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Shadow Plays

Chapter Text

Loki's punishment is decided even before Thor returns with him to Asgard.

The Tesseract carries them from Earth. It's a quick journey, if an unpleasant one; it feels like being twisted into nothingness, then wrought back into being by the combined forces of blood and fire.

He and Loki materialize in Asgard's vast, golden throne room. The space is empty but for Odin and Frigga.

Thor is surprised to see that their mother's eyes are dry. He expected tears on Loki's return; he expected them all the more surely once he saw the monstrous metal device silencing his brother. But there are no tears in Frigga's eyes, even as she glides down the steps from Odin's throne.

Her expression softens as she approaches them. Her skirts and hair glint golden in the light of Asgard's sunset, the fading rays stealing in to the cavernous space.

"My son," Frigga says, framing Loki's face with her hands. She touches the ugly metal of the muzzle, and Loki shivers visibly. "This is not for you," she says, and though her touch still appears gentle, the metal cracks and shatters beneath her fingers. She tosses the rent pieces aside and traces soothing fingers through Loki's hair.

Unmasked conflict flashes in Loki's expression, so frank that even in profile Thor can see it. Loki's eyes speak to an inner war of self, and Thor can't tell if it's a loss or a victory when at last Loki whispers, "Mother."

"I'm sorry," Frigga says, and she guides Loki down to press a soft kiss to his temple. "I'm sorry," she repeats, a quiet murmur against his hair.

Then she draws back a step, and though her eyes are still dry when she turns them on Thor, he reads heartbreak in her gaze. She steps towards him, but she offers no gentle touch or warm greeting. She simply holds out her hands, tiredly expectant, and Thor relinquishes the Tesseract in its strange container.

She glances over her shoulder—up at Odin, still seated and watching from his throne—and at last she departs with her burden. The blue glow tinges her skin, and she looks icy and pale despite the warmth of the setting sun.

Odin stands, and the movement draws Thor's attention with a sense of finality and dread. There are no words of summons, but Thor comprehends his father's command as surely as if there had been. Loki's wrists are still manacled by S.H.I.E.L.D.'s crude chain, and the metal clinks quietly as Thor leads his brother up the tall dais. They stop just below the top step—just below the Allfather—and Thor holds his breath.

"Loki," Odin says, in a voice that's all at once ancient and exhausted and burdened with power.

"Allfather," Loki says. He speaks blandly, but frosty hostility flashes in eyes.

"You will answer for your crimes, my son." Odin's eye glitters with the tears Thor couldn't find in his mother's face. "Would that you had left me some other choice."

Loki's expression freezes into something vicious and cold. His lips press into a tight, thin line.

"There is always choice," Loki says. "Though little enough, perhaps, for a king so weak he cannot afford mercy."

"Brother," Thor gasps, fingers grasping tightly at Loki's arm.

"Don't," Loki snarls without looking at him. "I am no brother of yours. And my punishment cannot be worse for speaking a truth he already knows."

"I am not without mercy," Odin says, calmer than Thor expects. "There are many who would see you dead for the destruction you have caused. There are others who would see you chained and tortured instead."

"But you see better," Loki sneers. "Tell me, then, Allfather. What retribution shall Asgard claim for my sins?"

"Your magic will be sealed away. Thoroughly. For a span of one thousand years. In that time, perhaps you will come to understand the calamitous error of your decisions."

"No," Loki snarls. Not just denial, Thor realizes, but disbelief.

Loki's brow knits tight with consternation, and he says, "You don't have enough power. You've no one in Asgard who could accomplish such a task. Even with your own most potent magics—even aided by your strongest sorcerers—you could not do this."

"You underestimate my resources," Odin says.

"And you think me a fool," Loki bites back. "No. You're bluffing. You can contain me in part. For a decade, a century perhaps. But to cut out the whole of my magic, and for a thousand years? Such is beyond even you, Allfather."

"I did not claim it would be my own power carrying out your sentence."

Thor can't take his eyes from Loki, despite the misery in Odin's voice as his father continues, "You are right, of course. No power in Asgard could bind you thus. But there are other realms."

Loki shakes his head, and though the crease in his brow smoothes out, his eyes narrow dangerously.

"No," he repeats in a calm, quiet voice. "You would need the most powerful sorcerers from five realms. You would need the Norns at the very least, and they are no friends to Asgard."

"You underestimate the fear you inspire," Odin says, and Loki's eyes momentarily widen. "As you say. Six sorcerers have come, each from a different realm, and each with the power and blessings of their people. Their sorcery will be sufficient to bind even you."

Loki falls silent, and Thor cannot look at his brother any longer.

"When?" Thor asks. His eyes find Odin in time to see a single tear slip down his father's cheek.

"Tomorrow at sunset," Odin says. He seems to have difficulty drawing his gaze away from Loki in order to meet Thor's eyes, but at last he does, and he continues, "Until then, a cell has been prepared beneath the palace. You will escort Loki there yourself."

"Yes, Father," Thor says, but the words are difficult to speak through the tightening in his throat.

- — - — - — - — -

Loki follows silently as Thor leads him through the palace—as they navigate down and down, beyond the warmth of golden walls. The dungeons below are spare and grim, hidden from any hint of sunlight.

It's past even these that Thor leads Loki now, farther down narrow corridors and winding staircases, until they reach a slim walkway across an endless, empty darkness. There's a door ahead, on the other side of the bridge: a wall of stone that feels to Thor like a tomb, as he and Loki slowly approach.

To either side of the broad door, there stands a sturdy guard in full armor. The door itself is open, thick and heavy. It boasts the appearance of fine wood, but its surface is cooler to the touch, like metal or heavy stone. Loki hesitates in the open doorframe, and Thor sets a hand at the small of his brother's back. He feels warmth against his palm as he urges Loki over the threshold, into the chamber beyond, then follows without closing the door behind them.

Thor has never been one to notice the pricklings of magic along his senses, but even he can feel the strength of the wards in this space. They chill through his skin, a tight and unpleasant sensation. The wards weren't crafted for him, and yet he feels them crushing in on all sides, a claustrophobic sense that these walls could hold anything.

He's grateful for the open door behind him, and immediately feels guilty. Because he'll be leaving Loki here, in this wretched space. He'll be leaving Loki trapped and surrounded until the time for penance arrives, and then what? What kind of freedom will that be?

"I see you've learned to follow orders," Loki murmurs, shattering the quiet with the silken venom of his voice. "Father's perfect soldier at last. He must be proud."

Thor doesn't ask what else Loki would have him do. He already knows, and the temptation is great enough without Loki's silver tongue entering into the equation.

Even now, even in his own head, there's an angry voice telling Thor this is wrong. Loki's crimes must be punished, but how can Thor deliver his own brother up to such a fate? How is he meant to live with himself after?

The chamber itself is vast and empty around them. Pools of cool light stretch from crevices along the floor—not fire, but something else. Some barren magic that sends chills along Thor's skin. The ceiling arches so high it's lost in shadow, untouched by the chilly glow, and the walls and floor are impossibly smooth. There's no furniture in sight.

Thor steps towards his brother, his stride noisy on the smooth floor, eerie in the vastness of the space surrounding them. Loki's shoulders are an unhappy line of tension, and his posture stiffens further at Thor's approach.

Thor's chest aches with an abundance of angry feeling, frustrated and futile. He longs to take Loki in his arms and cling to him, the way Loki has not permitted since they were children. He wants comfort for himself, almost as much as he wants his brother to accept what little comfort Thor might offer. He wants to take them back in time and undo the wrongs they've done each other.

But then, how far back would he have to go, even if it were possible? Beyond Midgard, surely. Loki's betrayal was not born of any one slight. His quest for vengeance went far beyond the simple rivalry of their upbringing. Thor knows his younger self was thoughtless; he knows he has wronged Loki in a hundred ways, none of them small. And although his wrongs don't justify the things Loki has done, they stand between them just the same, as insurmountable as Odin's judgment.

"Perhaps if you repent," Thor says, though it's only desperation prompting the ludicrous suggestion. "Perhaps if you are sincere, Father will show greater mercy."

Loki laughs, and the sound grates with mockery.

"Father's mercy is a poor jest," he says, turning tiredly away. "He claims to make the more lenient choice. To geld me instead of kill me. But what do you suppose will happen once I am defenseless? I've made many enemies. Do you think they will stand idly by when they see what the Allfather has done?"

"Loki, no." Thor surges forward, and his hands clench into fists against his thighs. He wants to touch, and the urge is a spiraling rush along his skin, difficult but not impossible to resist. He forces himself to stop at Loki's side, but he can feel his brother's heat along his front just the same. He senses Loki's discomfort at the way Thor looms into his space.

"Father would not abandon you that way," Thor says. "He would not choose such a punishment and then leave you to die. He will protect you."

"Leaving me to cower behind the Allfather's delicate mercy for a millennium," Loki snarls, whirling to face Thor and suddenly heedless of the lack of space between them. Loki's face is flushed with the force of his anger, color glowing high in his cheeks, and his eyes narrow like a threat. Thor knows he should step back. No good can come of fighting Loki like this. He doesn't dare do anything to bring a harsher sentence upon his brother's head.

But for all the wiser instincts telling Thor to back away—telling him how dangerous it is to stand near when Loki resembles, more than anything, a wounded animal—he finds he can't retreat.

"Brother," he says, and raises his hands to frame Loki's face, just as Frigga did in the throne room so short a time ago.

Loki freezes at the touch, eyes widening and breath catching in his chest.

Thor brushes his thumbs over Loki's cheekbones and says, "It will not be forever."

Because a thousand years will pass slowly, but they will pass. And then perhaps things can be as they once were.

But Loki thrashes free of Thor's touch, jerking back and retreating several steps. A snarl splits the air, a dark sneer twisting Loki's face as he stares at Thor. And Thor is a fool. He's a fool for harboring such blindly hopeful sentiments. He's a fool for thinking they can ever go back to their former closeness, if even that was real. He's a fool for hoping he'll ever have Loki back.

But for all the futility—for all that he's not naïve enough to ignore the unwelcome weight of reality—Thor finds himself hoping just the same.

Loki is watching him warily now, expression derisive. His eyes follow Thor with angry unease as Thor closes the space between them and reaches for Loki's hands. But he allows Thor to grasp his manacled wrists, and Thor breaks the metal apart and drops the pieces to the floor. The restraints serve no purpose here.

"I don't want to fight with you," Thor says, watching Loki rub his wrists with slim fingers. "I'll leave if that's what you want."

Loki's eyes are cold as he nods. And although it leaves an unhappy pit in Thor's stomach, he turns his back on his brother and departs.

- — - — - — - — -

He doesn't stay away long. Thor spends a restless night, failing to sleep in his own empty bed. He thinks of nothing but Loki.

The sun has barely risen, but the first rays stab unrelenting at Thor's eyes. He tosses aside the twisted bedclothes and greets an unhappy morning. He feels stiff when he rises, and belatedly realizes he never changed out of his armor last night.

His chambers are bright with the warmth pouring in through massive windows, even at this early hour. He's surrounded by gold and finery and the sculpted extravagance that speaks of home.

None of it feels right.

There's a young page waiting outside his door, holding a message from Frigga. A softly worded invitation. Thor makes the barest appearance at a quiet breakfast in his mother's chambers, but even there he feels wrong. He stands abruptly and retreats, and already he knows where he needs to go.

The guards don't speak. They simply nod and let him pass. They close the door heavily behind him this time, and the wards feel instantly heavier. Thor wonders how they must feel to Loki—Loki, who has always been the stronger and the more sensitive where magic is concerned, for whom these wards were specifically crafted.

Loki, who currently lies in the center of the smooth floor, apparently asleep, with one arm bent beneath his head and his whole body curled in on itself. It can't have been a comfortable way to sleep. The wards must be effective indeed at dampening Loki's magic if he's crafted no extra comfort for himself.

Thor approaches with measured steps, trying to move quietly. Loki doesn't stir, even as Thor reaches him, and Thor drops cautiously to his knees beside his brother. Loki's injuries from Midgard have healed in rest, leaving no sign of the Hulk's violent devastation on his skin.

There's an innocence to his brother in sleep. His face looks impossibly young, rage smoothed away and replaced with a stillness that makes Thor want to protect him.

But then, Thor always wants to protect Loki. That particular sensation is hardly new.

He should wake Loki now (if his brother isn't already awake). He should say something into the stifling quiet. He should most certainly not reach out to touch, which leaves him at a loss to explain the way his fingers are smoothing Loki's hair from his face.

Loki stirs, but he doesn't flinch from the touch. Thor's fingers ghost over Loki's jaw, and then, with fierce reluctance, he draws his hand back.

"You're early," Loki says without moving or opening his eyes. "I'm to be punished at sunset, not sunrise."

