It’s not until it is far too late that Steve realizes they have a serious problem. He’s helping Natasha free Clint from underneath the framework of a car, when Tony sails overhead and crashes hard into the dirt next to the broken vehicle. The light on Ironman’s suit flickers as the electrical system begins to fail with a hiss of sparks.
Steve whirls around, expecting he’ll see a return of the Sentinel-like destroyers they were fighting, some crazy hybrid of Sentinels and stolen Stark electronics. But instead he sees Thor on the tarmac, Mjolnir raised high as the sky above him darkens.
Before Steve can really register what is happening, the hammer is hurtling towards him with deadly speed. Standing in front of his teammates, Steve ducks behind his shield and it’s only an interception by the Hulk that prevents Captain America from becoming a smudge against the landscape.
The airfield is littered with the wreckage of Sentinels and the only targets that remain are the Avengers themselves.
“What the hell is going on?” Natasha demands, looking horrified when their teammate advances on them.
“I don’t know,” Steve says as the Hulk charges forward to meet Thor’s attack.
In the hours that follow, Steve tries everything he can think of to reason with Thor, but can’t get close enough to him to even have a shouting match, let alone a conversation. The Hulk has occupied Thor’s attention, fighting against him for hours, but the God of Thunder shows no sign of slowing down.
Tony is trying to get his systems back online, rummaging through the wrecked machines for the parts he needs and Clint tries to help him through the pain of a broken leg. Natasha alternates between watching the perimeter, helping Tony and Clint and keeping her eye on Thor.
Steve knows his time is up. Thor has to be contained. He is reluctant to make a call into SHIELD to tell them the God of Thunder has lost his mind. Any kind of weapon they could have that would topple a god would just as soon kill Thor than render him unconscious.
There is only the subtle warning of static standing his hairs on end before there is a crackling sound and the scent of ozone. Suddenly, the God of Mischief is an arms length away from Steve.
“Loki,” Steve says, readying himself for quick action. Natasha gets to her feet, standing protectively over Clint and Tony.
But the dark haired god doesn’t spare him a glance. His eyes are trailing across the asphalt to the fighting form of his brother. He watches Thor attack the Hulk for a solid minute before saying, “Your green monster is tiring.”
“Is this your doing?” Steve asks.
Loki looks at him then, his gaze fierce enough to pin a lesser man in place. “What fun would it be to tear your team apart if I were absent for its undoing?”
Steve considers this and then asks, “Do you know what’s wrong with him? It’s as if he’s lost his awareness.”
Loki’s eyes return to Thor as he answers. “You lot have unleashed my brother’s warrior bloodlust, his innate instinct to fight or die,” Loki replies. “Thor will raze every living thing in his path until he himself is destroyed. All in the name of Asgard.”
“In the name of Asgard!” Natasha begins, whose patience for Loki and the backward ways of Asgard is thin at best. But her diatribe is cut short before it can even begin.
“You forget yourself, mortal,” Loki says. He looms towards her. “Can you fathom how long battles on Asgard are? Some last unwavering for months. Wars may span centuries. The kind of fortitude and iron-will needed to endure? It is this primal instinct which Thor possesses that has kept Asgard protected for thousands of years.”
He steps back and surveys the two of them. “This does not happen from a mere few days of strain, which leads me to understand that you mortals have used my brother wantonly-- taken advantage of his foolish heart and taxed him beyond his limits-- and though a God, he does require repose.”
The Captain does not look away from Loki’s fierce gaze, but he has the integrity to admit, “We have all pushed ourselves lately. Perhaps Thor more than most.”
“Why do you care?” Natasha cuts in. “You had no problem trying to destroy him yourself.”
“You assume too much, little spider,” Loki hisses. “This depravity, I cannot allow, Ms. Romanov.”
Loki does not elaborate further, but as far as Steve is concerned it’s good enough that for once the God of Mischief is concerned with his brother’s well-being.
