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Shadow Plays

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He wakes in a soft bed that is not his own, to a sunrise muted by gauzy curtains.

The healing room, he notes with relief and trepidation both. He lets his eyes follow the gold-gilt ceiling, the smooth walls and twining sconces. He blinks in surprise when he catches sight of the grim figure standing at the foot of his bed.

"Father," Thor says, sitting up abruptly. His left arm protests the effort, and he looks down to discover it’s been tightly bandaged. Blood has soaked through and stained the pale material, and Thor blinks in confusion. He doesn't remember sustaining such an injury.

"I suppose you weren't much aware of your surroundings when the ceiling began caving in," Odin observes.

Thor knows that tone in his father's voice. He knows it bodes ill. He knows he is in a great deal of trouble if Odin is addressing him with such calculated coolness, and not with the warmth of a worried father. Thor knows he should feel something like fear, or shame at the least, as he has always done in the past when faced with that tone.

But Thor is distracted by other worries.

"Where is Loki?" he asks. The healing room is empty but for Odin and himself. "Father, please. Is he all right?"

Odin's expression softens fractionally, and he steps closer.

"I cannot know if Loki is all right if I cannot find him."

"He escaped," Thor realizes aloud, feeling suddenly foolish. Of course Loki escaped. What else could those empty manacles have meant?

Odin sits at the foot of Thor's bed and says, "Indeed. I had hoped you might know where he intended to go, since you aided him in his flight."

"I don't know where Loki has gone," Thor confesses. "He never confided in me. But Father, I did not intend to help him escape. I swear it."

"Then I think you have a very strange story to tell me," Odin says, the last of the frost melting from his voice. "Perhaps it will explain how my eldest son, who has never had the patience for magic, managed to dispel the work of such powerful sorcerers."

"Yes," Thor says. "That and more."

- — - — - — - — -

Thor's explanation is awkward, lacking the eloquence Loki would weave if he were here to tell the story. Thor stumbles over the passage of time, and realizes he has no idea just how long he and Loki were trapped. How many times did they experience the same day? Thor honestly doesn’t know.

He fears his story will seem far-fetched, but it’s even worse than he expects. The further his telling progresses, the more preposterous it all begins to sound. He can't look in his father's face as he explains, because at the first hint of disbelief Thor knows his own confidence in reality will falter. He needs to get the words out before he convinces himself that none of it was real.

Of course it was real. He can still feel the hum of magic—dormant beneath his skin, but tangible and undeniable.

He doesn’t try to protect Loki in his recounting of all that happened. Even if he wished to obscure his brother's fault in creating the trap, he couldn't leave out both cause and solution without rendering the tale incomprehensible. And there is little enough sense to spare in this story.

He leaves almost nothing out of his retelling. He reports frankly, and as clearly as he can, all but one aspect of the time he and Loki spent trapped together. He does not confess that twice he had Loki as no brother should. Even without looking his father in the eye, Thor isn’t strong enough to put his transgressions to words.

Silence lingers anxiously in the air when Thor finishes his tale. He wonders if his father will doubt his words; they are certainly implausible enough. But when at last Thor raises his eyes, he finds nothing of the incredulity he feared on Odin's face. Surprise, yes. And tired sadness. And, strangely enough, a quiet pride that Thor must be imagining.

"You thought I would not believe you," Odin observes, watching him with a steadiness that helps to calm Thor's anxious nerves.

"I feared my tale too outlandish. And although it was not my intent, I did help Loki elude his punishment."

"He is your brother," Odin says simply.

When Odin stands to go, Thor can't restrain himself from asking one more question.

"Will you look for him?"

"I must," Odin says. "Though I expect there is little point. Loki will have put Asgard far behind him by now."

Of course he will, Thor agrees silently. There is nothing here for which Loki might stay.

- — - — - — - — -

That night, Loki slips like shadows into Thor's chambers. He comes so silently that, despite Thor's newly honed senses, he only realizes his brother's presence when he hears a quiet thud: the sound of Loki's heavy surcoat as it falls to the floor beside Thor's bed.

Thor is nowhere near sleep, despite his position of repose, and he stares at his brother with greedy shock. Loki stands blue-tinted by moonlight, near enough that Thor could touch him if he but raised his hand.

He had assumed Loki long gone.

Thor sits up slowly, watching Loki with a wariness born not of fear, but of worry that if he makes any sudden moves Loki will simply disappear. His brother looks spectral-thin in the moonlight, clad in thin fabric and shadows. Thor wonders for a moment if he is even here at all.

To Thor’s subtler senses, Loki feels too substantial to be an illusion. But Thor doesn't trust himself to perceive clearly. He wants too desperately for Loki to be here; it cannot actually be so.