"I haven't come as escort," Thor says, sitting back on his heels.

"Then what is your purpose?" Loki at last opens his eyes, and slithers upright with unnatural grace.

Thor doesn't for a moment consider lying.

"I wanted to see you," he says.

"That's unfortunate, as I don't particularly want to see you."

"Yet here I am." Thor sets a hand heavily on Loki's shoulder. "I've no intention of leaving you alone today."

"You think I might escape?"

"No," Thor says. In truth, if he thought Loki might escape, he'd be more apt to keep his distance. He'd be content to know his brother was far from this place, despite the danger Loki poses with all his anger and his power and his vicious hunger for revenge.

"You think I might do myself harm, then," Loki surmises. His expression is unimpressed.

"I think you are in need of company," Thor says. "And it has been far too long since we spoke as aught but opponents on the field of battle."

Finally, belatedly, Loki shrugs Thor's hand from his shoulder. He stands, fluid grace, and Thor watches with a tight feeling in his chest. There's something tired in Loki's posture; something beaten and exhausted, and it hurts to look at. It hurts more than even the expression on Loki's face just before he fell from the Bifrost, out of Thor's reach.

"Loki." Thor scrambles to his feet, and there's nothing graceful about it. "Loki, please." He doesn't know what it is he's asking for, exactly. Forgiveness? He neither needs nor deserves it. A few moments of peace between them? That will never happen. But Loki has turned his back, and Thor is reaching for him anyway, wrapping his arms across Loki's chest and dragging him close. The leather of Loki's attire creaks as he's crushed back against Thor's chest, and Loki breathes a grunt of surprise.

"You sentimental ape." Loki's voice drips with disbelief and venom. "Unhand me." But there's resignation in the words, as though he already knows Thor won't comply.

"Must we always be at cross-purposes?" Thor murmurs the question against Loki's ear. Loki freezes, a nearly imperceptible tremor coursing through him.

"Only if you keep getting in my way," Loki says, careful and measured.

Thor is silent, recognizing that Loki is deliberately goading him. Despite the banked caution in the words, they offer a clear challenge, nudging Thor to retort, to escalate. Violence lies along that path, and Thor has no interest in fighting Loki. He tightens his hold instead, willfully ignoring the awkwardness of this one-sided embrace.

"Stubborn," Loki mutters tiredly. "There's nothing I can say to make you leave, is there." His words pose no question. They're the resigned observation of inevitable fact.

"Nothing at all," Thor says. Then, before Loki can twist free, Thor releases Loki and takes a step back. He sits on the smooth, chilly floor and waits for his brother to join him.

- — - — - — - — -

Thor remains the entire day in Loki's expansive cell. They speak of little (Loki's mood does not improve with his capitulation), but the day passes quickly just the same. There's nothing that speeds time forward like awaiting an unpleasant event.

The door at last opens, and several heavily gilt guards step through. They stand in a semi-circle of warning power, hands tight on their weapons.

Loki is once again manacled, this time in Asgardian chains. The gold flashes, masterfully sculpted elegance, as the cuffs close around Loki's wrists. The chain itself glows with a humming energy that speaks of runes and powerful magics. These bindings are not for show, though they are certainly less potent than the power crafted into the prison walls.

Despite the armed guard, it falls to Thor to escort his brother the long, winding distance back to the throne room. The palace halls are silent as they pass, empty and chilling despite the warm light that always suffuses these corridors. Thor has never felt out of place in his own home before, but every step now feels more wrong than the last.

This time the throne room is not empty. Sprawling multitudes have gathered to witness Loki's punishment—almost as many as filled this space for Thor's coronation. The comparison sits like a cold weight in Thor's stomach.

Loki's pace is not steady, though his posture is proud and straight. His footsteps pause repeatedly as Thor guides him towards the throne, and only Thor's hand at his back keeps them moving forward.

Loki stands rigid with tension when they reach the base of the dais, and despite the chains—despite the guards and the thousands of citizens of Asgard and the weight of Odin's gaze bearing down on them from above—Thor senses in that moment that Loki might bolt.

If Loki runs, there will be no saving him, and Thor's hand moves from Loki's back to close over his shoulder instead. Reassurance or restraint, even he doesn't know how he intends the gesture, but it stills Loki regardless. Practiced calm sits like a mask upon Loki's features, and he looks up at Odin with eyes that are deliberately blank.

Thor keeps his hand on his brother's shoulder as the gathered sorcerers step forward. The six take up positions between Loki and the tall steps rising toward the throne. Their eyes flash unnaturally brightly, colors that are not common Asgard (red, orange, violent gold), and every stare is focused grimly on Loki. There's shared purpose in those faces, a shared burden as the six join hands and prepare to mete out justice at the Allfather's hand.

Thor nearly begs them to reconsider. He clenches his jaw to prevent himself from doing anything so pointless.

He expects chanting. Or singing, perhaps. He expects an audible weaving of spellwork, but instead there's only silence. Whatever magic the six are crafting, it's a spell born of quiet, of careful minds and united purpose. It's a spell that, after a moment, Thor can see growing like a subtle glow over Loki's skin.

The glow strengthens and spreads, not just covering Loki now, but Thor's hand where he's still touching his brother. A moment later it reaches the sorcerers themselves. The floor beneath them, and the nearest pillars, and then the dais itself light with the spreading gleam of power. Loki shudders beneath Thor's hand. His eyes fall closed, and Thor wants to scream at him that this is wrong. That Loki is supposed to fight, even if it means Thor has to face him yet again. Even if it changes nothing.

At first he thinks the rattling of the walls is another element of the intended spell. It's disconcerting, but then so is the unnatural light that's so quickly overtaken the throne room.

But the rattling grows stronger, grows into a shaking of the entire cavernous room. The floor beneath their feet heaves, and it's difficult to stand, so violently is everything shaking.

The sorcerers have opened their eyes in unison, and it's instantly clear they aren't responsible for what's happening now, for the shaking that's turned to an angry thunder of twisting metal and falling stone. They look terrified, and one of them shouts, "What can be doing this?"

Another gasps, and then the assembled throngs are scattering. Odin rises to his feet as guards fall and struggle upright, only to fall again.

Thor is barely maintaining his own footing, but he still looks to Loki. He needs to know if this is his brother's doing.

But Loki's eyes are open and he's staring around him in unmasked shock. A sharp stone falls from somewhere above and catches his cheek, drawing blood, but Loki doesn't seem to notice. He simply stares as chaos ruptures the throne room, cracking the steps of the dais, splitting the smooth surface of the floor.

Something explodes. Several somethings at once, Thor thinks, and he's not quite fast enough. Loki gasps a pained sound before Thor manages to take him down, and then they're both on the floor as another explosion rocks above them. Thor covers Loki's body, shielding him from an avalanche of shattering gold sculpture and stone. He curls over Loki and curses as the air around them fills with screams and dust and smoke.

He looks down at Loki, and there's blood everywhere. Blood on Loki's face, his hands, his chest. Loki's eyes are wide and staring up at Thor, raw shock and pain, and Loki can't have planned this. The whites of his eyes are too wide and honest for such deceit.

"Loki," Thor gasps, willing the explosions to stop so he can check his brother's injuries. There's too much blood, and Loki can't die, not like this (not ever).

Loki reaches for him, and the light spreads brighter, blinding and impossible—

Chapter Text

The nagging light of sunrise stabs at Thor's eyes, and he sits up in a rush. Panic and disorientation wrench tightly in his chest. His eyes search for Loki, for some sign of the chaos of an instant before, but he's completely alone.

Alone in his own chambers. In his own bed. With the bedclothes twisted uncomfortably around him and nothing but silence in the air.

He detangles himself from the sheets and stares down in surprise at his armor. His mind is a snarl of confusion, and it takes him a moment to figure out why the sight of his armor sits so utterly wrong with him.

He remembers the chaos in the throne room. He remembers explosions, falling debris, the very walls and ceiling coming down around their heads. He remembers his own injuries, but he feels no discomfort now, which means he's been unconscious long enough to heal. And he's in his own bed, so someone has seen to him—a healer, or perhaps Frigga herself. But no healer would have put him to bed in his armor.

Even if his armor is clean. Even if there's no sign of the blood Thor's memory insists he should be covered in.

None of this makes sense, and though he struggles for long minutes, Thor can't conjure circumstances that might make things clear. He was never one for theories. He's always needed Loki for that.

Loki. Thor is on his feet in an instant, hurrying towards the door. He needs to know what happened to Loki. He needs to know his brother is all right.

There's a page at the door, and Thor nearly trips over him. The boy is young and skinny, and he bears a delicate note in his hand, which he offers to Thor before skittering away down the corridor. Trepidation squirms in Thor's chest as he reads the note, words written in his mother's soft, unmistakable hand.

Inviting him to breakfast.

Thor doesn't always trust to his own memory, but he knows he's read this note before. It must be some absurd coincidence. Surely it's possible Frigga knew he would wake today, even if he has been unconscious for some time. It's natural she should want to see him, to observe his recovery with her own eyes.

But then why send a note with a palace page? Why not come herself? Why should she not wait at his bedside as she's done more than once in Thor's excitable, occasionally fool-hardy past?

A sickening thought tightens Thor's gut: perhaps it's Loki. Perhaps Loki is injured severely enough that Frigga doesn't dare leave his side.

Thor moves with quick purpose now. He hurries down the corridor, up the grand staircase of the eastern wing, towards Frigga's rooms. His pace echoes quick and loud through the corridors, and the few servants he passes all scurry out of his way. He reaches his mother's door in record time.

There's no sign of Loki when he enters her chambers. There's only Frigga, drawing him into a mournful hug and smoothing his hair with calming fingers. Thor trembles in her arms, confusion and fear, and he draws sharply away.

"Is he dead?" Thor breathes, and his voice sounds gutted. "Is Loki— Is he…?"

Frigga looks startled, then confused, then quietly sympathetic.

"Your dreams must have been terrible, to put such fears in your heart." She steps cautiously closer and touches his face with gentle fingers. "Of course Loki isn't dead. Your father would never be so cruel."

"Then where is he?"

Frigga's face returns to quiet confusion, and she drops her hand to her side.

"In his prison cell, beneath the palace," she says. "Where he will remain until tonight, when his sentence is to be carried out." Sadness bleeds into her expression and blurs with puzzlement. Thor still does not understand.

"No," Thor says. "His sentence was already carried out. It brought disaster down upon us. Where is Loki now?"

"Thor, you are mistaken. The ritual will begin at sunset. It cannot happen before the time the Allfather has decreed."

Thor shakes his head, but no words of argument come. She seems so sure, and so calm. But she was there. She stood at Odin's side, regal and proud with sorrow as the six moved in to weave their binding magic upon Loki. She must remember.

But there's no sign of those memories in her eyes, which leaves Thor at a complete loss. He backs away a step, towards the door.

"Where are you going?" Frigga's voice is sharp with concern.

"To find Loki," Thor says. "I must be sure. Forgive me, but I cannot stay."

She doesn't try to stop him, and for that Thor is grateful.

- — - — - — - — -

He finds Loki asleep on the smooth floor of his cell. He looks exactly as Thor remembers, unharmed and eerily tranquil.

Thor doesn't touch Loki this time. He simply stares at the graceful face, the smooth throat, the pale skin unblemished by blood or bruises.

"You're early," Loki says without opening his eyes. "I'm to be punished at sunset, not sunrise."

"Loki, something has happened."

Loki's eyes snap open, quick and sharp, and he locks Thor with an assessing gaze. His eyes take in Thor's expression, and his face hardens into dark exasperation.

"Has the Allfather stumbled into another war so quickly?" Loki still hasn't sat up, and the somber weight of his expression mingles ill with the languid contours of his repose.

"Not that I am aware," Thor says.

"Pity," Loki murmurs, then turns his back to Thor and curls the other direction. "Go away. I don't particularly want you here."

"Brother, please. It's about your punishment."

Loki freezes in the process of trying to get comfortable. He goes suddenly, startlingly still. Thor stares at the back of Loki's head and wills him to turn around again. But contrary as he is, Loki doesn't comply.

"What about it?" Loki asks finally.

"It has already happened. Or I dreamed it happened, though it felt like no dream I've ever known."

"Of course it was a dream," Loki dismisses with a wave of one hand, and more than anything Thor wants to see his face. "Clearly the sentence hasn't been carried out, or I wouldn't be lying here, waiting to be dragged to the throne room in chains."

He's right, but Thor knows better. Thor knows what he saw, what he felt. He knows, with an instinctive certainty that refuses to be denied, that he has been here before. He needs only make Loki understand. Frustration mounts in his chest as he searches for the right words to make his brother see.

