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Heart's Desire

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It's a really, really promising-looking bookstore. Used and New, the gold-leaf-outlined letters in the window say. Heart's Desire Bookstore – We Have Everything You Need. Thor snorts as the bus starts up with a jerk and the place jiggles out of view. Heart's desire… everything he needs. Please. He snorts again. Right. He doubts it. Still, once he gets settled in and classes start, he should make time to pay the place a visit despite its smarmy tagline. He sighs and settles further into the worn cushion. Places like this store are one of the main perks of being here. Of being in a city, one with colleges and a university, instead of stuck way the fuck out in the country.

There are perks, after all. He just needs to get over himself and start taking advantage of them.

~

Campus itself is about what Thor'd expected. Like older American universities most everywhere, its stately brick buildings are interspersed with historically sensitive modern construction and a few ridiculously ugly 1970s-era monstrosities. The chemistry department is in one of the latter, but labs don't have windows and in the dark bowels of the building he can pretend he's anywhere. And the program itself really is a good fit. He's one of only two p-chem doctoral candidates - the others are all on the biochem/organic side of the house - and the only one in his year, so there's little to no competition for faculty support or resources.

There's pretty much nothing not to like. Still, it's hard. He's far from home, in more ways than one, and while his fellow students do seem nice Thor feels lonely.

"We're proud of you, honey," his mom tells him. At least that's what it sounds like. Cellular coverage isn't great out at the farm to begin with, and Thor can barely hear her over the roar of heavy machinery in the background. "You know how fast the semesters go once things get underway. It'll be Christmas again before you know it."

Deep down he gets it: she's right, of course, just like always. But he's been here a month now and- it's not that he hates it, exactly. This city isn't even a particularly large one, and it's bound to have interesting things to do. He just can't shake the feeling that he doesn't belong here.

There's nothing like that to make three years sound like an eternity.

~

It's the second week in October before he makes it back downtown. His fellow grad students finally drag him out for happy hour after two or three weeks of trying. The bar they choose is loud, packed three deep with a smattering of students and an assortment of businesspeople in suits and dresses. It's not Thor's scene - which is ironic in itself, as he's not a scene person - but he hasn't got his team to rely on for easy companionship here and he doesn't want to be that person. "You going to look for an internship here this summer," Natasha, the only girl in the entire program - and she's from overseas, which has to make it even tougher – practically shouts at him. She stands out from the crowd, with her bright hair and her black clothes, and that’s drawing some looks. Thor mentally dares any guy in the place to touch her.

He smiles. He actually likes the way she's part snake, the way he's never quite sure where he stands with her. Maybe it's just that they're both outsiders. "I doubt it." He shrugs. Or tries to, anyway; it's too crowded in here, and there really isn't room for him. "My parents will need me at home." He doesn't have any reason to get a foot in the door in this city; when he graduates, he's going back to the farm to drive a truck for his father. College is just a novelty. Something no one else has done. Someone else's dream he's fulfilling.

Natasha laughs, short and sharp. "Eh, good. That leaves more for the rest of us."

Thor glances down at his phone. 6:20 PM. Even on a weeknight he's got hours until the last campus bus runs. He sets his glass and a ten on the bar. "I'm going to get some fresh air," he tells the rest of them, yelling over the din as they lean in and strain to hear him. "I'll see you guys later, maybe. Or tomorrow."

~

It's a crisp fall night, the change of season settling in a little earlier than he’s used to from back home. And of course he did his undergrad in a little hole-in-the-wall town in Texas, where winter never even touched them. This is a nice change of pace; after the hot, sticky bar the cold air feels lovely. Thor takes two or three big lungfuls to clear his muzzy head and then starts walking. Yes, he's downtown and yes, he's alone, but this is the arts district and there's plenty of foot traffic. Plus, he's a big guy. People tend to leave him alone on principle.

Tuesday-Thursday Noon 'til Nine, the neatly printed (if faded) green sign in the door reads. Fridays and Saturdays Two ‘til Eleven. Thor breathes out a little sigh of relief; it hadn’t turned out to be as short a walk as he’d thought, and he'd more than half expected to find the shop closed already.

Three small bells clink and jingle as he pulls the door open. There's no one around; just a sleek black cat stretching and yawning in a blanket-filled basket at the base of the counter. The store smells richly of ink and good paper. Beautiful. Thor squats to pet the cat gingerly. It’s not small, and his family never had real pets; he’s never quite sure how to know which ones are friendly. "You're cute," he tells it when it purrs and licks his wrist. "But wow is your tongue scratchy."

"I bet you win over all the girls with that one."

Thor jumps and squeaks a little. The cat’s nails scrape across the floor as it scurries to safety behind the counter. "Um, hi. Sorry. You startled me." He gets the rest of the way to his feet, awkwardly. He half puts out a hand and then decides that’s weird and scratches his neck instead. "Thor."

"Seriously?" The kid standing at the other end of the counter eyes Thor more than a little disdainfully. "Let me guess. Football. Scholarship, probably." He has a black undercut that – on the left side, anyway – is practically a mohawk, along with shiny gold snakebite piercings and the most perfect black eyebrows Thor's ever seen.

"Rugby, actually," Thor corrects. "They don't give rugby scholarships." He grins, but he’s not amused. The kid is annoying. Pretty, yes, but annoying. The dumb jock stereotype really wears on him sometimes. "Good thing I had - well, have, too - an academic one."

"Hm." The kid – and maybe kid isn’t the right word after all because, if you strip away the hair and the piercings and the arch expression, the guy probably isn’t all that much younger than he is - looks him up and down, then smirks. "So you can actually read, can you? Imagine that, a big-."

That’s enough. Thor cuts the guy off. "Look, if this is a bad time I can come back." It physically hurts to say so... Thor hasn't seen a place so full of lovely, lovely books in over a decade. Still, he's not interested in standing around while some semi-Goth brat sasses him. "Ideally when someone else is working."

The guy looks startled for half a second, maybe, before his earlier haughty expression settles into place. The whole thing happens so fast that Thor might have imagined it, really.

"No, look around.” The guy’s face softens minutely, and this time Thor catches the change for certain. “Please. I'll leave you in peace." He taps the old-fashioned bell on the counter and smiles a little less nastily. "If you see something you like, call me."

Thor laughs outright, because that actually is funny. "I bet you get all the girls with that one," he jabs.

The guy full on winks as he turns away. "Truth be told," he says, over his shoulder, "I like boys better."

Oh. Thor feels the blood rush to his cheeks.

"You never told me your name," he calls out, a bit louder than necessary. Even now there isn’t more than ten feet between them.

The guy stops again and turns halfway around. "Bingo," he says, and then laughs. "But if you're asking, it's Loki."

~

It’s a good fifteen minutes before Thor can concentrate properly on the books around him. He’s not sure what happened, even, let alone how he feels about it. But gradually what starts as mindless grabbing and page-turning changes to admiring, and he finds himself appreciating what’s all around him. Because the books here truly are beautiful, regardless of the cashier’s attitude.

