The first time Loki disappears, no-one sees him go. They wake up the next morning and he is just gone.
For Thor, life becomes a haze of sensation, red and bitter. There is pain there, somewhere – but it is overtaken by the need to crush, to choke, to maim and kill and destroy. A storm so unleashed cannot be contained, even with his friends screaming at him to stop. Their screams do not matter. They are at the eye. They will not be hurt.
And if Loki is already hurt, out of sight and out of reach, Thor will make those who stole him away hurt and hurt and hurt forever and always until Loki is returned to him.
It is a mistake, of course. Three days into their captivity, they still do not know what it is that their captors want of them. Even the circumstances of their capture had been peculiar. It had not quite been a trap; to Thor’s mind, there is no way they could have known where they would be and when on this impulsive excursion to Vanaheimr. Yet it all happened so quick and so perfect it is hard to believe otherwise.
However it happened they are here now in this dark place where Volstagg’s wounds, sustained during the fierce yet brief skirmish in which they were taken, fester. The peculiar smooth not-stone walls dampen all magics, and Mjölnir remains where it had fallen at the ambush point. Thor knows that. As he fights now he can feel the distant thrum of thunder and storm in his fingers, but his hammer will not come to him even as he thinks of his brother and all who will perish for his suffering.
Loki’s own frustrations had grown by the moment, whenever he hunched over Volstagg with fingers clenching and unclenching as he tried to work his magics. Healing spells have never been his forte, but here they are nothing he can control at all. And now he is gone, with or without his sorcery, and suddenly the threat over them does not matter and Thor fights again, fights for the first time since the first day when they had broken Volstagg’s other leg to force the thunder to contain itself, leaving the lightning to spark impotently as if caught in a brooding bitter bottle.
This time, on this the fourth day of their ordeal, they do not break any of his bones – nor do they break those of anyone else. Thor does not know what that means for him, for any of them. They simply bind him in fetters, head ringing from the final blow of a gauntleted forearm.
“Return him,” he croaks all the same. “Return him, or I will kill you all.”
They laugh. The god of thunder is brought low, in this place, and they do not fear him. But still, as Sif finishes tying the last clumsy knot of his makeshift bandage with her swollen sprained fingers, they give Loki back.
At first, Thor does not see him, aching head held low both in pain and in shame. Then there is a narrow dark figure on his knees, pale fingers on his arm. “Brother, what foolishness is this?” comes the soft voice, despair and frustration mixed tight with deep resignation. “Can I not trust you to behave for even half a day without my constant supervision?”
Thor’s hair hangs in his eyes when his head jerks up, filthy with blood and sweat, but still he sees Loki as clearly as he would the sun. “I thought…you…Loki, you were gone.”
“And now I am returned.” Something odd moves behind those green eyes, but it is too dark in their dank cell to make anything of it before he turns away. “I have something for you, Volstagg.”
It proves to be medicine, a balm to soothe the wounds of capture and confinement. Thor can only watch, bound at wrist and ankle and knee, as his brother’s clever hands work magic with the mundane rather than the extraordinary.
It is two days before they remove his fetters, two days before he can enclose his brother’s slim form in his bruised and bleeding arms and truly understand that he had not been lost to them after all.
But then Loki disappears twice more, and Thor begins to wonder if he has slipped away out of his reach even after he managed to catch hold that one last time.
With the passing of eight days Volstagg’s wounds take a turn for the worse. Hogun, never much prone to words, becomes even more reticent. Fandral’s quick wit has all but dried up, though he tries to pretend otherwise. Yet when he speaks lightly of home the heaviness behind his eyes makes Thor wish he’d just shut up and let despair pull him under until he drowns of it.
Sif exists in a constant state of uneasy defiance. The eyes of their armoured captors rest upon her in languid curiosity, which she can challenge only with silence. She would give them a fight should they go further, Thor knows. They all would, and damn the consequences. But they never do. They are never required to.
“So what do they want of us?”
The question has been asked a thousand times. Yet even as their words of optimism and bolstering faith fade like paintings overexposed to the sun and starlight, these words remain as stark as the first time they were spoken.
They are still unanswered now. And the blade of that cuts deeper than even the everyday erosion of hope.
The silence between them is made only all the more peculiar by how loud Loki makes it seem. Though he has never been chatty, has never been the type to fill conversational pauses for the sake of mere noise, his silver tongue has always woven a net, has always caught what it needed to shape the world to something familiar and sensible. That net seems to now be full of holes that they all slip through, falling ever downward with nothing tangible left to hold on to.
Thor has now counted Loki’s absences at six times, and those only while he has been awake. It is never made much of; their captors come and Loki goes with them without ever once looking back.
The fourth time, just after his fetters has been removed, Thor had tried to stop him. A hand shot out before Thor even thought of it, fingers digging deep into Loki’s arm. One of the guards had raised a gauntlet, but Thor did not flinch. He kept his eyes only for his brother.
And Loki’s eyes had only been upon him. “What are you doing, brother?” he had asked, light and cool in the manner of spring rain.
“Where are you going?”
His fingers had tightened; Loki’s arm already seemed thinner, and he had not been thickly-muscled to begin with. “I won’t allow it.”
The sound from the guard had been somewhere between a chortle and a snarl. Loki’s eyes had flicked up, sideways, latched onto the masked Vanir’s like a homing spell filled with wildfire promise. “A moment, I beg you. I will handle this.”
“Be quick about it, silvertongue,” the guard had replied, and paused; beneath the serpent helm came a faint hiss of something like laughter. “Clever little silvertongue.”
Something strange had reverberated in those words. Beneath their weight Loki had grimaced, but the expression flittered away as he looked back to Thor. “Volstagg needs this. Let me go.”
“The medicine? He…is getting better, it cannot be denied.” Thor’s brow still furrowed, a deep and barren field. “But what are you doing?”
“What I must.” Pale fingers had closed over his, cold and steady. “It costs me little, Thor.”
“But what are you doing?” he repeated, and Loki had looked away.
“You heard him. Clever little silvertongue.” Pushing his hand from his ragged sleeve, Loki had turned his back. “Even caged birds know how to sing.”
Then he was gone. It is always that way, though Thor has not tried to stop him again. Still, despite all care Volstagg has worsened once more and it makes Thor wonder if the price Loki is paying is worth it. But his back is always straight when he leaves and he never looks back. In that self-possession he might be walking the halls of Asgard, proud and dismissive of the whispers that had dogged his heels even there.
Fandral watches him go, eyes ever watchful. While he will never match Loki’s talent for dissemination and deduction, his intelligence is keen enough. “What is he doing?” he says, and Thor does not look up from the scuffed dirt between his knees.
“Keeping us alive.”
It is not the answer Fandral had wanted and they all know it. “How?”
“In his own way.”
Because Thor will still not raise his head – he often will not until Loki stands before him, whole and watchful once again – he cannot see Fandral’s expression. His ears, always sharpened for the rigours of war, however cannot miss the curving suspicion of Fandral’s next words. “Loki has always been too quick with his tongue.”
And Thor’s head snaps up. “What are you saying?”
Fandral recognises the tone: the warning rumble of an oncoming storm. Even the distant sky turns over uneasily, for all their powers are dampened in this place and they cannot even see the sky to know such a thing. Thor feels it anyway, just as he still feels the distant echo of Mjölnir’s own growing sparking frustration. Yet that fact just reminds him that Odin Allfather has not found even Mjölnir; for that, Thor knows they themselves will not be so easily found either.
Loki is all the hope they have in this place, even though Thor himself knows not what game his brother plays with their captors. But Loki has played his games their whole lives, and so often has won even when he lets others believe they have in his place, just to keep the peace. Thor might not understand those games, their rules, or often even his own role in them. But he knows what they mean to Loki. For him, that is enough.
