," Thor says, but he can tell that Loki doesn't believe him, or just doesn't understand. "Brother --"
Loki shakes his head sharply, and Thor falls silent. There's a long pause before Loki speaks, his voice distant, his words unrelated, so it seems to Thor, to their conversation.
"I have hated you," Loki says like it doesn't matter, like it's just an observation. It shouldn't hurt as much as it does; it's nothing Thor doesn't already know. "And I have -- missed you."
"Then come home," Thor says, feeling like he's trying to hold on to a fistful of sand, the grains slipping through his fingers like water.
Loki takes a step back.
"One day, perhaps."
It's not a no; the remaining grains of sand stick to Thor's skin like hope. "And in the meantime, will you visit?"
"It's not up to me whether you dream of me or not," Loki says, taking another step back, his hand still in Thor's, their arms outstretched.
"Liar," Thor says, the shape of the word too fond in his mouth.
He catches a glimpse of Loki's smile, fleeting, and then he's holding nothing but air.
The dream dissolves around him, fading fast.
He wakes up to a darkened room, thunder racing across the sky outside. When he swallows, he tastes blood.