There’s a little bit of everything, from well-loved classics sporting soft, worn leather covers and margin notes in fading script to gorgeous new and old art books full of thick, velvety paper and rich illustrations. There are locking barristers’ cases crammed with stacks of old comics, shelves full of popular children’s books, and a whole, wide alcove stacked floor-to-ceiling with an impressive variety of science fiction and fantasy. It’s exactly the sort of place Thor adores: a bookshop aimed not just at aficionados, but at serious readers. Not that he doesn’t appreciate rare book collectors, but when it comes to himself Thor wants books he can touch and pore over. And unlike a few purists he met in his undergrad courses, he actually enjoys seeing things left behind by previous readers. Reviewing someone else’s notes is connecting, in a way real life seldom affords him.

There are so many choices! Eventually Thor settles on a barely-larger-than-pocket-sized linen-bound volume – an interesting collection of simple black and white landscape photographs interspersed with photorealistic sketches of dragons, each accompanied by a short essay – and settles into a worn leather club chair to thumb through it.

~

“Hey. Wakey-wakey.”

“Mmph?” Thor blinks and shakes his head. It takes him several seconds to wake up enough to realize that he’s sprawled in the bookstore chair with the little book open on his lap and a very warm spot on his chest where the cat just might have been sleeping. “What? Oh. Sorry!”

Loki smiles, and it looks a lot more genuine this time. “You and Oscar looked so cozy, I almost hated to wake you. But it’s 9:30 and I really need to go home.”

9:30. Crap. “Oh, shit!” Thor scrambles to his feet, clutching the book in one hand and trying to neaten his hair with the other. He’s so embarrassed. He’d only had a couple of beers, too. The store is just so warm and relaxing. “I’ll get out of your way. Can I still buy this, or is it too late now? I feel like I need to buy something.”

“Don’t buy it just for that,” Loki admonishes. His very green eyes narrow. “This is a good book. It deserves to be loved. You can only have it if you’re going to enjoy it.”

“I will.” Thor hadn’t gotten all that far before he’d fallen asleep, but what he had read had been well-written and pleasingly whimsical. “Honest, I will. I promise.”

“Okay, then.” Loki reaches out for the book and Thor hands it to him a bit reluctantly. He half expects he won’t be allowed to leave with it. But things really are okay; Loki only takes it – with Thor hurrying along behind, still feeling ridiculously awkward – up to the register.

As Loki wraps up the book and cashes him out, Thor stifles a nervous yawn. He’s in a hurry to be alone with his idiocy; it’s a lot of work not to fidget. He pays with cash and makes himself not yank the proffered bag away from Loki. “Thanks,” he says as he backs towards the door. “And I really am sorry.”

Loki smiles. He looks tired now, and not all that much like a kid anymore. He’s still pretty, though, which just makes the whole situation all the more humiliating. “Have a good night,” he tells Thor. “Come by again sometime. Maybe a little earlier?”

~

What had been a cool early evening is now a cold night, especially after the store’s pleasant coziness. Thor shivers. By the time the campus bus finally arrives, his teeth are chattering. He’s not sure he could be more miserable.

He’s wiped out, and it’s late for a school night. Consequently it isn’t until the following afternoon, when he comes back to the unappealing brick-and-concrete high-rise he calls home and flops down to relax before his evening class, that Thor has enough time to unwrap his new treasure.

Tucked in with the book is a nice, dark green leather bookmark. As he pulls both things out of the bag, a business card flutters onto the sofa.

Thor inhales sharply. “Shit.” He feels his face heating all over again.

Heart’s Desire Bookstore: Interesting Used and New Books, the card reads, in the same font that had caught his eye initially. Loki Laufeyson, Proprietor.

Chapter Text

His mom was wrong, as it turns out. That’s an unusual thing, rare enough to be noteworthy, although (of course) Thor opts not to share his thoughts on the matter with her. The semester's long since gotten going – here it is the first week in November, and some of Thor's fellow students are already talking up their plans for Thanksgiving - but if anything the days are crawling by more slowly than ever.

Thor’s not even sure why, really. His coursework is no more or less interesting than normal. He’s exploring, from several different angles, a longstanding interest in the electromechanical behavior of unconventional batteries. Since his advisor appears a bit fascinated as well, he’s hoping the topic might eventually bear the sort of figurative fruit he can coax into a workable dissertation.

The chemistry program is pleasantly competitive rather than viciously so, in no small part because most of his fellow doctoral candidates have chosen to continue on with school because they enjoy the research rather than to launch themselves into furious pursuit of a top ten career opportunity. He has a lab of his own, two competent assistants, minimal teaching responsibilities, and perfectly adequate equipment. The department has great computing facilities. There’s simply nothing not to like, and no imaginable reason for things to feel so- so off-balance.

Okay, maybe that's a lie.

It’s not all that big a mystery if he really lets himself think about it.

In fact, it’s not even a little mystery. No matter how diligent and focused he tries to be academically – which does carry him reasonably well through his daytime activities – outside school he can't seem to go more than half an hour without thinking about the bookstore. No, not the place; its owner. Loki. The harder Thor tries not to admit it - he's met the guy one time, for a few minutes (if you don’t count the time he slept, which he most certainly doesn’t) and it's not like they even hit it off, actually – the more it ends up driving him absolutely fucking crazy.

Some itches just don’t warrant scratching. Even when you really, really want to.

There's no particular reason he can't go back to the bookstore, of course. The place is essentially right on the campus bus route, not quite a full block away from two consecutive regular stops. Plus, it's a retail establishment... as long as he buys things stopping by often constitutes being a regular, not stalking, and business owners like dedicated customers. He could even stop there before or after happy hour, thereby combining a visit with an opportunity to show his classmates that he's not a complete loser.

Every time he even tries planning a trip there, though, Thor's overcome with anxiety. It’s nothing new. Which is why, as well-liked as he has typically found himself, he prefers steering clear of dating.

What if Loki hates him? Worse, maybe, what if Loki has a boyfriend? Or a girlfriend, and all that flirty boy-liking was an act? Something to make him feel comfortable, if he was seeming particularly gay that evening, or to poke fun if he wasn’t. Maybe the guy wasn't Loki at all... just a cashier jerking the country bumpkin's chain. An overstepping employee. The owner's kid or something. And then there are the times Thor's convinced he imagined the whole thing. Dreamed it, maybe. No cat, no cozy chair, no Loki. One too many beers and an overzealous imagination will do that to a person.

Except for one thing… Thor has the lovely little book to prove- well, everything. He went to the bookstore, met an attractive guy, didn't hit it off, and came home with something. A souvenir.

That, and the worst case of longing he’s had since kindergarten.

~

"You loved the place," his friend Sif argues when Thor tries to convince her (himself?) otherwise. Once every week or so they make time for a phone call; she claims to relish living vicariously through his college boy experiences, and he gets a chance to catch up on what his family and friends from home are doing.

It's a tradition dating all the way back to Thor's freshman year... he was homesick; Sif was furious with the father who'd given her only two choices: she could work or enlist in the Army. Personally Thor thinks she would have been a perfect fit for a military career, but she's still pretty pissed-off all these years later and he never has dared say anything about it. He hopes she will come to the realization on her own if and when she finally gets herself enough distance. If not, maybe he'll man up eventually and suggest it. When she's hours away like this and can't beat the shit out of him. It would be too bad if she missed the age cutoff and then realized she'd found her so-called calling. Maybe, he sometimes thinks, he can get his mom to mention it to her. "For three straight weeks you talked about it constantly. What are you punishing yourself for?"

"It's not that," he insists. Except it is, maybe. "You see, the owner-..."

"Ohhh," Sif says, laughing. "I get it. Go buy another stupid book already."