"The sorcerers held hands, and they didn't say a word," Thor says at last. His voice falls to a hushed whisper. "Not a single word as they wove their spell. They were silent until something went wrong."

Loki lies motionless, and Thor can't tolerate this a second longer. He grabs Loki by the shoulder and pulls, dragging him onto his back, then grabs him by the nape of the neck and forces him to meet Thor's eyes. He holds Loki pinned, and surprise flashes in Loki's eyes.

"I saw you injured," Thor says, and the words conjure images and sounds vividly in his mind. Jagged memory. This is no imagined fear from his subconscious. This is real in a way Thor can't bring himself to doubt. "I saw you bleeding beneath me, and Father's throne room shattering to pieces around us. Screams as though the whole of Asgard were dying—"

"Enough," Loki growls, thumping him in the chest with a fist. "Calm down, you fool. Since when does your idiot bravery crumble before simple nightmares?"

"This was no nightmare," Thor insists. His fingers tighten around the base of Loki's skull, around Loki's bicep where Thor still holds him pinned to the floor. "Loki, please. It wasn't a dream. You must believe me."

Loki's expression shifts minutely, something credulous at last peering at Thor through those narrow, pale eyes. Loki is hearing him, then. Loki has decided to at least consider that Thor's words might be true, even if he's not entirely sold on the prospect.

"A vision, then?" Loki suggests. "A premonition of things to come?"

"This was no vision. I did not simply see this disaster. I felt it. I heard it. I tasted blood in the air." Your blood, Thor thinks, and a shiver runs through him.

"Some seers have described similar experiences. Perhaps you—"

"I am no seer."

"No," Loki concedes with a sigh. "You're really not. What, then? You tripped on a temporal rift? Fell through a vortex and landed here? You realize how implausible this all sounds."

"But is it possible?"

Loki pauses. His eyes go distant in a way that tells Thor his quick mind is considering possibilities, trying to track down a rational explanation for the ridiculous story Thor has told him. He's quiet so long Thor nearly begins to despair, before at last Loki's eyes refocus on him.

"Yes," Loki says into the tense silence. "It is possible. But time is one of the most obdurate forces in the universe. The power necessary to interfere with the natural flow of time…" He trails off and watches Thor warily.

Even though Thor knows better—even though he saw his brother's surprise in the midst of all that violent chaos—he still asks, "Is it beyond you, Loki?"

Loki's gaze hardens. "Very few things are beyond me."

It's neither answer nor confession.

"Why are you telling me this?" Loki twists in Thor's hands, wrenching free. He shifts far enough away to push himself upright, eyes watchful as Thor straightens and sits beside him.

"What's the point?" Loki presses. "Experiencing a day twice is hardly the disaster you're making of it, and even if it were. I can't do anything about it. The wards are too strong. I'd need full access to my magic to even begin deciphering what happened, and I doubt you intend to let me out."

He's right about everything, and Thor has no answer for him. He doesn't know why he needed Loki to understand. He doesn't know why, even now, there's a tiny voice of hope in his chest arguing that if anyone can fix it, Loki can.

But what is there to fix? Loki's right. Supposing Thor really did trip back a day in time, that simply means he'll experience the same events for a second time.

But he remembers those events clearly, and he has no desire to repeat them.

"I must speak to Father."

"He won't believe you."

"Nonetheless," Thor insists, already standing. "If I have a chance to prevent what's coming, I would be a fool not to take it."

"You're a fool regardless," Loki points out, but Thor is already pounding for the guards to open the door.

Chapter Text

Odin does not believe him.

But he has respect enough for Thor's concern. He agrees to change the circumstances of Loki's punishment, though not the punishment itself. He promises Thor the casting will not occur in the throne room, nor in front of the throngs of Asgard's citizenry, but rather in a private chamber. There will be no witnesses, save family and the sorcerers necessary to cast the binding spell.

Thor doesn't feel particularly relieved, as sunset arrives and he escorts Loki to the alternate venue. Trepidation lurks beneath his skin, and he moves with wary caution.

When the sorcerers begin casting their spell, the same soft light mounts and spreads, this time through the recesses of smaller, private chambers. The same tension pervades Loki's posture. The same fear keeps Thor's hand on Loki's shoulder.

As the light spreads and grows, the same shaking rumble begins in the walls and floor. Thor moves faster this time. He's not quick enough to hurry his brother out the door as a heavy pillar crashes in front of it, but he's fast enough to prevent the explosions from catching either of them full in the face. Loki gasps beneath him when Thor throws him to the ground, and it's wretched Déjà vu as he covers Loki with his body and hangs on.

There's less blood this time, at least. But still there are Loki's wide, fearful eyes as the light washes everything away—

- — - — - — - — -

The morning sunlight makes his head hurt, and Thor sits up with a jolt. The bedclothes are a hopeless tangle, and when he glances down he's still in his armor.

This cannot be happening.

He scares away the page waiting outside his door and ignores Frigga's note where it falls. He doesn't go to Loki. He approaches Odin instead. He tries harder to make him understand. He tries to explain in a way that makes him see there is more than just danger to Loki in whatever is happening. Thor paints as vivid a picture as he can of the explosions, the throne room crumbling to pieces, the screams and the blood all so unnatural in the absence of battle.

"Father, you must believe me. I have not lost my mind. Twice I have experienced this day, and twice the same result. Can you not ask your six sorcerers? Can you not find a way around this calamity?"

Odin agrees to postpone the casting for another day. Thor informs Loki of the delay, then awaits sunset again in his brother's company. He's confident that if the problem has not been prevented entirely, it has at least been put off. The catastrophe of magic can't occur if the assembled sorcerers don't cast their spell.

The seconds slip past into minutes, and there's no spreading glow; no visible beginning of the spell intended to seal away Loki's magic. Thor feels a moment's relief that lasts precisely as long as the stillness persists.

Then the prison cell begins to shake. The sturdiest walls of Asgard, and they come apart like chaos, stones and cacophonous explosions, tearing the chamber apart around them. It doesn't matter how quickly Thor moves this time.

He sees Loki clutching his arm to his chest, blood spattering his surcoat, his face—blood coughing from his mouth as Thor drags him from the path of an enormous piece of ceiling—

- — - — - — - — -

Thor flinches from the light stabbing at his eyes and sits up so quickly his head spins.

Armor. Twisted sheets. Sunrise.

He finds the page boy at his door and tries not to scare him as he accepts Frigga's message. Perhaps he will have better counsel from her.

She believes him. And she investigates her own inquiries. She consults spell books in the palace library. She consults Odin's six visiting sorcerers. She convinces Odin to postpone the casting, and to help her decipher the complicated magics posed by Thor's conundrum.

But ultimately, her counsel comes to no better result than the Allftather's. She finds no answers, and Loki's prison fractures to pieces just as it did before. A sharp stone embeds itself just below Loki's ribs. Heavy debris dashes against the side of Thor's head, making the world spin as he gets his hands on Loki's wound—

- — - — - — - — -

Sun in his eyes. Sheets tangled awkwardly around his legs. His armor is unyielding as he rises from his bed.

Thor is weary of ending each day, the same day, with Loki's blood on his hands.

"You're early," Loki says when Thor enters his cell. "I'm to be punished at sunset, not sunrise."

"You are not to be punished at all," Thor says.

Loki opens his eyes and rises to a crouch with terrifying speed.

"Speak sense, Thor. You would not so blatantly or casually defy the Allfather's commands."

"Hear me out," Thor says, holding his hands up in a placating gesture. He kneels near Loki, but does not try to move closer. "This day is cursed. I have experienced it four times, and I would not have the fifth go the same."

Loki doesn't settle from his defensive crouch. If anything he looks even more wary.

"You're mad," he says calmly.

"No." Thor shakes his head. "I know how this sounds, and I don't know why I am the only one who remembers. But I am not mad. When I told you all this before, you said it was possible. You said…" He scrambles for specifics, for the words to make Loki see. "You said time is an obdurate force. You said it would take great power to interfere, but that it was possible."

Loki's eyes narrow, but he settles to his knees.

"Do you believe me?" Thor braces himself for further argument.

"It's an accurate analysis," Loki allows, "and one I can't imagine you reached on your own. Also, 'obdurate'? Do you even know what that word means?"

For all the anxiety seething beneath Thor's skin, he still finds it in him to be annoyed at the slight against his intelligence.

"I believe it describes your skull, among other things" he says, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring.

The barb causes a spark that can only be amusement in Loki's eye, though no hint of smile touches his lips.

"What are you proposing?" Loki asks, bringing them back to more practical questions.

"We leave here," Thor says. "We leave Asgard. Together. If I can get you beyond the palace walls, you could spirit us both far away. Far enough, perhaps, to avoid what is coming."

"And what is coming?"

Thor swallows thickly, and finds he can't answer. Your blood on my hands, he thinks. The screams of all Asgard. Destruction such as these walls were never meant to see. But the words stick in his chest, unvoiced.

Something of their truth must creep into his eyes, though, to make Loki watch him so carefully now.

"Come away with me, Brother," Thor says at last. "I will get you past the guards, and we'll run as far as we can. Perhaps distance will shatter this sorcery."

"All right," Loki agrees. "I'd be a fool not to agree, whether you're sane or not."

- — - — - — - — -

The guards are no trouble. Thor doesn't even have to fight them. They believe his story about a command from the Allfather, and after the past four days Thor feels only a slight a twinge of guilt at betraying their trust.

He half fears Loki will slip away from him once outside the palace, but Loki doesn't once try to evade Thor's constant touch. Thor keeps a hand on his brother at all times: on Loki's shoulder, his back, his wrist. The contact is too practical to be paranoia. Thor knows his brother well.

"Are you ready?" Loki asks, stopping in the heavy shade of a broad yew tree.

Thor's hand slips from Loki's spine to curl around the back of his neck, and he asks, "What do you need me to do?"

"Just hold your breath. It makes this next part less jarring."

Thor barely has time to comply before Loki blinks them out of existence. It's a jolting sensation, and wildly unpleasant; like losing his balance on a steep edge, or waking disoriented from a violent dream. It's like light twisting in on itself and taking them with it, and it's a hundred times worse than when Odin conjured him to Earth in pursuit of Loki.

He gasps when his lungs become newly aware that there's air to be breathed, and his fingers tighten around Loki's neck. He intends no threat. He simply needs something to hold on to.

Loki looks unperturbed, and Thor scowls at him without letting go.

"You might have warned me."

Loki quirks a look at him that could nearly be a smile, and says, "And deprive myself of such thrilling sport? Certainly not."

"Where are we?" Thor shifts his attention away from Loki in order to take in their surroundings. They're in a forest, swallowed in all directions by trees so tall Thor can't fathom the tops. The trees are familiar, though Thor couldn't name their type. Asgard has similar enough forests. They could be anywhere.

"Alfheim," Loki says, shrugging Thor's hand away. Thor drops his arm to his side—if Loki intended to desert him, he'd have found a way to do it before now.

"The elves have powerful magic of their own," Loki explains. "We won't draw undue attention here."

They work their way deeper into the forest, and for several hours neither of them speaks. It feels nothing like the adventures of their youth. As they traverse denser and denser foliage, Thor wishes he could pretend the silence were comfortable. He wishes he didn't feel the weight of every betrayal, every hurt, every wrong choice pressing between them.

"Tell me," Loki says when at last they settle to stillness. The forest is thick around them now, so dense and shadowed that it feels like a prison cell all over again. "If this plan of yours actually works, what will you do? You must realize I'll never return to Asgard a willing prisoner."

Thor considers and realizes he doesn't know.

"You never thought that far ahead." Loki's voice is dry with disapproval.

"I had to do something," Thor says, sitting beside his brother on the thick trunk of a felled tree. "If you remembered these events as I do, you would understand."

Loki regards him with considering eyes, something heavier in his expression than Thor expects even now.

"Has it been so terrible for you?"

Thor wants to reach out and drag his brother against his chest—to hold him tightly and not let go.

Instead he says, "I tire of seeing your blood spilt and finding myself helpless to prevent it." He pauses at a tightness in his throat. "If I have to watch you die, I fear what I might do."

Loki looks taken aback by the confession, and he turns away before Thor can read anything in his eyes. Thor stares unashamed as Loki's gaze drops to the dim forest floor. Loki crosses his arms over his chest, as though he's cold.

"And if your plan doesn't work?" Loki asks at last, without raising his eyes. "Assuming you're not insane, and this day starts over as before. What will you do then?"

Thor doesn't want to think about that. It's worse, somehow, than the possibility of returning to Odin and confessing that he helped Loki escape. It's worse, because he knows how that story ends. Every time. He knows that if distance doesn't keep them safe, nothing will, and he can't bear the look of bloodied surprise on Loki's face. Not again.