Loki watches him with his head slightly tilted, arms at his sides, the image of quiet patience.

"Are you injured?" Thor asks at length. He’s naked beneath a very thin sheet, but his own state of undress doesn't bother him. Loki stares only at his face, paying little heed to anything else.

"I was," Loki says. "I am well enough now. And how fare you?"

Thor glances down at his arm. The bandage is gone, and his skin is clean and smooth.

"I am well," Thor says. He returns his gaze to Loki. "Why are you here? You must know Father has an entire army searching for you. You should already be far from Asgard."

"And yet," Loki says with a tight, unhappy sneer, "here I am."

Thor would admonish him to greater caution, but his retort chokes to ash when Loki drops to his knees on the bed—when he slides closer and moves to straddle Thor in a graceful motion. Thor gasps at the sudden weight of Loki in his lap, and now he is mindful of his own nakedness. Now he is confused and startled, and suddenly wondering if he is allowed to touch.

Loki is warmth and temptation astride Thor's thighs. The thin fabric of Loki's garments, the sheet barely covering Thor's hips, are all that separate the heat of their bodies. When Loki frames Thor's face with his hands, Thor doesn’t dare breathe.

"Consider this, then," Loki murmurs, and he's so close Thor can feel warm breath on his face. "If the Allfather is fool enough to waste energy searching for me in Asgard, then I have chosen the perfect hiding place."

Thor's brow crinkles with confusion, and Loki's eyes spark in amusement at his expense. Loki's fingers tighten almost painfully, and he leans so close that their lips brush when he speaks.

"Who in Asgard would think to look for me in your bed?"

Thor shivers, and his arms move without his permission, wrapping around Loki's waist and crushing his brother against him. Arousal surges through him, stiffening his cock in the heated space between Loki's thighs. Loki must be able to feel it, though he gives no indication of noticing.

Thor breathes Loki's air, feels the warm chuckle across his lips as Loki shakes his head.

"And I was so admiring your restraint," Loki says dryly. "I didn't realize it was such a limited resource."

"Why did you come here?" Thor whispers, clinging to Loki like a plea, like a barely coherent prayer.

"Do you want me to leave?"

"No," Thor growls, terrified at the ferocity of his denial. Loki cannot leave now. Thor's entire being rebels at the idea. He needs Loki here. He needs to—

Thor shuts that thought violently down before he can do anything so stupid as to act on it.

But Loki is looking at him now with warm consideration. His eyes darken warmly, and if Thor didn't know better he would think his brother looks impressed. Impressed at what, Thor has no idea.

"Perhaps not so limited after all," Loki murmurs.

Then his mouth is on Thor's. A kiss. An invitation, a taunt, a goading temptation. Thor doesn't know which of these things his brother intends, and he can’t find it in him to care. He's already surging forward, desperation snapping tight in his chest. He curls a hand around the nape of Loki's neck, fingers twisting in his brother's hair as Thor's tongue presses deep.

Thor groans into Loki's mouth, and his free hand curls with bruising strength around Loki's hip. He jerks Loki down hard against the swell of his arousal, desperate for friction—for more than just friction—as Loki's thighs tighten against his hips.

Loki shoves at Thor's chest, and suddenly Thor is on his back. He crushes Loki against him, shifting his grip from Loki's neck to the base of his skull, maneuvering him forcefully to allow Thor's plundering kiss to continue. Loki tastes like silver and shadows, and Thor's hips stutter, jostling Loki above him. Loki shifts his hips in a way that must be deliberate, calculated to rub against the tight heat of Thor's cock and to drive him to new heights of desperation.

Thor growls against Loki's tongue, which has snuck forward to tangle with his own. He draws back and bites at Loki's lower lip, then claims another deep kiss. His heartbeat is a raging cacophony in his veins.

Even Asgardians must eventually breathe, and Thor releases Loki's mouth with fierce reluctance. Their chests rise and fall unevenly, and Thor tightens his grip in Loki's hair. He uses the leverage to make Loki arch his neck back, baring his throat. Then Thor descends on the pale flesh with eager mouth, rough kisses, deliberate teeth that mark Loki fervently. The day will not reset on them this time. If Loki is still here come morning, Thor will be able to see for himself the evidence of his mouth on his brother's throat. The thought sends a giddy thrill along his skin, and he bites down harder, eliciting a startled gasp.

"Such an animal," Loki purrs. His voice is teasing and a little bit cruel, despite the breathless timbre of his words. Then one of Loki's hands quests lower, slipping between their bodies, and he gropes Thor through the thin sheet.

Thor curses, his senses flooding with Loki's touch, with Loki's warm scent, with all the ways Thor yearns to touch and fill Loki at once. He arches, rubbing mindlessly against Loki's palm, and nearly jars Loki off of him.