He probably did have that one coming. For weeks, now, he’s been bragging about how he’s allowed himself a simple treat each evening. After he finishes studying, working out, and shoveling in whatever passes for dinner, he curls up in his worn old chair (he'd found it out by someone's trash heap at the start of the semester - yes, it sags and has a small rip in it, but that just gives it character - and it’s comfortable and doesn't smell, which is really all he expects from furniture) and enjoys one story.

Because the little essays are just that; fascinating tales spun from everyday reality. Sometimes he laughs. More than once he cries, even. Every single day he wants to read another and another, but Thor knows the night he gives in to the urge is the night he'll run through the rest of the book in a single sitting and have to hunt down another. Never mind how the university library full of everything imaginable. Thor wants to own his books, to give them a home and to love them.

~

He pulls the door open slowly. It’s warm enough inside that the window is a bit frosted, and he doesn’t want to accidentally rip the handle out of someone’s hands or launch himself face-first into anybody. “Hi," the woman behind the counter chirps as the bells on the door chime, as Thor's heart sinks all the way down to the snowy boots he should he stomping. "Come in! It's nasty out there."

This should be a good thing. The place still smells wonderfully of books, with a pleasing hint of mulled cider, and without the distraction of Loki he’s got plenty of bandwidth free to enjoy it. But it’s not good at all, though; it isn’t. A whole month of embarrassingly uncharacteristic, crippling panic notwithstanding, he’s crushed. So, so disappointed. "Loki's not here," he says, stupidly, instead of hello. All that nerve gathering, and all it's gotten him is- worse than nothing.

"He's in the back," the woman says. She has long, white-blond hair and cherry-red lipstick and if Thor liked girls he knows he'd find her pretty. Her nails are perfect, ten shiny beetle-green ovals. "Do you need me to get him or something?"

"Um." Thor's words fail him. Girlfriend? Sister? Wife, maybe? Now that his mouth is open, he has no choice but to say something. "No, it’s okay. Don't bother him,” is the first thing that comes out. It’s the right thing to say. Still, Thor mentally kicks himself for it. “It’s fine. I'll just- browse or something. I guess," he can’t help tacking on. He’s so smooth. So good at this. If only.

She flips her hair back with a quick, horsey toss of that pretty, pretty head and laughs. Definitely attractive. And probably at least a little bit nasty, when she’s not out here on display. Nothing crazy; only enough that she and Loki are perfect for one another. Thor thinks he should just leave and not-... "It's not bothering, exactly," she explains – before he can move - with a cocked eyebrow and a wide-eyed expression that falls just short of an eyeroll. That’s enough to confirm his suspicions. "Loki’s only feeding the cat,” she goes on, “but by all means browse.” Her face settles back into its polite customer service mask, one that gives away nothing. “I'm Amora,. I’m happy to help if you’re having trouble finding something."

Loki and Amora. Cute, hip, snarky. Thor sighs. The bookstore itself is still the same special place, and he really does need (want) more books. He shouldn't let a hope he doesn’t even know for sure he harbors - harbored, he corrects himself firmly - derail him. "Thanks," he tells her with quite a bit more certainty. "I'll do that."

And he does.

He's admiring a very well-preserved 1940's-era edition of Homer's Odyssey - he already owns the Iliad, from a publishing run just a few years more recent, and although he doesn't consider Homer the be all, end all it's such a nice book that he'd love to find it a partner - when the cat in question winds neatly around his ankles. "Hi, Oscar," Thor offers; although this particular cat strikes him more as an Ozzie, maybe, people can be awfully funny about nicknames sometimes and for all he knows cats might feel the same way. Taken collectively they do seem the sort to be above any sort of cutesy familiarity. "Nice to see you." It is, too, except for how he's gone and gotten himself in such a stupid tizzy over something that was never anything to start with. Ridiculous.

He doesn’t need a boyfriend or even a date; just something (much easier than someone) to keep him company. Thor thinks he would like having a cat, maybe. Except for how he lives in a no-pets apartment. And his life is already about as complicated as he can stand anyway. As in, not very. Plus, he has plenty of perfectly ordinary friends around him.

In the back of the store a can clatters. "I heard the door." Loki. Thor shuts his eyes and scrunches his nose. Shit. Awesome. Now the two of them will probably kiss or whatever, and he’ll just die already. Amora's ridiculously high heels clack the full length of the store’s worn wooden floor. When he opens his eyes again she’s disappeared into what must be their office. Or kitchen. Not a bedroom, surely… the place is a retail establishment, after all, not a dwelling. "Everything okay out there?"

"Yep," Amora says, laughing again. Thor wonders if it's a nervous habit, or something she does for effect. Then again, maybe she really finds the world that funny. "It's fine; just that Thor guy, browsing."

Loki hums. Whatever he says in return is too quiet for Thor to catch, at least over the roar of his own hammering heartbeat, but Loki’s voice is friendly and warm. There isn’t any trace of all that biting sarcasm.

All of a sudden Thor can't do this anymore. He sets the book down, because it’s a nice book he mustn’t accidentally damage with too hasty a shelving, and flees back out into the cold November evening.

He’s almost halfway down the block before Amora’s actual words finally sink in for him. “That Thor guy,” she’d said. She’d referred to him by name, no further explanation given, as though Loki would know exactly who she meant. Like he was an old friend… or they had recently been speaking of him.

She’d used his name, which he's sure he hadn’t given her.

Chapter Text

The bookstore is really, really busy. Not just in a relative sense, in comparison to the last couple of times he’s been there, but flat-out crazy busy. A long line of patrons snakes away from the register and people are climbing all over each other everywhere. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving Thor probably shouldn't be surprised. He is. Seeing the place bursting with readers and gift-givers is both sad and a relief, really. He can blend in if he wants to, which he does, and he's obviously far from the only person with this particular shopping idea. Being here isn’t going to look at all suspicious or creepy.

It’s a good thing. It is.

Just the same, he’d been enjoying pretending the place was his little secret.

On the other hand, of course, he does have to admit the shop is a lot more likely to stay in business this way. He’d have to do an awful lot of shopping to sustain it on his own. And the crowded store is fine; most everyone looks cheerful, and even the wintery human smells of damp wool and spicy perfume can't drown out the nice scent of good books completely.

A new tent-card-style sign on the counter - one that matches the extended holiday hours placard taped neatly to the inside of the front window - catches his eye: "Not sure? Go for a gift card and let your friends decide!" Thor thinks back to Loki's admonishment about books deserving to be loved and joins the rest of the patrons in smiling.

~

Speaking of Loki, he's at the counter. His hair is up in a ponytail that only leaves him looking more like he's got a mohawk, in a good way. He's wearing chunky black-rimmed glasses and seems - tired. Harried. Like this kind of foot traffic is not what he lives for, no matter how good-natured the customers might be feeling. And even like this he’s a thing of beauty.

As Thor watches (because how could be not?), Loki stretches to grab a book from the tall shelves behind the counter. One loose green sleeve slips out of place, exposing a slender forearm adorned with swirls of delicate black ink. Loki sets the book down and goes up on tiptoe for another one, both arms overhead this time, revealing more tattoos and a neat swath of pale, smooth skin.

Thor coughs into the crook of his elbow. While it can’t possibly have been loud enough to carry, not over all this insane hubbub, somehow the object of his attention turns and spots him anyway.