"I will do exactly as I have been," Thor says. "I will continue to search for a way to break the cycle."

"You've so little imagination." Loki shakes his head in mocking disappointment.

"What else would you have me do?" Thor bites back, making no attempt to hide his frustration. The moss is slippery beneath his hands, and Loki sits just out of reach, still not looking at him. Thor breathes an irritated growl low in his throat.

"It's not for me to say." Loki smirks. "But consider the opportunities. You can do anything you like without fear of reprisal. When the day repeats, you have a clean slate. Perhaps infinitely, if your attempts at a remedy remain unsuccessful."

Thor shakes his head, expression clouding.

"I am not one for pranks, Brother."

"Just as I said. No imagination." Loki uncrosses his arms and lays his hands palm flat on the mossy surface of the fallen trunk. He's silent for only a moment, then he turns his gaze on Thor and says, "What would you do if there were no consequences? Pranks are for children; I'm talking about secrets. Have you no hidden desires? No craving left unfulfilled for fear of the repercussions?"

Thor doesn't answer. He won't give Loki the satisfaction, and he certainly won't confess how deeply Loki's questions cut him.

When sunset falls in Asgard, it is still full daylight in Alfheim—though it's difficult to tell in the dark-knit shadows of the surrounding foliage. Distance, as it turns out, is no remedy at all. The rumbling starts beneath them this time, deep below the mossy ground, and then swells to shake the forest itself.

The trees are so thick they fall against each other for a time, long boughs catching and leaning, but as the ragged clamoring escalates, the trees come to pieces as readily as the stone walls of Asgard. Bark shatters, wood splinters and rains down, heavy earth heaves and threatens to bury them alive.

Thor reaches for Loki, but it's too dark, and he can't find his brother, can't see him through the gloom and the chaos. A branch, thick and sharp, impales Thor through the arm, and—

- — - — - — - — -

Quiet sunlight in his face, unpleasantly bright but infinitely preferable to the pain of a moment before. Thor sits up slowly and scrubs a hand over his face, fighting off a crippling wave of futility.

It's a long time before he finally pulls himself out of bed. An hour at least, perhaps longer, though the page boy is still waiting patiently outside his door when he emerges.

He and Loki don't flee this time, even once Thor has convinced his brother he in fact hasn't taken leave of his senses. Loki demands access to the library instead, and Thor is happy enough to oblige.

Once away from the vigilant guards, Loki passes his own hand before his face in a shivering gesture that speaks of magic. Thor expects some disguise to descend upon him, but he looks exactly the same.

"What did you just do?"

Loki throws him an impatient glance, then hurries along the corridor as though it matters little whether Thor follows.

"A simple glamour to render myself invisible."

"But I can still see you."

"Yes." Loki throws him another unimpressed look. "I thought if you lost sight of me you might panic and sound an alarm."

Thor can't argue that point. Loki is probably right. He lapses into silence and simply follows as Loki navigates the wide, sprawling corridors towards the library. Thor would just as soon speak. He would have the reassurance of his brother's conversation to ease his anxiety. But they're passing other people, servants and warriors and palace guards, and it would be foolish to be seen conversing with the empty air. Better to avoid attention, that Loki might have time to work.

Thor is of little use when they reach the library itself. He's never been one for words, though he reads them skillfully enough. He's never learned to search for things in the arching vastness of Asgard's mammoth library, and he can't very well ask the scribes for assistance. Which means that, much as he would love to fetch the tomes Loki needs and save his brother time, Thor can do nothing but sit and watch him work in the dim corner they've found to hide in.

Watching Loki is a dangerous idea, or at the very least a poor one. The longer he watches, the harder Thor's thoughts veer towards the questions Loki put to him, deep in the forests of Alfheim.

Have you no hidden desires? No craving left unfulfilled for fear of the repercussions?

Of course he does. What living, feeling man could claim otherwise? But Thor has fewer than most, open as he's always been to his own urges. When Thor desires a prize, he pursues and obtains it. He rarely fails. When he desires a woman, he seduces and beds her, or at the least makes so noble an effort that he harbors no regrets. When he desires danger or the thrill of a hunt, he knows where to find such sport, and his friends stand ready to join him.

There's only one desire—one hunger—Thor has ever kept to himself.

"You could at least offer the pretense of looking at something besides me," Loki says, jarring Thor from the intense focus of his thoughts.

"Am I distracting you?" Thor asks, and he prays Loki keeps his eyes on his book and fails to notice the flush warming his face.

"Of course not," Loki scoffs. "But staring is rude."

Thor averts his eyes, but within minutes he's staring again. Loki doesn't call him out this time, though he must notice. Thor stares, and he watches, and he tries not to think about Loki's sharp-edged questions. He has spent his entire life crushing this one, secret longing into the darkest crevices of his soul, and even now he balks at letting such thoughts resurface. They are dangerous. They're wrong, in a way that twists Thor's insides into trembling knots and darkens the blush in his cheeks.

But there Loki sits, brilliant mind poring through obscure tomes Thor couldn't pronounce let alone comprehend. There he sits, beautiful and distracting and just within reach.

There he sits, the sole desire Thor has never dared to pursue.

He remembers a vivid moment, when he and Loki were younger men, when they were barely men at all. He remembers sparring with his brother, before Loki began to work magic into his every tactic, when it was still laughably easy for Thor's broader, bulkier frame to knock his brother down and pin him in the grass.

He remembers the first time he didn't want to let Loki go.

Loki must have seen something in his eyes that day, though Thor never knew what. There was a terrifying quiet between them as Thor held his brother down, as Loki watched him with his constant, sharp intelligence. There was a terrible instant—with Loki's thin frame beneath his hands, with the bird-quick pulse in Loki's wrist within Thor's grasp—an instant when Thor nearly did the unthinkable. His brother's lips were parted with quick breaths, and Thor wanted to taste.

He stood up instead. He dusted himself off and dragged Loki up with one hand, and then he laughed too loudly, to cover his discomfort.

Loki never asked what had given him such pause. And Thor has spent many years since refusing to let his thoughts linger in such perilous realms.

Loki finds no solutions in his hours of study. When the shaking cacophony closes in, it's the books and shelves and stained glass windows of the library that shatter down upon them.

- — - — - — - — -

Days pass. The same day. An agonizing reprisal of frustration and waiting and ultimate chaos. Thor wonders that he feels no fatigue. He hasn't slept since this unceasing cycle began

He retraces his steps with tired inevitability. He goes to Odin. To Frigga. He tells them what's happening. He begs them to help. Even when they believe him, there's nothing they can do.

More often he goes to Loki. Useless as it seems, and tiring as it is to convince him anew with every returning sunrise, Loki is the one who gives Thor hope of unraveling this wretched knot. Thor knows his brother is clever. He knows the strength of his magic. He knows that if there is a solution to be found, Loki will be the one to find it.

Or perhaps it's simply that, with each day that goes by, Thor finds it more difficult to stay away.

Loki's words have crept into his heart and taken hold. (Have you no hidden desires?) Loki's questions have loosed a mounting hunger for things Thor knows he has no right to crave. (No craving left unfulfilled for fear of the repercussions?) And with each day that ends bloody and shattered, Thor's better instincts erode until there's nothing left.

The last of his willpower snaps not within the library of Asgard, but in a gloomy cave full of glinting pools that could be water if they didn't smolder such strange colors. Nornheim. There is knowledge here, or so Loki claims. Loki's long fingers trace rippling patterns in the surface of a golden pool, and his body is a taut line braced against the stone edge. His focus is all for the shimmering liquid beneath his touch, and his hair whispers down one side of his face like a careless afterthought.

He is beautiful, and after hours of watching this same sinuous focus, Thor feels something dangerous—something animal and desperate—snap free in his chest.

He doesn't realize he's made a sound until Loki's head snaps up, eyes widening as he takes in the tight shadow of Thor's gaze. Only then does Thor realize the sound in his ears is his own sharp growl, and he quiets. But he's already moving, reaching for Loki with greedy hands and yanking him back from the pool.

The cave wall is awkward and uneven, but Thor shoves Loki against it anyway. Loki gasps when Thor descends upon him, startled curse muffled by Thor's mouth. Loki's hair is soft beneath his fingers, and Thor frames his brother's face with unrelenting hands, guiding him into a deeper kiss, forceful and possessive.

Loki doesn't resist the claiming crush of Thor's tongue past his lips. He doesn't push Thor away, though his palms rest flat against Thor's chest as though he's strongly considering it.

At last Thor subsides. He must meet his brother's eyes eventually. His ardor burns hot as he ends the kiss but doesn't let go.

For long seconds he doesn't dare open his eyes. When at last he does, he finds Loki's expression bright with shocked, stricken confusion.

"Thor, what have you done?"

Thor tries to convince his hands to release Loki, but instead his fingers slip further into his brother's hair, cradling his skull as Thor crowds him against the uneven stone.

"Did you never suspect?" Thor asks, and his gaze falls to Loki's mouth.

"Once," Loki whispers, and he sounds so shaken. There's nothing of his usual sly confidence as he says, "Only once. Long ago. I thought… I wondered. But you never touched me. I thought I had imagined it."

Thor's lips tingle with how badly he wants to kiss Loki again, but he forces himself to meet his brother's eyes. There's wary consideration there, and maybe even a hint of fear. It's a sign of the way these cycles are wearing Thor down that his brother's fear does not rankle him into retreat.

"But I don't understand," Loki says, and his voice is stronger now. "You are incapable of deception. You have no secrets."

"I have one secret," Thor says. And for all that he's exposed this secret to Loki now, he knows it doesn't matter. Soon the day will end, the day will repeat, and Loki will remember nothing. Thor will find himself back at the same helpless standoff, and none of this will have happened.

Except it has happened. This moment is irrevocable. Thor has known his brother's kiss, and he wants more. Even if he manages to unravel the mystery behind this unceasing trap, he'll never be free now that he knows what Loki tastes like.

"Brother, please." Thor closes his eyes and presses his forehead to Loki's. "I must know your heart. Have you ever, even fleetingly—"

But he can't finish the question. He waited too long, and the inevitable destruction closes upon them now, wild and relentless. The cave collapses, crushing them in darkness though not quite killing them, and Thor can hear Loki's labored breathing in the inky blackness—

Chapter Text

Sunrise stabs at his eyes. Thor presses his hands to his temples and roars, a wordless howl of ill-contained rage.

There is no page boy when he emerges from his chambers. The message from Frigga has been dropped in haste, and it sits now on the floor near the wall. Thor ignores it. He has more important matters to attend.

His stride carries him through the palace, faster than he's moved since his second journey through this cursed day—when he needed to see for himself that Loki was unhurt. He reaches his brother's prison in a matter of minutes, and he slams the heavy door closed behind him.

The sound rouses Loki instantly, and he's on his feet by the time Thor reaches him.

"What disaster do you herald?" Loki asks, reading the thunder in Thor's eyes.

But Thor doesn't answer. He has no words to explain, no voice to seek permission. He has nothing but the rage of hunger in his veins, and he reaches for Loki. Questions flash in his brother's eyes as Thor wraps strong arms around him and jerks Loki hard against his chest.

Loki resists this kiss, unlike the first.

"Thor," Loki hisses, twisting ineffectually. "What madness is this?"

"No more words," Thor growls, pressing the plea into Loki's throat with fevered kisses. "I would have you, Brother. Do not fight me." Loki's pulse beats panic-fast beneath Thor's tongue, and when Loki shoves at his chest Thor draws back without releasing him. He meets his brother's wide eyes and burns to kiss him again.

"You've gone mad." Loki stares at him. Thor's grasp tightens, and Loki breathes a shallow, fractured laugh. "You would take me like this? Here? On the floor like an animal?"

Loki's words stoke the mounting fires beneath Thor's skin, and Thor growls again, cupping Loki's skull with one hand and fisting his fingers cruelly in Loki's hair. Guilt twinges in his chest at Loki's startled gasp, but stronger is the possessive hunger igniting low in his belly. Loki is heat and temptation in his hands, and none of it matters. Nothing is real; nothing stays. He can take this—he can take Loki—but he can't keep him. In a matter of hours he'll lose everything. For the twentieth time? The hundredth? He's lost count, and Thor is desperate for something tangible, even if it's a hopeless illusion.

Loki twists once more against his hold and nearly breaks free. But Thor is strong and stubborn, and he carries his brother roughly to the floor, pinning him easily.

Just like this. He will have Loki—will claim him—here on the cold floor, and if that makes Thor an animal, so be it.

He spares no care for his brother's attire. He tears leather and fabric and metal aside with careless haste, baring Loki's pale skin. Loki is a shifting storm beneath his hands, ragged energy and restlessness, and Thor kisses him fiercely, tasting the tang of blood when Loki bites his lip.