He fixes his eyes upon Fandral, blue eyes shot through with electric-silver warning.
“Do you not trust my brother?”
The swordsman raises both eyebrow and hand in appeasement, a weary glint in his eyes. “Thor, forgive me – but you know as well as I that Loki has never been one to pander to something as simple as another’s trust.”
Thor knows it would not be fair to put his hands around Fandral’s throat and choke him into silence. This impotent unchannelled anger is not meant for him. Still he struggles to keep his hands to himself as he waits for Loki to return. As the older brother, the great broad warrior, Thor has always been the one to lead, to blaze the trail of their adventures. In this, his failure to be always at the side of his younger brother while Loki walks these unknown paths alone, he has never felt so small.
The eleventh night fades away, and the beginning of the twelfth day creeps in to take its place. This means it is either very late or very early when Loki returns. Every other time he has returned at such an hour, he has moved the way he always has – the confident slink of a feline who thinks to own all his paws rest upon. This time, things are not the same. The door closes at his back and though there is no indication of a shove or a push, he stumbles.
Thor, only just wakened from uneasy slumber, barely registers it at first. He’s only ever managed troubled sleep when Loki is gone, but even when he remains Volstagg’s febrile mutterings and convulsions don’t allow for much else.
But it is no trick of the light, or a tired mind. Loki tries to be silent, tries to keep to the shadows, but his clumsiness is unmistakable. A moment later he loses his balance, goes down on one knee while a low keen of pain escapes his throat.
“Loki?” Thor pushes upward, leans forward; his left arm still aches from when he’d been unable to keep his sharp words to himself yesterday. And they said it was his brother whose mouth ought to be sewn shut. “…Loki, what have they done to you?”
“It is nothing. I merely…hit my knee. I tripped.”
Elegant Loki rarely trips, never falls. A mountain goat in his footing from earliest memory, Loki is even more like those creatures in that he makes it look so easy that others will try to mimic his motions with casual confidence. And when they fail he will look only blandly on, safe in the knowledge of his own mastery.
But now, his face is turned to the ground, hair hanging in dark shadows across a too-pale face. His breath quickens, shallow and pained, and Thor can do nothing but reach forward, reach out. “Brother, you are not—”
“Are you calling me a liar?”
Harsh and hissed, the words seem more the displayed fangs of a roused cobra. Thor lurches back, and even the smooth spell-wrought walls of this prison dig into his spine as he stares at the flashing eyes of his younger brother.
“I would never.”
The whispered words are an incantation. Loki sags, face turned away once again as all his anger leeches clean away. “Then let it drop.”
But he will not let Loki go, his hand closing lightly about his arm, drawing him close. Loki flinches, but oddly enough he allows it. Generally they all prefer to sleep apart, despite the claustrophobia of the cell – or perhaps because of the claustrophobia of the cell. Sleep is the only real escape they have from one another. It is not the only escape they dream of, but as things stand it is almost all they have.
The only other opportunity comes in the form of the tiny and not always accessible bathing chamber that adjoins their cell. Though Thor cares not so much for himself, it at least gives some privacy to Sif – though as a woman marching to war amongst an army of men she had learned to care little for niceties. But in this confined space, those snatched moments of solitude are precious. And for all the facilities are barely even rudimentary that has never been the point.
Loki has always hated to be dirty. Thor might have been glad for the bathing chamber just for that, if not for the fact that when Loki leaves he comes back cleaner than when he had left. There’s almost a perverse gratitude in that for him, Thor thinks – because all the boons Loki brings back are always given to the others. He never touches them himself, even when Thor pleads for him to take extra food ration. If possible, Loki’s already meagre appetite has deteriorated to almost nothing.
Perhaps that is all he takes for himself: the opportunity to scrape away dust and dirt, to order his hair which is so unruly otherwise. Knowing his brother, even simultaneously knowing the ridiculousness of such a thing, Thor is glad. Not even the watchful reproach of Hogun, the resentment of Sif, the curious flatness of Fandral, can take that from him.
Volstagg of course notices little outside his contained delirium. Thor sometimes wonders if the medicines keep him that way a-purpose. Such thoughts are usually quickly followed by deep shame; in the healing chambers on Asgard they can induce something not unlike the Odinsleep to allow untroubled recuperation. Why should Loki not attempt the same here, if it gives Volstagg some respite from his agonies?
Loki’s head upon his shoulder now is heavy, the weight of his thoughts too much for even Thor to heft. Even when he is here he does not sleep much. Still, Loki sighs, makes to rise, to return to his own pallet. Thor raises a hand, places the palm softly upon its great curve.
“Lay your head, brother,” he says, soft. “I will watch over your dreams.”
“I would really rather you didn’t, Thor.” Long limbs twitch with deep exhaustion, though he does not manage to move away. “My dreams are hardly worth the watching.”
“Still, I shall.”
A sigh evaporates from his lips, leaves only stillness between them. Thor leans his own head down, catches the faint scent of evening rose. A hand rises, almost of its own volition. Loki hadn’t always hated Thor playing with his hair, but when they’d left the easy intimacies of childhood behind he’d become twitchy about it, like a proud tomcat that could not stand to be petted like a kept animal.
Thor’s hand stills on Loki’s hair, caught dead by the strangeness in his voice. Loki rarely displays such vulnerability, and especially not in mixed company. Again Thor thinks of their childhood, of hours spent curled together in his bed. In those days, when thunderstorms rocked the skies and stormclouds chased stars, Loki’s wide eyes had stared at the ceiling with deep distrust. Thor would then lean close, a whisper dropped into one ear.
What are you afraid of, brother?
Why? I am the storm, brother mine. And as long as I am its master, it will never hurt you. I won’t allow it.
“You are the strategist, Loki,” he says, voice quiet and strange. “Brute force has already proven to be of no use to us, if we are to escape. How best otherwise? Are we to wait? Or is there another way?”
“I have a theory, Thor.” The long fingers spasm, then settle upon his knees. “Let me think on it a while longer. Such things are delicate with creatures such as these, and dangerous.”
Thor feels Sif’s eyes on them, as accusing as her fingers are restless. They’re not as bruised as they had been, and she has been teasing out scraps of wood from the doors, tiny splintered daggers to hide in her sleeves. Such tenacity is no surprise; she has never been one to sit idle. Even now, with her hair hanging in her eyes and a dark bruise across one cheekbone, her dark eyes flash with freshly stoked fire.
“If it’s danger you want, then we ought to just fight our way out,” she mutters as she stares at Loki’s latest acquisition: a small bushel of fat apples. “Better to die a warrior than live as a worm.”
They do live like worms, Thor cannot deny it. They coil around each other in damp darkness, half-blind and indistinct in wreathing shadow. He opens his mouth to deny it all the same, but Loki’s thin voice cuts right through.
“Grant me a little more time,” he says, clear lines of exhaustion sharpening even his vulpine features. “I think there is yet more I can do, with a little more time.”
“And what is it that you do, while we all sit here and grow only all the weaker?”
“I live up to my name.” But the inflexibility of those words vanishes as quickly as it came, Loki’s body going limp against Thor’s. “I am weary, Lady Sif. Please, enjoy your fruit, and allow me my sleep.”
A mismatched expression of guilt and defiance moves across her face. Thor watches, Loki pressed against his side, and wonders if her pride will stop her from closing one hand about the piece meant for her. Finally, she raises it to her lips, teeth pressed hard against the skin. “Thank you. My prince.”
Loki only inclines his head in the slightest acknowledgement. Silence descends again, but for the faint crunch of the apple. To Thor’s ear it sounds very fresh; he might take one for himself. But not now. Later. They are just out of reach, and even if he thought to ask for one he doesn’t want to risk disturbing Loki with either the motion or the sound of eating.
