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The Old Ways

Chapter Text

They were barely just moments from barring the door to the bridal chamber when there came a tap upon the great closed shutters of the windows. Loki didn’t pay it the slightest heed, already setting about disentangling his hair from the corona of spring flowers woven there. Thor set down his emptied flagon upon the low table, and crossed to see who had come to pay their respects.

The guest list held no particular surprise: Volstagg climbed in first, surprisingly nimble for one of his girth. Hogun’s own elegant ascent of the two storeys to the window sill held no surprise; the Vanir was as a feline, and would have landed on his feet in the unlikely event of falling in the first instance. Only Fandral appeared to have had any trouble, scrambling through behind the others with rather a dearth of grace. But then, he had been the one to put away the most mead during the nuptial feast.

Sif came last. Disapproval shone bright in every movement, even with all her natural physical ease. But then she had been unimpressed by matters even before Loki had offered the outrageous solution to Thor’s boorish behaviour: marriage. A marriage bolstered with deep and ancient magics that few practitioners of seiðr would be familiar with. Thor knew Sif doubted Loki was one of them, for all he was renowned – or denigrated, depending on the audience – as a particularly accomplished and educated seiðmaðr. Still, it was Loki who spoke first.

“You shouldn’t be here.” Thor himself remembered the collective relief at the news there would be no public bedding ceremony, even as Loki sharply added, “There has already been enough disrespect levelled at their customs without you all barging into the wedding chamber.”

“Exactly what I told these idiots.” Sif paused. “Well, I didn’t need to tell Hogun.”

“It was a hung jury,” Volstagg protested with his usual good cheer; somehow he had smuggled up an alarmingly full jug of wine, which sloshed upon the wooden floors with each exaggerated gesture he made. “And I told her, it wouldn’t make any difference, coming up here; Loki would be on the side of reason, while Thor would always be on the side of merriment.”

“I can’t imagine you’re wrong, much as it pains me to admit it,” Loki said, cool and unimpressed. “But the point still stands.”

Volstagg shrugged, grin wide enough to swallow words entire. “Oh, come, Loki – I just wanted to give you one last toast!”

“I’ll pass.”

Thor did not. In fact he almost drained the ceramic jug before giving it back to a disgruntled-looking Volstagg. Wiping his chin, Thor then discovered Loki still trying to finish destroying his crown. He paid no heed to his own, examined his wrist instead.

“Might we take these off, then?”

Loki glanced up, face set in deep disgust, to where Thor held up his left arm. The simple silver bracelet glinted in the low light. Unadorned to the untrained eye, its binding runes could only be seen when deepest seiðr was whispered into the void. “Did you or did you not just hear Sif, Hogun, and myself say that there has been enough disrespect paid to our hosts this day?”

“Seems to me only you said it.”

“Out loud, perhaps. To your face, yes.” The smile this earned him was bright, lovely, and sharpened even more so than his favoured long knives. “But then I am your brother.”

Baby brother,” Thor corrected, and flicked his brother’s nose. He got his fingers out of biting distance just in time. “And husband, now! Most peculiar. What would Mother say?”

Settling back into his chair, Loki scowled at his reflection and what presumably was still too many flowers in his dark hair. “Nothing, as she is not going to find out.”

“I’m sure she’d find the situation rather amusing.”

Loki’s hands fell to the table with a sharp slap; turning, his eyes flashed with the kind of fire that not even a monsoon might douse to ashes. “It’s very, very, ancient seiðr, Thor. It is anything but amusing.” With nose firmly in the air he returned to the mirror, lips downturned. “I’m not sure you understand at all what this means.”

“It’s…not binding. You said so.”

The faint hint of unease in his voice had his brother openly snickering, even as Thor noticed an odd look pass between Hogun and Sif. “Yes, I did, and no, it’s not. For us.” Loki took a borrowed comb, began to yank more harshly at his tangled hair than Thor had seen before. “This seiðr was once practised in Asgard, but many millennia ago. It was considered…not cruel, perhaps. I believe that’s too harsh a word. But the seiðr infused in the ceremony means that any two bound by such, will be bound always and forever. Through life, and beyond death. It cannot ever be undone.”

Their mother might have been a seer and powerful seiðkona, and their father the only known king to so finely walk the line between warrior and seiðmaðr, but Thor had never found much interest in pure seiðr. He glanced to Mjölnir, quiescent in her corner, skin crawling in a manner that made him suddenly wish he might scratch it all away. “Are you making this up just to frighten me?”

“No.” Hogun’s low voice resonated across the room, heavy in both accent and meaning. “It was practised by the Vanir too, once.”

“Why should it frighten you?” Loki turned about, crossed one long leg over the other; where one hand dangled over his knee, the bracelet there shone bright. “There are of course failsafes to such powerful seiðr. One of which I utilised – because such a bond cannot be forged when one partner is unwilling. The safeguard against incest was placed there in the belief that those of too close blood relation may have a power imbalance that prevented one partner from speaking aloud what they did not wish for.” The smile playing upon his lips turned sour, but did not fade. “Or so I was led to believe.”

Even as Sif murmured something unintelligible to the ever stoic Hogun – while Fandral apparently challenged Volstagg to an arm-wrestle over the remaining wine – Thor lifted his hand, again. The neat silver bracelet remained there still, plain and unadorned upon his golden skin. Though it had opened to close over his wrist, he could find no sign of closure now. Indeed, it could have been but plain jewellery, for he felt nothing of its own inherent power. It had little in common with the deadstar song of Mjölnir, which reached full crescendo only in heated battle, but would remain as a low hum whenever she was near. Still, he could sense something in the silver: Loki’s cantrip, the one keeping the illusion of their binding. It caressed his mind from within like a gentle song from a distant room. He closed his eyes, smiled at the comforting warmth.

“I can feel your seiðr.”

“Clever boy.”

Thor opened his eyes, grinned wider at his brother across the room. “It reminds me of when we were small.” He leaned back upon the bed, allowing his eyes to grow hazy and distant, all the better to match the nostalgic bent of his voice. “When it was dark, and the nurserymaids said we must sleep without the lamps. You used to conjure small ghostlights, hanging them beneath the ceiling in all the constellations.” Flicking a loose flower out of his eyes, he gave Loki the kind of warm look he generally saved for their private conversations. “It feels just like that.”

From under the tangle of his own loosed hair, Loki gave him a strange look – Thor might almost have called it hunted, if Fandral hadn’t pushed to his feet with a gagging sound.

“Well, I do believe that’s out cue to leave the newlyweds to their romantic evening, yes?” he announced, though from the way Volstagg had tossed the emptied wine flask aside Thor doubted it was the real reason. He was reaching across to clasp his comrade’s forearm in farewell when Sif appeared at his side.

“Thor.” He glanced up, found the hazel eyes dark, searching. “Will you be well, here alone?”

“Of course not.” Loki’s low words were perfectly pleasant, spoken from Thor’s other side with an amiable smile. “I plan to ravish my husband as soon as you and this motley crew are banished from my sight.”

She never once looked to Loki. “Thor.”

“Sif. It is fine.” Laying a hand upon one shoulder, he gave a light squeeze. “Go, enjoy what remains of the celebrations. We will pass a pleasant enough night here, I am sure.” Then he glanced down to the bed at their side, gave her a crooked grin. “And there are plenty of pillows I might smother Loki with, should he snore.”

He couldn’t be surprised that he was promptly smacked in the head with one for his trouble – and then two, for Sif could never stand to be outdone by Loki. In the end the four of them trailed out the window with only one minor incident, when Fandral slipped several feet above the ground and landed upon Volstagg. Even the big man’s bigger protests managed to draw no attention from their hosts. Still, if looks had been lethal, Volstagg would have been dining in Valhalla in several large pieces before the morning dawned anew.

As Thor dawdled at the window, closing the great shutters and their glass, Loki at last finished with his crown. The denuding had left a pile of blossoms upon the dresser, which he disregarded entirely as he turned to the centrepiece of the room: a wooden banded tub, more than enough to accommodate two individuals. The herb-infused water shifted beneath the inquisitive dip of one hand, a haunting rose scent upon the air. Thor had since returned to his chosen seat upon the canopied bed, content amongst its down mattress and many blankets, the sheets beneath starched so white they almost hurt to look at.

“It seems a shame to waste it.”

Loki withdrew his hand with a snort. “Who is wasting it?” Reaching for one of the many large towels piled neatly upon the shelves at its base, Loki added, “I fully intend to bathe, after being forced into close quarters with you for hours on end.”

“Naturally.” Thor sprawled more comfortably upon the bed, cocked one eyebrow. “But, my dearest husband – do you require aid in scrubbing your lovely back?”

“Idiot.”

With only that passing as a reply, Loki set about undoing the clothing. It was much simpler than their usual finery, given they had chosen to travel incognito: strangers in a distant land. Everything about this chosen garb was purposefully simple, designed to be anonymous. The villagers had adorned them both with crowns of flowers and heavily embroidered cloaks for the ceremony, but compared with the pomp of Asgard, it had been very subdued for a wedding of princes.

“You should wash your hair,” Thor suggested, lazily stretching long limbs across almost the full width of the bed. “And then allow it to dry unimpeded.”

“Oh?”

“In the morning, knowing your hair, you’ll look suitably ravished.” The scandalised look this earned him had a full belly laugh rolling around the chamber. “Oh, come, Loki, I’m just trying to be helpful!”

A snort spoke volumes alone, even before he spoke. “As if I’d risk the state of my hair for your reputation.”

Thor rocked upward, dangling his hands between his knees. “I do love you.” Loki grew very still, and Thor leapt upon the silent pause. “I’m glad you decided to come with us after all.”

For a long moment Loki said nothing. Then he leaned down, began to unlace his boots. “Someone does need to save you from yourself.” The loose curtain of his hair masked his eyes, his voice low. “Sif can’t be expected to always pick up after you.”

The pang he felt was something odd, undefined. With the haze of mead and wine, and the sweet scent of rosewater upon the air, Thor let it go. “It is peculiar, however. I always expected you to be a large part of my wedding. Just…not quite in this capacity. You could have at least worn a dress for the occasion.”

Only in his breeches now, Loki straightened up with a scowl. Then he threw his shirt at him. With an easy laugh, Thor snatched it out of the air long before it could strike him. “Might I join you?”

“Well, you do reek.”

Knowing it for the only positive answer he would receive, Thor set about removing his own clothes. A chance glance upward, just before Loki slid into the water, showed his brother as all long limbs and pale skin: nude but for the silver bracelet. Thor found his breath caught suddenly short. He turned away, swallowed hard. It did nothing to ease the odd curling sensation felt low in his abdomen. Keeping his eyes down did not help. The silver of his own bracelet still caught the low burn of the lights as he clumsily unlaced his breeches.

As if to mask his flush, upon entering the tub Thor ducked beneath the surface. When he emerged, the floating petals and stamens from his now-ruined crown careened about the disturbed water in frantic circles. Thor batted at them with all the curious grace of a kitten, even as Loki’s scowl deepened further yet.

“Can you not sit still, for even the length of a bath?”

“Not at the length you enjoy them.”

Appearing to give up, Loki leaned against one edge, rolled his eyes skyward as he bent his head back further yet. “It has been a long day.”

“Indeed it has.” Hiking his hair out of his eyes, slopping water careless upon the floor, he gave a long and exaggerated sigh. “I do hope you don’t plan to ravish me after all, brother. I am very tired.”

The sound Loki made was just a touch too elegant to really be a snort. “And what a husband you do make, brother mine.”

Chuckling, Thor settled back, turned his face to the vaulted ceiling. Quiet soon reigned between them; in truth, his brother must have been exhausted, too. His own eyes closed, mind slipping so easily into a drowse. For all time must have passed, and possibly at length, the water did not cool. He supposed he might ask Loki if it had been enchanted. He might have, too, could he remember where his voice was, and how it worked.

Halfway between dream and waking, hands moved to his arms, gentling him upwards. “Come on, you great lummox.” The acerbic bite to the words only made him grin, sleepy and warm. “If I allow you fall asleep in the tub and drown on the night of your wedding, we really will be run out of this village on a rail.”

Without protest Thor accepted a towel, swiped it lazy over limb and torso. Gently prodded, he then fell facedown into the bed, found it warm and welcoming. Loki had made no effort to dress him, but then he had never been a nursemaid. Just a younger brother. Beloved and bewildering. Within moments he felt Loki’s weight gingerly come down beside him. He did not even think. Rather he just reached over, gathered him close, and smiled.

“Thor—”

Stiff and unyielding in the circle of his arms, Loki was just as naked as Thor himself. He yawned widely. “All part of the deception, Loki. Should some nosy village elder come to see if we’ve done the deed.” He grinned, still not bothering to open his eyes. “And I thought you liked tricks.”

Loki only sighed, low and light, his chest barely moving against Thor’s own.

“Oh, I see. Just not when they’re played on you.”

“Go to sleep, brother.”

He would do so willingly: the bracelet on his wrist remained as warm as the laughter still bubbling in his chest. Snuggling closer, he could feel his brother’s echoing heartbeat against his own. All was well. Loki was with him. In this moment, nothing else mattered.

There could be worse wedding nights, he assumed. And he smiled. And then he slept.

Chapter Text

There had been a platter piled high with fruits left by the bedside the evening before; Loki was still disbelieving of the fact Volstagg had not noticed it first. He had made his way through an apple, half a melon, and a handful of grapes when the knock on the door startled him from a lazy contemplation of the dawn.

A glance over assured him Thor still slept like the dead. It was hard to know if he should feel honoured or insulted by the fact Thor’s warrior instincts had not kicked in, given the strange place they resided in. Tightening the belt of his borrowed robe, Loki uncurled his feet from beneath him, and crossed to the door. He opened it but a crack, body braced for any eventuality. A moment later he relaxed the stance, leaned upon the doorframe with one eyebrow arched.

“Have you been sitting out there all night?”

With lips thinned and one hand hard upon her hip, Sif gave no ground. “Somebody needed to be on guard.”

“And of course it had to be you.” Masking a delicate yawn with his left hand, Loki blinked with feigned curiosity at her. “And how is Fandral’s head this morning? Exploded, yet?”

“The elders of the village wish to see you.”

All vestiges of the scornful smile vanished. It might have been that Hogun was called the Grim, but Sif’s expression now was far darker than what even the Vanir could traditionally manage. “They said we would be permitted to leave upon the morning,” Loki said, sharp and quiet. “Do you believe they intend to renege upon our agreement?”

“I do not believe so.” With her dark hair braided tight away from her face, its fierce contours were cast in strong shadow. “But I do not like staying here a moment beyond what is necessary.”

Loki would agree to that with little complaint. These particular ljósálfar were far odder than their contemporaries, those who dealt more freely with the other realms. Ancient traditions and magics both held more interest to their minds. But even that alone did not account for the inherent strangeness of feature and body; he would name it something preternatural, almost primordial. For all he would not speak as much aloud, Loki would be very glad to leave this damned village and return to Asgard.

“Do they wish to speak with us both? Thor is still abed.”

“Of course he is.” The affection that flickered across her set features was fleeting, but all too obvious to one who knew how to catch it. “They wish to speak with you both in the square before we leave, but one is here, just down the hall.” Sif turned, presumably in the direction of said elder; the grimace she barely masked was but proof enough of it. “He wishes a word with you now.”

“Forseti, I presume.” He could already hear approaching footsteps. Loki’s lips thinned. “Tell him I will be with him shortly.”

“No.” From the shadows at Sif’s back, there emerged a tall pale figure in white and grey. “I would see the wedding chamber before our honoured guests make their departure.”

The gleam of murder in Sif’s eyes might have struck down a lesser creature on that very spot. It was one of the few things he had honestly always liked about her. Loki did, however, draw the borrowed robe more tightly about himself, pasting a tight smile upon his lips. He had never appreciated being seen in such dishabille except by a very few.

One of those few moved behind them now, stirring alone in the great bed. Loki took a step backward into the room. Despite the faint flush on his cheeks, he met the ljósálfar’s milk-blue eyes unwaveringly. Again, he had to wonder at their strangeness; it was as if the creatures had been formed out of sunlight and then not properly anchored in their physical forms. It was no illusion of weakness. Just of elsewhere.

“Lord Forseti,” Loki began, tongue easy about a name long used for those of illustrious birth and power, “we would be honoured to join you in the square, but we must be given time to dress and to bathe—”

“Well, it looks like you made good use of the bath, at least.” Those strange eyes raked quick over the scene: watermarks upon the wooden floor, dotted with the remnants of Thor’s flower crown; the tub itself stood half-empty and surrounded by discarded clothes and towels.

Then those milky eyes were upon him again. “How about the bed? Did you make use of that?”

Though Loki had no wish to grace him with an answer, Thor saved him the trouble, yawning hugely from across the room. Then he rocked upward into a sitting position, sheets pooled dangerously low about his hips. Loki’s eyes narrowed, though Thor only blinked at them from under a golden corona of messy hair.

Then he rose, a king without a care, and despite his recent awakening sauntered casual and close to their sides. Loki kept his eyes firmly upon the light-elf’s face, but he could miss neither Thor’s complete nudity, nor the indication that his dreams before awakening had been rather pleasant.

The stifled snort from Sif might have made him smile, if there had still not been a game to play. But it was Thor who made the first move.

“Lord Forseti, how good to see you!” The handclasp of forearms was strong, Thor’s fingers closing right around the short vambrace the elf wore. “I hope you passed a lovely evening. Certainly my husband and I did.”

Forseti’s attention had indeed moved to the tumbled bed. It returned to Thor, gloriously naked and grinning; then it passed to Loki, with hair in tangled curls and legs bare beneath the short robe. When he nodded slow approval, Loki smiled thinly and tried not to think too hard about the sharpened knives kept at his bedside.

“There is to be a farewell ceremony. A breakfast, taken in the fashion of a picnic, upon the village green.” Generous as the words sounded, his eyes were cool, made no requests. “We would have you attend.”

Loki inclined his head. “But of course.”

“There will be time to tidy yourselves beforehand.” His eyes flicked sideways to where Thor stood yet by his side. “But I shall send a handmaiden to you with the appropriate attire.”

Thor’s golden eyebrow climbed high. “Oh?”

“Indeed.”

Without further word – certainly he expected no argument – Forseti bowed low, the sleeves of his robes whispering along the floor. But a moment later, he was gone. Sif looked briefly into the room, stopped short to see Thor before her. He grinned wider. With a roll of her eyes, the door slammed shut, and once again they were alone.

“For Norn’s sakes, put some clothes on.”

Hands went to hips, the curve of his spine thrusting them forward. “Why? It is not anything you have not seen before.”

Loki didn’t rise to that. He’d had years of practice not doing it. Turning his attention to more important matters, he’d managed to bring his hair back under some semblance of control when the next knock came. Wearing a towel this time, Thor answered, and after a few quiet murmurs crossed the room with an armful of silk and a strange expression.

Keeping his attention upon his reflection, Loki conjured up a little more pomade to slick back one particularly errant curl. “Why the sour face? Was she a pretty one, and you were sorry you hadn’t got her cock out for her instead of the old man?”

“No, she…” The scrunching up of his face resulted in an expression Loki hadn’t seen since they were children and Thor had been forced to eat all his greens. “…she said we are to wear this. And only this.”

Handing him one of the two robes, Loki stood so he might shake it out. A frown grew to match the unease coiling in his stomach. Finely woven, the silk managed to be both sheer and reflective. Though the cut and length would leave them covered from throat to the soles of the feet, Loki had the distinct impression that it might as well have been transparent.

The sound of Thor clearly his throat came strange and sudden. “Loki, I can speak with Forseti. Ask him if we might skip this part of the tradition—”

“We cannot. You just said yourself, it is the tradition.” Tossing it aside, he turned too fast back to the mirror. “And it is only one meal.” The damned curl had come loose again; he grit his teeth as he set about putting it in its place. “I suppose I can eat one meal wearing a scrap of silk so thin I might as well be naked just so you might escape the consequences of your own fool mouth.”

Unintentional as it was, Loki had for the first time shown real anger over the situation Thor had put them all in. His brother’s wide eyes could not be avoided, bright in the mirror in the brief moments before his face fell. “Loki, truly, I will—”

“No. What you will do is get dressed, come down hand in hand with me to our farewell, and then you will keep your mouth shut unless I make it clear it is safe for you to talk.” Snatching out for the silk, he held it against his body, and scowled. “And then we will return here, dress in our own clothes, and then I shall take my horse and ride for the nearest Bifröst site.”

“What, you – you’re going home?”

“I’ve had enough of backwater adventures with you, dearest brother. You can stay and continue to put your foot in your mouth all you like, but I am leaving.”

Thor’s own marriage-robe hung limply from one hand. The silver bracelet above looked strangely dull even in the bright morning light. “Loki.” His throat worked; it was always so obvious when he was struggling for words that would not fail him. “I…I did not realise how upset this has made you.”

“I am not upset.” The traitorous prickle of tears at the back of his eyes said otherwise. Loki ignored them. “I am simply tired. We have been traipsing too long about these strange realms, and the spell…”

The speed at which alarm filled Thor’s face might have been gratifying, under better circumstances. “What’s wrong with the spell?”

“Nothing,” he snapped, unable to keep his temper under wraps. Thor took a step forward; one hand snapped up, palm upward, stopping him in his tracks. “It is holding. They are still whole, are they not?” Letting his hand fall, Loki pressed his lips together, briefly closed his eyes. “It is just…”

“Loki. Please tell me.”

He really would rather not. But that pleading expression on his brother’s face had been honed from distant childhood. Loki had always been a fool for it. “I can barely feel it,” he relented. “The spell is there, but faint, and I don’t know why it isn’t as strong as I originally cast it to be. I renew the energy, but I…I cannot have it fail before we are gone from this place.”

With a speed alien to his hulking frame, Thor crossed the room, caught Loki’s left hand in his right. “I trust you.” The fingers squeezed tight; his small smile grew. “And I will come with you.” The blue of his eyes could have been the sky itself. “Let’s go home.”

Carefully, slowly, Loki extricated his fingers, did not look away. “I know you would rather be with your friends.”

Thor blinked. “Did I badger them for days on end to come?”

“You did not have to.”

“No. You always make me fight for what I want from you.” One hand rose again; it would have ruffled Loki’s coiffed hair to absolute ruin had he not ducked away in time. “You know me too well,” Thor observed with a chuckle, and Loki took another step away, just to be on the safe side.

“Hurry up. Put on your slattern’s robe and let this all be over with.”

The breakfast did not prove a torturously long experience. Seated on rugs upon the soft grass of the green, both Sif and Hogun comported themselves perfectly. Volstagg very carefully did not look at either of them and instead indulged himself mightily in the spread of food and beverages set before their party. Fandral, on the other hand, looked as if his eyes were about to fall out of his head. For not the first time Loki thought sourly of the man’s easy talent with a paintbrush, and resolved to have him swear to leave the scene unrecorded on pain of death by slow castration.

The early morning picnic was indeed a strange mix of elegance and simplicity; high creatures though the ljósálfar might be, they also appeared trapped in some distant past. Loki’s own appetite had shrunk to very little, a constant ache beating at the back of his head. Seiðr was as much a part of him as blood and bone and soul itself, but the constant exercise of the energy he dedicated to the bracelets left him exhausted, stomach twisted with nausea.

An expert at saving face, Loki did manage to join in the many toasts offered to the marriage of “Donar” and “Loptr.” It did not mask the faint fear which shivered through him at the end, when the elders came about them in a tight half circle; his skin turned to gooseflesh beneath the sheer silk, and he wondered if it would be stripped away so they might have their bedding ceremony sky-clad upon the grass in the full light of day. But they merely took their wrists – Thor’s right, Loki’s left – and bound them again in ribbon and flaxen leaves, a final ritual blessing over the bracelets and the bond they physically represented.