"Do you expect me to submit?" Loki pants beneath him, arching when Thor's fingers quest for and find his brother's cock, rigid with unheeded arousal.

"No." Thor bites at the sensitive flesh of Loki's throat, just beneath his jaw; careful not to break the skin, but hard enough to draw a startled cry. "I expect you to yield." Semantics, perhaps, but a vital distinction. Loki could never submit to Thor, in this arena or in any other. But he can yield, surely. He can give freely what Thor would take by force. This moment can become something other than an extension of the battle they are constantly fighting.

But Loki snarls and thrashes, and Thor holds him down harder still.

It's a challenge, undressing himself without losing hold of Loki. He damages a clasp when he fumbles his armor one-handed, and his cape lands in a tangle beside them. He doesn't bother shedding his boots, or the lighter fabric of his tunic. He's too impatient—too eager and frantic—and he settles for struggling with the fastenings of his leggings, for taking his own cock in hand as he positions his body between Loki's thighs.

He kisses Loki again; he swallows the muttered curses from Loki's tongue and surrenders to the greedy fires burning in his blood. He enters Loki in a single thrust, and can't tell whether Loki's choked cry signifies pleasure or pain.

Loki's arousal presses firm and interested between their bodies, and Thor is already moving.

Relentless thrusts. A deep, penetrating rhythm as Thor clutches Loki to his chest and groans into his skin. Loki clings to him now with bruising hands, panting and gasping in counterpoint to the motion of Thor's hips. Loki chokes on clever curses and writhes in Thor's hands; he arches off the floor when Thor's fingers curl tightly around his hips.

"And I thought—Ah!" Loki gasps, head tilting back and neck arching deliciously. Thor sucks another bruise beneath the first. "I thought I was the monster," Loki manages, grunting at an especially harsh thrust.

Loki's words carry searing truth, but Thor can't consider such things now. He can't think about anything beyond the impossible heat of Loki in his arms—Loki beneath him—Loki shuddering and spreading his legs as Thor ruts deeper.

"Your own brother," Loki spits (even though he's taken every opportunity to throw his true lineage in Thor's face, to try and convince Thor that they're anything but). "What would the Allfather say if—ah—if he knew?"

"Loki," Thor growls, incapable of any coherence beyond his brother's name.

Loki only laughs, a breathless sound that shivers between panting gasps. He laughs, and hateful mockery shivers in his voice.

Thor can think of a hundred different ways to silence Loki—a hundred different ways to hurt him. But he doesn't want to hurt his brother. Even though it's too late—even though right this moment he's guilty of an unforgivable violation—he's never wanted to hurt Loki.

Thor wraps his hand around Loki's cock and silences him with pleasure instead.

- — - — - — - — -

After their coupling, Thor expects Loki to push him away.

But Loki seems to have spent his resistance, and he allows Thor to curl against his side in the quiet that follows. He allows Thor's hand to rest on his stomach, thumb tracing uncertain patterns over sweat-slick skin. There's intimacy in the touch, and also a hint of the stormy guilt already crashing down around Thor's thoughts.

He doesn't apologize. He's not hypocrite enough for that.

Loki's breath evens out and calms, as does Thor's, and the quiet between them feels almost peaceful. Thor presses his forehead to Loki's temple and closes his eyes.

"I didn't mean what I said," Loki murmurs, and Thor blinks, unbowing his head so he can look his brother in the face. Loki watches him without rancor, and Thor doesn't understand. Loki should be furious with him. Loki should be snarling accusations and twisting away, not looking at Thor with a fondness bordering on pity.

"About what?" Thor asks, because Loki has said a great many things, most of them true.

"You're not a monster. Just an idiot."

"Brother," Thor whispers. But Loki's expression chills, and Thor knows he's blundered from the way Loki tenses in his arms.

Again he doesn't apologize. He's learned the futility of words.

"I probably should have seen this coming," Loki says at last. The tightness in his body gradually uncoils, and he shifts his gaze to the ceiling, staring at it with unnecessary intensity. "I who know you so well… I didn't think you could still surprise me."

"It was a poor surprise."

"Perhaps." Loki swallows, and Thor follows the movement of his throat with jealous eyes, attention catching on the bruises his mouth left on pale flesh.

"But you should never have caught me off guard," Loki continues. "Not with the way you've been watching me. I should have recognized that look. I've seen you wear it often enough in other pursuits."

"Was I really so obvious?"

Loki snorts and says, "You were worse. It's amazing you didn't ignite the library with all that mindless fervency. Yet here we are."

Guilt still pulses in Thor's chest, and it's a tight, uncomfortable sensation. Less intense now, perhaps, as Loki's words have soothed away the raw edges. Loki has offered nothing so deceitful as forgiveness, but there's a comfort in his voice and his proximity. There's warmth in the way he lets Thor hold him.

Thor finds himself sleepy and… not content exactly. There are too many conflicting emotions in his chest for that. But satisfied, certainly, and in no hurry to remove himself from Loki's side. He could rest now. Just this once. He could sleep, for the first time in far too long. What's one cycle thrown away when he has an endless supply awaiting him? An infinity of the same day ahead, watching Loki with the same inevitable intensity as his brother tries to find a solution—

Thor's insides go cold as a tendril of revelation snakes into his brain.

Loki in the library, complaining of Thor's attention. Loki in a shimmering cave, staring at Thor with shocked eyes. Loki, beautiful and distracting, as he searches for answers.

But Thor has never let himself look before. Not like he has since this damnable cycle began. He never let himself think these thoughts even in his most private seclusion, let alone watch his brother with the kind of hungry focus that brought them here.

He struggles to remember what Loki just said, what exactly he said, and it comes to him like a slap in the face.

It's amazing you didn't ignite the library with all that mindless fervency. Yet here we are.

"What is it?" Loki asks, clearly sensing Thor's withdrawal. Concern glints in his eyes, but there's something calculated behind the semblance of worry. Something cautious and cold.

"Why do you speak of the library?" Thor's voice is a low rumble of warning. "We haven't been in the library together for many years." Except they have. They have, but Loki doesn't remember that. Thor has been alone in experiencing this endless repetition of days.

Hasn't he?

But Loki's eyes widen just for an instant, a split second that tells Thor more than he wants to know.

"Surely you're mistaken," Loki recovers smoothly. "Why, just before your intended coronation, we—"

"Enough," Thor thunders. He moves with vicious speed, pinning both Loki's wrists to the floor, hovering above him so that Loki has little choice but to meet his eyes. "No more deceptions. Tell me the truth."

Cool calm settles over Loki's face, and his eyes narrow with chilly resolve.

"I hardly think you're entitled to make demands just now."

He coats his voice with venom and accusation, and Thor flinches. Because Loki is right. Thor is entitled to nothing after the liberties he just claimed.

But Loki has just turned this entire wretched mess on its head. He's changed the rules, and not just by taking uninvited consequences and ramming them down Thor's throat. If Loki remembers—if Thor isn't alone—then everything changes. Hopelessness becomes possibility. There may be a way to break the pattern.

He considers threatening. He could leave Loki trapped in this prison for however many cycles it takes. Surely Loki would be more pliable after a few weeks of solitude, of sitting trapped in a warded cell, unable to research or use his magic.

Pliable yes, but at what cost? Thor has seen the way this day ends. Every time the same. Even if he could bear to knowingly leave Loki confined like this, he could never do it knowing the violent end that comes of this story every single time.

"Please," Thor says at last. He loosens his grip on Loki's wrists but doesn't release him entirely. "Loki, please. We need to work together. You have to trust me." A laughable proposition, and yet painfully true. They need each other. If they were going to find answers along separate paths, the solution would have come to them by now.

There's a defiant tilt to Loki's jaw, and Thor wonders if even this will be a battle between them. If so, it's a battle he doesn't know how to fight, let alone win.

But a different expression darkens Loki's features an instant later, a tired resignation that sits heavily on his face.

"Very well. But unhand me first. I am not having this conversation naked on my back."

Chapter Text

Thor's armor lies scattered in all directions, but his cape is near at hand. It's more than enough material for Loki to wrap about himself and drape over his shoulders. The deep red against his skin makes Loki look alarmingly pale.

Thor spares a moment to make himself equally decent, and then he kneels at Loki's side.

"Were you aware from the first?" Thor asks, impatient for explanations. The look Loki gives him is pure irritation, but he nods.

"I was. The binding spell failed, rather violently, and after all the rubble and the screaming I found myself here. Then there was you, asking questions to which I had no answers."

"But why deceive me? Why not tell me the truth?"

Loki's expression is guarded, all blank walls and somber silence, but at last he answers, "I feared you would blame me. Or distrust me. I thought it better if your own instincts brought you to seek my help. I could accomplish just as much, and without fear of accusation."

There's a twisting, shadowed logic to Loki's words. Information has always been Loki's most valuable commodity; it makes sense enough that he would keep Thor in the dark until a confession worked to his advantage.

"What of the things you said in Alfheim?" Thor asks. "About fearing no consequences? Why put such distractions in my head?"

Loki snorts and traps Thor with a withering look. Dry judgment flashes in his narrowed eyes, as though he's genuinely disappointed Thor needs to ask such a question. He tugs Thor's cape tighter around his body and manages to look haughty despite his position.

"I thought to learn your secrets, if you had any. Though I confess to a certain skepticism on that point." Loki looks away, towards a shimmer of shadow on the farthest wall. "I didn't expect your sole secret to involve me so carnally." He pauses before the last word, and speaks the syllables with wry disapproval.

"What if you had known?"

Loki's eyes are fierce as he considers, and at last he says, "Perhaps I'd have done the same." He tilts his head just slightly to the side, a steadying pause before he asks, "Is that what you wanted to hear? Do you think it absolves you of your misconduct?"

"No." Awkward unease twists beneath Thor's skin and burrows into his bones. "It changes nothing. Only I wonder…" But he can't give voice to the unspoken question, try though he might. Tight emotion sticks in his throat and stalls his words. Shame or fear, or both. Better to hold his tongue.

But Loki catches him with sharp eyes, and his gaze glints with vicious comprehension.

"You wonder if I might feel as you do. You ask yourself now, when it's too late, whether I'd have welcomed your touch had you offered me a choice."

Thor can't meet his brother's eyes, and the bland disinterest in Loki's tone lodges achingly in Thor's chest.

"I don't think I'll tell you," Loki says. "I'd rather leave you to wonder."

Thor shakes his head and says nothing.

- — - — - — - — -

The guards exchange baffled looks when Thor leads Loki from his prison, naked but for Thor's cape which still drapes artfully about his slim frame. For once Thor doesn't have to convince them of a change in Odin's commands. They simply watch, silent and confused, as Thor and Loki navigate the narrow bridge leading to the regular dungeons and the palace beyond.

In all the roiling repetitions Thor has experienced, he hasn't been inside Loki's chambers. In truth, he hasn't been in Loki's chambers since his brother let go at the edge of the shattered Bifrost. He hasn't set foot past these doors since his brother fell.

"It looks as though nothing's been touched," Loki says. His eyes are wide with genuine surprise as he takes in familiar columns and arches and the high ceiling; the broad desk along one wall, cluttered but tidy; the sturdy bookshelves and the rack of delicate scrolls.

"Mother forbade anyone from entering."

"And even you forbore?" Loki looks skeptical now. One eyebrow quirks high as he regards Thor blandly.

Thor doesn't answer. He refuses to put into words the way his very soul ached when he considered entering Loki's private sanctum. He thought his brother dead, and to see Loki's empty room with his own eyes… He could not bear it.

Even once he learned the truth, in the short span between revelation and action, Thor dared not violate this space.

Loki breathes a quiet hum of sound, and Thor doesn't know how to interpret it. Disapproval? Surprise? Appreciation? Perhaps exasperation at Thor's weakness. Loki has little patience for sentiment.

Thor turns away when Loki drops the cape, though his eyes are greedy for the sight of his brother's skin. He forces himself to stare blankly up at the sculpted cornice along the ceiling, listening all the while to the soft rustle and clink of Loki dressing.

"Could you not simply have willed yourself into fresh attire?" Thor asks impatiently. "We are well beyond the wards."

"Beyond the wards," Loki concedes, "But not beyond the awareness of Odin's conscripted sorcerers. I've shielded us from sight, even from Heimdall, but the greater the magic I expend the more likely we are to draw unwanted attention." At last the rustling stops, and Thor turns to find his brother dressed in green and gold. Simpler attire than Thor left in ragged pieces on the prison floor. This garb has less the look of combat about it, more the sleek feel of shadows and stealth.

The close fall of the fabric framing Loki's figure makes Thor want to touch, and the smirk in Loki's eyes says he's perfectly aware of Thor's desire.