“Are you well, brother?” he murmurs against his hair. “Truly?”
“I am well.”
Accusing him of a lie now would be disastrous, he knows. All Thor is left with are words he desperately hopes to be the truth. “You need not do these things.”
“I do what I must.”
One hand tightens about his waist. Loki is far too thin. “Will it get us home?”
“Perhaps,” he says, voice fading; the rise and fall of his chest tell Thor that he has at last segued into sleep, for all that the day is yet only begun. But when he stares at the ceiling, he sees no sky. His fingers twitch, teeth worrying at one swollen half-healed lip.
It is my job to get us home, he thinks, bleak, and I am failing you in that.
While Loki sleeps Thor keeps his eyes open and on the door. It is little enough, but it is a little that he can do.
…but what else am I failing you in, brother mine…?
On the thirteenth day Sif sits beside the now-silent Volstagg for what seems endless moments, one long-fingered hand upon his fevered brow. Thor, across from them both, only watches; Hogun, with his eyes lightly closed, merely listens.
“He is not getting any better.”
The words are a matched grimace for the one actually upon his lips. “I know.”
“We must go.”
Raising his eyes, Thor stares at the door. He cannot think it unrelated, that Sif has chosen to speak of such things only while Loki is gone. He himself has no desire to speak of it at all, but her silence is accusing and as heavy as his own guilt. With a low groan, he lists again the reasons they already know so well as to feel them engraved upon their minds.
“We are outnumbered and overpowered – without Mjölnir, without Loki’s magics, without your own weapons. We’ve paid the cost of that several times already, with the coin of both our own bodies and each other’s.”
“But they’ve never killed us,” she says, careful and cautious. “Whatever our use to them is, it counts on us being alive.”
That is not strictly a revelation, nor any sort of surprise; Thor is certain their captors know exactly who they are. Certainly the princes are more use to them alive. For the Warriors Three and Sif, it is likely to be more to do with their use as bargaining tools. It is but one more reason why he feels he has failed them all.
Hogun has not spoken in three days. His voice rasps when he does so now, broken glass against gravelled stone. “Whatever your brother does, it only keeps us in stasis. It does not move us forward.”
“Perhaps that is his intent.”
Thor whips around, eyes light and deadly as a Jötunn ice-blade. “What did you say?”
Though she says nothing, Sif meets his furious gaze with wordless defiance. He cannot resent her for that fire of spirit; it is why she is one of his most valued companions, for even in a place such as her strength of will is not easily broken. And there is an uncomfortable sort of truth in her words. It is not the first time they have noted how easily the circumstances of their capture and confinement have fallen into place.
He looks away, mouth twisted. “My brother did not bring us here. My brother does not keep us here,” he mutters, bitter. “He is trying to help all of us.”
“He’d sell every one of us for you.”
Unspoken are the words that relentlessly pursue the first: and he’d sell you if it meant himself.
That red veil of rage falls across his vision again. Loki is a trickster, Loki is an outsider – but he has never acted in pure malice. Yet all expect it of him. The final insult is that Loki himself never disabuses anyone of the thought that this is entirely within the realm of possibility.
“Thor,” Fandral, oddly gentle as he lays a hand upon one trembling forearm, “we cannot go on this way. You know this to be true.”
Allowing the rage to bleed free of the tense knots it has wrought in his muscles Thor says nothing, ending the conversation. Fandral speaks the truth and he knows it. Yet he still cannot bring himself to say anything to Loki of such things, not when he comes back only to lie down without a sound. His eyes are wide and fixed upon the ceiling and as the hours of the day pass Thor does not see him sleep at all.
That night, they come again. Weariness darkens even the bright green of Loki’s eyes as he rises. But before he can step forward, Fandral takes his place.
“Perhaps it is my turn to act as envoy in your place, my prince.”
Loki goes white. “No.”
“Why not?” Fandral has always had an easy smile; though there is no sincerity behind it now, he still manages to mimic his own natural blithe self. “I may not be the lauded silvertongue of Asgard, but I am quick enough. Even charming, some do say. Tell me what it is that they want, and I will give it to them.”
His eyes are too big in his pale face. “You can’t.”
“Trust me.” Taking a step forward, he keeps his eyes fixed upon Loki’s even while dipping his head in low deference. “As we have trusted you.”
Loki cannot break that gaze, but even though he does not look in his direction Thor can clearly see the emotions writ there: fury. Frustration. Fear. That last is what drives Thor forward, what leads him to stand before the guard and say in the clearest steadiest voice he has used in days: “I would come in his place.”
The guard’s answering silence is thoughtful.
“Thor, no. No.”
But the guard ignores Loki, as if he were nothing more than a buzzing insect that would be easily enough slapped down for all its great size. “Let me see if this would be…” Now the eyes shift to Loki, clearly mocking even behind the visor. “…amenable.”
The door opens, closes – and then they are gone. Loki immediately lunges at him. Thor is so surprised, his strength at a low ebb, that he goes down under him. Loki’s slight weight straddles his hips as he leans his face close, breathing harsh and hitching.
“You fool, what have you done?”
“I think the question is more what have you been doing, Liesmith?”
Loki twists, hair loose and wild about his pale face. “Saving your worthless lives,” he hisses, and Fandral pinches the bridge of his now-crooked nose.
“By doing what? Trading words?” Though Sif had been the one to speak first, it is Fandral who takes it further. “I hardly think your florid little tales of fiction could earn us such reprieve. What precious guarded facts have you loosed, silvertongue? And for what end? This nothing life is not worth the secrets of Asgard you undoubtedly have spilled before the feet of these creatures.”
Beneath Loki, Thor feels his fury rise like barometric pressure, brewing storm throwing itself against the limits of his sanity. But it is Loki who speaks, his voice as strange as the half-light before a clouded sky explodes in radiant thunder. “You name me traitor?”
“You made yourself what you are. I only call what I see.”
“You see nothing.” But Thor sees it. Behind the fury of his eyes, there lurk tears. Terror, even. Colour burns high in his pale cheeks, and yet even with those ugly words spilled between them like hot fresh blood all Thor feels is perfect love and perfect trust.
“Stand up, Loki.”
His face snaps back around. “No.”
But Loki does not weigh enough to hold him down. He never has, even before this moment. In that trembling exhaustion he is no physical threat, for all his eyes burn and blaze like the promise of the growing Bifröst. Thor is still gentle as he grasps him about his waist, lifts him up to roll aside. Loki’s right hand rises in reflexive reaction, but even had he had magics to call upon he stops long before he can call a spell, eyes wide and weary.
“Brother,” he says, hollow. “Please.”
Shaking his head, Thor holds his gaze all the while. “Let me do this for you.”
“You don’t know what you’re asking.” Drawing up a knee, Loki pushes to his feet, grimacing as his hand presses hard against the floor. “Please, give me just a little more time. I believe I know what they want. A little more time and—”
“No,” Thor says quietly, watching his brother sway like a sapling tree in a storm. “Loki, you can barely stand.”
“Thor, I said no.”
As Thor reaches out for his brother the door swings open again. Hogun and Sif do not rise but Thor sees their bodies tense immediately, limbs and hands and feet arrayed for launch into battle. Thor knows despite all that has been said, at his command they would throw themselves into the fray for him, and for Loki. Fandral is not so physically primed, but it is because he chooses to play Loki’s traditional role: he hangs back, the watchful observer, measuring each moment and each motion so that they might all make the best of both.
And then Loki stands in front of his brother with arms spread wide. “He’s not going anywhere with you.”