“You’ll help him, then?” Steve asks, sparing a glance to where Thor is leveling Mjolnir at the Hulk.
“Call back your beast,” Loki says. “And do not interfere.”
“We can help you,” Steve says, “We can help Thor-- if you tell us what to do.”
“You don’t understand,” Loki snaps. “He does not know you now. Look at his eyes! He is blinded by his instinct. He knows not what he does. Thor will kill you.”
“What are you going to do?” Natasha asks.
A flash of lightning illuminates the dark clouds overhead, followed by a rumbling peal of thunder that shakes the ground they stand on.
“What I always have done,” Loki replies and turns towards the storm.
“No matter what happens, do not intervene until Thor has released Mjölnir,” Loki says, his eyes unwavering. “Not a second sooner.”
Steve nods once, understanding.
As the God of Mischief walks towards Thor, his battle armor fades, approaching the frenzied god as simply his brother.
“Thor!” Loki calls to him. The God of Thunder turns slowly. His eyes are glazed over, the bloodlust of battle instinct blinding him to all other purposes. No recognition dawns across his features for his younger sibling. Thor doesn’t remember him at all.
“Thor, stop this at once,” Loki says, undaunted.
Thor all but growls at him and he swings Mjolnir in a single arc, a promise of menace in his gesture.
“Brother, listen to me now,” Loki says, “you will regret having hurt your precious mortals if you continue this, if you continue submitting to your baser instincts.”
With a yell, Thor smashes Mjolnir into the ground causing the earth to tremor and split at Loki’s feet. Jumping high to avoid the fissure, Loki positions himself as close as he can to Thor while allowing the hammer a wide berth.
“You’ve done it! Another victory for Odin’s son. You don’t need to fight any more,” Loki says, appealing to his sense of conquest. “It’s alright to let go, Thor.”
Words, Loki’s greatest weapon, are lost on him. They make no impression.
Thor hurls Mjolnir at Loki and it goes right through, the hammer sailing through the sorcerer’s double. The real Loki steps out of a shadow at Thor’s right, displeasure pulled taut across his face.
“Fine,” Loki says. “Always one for doing things the hard way, aren’t you brother?”
Squaring himself against Thor, even now Loki does not don his battle armor. No weapon, save for the magic he possesses and his inherent godly resilience, and yet Loki is still a formidable opponent.
He approaches his brother as a matador would a bull, with focused attention and economical, yet swift movements. Thor lashes out at him and Loki blocks, magic absorbing the hit, but nothing more. Loki is not striking back.
The Avengers watch helplessly as one of their own lashes out at the world. They all want to rush in and do something, but watching two gods battle it out is truly a humbling sight. The ground trembles with the shock of their blows. The sky above them is darkening, the storm coming to a head.
With unblinking eyes, Steve tracks Loki’s maneuvers. “Defensive without provoking,” Steve realizes. “He’s trying to get close.” But to what purpose, he can’t reason. And it dawns on him that no one could get close to Thor without being on the offensive except perhaps his own brother.
At Thor’s command, lightning silently bolts down from the heavens. Loki can’t stop it from striking him, and is thrown a length backward. What would have been sudden death for a mortal merely stuns the God of Mischief for a moment.
But it is time enough to give Thor an advantage. Winding Mjolnir overhead, he casts the hammer with all his strength at his younger sibling.
Loki is not fast enough this time. Mjolnir hits Loki square in the chest and the two tumble, carving a path in the dirt at least half of a city block. The earth shakes from the impact, knocking Steve and Natasha off their feet.
The clouds overhead are dark gray and full of wrath. Thunder rolls across them with the promise of rain.
From a distance, Steve and Natasha watch intently. “Come on,” Steve whispers. “Get up. Get up.” Anyone else, aside from perhaps the Hulk, would not have prayer of surviving a hit like that. But Loki is a god, too. Steve sees his legs moving, uncurling, slowly trying to find purchase.