Thor has no conscious plan as he surges forward, upending his brother and throwing him roughly on his back. Thor follows, and they land awkwardly, angled the wrong direction across the bed and tangled hopelessly in the sheet. Loki stares at Thor in surprise for a moment, and then laughs. It's the most genuine laugh Thor has heard from his brother in years. He struggles against a sudden urge to lean down and taste the laugh straight from Loki's lips.

"By the Norns, you are hopeless," Loki mutters. He maneuvers deftly beneath Thor, somehow managing to detangle both of them from the twisting confines of the sheet, brushing against Thor far more than necessary in the process.

Then at last they are free, and Thor descends on his brother with greedy hands and hungry kisses, slotting his body between Loki's thighs as though it is a position rightfully his.

His fingers tighten at the edge of Loki's tunic, and he catches Loki's earlobe briefly between his teeth.

"Remove these garments." Thor’s voice is rough and low in his chest. "Or I will remove them for you." He doesn't bother to voice the implication that if he removes them, they will be useless when he is done.

But instead of complying, Loki twists beneath him, turning his head to find Thor's mouth and renew their heated kiss. He parts his lips invitingly, and breathes a low, satisfied hum when Thor’s tongue slides past. He bends his knees to bracket Thor's hips, and arches maddeningly, gloriously against him.

Thor's brain is a chaos of want and heat as he grinds down, naked arousal rubbing mindlessly against Loki. There's a hiss of sound, sleek and intimate, and it takes Thor a long moment to realize that the sound is Loki's clothing tearing in Thor's hands.

Loki smirks up at Thor, grim victory in his eyes, and Thor stares down in return, frozen to stillness by the sight of Loki's naked body beneath his own. Loki's skin, always pale, looks eerie in the moonlight. Loki's cock is as hard as Thor's, a firm, flushed line curving against his pale stomach. Loki's chest rises and falls in panting breaths, and Thor wonders if his brother was always so startlingly thin.

Thor's own aching hardness twitches at the sight, and it takes every ounce of his willpower to keep from thrusting into Loki’s body without preamble.

Consequences, Thor thinks. He tries to read Loki's expression, searching his brother's eyes for any hint of what Loki actually wants. He finds nothing he can decipher, though there's heat enough in Loki's gaze.

He would please Loki, if he knew how. He would give his brother satisfaction before seeking his own pleasure in the tight, forbidden heat of Loki's body.

"Why do you hesitate?" Loki asks, brow furrowing. "Isn't this what you want?"

Yes, Thor thinks. This and so much more. He wants to feel Loki come apart beneath his hands. He wants to claim Loki so deeply his brother can never forget that Thor has had him. He wants, more than anything, to fuck Loki and know his brother will stay once the sun (a new sun) rises.

He has learned that he cannot have everything he wants.

"You told me I was your first," Thor says, though his pulse rackets beneath his skin, and every animal instinct urges him to thrust forward and seek relief from the mounting hunger in his blood.

Loki's eyes narrow, and tense apprehension tightens his shoulders. He shifts minutely, and on the off chance the movement heralds evasion, Thor grabs his brother's wrists and pins them to the mattress on either side of Loki's head.

"You said—" Thor swallows past a suddenly dry throat and tries to steady his voice. "You said no one else had ever taken you thus. Was that true?"

"Of course it was true." Loki's expression darkens to an unmasked glower, at Thor reminding him of something he clearly hadn't intended to confess in the first place.

"Did I hurt you?" Thor asks.

Surprise touches Loki's face now, widening his eyes and blanking his features. He stares as though Thor has become a source of irreconcilable confusion.

"Does that matter?"

A roil of guilt and sadness knots in Thor's throat, and for a moment he can’t answer Loki's question. He is shamed that his arousal doesn't abate, but he is also lost for what to say. Of course it matters. How can Loki doubt this, of all things?

At last Thor manages to say, "It matters a great deal." And then, when Loki remains quiet, "Brother, please. Tell me. Did I hurt you?"

Loki is silent for a very long time.

"Yes," he says at last, and Thor's fingers tighten reflexively around his wrists.

"Though it is hardly of consequence," Loki adds in a deceptively dismissive tone, "considering the nature of the trap." He means the constant erasure and repetition of each day's events. He means the way they both suffered innumerable physical harms only to find the effects undone with each new sunrise.

Thor doesn't try to argue the point. He knows Loki will never concede that the unwriting of physical consequences doesn’t negate the harm done.

"And now?" he asks instead. Because if he takes Loki now as he did before, with the same brute force, there will be no convenient reset. The physical harm will linger, whether Loki stays or no, and Thor’s own limited experience offers no clues for how to make this good for both of them.