“You have a duty to perform, silvertongue.” Two of them grab him about his upper arms, wrenching him from where he has fixed his place. This is the first time Thor has seen Loki fight against his captors, though in his reduced state and without his magics they need do little before they are able to drag him away. Scrambling for his feet, as soon as they are under him Thor lunges for the door. He is already too late. Though he thrusts his fists against the hard wood, splinters digging deep into the meat of his hands, like a ghost Loki has vanished utterly from his sight.
Sif is a familiar shadow at his side, her voice low and hand light upon one shoulder. “He has brought this on himself,” she says, sorrowful and steady. “He did not want you to suffer.”
Thor says nothing.
“You are the heir, Thor. He knows that his duty is to protect you before himself.”
The rage in him is deep, roiling.
“He is my younger brother.” The words are a violent storm-charge upon his lips, lightning waiting to be loosed. “It is my place to protect him.”
Nothing she can say or do will move him from where he stands, palms against the door and forehead against the wood. He has no idea how long he stays there. He does not think it matters. Then the door opens, forces him staggering back. Three guards enter, and even with the heavy helm across all of his face Thor can feel the glittering edge of the leader’s smirk.
“Come with us, Prince of Asgard,” he intones with light irony, “your brother is waiting.”
Thor has no idea what to expect of his destination. He does not even have any idea of where it is that they go. They march him there, quick and relentless even though he stumbles; he has not had so much space in which to move for days. Still he holds his head high and doesn’t bother to look where to place his feet. It is far more important to cast his eye on their surroundings, to note the construction and layout of walls and corridors and doors. Though he remembers nothing of how they had been brought to this place, having been half-crazed with berserker rage and the blood and sweat that had flooded mouth and eyes and mind, there is a faint familiarity to at least the architecture if not the actual building itself.
They are still on Vanaheimr, where they first met the trap that had been sprung upon them. Those who keep them in this place are Vanir, an alien race despite being close enough to Aesir in appearance. Yet these particular individuals are not of the same ilk as those defeated by Odin in the years before Thor’s birth, before even the catastrophic collapse of Jötunheimr’s imperialism. While the treaty stands it is clearly not one to be honoured by these outriders. Indeed, they are outcasts upon the edges of civilisation – though to their resentful eye, no doubt those who bow the knee to the Aesir are the true outcasts of their once-noble race.
When they stop, it is within a great circular room of white marble. Carved and regal, once a bastion of great beauty, it is now choked with dust and half-fallen into ruin. One of the old cities then, Thor thinks; far from the capitol, such sites are generally haunted by only ghosts of warriors and citizens long since fallen. But these ghosts are solid: seven of them, all in pale robes, arrayed about the circumference of the oracle’s room. And there, in the centre—
Dressed in the same fashion if not the same colours as his captors, Loki lets his shoulders bow forward with the weight of his bent head. Upon his knees upon the dais, he resembles nothing so much as a sacrifice. Dark hair hangs over his face, obscuring both his features and those clever quick poison-green eyes.
Thor’s limbs, heavy as they are with exhaustion and abuse, fill with the blazing blood of awakened rage. Loki is clearly not in physical pain. But still he hurts. A snarl escapes his throat, and yet before he can speak, before he can act, Loki raises his eyes to meet those of the Vanir at the head of the cast circle.
“This was not our arrangement.”
“You are not in a position to make any further demands,” the Vanir seiðmaðr says, voice resonant with a terrible beauty matched by the long lines of limb and face. “You have proved unable to provide us with what we require on your own. Therefore we will have to explore our alternative options.”
“What do you dare ask my royal brother to provide you with?” Thor rasps, pulling forward against the gauntleted hands that encircle arm and wrist like manacles. “The Aesir owe the Vanir nothing. The Vanir owe the Aesir all.”
“Aesir.” The Vanir’s eyes, a pale green that seems almost translucent against the bone-ivory of his skin, flick towards Loki. Something peculiar glints there, hungry and darkly amused. “What the Aesir owe is nothing to do with this one.”
“Then why are you doing this? To take your vengeance against my father by carving it out of the flesh of his sons?” There seems no purpose at all to concealing the deep scorn that fires his words with sparking silver force. “The Allfather did to you only what your arrogance deserved.”
“A fine one to speak of arrogance – the pair of you.” The mobile lips curl into a scowl, and yet he is still beautiful; it brings to Thor’s mind memories of great beasts of teeth and fin cruising deep dark waters. “Your father is a liar and a thief.”
“He took nothing he did not earn.”
Again those too-pale eyes turn to Loki, remain upon him while the words are directed at Thor alone. “What are we, Prince of Asgard?”
Wordgames are not his forte. But Loki’s tongue is stilled, and Thor can only warily speak for himself. “You are Vanir.”
“We are the servants of wisdom and fertility. And we are the eyes that read the cast of all futures.” The Vanir swings back around, elegant silhouette in white; his smile has retracted in upon itself like a burnt-out star as he mounts the dais. “Your father took those gifts from us.”
“And so now you take his son?”
“As he took his son.” The words make less sense to Thor than even the Vanir’s wide grin. One long-fingered hand reaches out, fingertips moving over Loki’s forehead. “And he is very rich in seiðr, this one. Yet he seems deeply infertile. How very peculiar.” The rumble in Thor’s chest threatens to break free as a roar of thunderous rage, but the Vanir withdraws his hand with the faintest of shrugs. “In that, he cannot give us the future we desire.”
The sick feeling in his stomach makes it feel to him as if his entire abdomen has caved in upon itself. “Fertility?”
Two Vanir mount the dais to pull Loki up by his arms. Spread-eagled, the fine robe hangs from his too-thin body: black, stitched in gold and green. His colours. The patterns are also terrible in their accuracy: serpentine across the body, lupine and jagged at the sleeves. The high collar has been worked in stiff material to force his chin up, mockery of a kind of proud equine courage. But in his eyes Thor reads clear the half-despair of a man being marched to his execution, to the realm of the shameful dead.
Then they strip him bare of even that.
Thor’s breath catches. Though he has always known his brother to be possessed of a strange beauty, he had never seen it so clearly, so starkly displayed. And it so very unlike that of those he had come of age amongst. Loki is slim and dark and quick, a cold winter breeze where Thor is all fierce summer storm.
For all Thor had always recognised Loki to be attractive in his own manner, he also knew others hadn’t appreciated it. He has never understood why. So, Loki is not broad and well-muscled, blond and powerful. Why should he be? It makes even less sense when whispers across the entire realm despair of Thor the noble Asgardian warrior having to bear the shame of a seiðmaðr as his brother. To Thor’s eyes, it seems only right, only sensible, only practical. Why have two sons cut from the same cloth, when it would be better to have the contrast of two sewn together by bond and by blood?
And that brother is naked before him now, in almost every sense. There’s still an odd sense of dignity to him even with his face towards the floor on his knees. In that, he is the most beautiful thing Thor has ever seen.
“You will die for this,” he whispers with all the power of rising brontide, and even without Mjölnir to hand the air about him trembles with the charge of current, the promise of pain and death and deep raging storm. “All of you will die for his vengeance.”
“But he will die first, if you do not do what we ask.” Stepping closer to his brother, the Vanir clicks his tongue in dismissive disappointment. “He is proving…to be less useful than we had hoped. Perhaps we ought to rid ourselves of him.”
“You cannot kill a Prince of Asgard.”
“We will return you, Odinson,” he says, flicking his fingers out in careless waves. “The Allfather can have his son back.”
“He has two sons.”
The watchful eyes are both pitying and amused. “This is the Liesmith’s last opportunity. All his promises have come to naught before now. Maybe in this, he will not deny us what we want.”