But it isn’t physical. It’s much more than that.

Left to his own devices again, Loki gratefully took a seat upon the grass, at some distance from the others. As the sun climbed higher, he had begun to feel very ill indeed. His eyes wandered to where their party’s horses were tethered across the green, enjoying their oats and hay. In that moment he did not even care to return to the temple, to rush back to the chamber and dress. He could have happily gone stark naked upon his mount, if it would but take him home.

“Loptr.” He glanced up, startled, but she was already descending to sit with her skirts in a graceful circle about her. “Might I have a word?”

Her name was Lofn. Like so many of the ljósálfar, her pale skin matched the silvered hair and milk-white eyes. Yet she was clearly an elder, skin wrinkled in deference to time, irises ringed with sharp blue. Somehow that rendered her more tangible, more present. Loki recalled her introduction the day before as some sort of high priestess. Under other circumstances he would have been content to speak with her for hours. But now, wan and tired, he could barely offer basic cordiality.

“Of course, my lady.”

She nodded to the horses. “You are now returning home?”

“Yes, well, there are matters we ought to attend to.”

“Naturally.” A small smile played upon her pale lips. “The marriage, I imagine, will require some changes to arrangements there.”

There seemed no gain in detail. “Indeed.”

Long fingers played gentle upon the stem of her goblet, before she set it carefully aside, leaned forward with a searching look. “Are you not well?”

As unobtrusively as possible, Loki leaned away. “Merely tired.”

“Hardly a surprise.” When Loki replied with silence, she covered a delicate cough with one hand. “I am sorry, I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

Having become a master as sitting in a way to mask his groin in a very short time, Loki gave only a short laugh. “I am already all but naked before you. I am sure it does not make much difference.”

She blinked, eyes very wide. “Oh, dear – Loptr, these robes…it is not a sexual matter. Please, forgive us if we let you believe otherwise.” Those long fingers reached out, very softly and very briefly touched the most distant hem of the gauzy silk. “It is symbolic of the transparency of what is between you now. And while we do not practice the bedding ceremony, it does allow us to see how comfortable the newlyweds truly are in their bond.”

Loki’s face was as stone. “I see.”

“You do not, but then I do not expect you to. It is ancient seiðr, beyond even our own understandings, in its deepest form.” In the silence that followed, he could not help but follow her gaze, even knowing where it would lead: Thor, hair glinting in the sun. His robe was a scarlet hue, combining with his golden skin to make him appear as if he were on fire. Sitting upon a woven quilt, goblet in one hand, a grape in the other, his head bowed close to that of the woman sitting at his side. Loki’s tongue tasted bitter gall, for all Sif appeared so drab and dull next to his blazing form.

“There is no need for jealousy.”

Startled from his staring, it took a moment to recompose his features to cool disinterest. “What reason have I for jealousy?”

Her narrow shoulders rose, fell in small movement. “Indeed.” But then she smiled, a distant strange thing that turned his stomach. “I have seen the ritual performed more than a thousand times, Loptr.” The smile faltered, leaving her face faintly lined with confusion. “I have never seen it take so strongly as it did between you two.”

Relief hit him hard. If Lofn had felt it and not realised it, then the spell cast upon the bracelets, much as it pained him to hold it, must be faring better than imagined. He almost considered another drink.

Before he could ask, one gnarled hand rested upon his shoulder, the silk thin enough that he could feel her warmth. “Perhaps it is the will of the Norns, that it happened this way.” Then she leaned close, placed a motherly kiss upon one cheek. “Be well, Loptr. Donar is yours, as you are his. And you two are so much the stronger for it.”

Loki only watched her walk away, unable to speak around the hard lump in his throat. It seemed but the most natural thing in all the worlds to then return to Thor. As if summoned by Loki’s attention, he rose from the grass in absolute phoenician grace. The long hard lines of his body softened around the easy laughter of his wide mouth, the shining blue of his eyes.

Loki turned away. When he raised his hand to push hair back from his face, he found the nails filled with dirt. He had dug them deep into the earth below. Closing his eyes, he sought out one long breath. Two. Then three.

Then he rose. Again Thor turned as if called by unspoken word. The bright smile imprinted upon Loki’s mind like the diverging path of lightning strike. At first he could only stare. Thor’s eyes darkened, mouth half-opening on a question Loki was too distant to hear. Shaking his head first, he then nodded. His own smile was smaller, tighter – but just as true.

It was time to go home and end this farce. And it would be ended. Still, when Loki raised his hand to acknowledge Thor’s wave over, he used the right one to do so.

He wondered if the bracelet on the left had always been so heavy.

Chapter Text

“Loki does not look well.”

The bridle did not require any further adjustment. All the same, Thor kept his attention upon the leather. “I know,” he acknowledged, very quiet. Loki himself still watered his own horse some distance behind where Thor, Sif, and Hogun lingered. “I want to get him home as quickly as possible.”

They had been now two days on the road since the wedding. Heimdall might be all-seeing, but the Bifröst could not be put down just anywhere – and especially not in the wilds of old Álfheimr, where all magics were volatile and peculiar things. Thor had begun to find it somewhat odd, in retrospect, that he had needed to fight so hard to convince Loki to accompany them in the first place. He should have found it fascinating – and until the village, Thor would have argued that he had.

Instead, since the village, Loki had become quieter than his usual wont. Even the snide and snickering remarks he so specialised in had all but disappeared. No-one could claim he was unable to keep up, but Loki seemed just as determined to keep his thoughts to himself.

“We should be close enough to the borderlands to call to Heimdall by tomorrow afternoon.” Hogun’s low words, spoken close to his ear as Loki once more mounted his horse, held as much comfort as the stoic Vanir might offer. “He will make it there, Thor.”

Thor could offer no argument. Loki’s stubbornness was the genesis of legend. It did not mean his worries eased as their party fell back into loose formation.

They had come close enough to civilisation now to take an inn for the evening. The others were immediately content to set themselves up at a table in a warm corner near the blazing hearth, animals stabled and gear stowed, but Thor looked to his brother with doubt. Loki’s eyes held a distant cast, body inclined towards the stairs and the chambers above.

“Do you wish to go to bed?”

His whole body started, as if caught in sudden current. The expression he wore said clear that he wished to say no; Thor had seen it many a time when they’d been but children, and Loki had once again found some tome to keep him reading well beyond their bedtime. But now, as then, he was all but swaying on his feet.

An almost maternal sense still had him adding, gently, “You should eat first.”

This time Loki’s eyes flashed very bright, a creature not only wide awake but more than ready to strike. “You are not my mother.”

“No, I’m your brother.” When he reached forward, the silver of the bracelet caught the warm firelight. He shook away a vague shiver, uncomfortable, like the pressure shift that spoke of brewing storms. “And this is old magic, Loki. Few practice it, and you’ve been casting your workings against it for days. It’s natural to be tired.”

Loki rarely gave such easy victory. When he sagged, Thor had to step forward to keep him from falling. “All right.”

With one arm now about his shoulders, Thor guided him to one of the many empty tables, far from where Sif and the Warriors Three had already ordered their meal. “Still, you should eat. Perhaps just not with the others.” Pursing his lips for a moment, he surveyed the room, then nodded. “I will have some food sent up for us. And a bath, too. Just for you.”

Even through half-lidded eyes, the green of his irises remained piercing as always. “I presume we’re sharing the room?”

“They saw the bracelets. They believe us wed.” The little pat Thor gave to his shoulder was one he’d seen their father use on their mother many a time. “I’ll bathe, too. I promise I won’t stink out the room.”

The answering half-hearted smile was enough for him. Thor left Loki in his lonely chair, half-dozing already, and crossed the taproom to the others. Though Fandral immediately hooked a chair with one ankle and pushed it out in welcome half-circle, Thor pushed it back in. All but Sif followed his nod into the shadows; her eyes remained watchful upon him alone.

“We are going to retire.”

Volstagg frowned, even as he took first a hearty swallow of his beer. “I hope the lad is not too exhausted,” he said, beard and moustache lightly foamed. “I know nothing of seiðr, certainly, but this does not seem a common reaction.”

“This is a place of wild magic.” Hogun’s dark eyes held his, their emotion as inscrutable as his dealings about a duelling ground. The clever hands sat motionless about his tankard. “We should be gone from this place.”

A warning, unspoken, prickled upon his skin with the pressure of unseen rain. “Loki cannot travel tonight. But we will be up before dawn, and we will strike out at first light.”

“As you say.”

He could still feel Sif’s gaze upon him as he ordered their meal, and the bath. Much to his combined relief, the staff proved very efficient for such a small crossroads tavern. There had been only enough time to share a cup of warm mead with his brother downstairs before the landlady returned with a serving girl in tow to say the room had been prepared.

The end result was also not what he might have expected. While the room could never have been as open and lovely as the temple chamber in the village, it welcomed them both with rustic charm. A banked fire kept everything warm, logs and air alike scented with rich herb. Breads and cold meats, with cheeses and fruit, were already set upon the sideboard; the maid had assured him there would be a warm course to follow. As she closed the door behind her, moving with the quiet speed of a mouse about its busy small life, Thor’s attention turned to the bath.

A great porcelain thing, it had been set close before the fire. Filled with steaming water, gently plied with oils, it invited without words. Loki was already stripping, careless of the modesty he usually so closely guarded. The bright fire set his pale skin alight in shades of scarlet, gold, and deepest red.

Thor looked away. The hot shame coursing from his blazing cheeks down to the knot in his stomach made no sense. He had seen Loki naked many a time before. Blindly he reached for goblet and carafe, pouring himself too much wine, and yet did not spill a single drop.

He did not dare look back until he had finished it. Though his tired mind had already begun to haze from the sudden influx of alcohol, it cleared immediately upon seeing Loki sagging dangerously low in the water.

Still he did not trust himself to go closer. He spoke only from the other side of the room. “Brother, are you awake?”

Only when he received no answer did he tread careful across the rug to come down at his side. With one cheek resting upon the lip of the bath, his brother’s eyes were closed in a face mostly relaxed, save for the lines of strain about those eyes. Without thought Thor raised one hand, gently pushed damp hair away from his face. Loki did not stir. Sitting backing on his heels, hands a tight knot in his lap, Thor sighed.

From the placement of washcloth and soap, Loki had not got far in his ablutions. Thor knew he would not be happy to wake in a cold bath. Without thinking, he leaned over the side, and took on the task himself. Soap-slick hands glided free over smooth skin, without thought, without taboo. Loki’s sigh stilled him for a moment. As it subsided, Thor went on. He thought only long enough to recognise it would be a risk to wash his hair. He had not done as much for Loki since they were very small children, though they’d shared many a bath since. Even when awake, Loki always had shied away from extraneous touch. In that it was all too peculiar, that now he seemed to curve into him, as if taking strength from his nearness.

When he opened his eyes, Thor’s hands stuttered to true stop. “Making yourself useful, brother?”

“Of course.” He’d snatched his hands back, holding them behind his back like a chastised child. The smile he forced must have been as false as spring flowers in deepest winter. “It’s just like our wedding night.”

Loki first went very still. Then he shook his head, turned his face away. “Get me a towel.”

The demand stung, for all the words were softly spoken. After turning to collect one, Thor handed it back without looking. Loki seemed very certain on his feet as he crossed the room. Staying by the bath, shedding his own clothes, Thor climbed in. Not one movement matched the slow care he had shown his brother. Quick and business-like, the washing soon finished. Then, wrapped in a robe, Thor joined Loki at the table.

Nothing was spoken between them. The wordless nature of the meal did not change even with the arrival of a thick stew, steaming buttered beans, hot baked potatoes infused with cheese and herbs. Thor ate his share. Loki only picked. Only when all had been cleared away and the door latched behind the maid did he sigh, glance to the room’s true centrepiece.

“Just the one bed, again.”

The fingers of his left hand looped about the bracelet on his right, pulled on it hard enough to hurt. Loki had already risen from the table, crossing the room to where the curtains stood yet again. “They do think us married,” Thor offered, trying to be light, gallant.

“So you’ve said.”

At the window, all lean silhouette, he seemed oddly fragile. Thor again made his lips turn upward, for all Loki refused to look his way.

“If you’ll lend me enough blankets, I’ll sleep on the floor, before the fire.”

He half-turned, face the perfect pale profile of an ivory cameo. “What?”

“If my presence disturbs your sleep—”

“No.” The first word had been spoken with a force that resounded through Thor with enough force to bruise. It softened but a moment later. “No, Thor. It’s fine. It’s our bed.”

There was something very odd in that – both in its shape, and its sound. But Thor would not say no. Despite having slept on worse many a time before, when presented with a feather bed over a stone floor, no contest could hope to be made.

In truth, Thor also habitually slept nude. He had not done so since their wedding night – though that was because the last two nights had been spent camping just beyond the roadside. Much as he preferred to sleep that way, the very thought of it now left him uncomfortable. Thor hated it. He had never felt uncomfortable around his brother in his life. But Loki had already located the nightshirts, supplied by the landlady, folded upon the end of the turned-down bed. He handed the larger to him silently. Thor accepted it, and kept his mouth shut.

It proved easier to fall asleep than he’d hoped. Perhaps it was only fair punishment, then, that he should wake again but scant hours later. Darkness still held its star-scattered curtain over the sky, and it would be a long way ‘til dawn. Upon his side, Thor lay quiet, following every lull and rise of his brother’s breath. In comparison to the snoring sprawl his elder brother so favoured, Loki had always been a quiet, still sleeper. Thor curled more tightly in upon himself, their backs ever to one another.

Just the thought of its nearness was to bring to bright life how it had been in the bath: the inward curve of spine where it trailed to hips, the strength of an urge to trail fingers down the endless ridges of bone and skin. In the steam Loki had been sheened with perspiration, the limpness of those long limbs making it seem as if he moved at one with the water. How soft the skin had been beneath Thor’s own callused fingers! The long sweeps of his hands, too slow, too curious, were but led on by the scent of him even beneath the soap: something fresh, earthy, sweet as the crunch of ice between teeth on a summer’s day.

Thor did not even recognise his arousal until he shifted, felt the heat of it fall hard against his thigh. Then he could think of nothing else. The pulse of blood became the beat of his heart, roaring in his ears in double-quick time. Loki remained quiet, remained sleeping. Nails dug half crescents into Thor’s own palms and every movement felt on the verge of electric discharge.

He should get up. He should not do it here. But Thor could not, suddenly, bear the thought of even briefly looking at Loki while in the throes of such a cockstand. Hiking the nightshirt up around his hips, he angled them forward, away from his brother’s slumbering form. A spit into his hand, and then his fist wrapped around his cock.

The silkiness of the skin made it all too easy, echoed by the slide of his thumb over the weeping tip; a hissing breath escaped where the nail caught the slit. First squeeze, then release; a rapid pump up and down, and then begin all over again. Already he could feel his balls tightening, curling his toes as teeth dug sharp into his bottom lip. He had not worked himself to such arousal with so little touch, in so little time, since had been an adolescent. Since both he and Loki had been adolescents, uncertain and unknowing, but never letting the other know, never telling even a brother how terrifying the change could be, never sharing what new sensations came—

Thor gasped in stilted breaths, swallowing back frantically on a cry that still very nearly worked itself loose. Both hands moved over his groin, cradling, catching the hot release as it came in one, two, three short bursts. Though his muscles screamed for stretch, for languid relaxation, Thor held himself very still. Loki’s breathing had not changed. Beside him, Thor burned with shame. Only the silver bracelet felt cool against the shameful fire of his skin.

The mess between his hands had grown tacky when he finally managed to rise, the nightshirt slipping to cover his modesty as he went to the ewer and bowl. When he had finished, Thor dumped the contents out the window. Though he returned to the bed almost immediately, the fire burned low and the room now holding a faint chill, he did not get back in. Instead he stood, and he looked upon his work.

Loki slumbered on, clearly exhausted even in deep sleep. Thor closed his eyes. It changed nothing.

You deserve better, brother.

Sliding in beside him one last time, Thor lay upon his back, and waited for dawn. He did not think sleep would come. In the end he could not believe he deserved it.

Chapter Text

Loki climbed back into consciousness, and more easily than on the two mornings previous. Without moving his limbs more than a few inches, he stretched hard, then let his head fall to the side. His brother lay there, sleeping and silent. The very presence of him there filled Loki with an odd warmth he decided was better off ignored.

What proved more difficult to disregard was that, having slept well himself, for the first time Loki could clearly see Thor’s own exhaustion. A pang of guilt lanced deep into his gut. Much as it could be difficult sometimes to convince himself that it even existed, Loki knew of his brother’s concern for him. But at least Thor appeared to sleeping very heavily, on his back with noble features turned to the ceiling. His hair about him, unfairly untangled even in sleep, lay in golden rivers against the pillow. Loki didn’t even realise he was staring until Thor shifted in his sleep. Recoiling, he very nearly tumbled from the bed, and then just climbed to his feet to regain some composure.

Glancing about the room with a frown, Loki realised he had only a vague memory of the night before. There had been a bath, a meal, a fall into sleep. Thor had helped him with the first two. Something about the third still sat oddly with him. Much as he felt reinvigorated this morning, he knew he not dreamed, not exactly. Still the evening had left him with the lingering sensation of a strange contentment. A golden warmth. Loki might have put it down to sharing a bed with his brother, but then they had done that thousands of times. Aside from his own exhaustion, there had been nothing different about it.

His eyes fell down to his wrist. The bracelet remained there, quiescent cold silver. There was no doubt in his mind that he would be very glad to get it off. Such constant expenditure of energy could not be sustained by even the most skilled of those skilled in seiðr.

His brother woke quietly, seemed preoccupied as they gathered their belongings and dressed. Loki let the silence stand as they went down to breakfast. Though he felt clearly better, he found himself uninterested in food, and that concerned him; complex spellwork more commonly left him ravenous. Still Loki only picked at the breakfast laid before them all. It only matched Thor’s worry, Sif’s cool appraisal. He could not even be insulted. He’d have been suspicious in her place too.

Returned good health aside, Loki stumbled when they first stepped out into the dawn. Volstagg’s meaty arm was the nearest steadying force, freely offered. “Careful. We don’t want to ride you double.”

“Of course not,” he replied, stiff. “After all your poor beast’s back bows near to breaking under your girth alone.”

“That’s our Loki!” If the bellowed words hadn’t startled him enough, the hug made it worse; he barely escaped from it with all his ribs intact. “I have missed your tongue dearly, my sharp friend.”

“It hasn’t missed you, you’re far too easy a target.” A strange gladness filled him at Volstagg’s delight, all the same. It could not last, but then it did not matter. They would all be home soon enough, and then Loki could set about avoiding all four of them for as long as possible.

Despite the distance still to travel, home came with a swiftness that surprised them all. Leading his horse away from the observatory, Loki paid little heed to Heimdall. He had no desire to look into the knowing gold of those eyes. He kept his eyes upon the dreaming spires of Asgard instead. The city glittered in the evening dusk; it would just be past dinner, in Glaðsheimr. He could not help but be glad for it. The late hour meant their parents would not expect to see their sons until morning. Loki intended to be well rid of the bracelets long before then.

Halfway across the rainbow bridge, Loki pulled his horse up short. Thor echoed the motion, waving the others onward. Loki paid them little heed, focused instead upon the flickering light beneath him. It was childish, perhaps. But suddenly he wanted nothing more than to pitch the damned thing over the edge, to watch it fall to darkness. He didn’t really care if Thor kept his as some sort of morbid souvenir. This was about his own desire.

The relief of dropping the magic came too close to the heights of physical pleasure. Loki kept his face turned from his brother, looked only to his hands. But the flush of that heat disappeared with frightening speed when he raised his arm. The bracelet had not broken open. It had not fallen free.

At first he stared. Then he pulled. An actual casting made not the slightest difference.

“Loki—”

Be quiet.”

It had always been too easy to mock his brother for favouring the physical over the sorcerous. That did not stop him from now yanking at the damned thing: first gentle. And then hard, harder; he could almost feel the fine bones of his wrist grinding together.

It would not come off.

“Loki, what is going on?”

The true miracle was that he did not turn around and slug his idiot brother in the face. “I need…I need something to eat. To drink.” Then Loki looked at him, eyes flashing dark fire. “I also need you to shut up.”

Thor’s hurt was a palpable thing. He’d always let his heart beat too close to his skin. Gritting his teeth, Loki tried not to think too hard about it. Instead he rode hard for the palace, abandoned his confused brother in the stables, and finally called for a simple meal. He took it alone in a quiet annex near his rooms. He’d hoped the arbour of roses Frigga had planted there for him when he’d been but an infant would be comfort enough to invoke her wisdom.

The bracelet still would not come loose.

His meal but half-finished, Loki contemplated the damned thing. Frigga would still be awake. She would also not come to him. She did not expect her boys to check in with her constantly, content many a time to hear their adventures over breakfast. But Loki wanted her, and very badly.

Don’t be such a child.

He had almost reached the door of his chambers when a voice rose from the shadows, laced in worry.

“Loki, have you worked out what the trouble is?”

Though he stopped, he did not turn. “No, I haven’t.” Pressing his lips very tight together, he forced a civilised tone. “It’s late. Go to bed.”

“Loki.” Much as he yearned to just open the door, to slam it between them and ignore his brother for the rest of the evening, he could not move. Instead he shivered when one hand came to rest light upon a shoulder.

“You are exhausted.”

“Yes,” Loki said, tart and cold. “That’s why I am going to bed.”

It seemed somehow impossible to refuse to allow Thor to turn him about, one hand reaching down. He did not touch the bracelet, fingertips hovering just above the surface, as if it might burn. “With this still on?” he asked, and Loki snatched his hand back.

“That’s the issue of the moment, isn’t it?”

“I know you did not want to tell Mother. Or, Norns forbid, Father.” Thor’s expression moved from distress to a calm Loki might have called odd, had he not known where his comfort stemmed from. “But Mother does not judge.” Taking a pause didn’t stop him from then blurting out, “I’m worried about you.”

Loki blinked. “Why?”

It was a fool’s question and they both knew it. Held in a strong and sudden embrace, Loki checked an unvoiced sigh. The display was uncomfortable – perhaps because it was too comfortable.

“Shouldn’t you be spending the evening with your mistress?” he demanded, face smushed against one overly muscled shoulder. “She surely has missed you dearly.”

Managing to push back somewhat, Loki looked up to see he’d scored a hit; Thor’s eyes had lit up to a brilliant blue. His brother always had been predictable as winter storms. Mjölnir sat alone in his chambers, as he had left her behind to go incognito on their journey. In Loki’s opinion he might as well have lopped off a limb, given all his moping throughout the first three days of it.

“I do miss her,” he admitted, and his grip tightened. “But Loki…”

He ducked free, pushing a hand back through dishevelled hair and blowing out an impatient breath. “I will go to her, Thor. So would you just go moon over your hammer, and leave me be?”

Whether Thor truly believed him or not, Loki had not lied. He found his mother with unerring ease, walking in her night-gardens with Heimdall. That abrupt realisation almost turned him around again.

As a child, he’d been fascinated by the gatekeeper: his golden eyes, molten against his dark skin; the hulking body contained in the armour crested by Yggdrasil itself; worlds in his gaze and their entrances held in the broadsword between his hands. Only as Loki grew older had the weight of that ever-knowing gaze leaned too heavy against his conscience. Swiftly had Loki learned first to duck and avoid those golden eyes first in person, and then in absentia too.

He did not doubt Heimdall knew of the faux wedding. Loki had seen no particular advantage in veiling it from Heimdall’s gaze, for all he had no intention of informing his parents about the incident. Had Frigga not raised her eyes, caught sight of him, he might have turned around after all.