"Come, Thor. We're wasting valuable time."

Thor follows, heart aching every step with an ugly mingling of guilt and desire.

- — - — - — - — -

For a short time—a dozen cycles or so—Thor harbors new hope that Loki will soon find the solution that evades them. If he remembers each day moving forward as Thor does, then he's not starting anew each morning. No wonder he was dragging Thor in all directions even before Thor knew the truth.

Loki is accumulating knowledge from a multitude of sources. Surely it is only a matter of time before he unravels the difficult knot of magic and breaks them from this loop.

Thor himself feels like a useless appendage as his brother toils. He has no head for magic, and therefore no practical assistance to offer.

Worse, he has no way to pass the time but to watch Loki work, because he refuses to abandon his brother now that he knows the truth. Loki experiences the end of each day just as Thor does, and he remembers just as well. Thor has no intention of leaving Loki to be crushed alone.

And perhaps he does not quite trust his brother enough to turn his back. It seems this is a lesson Thor can learn after all.

"You could at least pretend to stare at something else," Loki grouses at him once, back in the recesses of Asgard's great library.

"I didn't think it bothered you," Thor counters tiredly. He's long since given up any pretense of not staring.

"That was before I knew what you were thinking." Loki doesn't even look up from the heavy tome spread before him. "Now that I know you'd just as soon bend me over this table as let me work, your attention is a bit more distracting."

The expected chill doesn't wedge beneath Thor's skin at the accusation. Instead there's a flush of reluctant warmth, stuttering through him and heating his face. A vivid image flashes in his head, memory and greedy imagination combined: Loki bent over that very tome, panting and gasping as pages tear beneath his fingers—as Thor ruts into him with ferocity bordering on violence.

"Stop that," Loki snaps, still not raising his eyes.

"Then do not say such things." Thor's voice rumbles with heat, and there's no masking the arousal in his words. He wants Loki. He doesn't know how to pretend otherwise now that his secret is known.

"Are you reading my thoughts?" he asks, suddenly curious. It seems unlikely. If Loki could see into his mind, Thor's assault would hardly have come as a surprise.

Loki shakes his head, and at last meets Thor's eyes with an unimpressed glower.

"Why would I need to do that when you're so painfully transparent?"

A pause falls between them, long and uncomfortable. Thor can't figure out how to break his gaze from Loki's now that he's at last drawn his brother's attention.

"Do I disgust you?" Thor asks into the library's dusty quiet.

"You bore me," Loki snorts, and returns to his book.

- — - — - — - — -

Thor is slowly learning to navigate the libraries Loki leads him to, not just on Asgard but scattered throughout the realms. Anywhere useful knowledge may lurk, Loki searches and Thor follows, and Thor has learned to decipher meaning in titles and languages he once would not have recognized. He can follow directions and assist in gathering the materials Loki needs. How long has he been trapped that such new knowledge has managed to seep into his brain?

Thor finds it increasingly difficult to keep his hands to himself when Loki puts himself constantly within reach. He finds his imaginings growing more vivid by the day. The more carefully he does not touch Loki, the more desperately he wants to.

And damn him, but Loki knows it. There's sly mockery in his eyes whenever Thor struggles to curb even the most innocent of touches.

There are no innocent touches between them now. Thor's actions have indelibly seen to that.

"Such self-restraint. I'm impressed," Loki mocks him openly once, passing close enough that his sleeve brushes against Thor's bare arm. The aisle is narrow, but not so narrow that Loki couldn't keep more space between them if he chose.

"There," Loki says, startling Thor from his brooding silence. "That one. Can you reach it for me?" He's looking at a thin scroll sitting alone, just above his head. He clearly can't hope to reach it himself with his arms already precariously laden.

Thor approaches with apprehension, not of Loki but of the way even this benign proximity heats his skin. He reaches for the scroll, and the paper whispers as his fingers close around it.

He sets it atop Loki's armful without a word, and steps too quickly back. The mockery in Loki's eyes flashes brighter at his retreat.

"Thank you." Then Loki moves past him again, towards the bench at the other end of the alcove. This time not just his sleeve, but also the quick-smooth heat of his body press deliberately against Thor on his way past.

Thor inhales sharply and closes his eyes, and somehow he manages to clench his hands into fists instead of knocking the scrolls from Loki's arms and shoving him against the wall.

- — - — - — - — -

Loki continues his maddening dance, his constant, manipulative proximity testing Thor's resistance at every turn. He offers no overt invitation, but he puts himself constantly within reach, constantly on the edge of too close, until Thor's head is spinning and he can't remember how to breathe.

They are chaos and crumbling willpower. They are a disaster waiting to happen.

Thor makes it nearly six more days before he snaps and knocks a heavy stack of books from Loki's arms. Loki looks unsurprised, but he doesn't quickly enough by half, and Thor pins him to a broad pillar of smooth stone.

He claims Loki's mouth with savage satisfaction, holding his brother's head still between his hands and forcing Loki to accept the deep demand of his kiss. He wants to touch Loki. He wants to tear the layers of clothing from Loki's body and lift him off the floor, that he might find a place for himself between Loki's thighs. He wants to enter Loki right here against this pillar, and let gravity impale him so deeply on Thor's length that even when the day repeats, Loki can't but remember the feeling of Thor's claim within him.

Thor wants these things with a raging, violent hunger, and he releases Loki's mouth in order to bite a stinging trail of kisses down his brother's throat.

"You lasted longer than I expected," Loki says, and he sounds winded.

"Stop talking," Thor growls, and bites down harder. Loki twists in his hands and very nearly escapes, but Thor is quicker, or at the very least stronger, and thumps him back against the pillar.

"You don't really want me quiet," Loki taunts breathlessly. "You've always appreciated my silver tongue." A quiet laugh, then, low and vicious. "Or perhaps you'd see it used for other purposes."

Thor freezes instantly at what Loki is suggesting. He'd never thought it, never once considered.

But oh, he is considering it now.

Loki's mouth, so smooth and dangerous with words. His lying tongue, practiced and potent. And as quick as that, new desire twists beneath Thor's skin. He wants to put Loki on his knees. He wants to see just what tricks his brother's clever mouth might conjure with the weight of Thor's arousal on his tongue.

He wants, and the force of his desire hits him so hard that he steps back instead. He takes his hands off Loki with a jerk, and he stumbles unsteadily away.

Loki's eyes follow him, wary but knowing, and Thor's face heats with shame. To be so easily manipulated when he has no idea what Loki himself wants… The frustration should be enough to temper his arousal, but in the end Thor has to sulk away to a different corner of the room and force himself calm.

He can't go far. He needs to keep Loki in sight, even though keeping Loki in sight is exactly his problem. The humorless paradox doesn't escape him.

But he puts as much distance between them as he dares, and gradually, with difficulty, he masters himself. By the time he's regained some semblance of control, Loki has gathered his books from the floor and set back to work.

Thor approaches with cautious reluctance and sits several feet away.

- — - — - — - — -

"This isn't working," Thor announces, after so many cycles have passed that he's lost count a dozen times.

"Thank you for your input. I had, in fact, noticed." Loki's voice and face are perfectly matched in their tired irritation. He sits on a smooth floor, red stones in a spiraling mosaic; the image they form is hidden beneath a scattered avalanche of paper. Information. Thor can read more of these texts now when he peers over his brother's shoulder, though the concepts are still far beyond him. He sits outside the circle of Loki's work, cross-legged and watching as agitation gradually tightens Loki's shoulders.

Thor shakes his head, struggling against a swell of hopelessness in his chest. It isn't possible that there's no answer to be found, but Loki's growing restlessness leaves little else to conclude.

"I don't understand." He stares at the way Loki's expression pinches and darkens. "Your cleverness is unmatched. You've had ample time to master this problem. How is it we are still trapped?"

Loki gives a wordless snarl, loud and tight with wrath, and surges to his feet. He strides across the circle of books and papers and scrolls, heedless of the way ancient texts crackle and tear beneath his feet. He strides away from Thor, towards the window at the far side of the tower, and stares out at the horizon. His fingers curl rigidly around the stone sill, and his posture screams with impotent frustration.

Thor stands more slowly, hesitant to approach his brother when so much violence sings in that stance.

"Loki," he says, and for once he finds himself glad of his own heavy gait. Sneaking up on Loki now would ensure a violent response, when all Thor wants is answers. He nears Loki cautiously, and he keeps his hands firmly at his sides.

Loki won't turn to meet his eyes, and if Thor didn't know better he'd think it was guilt stiffening his brother's spine.

"It won't work," Loki says at last, taking his hands from the sill and dropping them to his sides. "There must be a solution, but nothing I try has the slightest effect."

"You've attempted counterspells?" Thor asks, surprised. He hasn't noticed his brother working such magic.

Loki glares at Thor over his shoulder, miffed disbelief in his expression.

"Yes. Counterspells. Neutralizing charms. Hexes and curses. I've tried every form of sorcery I can get my hands on, and some that are pure guesswork."

"Why have I not seen you do these things?"

"You expect fireworks and gaudy displays. The magic I would weave is subtler than that."

"But it hasn't worked."

"No," Loki growls. Then collects himself visibly, forces an unnatural calmness into his limbs and posture. "No. It hasn't worked."

"There must be a reason," Thor protests, feeling helpless and desperate.

"Of course there's a reason," Loki scoffs. "And a simple one, at that. My attempts to undo this sorcery will never succeed, because my own magic is already entangled in the trap."

"I don't understand." Thor is staring so hard at the back of his brother's head, it's a wonder Loki doesn't flinch beneath the weight of his attention. "You did not cast the binding spell that began all this."

"No. But I did cast the reversal of time that sent it awry."

Cold floods Thor's chest, and he takes an involuntary step closer. Another lie. A single lie, so obvious in retrospect, so staggering in its implications.

And Thor thought he had at last learned to mistrust his brother.

"Why are you telling me this now?" There seems no purpose to the confession. There's certainly no way for Thor to turn this new knowledge to more positive ends.

"Because if we're going to be trapped forever, the knowledge is of little use." Loki shrugs tightly. "And because if our situation is truly hopeless, you have a right to know the truth."

Thor must have taken another step, because he's in Loki's space now, crowding so near behind him he feels nothing but Loki's warmth along his front. Questions crowd his tongue, but he doesn't know how to express them coherently, and even if he could he has no way of forcing Loki to answer.

But now that Loki has begun his confession, he seems intent upon finishing it. His voice is soft when he broaches the explanations Thor craves.

"I didn't have a plan, whatever you might think. But I couldn't let them seal my magic as Odin intended." Loki shifts almost imperceptibly towards Thor, as though seeking reassurance. "I suppose I panicked. When the binding spell began, I responded without thought. Time is not to be trifled with lightly, but I thought if I could just go back. Just a matter of days, months, it didn’t matter how long. If events could change, even slightly, then perhaps I could…"

He trails off, and Thor struggles to keep his silence. Loki breathes a soft, angry sound, and then he's leaning against Thor, his back a warm line along Thor's front. Thor wants to wrap his arms around Loki and hold tightly to him, but he senses the folly of that urge. Loki would certainly turn this moment into a confrontation then, rather than… whatever it is they're sharing right now.

"The spells interacted poorly," Loki continues. "My attempt to rewind the clock tangled inextricably, and destructively, with the binding that had already begun."

"And instead of trapping your magic as Father intended, the spell ensnared you in a single repeating day."

"And you with me," Loki sighs tiredly. Then pauses in a way that feels almost hesitant. "I didn't expect you to follow that so quickly. I was prepared to draw diagrams."

Thor can't help but laugh, though the sound falls flat and short.

"Contrary to your limited opinion of me, I can be taught."

"Yes," Loki agrees, some dawning consideration in his voice. "It seems you can."

- — - — - — - — -

"Have you decided what you'll do if we get out of this?" Loki asks him once, following Thor out of the dungeons at the start of another day, the same as the hundred before it. "Do you have it in you to let me go?"

Thor has no answer, and Loki doesn't press him to choose.

Chapter Text

Loki gives up on research for a time, and begins testing less subtle magics instead. Chaos and curses, spells that shimmer like lightning and set Loki's eyes aglow with menacing power. One particular spell leaves sickly dark veins crisscrossing his skin like poison, and he collapses in Thor's arms with a quiet grunt of pain.

Thor is relieved his brother doesn’t try that spell again.

Loki tries everything he can think of and then some, but it never makes a difference. Each day passes with the same vacant hours, and ends with their immediate surroundings shattering violently on top of them. Thor thinks he's died more than once. He thinks Loki has died in his arms, but it's impossible to be sure.

"There must be something I'm missing," Loki hisses, agitated and pacing the long wall of his prison. Thor comes for him every morning, but today Loki has not dragged him elsewhere.