Loki's eyebrows pull together. He looks shocked for a brief moment and then smiles, his piercings sparkling in the light. When he waves, the smallest movement of his graceful fingers, the room lurches a little. Thor waves quickly and nods back. It’s suddenly even warmer in the store than it was already. Much, much warmer, especially where Thor’s face and ears are concerned.

The girl working the register - not Amora; this woman is a short, dark-haired, boisterous undergrad Thor knows he's seen around his own campus - looks quickly from Thor to Loki to Thor again. Her mouth drops open, and she bursts out laughing. She jabs Loki in the ribs with her elbow; Loki glares at her.

Thor abruptly decides it's the perfect time to plunge into the fray and get on with his shopping. Because (just like everyone else) presents are what he came here for. He's feeling a little less awkward today, with all these fellow booklovers around and a solid excuse for being here. Still, there's no reason to actively court making an ass of himself. He can come back another time when the place is empty if that’s the kind of thing he’s into.

There’s a good vibe going. The place hums; now that he’s joined in, he can feel that the store really is a happy sort of busy. Thor makes his way slowly through the aisles, inspecting a book or two here and there and excusing himself whenever he almost tramples someone. It’s festive. A girl in a long coat compliments his wintery scarf; a young guy wearing a Heart’s Desire nametag offers him cheese and fancy crackers. And a thick cocktail napkin. And a tiny glob of fancier minty hand sanitizer before and after, “to protect you and our beloved books from harm.” Sparkling white snowflakes dangle from the black pressed tin ceiling.

It feels- like coming home. In a good way. Even when Thor reminds himself not to get too comfortable, he can’t completely shake the feeling he belongs here.

~

About three quarters of an hour later he’s made it to the back of the store, to the barrister bookcases full of vintage comics that flank the office doorway. The lights are off in the back room(s?) this time, and there's still no sign of Amora anywhere. Now that he thinks about it, Thor hasn’t spotted Oscar either... the cat is clearly smart enough to avoid hanging out amongst so many hurrying, carelessly placed feet.

Smarter, then, than most of the people.

As he makes his slow way back towards the front windows, Thor finds it surprisingly easy to tune everything out and concentrate on finding gifts for his family. Which – again - is why he’s here, after all.

It is. Presents. Family.

~

Thor hasn’t seen his parents (or brother) since August. He hadn't gone down to his family’s place for Thanksgiving, obviously. The farm is still his own home too, of course, but he’s found he misses it less during the months he’s away if he doesn’t let himself think of it that way. He’ll be headed back for winter break soon enough. Driving through the mountains and along the coast goes all too easily (and regularly) to shit this time of year, with what normally takes a little over seven hours becoming an endless, awful exercise in death avoidance. Plus, he has several exams and a paper due next week. He always does, this time of year, meaning trying to make it home before Christmas is a habit he fell out of during his undergraduate work in Texas. It’s not like everyone else goes… the international students all stick around, and a good chunk of the graduate candidates have settled here in town by this point anyway.

There had been plenty of people around on Thursday and Friday, and the halls of the ugly high-rise still smell of sage and thyme.

Oh, and lots of authentic curry. Campus life is a little odd that way.

Not that Thor had ignored the holiday completely, either, not at all. He’d taken a late afternoon break from studying to FaceTime his mom (complete with a cheery wave from his dad and a few ridiculous over-Frigga’s-shoulder faces from his brother Baldr). Later that evening he and a bunch of his colleagues had gotten together for a festive dinner, which had meant watching (in poorly hidden amazement, no doubt) as Natasha’d made short work of slicing up the turkey with a wicked-looking black knife straight out of some terrifying film noire espionage story.

Of course no one had said a thing about it, not even the ex-special-forces-looking friend she'd invited to join them. In fact, the guy had helped carve while the rest of them had stood around drinking wine and emphatically not noticing. It had been a little awkward but, hey: holiday.

The entire meal had ended up being perfectly serviceable regardless and so had the company.

Thor hadn't even felt particularly lonely, at least not until he'd gotten back home and settled in for the evening. That's when he'd unfortunately, randomly pictured Loki and Amora sharing bits of their turkey with Oscar. "Don't be stupid," he'd told himself aloud. Stupidly. They’d probably eaten tofurkey anyway.

~

In a nice bookstore, Frigga is ridiculously easy to shop for. She always adores anything with stark seascapes or wildflowers, all the fancy photography books that no one else expects would fit in with an agricultural lifestyle. Not even one lived out near the shore. And Odin is a closet reader himself, always especially fond of historic transportation mishaps. Thor finds his father an autographed, annotated rail accident treatise that will doubtless be perfect.

He pages through a beautiful volume of art nudes – male, of course – that would be right up Baldr's alley, but his baby brother is still deep in the closet under guise of not shattering the family's hopes of grandchildren.

And like it or not – there’s no contest; Thor doesn’t - it’s not Thor's job to make Baldr's choices for him.

All he can do is try to set a good example. By, like, never dating anybody. Okay, maybe he’s not making the best show of playing grownup either.

Thor reluctantly slides the book back into place and runs a slow finger down its spine. It needs a good home, and it’s gorgeous, but buying it for himself feels gross somehow. And when it comes to his brother a nice scarf - synthetic, so as to not make poor, delicate Baldr all itchy – is bound to be a wiser choice. Finding one in this part of town shouldn’t be hard; Thor vows to deal with that later.

~

No matter how many times he remembers he isn't here to shop for himself, the lesson doesn’t quite sink in. Another book by his new favorite dragon-drawing essayist finds it way into his armload – there are plenty of nice wicker shopping baskets, but the store is too crowded for that today (when you’re as big as Thor, anyway) and he isn’t purchasing anything particularly collectable or fragile – when he isn’t looking. Or so he tells himself. Its sibling does need a companion, and he needs something to occupy his evenings.

~

Getting to the checkout takes a long, long time. Loki is frantically bagging purchases while the girl from campus rings things up and doles out change; even so, they’re not even close to keeping up. They’ll be lucky to go home two hours after their posted closing time.

"Crazy day," Thor says just to say something when it's finally his turn at the register. He looks around, as though Amora might be hiding behind the counter. "Your wife isn't a crowds person?" Why? Because. He might as well get this particular conversation over with, even if thinking about Loki being married still leaves him feeling more than a little bit pukey.

Loki snorts. "I'm not a crowds- wait, what? My who?" Up close, the little wrinkles that form between his arched brows when he’s puzzled are even more appealing. "Ohhh." He smiles a half-smirk. "You mean Amora, don’t you? Friend. Coworker. So not my wife." He taps his own chest with one thumb. "Boys, remember? Wait, Darcy," he says. “Don’t cash him out yet.”

Right, Thor thinks. That's her name. Her best friend's in the Chemistry of Space course he’s TA'ing. Loki disappears down behind the counter and hands up last time's Homer. "I think you forgot something."

Thor can't not take it. Not when it's marked ridiculously down to $2.50. Not when Loki’s oh please oh please face is so compelling.

Plus, it will be perfect with his Iliad. Just perfect. No one likes a lonely Homer.

~

Three days later, after the semester’s worst exams are finally behind him and that stupid paper is the only thing left to finish, Thor pours himself a glass of porter (out of the growler he'd filled at the public market earlier; their beer is so good and he’s spoiled for anything cheaper). He carries it carefully into the living room and flops down in his chair to flip through his new Odyssey. He's not in the right headspace to read anything, not tonight – he’s far too tired, and too drained - but he wants to enjoy the illustrations and the feel of the paper.