“Loki! I had heard tell of your return.” Her arms were warm about him, and when she drew back her gaze held faint concern. “But are you not tired?”

“I am,” he replied, guileless in such honesty. “But it has been too long since I spent an evening with you, that I could not wait until tomorrow.”

“My silly boy.” The brilliance of her smile hurt. He could not but be traitorously glad when she turned it towards her companion. “Good Heimdall, if you would excuse a mother so she might attend to her son?”

“But of course, your highnesses.” With a low bow of his head, unadorned by the horned helmet he favoured, Heimdall’s golden eyes remained still and knowing. “I will, by your leave, return to the Observatory.”

Loki watched him go without a word. With a faint chuckle, Frigga linked her arm through his, and steered him back into the garden with her usual peacemaker’s grace.

“I see he still makes you squirm like a child caught with his fingers in the pantry,” she observed, too cheerful; Loki swallowed hard.

“Does his omniscience not disturb you, then?”

“I would not name it omniscience,” she said, careful; her lips had not turned down to a frown, exactly, but her brow had furrowed. “And no, it does not. I find it comforting, to know there is always a watchful eye upon Asgard and her children.”

He could not find itself in him to agree. That was, he supposed, the price of adulthood. Instead he kept his thoughts quiet. Since babyhood he had always taken strength this way, basking in the warmth of her simple presence.

Deep into the gardens, there stood a favoured seat of theirs; simple stone, just enough for two. Loki guided her there, took his place at her side. Only then did he take a breath, hardly daring to speak above a whisper. “Something happened in the distant reaches of Álfheimr.”

“Yes?”

At first his voice failed him. Then, he tried harder. “We ranged deep into the backwaters of Ljósálfaheimr. The light elves there, they…are a strange breed.”

“They are indeed.”

Another pause, and he could only stared at his hands. The bracelet was masked by the long sleeves he wore, but he could still feel its cool metal against his wrist. “Of course their customs were peculiar to us, anonymous travellers though we appeared to be. We happened across a village who welcomed us for the evening, and well. During the luncheon meal, while I discussed some of the deep seiðr, Thor…”

“…said something thoughtless?”

He couldn’t keep the annoyance – nor the fear – from his words. “Has Heimdall already told you of all this?”

“Loki. No.” Searching, her blue eyes held him still, and shamed. “He does not make it a habit to seek to discredit you, or make you appear in anyway a lesser son.” Then she sighed, more affectionate than exasperated. “At any rate, I am perfectly aware of my elder son’s failings when in unchecked high spirits.”

His own sigh edged closer to shame. “I am sorry.”

She acknowledged his apology with a faint nod. “Go on.”

“We were speaking of the binding nature of their matrimonial ceremonies. Thor made some remark that the prospects for a bachelor in the village must truly be dim, if they must use a spell to prevent the pair from ever dissolving the marriage.” One corner of his mouth twitched, but did not quite rise. “They were not impressed.”

The beginnings of a frown had turned Frigga’s expression darker than was her wont. “As was their right, but I assume they wished for a display of contrition?”

“They were furious. They take the ceremony very seriously.” Given the strength of the magics involved, it could only be a healthy attitude to take. “I worried that it might come to blows, and I…I said that Thor had too long evaded the natural consequences of a good marriage.” Only a deep breath could steady him now. It didn’t actually work. “I suggested that he himself would be the type to most benefit from such an inalterable bond.”

Frigga paused, hands knotted tight together, frowning. “But he did not marry a ljósálfar?”

Loki swallowed hard. “No.” Rolling up his sleeve, he presented the bracelet with a shaking hand. “He married me.”

Frigga went white.

“Mother,” he whispered. “I knew it would not hold. I knew of the safeguard against incest. I cast a spell over the bracelets to hold them closed until we were long gone from that place.”

Both hands had raised to cover her mouth. The motion didn’t mask their tremor. But with her eyes fixed upon the bracelet, everything else about her was too still.

“Mama,” and his voice was very small, “I can’t get them off.”

She wrapped him then in the hardest, fiercest hug of his life. Not even Thor’s most enthusiastic could compare. His ribs were cracking even as his heart was breaking. The taste of salt where his face pressed down against her breast was bitter against his stilled tongue. He had not even realised he was crying.

“My son,” she whispered, her voice as fragile as gossamer spider-thread. “My son.”

Loki locked his own arms around her in return. For all the strength in her embrace, she felt herself strangely fragile, as if she might fly all to pieces. Holding on, his eyes stayed closed. He could only hope the moment might never end.

Life could not be so simple.

When he drew back, she filled his vision, her eyes very bright. Though very pale, she had turned very calm, now. Loki was reminded of the eye of a storm as light fingertips brushed hesitant over the cursed metal of his bracelet.

“You were correct, my son.” She spoke soft, husky-voiced and low. “As always…my clever, clever son.”

Loki closed his eyes. Always too clever. So many had said so – from tutor to teacher to father to brother. But never her. Never Frigga. Never the queen.

“You’re not my mother.”

The trembling breath she drew reminded him of the dying breaths of summer. “In all the ways that matter most, I will always be your mother.” Her hands were smaller than his, their skin both so pale, veins blue and delicate in branching rivers. And she sighed. “But our blood is not shared.”

Beside her, the scent of the night-garden sickly and too sweet, Loki sat very silent. Their hands remained joined. The bracelet could be seen as a mocking half-circle at this angle, though in truth it was a manacle that held tight the entire way around.

Finally he spoke, his voice that of a stranger. “Why did you never tell me?”

“Your father and I decided it would be for the best not to.”

“You and Father?” His lip curled. “Or just Father?” Her gaze was very even, but he could see the sheen of saltwater. His own mouth tasted of bitter gall, so thick as to drown. “Because yes, many of the foundations I have built my life upon appear to be crumbling out from beneath my feet, but I would like to believe that you, of all people, would not have willingly lied to me every single day of my life.”

Frigga flinched away. From somewhere far distant came the thought that this was unfair; the better part of him keened with distress at hurting her. But Loki’s skin had gone very cold. His heart had hardened with it. Still he could not draw back from her touch, her nearness, her golden warmth.

They always did say you were weak.

Her hands, bare of rings, tightened about his. She never once looked away. No-one had ever called the Allmother a coward. “I do not wish to sound as if I mean to absolve myself of the responsibility – for I am responsible for this as much is your father.” She paused, pained in her search for the right words to heal wounds she had helped tear open. “But it was your father who brought you here. To this day I am not certain he has ever explained to me exactly why, save one truth: he wanted you.”

A shudder moved through his whole body like earthshock. “Did he steal me?”

“I don’t…” Before this day, he would have sworn his mother had never lied to him about anything that mattered. Now, he watched as she fought back against spilling a truth he could not understand the depth of. “…Loki. We must speak with your father. But I do not want you to leave this garden doubting that I am your mother, and we are your family. This is how it was, and how it always shall be.”

The smile shone bitter, and broken. “Of course it will always be this way,” he said. Then he pulled away, stood alone. “I’m married to your son. And there’s no force in any of the realms or the worlds beyond the Tree that will break this bond.”

“Loki, please, sit with me—”

“I can’t. I won’t. I…” It felt as though something were crawling beneath his skin. His fingers itched to rip it all away, to leech from vein and artery and heart all the blood that they did not share. He wanted you. Presumably he had then not been a seized bastard child; even a half-blood would have been too close for the bond to hold. Loki was instead something else.

Something worse.

Loki could not turn around. He could not look at her. Still she remained in his mind’s eye: tall and slim and lovely; her golden hair, her bright blue eyes, so very like Thor’s.

Thor. His brother. The golden prince of Asgard, who never would have had time for an ergi seiðmaðr who fought with knives and words rather than swords and shields, had said coward not instead been his brother. Loki would have been but another featureless face in the crowd of sycophants all about him. Only the blood of the House of Odin had ever elevated him above what Asgard named as flaws in his person, in his heart.

The nausea took him by surprise. Driven to hands and knees, Loki found himself vomiting in the nearest flowerbed. The heavy scent of the blooms, the rich pollen choking the air, both only made him gag harder. A soft hand on his back calmed him for but a moment. Then he remembered. Then he ducked away, stumbling to his feet, head bowed, eyes blinded with salt.

“I am sorry.” It was true. He just could not count the things he meant it for. “Please, just…” Already he had run dry of words. He did not even know what he wanted to say. “Please.”

Standing at his back, his mother did not touch him. Her voice held only the faintest tremor. She had always been the embodiment of a true queen. “Shall I tell your father now we must all speak? Together?”

“Not Thor.” He said it so hard he felt something tear inside of him. “I cannot…he cannot be there.”

“Loki—”

“NO!” The force of it drained him; sagging, Loki covered his face, shook his head. “I don’t…I can’t have him there. Not like this.”

“Then let us go now. You and I, together.” Now he could hear the advent of tears in her lovely voice. “Loki, we will make this right.”

“No.” When he looked up, despite the rasp of salt upon his skin, his eyes had dried. “It is late. I am tired. I am upset. It will wait until morning.”

She tilted her head, her worry so patently maternal he almost reversed his decision. “Loki.”

But he held his ground. And his words came surprisingly easy, for all they had deserted him but moments ago. “You know how our king can be when surprised. And I am in no mood to stand quiet and listen. It can…it can only go badly.” Now the tremble returned. “Please. Let him wait.” He blinked, very hard. “Let me think, first.”

Again, her arms came tight around him. He returned it, eyes dry, though his soul ached as if shredded through the darkest of black holes. With nothing further to say, he returned to his chambers alone. There he undressed with mechanical motion, unthinking as he washed his face, his hands, rinsed out the taste of vomit from his mouth. Only then did he go to his bed.

Something had been laid upon the pillow in his absence: a package of greasepaper tied up with string, the knot held tight with a seal he didn’t need to recognise. Only two people could enter his chambers without his own presence, and he had just parted with the other.

His hands held surprisingly steady as he broke the string, set the seal aside. When he undid the paper, it was to find two large, sticky cakes made of citrus juice and barley-meal and ground almond. A favoured treat indeed. It was the words scribbled beneath that held his attention most.

I thought we might share these, as a homecoming supper. But you must still be with mother, and I am a lazy fool who needs his bed. As an apology, you should therefore have them both. So, though it will all end tonight, I am a good husband, yes? Tomorrow, I shall seek to be an even better brother. T.

He did try to eat one of them. It tasted of salt and agony. Ignoring the tears silently tracking down his cheeks he left it unfinished, crumbling and bleeding syrup, lying beside the one still whole and perfect. The windows yawned open before him. Asgard, golden and silver and shining, glittered beneath him like a tapestry brought to brilliant life. Loki closed his eyes. Darkness was all he craved now.

Perhaps it was all he deserved.

Chapter Text

Familiar exertion calmed any and all racing thoughts with the devastating effect of a soporific. It satisfied Thor almost as much as his solitude. Early as it was, few others had yet come out to the training yards. Those that had did not seek out his company. Having destroyed several striking posts already, Thor could not blame them. The thud of wood on wood reverberated through bone and flesh and upwards to his mind, where it shook loose all thoughts to leave him clear and calm.

The last vestiges of dawn had drawn away from the sky when he finally shelved the last of his practice weapons, moving to the sauna and bathhouse. He lingered in neither, though he felt the curious gaze of more than one fellow warrior upon the silver bracelet. Not a one tried to engage him in conversation; his stormy expression forbade it.

Yet Thor felt no anger. It was the return of his worry that darkened his features as he dressed quickly and quietly. Upon leaving the training grounds he soon found his eyes fixed upon the high towers of Glaðsheimr. Loki had not answered his knock this morning. And the bracelet remained sure and silent about his wrist.

There would be a breakfast fit for kings awaiting them both in their mother’s morning room. Thor could but hope his brother had beaten him there – that Loki would be seated already with Frigga, debating subtleties of seiðr over jam toast and fruit scones.

Yet he never made it that far. He was still meandering along one of the lower arcades when the clatter of quick footsteps behind him had him turning. Few ran within the halls of Glaðsheimr without good reason. Thor didn’t believe Loki had done so since they had been children, racing and pushing and shoving at one another as they both strived to be first.

It was not his brother. “Thor.” Frigga pulled up short before him, skirts swirling about the low heeled slippers. “Have you seen your brother this morning?”

“No.” Alarm filled him, hot and biting, to see the clear fear in his mother’s eyes – to know that she had come running to find him. “Didn’t he speak with you last night?”

Briefly she closed her eyes. But she was not out of breath. Queen though she had become, shieldmaiden she would always remain. “He did,” she said, very soft. Then she rubbed at one temple, eyes distant and dark. “And no, we could not undo the bracelets.”

The floor had turned to liquid beneath him. “Oh.”

But there was no time to fall. When Frigga’s hand closed about his forearm, he could feel the strength of her demand. “Thor.” Searching eyes stripped him bare. “It is very important that we find your brother as soon as possible.”

“Mother,” he said, not bothering to hide his bewilderment, “what is going on?”

She didn’t answer immediately. In fact she glanced behind instead, as if she expected Loki to have appeared there without announcement. Thor had never seen her so agitated. In fact, had he had been asked about it before today, he would have said it was not even possible.

Thor drew a deep breath. Loki had always said he was too noble for his own good. “You cannot blame him for this.” His mother started where he clasped both her hands between his own, but he only held tighter, drew her closer. “It was my fault, Mother. All of it. I am the one who insulted the elders, and it was my punishment to bear. Loki only sought to protect me.” The deep shame of it made him want desperately to hide his face from hers, but he did not. He was no child clinging to his mother’s skirts, now. “And I am his elder brother. I should have protected him.” When his voice broke, he went on all the same, sounding as though he crawled over broken glass. “Mother, if he was wrong about the binding—”

“Thor, he was not wrong. And this is the fault of neither one of you.” It left him feeling unanchored, when she pulled her hands free. Though one hand moved immediately to her head, as if it ached, Thor yearned to reach out again, to find stable ground in her presence.

“Mother, what happened last night?”

Her lovely face came over writ with despair. “I do not even know where I should begin. Or if I should begin at all.”

Swallowing hard, he pushed aside his own growing fear. “Then we should begin by finding Loki.”

He did not doubt she agreed. But helplessness had never suited her; he’d never seen her attempt to wear it before. “If Loki has chosen to conceal himself, then it will be no easy task to find him.”

There was no magic in the movement he made then – no buzz of energy, no song of deadstar glory the way there was with Mjölnir. It was simply that one hand curved about his wrist, the silver bracelet cool and curved against his palm. The answer slipped itself into his head, uninvited and all too easy.

“I know where he is.”

Frigga turned from her gaze across the gardens beyond the arcade. “What?”

“I…” Where his hand tightened over his wrist, her eyes followed. “I just know.”

For the first time since they had met in this arcade, Frigga returned to the low centre of calm he had always known her to be. Extending one hand, she gently moved the fingers forward. “Thor.” Even before she asked, he was already extending his own hand in return. “May I look at your bracelet, please?”

Though he had never studied seiðr the way his father, mother, or brother had, Thor still followed Frigga’s examination of the silver with curious eyes. His lack of training quite aside, he could not imagine she saw anything different to what he did: simple metal, worked in a perfect circle with no beginning nor end. Neither were there runes of binding, nor any other engraving or adornment. Nothing had changed.

Nothing can change.

With a slow-drawn breath, Frigga let go. “It calls you to him,” she said, very soft. Thor’s eyebrows drew very close together. He didn’t know why he feigned confusion. He already knew it to be true.

“Really?”

“Yes.” The headache she had displayed earlier only seemed to be worsening. Eir often made her a soothing tea when they got very bad, after her Seeings; Thor was on the verge of suggesting she seek out her handmaiden when she spoke again. “I cannot be certain of all it might do, because as Loki no doubt explained to you, this is ancient seiðr.” The movement of her throat was strangled, her voice turned peculiar indeed. “But this is a good sign.”

“In what way?”

The smile upon her lips was crooked, as if the expression had been turned inside-out. “It wishes you to go to him. And it would not do that should it hurt Loki, for his well-being is as important as yours.”

Aside from Mjölnir, Thor had never had much affection for elemental magic or purest seiðr. The creeping way those words crawled under his skin reminded him exactly of why that was. “You say that as if…the bond were alive.”

“In a way, it very much is.” Once again fingertips pressed to temple, mouth downturned in a grimace. “If you know where he is, Thor, please go to him. And ask him to come home.” When she looked up, he saw no tears in her eyes. All the same they both did not know they were there. “Tell him his mother needs him.”

He leaned down, pressed his lips to the crown of her golden head. “Of course I will.”

Hurrying to his own chambers, Thor chose no armour. Instead he dressed in simple trousers and boots, a belted shirt almost completing the ensemble. He added only two further items: his favoured leather cloak, draped about his shoulders – and Mjölnir, her weight familiar and reassuring in his hand.

In truth he could not have simply told Frigga of Loki’s location. Rather, he followed something in his mind, in his heart – a yearning, a calling, a promise. The siren song of it drew him across the waters, towards the ridging mountains to the east of the city. To his eyes there was nothing particularly special about his destination; picturesque it might be, it was no more beautiful than any other area of the city or its immediate surrounds. Yet as he drew closer he could make out the shape of a skiff, standing empty and anchored high above the waters, and he knew this new instinct had been correct.

The ledge jutted out from the fissured cliff face in a fashion almost too perfect; there was plenty of room for Thor to land without disturbing the only other occupant of this space. Carefully he set Mjölnir down, left her behind as he took cautious steps forward. Cool air nipped at his skin; at this elevation, he was glad for the cloak’s warmth. But concern rose for his brother: Loki, seated on the ground, leaning forward with arms wrapped about his knees, wore just a thin silk shirt and trousers.

He swallowed, wondered if they even spoke the same language anymore. “Loki.”

Loki’s eyes remained steadfast and forward. “Thor.”

“Can I sit here?”

“You are the prince of Asgard.”

“We are both princes of Asgard.”

The grunt he gave in answer was non-committal, clearly intended to end the conversation. Gingerly Thor took his place at Loki’s side. Although he knew it could only be making him uncomfortable, he could not stop staring at his brother. In the cool light of morning, he seemed made of paper and ink: a fragile construct, one that might disappear should a strong wind catch him unawares.

“Mother is worried about you.”

“And Father?”

Frowning, Thor pushed his hand back through his hair. “I haven’t seen him this morning.” Loki said nothing more. Leaning forward, but not too close, he had to ask, “Does it matter?”

Loki did not answer. It seemed he found it easier to stare off into the distance: across the waters, back to the city. To the spires of the palace. Their home.

“I am worried about you.”

A light snorting noise, and Loki shook his head. “Do you ever wonder?” One hand picked lightly at a loose thread of his trousers, the bracelet upon the wrist sparking with every movement. “What it would have been like? To not have a brother at all?”

Thor frowned, stretched his own legs out before him. He’d never been good with Loki’s games, no matter how many times his brother had tricked him into playing them. “No,” he said, slow, and then gave a short chuckle. “Well, perhaps when we were young. And you would steal my things and make them invisible for as long as it took me to go mad and then make them appear again as if they’d always been there while saying I was just a blind oaf. Sometimes then I wished I didn’t have a brother.” His smile was honest, then, simple – that same smile Loki had long ago said made him look the perfect fool. “But not for long. And I never meant it.”

Loki did not return the smile. But he did turn his head, eyes very blank where he stared at him. Thor came over very cold – and the blade in his heart was the sudden fear that Loki had been awake, that last night in Álfheimr.

“Loki—”

“I’m not your brother.”

Stunned silence was all he had left to offer. This time Loki did smile, raising one hand as if offering his neck to the executioner’s blade.

“That is why the bracelets will not come off.” He laughed, even as his voice broke to jagged pieces that embedded themselves deep into his own skin. “It is why they will never come off.”

“But…but…”

“How?” Loki’s hand fell, palm hitting thigh with a sharp slap. “I don’t even know. Mother would not explain it to me. She said it would be better for Odin to do it.” With palms pressed flat upon the ground, Loki arched his back, glared at the sky. “I was given the distinct impression that she does not even know exactly where I come from.” This time anger turned to despair. “She’s lied to me my entire life and she doesn’t even know why.”

Thor’s own thoughts had turned to mush; he had not a hope in Hel of sifting through the molasses to make sense of his own shock or grief. It was somehow easier to focus on his brother’s. “Loki, no. No. That’s not how it was.”

His fierceness could have torn him limb from limb. “Did you know?”

“I…no!”

“No. I suppose you didn’t.” His lip curled. “You’re not that good a liar.” The laughter rang around the ledge, reflected and amplified both. “And if that isn’t the greatest irony there ever was: the despised silvertongue prince of Asgard, who lies and slithers his way through life with seiðr instead of sword – he is the victim of the biggest lie of all!”

Even the great and mighty Thor could not but be helpless in the face of such cruel words. With no idea how to speak or even move against them, he cast a glance to Mjölnir. But it was no time for war. He could not make this better with the judicious application of force.

But his heart had always been strong, even more so than his warrior’s body.

“I think there is still much to be said,” he said, quiet. “And it should be spoken aloud before judgements are made, Loki. Hasn’t enough been left unsaid?”

Though he snorted in contempt, Thor could see how Loki curled further in upon himself like a hedgehog seeking sanctuary from the world entire. “So you’re here to drag me back before the king?”

“I would never drag you anywhere.”

“Liar.” His eyes sparked, malice and glee burning bright together. “You dragged me to Álfheimr, didn’t you?”

That hurt, and badly. “You are my little brother and I love you.” He even managed to keep the tremor from his words, though he tucked his hands beneath his folded arms. “I just wanted to be near you.”

“Well, congratulations. Thanks to your idiot behaviour we will be near each other forever.” Now Loki truly curled in upon himself, drawing his knees up high and burying his face. “I don’t know why Mother worries,” he said, voice muffled and distant. “I can’t leave. Not now. Not ever.”

“I don’t want you to leave.” Thor whispered. “We’re in this together.”

“Yes. Together forever.”

He ached to reach across the void between them. For all it was less than an arm’s width, he could not do it. Loki’s words quite aside, Thor still feared if he touched his brother, he would just disappear. It had always been his favoured trick. When they’d been small. When things had been simpler.

“We would have been like that anyway,” he said, very small. And Loki gave an impatient laugh, for all Thor knew him well enough to sense the frisson of fear beneath it.

“Do you even realise what this means?” He’d looked up again, hair a tangled dark halo around a pale face. “You cannot ever be married to another person. Not even upon my death would that restriction be lifted.”

“You are not going to die.”

Loki rolled his eyes. “Like I said, it would not matter.”

“It would matter to me!”

The shout left only silence in its wake. It had been true. Yet the way Loki regarded him, unblinking and cold, made him feel as though he had tried to lie before Hliðskjálf itself.

“Thor.” It almost sounded kind, if entirely dismissive. “Go back to Mother. Tell her I will come when I am ready.”

“She knows that already.” He swallowed around the lump of gall lodged low in his gullet. “I would rather stay with you.”

Again Loki’s hand rose in a movement Thor was coming to despise. He rotated his wrist, the smooth circle of the bracelet unbroken and bright. He let it fall. “Your loyalty is misguided.”

“No, it isn’t.” Thor almost tried to ape the commanding tone their father so favoured, thought better of it just in time. “Though I would not care even if it was.”

Loki left it silent between them for long enough that Thor thought he might pretend he hadn’t heard it at all, their proximity notwithstanding. Then he blew out a short, angry breath. “You have no idea what I have done,” he said in low snarl, hands tracing furious impotent circles upon the air. “They always said I would ruin you. That I was a cuckoo – a snake – in the raven’s nest of Odin Borsson.”