Thor looks to Loki, but his brother moves not, says nothing. The Vanir still smiles when Thor looks back, his words an ugly demand that will not be denied even restrained as he remains. “What do you want?”
“The child of his blood.” His hands rise, the long fingers tangling together like the roots of a world tree growing in upon itself. “Foretold to be the end of Asgard, the Allfather – and his heir.”
Thor’s head swims, and he feels suddenly as if his mouth is full of bile and he is drowning even as he thrashes towards the surface. “You will not speak of my brother—”
Four men are required, and those just to hold him down. Two more then strip him of the ragged clothes he wears as remnants of the old life he has not lived for thirteen days now. There’s no direct humiliation in the action of being so exposed; a body is just a body, and he has never had cause to be embarrassed of the appearance of his own. Any shame he feels now comes not from their hands upon his royal self, but more from the fact that said body is failing in its most fundamental purpose – to fight, to protect, to be his brother’s sword and shield and salvation.
Thus naked, he is pushed onto the dais. Stumbling with the force of it he nearly falls onto Loki, who flinches away. That hurts him, more than anything else – save, perhaps, for the fact that he and his brother are naked before these traitorous creatures while Thor yearns to destroy all of them just to see Loki smile again.
He turns to the Vanir, eyes blazing. “What foul sorcery do you work in this cursed place, with the blood of your betters?”
The slim shoulders rise, fall. “Wisdom. Fertility. The foretelling of a future we would much prefer over the current on offer.” Then he blinks, eyes steady pale madness. “And it is not spilled blood we seek here – either yours, or his.”
“Leave my brother out of this.”
“We will not.” A flash of silver in his hands reveals a long-handled knife, sharpened on both edges. “And if you will not do as we ask, we will kill him where you both stand.”
Fear lances through him, but Thor has no time to acknowledge it, not with Loki at his side. Curving his wide lips into a sneer, he holds his chin still high and spits his words like loosed arrows. “What are you asking me to do?”
The laughter of the Vanir seiðmaðr is oddly high-pitched, fluting and starkly beautiful. “Oh, my. …though he did say you were slow.”
“Thor.” Loki’s head is still bowed, his hands curved into claws against the unrelenting smooth stone of the dais. “Thor, I told you not to come here.”
But there is no time to answer for the sorcerer steps forward and stands above them with curved blade in hand, his eyes a blazing pale promise of both pleasure and pain.
“Now, Princes of Asgard,” he says, light and amused, “you will fuck for your freedom.”
They had both realised very young that there could never be two kings of Asgard. At the time it hadn’t seemed to really matter; their sire was Odin Allfather, god-king of their realm divine and nigh-eternal with it. Both brothers found it impossible to believe that he would not be there always as their forever king, and they his two princes everlasting.
Sometimes Loki had still considered it, Thor knows. To his mind his brother had never quite seemed to resent it, for all Sif might have murmured otherwise when they’d all been children. Instead he saw in Loki’s eyes a quiet kind of sorrow that Thor didn’t understand the natural progression of, because he himself dealt to such things with fists and feet and training weapons in the arena. He sweated it out, even bled it out upon occasion. Then it was gone and could be easily enough forgotten.
The most Loki ever seemed to do to purge such emotion was by writing it down. Thor has never asked to read those journals – not then, not now. He understands that anything he needs to know of those endless pages, Loki will tell him. Still, as he kneels beside his brother’s naked body, he remembers suddenly a day in their mother’s morning garden. A basket of Iðunn’s apples had rested pride of place at the centre of the wrought-iron table, golden skin shimmering in the bright sun. Loki, not hungry as per his usual wont, had accepted one from his mother’s hand only to spend long moments turning the apple over between his palms. The sudden words he spoke next have never left his brother’s mind.
“I could marry Thor.”
When Thor looks to his mother, it is clear she tries not to laugh. She cannot keep the fond smile from her face as she reaches out to lay long fingers upon her second son’s forearm, although even the usually oblivious Thor catches something odd in her eyes. “Oh, Loki,” she says, soft and musical, “such a thing, it is simply not possible.”
And his brother’s face falls, eyes dragged to the table with its downward trajectory. “Why not?”
“It is not an idea entirely without merit, my love,” she explains, her voice still a low song, “but it…cannot be. You are brothers, now and forever. In that most honoured capacity you will always be at his side, his most trusted and beloved confidant.”
She thinks to give him comfort, and Thor cannot see the fault in her argument. But Loki has always looked beneath the words people give him for the others that they yet hold back, whether they realise it or not. “But he will marry, when he is older – and you speak of the role of a bride, of a queen.” When he looks up, his green green eyes are almost feline in their prying watchfulness. “A queen like you, Mother.”
“There is no-one else in all of Asgard like me, Loki.” Those long fingers, as delicate upon her youngest’s hand as they would be strong about the hilt of a sword, weave themselves amongst Loki’s own and hold tight. “Just as there is no-one else like you. Thor will always need you.”
At that Loki turns to looks at him as if searching for confirmation. In his face Thor reads both hope, and half-concealed fear. It does not surprise him – what he has said, and how he has carried the words through. Loki is the thoughtful one. They’ve always understood as much; Loki knows what must be done, and Thor is the one to do it. Even now it seems impossible for it to ever be any other way.
“Mother is right,” Thor says finally, wielding the words as lightly as he might the training swords he is already half-master of. With a broad smile he bites into his own apple. Then, he holds it out, flesh glistening fresh and exposed in the mid-morning light. “We are meant to be together always, brother mine.”
Loki puts aside his own apple. Yet he does not immediately reach for Thor’s. Contemplative, those clever eyes are dark and clouded with the kaleidoscope of his endless thought. Already some say Loki thinks too much. Thor has never believed it. It is only natural, given that they are brothers and Loki thinks for them both.
“Are you not hungry?” he asks, and Loki blinks first once, then twice.
“I’m always hungry.”
“That’s no surprise,” Thor says easily, though in a way it is. “You never eat enough.”
The low tremor of his brother’s voice might make him frown, had he wanted to do anything but smile. “So?”
“So,” he murmurs, and takes the apple. Blush-red lips close about the golden flesh and unseen teeth crunch deep. Juice runs down his chin, sticky and tinged with gold, as he chews. When Loki looks up after he has finished, he is smiling.
Later, when tea is taken and done and they fall into step behind their mother and her handmaidens, Thor reaches out a hand for Loki’s and grasps it tight. Loki looks up, sharp and sudden in his surprise. Thor only smiles.
“If it makes you feel any better,” he whispers, fingers warm over his brother’s cool flesh, “I would have married you, Loki.”
Neither brother has chosen a bride. There has never been any need; they are the near-eternal children of Asgard, and Thor has not yet taken his father’s throne. He is himself the golden heir, and no-one has seen any reason for him to beget his own at this time. Perhaps it could be called arrogance, or overconfidence, but anyone who has seen him in battle could not help but think: who would expect him to fall, this golden prince of the golden realm eternal, this great warrior with mighty Mjölnir to hand?
And then there is the second son, the quick clever silvertongue; strange though he might be to the eyes of the Aesir he is still blood of the king, is still son to the Allfather. He stands forever at his brother’s side: the reserve, the fallback, the next best alternative to the perfect first. Even if he cannot be king himself, Thor has heard whispered, surely in his own child the divine golden blood of his father will out again, should it prove necessary to try.
And Thor stares at that second son, before him now on hands and knees. A tremor moves across the pale skin, shivers deep within its unseen bones; it is motion born more of exhaustion than fear. Or so he tells himself. In the end Thor cannot stand the thought that his brother might fear him, that his brother might dread his touch. As his fingers clench into fists Thor’s mind moves back to marriage-nights, then brushes feather-light over the memory of apple juice tart upon his tongue and a smaller hand held warm in his own.