Thor approaches the crumpled form, arm outstretched, commanding the hammer to his side. With difficulty, Loki pushes himself up, and stares into the clouded eyes of the God of Thunder.
It starts to rain, fat drops splashing across the battlefield, making mud of the cracked earth.
Loki smiles grimly and blood leaks from the corner of his mouth. He doesn’t bother to wipe at it as his arms are wrapped around himself where Mjolnir made contact.
They stare at each other for a long moment, rain pelting their faces, as Thor restlessly spins the hammer in his hand. Loki breaks into a wide smile, a gruesome blood stained grin. Then he drops eye contact, lowering his gaze and bowing his head towards the ground. It’s a defeatist posture, an acquiescence.
Thor swings Mjolnir high and rushes at him, a feral snarl escaping his lips.
From his position on the sidelines, Steve tenses, but Natasha puts a hand on his arm, keeping him in check.
Loki is as still as stone until Thor is a breath away and his head snaps up, eyes locking on his delirious brother. Loki surges forward with a crackle of magic light, faster and more deft than the God of Thunder, and he grabs Thor by the throat, his bare hand against Thor’s flesh. Loki continues pressing forward until his body is flush against Thor. Bracing Thor’s cheek with his palm, he forces him to look into his eyes.
But Thor’s eyes are clouded over. He will not see Loki as long as bloodlust courses through his veins.
Thor grapples against him, but Loki is strong in this. He will not relent.
“Brother,” Loki says, “Let go.” And he moves closer still, pressing his lips to the corner of Thor’s mouth, trailing a path with his blood stained lips along Thor’s jaw line up to his ear. “It’s alright, Brother. You can let go. Rest. I have you.”
Loki moves his hands, puts one along the exposed skin at the God of Thunder’s back, the other slides fingers through his blond hair. Loki buries his forehead against crook of Thor’s neck, his dark hair teasing the Thunder God’s nose.
The God of Mischief uses all the weapons at his disposal, flesh to flesh contact, his scent in Thor’s face, his taste on Thor’s lips, the length of his body pressed up against Thor’s-- Anything to prod Thor’s sensual memory. Force and brute strength will not win this, but instead familiar sensations offering comfort, safety and a sense of home will bring Thor back to himself.
Slowly, Thor drops his chin, turning his face into Loki’s hair. His one handed hold on Loki tightens, Mjolnir still raised in his grip. The tension in his body unwinds a razor’s width as he inhales and then releases a shuddering breath.
“Loki?” he asks uncertainly.
Loki lifts his head and leans back enough to look into Thor’s eyes. They are clear, a bright sparkling blue, but they are also fraught with confusion and fatigue.
“Yes, brother,” Loki reassures.
Thor’s eyes dart from Loki, to the hammer still clutched in his hand, to the battlefield, but Loki grabs his face, guiding his gaze back on him. “Thor, it’s alright. You can let go. I have you, brother. I have you.”
“Loki,” Thor says, his voice brimming with relief and he drops Mjolnir in the mud at his feet. The God of Thunder sinks, his limbs suddenly boneless. Loki’s grip never wavers as he lowers his unconscious brother to the ground.
Thor sleeps for five days straight and Loki keeps watch over him, never straying too far from the God of Thunder. Steve had to fight an arduous battle of wills to get Director Fury to let Loki stay in the Avengers’ Tower with his brother. Not that any of them had any real power over Loki, but Steve argued to keep security from hounding their sometimes adversary while both Princes of Asgard recovered.
When Steve pulls up a chair beside him, Loki does not deign him with so much as a glance. He continues to read from a book held in one hand, while his other hand is curled around Thor’s.
Since he took hold of him on the airfield, Loki hasn’t released Thor once. It seems to be important that they maintain physical contact at all times, Steve notices.
With a keen eye, Steve studies them for a moment, choosing his words carefully before he asks simply, “What happened out there?”