“Loki, no-one ever meant those things!”

“You fool.” Yet now no anger resonated through those words. Only grief. It was so much worse that way. “But it doesn’t matter whether they meant it or not, because it is true.”

“It is not.”

“Thor, you cannot be with anybody else. Never again. Not for any reason.” Frustration showed in the flex of every finger and limb. “There will be no children. You will have no heirs. The throne of Asgard itself is in jeopardy.”

“I don’t care.”

“Don’t be an idiot.”

Thor had been born a prince of Asgard, had been raised to be a warrior in her name. Floundering as he was in this maelstrom of lies and truths and everything in between, it could not be surprising that he would push it all aside. That he would favour action. That he would take the only truth he knew now, and take Loki’s face between his hands, and lean forward.

Loki reared back, lurching drunkenly backward on in a scrabbling panic. “Thor, what are you doing?”

“I…” He stayed there, upon his knees, arms outstretched, frozen in shock. “…I don’t know.”

His head shook frantically back and forth, eyes wild. “No. No, you do.”

“I want you.” He’d blurted it out before he’d even thought it to himself. “I don’t want anybody else. I don’t need anybody else. I just want you.”

With his mouth hanging open, miraculously empty of all words, Loki stared at him, eyes very wide. Thor shifted, uncomfortable, skin coming over in a raging flush.

“I’m not lying.”

“I know,” Loki whispered. He had not moved. “You were always a terrible liar.”

Shock kept them at an impasse – Loki, at the nature of his brother’s confession; Thor, at that he had confessed it at all. “I am sorry,” he said, finally, guilt bowing his head until his chin dug into his chest. “I don’t know why I said it, but…I’m sorry.”

“I know you are.” The breath he drew was trembling, troubled. “Thor…”

Seeing Loki in pain had always been his greatest weakness. But his natural urge to reach out – to touch him, to bring him comfort – betrayed them both. When Thor reached out, Loki flinched away. The involuntary gesture rebounded on Thor as a knife driven deep into his guts. Hand hanging empty upon the air, Thor could not speak. He did not trust words not to disintegrate into miserable slurred syllables.

Loki had returned to staring off across the waters, arms held tight about himself. Asgard lay that way: where life went on as before for her citizens, but not her royals. The early morning sun painted the noble lines of his face in profile. There had always been so much of Frigga in him. It seemed so impossible that there should be no blood between them.

With lips pressed together, when Loki spoke, it was with sorrow and not anger. “Just because I am not your blood brother, it doesn’t mean I can just change the way I see you.”

His hands clenched to impotent fists. “I know.”

Loki’s head snapped around. “I…but I am confused.” He paused, eyes moving sideways, then back, as if he did not quite recognise the person before him. “Have you always seen me this way?”

With a tongue tied in knots, Thor had little to say. Looking down at his hands, the glint of the silver bracelet caught in his eyes, made him blink until he at last looked away. “I…don’t believe so. But then…this marriage…even before I knew it was binding, I…” Even if he’d known what he wanted to say, he still didn’t think he could have. Or should have. It took more courage than that required upon any battlefield he’d known, to look his brother in the eye and say what mattered most. “I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry.”

Pressing his lips together, working them around unspoken words, Loki finally surrendered to a sigh. “It’s not your fault.”

The violence at which he shook his head almost shook his thoughts free. “I’m supposed to be your brother. I’m supposed to protect you.” He laughed, bitter and cold. “And yet this is all I can offer you. Your world’s falling apart, your heart is full of holes, and all I can wish for is that you’d just be with me forever because I can’t imagine a world without you. I don’t want to be without you.” He turned his face to the sky, as if the Norns had ever cared what they wanted while they wove their tangled threads. “I want to make you smile. Laugh. Happy. Norns, Loki, I want you to be happy.”

“I want you to go.”

Shock kept him right where he was. “Loki.”

“Please.” The naked misery on his brother’s face left him breathless. “I need to be alone.”

Clumsy as a drunken lout, Thor climbed to his feet. Unable to stay, but unwilling to go, he did not move. Loki’s eyes closed in frustration.

“I’m not going anywhere! What, do you expect me to fling myself from the cliffs into the sea?” Taking two rapid steps forward, Loki came to a halt before his brother, so close Thor could almost taste his breath. “I’m not some romantic heroine for the brave golden prince to swoop down and rescue me, Thor.” Bracing both hands against Thor’s chest, Loki shoved him hard. “You need to go.”

He did. But he took his cloak off first, leaving it carefully folded at Loki’s feet. With eyes still upon the horizon, Loki did not even glance to him. Head bowed, Thor turned away. Moments later he skimmed low across the waters, Mjölnir guiding him home. He himself was blinded by the spray of the water that parted before him.

Barely just a quarter of the way home, Thor arced suddenly up, gaining just enough height in a matter of seconds. Then he let go. The rush of cold water swallowed him whole, a ravenous beast; Mjölnir could not help but follow close behind. She would plunge straight down to the depths below. It did not matter. He could call her back. All that mattered was his own tumble into these clear waters. Pain, confusion, fear, strange and ill-measured delight: all were washed away in the shock of his fall. When he broke the surface, gasped for breath, it was to find body and mind numb. And content in it.

The current exerted only a vague pull at this distance. The cascading edge of Asgard itself would not draw him now to the void of space below. Thor wore no heavy armour, no mail. It was almost too easy to lay there, floating upon his back, Mjölnir somewhere far beneath him. But she sensed her master’s distress. The faint pulse of her song, moving through the water in calming waves, reminded him that there was a world beyond this brief escape.

Thor closed his eyes. He would go, soon. But for now, this was fine. This was just for him. The Norns would pick up his strings again soon enough. Then they would all dance again to their whims. Such was the price of living.

And loving.

Chapter Text

Loki had told them both he needed time alone to think. At the time he might very well have been telling the truth. But in the end he didn’t think at all. Actual consideration of thoughts might lead to conclusions, to understandings – to the forcing of acceptance. In the space of a mere few days his life had turned itself completely upon its head, without his consent or even the slightest warning. Loki did not see why he should be required to accept a damned thing.

A cold wind, off the waters, had risen enough to tease at where he had lodged himself up upon the ledge. With a shiver, Loki glanced down to the left of his huddled feet. Of course Thor had left him the cloak. He’d always been the noble one.

The wind cut ever more gleefully at his skin and he shivered again, harder this time. A snarl broke him free of his inertia, one hand snatching out. A moment later Thor’s cloak draped about his shoulders like a shed second skin. His familiar scent might have been purposely woven into the leather: earth and ozone and sunlight. Loki closed his eyes, burrowed deeper. Comfort though the warmth brought, it felt wrong, knowing what his brother had nearly done. That his brother had almost kissed him.

But then he’s not your brother.

A violent shiver almost rocked him from the cloak’s cocoon, this one nothing to do with the cold. Some part of him had always feared this: the exposure as a fraud, as a failure. Loki was no son of Odin, no prince of Asgard. All the sly whispers had been true.

But even had he wanted to run, he could not. The seiðr wrapped around his wrist and embedded in his soul bound him to Asgard more strongly than he’d ever thought possible. There was still a vicious kind of pleasure in that; everyone who ever wanted him gone could only lament the loss of their hopes and dreams. It could never happen now. Thor was his. Unless they gave up their golden son, Loki would never be gone from their sight.

When he bowed his head, the hot wash of tears overflowed his cheeks to patter without harmony upon the rock below. He didn’t even know why. Somehow it was simpler just to let them run dry.

Even once they had finished, he did not move. It was some time later before he heard the footsteps approach. Too heavy to be hers, too light to be his; only one of the three was left.

“Did Thor tell you I was here?”

“He did not.” With eyes upon the ground, all Loki could see was Odin’s boots, dusty and well-worn. His voice rolled down to him like rain down a mountain. “It seems to me, at least, that you are not hiding.”

Loki shrugged, drew his knees closer to his chest. “What would be the point?”

Given it was the king of Asgard beside him, Loki saw little point in offering him a seat down on the rock. Odin, for his part, made no motion to sit, standing as motionless as his ancestor’s statues, single eye looking out over the waters. The white caps danced in their distance, tossed by the careless hand of the still-rising wind.

“Huginn and Muninn told me you were here.”

Loki blinked, then frowned. “I didn’t even see them.”

“I am not sure you are in a state to see much at all, Loki.” Those words could have been unkind; combined with those that followed, they seemed only tired. “Come home.”

The reflexive action was anything but accepting. He wanted only to shout. To scream. It’s not my home. It never was.

Instead he flexed his muscles while scarcely moving an inch, chin still upon his knees. He could not risk unfolding himself around Odin. It was much easier to curl in upon himself this way. “Mother obviously told you what happened,” he said, very quiet. Odin’s returned sigh sounded like an autumn breeze moving slow between the branches of Yggdrasil itself.

“I am simply glad to hear you still calling her mother.” His blunt-fingered hands were laced before him, and shifted uncomfortably between themselves. Loki glanced upward, looked away. Once, a touch from such hands had been the greatest comfort his childhood could provide, given its rarity. Now, the thought that they might come near him set his skin to crawling right from his bones.

“She could not sleep last night for worrying about you, Loki.”

He snorted, for all he had never wished to hurt her. “And you? Slept like the dead, I suppose? Or perhaps just like a king forever certain of his throne and his righteous actions upon it.”

The words, stark and unsheathed, hung uneasy on the air between them. Then Odin shifted, walked carefully about him, and came to stand on his other side. “I did not come here for an argument,” he said, without rancour. “No, I did not sleep. And not simply because I sat all night with your mother, watching the sky.”

“Did it give you any answers?”

Something inside him winced at the tone he took with his lord father. Other parts danced in joy. “No,” Odin replied, and his voice was very heavy. “Loki, I will leave this choice to you.”

“Generous of you, if a little late.”

This time Odin stared at him with that one cool blue eye until Loki dropped his own. “Your mother was correct: there is much I did not explain to her about the circumstances under which I chose to bring you home to her. I can tell you those circumstances here, now, between none but you and myself.” Loki shuddered, utterly without guile. Odin cleared his throat, the sound oddly close to the caw of a raven. “Or we can return to Glaðsheimr, and you might be with your mother and your brother while we speak.”

Loki’s lips twisted. “You still call him my brother.”

“He is your brother.”

The urge was to laugh. Instead Loki played his fingers lightly upon his knee, making sure the bracelet caught what morning light there was. “He is my husband.”

“Through no fault of yours.”

At that he laughed outright. “Do you truly believe that?” Stretching out his legs, his arms, Loki turned his face to the sky he very likely had not been born beneath, and chuckled dark. “If I hadn’t interfered with my seiðr, this never would have happened to your precious son.”

“Had you not intervened, both of my precious sons might have been involved in a bloodfeud with ancient ljósálfar.”

Gathering his limbs back to himself, Loki half-shrugged with one slim shoulder. “Well, perhaps it is a lesser evil,” he granted with game disinterest. “Though I would not have thought marrying your son to a bastard child would have been lesser in terms of evil.”

“I am not going to argue this point with you.” Somewhere in the distance, he could hear the cawing of circling crows. It had always sounded too close to laughter. “Loki, there is truth owed you. Would you have it here, now, or will you come home to Glaðsheimr?”

The skiff waited but scant feet away, anchored upon the air. Loki closed his eyes. “Given how poorly this conversation is going already, I do believe we need a mediator.”

“Yes.” Even Loki’s knack for twisting words did not allow him to ignore the tired affection in his father’s voice as he reached for the tiller. “We have always been too similar, you and I.”

Loki had not risen. Instead he remained alone, cold upon the rock even swathed in his brother’s favourite cloak. Yet it was still the first time he had evenly met his father’s gaze since his arrival. “How peculiar,” he drawled, “given we share no blood.”

“It is not blood that binds you and I together.” Odin’s lips thinned, and it seemed as though the world around him entire darkened. “You are my son, and I have raised you from infanthood. Any who seek to deny it will face the wrath of Gungnir, and the throne of Asgard.”

Rising to his feet, Loki said nothing more. The damned ravens made quite enough racket on their own, fluttering on the prow of the skiff like they believed themselves figureheads. Taking his place in the centre, equidistant from both, Loki looked only forward, and let his father guide them home.

Odin did not choose the throneroom. Not even the king’s receiving chambers seemed fit for their purpose. Loki knew their destination long before they arrived, their footsteps muffled by the thick carpets upon the spiralling staircase. At its height they would find Frigga’s solar. And it would be lovely even in this dull morning light, winding vines supporting perfume and bloom throughout the lattice and lacework.

He still stopped dead just upon the threshold. While Frigga glided across the room to take first his hands in hers, and then his whole self in her arms, Thor simply rose awkward from his seat and stood there. Loki’s attention could not stay upon his mother, eyes flickering sideways; Frigga followed the motion, sorrow etching deep lines into her lovely face.

“If you do not wish Thor to stay—”

Loki almost smiled at the look of betrayal upon his brother’s face. But he was simply too tired to go through with it. “No. He can stay.”

But Loki did not have to sit beside him. Instead he perched close to his mother upon a loveseat; Thor was cast out alone on the other small couch to their left. Odin took the chair before them all. It was Frigga’s solar, yes, but this ornate curule chair had always been reserved for her lord husband alone.

But he had never before felt so sick sitting in the presence of his father. Only the quiet movement of Frigga’s fingers, lacing unspoken between his own, kept him from bolting from the room, flying down the stairs, rushing out into the world to run until he had no breath left to this life.

“Loki.” Odin always had spoken with the gravity of his position, but this morning his voice had turned heavy with the burden of years. “This is difficult for me to say, though I understand it will be more difficult for you to hear.”

Loki smiled. “How kind of you to say so.”

He felt a warning in how Frigga’s hand tightened. Drawing a breath, he cleared his expression, though his spine felt as an over-tightened lute string. Thor on his other side, sat rigid too, almost vibrating. Loki licked dry lips. So had his brother always been before a battle: war-ready and but a moment from the berserker.

“We adopted you at the conclusion of the war with Jötunheimr.”

Loki let out a breath he did not realise he was holding. Such revelation came as no real surprise; the birthdate he’d believed his whole life to be true had been after that war. He’d always assumed he’d been conceived when Odin had been in Asgard between campaigns. But given the way his mother’s fingers shifted in his own, Loki could sense that could not the worst of it.

Odin himself had looked down to his own hands, held between his knees. His reluctance was an alien thing, never once seen before by his sons upon the king’s shoulders. But then none might ever have named him a coward. Odin looked Loki directly in the eye when he said, quiet, “I brought you home from Jötunheimr.”

“I…” For a moment his mind whited out; it might as well have been caught in a damned Jötunn blizzard for all the sense sound made to it now. Then he blinked, scrubbed at one eye like that might held. “What was I doing there? Am I some soldier’s bastard? The get of a whore? I didn’t…how could you support camp followers in a place like that?”

“Loki.”

Confusion had taken him hard by the throat, his breath coming short and sharp. He supposed perhaps he had Vanir ancestry, or even then some sort of elf-blood. Both races had very strong magic, as did Loki himself – though before he’d assumed it because he was born of Odin Glapsviðr, and a mighty seiðkona raised in the rites of Vanaheimr. It seemed instead it was something else entire.

“You are not of the Aesir.” Loki held his breath, eyes still and pleading upon the single one his father possessed. Odin paused, and then sighed. “You are of Jötunheimr.”

This time everything went very black. It could only have been for a moment: when he blinked, he found himself sagging against the arm of the chair, his mother’s hands upon his cold cheeks, blue eyes very wide and worried.

He looked up to her, voice a childish whisper. “I…am Jötunn.

Odin’s voice, full of sorrow, came to him as if from very far away. “You were born very small in a world of giants. They have little patience for those they believe will grow to be weak or dependent on others for their existence.” There was, to his other side, the sound of laboured breathing. But Loki could not look to his brother, not now. He could only lay a hand upon his mother’s, holding her close as his father went relentlessly on. “You were laid in the temple we took last, before we defeated Laufey-king himself. Even a Jötunn infant could not survive such exposure.” He paused. When he spoke again, he sounded cruelly helpless. “I could not leave you there.”

Loki reared up, throwing off his mother’s calming touch. “Why not?” he demanded, and colour burned high in pale cheeks, fists clenched so hard nails dug crescents welled with blood into his palms. “Why did you take me? You said it yourself, there was no need for me to live! Why would you take a monstrous, misshapen child that even his own people did not want?!”

A shaking hand reached out for him, broad and uncertain. Loki whirled on Thor, knocking it back so hard his brother almost struck himself in the face.

“Don’t touch me!”

Only Frigga might stop him now. And Loki recognised at once that her touch was infused with a light touch of seiðr, the soporific trace of a lullaby spell leeching through his skin. He swayed on his feet, kept standing only by the fury he glared deep into his father before him.

“Loki.” Odin closed his eye, opened it. Somewhere beyond the windows, Huginn screamed. “Their beliefs are not as ours.”

“But there’s some reason,” Loki said, slurred by a thick tongue and numb lips. “Something else you have not told me.”

He nodded, his face suddenly taking on a cast of age Loki had not seen there before. “I recognised the lines upon your skin – those that are visible only in your Jötunn form.” This time, it sounded as if Muninn was laughing. “Your bloodline is that of the king’s.”

“I…”

“You are not Laufey’s son. He has not the right to claim that of you.” Then he shook his greyed head, bare of all crown or coronet. “Should you wish to speak to him of this, then so be it.” Now his voice took on great and sudden strength. “But I held you when he cast you out. You were dying in the land that birthed you. But in my hands, this tiny, blue child…he looked into my eyes. Then did red become green, and blue become white. It wiped away the markings of a family that it had never been a true part of.” He paused, drew a slow breath. “I felt it, Loki. You wanted to come with me. Not because of who I was, or what I might do.” Odin had never been seen to cry. The sheen of saltwater over that singled aged eye was as the sun shining high at midnight dark. “It was because I was the first being to show you kindness.”

Loki could have been made of ice. “What you did was not a kindness.”

“I am sorry you feel that way.”

Stepping back, away from them all, he tried to shake his head once, and then found he could not stop. “You should have left me to die.”

“Loki, please.”

Startled, Loki turned. Thor’s hands were extended to him. He only stared. For a moment he hadn’t even recognised him. “It would have been better, Thor. For all of us.”

Though Frigga kept a hand on Thor’s forearm, holding him back with only the slightest application of physical force, Loki could still feel the ghost of his brother’s touch upon his skin. Abruptly he stood, turning his back on all of them. Disappointment radiated from the old man in choking waves. But then, Loki had long since become habituated to it.

Running away held little satisfaction when one had nowhere left to go. In truth he could only go back to his own chambers, knowing they would find him there soon enough. That seemed to have little importance in comparison to the fact he felt so very cold.

Building up a fire came too easy. When it blazed high he sat before it, too close. The reddening skin said as much. Loki stared at his hands for another reason entire. Odin said he had changed in his arms. Loki had no idea how such a glamour had held then, how it held now. He also had no idea how to undo something that had always been the deepest pillar of his false identity.

And if you do, will you find anything left beneath it?

A knock, a quick and arrhythmic tap, broke his thoughts apart. Much as he told himself he did not want to, Loki curved around to look towards the door. With but a few cruel words, he could send him away. But it would make no difference. Loki turned back to stare into the flame, and shivered.

“Come in.”

Though Thor had opened those doors tens of thousands of times before, he fumbled at the catch now. Loki listened in silence and offered no aid. He’d already dropped the wards.

Many had called his brother sure-footed as a mountain goat, after watching him both at war and at play. The approach of him now clumped like a bilgesnipe through the underbrush, hulking and ungainly. His words were no less awkward when he paused some feet behind him.

“You are very close to the fire.”

Reaching out, Loki ran his fingers carelessly through the flames, as if plucking every string upon a great harp. “Your point being?”

Given Loki could hear him moving again, it seemed for a moment Thor had given up. With fingers pressing into his thighs hard enough to bruise, he refused to stand. He would not beg. Yet the sudden rattle of flatware had him turning proper, face scrunched into unbecoming confusion.

“What are you doing?”

Thor looked up from setting down a tray upon the small table between two kitty-cornered chaise-lounges. Given the warmth of the room, it was hard to identify the true source of his flush. “I have brought you something to drink. A little something to eat.”

Rising, Loki came closer, took an almost immediate seat upon the closest couch, frowning down at the tea and sweets he found there. He reached out, only at the last moment turning the action into something different than a thoughtless grasp at the food. Instead he poked a sticky citrus cake with one long finger.

“I didn’t eat the last ones you gave me.”

“They weren’t to your liking?”

Thor had always worn his hurt so easy and so obvious. “I wasn’t hungry.” He glanced up, then down just as quickly. “But it was kind of you to send them.”

Much as Loki loathed confession, he didn’t believe Thor held the silence to make him feel worse about having spoken something of his gratitude aloud. Instead, he could see his brother actually fidgeting, a state not seen since he had been in short pants and long curls.

“Oh, sit down, would you?”

Thor did. Beside him. It had not quite been what Loki had meant.

A moment later, as if sensing his brother’s unease, Thor spoke quiet and uncertain. “I do not want you be alone.”

“Why, what do you expect me to do?”

The expression that flickered across his face at first was nigh unreadable. Then it turned to wry affection. “It’s not about what you might do,” he said, and then any trace of a smile vanished clean away. “You…whenever you are sad, or angry, or frustrated. You always go to ground, as if no-one should have to see you that way. As if your feelings would be a burden upon any shoulders but your own.” Both hands tangled in his lap, callused fingers holding tight and tighter about one another. “I always let you, because I thought that was what you wanted.” He paused. When he spoke again, his voice barely ruffled the air. “I’m not so sure of that, anymore.”

Loki closed his eyes. The scent of tea and rosewater was so strong as to prickle behind his eyelids, coaxing forth tears he did not have to shed.

“It’s my fault. I know that.” Taking a trembling breath, Thor whispered: “I made it worse. I didn’t realise until after the ceremony. It was all a trick, an illusion, but…I still wanted you.”

A wave of tiredness overtook him, a tsunami where it was easier to drown than fight for the surface. “Thor, the bond cannot be one-sided. It will only hold if both parties are amenable to it.”

Hope was a cruel mistress – Loki knew, he’d dallied with her far too often. But even as some deeper part of him laughed to see his brother’s eyes grow suddenly brighter, he could not let it stand. Loki always had enjoyed his games, whether he bent the rules or not. But this was not a hand he’d been willingly dealt. He could not just fold and walk away from this table.

“Don’t look at me like that,” he said, and Thor’s wince was a wound upon his own heart. “I believe it merely sensed our false brotherhood. As you said, you always expected to be by my side. I expected the same.” Though he smiled, one hand raised in a dismissive wave, Loki knew they both heard the faultline of his words. “In that, how could it think we wished to be parted?”

“The love I felt for you – feel for you – is not false.”

“But it’s not what you thought it was,” Loki countered, swift and elegant as any rapier parry. But despite the centuries of duels between them, Thor did not make fresh attack. He instead let fingers clench to fists, and shook his head in apparent despair.

“So, then, what do we do?”

“I don’t know.” And he smiled, just enough to show teeth. “What do you suppose we can do, when the heir of Asgard is married to the bastard son of a Jötunn king?”

Thor’s gaze was very hard when he caught Loki’s now. “Nobody ever said you were a bastard.”

The rise and fall of his shoulders spoke of little care, though the fresh wound still bled deeply beneath his mask. “I don’t recall ever hearing of the death of a legitimate child of Laufey-king’s,” he said, light and cracked as broken sheet-ice. “For all we know he fucked some elven whore and I resulted. It would explain the size. The magic. The fact I was expendable.”