“What ails you, thunder god? Is he not pretty enough for you?”
His own body trembles with rage.
“You needn’t bother with such efforts, if you don’t wish to keep such a creature any longer.” The words are as idle as his step, as the flick of the knife from one hand to the next. “He is worthless now – less than even nothing in truth, perhaps.”
A smothered sob is swallowed sharply back; Thor suspects only he had heard it. Given Loki’s preferred and self-possessed state of being, he is glad – and he is concerned. Then again, Loki has yet to be named in a potential marriage contract whereas Thor has been tendered many already. That is the way of the realms; one will always overlook the younger when the prize of the elder remains. Thor still has never understood why. Loki has a sharp tongue with those he considers fools, of course, and his mind is as quick as his knives. And beneath the composed exterior lurks such wicked humour Thor cannot help but think himself damned just for laughing at what comes out of Loki’s mouth some days. Others speak of such features as shortcomings, as disadvantages of personality. To Thor, they are merely normal. They are Loki.
Laying his broad hands upon his waist Thor curves close against his brother. An indrawn breath moves through the thin body, and beneath his touch Loki is as cold as blue veined marble.
“Do you require instruction on where to put it, Prince?” that damned liquid-velvet voice says, laced about its edges with easy malice. “But then such inexperience should come as no surprise. You are no ergi.” The Vanir pauses to mull this over. When he chuckles, Thor cannot help but desire to drive his fist straight into his throat and out the other side. “I might tell you myself how it is done, but I can assure you that your brother could provide you with far more expert advice in my steed.”
Again, that gasp escapes his brother’s tight throat: fury, and disgust. But there is no denial. And beneath it lies something deeper: a thread of loathing, tightening about Loki’s throat like a hunter’s snare. It is inward-facing, not outward – and Thor cannot stand it. Like a shield Thor presses his body to his brother’s back, winding broad arms about his narrow waist. Loki stiffens, spine a rigid ridged line against his abdomen and chest. The faint scent of evening-rose rises again as the dark hair tickles Thor’s skin beneath the ragged edges of his overgrown beard. His lips are close to his brother’s ear, the soft skin almost childlike in its soft curve.
“Loki,” he whispers, “Loki, say the word and I will end this.”
For a long moment he says nothing. When he does speak, his voice is the scarcest butterfly touch upon the air. “End it?”
“End us.” His fingers lace tighter, and he can feel Loki’s heartbeat quickening in the space just beneath his own. They’re out of time, out of step – but not by much. Thor swallows hard, his next words more vibration than sound. “If you would rather be dead by my hand than have my touch upon you in this manner, you need only ask.”
The small exhalation might almost be a snort. “Am I really so tainted to you, that you would surrender your own life so easily just to give mine some dignity at its end?”
“Tainted?” His fills his lungs, and with the air comes the sudden, dizzying scent of his brother: familiar and close and always, utterly, Loki. “Brother, you are only ever one thing to me.”
“And what is that?”
By now, his lips brush against his skin with every syllable. “Mine.”
Loki gives only silence in return. Thor lets him have it. There is uneasy movement from their audience, but he doesn’t give a damn. This is their moment. And they will have it any way they wish it to be.
“No,” he says, final and low. Thor nods, presses ever closer.
“No, I’m not yours,” Loki says, and when he arches his back it notches their hips so easily together it is as if they had always been meant to fit together in this way. “…not yet, at least.”
Such words, such motion, are all the permission Thor needs.
Once, when they’d been children, as they had played in the great apple orchards Thor had fallen out of a tree. There had been no-one else to hear, no-one else to help: they were not even supposed to be there.
Thor remembers how Loki’s hands had felt on his skin, which had been cold and clammy with the sudden onset of pain. While Loki himself had never felt particularly warm to Thor’s touch before, in that moment he’d been like the welcome blaze of a burning log fire on a winter’s night.
“You’re shaking like a baby bird,” Loki had whispered, head bowed and eyes narrowed as those quick fingers had moved over the flaring agony. “Who would’ve thought it? The great warrior-to-be Thor, brought so low by a mere broken arm.”
“The bone’s sticking out through the skin, brother,” he’d gritted out through his teeth. “Don’t tell me you wouldn’t cry.”
His head had remained lowered, though his hands had stilled. “No, I wouldn’t. Not if it were me.” And when he looked up his eyes had been the perfect sheen of damp forest moss. “But I’ll cry for you, if you need me to.”
Though Thor had never been one for elegant language or eloquent pronouncements, in that moment he’d been able to summon not a single word.
“Forgive me if I don’t, however,” Loki had said eventually, returning his gaze to his work. “For we haven’t really the time just this moment.”
He’s not sure why he remembers that long-ago day now. But he does. And Loki should be the one frightened, he thinks, having been forced to hands and knees like a brood mare waiting to be mounted by the chosen stud. But it is Thor who is shaking, his hands all thumbs and no fingers upon the cool white skin.
“I don’t know what to do.”
Amazingly, Loki laughs, low and lilting. “Are you trying to tell me that the Almighty Thor is a blushing virgin?”
“No. No, I…yes, in this, but no, I…”
“Thor.” The surreality of the situation only increases when Thor hears the simple kindness inherent to Loki’s voice, as if he is merely attempting to explain a verbal conjugation in the old tongue of Asgard that Thor never mastered in their childhood lessons. “Calm yourself. I know what I am doing. And what you must do, it is not so different from what you do with your women.”
Again, words fail him. But then they’ve always been more Loki’s weapons than his. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You won’t hurt me.” Loki shifts beneath him, lean muscle like stretched silk beneath his skin. “I have magic enough to…to ease the passage, for both you and for myself.”
Indecision still holds Thor poised upon the very edge of motion. The silent watching eyes are upon them both and he can hear the quiet mocking song of the silvered blade. Both are forcing the action, drawing forth their reaction. Thor casts them only the briefest look before turning back to his brother: his narrow flanks, his arching back. He could end this. He could pull Loki to his feet, to his side, and then he could turn on their captors and let the berserker rage of his Aesir blood run hot and wild and free. They might die. In some ways, Thor believes they almost certainly will – and then the others would shortly follow them to the vaunted vaulted halls of Valhalla.
A little more time, Loki had said. Grant me a little more time. Thor never knew what for, but then he thinks it is too late, that it does not matter. All that truly matters is before him now, motionless and silent. There is something dreadfully wrong in this, he knows. And yet it does not seem to be in the action itself, but rather more the fashion that it has been brought to pass.
“I won’t do it this way.”
The sudden proclamation startles him enough that Loki turns his head, only one eye visible over the pale curve of one shoulder. “What?”
“If this is how it will be, I will have it my way.” Drawing back, he closes one hand over Loki’s. Then, he encourages him over, to his back. A shaking breath trembles as he discovers what he has been given.
In this way Loki’s face is revealed to him, the dark hair fallen away and his eyes wide and stunned. His wordless mouth tilts open, and his surprise is the first true expression Thor has seen there since the beginning of this ordeal.
“Divided, we fall,” Thor whispers. “But when united, we can stand against all.”
The dark brows shift upon his pale brow, dipping together in broken lines of confusion, of something dangerously close to sorrow. “What?”
“We will live through this,” and the low hum of his words grows with each syllable, cresting falling waves building upon one another to rise to a devastating resonant frequency. “And then, together, we will live forever.”
No more words, no more thoughts. He’s content to leave such tools to Loki – if he even wants them anymore. Thor instead is action, reaction, motion and movement and sensation. And oh, the sensation of that cool skin against his as he works them both back down, his thigh pressed to the ground between his brother’s…
It is a poor place for a first time. Even with his mind in such disordered disarray Thor can think of a thousand better choices he might have made. But he finds it is the orchard he remembers; he can almost taste the apple-flesh upon his brother’s lips. With his eyes closed he can even see the dappled light of the leaves across his skin, rendering him in shape and shadow – indistinct, and yet all too real beneath his questing famished fingers.