Thor remains silent. He’s learned it’s wiser to hold his tongue when he has nothing to contribute.

"No puzzle is entirely without solution. There must be a way. There must be something." Loki pauses midstride, near enough that from where Thor sits he can see shivering frustration in his brother's sharp posture.

Thor rises now. He approaches Loki with caution, but when he grasps Loki by the arms he does it without reticence or apology.

"There is an answer," Thor says. "And you will find it."

But Loki only snarls and jerks out of his hands, turning his back and storming away.

- — - — - — - — -

Dark futility gradually closes in, and Thor feels the tension between them rise like a physical barrier. Loki spends six days barely speaking to him, then three offering nothing but wordless snarls and angry glares.

Thor wants to calm his brother. He wants to offer what comfort he can. But even if Loki would accept such sentiment, Thor finds himself less and less equipped to play a tranquil role in their exchanges. He feels claustrophobic—confined and angry—and he is tired of watching Loki crushed at the end of each day.

Perhaps it’s inevitable that they should fall to violence.

They both want a fight. How else are they to vent their slowly accumulating anger, in a world where nothing stays and nothing counts? But Thor doesn’t trust himself to touch Loki, so it's Loki who takes the first swing.

He doesn't attack in the prison cell. That would put him at an instant and obvious disadvantage. No, he leads Thor away from Asgard instead, and Thor follows willingly. Vanaheim: a sparse forest of narrow birches, and underfoot a floor of moss and grass and noisy leaves.

"Set down your hammer, Odinson," Loki murmurs softly.

And though he doesn't know why Loki asks it—or perhaps because he suspects all too well—Thor complies. When Loki strikes him, it seems the first natural thing to have happened in months, and Thor's hands curl into fists.

They fight without weapons. Loki's tricks make him a challenge despite Thor's strength, and more than once Thor has to remind himself that calling Mjölnir to his hand would be cheating. They bleed little—this is but a fight of fists and magic—but their exertions flatten a wide clearing around them as the sun creeps lower in the sky.

When at last Thor successfully pins Loki to the ground, there are still three hours until Asgard's sun will set.

Loki pants heavily beneath him, winded from battle, and Thor's chest rises and falls in quick breaths. He feels exultant for a moment, until he remembers the crushing futility that brought them here. But even then, there is Loki beneath him. Clothing torn in patches, face flushed with exertion, eyes wide and bright. His wrists twist idly where Thor has caught them both in a single, restraining hand. Loki’s throat works in a swallow beneath Thor's other hand, where his fingers have curled around Loki's neck like a promise.

In the heat of battle, Thor had almost forgotten how badly he wants his brother beneath him in other ways.

Loki stills under his hands, falling deliberately quiet, and Thor knows Loki has followed the direction of his thoughts. He watches Thor with narrowed eyes. Thor's arousal is aching heat, and his head spins with how badly he wants to touch.

"Would you use me so cruelly after exhausting me in combat?" The words carry venom and accusation, but Thor doesn't flinch from his brother's tone.

"I intend no cruelty, Brother."

Loki glares harder, but offers no protest as Thor's hand shifts from his neck to curl around his jaw. Thor’s touch is gentle as he leans closer, settling his weight atop his brother and tightening his grasp on Loki's wrists.

"Do not bite me," he says, and then kisses Loki.

The kiss begins a gentle one, a simple press of lips. But when Loki obeys Thor's admonishment, Thor presses for more, tasting Loki's mouth, tracing Loki's tongue with his own. He claims a deeper kiss, and Loki offers no resistance.

Thor nips lightly at Loki's lower lip when at last he releases his brother from the kiss. He tries to read meaning in Loki's eyes, but the shadows are impenetrable. He nuzzles at Loki's jaw, and Loki turns his head away: evasion or deliberate baring of his throat, or (knowing Loki) perhaps both. Loki's neck is distracting temptation, and Thor feels the tremble beneath his lips, his tongue, as he kisses a path along pale flesh.

At the base of Loki's throat, he presses a harder kiss, sucking deliberate claim into the skin and then teasing the spot with his teeth. Loki breathes a strangled sound beneath him, and Thor bites down harder.

He hasn't the patience to render either Loki or himself naked. Between his own armor and Loki's elegantly layered clothing, he has barely the patience to tear away the fabric in his immediate way. Leggings come to pieces, fabric and leather splitting beneath Thor's hands, and then he strives against his own fastenings, baring himself to the cool air of Vanaheim. He quickly pins Loki again when his brother makes a half-hearted attempt to wriggle free.

He grasps Loki's thighs with strong hands, tugging his brother towards him—towards Thor's own impatiently bared cock. And then Thor pauses, just long enough to see what Loki will do.

Loki falls still, like a startled breath. Like an unspoken question. He falls still like he doesn't understand Thor's game.

Not like permission at all: but Thor draws a sharp breath and thrusts into him anyway.

Loki cries out as Thor enters him. His entire body arches off the ground, his fingers scrambling for purchase that can't be found in the dry scattered leaves and moss. He is warm and tight around Thor's arousal, muscles spasming in a way that makes Thor groan aloud. Thor ruts deeper, filling Loki, gradually impaling him with unyielding flesh.

Thor was mindless with his lust last time. He was eager and lost and desperate to move.

This time, he stills. He forces himself completely motionless as Loki's body trembles around and beneath him. He takes the time to look down between their bodies, past Loki's own evident arousal where it curves above the torn fabric of his tunic. Loki’s thighs tremble as his body strains to accommodate the impressive girth of Thor's cock.

Thor watches his brother, rapt, as he draws out and then drives back in, forcing his cock deeper as he tugs Loki's body flush with his own.

Loki's body trembles beneath Thor's hands, and Thor drops forward to kiss his brother's startled mouth. Loki gasps when Thor wraps strong arms around him; Loki’s hands grab awkwardly at Thor's biceps, and he allows the possessive sweep of Thor's tongue.

Like this, Thor could almost believe his brother willing, and the thought stutters his hips. Without pulling out, his cock jostles inside Loki's body, and Thor swallows the startled moan from Loki's lips.

But Thor can't hold himself patient and gentle forever. He can't manage the trick for more than a few minutes, as it turns out, before he's pounding every desperate yearning he has into Loki's body with the rough rhythm of his cock.

Loki's orgasm spills between them long before Thor finds his own release, and in that moment, somehow—impossibly—Thor finds the strength to once again fall still.

Loki stares up at him with pleasure-hazed eyes. His fingers hold loosely to Thor's shoulders, and he looks vexed at once again having to accommodate the rigid, motionless heat of Thor's cock.

"Why are you—?" Loki begins to ask, but Thor silences him with a kiss—long and deep and very, very thorough. When he draws back from the kiss (though not from the tight heat of Loki's body), Loki looks even more confused.

"I want to know how many lovers you have taken," Thor says. He means his voice to sound commanding, though breathlessly-aroused is all he manages.

"No," Loki disagrees, managing a sneer despite his own recent release. "You want to know how many lovers have taken me." Thor's hips jolt against Loki's body, drawing a startled grunt from Loki's lips.

"Tell me,” Thor orders.

"That's none of your business," Loki growls, shoving at Thor's chest and twisting beneath him, as though he might escape despite Thor's pinning weight, Thor's hands, the line of Thor's cock still spearing him.

"You have learned my only secret," Thor says, desperate for an answer. "I would know this one thing. Loki, please."

Loki thrashes beneath him, and Thor can't help it. He thrusts, roughly, out and then in. A crude rhythm, deep and unrelenting. Loki's spent arousal takes a renewed interest where it's pressed between their bodies, even as Loki struggles ineffectually to escape.

"Tell me," Thor repeats, pulse rushing in his ears. Loki's body arches beneath him and the resistance melts from Loki's limbs. Loki's hips roll to meet Thor's thrusts now. Their ragged breaths mingle in the overheated air between them as Thor urges Loki's body to the brink a second time.

He's nearly there. They both are. The precipice looms, bright and exquisite, and Thor can read in Loki's eyes that neither of them can last much longer. Thor stills on a deep thrust, a cruel ceasefire, and Loki cries out in wordless frustration.

"Tell me," Thor growls, and Loki shouts, "No one," and the forest falls instantly, impossibly silent.

Thor braces himself on one arm, body humming with the need to move, the need to finish what they've started. He can't breathe for all the unfinished energy coursing through him, but he holds Loki still and stares down into his brother's eyes.

"Say that again," Thor whispers raggedly.

Loki glares up at him, looking startled and betrayed and furious. He stares at Thor so long Thor nearly gives up, nearly returns to the rhythm he's barely resisting, because his release is so maddeningly close.

But then Loki inhales sharply and closes his eyes, and he says, "No one else has ever taken me like this." His voice is shaky, and for a moment after he speaks, all Thor can hear is his own pulse in his ears.

"I am the first," Thor breathes. His chest is a mess of awe and guilt and shame, and of desperate, possessive exhilaration.

"Finish it!" Loki snarls, jerking in Thor's arms and tossing his head angrily.

It takes only three more thrusts for Thor to find his release, and Loki falls with him.

- — - — - — - — -

Loki is already pacing when Thor strides into his prison.

"Perhaps I'm looking at this the wrong way," Loki says. "Perhaps the key to this quandary is not my power, but yours."

Thor doesn't understand, and he stares at Loki with a face that makes his lack of comprehension abundantly clear. What use is Mjölnir if Thor has no physical target? But Loki is still talking, and Thor listens despite his incredulity.

"My own magic is tied up in this quandary. It forms an intrinsic part of our confinement. But you…" Loki's expression turns distant and considering. "Perhaps you could shift the balance."

"I am no sorcerer," Thor protests, approaching Loki with wary steps.

"But you are of Asgard." Loki's gaze sharpens into something viciously assessing at Thor's approach, and the prison’s subdued light reflects strangely in his eyes. "And you are the son of Odin. Surely you possess the raw ability. You lack conviction and focus, but perhaps desperation will suffice."

"You cannot be proposing to teach me magic." Thor gapes, suddenly terrified that the unceasing cycles have broken his brother's mind. Thor remembers all too clearly their childhood, the mental lessons in which Loki excelled, quickly learning to craft magic into infinite forms with infinite uses. Thor remembers watching, jealous and awed, and how even with Loki's help he would grow frustrated and give up. He remembers how soon thereafter he took up a warrior's training and never looked back.

"And why not?" Loki crosses his arms and gives Thor an impatient look. "Surely you're not scared of a little brainwork."

"Of course not." Thor is not scared. Skeptical, certainly. But it's not fear that renders him all too aware of his own limitations. Tricks are Loki's realm. What use has Thor ever had for any magic but Mjölnir's thunder in his hand?

But Loki's eyes narrow knowingly, and Thor realizes there is no evading the decision his brother has abruptly come to. This bodes poorly for the cycles to come; hundreds, perhaps more, until Loki is satisfied that Thor is simply incapable of accomplishing what Loki is suggesting.

"Neutralizing spells are simple enough," Loki says. "Given time, even you should be able to learn. And while we may have few other resources, time we have in abundance."

- — - — - — - — -

A dozen cycles. A hundred. Thor thinks his brother will give up, but Loki is stubborn.

"You are not trying," Loki snarls each time Thor fails.

The condemnation is unfair. Thor is trying. Perhaps at first his efforts were not so earnest as they ought have been, but Loki has kept at him and Thor has grown sincere in his attempts to learn what his brother would teach him.

Alfheim has become intimately familiar in the past hundred cycles. Thor and Loki waste little time each morning in making their way into quiet seclusion in a forest the elves have long abandoned, and it is here that Thor studies and practices. It is here that Thor fails, again and again, to summon even a simple flame to his hand.

"Again," Loki snaps, and Thor draws his focus inward as his brother has shown him. He closes his eyes and clenches his jaw and searches for the elusive, winding threads of his own magic.

He tries. And he shivers. And again nothing happens.

- — - — - — - — -

Thor has no milestone for counting the true passage of time, not when the days run together in an endless sequence of unbroken repetition. Each day is spent the same, with Loki explaining, coaxing, teaching, admonishing—with Loki's frustrated voice in Thor’s ear, urging him to do better.

It’s well beyond a year before Thor manages to summon the flame to his hand, and even after he opens his eyes he finds he can't believe it.

The tiny fire spins above his palm, crackling heat that warms his skin but doesn't burn. He can feel the tenuous strands of his own magic, twining deep and drawing forth a power he's never known to touch. It's like a shimmering source of heat in his blood, or perhaps in his bones—inside him, somehow, so deep he can't believe he's never felt it before.

"Yes," Loki breathes with relief. "Like that."