"Call me if you’d like," the card tucked inside it reads, in the same pretty penmanship that's already become dangerously familiar. "Coffee, maybe?"

Chapter Text

By the time Thor's mustered (most of) the courage to call, it's been over a week since he last left the bookstore. He knows (okay, he's been told... as both his friends from home and his undergrad teammates tended to travel in packs, Thor never had to go it on his own; he knows pretty much fuck all about dating) it's dangerously desperate-looking to call immediately, but Loki doesn't seem like a rule follower and could easily be offended. The last thing Thor wants is to be laughed - or yelled - at.

this is thor, he (totally takes the coward's way out and) texts later, the one who bought the homer. still want me to call sometime? His thumb hovers over Send for at least half a minute. "Just get it over with;" he orders himself. "What's the worst that can happen?" He's being ridiculous. If he gets shot down, so be it. It's books he was looking for anyway, not a pretty, pretty bookseller. If he has to, he can inquire after Darcy’s work schedule and plan his future visits accordingly. Even better (worse), chances are Loki will never reply at all and they can just go on being proprietor and customer. Very hot, difficult proprietor and embarrassed customer, sure. Still, good books are hard to find and totally worth a little suffering.

When his phone buzzes just a few seconds later, Thor jumps and almost drops it.

hi! yes! give me half an hour to close this place?

Half an hour. Loki. Is going to call him back. In half. An. Hour. Thor rubs his face with his free hand. Holy shit. That leaves him exactly enough time to work himself into a complete and utter tizzy. However, it also gives him a convenient out. He takes it. sure, he replies, whatever works for you. call me whenever you finish.

what fun, Loki sends back, would that be? ;)

That catches him completely off guard. Thor laughs, a startled little huff. And then his face gets so hot it's probably glowing.

~

Coffee, Loki had suggested. Maybe he doesn’t drink alcohol, or maybe he figures coffee is smarter and safer than starting right in with a bar date. He's tall but not a big guy, not compared to Thor; he probably doesn’t have the easy comfort that comes with being imposing.

Still, coffee means finding things to say… with no help whatsoever. It’s the kind of situation where Thor actually might die trying.

"Don’t just sit around talking, do something," his mom always suggests. Even now she doles out regular dating tips, probably still hoping he won’t hold out forever and, thus, is bound to start sometime. "Plan some sort of activity first, before snacks or dinner. Doing something is best; barring that, try a movie. That way you can spend some time together without struggling to make conversation... and when it is time to talk, you've got built-in common ground. Really," she goes on every time, because every time he makes a face and starts laughing. "I mean it. I promise you this: someday you'll thank me."

It's advice she's been giving for years now, although he's never before had reason to take it. Thor tends to choose the pleasure of his own company; it's just easier. And back during his undergrad years, in the event he'd wanted more, there were always the nights of drunken idiocy after rugby games (complete, on more than one occasion, with a hurried, sloppy hand job in a locker room shower or sleazy bar restroom). No strings, no entanglements. No one expecting anything he wasn't up for providing.

Still, his mom doesn’t need to know any of that and as advice goes hers does seem reasonable. Now that the time has finally come, he figures he might as well take it.

~

"We should do something," Thor blurts out right after hello. "And then afterwards get coffee." Oh my god. Stupid stupid stupid.

Loki laughs and Thor's stomach flips. "Good, thanks," Loki says brightly. "A little busy, though. Holidays, you know. All that gift giving. But enough about me. How was your day?"

Thor snorts. "Sorry," he says. "I don't do this very often." He can't think of the last time he texted a hot stranger. Which is probably because he hasn't, ever.

"Don't what?" Loki isn't straight-out laughing anymore, but from the sound of his voice he's grinning. "Talk to people?"

"Oh, trust me, I talk plenty." Just not to pretty men who are so fucking forward, Thor doesn't add. "What I meant was, would you like to-...," he starts again, but falters. He had no idea what Loki enjoys, besides good books and slicing people to pieces. Their options are kind of limited this time of year. "Go for a walk, maybe? Do a little holiday window-shopping?" Hiking and sledding sound more fun, personally, but Loki's not the rugby sort. Thor doesn't want to suggest something obviously athletic and put the guy off completely. "Whatever sounds good to you," he adds, quietly hoping that's not going to end up being a night of clubbing.

"Hmm," Loki hums. "How about ice skating?"

Thor's skated, sure. He has countless hours of pond hockey under his belt, and even one (and only one) awful attempt at figure skating. But he hasn't laced skates since high school, and doesn't have any way to drive the two of them (or even just himself) anywhere anyway.

"There's a fun little outdoor rink right downtown," Loki goes on when Thor doesn't answer immediately. Awesome; he’s telepathic. "Nothing fancy, but on snowy nights it's magical."

"Oh. I don't have my skates here with me," Thor says, trying his best to sound disappointed. "They're back at my parents' place."

"No worries," Loki assures him. "They have really cheap rentals. And they even know how to sharpen them properly."

Shit. Thor takes a deep breath and tries to shake off the vision of sliced-up body parts scattered everywhere. He did ask Loki to choose something. "Sure,” he agrees, trying to sound pleased. “Sounds like fun."

If only.

They settle on the Sunday before Christmas... which is after exams (and that stupid paper!), before Thor leaves for home, and (conveniently) the one night the store closes early in the midst of a month’s worth of holiday insanity. "Let's meet around six," Loki suggests, "when the little kids are all home eating dinner." It’s a good point, and Thor can't find any viable reason (excuse) to argue.

A couple of days later, Loki texts to say how much he's looking forward to it.

How bad can a quick skate be, really?

~

Pretty bad, apparently. Even just deciding what to wear ends up being wicked difficult. Thor knows his winter running tights leave far too little to the imagination, and the smiling, pink-cheeked people he sees on the rink's website all seem to be in jeans and winter coats anyway. He finally digs out his fleece-lined denim pants, the ones he wears for those sub-zero treks from the apartment to campus proper. They fit quite a bit less ridiculously.

He hopes they don't scream country.

Layers on top are easier - thin, dark red waffle henley under a soft blue sweater. The one that always makes Natasha pat his pecs and call them titties. He probably doesn’t need anything heavier; his body is fit and efficient, so once he gets going he warms up quickly. The inevitable falls won't be enough to outweigh that. Then again, who knows... Loki's idea of skating may really be sitting around on a bench sipping hot chocolate. Thor grabs his down jacket after all. Better prepared than sorry.

~

It’s a lovely evening, as winter evenings go… not too cold and snowing lightly. There isn’t any wind at all. Big fat flakes drift slowly down. The city looks like a movie set: calm and soft and quiet.

He hears the rink before he sees it; upbeat, dance-y pop music over the sound of happy laughter. Viewed from above the ice forms a small kidney bean, much like a pool (which it kind of is, based on the city’s website; in the winter it’s a rink, in the summer, it’s a water feature), with a long, low service building set into the hill alongside it. Thor shoves his hands deep in his pockets – he’s wearing gloves, but he’s nervous – and makes his way carefully down the snow-covered steps. Nothing would suck like falling on his butt before he even gets started.