One hand slammed down hard on the arm of the lounge. “I don’t care where you came from,” Thor said, low and fierce. “All I care is that you are here.”

There were no tears left in his head. It ached as though he shed them still. So he smiled, and rolled his eyes. “The thought was noble, Thor. But you really should leave me be.”

Dread could not help but rise when he saw the stubborn expression blooming on his brother’s face. He’d seen it, oh, a hundred thousand times before. When they’d been children it had usually proceeded some idiot idea that then landed them both in considerable trouble.

Loki sat back, covered his face with his hands. “Oh, how I wish for the old days, when I could just tell you to go, slake your lust in some whore’s bed and let me be.”

“I couldn’t even if I wanted to!” The shout rattled the glass in the windows as surely as any thunderclap. Loki, hands fallen to just below his chin, could only stare. It seemed somehow terribly wrong that Thor almost immediately wilted under that gaze. “I’m sorry, Loki. I won’t lay this at your door.”

Pushing his heels into the thick carpet, Loki scowled deep. “And what about my door?” Thor’s look, both curious and bewildered, only made his frustration worse; he could hear the heel of his slipper grinding against the wood below. “Oh, yes, you might be the more highly sexed of the two of us, but it’s not just you who will suffer.”

Now Thor buried his head in his hands. Loki watched him for a moment, found himself bored of it, even as his stomach churned. Thor spoke first. It was likely for the best.

“What are we supposed to do?” he asked, and something inside Loki, drawn taut and trembling, snapped clean in two.

“Live with it.” Moving closer to his side, Loki stopped only when they were thigh to thigh. Only then did he lay one knowing hand on his brother’s crotch.

Loki!

“We can’t avoid it forever.” He tightened his grip, just enough to cup the sleeping organ beneath questing fingers. “Perhaps I don’t want it now, but you do.” And he smiled: that sweet little smile, the one that always ended with him receiving something very close to what he wanted. “I can do this for you.”

“Loki, don’t.”

But he didn’t stop him. Those great hands instead latched upon the edge of the chaise-lounge and did not move. Loki, close against his side, kept about his work: hands undoing laces, slipping between his flies. There, he found Thor already half-hard.

In truth Loki had never had much interest in sex. There had been occasional lovers; mostly those who amused him, or those he sought congress with in order to further particular studies in seiðr. Very few had lasted more than once or twice. Loki had honed his skills all the same. It came as no surprise that Thor’s cock rose to the occasion with considerable interest.

With a frown, Loki turned his head, eyes searching. The bedroom was too far, and he did not wish to use seiðr now. Not for this. It had done enough already. Instead his eyes lit upon the butter, set in a pat beside the small teacakes and sweetbreads. Helpfully, it had softened by proximity to the hot tea. Reaching over, Loki scooped up a glob in long fingers, and then took true hold of his brother’s manhood.

Thor’s hips tilted forward in involuntary pleasure, head thrown back to reveal his broad throat, hair in a tangled trail down his back. The great chest moved too hard and too fast for real breath. But it did not matter. He would not last long. Loki’s lips curled as fingers dipped down low over his sac, teasing over the soft down of the hair there. As a whine escaped, he cupped gently, squeezed just a little harder.

“Thor.”

He shook his head. He would not look down. He had no words to offer up on this cursed altar.

“Thor, look at me.”

Glee filled him in all the darkest places to see the wide eyes opened before him. Those blue depths were a kaleidoscope of emotion, ready for the most patient thief to steal it all away: fear. Lust. Love.

“I do love you, brother.”

Just those words – so simple, and yet it was all it took, Thor coming over his hand in a hot gush. Barely even had it finished when Thor drew a sobbing breath. Then he was pushing away, finally, the hang of the golden hair hiding the blaze of his face. Loki, hands held before him, palms crossed with white spend, blew out an impatient breath.

“Thor, we have to come to terms with it.”

“Not like this.” Though he pressed his lips together, waiting for anger – hoping for it, perhaps – Thor turned back to him, face blotchy and strange. “Loki, you don’t have to do something like this to make you worth your time. To make me want to be around you. To love you.” The floor felt to be swallowing him whole, and yet Thor remained before him, an anchor: unmoving, unyielding, tying him down to the world.

“I loved you already. I always will.”

Fumbling at his trousers, he angled himself towards the door. Loki said nothing. Not even when he crossed to the door, opening it, closing it, did Loki voice a single protest. Only when he could be sure he was gone, wards raised and locks latched, could Loki release the breath he held like a silent hostage.

Standing with a grace he did not feel, Loki went to the bathing chamber, and there washed his hands clean. Something inside him carried a stain that he did not even attempt to wash away. Instead he stared at the bath for a while. Then, he returned to the sitting room. Preparing a cup of lukewarm tea, he retired to the chaise-lounge he and Thor had not sat upon. Cradling the painted porcelain between his hands, untouched, he laid upon his back and stared at the mural-wrought ceiling high above.

From adolescence, Loki had understood that after Thor’s inevitable marriage, he would have to find some new and novel way of holding power over his brother. Being his baby brother would not have been enough; he’s had always been so afraid, that when Thor became somebody else’s husband, that Loki would fade into the background, would become but a true shadow, only noticed when he might be of some minor use to his king.

It would never be that way now. He would always be the one forefront in his brother’s mind. Loki would now never be pushed aside.

He had never thought he might ever wish so hard to undo a wish come true.

Chapter Text

In the days since Odin’s confession, Frigga had counselled caution. Loki’s world had been changed irrevocably: both in present, and the way he viewed all that had passed already. It was Loki, Frigga said, who would suffer most in this. Yet she had not denied Thor’s own shock. In fact she had spent long hours with him after he had left Loki that morning. His brother’s touch had still seared his skin; his body had still ached with the memory of how it had brought him release. The shame of being unable to stop him burned and burned and yet never burned out.

Frigga had not asked. Thor prayed she had not known. But she was his mother, and she knew enough to sit with him in the solar. Balls of yarn lay strewn about, as if kittens had wreaked war upon her craft baskets. Unchosen needles stuck haphazard out of wool from every angle. There had been silence between them, save for the click-clack of two pairs of hands about their work. She’d taught them both how as children. Oddly Thor had been the one with the true knack of it. Between them they had that day they’d produced five socks: hers small and even, his big and sloppy. She’d put his on with a smile and declared them perfect for a grand ball. Then she’d pressed a kiss to his forehead and told him to go wash up for dinner. He’d left her company feeling somewhat better, and had passed the evening meal with father, mother, and brother, without incident.

But he had slept alone. And he had not slept well.

There had been another more formal gathering of their fractured family upon the morning. Loki had made the request, his face pale and set. Odin, voice heavy, confirmed a truth that twisted Thor’s reality into painful knots: Asgard would be told of their marriage. It could not be any other way, given the magics that bound them. But Loki would have final say about what was told to the people of the circumstances of said marriage.

Loki’s answer had surprised them all.

“Tell them the truth.”

Thor had not touched him since that night. They could not avoid one another, of course: not when already Odin briefed in utter secrecy the embassies to be sent to Jötunheimr. They could not just declare Loki Jötunn-born without explaining his origins. There was no telling what Laufey might do, should he realise the child he left to die had been stolen by his greatest enemy and was now bound irrevocably to the heir of Asgard.

Thor tried to speak with his brother. Loki held himself away. He held himself aloof. One could not say he was hiding; in fact he was more often than not in the library, reading ancient tome and scroll. Thor more often might be found out in the Observatory. It was simply the easiest way to ask Heimdall how his brother was. And then he could train upon the bridge, chasing the kaleidoscope colours, defeating endless chameleon enemies with no end.

But this evening found him in the Medina. Wrapped in his second favourite cloak, the hood over his golden hair, he meandered along without destination; Sif, dressed much the same, moved close by his side. The delegation would be sent that evening. Though it could not be seen from here, these lower reaches of the city, he could see it in his mind: the shimmer of a rainbow bridge, the golden glittering Observatory at its terminal end.

“You are ready?”

Despite the hood, he caught easily the sideways look. “As I shall ever be.” Pursing her lips, she folded her arms beneath the cloak, kept her step to an even military tattoo. “Fandral did ask that I join him on one last carouse of the city, but some of us prefer not to be bleary-eyed and boorish when setting out upon a diplomatic journey.”

Though he glanced sideways at the door they passed – its sign declaring the premises as The Dwarven Forge – in truth Fandral might have been anywhere. “It must have come as a shock to him.”

“Who cares about him?”

Thor did not know how she expected him to answer that. So he kept his thoughts to himself, and they kept in easy step with one another. Only that morning had his friends been told of Loki’s origins, and the consequences of the marriage they had witnessed amongst the ljósálfar. Only Volstagg had seemed unrattled. He’d even asked when the official wedding was to take place. Apparently he had to make sure his best dress armour would fit for the occasion.

Sif drew a quiet breath at his side. “I would not have wished this upon my worst enemy.” When she chuckled, it was without humour. “And he was hardly that.”

Thor sighed. “I worry for him,” he said, very quiet; they walked a main thoroughfare, and though they drew little attention, he made very sure not to meet a single eye. “He hardly has spoken a word about it,” he added, and caught the furrow of Sif’s brow.

“The adoption?”

Beneath the masking leather, Thor’s hands rolled to fists. “His Jötunn heritage worries me more.”

“Are you afraid of him?”

He stopped dead in the darkness between two streetlamps. “No!” Something in him, banked and quiescent, flared into sudden life. “I’ve never feared the Jötnar.”

Sif came around in front of him, one eyebrow arched. “Except when we were children and Loki would do such a terribly good impersonation of one you wouldn’t come out of the cupboard until bribed with food?”

“When we were children.” Here he paused; though he raised a hand to push hair from his face, he wished more that such movement could reorder his troubled thoughts. “But…Sif. I don’t see him as Jötunn. I just do not.”

“Neither do I.” Then she rolled her eyes. “He is Loki. And if I take issue with him, it is because he is Loki.”

“Thank you.”

She snorted, and turned back to the street, and the easy rhythm they so often found together. “You don’t have to thank me for basic decency, Thor.” Even though their walking pace changed not, he could feel the growing tension of her words. “But I mentioned our childhood for a reason.”

“The stories.”

“Yes.” Now her troubled heart seemed worn on her sleeve, lips held too tight and too thin. “They taught us that the Jötnar are monsters. I’m fairly certain they taught their children the same of us. But Loki was raised as one of the Aesir. I doubt he would see what are his people as monsters.”

“Except in that Father lied to him.” He had not forgotten the venom etched into his brother’s face, that morning in Frigga’s solar. “And Mother, too, though he takes it differently from her.”

Sif glanced upward just as they passed under a streetlamp; the sudden illumination of her face from such upward angle reminded him uncomfortably of old tapestries, where Midgardian peasants sought succour from the Asgardians they named as benevolent gods. “I worry that instead he might come to see himself as a monster,” she said, soft, and turned to him. “And your brother, Thor…well. I might wish to hold his head under a cold spigot until he screams some days, but he is not a monster.”

“He is Loki.”

Even though his voice broke, she did not acknowledge it. She had always been his friend. “He is,” she said, soft. “I will do my best for you both, in Jötunheimr.”

“I know you will.” He wasn’t sure if he meant it as an apology when he added, “It is why I insisted to Father that you be part of this.”

The moved together, deeper into the heart of the Medina, for several moments before she spoke again. “You realise it will be hard for the people to accept?”

“Loki himself has not accepted it.”

But Sif was not here for his brother at this moment. “And you?”

In truth the struggle of it wrapped itself around his entire being like iron manacles, and their binding tightened every day. Even when seeking her comfort, Thor had not been able to confess to his own mother how he feared what he felt for his brother. He knew now this had been no surge of new feeling. Rather, it had been the excavation of something old, almost familiar: something buried long before he had even been old enough to recognise it for what it was.

To his friend he gave a smile, wide but very sad. “Whether he is my brother, or my husband, my relative by blood or by bond – he is Loki.” Her face was held in shadow by the encroaching night and the play of lights from tavern and storefront. He knew his would have the same chiaroscuro cast when he added, soft, “There is naught in these realms or beyond that might change that.”

Sif, her own eyes trained ever ahead, made a small nod of her own. “I believe that is what will work best in your favour.” At his odd look, she flicked her eyes sideways, gave a wry smile. “There are those who will say he orchestrated this. That the Jötunn foundling bound himself to the unknowing heir of Asgard so he might never be supplanted from his place by your side.”

Thor stopped dead. “He didn’t do that!” Down the street, several patrons lingering outside a popular establishment looked back to them with a mingled concern and interest. Thor turned his back on them all, bowing his head low as he moved off the centre of the street. “He…Sif. He didn’t. I swear he didn’t know.”

Her hand felt light as summer rain upon his vambraced arm. “I believe you.” The simple honesty in her hazel eyes, more green than blue in this light, had him swallowing hard. Her smile grew crooked. “But what I believe more is that Loki would never have willingly allowed the realms to see him as Jötunn unless forced to.” Thor’s brows drew down in a frown, and her smile faded. “And that is what worries me, Thor. He took such strength in knowing you were his brother. Even with this new bond, I do not know how easy it will be for him to let that go.”

“He should not have to.”

“You are married, now.”

He looked into her lovely face – at its loveliest, however, with the mouth opened in war-cry and blood dripping from the tangle of dark hair – and regretted many things. But he could not now regret that she was his friend.

“We are.”

She took a step back, adjusted the set of her fur-lined hood. “We will work for you in Jötunheimr.” One hand moved up, rested but briefly upon a stubbled cheek. “Do what you can here.”

There was so much more he could say. But in the end he only said what mattered most in these changed days. “Thank you, Sif.”

She nodded, and though this smile might have been forced, he could feel the heart of it. “I do like to see you happy,” she said, and flicked a hand upward. “There’s less rain, to begin with.”

“I might be a bad person, but I always did like how you looked in the rain.” He could not think too hard about the brightness in her eyes. Instead he bowed his head, placed a fraternal kiss upon her forehead. “Goodnight, Sif. Safe journeys, and home will wait for you always.”

When he meandered back to Glaðsheimr, he did so alone. There was, to his mind, little point in taking the low detour which would place him in the palace’s great libraries. Instead he moved west, the direction of both his own chambers, and those of his brother. Given the events of recent days he might return empty-handed. Even then, actually finding his brother this evening could be an even bigger mistake. But then, he’d never been afraid of mistakes, in the past. Some might have said it was because a prince of Asgard never had to pay for them.

Thor knew it was because making mistakes was the only way to discover the true value of what one wished most for.

A knock to the ornately carved wood of Loki’s chamber doors yielded no answer. He still waited, pretending that perhaps Loki was deep enough inside that he might not have heard. The wards would have identified him halfway down the hallway. Only when he turned to leave did he hear the smooth opening of the door behind him.

“Have you got more cakes for me?”

Thor took one step more, and then stopped. “No.”

“Then what in the Norns is the use of you?” Only when he took another step forward did Loki snort, slapping one hand upon the door’s ornate frame. “Come in, you idiot.”

At last, Thor turned. Though he had seen Loki numerous times between now and the last time they had spent time together in his chambers, his heart still tripped over its own stuttering beat. He looked well. Loki would have to have sunk very low to allow his appearance to reflect his inner turmoil.

Still, Thor had known him his entire life in memory. He could see the tense lines that held him in place, the wariness that kept him half a step back from the one person he should have been able to trust without reserve.

“Are you going to use me as an experimental subject for some seiðr trick?” he asked, not quite smiling. Loki smirked in return.

“I already have.” And when he brother spun on a heel, walking very quickly away, for the first time Thor heard genuine remorse in his words. “Thor, wait.”

He didn’t. Instead he returned, moved wordless into Loki’s chambers. Dim lighting glowed from sconces and ornate dwarven lamps, but Loki led them both through the sitting room and directly to the balcony. Thor was glad to leave the room behind him. Even a brief glimpse of the twinned chaise-lounges left his skin itching and feeling a size too small.

Loki’s balcony had always been a pleasant place to spend a summer evening. Hung with vines and sweetly-scented honeysuckle, at its centre was placed a spindly table and chairs of Vanir construction. Made of dark metal, they sparkled with tiny silver lights like a thousand stars, the globe at the table’s centre a white-hot sun.

Thor took his seat there while Loki leaned against the balustrade, watchful. “Would you like some tea?”

“You know I don’t care for tea.”

“Yes, that’s why I offered it to you.”

Learning back in the chair, even as he knew from long experience that it would screech under his weight, Thor let out a sharp sigh. “Do we have to fight?”

With arms folded over his chest and legs crossed at the ankle, Loki’s shrug was careless, unconcerned. “We’re brothers, aren’t we?”

He could just leave. Loki would not stop him. But he kept his place and watched as Loki first disappeared back behind the faintly shifting curtains, and then returned without moments with a small tray holding a pot and one cup. The chair he chose was the one across from Thor, who had not moved. Life had always taught him not to turn his back on a fight – even one fought in ways so deeply unfamiliar.

“Might we talk?”

With the city’s light haloing his dark head, Loki took a sip of his tea. “About what, specifically?”

He nodded towards the distant Observatory. He had not seen the spin that released the beam of space-splitting energy so far this evening. “They will be gone soon. To Jötunheimr.”

Loki’s face fell into deeper shadow. “Yes.”

The table sparkled beneath his spread fingers. He looked at the filigreed, spiralling universes between them and wondered at their dictated fate. “I only…I just don’t know how you feel, Loki. And it frightens me.”

“You want my deepest, darkest secrets?” Draining the cup, he tipped it with one finger, let it roll and tumble to the floor. His face remained turned away, eyes fixed upon the shattered porcelain. “It is not so simple.”

Fingers twitched, but he kept his palms pressed flat. “I did not say it was.”

Oddly, Loki did not choose any words to make his answer. Instead he raised his face, pupils very wide where he stared. When he spoke, his voice was inflectionless, devoid of all emotion.

“What if I am made to leave?”

He wanted to reach across the table, take Loki’s still hands in his own and bring them back to life. “They cannot.” Desperate, sudden, he added: “They should have sent you, Loki. You could talk anyone into anything.”

Even before Loki’s expression turned, Thor regretted what he had said. Though his brother was more than capable of keeping his thought processes to himself, he appeared to now take glee in showing his brother that something turned over in that too-quick mind of his.

Standing, Loki moved in a tight circle, came about to rest his elbows upon the back of his chair. “It is a pity Odin didn’t send me, though, isn’t it?” One long fingered hand fluttered over the star-scattered metal, nonchalant and directionless. “You might have been rid of me that way.”

Thor’s eyes grazed over the bracelet about that narrow wrist. “I don’t want rid of you. No one does.”

A little humming sound, and Loki had disregarded his words to go on lightly to something else entirely. Thor hated it. He also had little idea of how to convince his lie-riddled brother of the truth. “Laufey may try to claim that I was not abandoned,” Loki remarked, and raised an ironic eyebrow. “That Odin lied and simply stole me as a war trophy.”

Thor shifted in his seat, pressing his feet into the floor, as if that would stop the worlds from turning. “We have discussed this. It hardly holds up if he never admitted to it. Why would Odin steal you as propaganda and then never say where you were from?”

Loki’s smile was wide, filled with teeth, and devoid of all humour. “But he’s doing it now, when Laufey has no apparent way of taking me back.”

Apparent?” Two forces were at war inside him: relief, and absolute terror at what he stood now to lose. “Loki, I thought this binding was permanent.”

“Oh, it is. And nothing a Jötunn war-king might say or do is going to change that.” Trailing fingertips along the chair’s arched back, he came back around to the table, threw himself back down with exaggerated unconcern. “But perhaps he’ll try for a technicality. It changes nothing about our bond, but he might take me back all the same.”

Somewhere in the near distance, against the backdrop of a nearby moon, Thor could make out the dual circling of two ravens. “What kind of technicality?” he asked, and even before Loki grinned like sin he knew the answer.

“Consummation. The marriage is invalid until it is consummated.”

One hand had moved, beneath the table; he closed the fingers tight about his own thigh, as if the pain and the motion might anchor him to reality. “That is not an issue here.”

Hooking one foot up onto the table, Loki rattled it until the teapot upset itself, the rest of the liquid pouring through the filigree of the table to the stone below. “Oh, but it generally is. Traditionally speaking.” Leaning back, he added, “And given the entire Nine Realms realise we have been raised as brothers, they may be very curious to know whether or not we’ve ever brought ourselves to fuck.”

Thor’s eyes had turned very cold. “Loki, we are not having this conversation.”

“What, are you going to block your ears and sing off-key and close your eyes and pretend I’m not right here talking with you already?” The nastiness of his expression was breath-taking. “Do it, then. I’m used to it. I can wait.”

The easiest solution would be to smack his brother in the face. It had worked often enough as children. They’d taken it to the training grounds as adults. Though the mistaken wedding had opened up a whole new venue for physical altercation, Thor kept his eyes upon his brother, and not the way that led back to the bedroom. “You don’t want this now. I won’t take something from you that you do not wish to give.”

From behind narrowed eyes, Loki might have been laughing. His words were just cold, and ugly. “You’re much more interesting when you’re covered in enemy blood and panting for more.”

“You are not my enemy.”

Impatient, Loki stood, began a restless pace up and down the balcony. Thor watched, motionless, no matter how alien it was to do so. “I never said I was,” Loki snapped, and then started. In the distance, the Bifröst irised to life. Across the realms it boomed, bright and blinding and so impermanent. Then it was gone, the bond between worlds severed, and all seemed so very quiet.

Loki still looked out across Asgard and the waters beyond, back to his brother, when he spoke again. “I do not think the bond a love-spell. It would be quite against its basic principles if it was.”

Relaxing his hands, wincing at the bruises like pearls the fingertips had left, Thor chanced a reply. “What do you mean?”

“There is no compulsion to it. It won’t make us consummate it. You don’t need to worry your pretty little head about that.” When he half-turned his head, Thor could see his lips had risen in a twist of a smirk. “As far as the bond is concerned, we are as we should be, and we will make our own decisions as we wish.”

“You’ve been reading about it?”

Loki rolled his eyes; he knew Thor already was aware of how much time he’d spent in the libraries. “I have been trying to. Details are scarce and uncertain, given the passage of millennia since it was practised here in Asgard.” His temper had been cooled by the delegation’s departure, it seemed; Thor could sense the ache of mind and body when Loki sat down again, hands tangled before him. “My point is, Thor, that we are married. That is enough.”

“That’s what I said.”

Loki shook his head with surprising violence. “But the truth is…it does grow stronger with the nearness of the two it binds.” The way he winced made it seem as each word involved the pulling of teeth. “It feels better, just to be close to you.”

“I…” His smile was lopsided, wistful. “…I’ve always felt that way.”

“Idiot.” One hand reached out, closed around his. “Stay with me tonight.”

Loki.”

“I don’t mean to let you fuck me through the mattress, if that’s your concern.” He let go, rose once last time from the table. “We’ve been too long apart. It’s better for us both to stay close together.”

“I could have told you that from the beginning.”

“Yes.” An odd look had entered those too-dark eyes. “Yes, I suppose you could have.”

They did not talk about it. It was if speaking it aloud make shatter what strange peace lay between them now. Together they went about their night-time ablutions in Loki’s generous bathchambers, and then they moved to the bed. Thor drew down the covers on his chosen side, dressed only in his skin. Loki, opposite, had chosen a nightshirt that barely skimmed the tops of his thighs. Thor glanced up. His brother’s expression remained unreadable in the dim light. Without a word Loki caught the collar, pulled upward. Shucking it over his shoulders and into a corner, Loki climbed naked into bed.