When he opens his eyes he finds Loki’s are closed and his back arched, throat a long stretch of white vulnerability before him. Despite the swell of protectiveness he also feels predatory blood surge with fresh adrenaline – the instinct of a hunter roused upon sighting the quick flutter of a pulse in the hollow of that throat, the revealed veins crisscrossed in blue. His teeth ache, his tongue seeks the taste of metal and salt, and he wants.
He wants everything.
Thor dips his head to trail lips along Loki’s jaw. This delicate motion is completely unmatched by the rough fingers that move down to grasp his cock. Loki hisses, arches, sinuous snake awakened from uneasy slumber beneath desert sands; he clearly had not expected matters to escalate so quickly. If Thor is honest with himself, he had not expected it either. But then nothing about this is anything he ever would have expected.
And yet everything feels as if it is going completely according to plan.
The branches of Yggdrasil bind us always together, he thinks, random and sudden, and one can never be sure what the leaves conceal in the canopy far overhead…or what the dirt shields beneath our feet, where the roots grow strong and thick and true.
Loki’s fingers wind about fat snarls of his hair. With them comes a laugh, breathed into his mouth; he has always complained about Thor’s indiscriminate fingers trying to tangle in his own dark hair. There’s a kind of revenge in that. But as Thor purrs into his mouth, they both know it is misdirected; Thor has always loved to be touched there, has always curved into such caresses like a lion being petted in the fashion of a housecat. His scalp tingles, nerve endings coaxed to sudden song beneath the welcome weight of his brother’s clever fingers.
Then an impulsive jerk of hips wrings a groan from deep in Thor’s aching throat. One of those clever-fingered hands moves downward now, briefly gripping a shoulder, holding fast. Then it flutters over his ribcage, briefly fitting fingers to the hollows between the bones. With a dip inward at the waist, it moves to drift like clouds over the jut of one hipbone. With an easy curve about one buttock it then comes to rest in the valley between his thighs.
Despite the hitching breath, the heated eyes, Loki’s touch remains cool as those long fingers wind around his cock. But it is just a brief squeeze, little more than a tease. Then the hand wraps about his own, still gripped about Loki’s cock, and cajoles it free.
“This way, brother,” he murmurs. Guiding downward, Loki brings Thor to a centre of desperate heat, canting his hips upward as he props himself up on the free elbow. Green eyes lock upon his, searching and strange and yet utterly completely always and eternally familiar.
And then his quicksilver tongue traces a delicate invitation across dampened lips.
“Here,” Loki sighs, “touch me here.”
A fingertip is pressed now against his opening. It should not seem so easy, should not be so easy. But Loki told no lie; he has eased the way for himself. It is not just the magic. Rather it is the trust in him – and the hunger. With those ravenous eyes upon him Thor thinks again of Loki’s mouth upon Iðunn’s apple, of the tough skin and the yielding flesh beneath; the taste of even mere memory is tart and sweet upon his own tongue.
Then it moves into the heat of his brother, that one finger – and there is heat, here. True and encompassing, it feels a crucible of the gods. A shudder moves through his body, undulating down his spine. He does not know what such pressure will transform him into. He does not think it matters, not when Loki whispers another, brother, another and he presses first one and then two more fingers inside him.
At first Loki is motionless, eyes upon him, mouth ever so slightly open. Then, he moves: from his lower half up comes a caudocephalic wave to press close first hips, then lips as their bodies ripple together in sensuous synchronicity.
“Yes,” he hisses. “Yes.”
Thor crooks all three fingers, curves them straight up – and Loki’s entire body stiffens like a current has been driven straight through his heart, fingernails forming ten deep crescents of pain and sudden pleasure deep in the aching muscles of his upper arms.
That is when he feels the first flare of electricity upon his skin, silver-bright and sharp. Opening his eyes he finds the blue glimmer of ionising plasma upon his fingertips, the trailing filamentations of energy darkening to almost blood-red at their sparking ends as he moves his left hand across the skin covering his brother’s stuttering heart. And when he looks to Loki’s hands, to the fingers that have now anchored themselves within the flesh of Thor’s heaving shoulders, there gleams anew the green-gold glow of his brother’s reawakening seiðr.
“Loki.” He whispers the word into his mouth like an incantation, tastes fire and ozone and something very much like blood. “Loki.”
“Thor,” he murmurs in return, and his words are the play of green-blue aurora across a cloud-stricken sky, “Thor, golden god of thunder and war.” He grips harder, and perhaps there truly is blood now. It doesn’t seem to matter, not when he whispers with the spark of building current upon his lips: “Your storm is breaking, warrior mine.”
And in the distance, Mjölnir begins to tremble.
There is not time enough. That seems deeply cruel, and somehow unfair. But it is also inevitable. This is not a place for first times, neither in simple comfort nor in time enough for perfect memory. The sudden whispers growing in circular paths around them say as much. Thor still pays them no heed; he already knows that they can make the most of what they have for when he pulls his fingers free Loki’s hand is already on his cock: guiding it close, guiding it home. But even with the head against the welcoming entrance, Thor pauses, trembling upon the threshold of that which the poets name as the point of no return.
It is not himself he fears for.
“Loki, are you certain—”
The green blaze of his eyes is answer enough, even before he says: “I will never be more certain of anything ever again.”
Thor is not sure if he thrusts forward, or if Loki thrusts back. But then they are joined and silver explodes all along his spine and sizzles through every nerve, and overhead a roar of answering thunder splits the unseen sky in twain. He wants to laugh. The sky is broken and the sky is falling and all he wants to do is laugh.
Then he realises that Loki is doing it for them both and he tastes of iron and silver and salt and blood and the world sings like a current set aflame. The world is burning and they are at its centre and still the flames grow stronger.
And never once does Loki stop laughing.
“What is going on?” The shouts, the panic of the Vanir come as if from a great distance. “Their magics are supposed to be dampened!”
“They are dampened!”
“This says otherwise!”
Loki is lit up beneath him, a glowing candle of green and gold with head thrust back and arms spread wide. Fingers press against the stone as he arches his spine, hips tilted up to pull him deeper. In gleeful answer Thor works his own hips forward, the quickening thrusts violent and sharp, breath ragged and hoarse as it cuts the path of a tempest through his straining lungs and throat. There’s a thrumming pressure against his skin, all hail and rainstone, a thousand explosions of light and life and longing.
Loki opens his mouth, and keens. Thor presses harder. And then he screams. A moment later he hazily thinks that could be him instead, for like an unleashed wolf Thor has tilted his head back to the heavens and he wants to do nothing else but howl to the moon his sun has always given welcome light to.
“Stop them! Stop them!”
But it is too late. Everything that is coiled within Thor is letting loose, spilling free – and Loki is there to catch it, to know it, to weave it all into a web of whispered word and incantation that he twists about them both. He is the spider at its centre, quick and clever and filled with glowing, glittering, gleaming seiðr.
“Brother,” Loki whispers against his lips, all teeth and blood and sharp sparking sorcery as a crash rocks through the ceiling above their twining warping bodies, “brother, this is how it ends.”
In many ways Thor never wants to let go of Loki. One hand thrusts out to his side all the same and he cannot regret it, not when he feels the ridges and weight of a familiar shaft slamming into his welcoming palm. Power and pleasure shudder through him in twinned promise, and electric heat surges through him like fresh life. “No, brother,” and his cock shifts deep in the burning heat of a burning body. “No, brother, this is how it begins.”