Loki stares as if the question has failed to penetrate his brain. He stares with a stubborn quiet that winds tighter with each passing second.

Then, finally, Loki makes the barest movement. He twists one wrist, slipping free and wrapping strong fingers around Thor's hand. He guides with a pointed tug, drawing Thor's hand towards his lips and then—Thor makes a choked sound, a grunt of arousal and surprise—he slips two of Thor's fingers into his mouth.

Loki's cheeks hollow with suction, and his tongue traces the digits, slicking them, offering maddening sensation that makes Thor want to put Loki's mouth to other uses.

Then Loki tugs at his hand again, and Thor's fingers slip free from the wet heat. Thor doesn't ask what to do. There's calculated purpose in Loki's eyes, and he guides Thor's hand down, down, between their bodies—between Loki's thighs—to the tight ring of muscle Thor so desperately craves.

"Like this," Loki breathes, shifting his hips, and Thor understands. He presses both fingers inside.

Loki gasps as Thor's fingers enter him. He closes his eyes and his head drops back, throat arching, ragged breath cutting the air. Thor's cock pulses eagerly at the sight, and Thor draws his fingers nearly out, then thrusts them in deeper still. His skin heats with want, and his own breath turns shallow.

He wants to press deeper, but he can't; there’s no farther to go. His hand is flush against Loki’s body. Thor wants to drag Loki tight against him, fill him and fuck him; he wants to spill his seed so deeply Loki will remember no matter how far he runs.

Thor catches his own lower lip between his teeth, and forces those thoughts aside. He focuses instead on the graceful line of Loki's body, and the way Loki grunts and arches higher when Thor curls both fingers inside him—the way he opens his mouth, as if on a cry that finds no voice, when Thor twists and strokes just so.

"Enough." Loki shivers at last, grabbing Thor's wrist and tugging. "That's enough."

"What do you need?" Thor asks, withdrawing his fingers at Loki's urging.

"More," Loki growls, and again Thor understands.

He enters Loki swiftly, crushing their mouths together and swallowing the gasp from his lips. Thor tightens his fingers around the wrist he still holds pinned, and he lets his entire body blanket Loki's as his hips thrust forward, filling Loki with the firm length of his cock.

"Move," Loki snarls against Thor's lips, and Thor immediately obeys. Loki's body jostles beneath his thrusts. Tight muscle accedes only grudgingly to the rough rhythm of Thor's cock, and Thor groans against Loki's throat, lacking the coordination now for kisses.

He releases Loki's wrist and wraps his arms around his brother. With every forceful thrust, he drives a lifetime of claim into Loki’s body. He would keep them here forever of he could. He would willingly live this moment in infinite repetition, if it meant never having to take his hands off Loki again.

- — - — - — - — -

In the quiet moments after, when Loki lies in his arms and Thor doesn't dare speak, he wonders warily what will happen now.

"You asked me why I came here," Loki says, soft voice resounding heavily in the ragged silence. "The truth is, I don't know."

"I am glad you did." Thor tightens his arms, crushing Loki resolutely against him.

"I cannot stay."

Thor doesn't respond to that. He can’t bear to think about it, let alone conjure a coherent response. He knows he can't ask Loki to remain by his side; Loki cannot remain in Asgard without facing justice. It may yet be justice he deserves, but Thor can no longer bear to have any part in.

The extremist alternatives are also unthinkable. Thor cannot leave with Loki. He can't follow wherever Loki intends to go. He has responsibilities binding him to Asgard, and to Earth.

"I don’t want to fight you," Thor says at last. "We are brothers."

Loki laughs, and it's a dark sound, blade-sharp and beautiful. Loki laughs, and Thor feels the force of it in his chest.

"Only brothers? No, Thor, we are far more than that."

"Then promise me." Thor brushes Loki's cheek gently, then curls a finger beneath his chin and makes his brother look at him. "Promise me that whatever happens, we will not face each other in battle again."

Loki watches him, and Thor thinks he sees genuine regret pooling in the shadows of his eyes. He knows what the answer will be before Loki opens his mouth.

"That's not a promise I can make."

Of course it's not. And perhaps Thor is no longer quite naïve enough to believe, even if Loki were willing to make such vow.

"Will you stay until morning, then?" Thor asks. "Will you let me say goodbye, at the very least?"

"Sleep, Thor," Loki murmurs, stretching up to press a soft kiss to Thor's mouth.

Thor doesn't want to sleep, but dreams claim him anyway. Dreams of Loki, and of Earth. Dreams of Asgard shaking to jagged pieces as the reluctant sun sets.

When he wakes, Loki is gone. Thor curls onto his side, invading the space where his brother should be, and willing his heart to calm.