But he doesn’t mean to ask what drove Thor to his breaking point. He doesn’t even mean to know how exactly Loki tamed him... The Captain wants to understand what precisely is going on between one of his teammates and their rival, how Loki can save Thor with such an obvious display of deep intimacy when he’s spent the entirety of his time on Earth intent on destroying him.
Loki almost smiles. It’s a question nearly worthy of a trickster and for once he gives as honest a response as he can permit.
“You can’t understand, Captain,” Loki says, “Not until you have lived lifetimes alongside another can you begin to fathom what Thor and I share.”
Warm sunlight edges across his skin and Loki turns away from it in the last vestiges of sleep before his eyes flutter open. His body aches from sleeping in the chair by Thor’s bedside.
Thor’s room in the Avenger’s tower is sparse, a very different space from his lavish rooms in Asgard. It’s as if Thor never intended to stay on Midgard. Loki takes some comfort in this.
He looks down at Thor and sees two sparkling blue eyes staring up at him. Loki holds in his surprise at being taken off guard by Thor’s consciousness, but when Thor’s smile splits into a wide grin, Loki knows he is caught.
They don’t say anything to each other, but Thor turns his arm, his palm up, beckoning. Despite all his stubborn pride, Loki finds himself placing his hand there. And then Thor is tugging, pulling him closer and closer until Loki sits on the mattress and leans over him.
Thor’s smile is broad, crinkling around his eyes, and he looks happier and more relaxed than Loki has witnessed in a long time. If Loki blurs his vision he can almost picture them back on Asgard, back before he became a monster and Thor his adversary.
“You came to me,” Thor whispers, and when he says this, Loki knows Thor is more pleased than reason should allow. His happiness bubbles over, warm and compassionate and honest-- Thor’s obvious affection nearly steals the breath from his body.
“Yes,” is all Loki manages to reply.
It would be a lie-- but one he would loudly profess-- to say that Thor pulls him down against his chest, when Loki knows full well that he launches himself at his brother. Thor’s arms come up around him and hold him tightly.
All the memories he unearthed in Thor, of touch and taste and scent, were equally aroused in Loki, a not entirely unexpected side effect, though it still took the God of Mischief by surprise. He never expected to feel these emotions for Thor ever again. Nothing but wrath and contempt has Loki felt for his brother since his fall from the Bifrost.
There has been no forgiveness between them. With an angry heart-- his cold Jotun heart-- the callous part of Loki shrieks to be set free.
And yet, the impressions of love and trust and want are undeniably still there, written along the flesh of their bodies. Loki remembers and no amount of renunciation could cast that love from his soul. It would require no effort to let all else fall away save for those bright, sun kissed memories spent contentedly in Thor’s arms, to return to that place of naive fulfillment, when they thought they would be together in body and spirit for all time.
And for once in his life, Loki allows himself to simply be, to live in that memory once more-- to let go.
Loki does not know how long they lay together, but the sunlight is no longer cutting a path across the room when he begins to feel restless.
He must leave. He knows this, and he must be the one to break them apart. He knows this, too, for Thor will never let him go.
As he sits up, Thor’s grip tightens, predictably trying to keep him in place.
“Stay,” Thor says.
“You know I cannot,” Loki replies.
“One day you will,” Thor says. Loki remains silent and it is as much a yes as he will ever concede.
Thor will not let him leave easily and he slides his hands around Loki’s waist, his fingers pressing into the small of his back. Loki fists his hands in Thor’s shirt, hauling him upright. Thor rests his forehead against Loki’s and waits.
Being so close, he can no longer withstand and Loki presses his mouth to Thor’s.
He kisses Thor with everything he cannot say and Thor gives him everything he cannot bear to hear, with all the suppressed emotion and yearning and desire that binds them together through the ages.
“Thor,” Loki whispers and presses a kiss to his brother’s unshaven cheek.
And then he withdraws backward, slipping through Thor’s grasp like a wisp of smoke. The last thing Loki sees before vanishing is his brother’s wistful blue-eyed gaze.