Thor could think of no conceivable way he might sleep. But then, the knowledge that Loki lay beside him set his heart at ease, if not the blood threatening to pool somewhere far lower. He attempted to keep his mind on something else, on the times they had lain together as children. Loki’s arm brushed against his arm, and Thor shivered. Loki chuckled, shifted closer.

“I used to crawl into your bed to hide from the monsters.” One hand rose, traced soft lines upon the curve of one biceps. “And here you are now, in my bed, alone and unarmed with the only monster you ever truly knew.”

It was a trick. Loki had always known how to use them both to get what he wanted. Shifting closer, Loki’s skin felt as a brand against his own. Green eyes flared bright even in the dim light above the curling edges of his smile, mouth opening once again.

There could be only one way to shut him up. Closing lips over his, Thor swallowed Loki’s surprise in a surprisingly tender gesture. When he drew back, there might have been a moment where it could still have been called innocent. Then Loki surged forward and Thor gave fierce return. A better man might have drawn back. But then all he could think revolved around one phrase.

As far as the bond is concerned, we are as we should be, and we will make our own decisions as we wish.

Something else lurked beneath: something in Loki’s words about consummation for political reasons alone. But then Loki’s wandering hands skimmed low, one palm clasping his buttock so the nails dug deep, and all thought was lost to sensation alone.

They traded kisses like blows, hands shifting and legs tangling in impossible knots. Loki pushed at him, until Thor surrendered without breaking their kiss and ended up on his back. Only then did Loki draw away, straddling his hips, knees digging into his ribcage. Long fingers splayed over his heaving chest, palms pressed hard against hard nipples. He smiled, arched forward, hair damp and curling; bright colour flushed his cheeks, pulsed harder down lower. Thor kept his eyes firmly upon his brother’s face. They stayed there even when Loki took one unprotesting hand and wrapped it around his own thickened cock.

He tried to pull back, felt Loki’s hand tighten around his wrist. Even as Loki tried to move his hand, a pump first up, and then down, Thor resisted, eyes upon his brother’s face. “Loki, you don’t want this.” The dick twitched in his hand, and he scowled. “At least, not like this.”

Loki gave a faint shrug. “Arousal is arousal.” Leaning over to the small table at his bedside, he scooped up a small vial. Popping its cork with his thumbnail, the entire contents then poured over their hands, his own cock. A full body shudder moved through Loki, and he let out a held breath upon a long moan. “I have to learn to like this sometime, don’t I?”

Closing his eyes made it worse. Thor could see nothing: all was sensation. All was the pulsing heat of his brother in his hands, dripping with sweet scented oil and his own slick arousal.

“Thor.”

He might have been dreaming. And yet all felt too terribly right as he rolled to one side, moving back. It ended with him on his knees before his brother, who sprawled back like an indolent king on the bed. The hard cock yet arched up against the pale skin of his stomach. Loki raised a hand, waved it careless, silver bracelet bright even in the gloom.

“I’m not asking you to fuck me.” He sounded almost kind as he feathered his touch over the quick rise and fall of his slickened stomach, then gestured to where Thor’s hands lay open upon his own lap. “Just get me off. It still counts.” Then his lips twisted, dark. “Or is it that you worry you can’t actually go through with touching someone else’s dick?”

The growl that rose from deep in his chest resounded like thunder. Thor lunged forward, hand about his cock; barely had his lips grazed the weeping tip when Loki planted a foot in his chest and shoved him back, hard. Fallen onto his ass, Thor stared up at his brother with mouth wide open. Loki just rolled his eyes.

“You know nothing of how to pleasure a man in this way.”

Regaining some sort of balance, hands braced either side of his sweat-drenched body, Thor knew he sounded horribly like a child when he shot back, “I do know something!”

“Only as the receiver.” Moving up against the pillows, knees still splayed wide, Loki hiked his hand back through the tangled curls of his hair and rolled his eyes. “I have no desire to be your experiment.”

Looking down first at his oiled hands, and then the reddened head of the twitching cock, Thor wondered when the true madness had first set in. “I actually would have thought you’d have wanted me to suck your cock.”

Throwing his hands up into the air, Loki said only, “You have no qualifications.”

“I have one of my own!”

“And you might stick it in your own mouth if the idea appeals to you so much. Mine is off-limits.”

For all Loki often enough came up with complete nonsense, Thor could not deny there was something in what he said. But then, Thor himself did know something; he’d been pleasured enough to know something of the technique. But even though he’d begun his intimacies chasing his own pleasures, he’d learned quickly it became far more encompassing when one found how to return that same pleasure and more to the women he shared his bed with. Thor only really knew of how men could be together in hushed training yard whispers of sin and shame, but it was enough to make him wonder if the skill he’d acquired might transfer to other areas.

Still hunched on his knees between his brother’s legs, he made his decision. He moved forward.

“Thor, I said no.”

Thor looked up from where Loki’s hand held his head still. “I would do something different for you.” It was impossible to miss the way Loki’s eyes tracked the movement of his tongue, its tip wetting both lips. “Surely you must concede I know something of this.”

Loki had gone very quiet, and watchful. The rapid beat of his own heart echoed in his ears with painful volume. The choice he made now could be the biggest mistake he ever made. Sex could not fix what was wrong between them. It could not strengthen a bond that would have already have broken had it been any less than it was.

One gentle hand stroked over a trembling thigh. “Loki.” And he smiled, sad even in his hope. “Let me do this for you.”

Closing one hand about Loki’s cock, Thor moved it up and down in a teasing corkscrew movement. His brother surely could not complain he did not know how to do this – especially given how Loki had often mocked him for not doing anything but in their adolescent years.

Given Loki did somehow manage to keep his mouth shut, it seemed Thor did have some talent for it after all. He keep it easy, slow; he stopped only when Loki thrust his head back with a long moan. Releasing the shaft, he moved down, gently cupping his balls in one palm.

“Is this all right with you?”

Loki stared, eyes blown wide.

“Loki?”

The long throat, white and stark, moved hard with a painful swallow. “Go on.”

Thor felt it was time to venture lower. The idea made him frown, wonder if he’d picked the wrong time to attempt this. He had never experienced it himself, too shamed in his own mind for even contemplating the desire. Still wondering, he placed light pressure over the skin behind his brother’s balls. Loki gasped. Before he could think further, Thor dipped his fingers into the cleft behind and felt a light flutter of muscle against his fingertips.

“Thor—”

Without further thought, Thor pressed his lips there. Lurching back, Loki’s entire body had gone rigid, a startled rabbit caught in the fox’s sight.

“What are you doing?”

Thor looked up, hands digging into Loki’s skin deep enough to bruise. “I’ve had my head between enough thighs to feel I know a little something about holes and how they work.” Leaning down, he nuzzled bearded skin oh so lightly against the sensitive skin of his inner thigh. “The mechanics are different, I’ll grant you, but surely you will give me this.”

Loki gave him only silence, eyes wide and cheeks flushed with high colour. Shifting his hands, Thor drew a quick breath.

“Have you ever—”

“No.” It was sharp, and unforgiving. “Do you think even I would be fool enough to allow some fool male to sodomise a prince of Asgard?”

There was an argument in that, and it was clear Loki wanted to indulge in it. Instead, Thor lowered his face again, hands parting the cheeks so he might better see his task. Then, he pressed a light kiss to the ring of muscle there. Loki’s entire body tensed above him. He let go one hand, raised it so he might grip the cock instead. Working gently at the shaft, he contented himself simply to kiss Loki there, with light suction and a brief play of tongue against the odd, musky taste of it. When he pressed deeper, nose dragging against the perineum, Loki shrieked, hands fisting in the sheets. Thor fisted his own, and felt hot spill across his fingers.

It should not have happened this way, and he knew it as he drew back, saw the boneless relaxation of his brother spilled across his bed. Loki had wanted it, perhaps – but he had only chosen it now for fear of what might be taken from him should he not.

“Loki—”

As if sensing the shift of emotion, Loki rocked up, reached out. “I should do something for you.”

“No, it is not necessary.”

He smiled, drew Thor down over him. “Yes. It’s easy.”

Though it seemed a simple thing, when Loki took his slick cock between his thighs and clenched hard, it was the first time Thor had ever known the practice. The thrusts began shallow, and then when they rolled upon their sides, grew deeper, stronger. Loki’s kisses were short, dreamy, his own release leaving him half-drowsing even as he raised one leg, locked it over Thor’s hip, and drew them closer yet.

Thor caught the thigh before it could fall, drew it further upward. The brush of fingertips over the head of his own cock turned all sensation from burning ember to bright fire: with mind washed in white, body stiff, Thor found his release, and was still.

The doors to the balcony stood open yet. The breeze fluttered at the curtains, brought in with it the haunting honeysuckle scent, transient as the touch of the moonslight against skin and hair.

Thor stared at the canopy ahead, Loki quiet in the circle of his arms. “Do you think it will get better?”

“Well, it could hardly get worse.” Then he laughed, pushed at his arm. “Actually, no, scratch that. I don’t trust you at all to know how to keep your teeth to yourself with my cock in your mouth.”

Between them, Thor’s dick gave an interested twitch. Loki gave an exaggerated sigh to match.

“Trust you to be excited about it.”

Much as the light banter should have made him feel better at what had happened, Thor could not speak. In that silence Loki sighed, gently pushed sweat-soaked hair back from his forehead.

“Thor. Don’t think so much.” And then he smiled, a strange and vulnerable thing this deep into the night. “Besides, you actually don’t have to suck my cock to make me love you.”

Rolling his head to meet his eyes, Thor managed a half-smile of his own. “It would be a moot point, considering you love me already.”

Loki wouldn’t answer that. But it didn’t matter. One hand stretched out to him, and Thor took it willingly. Half-asleep though they both were, they made it to the bath chamber. Their cleansing was vague and dream-like, but seen to completion. Only then did they return to the bed. Loki crawled in first, inelegant and wordless. Thor came in behind him, arms around the warmth of his nude body. The protest was only token, Loki relaxing into him – and into sleep – in what seemed only moments. Thor kept awake much longer, one hand stroking along a pale flank in a motion he did not seem able to stop.

“No-one will take you from me.”

His brother shifted in his arms, the light sigh escaping him that of someone already lost to dreaming. He could not be certain if Loki heard the last whisper before Thor followed him down.

“Not even you.”

Chapter Text

He’d forgotten to shut the balcony doors. When he woke in the morning, it was to feel first the cool breeze raising gooseflesh upon naked skin. Only as his mind climbed to full consciousness did he register the heavy weight across his chest.

For one moment he tensed with all the long practice of one trained to defend to the death. But the warmth of the spelled silver bracelet was a calming pulse over his skin, and Loki would have known his brother even in dream. Thor, for his own part, still slept heavily. Given the slightly dopey grin pulling up the corners of his mouth, he seemed lost in memory of the evening before. The golden skin felt too warm where it pressed against his own; his tongue moved slow over dry lips. Every place they touched was a potential wellspring of feeling and emotion.

Loki closed his eyes. The motion did little to fight back his own memory of the night before. Then, it had been so tangled and so tangible. In the morning light, little more than numbness remained. When he had taken his brother to bed, his mind had rushed with thoughts to the point of frank overload; now, it stood still and silent and empty. He should be feeling something. He just didn’t know if there was nothing because he was too frightened to let it in, or if it was because there was really nothing there at all.

Outside, a light breeze moved cool and welcome against overheated skin. Lying pressed against Thor’s body had been like curling around a self-perpetuating furnace. But then his brother had always been that way, for as long as Loki could remember.

Closing his eyes against the view below, Loki wrapped his hands very tight about the balustrade. Dizziness rocked him forward, the press of the railing against his abdomen only increasing the nausea. Even with the stone beneath his feet and his knuckles turning white with the harsh grip, the world still had fallen out from beneath him. There was no-one to blame but himself; he had been the one to goad Thor on, knowing what his brother desired. Yet it would be no lie to say he wanted it himself. There had already been time enough to recognise it. It was simply that he’d refused to give himself time enough to accept it.

Turning, back-sliding, Loki found himself down on the ground, head in his hands. But then he turned again. With hands wrapped around the balustrade, he looked out upon Asgard from between the bars. Even at this angle, it never changed. It would likely change not even should its second prince disappear entire.

Pressing his back to the bars of the balustrade only just kept his shivering in check. Raising both palms, Loki whispered an incantation in his mind alone, gave a stuttering little sigh. A little ball of light had flickered to life between the tremble of his hands. It radiated warmth; the faint hum of its incandescence was a song to welcome one home. But this was an artefact of childhood: a time now tainted by lie and casual deception.

A soft sound snapped his attention upward. Thor stood silhouetted in the frame of the opened balcony doors, dressed only in his breeches. Uncertainty never suited him well, though the same could not be said for the cloud of hair tangled around the broad shoulders. His eyes had alighted upon the small glowglobe, and stayed there. Loki’s fingers twitched. Perhaps it should have been tainted by the night before too, the same way as everything else between them ought to be now. Yet it was not. Nothing stayed the same. But it was still Thor before him. Only Thor.

“Should I go?”

Loki flipped his hand lazily, let the small globe dance over his knuckles in lazy curves. “Do you remember how low it took me to master this?”

His brow had furrowed deeply. “I just remember you always doing it perfectly.”

“That’s because you were too lazy to ever bother learning it properly for yourself.” Beckoning him forward with one hand, Loki waited until Thor took a hesitant seat at his side before holding it out. “Here.”

It rolled so easily from one to the other, and balanced itself perfectly upon Thor’s palm. A moment later it winked out as if it had never existed. Loki snorted, waved his fingers in high disgust.

“Like I said. Too lazy.”

There was an argument in that – Loki knew that, they’d only had it a hundred thousand times since early childhood. Thor knew it too. But he was the one who chose to sidestep it altogether for one much more sinister.

“I should have stopped you.”

“Don’t.” He said it hard, and harsh. Still Thor did not look up, head bowed and eyes fixed upon his empty palms. Loki’s scowl felt as sharp as the nails digging into his own skin. “Thor. I wanted you to do it.”

Stubborn as a mule, Thor shook his blond head, hair masking the expression behind. “I still should not have done it.”

Pressing his back against the bars, Loki tilted his head back, let his eyes fill up with the sky overhead. It was only be sheer force of will that he resisted the urge to bang his head repeatedly against the balustrade. “I put you in that position,” he said, words soured by the unspoken assertion that it was hardly the first time he had manoeuvred his brother into an awkward position. “But I don’t…I don’t regret it. I just…” This time he did pull forward, pushing his head back against the railings just hard enough to hurt, just once. “I just wish it had been different.”

He felt rather than saw his brother’s eyes turn to him. “Do you want me to go?”

They locked gazes as naturally as a key matching to its pins. “No.” Raising his rear just enough to slide across the stone, Loki sighed, and looked away. “Stay with me.”

They remained together there in silence, though Thor’s even breathing was as rhythmic as any lullaby. Loki had rested his head upon his brother’s shoulder without even realising he had moved. But given how little true sleep either had found the previous night, it was almost too easy to fall into a twinned doze. But he did not let it take him deep enough that he could not feel the approach of another, the shimmer of his wards parting about this new guest. Light footsteps crossed the threshold between chamber and balcony, and Loki angled his head upward so he might meet her gaze.

“Good morning.”

He spoke hoarse as she settled down before her sons. “Mother.”

On her knees, skirts pooled around her like the opened petals of a blooming flower, her smile burned like the sun. Yet her touch gentled easy over his hair, working the curls back from blurred eyes. “I wanted to check on you both,” she said, so soft he strained to hear. With a frown, Loki shifted, just enough to realise half of his body was yet asleep.

“How did you know he was here?”

Her smile grew crooked, knowing in a way that neither of them could be quite comfortable with. “I went to speak with him last night in his chambers. He was not there, though I waited a little to see if he might come back.” With hands laced together in her lap, the elegant little snort was as close as she came to outright laughter. “When it grew late, I thought it best to let it be.”

All things considered, Loki knew he ought to be embarrassed. Yet somehow he wasn’t – not truly. Not in the ways that mattered. His left arm remained trapped beneath his brother’s bulk, numb and misplaced, but he could still feel the warmth of the bracelet all the same.

“Is there news from Jötunheimr?”

Even as she shook her head, she but gave him the answer he already knew. “No. It’s too early.” He had still needed his mother to say so. As if sensing the relief it brought him in the quiet, dark holes of his mind, she narrowed her eyes, leaned a little closer. “Loki. Are you all right?”

He smiled. It moved across his face like cracks from a glass impact. “No.”

“Shall I wake him?”

“No.”

The shaking had come over him as sudden as earthshock. Not matter how he tensed himself, left hand moving to form a fist, it grew worse by the second. At his side Thor stirred; one hand groped between them, fingers tight about the numbness of his other hand. Confusion left his eyes dark, the pupils blown wide, focus lost. “Loki?” Then his head snapped sideways, a warrior seeking his surroundings. “Mother?”

Her hand was very soft upon his stubbled cheek. “It’s all right, Thor,” she murmured.

At his side Loki trembled harder, silent as tears carved saltwater trails down his face. Moving between them, she drew them both close against her, pressed a kiss to one, then the other.

“It’s not your fault, Thor.” And she bowed her head, a soft sigh. “Just…let this be as it is, for now.”

Even in such awkward huddle, Frigga ought to have been two small to cradle both her overgrown sons in her arms. Still she encompassed the world.

Thor did not cry. Loki had not seen him do so since they were very small; like many Asgardian warriors-to-be, his elder brother had found little relief and only shame in such. There was no surprise in that he did not cry now. But Loki could still feel the agony that lanced through his brother’s chest, spilling forth from his heart to burn hot all through his aching body. For the first time pity swelled; mock Loki though others often had, he could not help but regret that Thor could not let his misery free in this way.

Frigga was the first to stand. The true strength of their little family had always found its most stalwart anchor in her, and all of her men knew it. In perfect mirror Loki rose at her side, Thor lurching up last; his legs had apparently fallen asleep. Having then surveyed them both, Frigga pronounced them unfit for the breakfast room. She left them with a kiss to their cheeks, and a command that they attend upon her within the hour.

What she offered was pure distraction. Loki knew that, as well as he knew there was little chance anything would be heard from Jötunheimr any time soon. He remained grateful for it. The nature of the bond between them meant he drew comfort from Thor’s presence, whether he willed it or no. But after the evening they had passed between them, he couldn’t help but be uncertain that being only in Thor’s company would be good for either of them.

Certainly even now Thor hovered; he remained somewhere close by as Loki stood under the raised spray near his magnificent bathtub. Still he lingered as Loki then worked the knots from his hair, spelling it dry and straight. Only when it came to the actual act of dressing did Loki turn from his wardrobes with hands on hips and eyes rolled to the sky.

“Mother wished for you to be presentable too, you know.”

His shrug was small, unconcerned. “I know.”

“Then you ought to go and make yourself so.”

He had never known his brother to permit such vulnerability in his requests before. “Will you come with me?”

“Am I your nursemaid?”

The hurt he wore so open, almost easy if not for the weight of it. Always Thor had been so honest with his feelings. Pressing his lips together, Loki attempted to scowl, and sighed instead. “All right! Fine. Yes.”

The smile this engendered was small, but merry for its size. “Yes, you are my nursemaid?”

“Do not press your luck.”

“Isn’t that how I lived this long?”

This time Loki only managed a snort. “A charmed life, indeed.”

“And here I thought I was just charming.”

“Stop it, unless you wish me to shut your mouth for you.”

He just laughed. A shiver coursed through Loki like electric strike. Such laughter had been one of his favourite sounds, in childhood; it had been high and piping then, ringing out across the palace entire whenever Loki enacted a prank or told some tricky tale designed to amuse most by the twist in its tail. As Thor had grown, chest filling out and vocal chords drawing long, his laugh had become a rumbling, thunderous thing. Loki’s abdomen writhed, as if set to longing, sympathetic vibration by the rich storm of sound.

All that quite aside, Loki had no great desire to follow Thor like a lost lamb about his bathing chambers. While Thor set about his own morning ablutions, Loki curled into one of the great winged chairs set in his elder brother’s sitting room. It gave him a good position in which to begin polishing his knives. A faint, half-formed thought occurred as he worked the metal, and its edge; perhaps they should spar, later. It might prove a physical release less…awkward than what had passed between them the night before.

Loki had never been an innocent in these things. Rather he had played his hand willingly, knowing it was the easiest way to have Thor show Loki his own. It would grow deeper, more intimate, with time. It did not mean he wished to accept it yet. With a flick of the wrist, he tilted the blade so it caught his reflection. People had always wondered at his looks, so different to father, mother, brother: pallid skin, dark hair, eyes so green as to seem unnatural. Knowing know his true form, Loki supposed that that little whisper had held a cruel truth after all.

So engrossed was he in the weapon, and the pale reflection within it, that Loki did not notice his brother’s return. Only the clearing of a throat had his head snapping up. Again he found Thor before him, less awkward now in a fresh tunic and breeches. His combed hair hung loose and long about his shoulders, arms folded over that broad chest, watching him from where he leaned against the door.

“Are you well?”

Loki could lie. But there was no point; there was no fun in it now. Sheathing the knife in one of many hidden pockets, he unfolded his long legs, and placed his feet firmly upon the hardwood floor.

“I just keep remembering the stories.” His eyes took wild flight about the room, over tapestry and painting and weapon and trophy, never once finding safe harbour to anchor. “I…sometimes I would wonder what Jötunheimr would look like. I always thought of it as a wasteland. As a place of the dead.”

The frown his brother wore suited him no more than his earlier confusion; uneasy and uncertain, it was not an expression fit for the golden prince. “I have never been there, Loki,” he began, slow and each word deliberate in its choosing. “But though it is not Asgard, it supports life. It brought you to me.” He swallowed hard, the sound of the next words so odd they might have been spoken by a stranger. “If you wish to go there, Loki, then that is your choice. I will not stand in your way.”

Resting his head against the high back on the chair, Loki kicked out a foot. “I don’t want to go. I don’t want to know.” Crossing his elegant ankles, he then wrapped his arms about his slim body and clenched his eyes tightly shut. “I just don’t want it to be true.”

In the quiet, in the dark, he could only sense his brother’s moment. Hide and seek had always been a pointless exercise for them, as children. Somehow they’d just always known where the other was, no matter how they might try to hide.

“There is something from Jötunheimr here. In Asgard.”

The urge to unsheathe that knife and stick it in his brother’s eye hit hard. Loki opened his eyes, scowled direly. “I’m sitting right here, Thor, you don’t need to remind me.”

“The casket.”

It could have been an incantation of dark seiðr, for the simultaneous shiver it sent through them both. Loki withdrew further into the chair, felt its comforting press against every side but forward. “I…” Closing his eyes again did nothing useful. It just made a sudden childhood memory so much stronger, the words of their father echoing through his mind with the force of a weapon’s plasma discharge.

You were both born to be kings.

The great bulk of his brother had turned away, what little could be seen of his face twisted into a grimace. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t…I didn’t need to bring that up now.” When he glanced back, he had managed to school his expression to a wan smile. “We should go to Mother’s chambers, break our fast with her. You need to eat.”

It was reflex, rolling his eyes at the old insistent tone. Thor had been telling him that since they were small children, when Thor began to fill up and out while Loki only grew taller, muscles long and lean rather than bulky and broad.

“You need to put something in that mouth of yours and keep it shut,” he countered, perhaps too mild; Thor’s own response held a heat both sudden and scorching.

“Well I did try, last night.”

Almost immediately did regret flitter across his features, accompanied with a frown that said he’d startled himself by speaking that thought aloud. Much as he could have spun a blazing row from the words, Loki just pushed to his feet, and buried the knife in the wall right beside his brother’s head.