Loki was right. At this time on a Sunday the place is not all that busy. A few couples and several singles glide past as he watches. In the center of the rink, two boys in their early teens practice skating backwards. An elderly man sporting worn racing skates and a speed-skater’s form circles the rink twice as fast as anyone else, swooping effortlessly in and out among the other skaters. That’s it, except for two little girls sitting on one of the benches near the rink office. He can do this. Thor pulls the door open and smiles at the kid behind the counter. Off to his left, a small handful of people are busy chatting or lacing.

There’s no sign of Loki, not yet, and that’s a good thing. Thor’s early on purpose, right at the very start of the shift – the rink is open for hour-and-a-half-long blocks and then closed in between for resurfacing – to give himself a few minutes to practice solo. “Thirteen, if you have it,” he tells the kid. He smiles apologetically. “Big feet, I know.” He ambles over to the metal bench in the corner and concentrates on breathing in and out, in and out as he pulls off his boots and tightens his laces.

Getting started is a bit touch-and-go. There isn’t anything to hold onto, really; you just step onto the ice and join in. Or, you try… in Thor’s case he loses his balance, overcorrects, and goes right down on his backside. At least he knows enough to pull his hands in. It’s hard to get back up without a railing, but he figures it out. And after that the worst is behind him. Literally. His ass hurts.

By the third lap he’s got it down, though. He carefully blanks everything out except the soft, pretty snow, focuses on feeling the music, and concentrates on putting one foot down after the other. Push, glide, push, glide. Nothing to it. Easy.

~

Thor’s stopped – up on one of those concrete benches at the top of the steps – to adjust the lacing on his left skate when he spots Loki. It’s a good thing, too, because holy fuck. Seriously.

Loki has his own skates slung over one shoulder, which probably isn’t a good sign, but Thor’s too caught up in the rest of his outfit to notice. He’s in dark-colored fleece leggings that leave him looking like he’s carved out of something and an equally form-fitting green puffer jacket. His hair is up in a complicated braid, and he’s wearing slouchy green leg warmers with his boots. When he hurries over to say hi, there’s snow sparkling in his hair and on his lashes. He’s- stunning. Thor comes dangerously close to leaping up, skates be damned, and kissing the little flakes away without asking.

As he’s in the process of tipping gracelessly over, probably.

What he does instead is probably even more stupid: “You’ve done this before,” he says, flatly.

“Maybe.” Loki smiles. “Okay, yes. It’s what I wanted to be when I grew up, but life didn’t work out that way.” He shrugs. “I still like to get out when I can.”

“I’m such an ass,” Thor says, shaking his head ruefully. He’s still wondering if this is all a joke… if Loki lives for making fun of him. Of everyone.

Loki looks- pained, maybe. Like this isn’t going the way it was supposed to for him either. “No, not at all. You’re brave to try this for me.”

“Hey, I made it around about ten times without falling,” Thor says, laughing and trying to make the best of it. “After falling, I mean. I might surprise you.”

“Mm.” Loki smiles again, and this time he looks sweet. Good enough to eat, even. Thor isn’t used to being kept so very, very much guessing. “You know, you have already.” He angles his head towards the building. “Give me a couple of minutes to put my stuff on.”

Thor uses the time to get past that difficult point – stepping from the rubber-covered concrete onto the rink’s glassy surface – without the benefit of any potentially judgmental witnesses.

~

“You look good,” Loki calls out from somewhere behind him. Thor tenses and almost loses his balance.

“No, I look ridiculous,” he says, to nobody. “Like a bear on skis.”

“Do not,” Loki singsongs, gliding alongside him and gently touching the back of his glove. “You’re doing great. Seriously.”

“I played hockey as a kid,” Thor admits. “Not the official kind; the sort where a bunch of kids find a pond and whack at each other.”

“That,” Loki says, “might explain the rugby.”

Thor doesn’t try explaining that rugby’s kind of the only option in a closeted, conservative town like the one where he went to college, especially for someone who doesn’t want or need the strain of having an actual partner. That it was safe when nothing else was. They’re out here to have fun, after all, not to dump the heavy shit all over one another. “You don’t have to toddle along with me,” he says instead. “Get out there and show us what you’re made of.”

“Not with all these people here,” Loki protests, and Thor isn’t sure if he means he’s embarrassed or the rink is too crowded.

“Just a taste, then?” Thor wants to see Loki free and unfettered, even if it’s only for a moment.

“It’s too busy,” Loki explains. “I need more space. I don’t want to hit someone.” Still, he takes off for the middle of the rink and does a little dancing to the music, and even that’s enough to leave Thor not caring who might get mowed down in the process. When Loki circles back to skate backwards – perfectly, effortlessly – in front of Thor, moving with confident precision and a degree of trust that’s almost scary, his cheeks are flushed bright.

“That was amazing,” Thor tells him. It’s a fast song and they’re both breathing harder. “More, please?”

“No,” Loki says, firmly. “I’m here to skate with you. If you want to see me show off, you’ll have to come watch me practice sometime.” He does something quick with his feet, too quick to follow, and then he’s alongside Thor again… facing in the correct direction. “I promise you won’t be disappointed.”

Thor huffs. Disappointment is the absolute farthest thing from his mind presently. “Sure,” he says, daring to take his eyes off what’s in front of him for just a moment. A long strand of black has escaped Loki’s braid. He knows if he tries to tuck it back in he’ll be taking another tumble. “I’m in. As long as the offer still stands once we’re done with our coffee.”

“Fair enough,” Loki says. He searches Thor’s face and then smirks. “For now, though,” he adds, tugging at Thor’s elbow, “you really should watch where you’re going.”

Chapter Text

It probably shouldn't come as a surprise, because she pretty much always is, but his mother turns out to be right about everything. By the time the end-of-session announcement plays and it's time to switch back to boots, Thor is relaxed and pleasantly tired… and he and Loki are chatting easily.

He knows he isn't any good at this sort of thing. Still, when Loki hooks a finger around his pinky as they're walking to the bus terminal, he smiles and tentatively slides their hands together.

Loki keeps talking without missing a beat. He doesn't pull his hand back, though, or try to push for more space between them. Thor takes all of that as a good sign and tries to stop overthinking things.

"There's a nice spot near the shop that's open on Sunday evenings," Loki suggests as they wait for the bus. The wind is picking up and it's a little chilly now that they aren't moving; Thor's glad he opted to bring a jacket. "It's not really a coffee shop per se, I suppose, but they do have really good coffee. Still interested?"

Very much so. "Mm hm." Thor gives Loki's fingers a careful squeeze. He isn't ready for the evening to be over.

~

The bus, unsurprisingly, is completely empty by the second stop. The surrounding buildings are nearly all offices, with a few breakfast/lunch places that cater to the lunchtime crowd; even on a weekday, once the day shift heads out this part of the city is probably all but abandoned. It reminds Thor a bit of winter in his hometo- where his parents live... all the tourists gone, no one around but the farmers and a few stalwart shopkeepers. He laces their fingers together again, rather than slinging an arm up and across Loki's shoulders. He’s plenty big in tight spaces as it stands. The last thing he wants is to be threatening or imposing.

Once they get to the little restaurant, though, he forgets all about being nervous.

Mostly.

Loki's interesting. He winds the simplest answers into neat little stories, witty and sarcastic but not as mean as Thor'd expected. Not that it matters, because most of the time he's his own target anyway. Plus, Thor could watch him for hours - the little hills and valleys that form between his brows when he's worried or puzzled, his white, white teeth and thin red lips, those startlingly green eyes - regardless of what he's saying.

