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worse than I've ever been

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There are sounds of celebration coming from the main hall of the palace. Loki has heard them all afternoon while sitting in the gardens, resting under the shade of a large oak, a thick book in his hands. Even now, as the sun makes its slow descent toward the horizon, the feast continues. The shouting and laughter may not be as frequent as before, but it doesn’t stop Loki from taking notice each and every time the sound reaches him.

It’s not that he feels left out. He doesn’t care about the newly-trained warriors of Asgard, doesn’t care for heavy combat at all. That’s most definitely Thor’s area, while Loki prefers his knowledge and magic.

The problem is, it’s not just Thor who excels at combat. Each and every man of Asgard is expected to take up arms and rush into battle when the time comes. Somehow, nobody seems to mind when Sif picks up her blade but when Loki prefers spells and strategy, it’s unacceptable.

Thor is at the celebratory feast. By extension, Loki should be there too. The two of them are never apart when they can help it, but Thor had taken him by the shoulders that morning, looking everywhere but into Loki’s eyes when he’d said, “Perhaps you should not come.”

Loki does not care when others judge him or mutter about him behind his back. But to have Thor join their numbers . . .

The thought is pushed from his mind when the sun glints off familiar armour, catching Loki’s eye. Thor is walking through the garden towards him, red cape flowing proudly behind him. He has a sword hanging at his hip and a wicker basket in his hand.

“Brother,” Thor says, his face lit up with a broad smile. “I missed you at the feast. I wish you could have come.”

“No matter,” Loki murmurs, his gaze dropping back to his book.

“I brought you a present,” Thor continues, sitting down on the soft grass beside his brother. “I saved these for you.”

Loki looks into the half-empty basket of strawberries and then at Thor’s red fingers and his lips. “Saved them, you say?”

Thor grins, pushing the basket towards Loki. “Well, they taste wonderful.”

Snatching one up before Thor can, Loki bites into it. The fruit is always delicious at this time of year, juicy and sweet. Loki hums in approval, licking his lips.

“You see?” Thor asks, laughing a little. His breath smells faintly of mead, which doesn’t surprise Loki at all. “I knew you would love them.”

“Thank you,” Loki murmurs, pulling the basket out of Thor’s hands.

“Now, Loki…” Thor protests, reaching for the basket again. “Surely, you want to share them with me? To truly express your gratitude?”

Rolling his eyes, Loki keeps the strawberries out of Thor’s reach. “Ever the benevolent one, aren’t you? Here.”

Picking up a berry, Loki holds it to Thor’s lips. With a grin that makes Loki want to shiver, Thor opens his mouth. His lips brush over Loki’s fingers and Thor hums deep in his throat.

“Thor,” Loki warns, his voice quiet. “We’re outside, in the gardens. Where anyone can see.”

“Who will see?” Thor asks. “They are all inside, feasting. Everyone but you, Loki. You should have been there. Next time, you will be. I swear.”

“Stop it,” Loki mutters, snatching his hand away when Thor nuzzles into it. “I don’t want this if you’re going to regret it later. Worse still, if you blame me—”

“Do you truly think I will?” Thor asks. “Is that what you are afraid of?”

Loki is afraid of a lot of things. At the top of that list is losing Thor, being cast aside by him, for whatever reason. It’s a secret he guards fiercely.

“I never regret this,” Thor whispers, and the strawberries are forgotten now, lying to the side. “I never will.”

You can’t know that, Loki thinks desperately, even as Thor touches his chin, tilting it up so they can kiss. You can never know.

Thor’s strawberry-stained lips taste sweet, but his mouth tastes so overpoweringly of him that it is all Loki can do to cling to his shoulders. He takes all that he can, greedily, memorising every little detail so that he may jealously guard it later. The way the frown lines disappear from Thor’s forehead, the way his hands rest on Loki’s back so there is no way out. It should feel trapping, but instead it’s secure. Comforting.

By the time they pull apart, the sun has set. The garden is awash in the deep blue of night as the stars wake one by one above them. Nobody can see them at all, now and nobody will miss them when they’re so distracted by the festivities. Loki lets Thor lay him out on the ground, on top of the bright red cape. He lets Thor strip him with careful hands, undoing every buckle and clasp and then doing the same in return.

He’s quiet when Thor rocks into him, but with their mouths by each other’s ears, each sigh and gasp is loud enough. Thor knows when to be gentle. He knows when every touch needs to be reverent and reassuring, but he can never help the possessive edge his movements have. Not that Loki ever minds.

They remain lying beside each other long after their sweat cools, foreheads against each other, fingers interlocked. At times like these, Thor always looks at him with such tenderness that Loki struggles to hold his gaze. He averts his gaze, shuts his eyes, anything he can. This time, Loki makes himself look at Thor. He doesn’t know what shows in his own eyes, whether it’s love or fear or hatred, but it makes Thor pull him close, kissing him again, tenderly.

“Someday,” Thor tells him in a whisper, “you will learn that as long as I am here, you are not alone.”

Fear, then, Loki thinks with a stab of irritation at himself. But he cannot bring himself to dwell on it for long when Thor is pulling him close, until their bodies are pressed against each other, chest to chest.

“Never,” Thor says, with all the confidence of someone willing to change fate if that’s what it takes.

Loki manages a small smile, curling up against Thor and shutting his eyes.

You can’t know that.