A moment later he yanked it out from beside his brother’s still form, easy and one-handed, walking past with a careless grin. “Coming?”

But the time at their mother’s breakfast table, warm and welcoming as it might be, did not turn Loki’s mind from what Thor had brought up. The casket lurked now in his mind as it did physically somewhere beneath their feet. Since its confiscation from Jötunheimr in the year of his own birth, it had been kept locked deep within the vaults of Glaðsheimr. Loki knew its exact location. He had seen it before – though not in many years.

It felt strange now, to think of it. For all Loki had considered himself as an outlier amongst his picture-perfect family, he had also never considered himself a potential cuckoo in the nest. The blood of an Odinson had assured him of his place, even if nothing else did. He had no recollection of looking at the casket and feeling so much as a twinge of recognition, nor kinship. Instead there had been only a strange kind of dull horror, to know the rivers of blood that had been undammed just so Odin Allfather might bring it to Asgard to end a war of worlds.

“Mother.”

The cup of tea paused halfway to her lips. “Yes, Loki?”

“Will you take us to the vaults?”

“I…why do you wish to go there?”

He thought she knew. But then she’d always been the type of teacher who encouraged a student to voice the nature of the lesson they wished next to learn. “I wish to see the Casket of Ancient Winters.” The dryness of his throat made the next words crackle and bend like old paper. “And I do not wish for the company of Odin while I do so.”

Her lips pressed together. While no reproach rested upon her lovely features, it was easy to see she was unhappy as she set her untouched tea aside.

“Mother.” Thor shifted in his seat, very quiet in presence and in word. “Loki will have given this deep thought. It is no whim or foolish impulse.”

Loki ought to have snapped at him for the presumption. But he kept his eyes upon their mother instead, and held also his silence. Thor had something more to say first.

“It would be best, if you are the one to go with him.”

With one eyebrow cocked like a drawn bow, Loki fixed a burning gaze upon his brother. “What, you’re not going to demand to be there?”

“This isn’t about me.”

There was no confusion or uncertainty in his brother’s expression now. They’d always shared strength with one another as children, taking and giving back as easily as they did air. Even his most cynical side could not help but take what Thor offered, turning back to their mother with a calm by all rights he should not have felt. “Please, Mother. Will you do this with me?”

Loki did not know what Thor might do in their absence. He tried to tell himself that he didn’t care. His heart still ached for that empty place at his side as they moved through the gilded corridors, one arm wound about his mother’s. Despite the disparity in height and basic strength apparent to any outsider, it was he who leaned upon her for support. When the great doors appeared before him, he would had stopped, would have turned back and away, if not for her gentle movement ever onwards.

Having murmured the incantations that would allow their passage, Frigga began a careful descent of the grand stairway leading them down. Struggling to fill his lungs, Loki bit back hard on the threat of a coughing fit. Though the chamber had always had both temperature and humidity controlled by various cantrips, he felt stifled, choking, the air damp and dank and terribly lacking in vital oxygen.

“Loki.” She had stopped, eyes bright even in the dim light of Odin’s chamber of trophy and treasure. “We might do this another day.”

“No.” The memory of Thor’s lips upon his skin, the heat of his brother’s spill in the palm of his own hand: both trembled through him with the light joy of a summer’s breeze. “No, I do this now.”

Upon a plinth built by master craftsmen, the casket perfectly fitted to its dimensions; such excellence seemed so wasteful an effort, when it might only be seen by so few. Drawing nearer by the moment, Loki caught his passing reflection in a silver shield; he shuddered to think the same of his own Asgardian skin, worn so perfectly over the creature lurking beneath. In the end, perhaps that form had only been seen by Laufey, and Odin himself.

The casket lay before him now, the world already narrowing to both it, and himself. It had always been a curious artefact. Loki had not thought much of it as a child, save for the hypnotising, lazy movement of the blue light within; that had intrigued a child but an apprentice in the nature of seiðr and sorcery. Now, as then, Loki felt no resonance with its silent song within himself. All that rose was only the childish memory that adults were so peculiar, to lay down so much for what amounted to so little.

He stepped forward. Frigga remained behind – within reach, perhaps, but in this he was still alone. Both hands trembled where they rose. It did not stop their movement. The handles on its side had been carved too large for Asgardian hands. Blood or no, Loki himself was no giant. Like a child clambering onto a high chair at the adult’s table, Loki closed white fingers around those grips, and then let his eyelids fall.

It was felt before it was seen: a crawling sensation over the skin, through the blood. It brought no pain. Rather, it reminded Loki of his first childish attempts at breaking wards, at learning counterspells. Nothing malicious, nothing forceful: instead, it was more like running fingers through a spiderweb. Some strands would simply fall apart, where others would stick to skin in memory of what had been destroyed.

Loki opened his eyes. The blue of his hands blurred before his eyes, wet and blinking hard. A sensation of cold encompassed his entire being, though he could not say it uncomfortable. It was not familiar, either. Rather, it simply…existed. The way the ground beneath his feet had always existed.

“Loki.”

“Mother.” He did not turn. The world had taken on a strange crimson hue, its entirety seen more in shape and shade than in bright colour or clarity. “Do you have a mirror?”

When she stepped forward, her first action was to lay a warm hand upon his forearm. No fear could he sense in this most wise of queens. To him she gave small compact, gold and silver, laid in his blue palm. The other remained upon the pulsing crystal of the ancient artefact. With the black nail of one thumb, he clicked the release of her pocket-glass, and looked without blinking into the tiny mirror.

Low music rose in tinkling melody, soft and simple: a child’s lullaby in clockwork sound. Loki saw a face familiar only in shape – but alien in shade and marking. Crimson eyes narrowed above the thin line of blue lips. The creature within looked nothing if not still and stern and sad. And all the while, the music chimed onwards, echoing against the unseen stone walls. She had sung this song to him a thousand times, when he could not sleep even in the safety of a prince’s palace bed.

Snapping it shut mid-song, he snatched his hand away from the casket as if it might bite down hard upon his arm. Relief flooded his mind to feel his Asgardian self bleeding back into vein and skin and eye and heart.

“Loki.”

He turned his back upon the plinth and did not run away. But he never once turned his eyes from the path before them, hand tight about his mother’s.

“I never want to see it ever again.”

Above ground, the golden light of the palace hurt his eyes. Having taken leave of his mother, he could just go to his room, even as her concern wrapped himself about him like a warm quilt. His restless feet took him instead to the training yard. Always he knew where to find his brother. Perhaps she had only let him go because she had understood there was but one place left to him.

Shirtless and sweating, Thor had a quadrant to himself, beating a pole to fierce defeat with a wooden training sword. Without a word of greeting nor warning, Loki kicked off his shoes and strode onto the sand. Thor turned in sudden surprise at the last possible moment, with no thought to duck before Loki’s punch drove him to his knees.

“It’s easy for you!” Rage bubbled up out of him with the force of a geyser, hot and harsh and heavy. “Even when everything changes, even when my entire life falls to pieces, you still get what you want!”

Taking a wary step back, blood upon his split lip, Thor raised both his hands. Loki paused, startled: both at his brother’s surrender, and his own instigation of war.

“Loki.”

“I…” He took half a step back, shame rising to smother his fury. “Thor, I…I didn’t…”

His smile was small, sad. “I know it’s different for us – we still get to be exactly who we thought we were.” Now his smile faded, eyes too large in that beloved face. “But I never wanted to hurt you. Yes, I wanted this. I want it now. But if I could turn everything back, put it back the way it was, I would. If it would make you happy.”

Cradling his now-throbbing knuckles in the palm of the other hand, Loki tried to laugh; it came out more as a moan. “Oh, don’t talk.” All the fight had gone from him, sudden as it had come. And yet he couldn’t help but wail, “You never want to talk.”

“I’m not going to fight with you, Loki.” Thor held out the sword in one clenched hand. “But that pole could always use a good beating. Trust me. I know it.”

In his shaking hands he turned the sword over three times. It had splintered on every edge, bent easy in his hands, just a moment from breaking in twain. Laughter hurt, as if he’d been the one sucker punched in the gut. He threw it aside. Only then did he drop to his knees, and then his stomach. Rolling over onto his back, Loki stared at the sky and didn’t give a damn that he wasn’t supposed to stare into the sun.

“When we were children,” he said, voice half-dreaming, “you would have just hit me back.”

“Well, time passes.”

“So it does.”

It must have been uncomfortable for him, tired and perspiring as he was, to lie on the sand in the sun with no shade nor water. But Thor didn’t move. His hand brushed against Loki’s, stilled, remained. Loki closed his eyes. All need for violence had gone. The nearness of him seemed enough: and for all the terror of that truth, a strange kind of peace followed in its wake.

He could live with that.

Chapter Text

The crunch of leaves beneath his feet was but one signal of many: the turn of seasons had lain a cool hand upon the realm entire. Many a tree would shuck off their leaves until the spring returned; others would not bloom before the sun turned hot and sultry once again. Others had only just opened their winter-bright flowers. Ambling slow through his mother’s gardens, for not the first time Thor wished he had paid more attention to their names and habits.

Further up the trail he could clearly see Loki. Having made no effort at all to hide, dark head bent forward, Loki was down on bended knee with harvest basket slung over one forearm. So carefully he cut long-stemmed lilies free with a small dagger; though he had to know of Thor’s approach, he did not acknowledge him. And so Thor paused some feet away, and let himself fall to watching his brother’s swift and sure hands.

Their marriage had lasted half a lunar cycle this far – though perhaps lasted was not the word, considering its unbreakable nature. But they were both still here, in their home, together. Neither had sought further intimacy of the sort they’d attempted the night before Loki had touched the casket. But then they had always been brothers. They always would be brothers, no matter what other configurations their relationship might take, in time.

Frigga had spoken to Thor of the encounter with the casket only in generalities. It appeared that direct contact with the beating heat of Jötunheimr had called back to Loki the body-memory of his original self. Thor had not dared to ask Loki about it, much less if Loki might show it also to him. Frigga’s eyes had been sad when he’d sworn he never would.

Give him time, Thor. He will change his mind – but a mind so quick and so clever and so easy to trouble as your brother’s must be very certain of his place in the world before he can allow it to be challenged.

But then it would be, and soon. The returned delegation from Jötunheimr even now were in deep council with the king. Neither Thor nor Loki had yet been privy to what had gone on far from home, but Odin’s expression when he spoke of it seemed to indicate success more than disaster. If Laufey cooperated, then all of Asgard would soon come to know Loki as a runt Jötunn foundling rather than a blooded Asgardian prince.

But it was all only hypotheticals now. In the morning they would be called to the king’s council to decide how this marriage would be. It was not yet too late. Loki could change his mind. Thor’s left hand moved, curled about the twinned bracelet worn upon his own wrist.

The ship set sail long ago – long before even this spell put fresh wind to those sails.

His brother had shifted along the rows, now carefully bunching another variety of bloom: these were small and orange and spread petals like fire from a burning centre. Thor knew even at a distance that he laid charms upon them, keeping them alive and beautiful even though they had died the moment they’d been removed from their parent plant.

Still he did not quite dare to disturb him. But then it was selfish, too; Thor could not help but enjoy watching his brother at work, lean and languid in his movements. His hair had fallen to slight disarray, an errant curl brushing a temple. He’d always thought his brother beautiful. The urgency of that realisation in these days was something new, and strange, but somehow natural enough that Thor could only smile.

As if sensing his thoughts, Loki looked up, frowned.

“Must you stalk me even here?”

With a little shrug, a crooked grin, he said, “We will be late, if you linger overlong.”

I am fetching gifts for our hosts. You, on the other hand, are just wandering around as if the world should do everything for you.”

“Isn’t it supposed to?” Ducking the stone tossed his way, Thor pushed a hand back through his hair. “Loki. They would welcome us should we come in nothing but the shirts on our backs.”

“It still would not be polite.”

“Ironic to hear you speak of politeness so, considering you once wrote an entire ballad comparing Volstagg’s girth and belts to the roundness of a gas planet and her circling rings.”

“It was a fair comparison.”

“Though hardly a polite one.”

Loki leaned back on his heels, held up one of the fiery blooms. “But then he does love these little flowers.”

Tilting his head, Thor squinted, still didn’t see where that possibility might come from. “Truly?”

Loki’s lips twisted into a wry grin. “And you say I’m the one who doesn’t know your friends’ tastes well.” Standing in one easy upward glide, sheathing the knife in his vambrace, Loki dusted off his knees before retrieving his basket. “Come, then. Let us go mingle with the commoners.”

The moment Loki reached his side, Thor cuffed him lightly about the head. Loki snorted, but matched his stride. In fact they gravitated close together when they walked, these days. It was not strictly unusual; it had been this way since they were children. But then they had been always in competition; always on the verge of a race, a battle, a duel. This felt simpler. Easier.

They parted at the entrance to the wing where both of their chambers were sited. Before his mirrors, Thor ensured that he had dressed well, though hardly in a manner fit for court. All he needed tonight was the company of beloved friends. With a frown, he turned his head, tightened his jaw; his hair seemed to have grown longer without his notice. Taking up a comb and a leather strip, he wound a small amount back from his face and into a quick braid. The black stood out stark amongst the blond, as if he’d done it with a lock of Loki’s own hair.

Thor didn’t bother wondering if Loki would allow him to do such a thing. Sense and sentiment were two very different things. As Loki’s brother, he couldn’t help but know that well.

They had no need for a skiff to skim the rooftops, or horses to ride over the cobbles. Instead they struck out from the palace at a stroll into the night air, rich with scent and smell and sound. Thor’s favoured cloak hung easy about his shoulders, Loki wrapped in a light fur. It had been crafted of a trophy from a long-ago raid into Álfheimr. They’d gone there to hunt down a half-mythical creature, and had spent the first evening in Freyr’s hall drinking and brawling and making much merry. Loki had held himself back, and paid for it in insult and eventual disregard. The next morning, when the men had woken with thumping heads and tender tummies, it had been to find Loki out by an open fire, calmly dressing his kill.

It only came out in the deepest hours of dark morning, he had said coolly, the air steaming where his hands dug deep into its incised belly. That had been the only time one would hope to even see the thing, let alone hunt it.

Thor’s hand was gentle over his shoulder, the shimmering grey of the fallen creature’s pelt. “Shall we, then?”

Loki thrust the basket of fruits and pastries and flowers and mead into his brother’s startled arms. “Do make yourself useful, won’t you?”

There were worse things to be than a pack horse. Indeed it was lovely enough simply to walk by his side, dark hair shining and slick and pressed away from his face to emphasise the sharp lines, the brilliant colour of his swift gaze. Loki had never been considered attractive by Asgardian standards. But then it was only Asgard who said she alone was the best of everything.

Given Thor’s hands were full, Loki knocked upon the door. Promptly it was answered by a person so very tiny they both strained down to look at her: Gunnhild, Volstagg’s youngest child. It had been some time since their last meeting, leaving her older than he remembered; Thor realised with a start she would soon begin her formal education. But given the high colour in her cheeks, the sturdy strength apparent in both limb and temperament, she would still be content enough to run about in the company of her mother or those of her elder siblings who would put up with her.

He couldn’t help but grin broadly, even at her dubious expression. With her long braids of blonde hair and brilliant blue eyes, her stubborn lip jutting out and her small limbs always in motion, Thor had long felt a kinship for the little one. More than once he’d quietly asked Sif to guide her, should she choose to be warrior rather than a seiðkona like her mother.

When she eventually spoke, it was not quite a royal welcome. More a demand of intent. “Hello.”

“Good evening.” Inclining the platter forward, he added with easy cheer. “May we come in?”

“Is all that for me?”

“Well, we had intended that it be shared amongst you and your family.” Now a laugh broke free to match his smile. “But if it is a price we must pay to slake the ravenous appetites of so mighty a gatekeeper, well…”

Her blue eyes darkened to near-purple. “Are you making fun of me?”

“Of course not.”

A second later, she stomped on his foot. It didn’t actually hurt, but he yelped, nearly dropped his burden. Loki swept forward, caught it all with effortless grace, and sailed on past them both as he announced, “My brother is a fool.”

Though her petulant expression clearly said she agreed, Gunnhild spared him a considering look too. “…but he is pretty.”

“True, enough.” From the door, Loki inclined a shoulder inwards. “Shall we?”

Gunnhild radiated haughty grace when she wrapped her hand around his and tugged hard so as to make him follow Loki. With a shake of the head, Thor denied her nothing. But with her facing forward it was safe enough to not hide his amusement. Gunnhild would one day be a force to be reckoned with, and no denying.

Hildegund set a fine table, and they crowded about it in a merry clutch of talk and laughter: he and Loki as the honoured guests, with the five children and their proud and harried parents arrayed around them. Loki soon split his attention between Rolfe and Gudrun, the eldest of the middle children; Alaric, the eldest, wished to speak to Thor mostly of training and war. Tall and lithe, more like his mother than his father, he would one day bear arms for Asgard. For the first time since his own boyhood, Thor felt a pang of regret at the notion – that a young man so bold and handsome and noble would not chase a vocation that would keep him closer to home, and those who loved him.

Gunnhild also had much to say throughout the appetisers – which in Volstagg’s case were more meal than taster. It only continued through the dinner itself, into then the desserts and cheeses. She talked even as she and her sisters set about serving the post-prandial drinks: sweetened fruit juices for the children, made sparkling by a careless flick of Loki’s seiðr; wine and beer for the adults.

One child had been quiet throughout the meal and its wind down to story and song. The second youngest: a lovely girl who barely came up to his hips, with long red hair the same burnt autumn shade as her father’s. The pale shade of her skin was made but more pronounced by her wide, dark eyes. A scholar, this one; Thor could picture her well in the great libraries of city and palace. When they had adjourned to the great sitting room, a fire blazing in the hearth at its centre, she came and sat quiet by his side. Alaric, despite being almost three times her height, taught Gunnhild how to wield a sword while mother, father, siblings, and Loki, watched critically on.

“Are you well, Flosi? You have been most quiet this evening.”

The sound she made might have been a snort, but a very polite one. “I like quiet.”

With a light shrug of broad shoulders, he gifted her a sidelong smile. “Well, certainly that is no crime.”

“Perhaps it feels that way, in this house.” The ironic twist of her lips seemed more the gesture of a woman grown. “But it doesn’t matter. I would not change it for all the worlds.”

While truth said Thor had far more in common with her demon-beast of a younger sister, Thor felt an odd and welcome warmth for this child. “I might not understand that myself, but I care deeply for one who would,” he said, quiet. “Such is the joy of family.”

Flosi only nodded, though even without words Thor could feel her genuine agreement. Turning his eyes back to the spectacle of her siblings, he let his mind shift to a more martial mode, marking and analysing the strange play-battle playing out before them. He could still feel her eyes on him. It came as no real surprise when she reached over and picked up his wrist, turning it over in her small hands.

“This is pretty.”

He glanced over and down, saw the silver had taken on gleaming tones of crimson and gold in the firelight. “It is.”

“Who gave it to you?”

“Loki did.”

“Lucky.” Though she let go, she seemed somehow reluctant; her eyes certainly rested upon it still. “I like it a lot.”

Twisting his wrist, Thor watched at the kaleidoscope of light passed easy over its smooth surface. “Really?” There were days, but more often nights, where he wished he might see again the burn of the binding runes again etched into the charmed metal. “There are those who might think it very plain, compared to some of the finery seen about the court.”

“It’s very warm.” Thor’s head snapped up, and she gave a startled little giggle. “I know only a little seiðr, but this…it shines. I like it. It makes me feel happy.”

Children were not fools, and Thor knew it would be but a moment before she realised how odd he looked, staring at her with his mouth dangling open. But before either of them could speak, Loki moved smoothly across the room, slipping into easy place at his side.

“Are you stealing my brother?”

“No.” A faint blush pinked her cheeks in the firelight, eyes taking on a sudden shine. “I like his bracelet.”

“So do I.” Apparently unaware of the girlish adoration of his audience, Loki raised a casual hand. This time her eyes lit up in an entirely new fashion, blazing with reflected golden fire.

“You match!”

Loki’s eyes shifted sideways for only a moment. It was enough to feel as if a world of emotion had passed between brothers in but a single second. “We do.”

Engrossed in her own thoughts and theories, Flosi saw none of it. Instead she had picked up their unprotesting hands, pressing one palm flat against the other “And look. Because you have yours here, and you have yours here…” Their fingers laced together without encouragement. “…you can hold hands, and you match even more!”

Thor’s fingers tightened, even as Loki gave a shrug too casual to be honest. “Something like that.”

A clash of wooden swords and then a hellish shriek from the other side of the room caught all their attention. With a frown, Flosi rose, moved closer to the source of the chaos. The brothers held back, hands tangled yet together.

“I never realised.” Thor spoke quietly, turning their hands over; the bracelets could have been the tangled rings of infinity this way. “I just never…”

“You did. In your heart, if not your head.” When Thor looked at him, eyes wide, Loki’s foot clipped him on the ankle, hard. Then he rose, their hands falling apart. “Come, our small hellion warrior could use some advice on how to marshal her powers rather than letting them run riot all day long.”

Even as he leant down to rub a rising bruise, Thor gave his clever brother a slow, appraising look. “Given everything, surely you would be a better teacher of such.”

“Yes, but then I am not the one who had to learn the lesson over and over again.” His left hand closed about his right once again, and their bracelets flashed twin fire in the low light. “Come.”

After dinner, again they walked the streets together. Perhaps they were too close; more than one strange look passed over the princes, though nothing was said in their hearing. Thor ignored it as much as did his brother, though he could not help his quiet concern. Loki’s pride had always such a fragile thing, yet worn it as if it were armour.

“Prince Thor!”

He caught the energy ball lobbed his way with easy grace, its spiralling wings withdrawing into the shimmering orb the moment it came into contact with skin. “Hello,” he said, cheerful and easy as a small gaggle of boys came racing up to surround them both. “So, tell me: what are your names?”

Any conversation was brief; they wanted only to play a favoured game with the one who wielded Mjölnir as though she weighed little as a feather. Though cursorily invited to play, Loki chose to watch – not that he did. Instead he sat cross-legged on the fountain’s edge, writing furiously in the coded longhand Thor had never had the patience to learn, even had Loki wished to teach him. Thor had lost the resentment of it long ago. Loki was his brother, but Loki was still his own person.

Later, as they came closer yet to the palace, Loki spoke at last. His voice seemed made of the same shadows that obscured his face, left both flat and empty of tone and shape.

“You have always been very good with children.”

Thor kept his own voice light, and his eyes ahead. “That sounds suspiciously like a compliment.”

“Perhaps it’s because you are still, in mind, very close to one.”

Thor grinned, shouldered his brother just enough to make him stumble an inch sideways. “That’s better.”

Loki righted himself with immediate grace, though there was nothing strange in that. More peculiar was the manner in which his shoulders suddenly hunched forward, face once more obscured in shadow.

“I have ruined this for you.”

Though the blank tone had him missing a step of his own, Thor resumed the rhythm just as quickly, keeping time even with his brother’s quickening step. His heart was sinking, filled with sudden holes, but then this was not about him. Not really.

“You haven’t ruined anything.”

“Of course I have.”

Now his brother really did move too quickly. Reaching out, he caught his wrist, held tight until they both had stopped. It depressed him to realise Loki had likely turned to stare at him only to avoid a public scene, even as he drew close enough to keep his voice to low murmur. “Loki, must we do this now? And here? Although in all honesty, talking about it isn’t going to change it.”

Loki ducked his own head closer still. “Ignoring it is not either,” he whispered, unkind, lips brushing his cheek with every word. “You are the first-born. You must have an heir.”

Only great force of will kept him from drawing back. “We are still young. Before this happened, no-one had even brought it up. We’re young. It can wait.”