"Huh," Loki says, stopping in the middle of a sentence Thor's kind of lost track of anyway.

"What? Sorry, I zoned out on you. You're- you’re very nice to look at," Thor fumbles. So awkward. Holy crap. He really shouldn't be allowed around people. Really.

"Mm." Loki takes a sip of coffee. "Nothing."

It doesn’t feel like nothing, and Thor's determined to do better. "So," he says brightly, because he has been following the general topic under discussion, "where do you skate? Normally, I mean." Loki names a town east of the city. Thor's never been. He's heard it's nice. Kind of rural in places, even. "Nothing," he's quick to parrot when Loki wonders aloud what he thinks is wrong with it. "As far as I know, at least. Not like I’ve been out there. You just- you seem like a city person."

"I do, don't I?" Loki looks down at his own tattooed wrist and polished nails and then up at Thor. This time his smile is pointed. Wicked-looking. "Looks can be deceiving. I might surprise you."

"Oh," Thor wheezes, trying not to choke on his own ill-timed sip of coffee, "you have already. Trust me."

"A friend of the family owns an orchard out that way," Loki explains when Thor presses for more information. "She always took me skating there when I was a kid. She knew the owners. All these years later,” he adds, like he’s ancient, “they still let me skate whenever. It’s a nice place. You should come see it."

Thor pictures Loki skating in the middle of the rink downtown. There's nothing he would like better. Still, the place is miles away. It might as well be on Mars. "No car," he says ruefully. "Which sucks, because I'd love to."

Loki doesn't answer for a long time, long enough that Thor's sure he fucked up somehow. Again. This is why he travels in packs and doesn't engage. It's not enough to get by on, just being a decent judge of people. "I use the van," Loki says, finally. "Where do you live? I could drive you."

"I know, I know," Thor agrees when Loki wrinkles his nose at the name. "So ugly. But it's better than being right on campus, and a lot quieter than the family housing." It's only a few years anyway doesn't feel right, not for a date (or whatever this is), so Thor doesn't say it. "The new condos are nice" - they are; Natasha has one - "but... I dunno. They cost a lot more and I'm not that into modern. I'd rather save my pennies for- for things like this. And books, obviously."

"Obviously." Loki laughs, all sparkling teeth and eyes, and Thor's spirits notch back up a little. "When do you come back after the holidays?"

"Not until the fourth week in January," Thor says, a little sadly. Loki pouts and he takes his chances: "but my tickets are for Thursday."

"It'll have to be early," Loki warns. Like there's a chance in hell Thor’s missing this opportunity. He wouldn’t turn down heading out there at midnight.

"It's fine," he says quickly. "Whenever."

~

Thor yawns. He normally doesn't even wake up for at least another hour, and that's considering how he's kind of a morning person. He's going to pay for this on the ride tomorrow; sleep on the noisy holiday bus never comes easily.

The so-called van is a smallish, blocky SUV, black with gold-and-green lettering. "I always say that because I hate feeling like a soccer mom," Loki explains, laughing, when Thor calls him on it. He leans forward to peer across the road. "Man, it's dead here."

Thor looks back and forth at the sad little world outside. It’s barely daylight; the streetlights are still shining. Two tired-looking physicians in scrubs and heavy fleece pullovers wait silently at the bus stop, phones in hand. There's no one else in sight. "Hospital, graveyard," he ticks off, "college housing, bar. Not happening places on a Wednesday morning, at least not at the asscrack of dawn."

"I s'pose not." Loki doesn’t smile; instead, he glares up at the imposing bulk of the hospital parking garage like it's offending him personally. "How do you look at that thing all day? Let's go. It's prettier out in the country."

~

Loki whips the vehicle around a little less carefully than Thor's comfortable with. It's been a long time since he's ridden in anything this small, and even then his life at home is mostly bumpy farm lanes. The roads are clear for a winter day. Still, it’s a battle not to grab for the dashboard.

He doesn't start to relax until they're out on the expressway.

What Loki said is true. Even under a layer of snow, as they turn east and head away from downtown the area is- reasonably pretty. Older houses and quaint residential areas give way to even older-looking suburban villages, and then to one-lane bridges, ball fields and farmland. The canal is a frozen, empty trench, but it runs close to campus too and Thor has little trouble picturing the countryside green and bustling.

Loki yawns a few times along the way; they both do. Thor’s starting (right…) to feel nervous again, though, and doesn’t want to distract him.

He doesn’t even bother trying to make conversation.

~

“If you get cold I have a blanket in my bag,” Loki offers as he pads out of the dressing room, skates dangling by their laces. “I sometimes forget how cold it is sitting and watching.”

“I’ll be fine,” Thor assures him. He’s in short sleeves and gloves. There’s so much to look at. “It’s no problem.”

And it really, really isn’t one. Loki hasn’t even made it to the ice before Thor’s completely lost in his easy grace. Once he does start to skate – a few laps, forwards and then backwards, to complete the warm-up process he’d started in his stocking feet… and then a series of figures and dance moves to music that exists so perfectly in his head that Thor can almost hear it – chances are the building could probably collapse without catching Thor’s attention.

~

“Your mouth is literally hanging open,” Loki quips from the other side of the railing. He’s breathing hard; Thor can see his ribs working against the thin fabric of his t-shirt. There’s a long vee of sweat starting above his collarbones. “I hope that’s a good thing.”

Thor wants to press his face to Loki’s neck and taste it on his tongue. He clears his throat. “Yes. You’re really good. I’m- seriously, you are. Fucking amazing.”

Loki wipes his face on his shoulder. Dark streaks on the soft gray fabric blend down into the lines of his tattoo. “You’re a good audience,” he says, sounding serious this time. “I never once caught you looking around. And you- you seemed really into it.”

“Oh, I was. Am,” Thor assures him. “I think I could watch you do that forever.”

“Alas, that would not get the store open today. Amora might just kill the both of us.”

It’s worth dying for. Thor’s debating whether or not to say that when Loki sighs. “It sucks, but I do have to go to work. Let me go rinse off… I’ll be back out to get you in a couple of minutes. Unless,” he calls back over one shoulder as he skates away, “you want to watch that too.”

He does, he does. “I’m not sure that will get you to work faster,” Thor shoots back. Loki laughs, and Thor makes himself not follow.

~

“So,” Loki says as they head back into the city proper. It’s sunny now. Thor’s sorry to see the countryside disappear behind them. “You’re heading out tomorrow?”

“Mm.” Thor wants to say “I’ll miss you” but they’ve been out- once. Twice, if you count this, but doing so probably makes him a creeper. “Early in the afternoon. By bus.” He yawns. It isn’t going to be nearly as tedious now as it would have been, not with so much new stuff to ponder. “I’ll bring my homework and then never even unzip my backpack, like any good college student.”

Loki doesn’t laugh this time. He’s watching the road ahead. He has both hands on the wheel now, which is a good thing; it’s only just past the peak of morning rush hour and they’re sharing the road with a fair amount of traffic. “Going home to anyone special?”

What?” It’s out of Thor’s mouth before he can stop it. He laughs in a desperate attempt to cover. “No, just spending the break with my parents. I mean, I’ll see my friends, but they aren’t special. Oh, crap.” He laughs again. “That’s not what I meant. That’s not what you meant. Annnnd on that note I think I’ll just stop talking.”