Thor stares at the tiny fire, and wonders. He reaches for the tendrils of magic within him and urges more power to the surface. The fire surges higher in his hand, brighter, its hue shifting from a natural crackling orange to a deep, startling purple.

It goes out with a snap, and Thor gasps at the sensation, as though the fire has retracted through the pores of his skin.

Loki laughs, and it sounds nearly genuine. Loki's eyes aren't without bitterness, but there's amusement in them, too, and a hint of wry disbelief.

"Yes," Loki says. "That was to be the second lesson. But then, you've always been an overachiever."

- — - — - — - — -

Thor learns more quickly after that. Like a dam breaking in a corner of his mind, new awareness rushes beneath his skin. Magic becomes a physical sensation. Loki casts illusions, and though Thor can't see through them with his eyes, he can feel his brother's power woven into the images and he knows what he's seeing is not real.

Loki begins to teach Thor how to negate another's magic. It's about balance and counterbalance, Loki explains. It's about unraveling a spell's basic equilibrium and blowing away the pieces. It's about both power and subtlety. One without the other is useless.

For many cycles, these words go over Thor's head. But eventually he understands. When he can dispel Loki's more basic illusions, Loki has him practice against stronger charms. Disguises, summonings, curses. Conjurations of complex energies that cause nearly as much destruction as the catastrophe that closes in on them and ends every single day.

Thor slowly learns to take even those spells apart, and only then does he dare to hope that Loki may be right.

- — - — - — - — -

"It won't be enough."

Thor follows Loki's voice, and finds his brother sitting on a low branch almost as big around as the very trunk of the tree it attaches to.

"But you were right," Thor says. "You have taught me so much already. Surely it is only a matter of time."

"No." Loki shakes his head. He doesn't look angry. He doesn't even look all that frustrated. His face is a shadowed wash of pensive resignation. Thor crosses the uneven ground and sits beside his brother on the branch.

"Why not?"

"You may well master the necessary subtlety," Loki admits, with only a hint of reluctance. "You are well along the path. But in terms of raw power…" He trails off, eyes going distant as he raises his knees to his chest and wraps his arms around them. The motion should make his perch awkward and precarious, but he looks as natural as always.

"What of raw power?" Thor prompts after a moment's silence.

Loki shakes his head and returns his attention to Thor.

"I thought that, once I taught you to access your own magic, you might have power enough to do what is necessary." An old bitterness creeps into his voice as he adds, "You've always outshone me so easily. It seemed likely you would do the same here as well."

"But I've disappointed you," Thor observes, ignoring Loki's bitter tone as well as his own unhappy disappointment. "Or you underestimated your own strength."

"Something like that." Loki sighs tiredly and unbends his legs. "It's possible you would be able to neutralize the spell if it were only my magic you had to contend with. I'm not certain, mind you. But it is possible."

"But yours is only one source of power binding us." Thor understands now the theory behind their circumstances. He is coming to understand even the basic mechanics of how they are trapped. He can follow Loki's reasoning easily enough.

"Six sorcerers, Thor. The strongest in the realms, excepting myself."

Thor understands better now, what it means that, in order to seal Loki's magic, Odin had to call in six of the most powerful sorcerers in existence. He finds himself newly in awe of Loki as he considers this. He finds himself wary of his brother in ways he's never considered before.

"Your magic is potent,” Loki says. “But it won't be enough when you are so hopelessly outnumbered.”

"Then what do we do?" Thor asks, as helplessness closes in anew.

Loki is silent for a while, attention turned coolly inward. The Alfheim sun has nearly reached its zenith when at last he speaks.

"I will think of something."

- — - — - — - — -

"Mjölnir is the answer," Loki announces. It feels like weeks later. Thor wonders if it has in fact been longer.

"Mjölnir's power does not come from me." Thor takes his hammer in hand and takes comfort in the warm, familiar weight. "She is a force unto herself."

"And in so being, she may prove our salvation." Loki's steps carry him closer, until he's so near Thor can almost feel the heat of him, can see the faint flecks of green in Loki's blue eyes. Thor has not beheld Loki so closely since their sparring devolved into frantic coupling, so many cycles past.

He startles when Loki strokes two fingers along Mjölnir's intricate engravings. He can feel the touch like a ghosting heat, almost as though Loki's fingers are tracing patterns directly into Thor's skin.

"Are you saying I could harness this power for a different purpose?" Thor finds it difficult to focus with Loki's fingertips pressing distracting trails along Mjölnir's edge. Every passing second increases the intensity with which Thor feels those sensations as his own, and the contact is making it difficult to keep his hands off of Loki as he's managed for so long.

"Mjölnir heeds your commands, does she not?" Loki’s fingers ghost along the hammer's shaft, then curl loosely around the tight leather, beside Thor's hand. Thor shudders, but he nods, and Loki continues, "You've a symbiosis of sorts with your weapon. Perhaps if you ask nicely, she will come to your aid." Then Loki's grip tightens around Mjölnir's shaft, and any coherent thread of conversation is lost.

Thor growls and grabs for Loki with his free hand, fisting his fingers cruelly in Loki's hair and yanking his brother against him. He angles Loki’s face sharply towards him but somehow, miraculously, restrains himself from claiming the kiss he craves. Loki stares up at him, innocent shock in his eyes, but Thor knows better than to give credence to that expression.

"Tread carefully, Brother." Thor barely recognizes his own voice, deep and strangled as it sounds. He aches with wanting to touch, and Loki has not yet loosened his hold on Mjölnir's shaft. The point of contact hums with dangerous potential.

"Are you threatening me?" Loki's tone sounds cautious enough, but Thor doesn't think he's imagining the triumphant purr laced beneath the words.

"I do not threaten. I offer frank warning." Thor jerks Loki tighter against his chest. "If you are not careful, you will unleash a beast you have made it clear you do not welcome."

"The beast of your carnal ardor, you mean," Loki sneers. He loosens his grip on the leather of Mjölnir's shaft, but he does not let go.

"You test me sorely," Thor breathes on a ragged whisper. "You deliberately torment me when you know how I struggle not to touch you."

"Is your willpower really so tenuous?" Loki brushes his fingers in a taunting motion over firm leather, and Thor grunts and lets the hammer slip from his grasp. Mjölnir thuds mutely to the forest floor, barely making a sound against the soft earth, and Thor grasps Loki about the waist, dragging their bodies flush.

"Do not tempt me," Thor hisses, giving Loki a single, rough shake. "Have I not already violated you twice? Do you think I would balk at doing it again?"

"And then why stop at three?" Loki chuckles with scorn. "Why not have me every way you can imagine? No one will ever know if you defile me a hundred times. Or a thousand. You cannot be punished for sins that time itself will unwrite."

Thor lets go of Loki and jerks back a step, a wild growl rending the quiet of the forest. There is fierce temptation in Loki's words, despite the taunting tone. There's base lust tightening in Thor's groin and urging his cock to attention, heedless of the shame and guilt that accompany his arousal. He cannot know the intricacies of Loki's quicksilver mind, but Loki has made it clear enough he doesn't welcome Thor's advances. Why else would he offer such fierce resistance to every touch? Why else would his words singe and curl with such loathing mockery?

"I would not have you unwilling," Thor whispers. Noble intentions, but far too late; a soft 'again' murmurs venomously through his mind.

"Even if it is the only way you will have me?"

Thor turns and walks away, because retreating is all he can think to do.

Chapter Text

Gradually—so gradually it physically pains him at times—Thor learns to access Mjölnir's magic as if it were his own. She gives of herself willingly when he understands how to ask, and he learns to weave their power together, a tangle so potent he wonders what more it could accomplish beyond the task he is hoping to achieve.

He wonders when Loki will deem him ready.

"I will inevitably regret teaching you these things," Loki informs him dryly. From the weight of his glare it seems he already does. There may be no alternative if they want to escape this trap, but clearly Loki would prefer Thor not to possess such a comprehension of magic. Loki’s stubborn antagonism is hardly served by teaching Thor to access such power.

Thor doesn't bother pointing out that if Loki would accept him as ally (as friend, or perhaps even brother), he would have no cause for such regrets.

- — - — - — - — -

"Today," Loki says at last, and anticipation shivers along Thor's skin. "Today you will use what I have taught you and unmake this cage."

It’s early morning, and Thor has hurried to Loki's prison after waking with the sunrise in his face. He tries not to think of the moments before that: the jagged, splintered pillar embedded in Loki's stomach; the mess of blood on the stone, the floor, Thor's hands. He tries not to think of those things, but only by looking into Loki's calm, unbloodied face can Thor banish the stubborn images.

"And then what?" Thor asks, hovering closer than he should. He wants to absorb Loki's heat and use it as insurance against the fears clogging his throat.

"I don't know," Loki admits. "But come. Sit. We have something of a wait ahead of us."

Because they can only make their move once the casting begins. They have the entire day to wait, here in Loki's vaulted cell, until sunset calls them to the throne room above. Anxiety flits like ill-tempered insects in Thor's stomach, but he follows Loki's example and sits on the cool stone floor.

He crosses his legs and watches his brother, and wills the day to pass.

- — - — - — - — -

The throne room is bright with the warm tones of sunset, quiet despite the assembled citizens of Asgard. The silence is oppressive, heavy with expectation, and Thor finds himself angry. How dare they look on his brother with such heavy judgment, when Loki already stands before them in anticipation of such cruel punishment?

The first time he and Loki experienced this day, Thor wore Mjölnir at his hip.

This time, he carries her in hand, reassured by the warm hum of power she offers at his touch. His other hand guides Loki towards the throne, palm flat at the small of Loki's back.

Golden chains clink between Loki's wrists, and he moves with the tense precision of a cocked arrow waiting to fly.

The six sorcerers assemble in their semicircle at the base of the dais. When they join their hands, Thor is aware of the collecting rush of energy in a vivid, tangible way. He wonders now how he could ever have stood by and not felt it.

Then, silent as before, the sorcerers begin to craft their magic. Thor itches to step in now, but Loki has more than once admonished him against impatience. If Thor moves too soon, no good will come of their efforts. Either nothing will happen—the cycle will simply end and repeat as every time before—or worse, Thor's own magic will become a part of the amalgam, and render their cage unbreakable.

So Thor waits, even as he feels Loki shudder. Even as Loki's eyes fall closed in an expression that looks alarmingly like surrender.

Then Thor feels the familiar pulse of Loki's magic, intimate along his skin and subtle beneath the rising glow of the binding spell. The binding is blunt force, skillfully crafted but bright and obvious. Loki's casting is sleek and subtle, nearly imperceptible but for the fact that Thor is standing so close and knows exactly what he's looking for.

He recognizes the instant the spells find each other and interlock, a surge, and then a backlash so potent he gasps aloud.

The shaking begins, and Thor knows it's time. The nearest pillars rumble threateningly, then the walls beyond them, then the floor. The sorcerers' eyes open in eerie unison. Odin rises to his feet as Thor grabs Loki by the elbow and shoves his brother roughly behind him.

He doesn't speak; he needs no incantation. He needs only the reservoir of power deep inside him, and the twining rush of Mjölnir's strength joining his. He reaches for the jagged knot where the spells have combined and gone wrong. He grasps with pure instinct, doing his best not to think but to feel, as Mjölnir glows and thunders in his hand, and his skin crackles with raw, surging power.

A pillar collapses near the eastern wall, then a second, and there's a cacophonous clatter as portions of the ceiling fall and shatter to pieces. The floor itself has begun to fracture, making it difficult to maintain his footing, but Thor keeps his focus. He throws everything he has at the messy knot of binding magic, tearing at it with all the vicious intensity he can bring to bear.

Slowly, though the physical destruction has gone too far to stop entirely, the shaking ceases. The magic at last unravels beneath Thor's assault; and closer than the screams of frightened citizens, Thor can hear the sorcerers shouting. None of them resists as he tears their spell to pieces.

Now that Loki’s magic is no longer trapped in the contours of the binding spell, Thor can’t feel it. He can't feel anything beyond the searing wave of power as everything at last falls apart and the throne room falls still.

Thor realizes only belatedly that he's on his knees. His eyes are closed, and when he opens them he's kneeling in a charred circle of floor. Smoke still rises grudgingly from the stone. Mjölnir sings of victory in his hand, and Thor smiles despite the sudden weariness weighing him down. He feels a thousand eyes on him, but he has thoughts only for Loki, and he rises swiftly, turning in search of his brother.

Loki is already gone.

The golden chains and manacles lie carelessly scattered, half covered by stone and metal debris. There's blood on the floor, a small pool of it and a crimson handprint beside. Enough blood to set vicious fear twisting in Thor’s chest. Loki bled, he fell, and Thor wasn’t there to catch him.

He has bare moments to feel the guilt of failure before exhaustion rushes in around him and everything falls away.

Chapter Text

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.