“Which doesn’t change the fact it will still need to be dealt with.” Yet Loki had apparently had his own fill for the evening, yanking his hand back and pushing it deep into the furs of his coat. Ducking his head, ignoring with furious disgust the salt burning his eyes, Thor moved to catch up with his brother.

Given how pleasant it had been before, it was a terrible pity that the argument had soured their night at its terminus. Thor still remained at his brother’s side until the moment of parting at Loki’s door. It was likely not just the damned marriage bond that meant he could feel the shape of Loki’s thoughts as if they were his own. But Thor was a warrior, no seiðmaðr. He only knew that dark magics could be used to do what was unnatural, beyond the order of things. No-one could possibly know what Loki might do with chaos in his hand.

Though he tried to sound commanding, a prince of thunder and storm, the sudden words came out in the low desperation of a plea. “Loki. You are not to risk yourself just to change what cannot be undone. What should not be undone.”

With one hand upon the locks of his chamber doors, Loki rolled his eyes and would not meet his again. “It’s not just about what you want, Thor.”

“You want free of this?” How it ached to say such fears aloud, to believe that he had been the one to ruin so much for the one he loved most. “Loki, I know it’s not fair, that I feel one way and you another, but—”

One long finger pressed to his lips, stilling their hopeless motion. It pressed there harder when the shimmer of silver-green haloed about Loki’s body entire, a shapeshifter’s impossible aura. What it left in its wake was something so much the same: in the eyes, the skin, the dark hair. But now rich curves softened the hard lines, hair tumbling down to a slim waist which flared to broad hips. Loki’s hand shifted to cradle a tightened jaw as he pressed close, the swell of breasts flattening against Thor’s own chest.

“Loki.” Hoarse, he shifted, found his back against the wall. “You should not do this.”

Tilting his head, darting a tongue out to wet full lips, Loki indulged a frustrated sigh. “How else are we to have a child?” The meeting of their eyes was electric, yet somehow sad; Thor could feel the tension in the air growing like electric charge. “Not now, of course. It is too soon, when Asgard does not yet even know of our marriage.” With a roll of his hips, Thor stated, gasped, grasped his slender upper arms. “But we should practice, hmm?”

Steadying himself with far more strength than even war might have asked of him, Thor swallowed hard. “You already have one form you are uncertain of. I would not ask you to wear yet another for the time it takes to birth a child.”

“It will happen whether you like it or not.”

He blinked, very hard, tasting salt at the back of his throat. “And I confess that I most probably will like it. But not now.” Still holding Loki’s upper arms, he pivoted, turned them both so they faced one another with only open space at their backs. In truth he ached: lust and longing and sadness twisted and turned within him, all siren calls he could lose himself within with the choice of a moment. Yet somewhere beneath the disaster of those lurked hope. Like a diamond trapped in its ore, its true beauty would be brought out only by discovery, extraction, cutting, polishing to its highest lustre and shine.

And yet it held beauty simply in its mere existence.

“I love you.” Those red lips parted in slight surprise. Thor ached to kiss them. Yet he held himself motionless, held even now Loki’s upper arms. The searching look in those bright eyes lasted but a second. Then his body came over in that strange green light, returning Loki back to himself.

Without thought Thor leaned forward. It was but a gentle meeting of lips, soft and too short indeed. The taste of seiðr on his lips lingered after: a forest in winter, cool and waiting and silent. Thor let go only when he drew back, inclining his head in deferent grace.

“Good night, brother.”

Those eyes remained searching, still. But then that had been Loki, always: looking for his answers and crafting them himself where there were none. But when he smiled now, Thor knew that finally he’d said the right thing.

“Until tomorrow, then.”

“Always.”

Only when the door had softly clicked closed did Thor turn away to make his way to his own bed, alone. Yet it was easy to do when he knew that time would change it, when time enough had given them both what they needed first.

Chapter Text

Laughter rippled through the air, chasing the sweet perfume of spring. Indeed the entire great hall had become a riot of colour and sound, flowers blooming from every inch of wall and pillar, vines and blossoms dripping from the vaulted ceiling above the crowd gathered below. This was a new beginning: snows melted away, green shoots pressing up through damp dark earth. Spring storms would come, of that there was not a doubt – but then birth could be unkind, could be painful and protracted. Yet it was only and always the beginning.

A grand feast was yet to be laid down upon the long tables. The guests milled about instead, forming groups, breaking apart, moving in a kaleidoscope swirl below. Loki watched from his favoured shadows on the steps above, the faint shielding spell hardly necessary. He’d had practice enough at watching the world from a place once removed.

Another echoed his own stance, standing apart from the growing crowd. No seiðr dimmed one’s perception of her. Her very being simply set her apart. But even if one could not look upon her long, few could deny that she was lovely even in her great age – though very few might be sure how many years the old-blooded ljósálfar might truly live for. There were those who would say they could live forever. Raising the hand that bore the silver bracelet, Loki could not help but suppress a faint shiver.

Stepping down from his own secret silent place, Loki glided across the floor unseen to the alcove where she stood alone. With her eyes upon the crowd, she held only a goblet in hand. The pitcher in his own tilted slightly, the wine within gently lapping at its silver sides.

“Might I fill your glass, Lady Lofn?”

No surprise could be found in those watchful eyes. But then she might have seen right through him from the beginning – the very beginning.

Her glass inclined. “Please.”

Only after he had filled it to the brim did he spell it away, folding his hands before him with a courtly grace. “Are there others in your party?”

“No.” Her free hand smoothed over the elaborate embroidery of the loosely-draped gown. “It is unusual indeed, for those of our kind to venture much beyond the borders of our home.”

“Then the honour is ours.”

“Rather, I should believe it mine.” The ljósálfar’s gaze dropped to Loki’s left wrist, but he could see nothing of the thought behind the motion. “Though of course the ceremony has been performed once already in its most binding form, it is rather special to be the one to preside over the official wedding of kings.”

“No one has said I shall be king.”

She looked up, the sharp gesture the only indication that she had been moved by the unintended bitterness of the statement. “How else could it be?” And she sounded genuinely wondering, as if she truly expected him to answer such a question. “You are equals in this, Loki. Not even your words could twist it to any other configuration.”

His teeth clicked together, then he clenched them, controlling that faint but rising anger – at her tone, the lack of respect, the words themselves. But she only watched him, without fear, without pleasure: those pale eyes with their ring of deep blue, hair as white-silver as her skin.

After a count of nine or ten, his heartbeat slowed again to a more usual rhythm. “The bond merely marries us,” he said, lightly conversational; Lofn took but the barest sip of her wine.

“You speak of marriage as practised by the Aesir,” she noted, not with disparagement, but rather something sounding akin to sadness. “This marriage, the one you and your brother now share, is far older than that.”

To speak of him was to desire him: Loki’s gaze took flight across the room. It took but the barest of moments to slake that desire: Thor, brilliant in gold and red, surrounded by courtiers and nobles and guests. Laughter crossed the space between them in pulsing waves, his brother the beating heart at the centre of all.

“And this love, for him.” Her voice sounded as the slow, aged waters of a glacier melting and changed. “It is older than this marriage, too.”

One hand lay casual upon the nearest pillar; Loki suspected Lofn realised that had he not placed it there, he might have fallen. “The Norns always did love to laugh at those of us who live beneath their prying eyes and meddling fingers.”

Though she stepped close, her nearness did not disturb him in the way another’s would; it felt instead as though a soft breeze had shaken the leaves of a tree at his side. “Ah, careful, there,” she murmured, pitying rather than warning. “They have sharp ears, as well as sharper thoughts.” Her sudden laughter danced upon the air. “But then they are only pushing into motion what already had been set before.”

Loki kept his eyes upon his brother. “I put more faith in chaos.”

That made her laugh, true and easy. “As well you might,” she said, her hand light upon his shoulder for but the briefest moment. “They do say chaos is the most supreme order of them all.”

Leaving no room for reply or refrain, Lofn glided away across the room. People parted at her approach, but paid her no heed. Pale and silent as she was, she might merely have been a wandering spirit seen by none but the very young, and the mostly mad. But as she passed by Thor, he looked up – not at Lofn. Those brilliant eyes sought out and found only Loki. Even had he blurred his presence, Loki suspected Thor would have seen him. He always had seen Loki.

Through the room he moved with the easy strength of a rising stormfront. Most noticed his trajectory and let him be. Loki only waited; no sense in outrunning that which he craved most. Only when at his side did Thor hand him one of two goblets, taking a long draught from his own.

“You seem quiet, little brother.” His eyes flicked sideways, filled both with laughter and a strange insecurity. “Second thoughts?”

Any amusement Loki might have taken in playing upon that unfounded fear would have had little pleasure for either of them. Rather, he answered as honestly as his tortuous thoughts might ever allow. “Would it matter if I did?”

“Yes.” Again, another long pull at the goblet; his throat worked as he emptied the goblet, and set it aside. “Loki, it doesn’t have to be this way.”

“It does.” He stared into the rich crimson of his own untouched wine. “Idiot.”

Once, Thor might have left such assertion unchallenged. Now, he turned more fully to face his brother, one hand curved about the nape of his neck, fingertips rubbing getting at the soft curls there. Loki shivered beneath his touch, arched into it without thought. Thor only shook his head, the faintest of smiles a sad curve upon his lips. “And you say I’m the one who doesn’t listen to what people are saying,” he murmured, and pressed their foreheads gentle together. “It has to be, Loki. That I do not believe anyone might deny. But the manner in which this exists – in which we exist – can be anything we choose to make of it.”

Instinct told him to pull away. Loki smiled, and pressed close enough to turn whispers to kisses. “And you make it sound so easy.”

The low rumble of his chuckle rolled around chest and throat alike. “I never said a word about it being easy.” Leaning back, now cradling his brother’s face between both hands, Thor laughed outright. “Besides, I grew up with you. I don’t do easy. I was never allowed to.”

There were many things he might say to that. Loki had no heart for cruelty tonight. Instead he gave a light tsk, turned back to survey the crowd as he let the shielding spell drop, allowing them to again see his beautiful golden perfect prince of a brother. It was easier to do it knowing he might have Thor all to himself again when he wished it.

He’d expected Thor to descend down amongst the crowd again, masking – badly – his pleasure when he did not. As a united force they stood high, goblets in hand, watching the gathering nobles and ambassadors. The snide little running commentary Loki began and Thor most definitely did not encourage halted only at one sudden entrance. Loki could not help the sharp little breath drawn in the moment he saw him.

Thor’s fingers pressed warm against the ice of his own. “Do you wish to meet him?” The words were soft, whispered into the hollow of his ear; Loki still winced as if they had been a scream. “If not, I will do it for the both of us.”

The stem of the goblet cracked between white-knuckled fingers. “I am not a coward.”

“No. You are not.” Without even looking to the task, Thor carefully removed the cup from his brother’s hands, set it aside in shadow. “But there are few encounters in one’s life that possess the potential to be as difficult as this one.”

He was so very tall. Loki had never seen a true-blooded frost giant in the flesh before; they had never had reason enough to come to Asgard, had it even been permitted. Strangely, it could not be denied that the Jötunn had some physical appeal. Compared to the coiffed and gilded nobles around him, this foreign prince possessed a rugged, wild kind of beauty: one lived on the edge of civilisation. Yet despite the odd and occasionally hostile looks directed his way, he moved with an easy solid grace. All could see this was a warrior born and bred, aware of his surroundings and his place within them.

“Loki?”

He wished Thor had not taken away the wine.

Loki?”

He smiled, brittle as ice upon the verge of avalanche. “Let us speak with him, then.”

He had not journeyed so far unaccompanied; two other Jötnar flanked their crown prince, both ever so slightly taller and broader than even his great bulk. Loki did not doubt they verged on decoration, all the same; the watchful way their guest regarded them both as the two princes cut across the room spoke of one well-used to relying upon himself for all that he needed and desired. Even as people turned, drawing back to allow Thor and Loki unfettered passage across the high polish of a mosaic floor, the Jötunn never once broke gaze.

Yet his personal guard did not draw away in deference at their arrival. Their prince made no motion that they do so, looking down upon them from his great height. Crimson eyes remained unblinking in amongst the winding scarifications that matched Loki’s own, raised and dark blue against his hard skin. Wordless, waiting, he bowed to no tradition, and to no Aesir.

Loki inclined his head, and though he raised his face, he managed to make it seem as though he looked down. “Prince Helblindi. Welcome to Asgard.”

Only then did Helblindi nod his own great head, gesture slow and relentless as the cutting pace of glaciers. “Prince Loki. I thank you for your welcome.”

“Your highness.”

With that same slow grace Helblindi turned his crimson eyes to Loki’s right. “Prince Thor,” he drawled, and for the first time Loki could sense an emotion other than simple tedium. “I believe congratulations on your nuptials are in order.”

Thor blinked, just once. “It is why we gather here today.”

The blue lips twitched. “Indeed.” Raising his gaze, he swept one tremendous arm about the gleaming glittering hall. “Your lord father has been most generous, in his invitation.”

Loki was not accustomed to being unable to read the motivations of others – yet Helblindi, alien though his physiology and culture might be, was as a blank wall to him. Still he forced a light smile. “As has yours been most gracious, in its acceptance.”

“Ah, well. Though he might never step foot upon Asgard’s golden shores, he did so wish to see again Asgard’s second son.”

He had not expected it to hurt, but it hit him all the same, low in the gut. The light pressure of Thor’s hand at the small of his back had him pressing back his shoulders, tilting his chin upward so he might display even this most brittle of smiles. “Perhaps he might yet, in the fullness of time.”

“Perhaps.” Appearing unmoved by the discomfort Loki could not hide, Helblindi nodded to the surreptitious gaze of the crowd upon them. “But for now, shall this be enough?”

“I believe it will be.” The words he yearned most to speak had lodged in his throat, stuck somewhere between sarcasm and sorrow: Give my regards to your lord father. All he could do was stare at this person who was and was not his brother, and know that the Norns had pulled tight upon his strings indeed.

Helblindi’s smile was faint, yet somehow honest. “I am pleased to have met you, Prince Loki.”

“And you.”

It was Helblindi who bowed from the waist, turned to walk away and leaving them alone. Yet they were not alone, not down here upon the floor, with a thousand eyes and more upon them. Spiriting a wine glass from a passing servant’s tray, Thor pressed into his hand. Loki downed it in three slow, controlled swallows; the liquid went down cool and dry, more steadying to his thoughts than it had any real right to be. Only then did Thor place a hand upon his shoulder, slowly but surely guiding them back to the edges of the hall. He spoke only as they neared an alcove, hushed and strangely awed.

“He is not as I expected.”

Loki made a rude noise the likes of which had not been heard since his childhood. “Why should he be?” Yearn though he did for another cup of wine, he kept his furious gaze upon Thor alone. “If we have learned anything, it is that we were taught little but fantasy and outright lie of Jötunheimr.”

Sometimes he thought it a miracle, that Thor had at some point learned it best to reason with Loki, rather than skip straight ahead to outright argument. “Do you wish to go there?”

It caught him offhand, his reflexive answer simple honesty. “No.” Then he paused, winced; the memory of the casket had never left him. Nor had the song of ice and winter caught within it. “No. I am home.”

“But you are a wanderer.” Loki frowned over at him, but Thor shrugged, as if he only spoke the truth and did not create. “You get that from Father.”

The crooked smile was too perilously constructed to allow words between it. With a sigh, Thor pressed close to his side, shook his head, spoke for them both.

“But do you not think, it has been too easy?”

“Laufey’s acceptance of my existence and my place?” Loki flicked non-existent dust from the shining leather of one sleeve. “Of course it was too easy.”

That beloved voice turned rough, harsh; it shivered through Loki with an excitement quite unfit for the company of others. “I will not let him take you from me.”

Keeping his face forward, ignoring the high flush threatening to creep up from beneath his high collar, Loki bit his lip hard. “He has no interest in a bastard runt.” Helblindi spoke now with Fandral and Hogun; Loki’s eyes narrowed to watch the careful interplay of Jötnar, Vanir, and Aesir sensibilities. “I know little of Laufey besides rumour and legend,” he whispered. “But I am his blood, and blood will out.”

“He cannot have you.”

Again, he shivered to hear the possessiveness roar of the yet-slumbering berserker beneath those words. “No. And I believe he realises this.” Loki turned to him, voice turned very flat. “There has passed between us too much time, there is too much to forgive at a fundamental level. I share his blood, but I have no love for the Jötnar nor for Jötunheimr. I am of Asgard, no matter my ancestry. This is my home.”

Thor’s hand about his own pressed tighter. Some other pressure warped his vocal cords, left his voice high and out of tune.

“But it might be different for a child. One raised from the very beginning to know that there are other worlds whose song their heart might sing, if they are willing to learn.” Choking back on gall both bitter and thick, he added, low and strangled, “That is, if there is one willing to become their tutor.”

“You believe Laufey will attempt to take from us our child?”

His brother’s rising anger washed over him in a cleansing wave, and everything in him yearned to let it rise further, to stoke it to blazing furious burn. Instead, Loki turned, shook his head. “He is not a fool,” and how he wanted to laugh, if only to hold back the sobs buried somewhere deeper in the ache of his chest. “We may not know my dam, but he is my sire. And though I was raised by one of the greatest liars of all the realms, I did take to it myself with a natural ease.”

The Thor of old likely would not have let this stand. He might even have crossed the floor to lay Helblindi flat with one swing of Mjölnir, sparking an inter-realm diplomatic disaster. Now, he stood tall and quiet at Loki’s side, generous lips thinned to a low frown.

“We cannot allow it to happen.”

“Thor.” His brother’s gaze turned to him, and Loki frowned. “If it happens, it will do so whether or not you and I attempt to stop it. If there is one thing our upbringing and subsequent marriage should teach us, it is that parents rarely know what will be best for their children.”

The sheer disbelief on Thor’s beloved face hurt, having hit him with the force of a slap. “You can’t want this!”

“I do not.” One hand moved to the other’s vambrace, fingers tracing over and over the patterns beneath which sharpened steel lay hidden. “But it is in the future yet, Thor. And yes, we can work against it. But any children we have, they will have minds of their own.” Then he glanced up, unable to stop his eyes rolling. “And if they are anything like us, why, then we are in for trouble indeed.”

In return, despite the seeds of deep unease Loki had sown, Thor managed a lopsided grin of his own. “Stubborn and brilliant and far, far too willing to find adventure in all the wrong places?”

“Yes, I do bring the brilliance to this equation, do I not?”

“Cruel and clever,” he agreed, but amiable with it. There was more to be said – there would always be more to say – but even as Loki watched the relaxed mood bled from him, spine stiffening, face smoothing out to a courtly calm. “But I do believe our king and queen are here.”

Following his gaze, Loki noted their parents’ heralds had indeed entered, were even now placing themselves for the announcement and fanfare. “…will we be kings?”

He stopped being a prince just long enough to grin like a child given everything he’d ever wanted. “I feel as though we already are.”

Later, they allowed the revels below to continue on without them, alone upon the balcony of Loki’s chambers. Neither could say for sure really sure how it started, save for them standing together, side by side, their realm spread below in shimmering gold and silver. That alone might have been enough. It was theirs, and they were one another’s, and in the end all was tongues and teeth and hands grasping for skin and hair.

“Oh, we shouldn’t be doing this now,” Thor said, making absolutely no effort to stop. “We’re to be married, on the morn.”

“We are already married.”

“Yes, but—”

“Yes, but, I am the voice of reason in this partnership.” Loki bit his lip, drew back at Thor’s yelp of undignified protest. “And it is my considered and unbiased opinion that you should remove your trousers right this Norns-damned moment.”

This time sheer surprise held Thor absolutely still, which was really to Loki’s benefit. He just laughed into his open mouth, stealing more kisses all the while. A moment later said trousers were removed. The spring air felt surprisingly cool on bared skin. Of course it didn’t bother his brother, already utterly naked; Loki himself remained only in trousers. Such a situation could not last, not with their bodies pressed tight together and Thor’s hand down the back of the leather, two long fingers already rubbing, seeking out the hole that would welcome him soon enough.

This would not be their first time. That had been awkward, uncertain, even near-disastrous. The second, third, fourth – much the same could be said of those, too. For two people who had often excelled early at what interested them, it had proven a most sobering experience. But there had been pleasures, too; pains eased by words and touch and long evenings lying in one another’s arms. But the gleam in his brother’s eyes now said tonight would be no time for sleep; Loki revelled in the full-body shudder as leather slid easy from his hips. Already he knew where Thor wanted him: the lounging chair before the balustrade.

But it was Thor who took his place there, sprawled upon his back, flush-headed cock already standing to high attention. With a slinking slide of hip and shoulder, Loki threw one leg over his chest, straddling Thor with hands wrapped about the balustrade. Here he could rise and fall in whatever rhythm best pleased him, riding Thor’s face while the city drunk itself to stupor below. The marital ceremony would not come ‘til dusk. There would be time to recover for the next round of feast and fermented beverage.

Loki did not care. He had no need of wine, mead, beer – he could stay here all the day instead, with his brother. His husband. His king – whose tongue this moment pressed into the loosened ring of muscle, fingers digging deep into the tight muscle of ass and thigh. The roughness of his beard had him thrusting his head back, gasping, sighing his name to the skies.

Thor…”

Below him, laughter rumbled in cresting brontide. Anchoring his fingers into hard muscle, Loki rose one last time, and then slithered his body down upon his brother’s. With a grin he found the taste of himself on those beloved lips; rubbing his own against the stubble of his beard, he jerked his hips to feel the tingling delicious pain. Then he moved again, but this time for the great cock rubbing between the cheeks of his ass, the leaking head catching the lip of his hole just now and then. Catching a sob upon a sighing moan, Loki moved again, and again, trying to catch him, trying to draw him in.

But even Thor, with such long practice to his name, could not stand such teasing forever. Flipping Loki over with but one hand, he used the other to press down between shoulderblades, forcing his ass up and out. The slide of him in burned, Loki’s cry lost in the kisses Thor then pressed between them. Fisting hands into the furs, Loki rose up, and immediately Thor’s arms slid around him. There they pressed tight together, chest to back, Thor’s face buried in the arched curve of shoulder and throat. The only real motion was the frantic motion of hips, a relentless thrust and roll, all sound lost where their lips then never broke apart. The warmth of Thor spilled inside, but it was not enough; a hand slid down between them, took Loki’s aching cock in hand until it had ended for them both.

On his back, sated at last, Loki revelled still in the frank eroticism of watching his brother lean back, licking Loki from his fingertips. “Your table manners always have been atrocious,” he noted, mocking his brother with the edge of his words; Thor only raised a lazy eyebrow, and let himself fall upon the blade.

“Hmm.” Extending his arms above his head, muscles in languid swell and stretch below the golden skin, he tilted his brother a sly look worthy of the god of mischief himself. “That reminds me: we haven’t broken in any of the tables, yet.”

Snapping to attention, Loki slid up on one elbow. “Not in my room.”

Thor’s eyes wandered to the door, recently installed, that joined their bedchambers with a passage like an umbilical cord. “Well,” he said, and then rolled bright eyes back to his brother. “We do have all night.”

“We have forever,” Loki corrected, and then let himself fall back to the bed, and the demand of Thor’s warm embrace. “But I suppose I might stay up a little longer, yet.”

Somewhere in those lazy kisses, Loki caught the flash of kaleidoscope light upon the bracelets; outside, the sky and city both rocked in the thunder of exploding fireworks. Thor drew him closer still, as if nothing else mattered.

But then, here, now – it did not need to. And as for Loki, he found himself willing to believe that with his brother bound to his heart alone, he might never need anything more than that.