And even when he pulls back, pulls out, he can still feel the flare of his brother’s magics tattooed all along his skin like a branded promise of death and destruction and life and light. He was the one who went into Loki’s body, but Loki has left himself inside of Thor. And now Mjölnir is in his hand, and Loki is at his side, and all is suddenly right with the world.
“Not quite right,” Loki whispers at his side, plucking thoughts from his mind as if they are joined in more ways than the physical, and Thor turns to him. The bladed promise of Loki’s smile sharpens his flashing white teeth into points that are made to draw blood, to drink deep as laughter rings across the sky like lightning-crack thunder. His own answering grin is all ferocious feral force.
“So, then: let us render it so.”
The hammer falls as Loki’s hands rise, and then destruction covers the sky revealed by the collapsing ceiling. Rain and lightning and the roll of furious thunder cloak Thor’s raging body like armour. And never far from his side is the spark and the merriment and the laughter of a dozen Lokis – and the gleam of twice as many unsheathed long knives.
In the end they leave only one. It will not be a long reprieve; Thor simply wishes to savour this moment as he pins the leader of the Vanir outcasts beneath his rage-wrought body. Mjölnir he holds high, the killing flat poised and dripping with life already stolen and drunk down by the ravenous living metal of its runed head. Just one downward swing would split that fine-shaped skull like a ripe melon, would paint the dusty broken stone of a fallen city with the blood and brains of the creature’s damned treacherous cursed wretched worthless self.
The tone is closer to down, Thor; the sentiment is matched by the way one long-fingered hand falls upon the space between shoulder and throat, a hunter’s restraining hold upon his roused hound. In answer Thor twists with trusting curiosity only to see the deepening gleam in his brother’s blood-maddened gaze. Thor realises he does not truly know what has befallen his brother in this place. Yet when he looks into the ever-twisting kaleidoscope of his eyes Thor knows all that he needs to. Leaning back slightly Thor loosens his choking hold just little enough to keep the Vanir from unintended asphyxiation, and raises one eyebrow.
“You would like this kill, then?”
“Mmm, yes.” The deliberate debating roll of his tongue sends a sharp spark straight to Thor groin. Loki sees it, knows it, and just grins wider. It is all something very like madness – not that Thor gives a damn. In this madness he feels he might never want to be sane again.
“Then you shall have it,” he says, generous and greedy in the same turn of phrase. And Loki shakes his head.
“No.” One hand rises, and he absently licks the blood from one finger, base to tip, seemingly without thought. “…no, I think not.”
In the wake of Thor’s confusion Loki moves down, sinuous against his side. He is sticky, tacky, filthy with blood and sweat and semen and gore. Thor draws a shuddering breath: Loki is utterly and absolutely beautiful like this, the pale canvas of his skin painted in vivid strokes of dappled red and crimson and scarlet. But when his lips close over Thor’s he tastes of sky. It is his own taste; Loki’s own innate flavour is that of a burning singularity twisting at the heart of a distant galaxy. That celestial fire burns upon Thor’s tongue now, sparks along his skin as Loki’s hand closes about Mjölnir’s mighty shaft. One dark eyebrow arches high in a gleeful question he already knows he need not ask.
Understanding blooms like a corpse-flower, vivid and terrible and brilliant as life itself while a fresh grin spreads across Thor’s face. “We shall.”
Together, they bring the hammer down. Once, twice, three times – after that, Thor loses count. He’s positive Loki never does. Only when Loki is satisfied does Mjölnir feel content, quiescent satisfaction in both their hands. They turn from the ruin of the pulverised flesh that had once been Vanir, both hands still upon its bloodied brilliant handle. For a long moment they are still amongst their shattered smoking enemies, naked save for the war-worn blood of their seven kills drying upon their skin.
Yet, Loki’s smile has faded, and his fingers fall free of Mjölnir. When he moves, it is a simple step, just one. But it is away from his side, and Thor reaches out with voice and with hand before he can stray any further.
He does not answer. Instead he steps towards the dais, feet slapping the gore-streaked marble with unusual sound for someone of his usual grace. When he stoops to retrieve the robe they had dressed him in, he pauses, says nothing. Thor takes a step forward of his own, voice hoarse and rasping from a throat that has been rubbed raw from the pleasure of both sex and death.
“We should find the others.” Loki turns the fine embroidered silk over in his hands. Thor tries again. “We should return to Asgard.”
“We should,” he says finally, in only the vaguest echo of his brother’s words. The silk slips through his fingers to pool in the filth of the ruined marble at his feet. Thor’s eyes follow its downward path, and he feels the first shiver of cool air across his naked skin.
“Loki, they…” He takes one step, falters. His voice does much the same. “…they did not mean that which they said.”
“They did.” Again Loki moves away from him, crossing the room. For a moment he forages in one of the shelves cut into the marble walls. When he turns back, he holds the remnants of the clothes he had been wearing the day they had all been taken. He does not put them on, not yet. Instead he looks up, eyes now wearied instead of alight with the furious fire of moments not so long past. “And perhaps they were right to give voice to such misgivings.”
And Thor aches. “What do you mean?”
Loki only answers with silence, head bowed as he begins to dress. He makes no effort to wash away the blood first, for all there is still a light rain pattering in through the ruins of the once-fine ceiling. Though he could make it rain harder, Thor does not. He doubts it will wash away whatever this is, even as he himself reaches for his own ragged clothing. Blood is blood; they have spilled it before and they will do so again. It is something else that weighs upon Loki’s conscience now.
Dressed again in what remains of his Asgardian garb Thor crosses back to where his brother stands alone, staring up at the sky. The clouds are clearing, though Mjölnir still hums where it rests content in Thor’s easy grasp. Yet the troubled storm still flits through the green of Loki’s eyes, one hand held light upon his abdomen.
“It is too late.” Drained and fatigued, Loki turns his face to Thor; so much of the blood in hair and across his face has run into his collar, leaving only the faintest blush of the death he had wrought upon his pale skin. “Perhaps it was the only way we could escape this place with our lives, but then…” The long fingers shift, uneasy. “…it is done, now.”
“What is done?”
“You heard what they said,” he says, and weariness becomes bitter gall, his light chuckle like glass driven beneath Thor’s nails. “This child will be the death of all I love.” The breath he takes is the trembling terror of a faultline at the very point of rupture. “They named it the end of everything.”
A question trembles upon the tip of his tongue, but Thor does not ask how Loki knows that life has been wrought so soon after what has passed between them in this place. He cannot call him a liar, not now. Not when he feels the truth as a shiver down his own spine, silver and true. Yet there is no fear in it. There is only certainty, and he reaches out to take that hand and close it within the warmth of his own.
“No, Loki.” Thor tightens his grip, offers only the truth as he knows it. “It is but a beginning. No ending has been written yet.”
Loki says nothing, eyes upon the horizon. Thor does not know what words to use to call him back; they have never been his strength, they have never been his gift. All he can do is hold on and hope that Loki never lets go.
For a moment Loki looks back, eyes dark and wide, and Thor can see the fall writ there. Only now does true fear curl through him. They have found something in this place, as unexpected as it was inevitable. Mjölnir hums in his hand as if in approval, and with the taste of apples upon his lips suddenly Thor knows what to say.
“Be by my side always, brother.”
Words are not his strength. Yet in that moment they seem enough, for Loki’s hand does not slip entirely free. Thor smiles and a moment later Loki smiles back, fingers tightening just a little. A moment later, they hold fast – and the future changes again.
With Loki at his side Thor sees no reason to fear such a thing. Some might brand him a fool for it. But as they step together in easy rhythm, brothers then now and forevermore, Thor knows that he will always be fool enough to risk everything for the quicksilver half of his golden soul.