“No, don’t,” Loki says, smiling at the car ahead of them. “I like where that was going.”

~

“Do you mind if I drop you off out here?” Loki points to the crosswalk as they’re stopped at a traffic light. They’re not even half a block from his apartment; the building looms over the bar across the street from them. “With this traffic I’m going to be late as fuck already.”

Thor’s quick to unfasten his seatbelt. He’s disappointed, which is silly; it’s not like saying goodbye in the bus loop – surrounded by taxis and a bus or two, with a few students who own cars scattered in among them – is going to be any more- more what? Romantic? “That’s fine,” he says. “And sorry.”

Loki smiles. “Don’t be. Merry Christmas,” he adds, leaning over and planting a quick kiss on the tip of Thor’s nose. “Safe journey. Text me, you know, if things get boring.”

“Have a good holiday,” Thor says in return. The light’s just changed. There isn’t any other option; he leaps out of the vehicle and up onto the sidewalk. He watches until Loki crests the hill and disappears.

~

“Oh, it’s good to see you!” Frigga is already wrapping Thor in a floury, cinnamon-scented hug before the storm door has even slammed shut behind him. Baldr dropped him – and his crap, which weighs a ton; seriously, it feels like it multiplied down in the bus’ luggage compartment – off at the back steps and is still out there somewhere putting the truck away for the evening. It’s cold outside, but the kitchen is hot and steamy.

“You too, mom.” Thor gives Frigga the hug he kind of wishes he was home giving Loki. He’s not sure he’s ever been even slightly reverse-homesick before, but, well, there you have it. Still, it’s Christmas Eve and dinner in the works does smell heavenly. “Just let me get my coat off and I’ll help you.”

She holds him out at arm’s length and looks him up and down. “And your boots, please,” she reminds him. “You’re making a puddle.”

He does as ordered, and then washes his hands and grabs himself a worn, stained apron. It isn’t until he’s settled in at the kitchen counter, sleeves rolled up and potato peeler in hand, that his mother finally asks if he’s met someone.

Chapter Text

He hadn't lied, exactly. Rather, every time she'd brought the subject up, Thor'd- well, he’d deflected. He'd gently shrugged off her questions and instead told her all about school. His professors, his classmates, his friends and their interesting Thanksgiving celebration. And when that hadn’t been enough to get her off his back and keep her off it, he’d even told her all about his wonderful bookstore find, with its friendly black cat and its quirky employees.

Thor'd told his mom almost everything, in short. Everything except what mattered. If it mattered. Does matter. Matters. He doesn't even know what to call his situation in his own head; there's no way in hell he's going to let himself be suckered into disclosing it to Frigga.

All the same, she's on to him. He knows she is, and he knows she knows he knows it. It's in everything she does, from how she smiles - no, beams - at him as they all open presents ("these are fantastic; I'm so envious of your book shop!") to the way she insists that Baldr give him space when he takes his phone and ducks out into the cold, windswept yard before dinner to wish "a few friends" Merry Christmas. Which is exactly what he does... he has to call literally everyone else before he can finally work up the nerve to try Loki.

"Hi." He’d been so busy steeling himself for getting sent to voicemail that he has nothing planned when Loki actually answers.

"Thor! Give me just a second," Loki says. Thor hears the phone clatter onto- something hard. The counter, maybe. "Sorry," Loki exclaims just as Thor is starting to panic. He sounds a little out of breath, which honestly doesn't help matters any. "You caught me right in the middle of feeding Oscar," he goes on, "and making him wait never ends well."

"So you're at home?" Thor sounds nothing short of stupid. He knows it. He feels stupid. He’s the poster boy for extreme fucking idiocy.

"Yeah?" Loki laughs and Thor shivers. "I closed the store around 2:00 today. Even the very worst procrastinators are done by that point, and the people who don’t celebrate automatically assume there’ll be nothing but Chinese restaurants open.”

"Oh," Thor says, still feeling and sounding stupid. It hits him just how little he knows about Loki. "I thought you might be, um, with your family."

"I am. Me and Oscar," Loki says. He doesn’t elaborate. Suddenly Thor has a whole bunch more questions, but Christmas around dinnertime is hardly the right moment for grilling- people.

"Ah, okay," Thor says. “Right.” He needs to get off the phone before he digs himself in any deeper. "Well. I just wanted to wish you a nice holiday."

"I’m having one," Loki says softly. "Thank you. Cat, book, wine, blanket. And now you. What's not to like about it?"

Thor shuts his eyes and pictures his own family loudly and cheerfully getting dinner ready. Four courses and plenty of eggnog- and wine-fueled insanity. The idea of Loki all alone with Oscar makes him- sad, maybe. Although it’s not as sad, of course, as Loki and a boyfriend would be. "Nothing," he says as brightly as he can. “It sounds pretty good.” The storm door opens with a whoosh and his father waves a little frantically. "Ugh, sorry... I'm being summoned," he tells Loki. "Enjoy your peaceful evening."

"Thanks for calling," Loki says. "I miss you."

From the expression on his mother's face as he bursts into the kitchen, all red cheeks and stomping feet, Thor knows he's failed miserably at hiding his- everything.

"Everyone having a nice holiday?" Frigga wipes her hands on a worn linen towel. Behind her Baldr is enthusiastically sharpening the carving knife as the turkey rests on the same butcher block that’s held hundreds before it. They'll be having fish first, of course - their traditional homage to the nearby Atlantic and the fertile soil (and well-to-do tourists) it gives them - but mid-meal isn't the time to be preparing one’s weaponry.

"Yeah," Thor says, because everyone’s good and he’s- better. He leans in to snap off a tiny bit of crisp turkey skin, popping it in his mouth before anyone can stop him. "Wow, this is going to be delicious. Oww!" The sharp sting of the wet dishtowel hitting his butt leaves him hopping. "What was that for?"

"As if you don’t know," his mother admonishes, grinning. She's right, too. As always.

~

Dinner is nothing short of amazing. Every year, Thor thinks it’s not possible for four people to eat this much food. Every year, they manage. They start with Odin's simply prepared (but no less delicious for it) fish and then make their way through potato soup and a warm salad heavy with roasted winter vegetables. Thor carves the turkey – while he may have passed along the sharpening, he’s not about to entrust the real work to an amateur - and makes the rounds with the heavy platter while everyone loads up on homemade stuffing and gravy.

Nothing makes a holiday meal stand out like enduring months of his own lazy cooking.

His mother always makes a perfect turkey, all tender, moist white meat and falling-off-the-bone drumsticks. Thor knows it has something to do with a complex ritual involving olive oil, basting, and tinfoil. That’s about the most sense he’s managed to make of it. Whatever she does, it works… and that's what counts. He’s confident nothing could ever be better.

They finish off their celebration with homemade ice cream and boozy fudge topping. Pie, his parents always insist, would be too much; a little bit of ice cream is lighter. Just like they have every other year, all four of them struggle to get up from the table anyway.

~

"I ate enough to feed a small nation," Thor complains to Loki later, as he and the rest of his slightly dazed family are flopped here and there in the parlor. He opts for an email rather than texting, to take away any awkward pressure to answer promptly. They’ve just talked, after all, and he doesn’t want to be that person.

"TaS k," Loki's near-immediate reply reads. "I dRANK nuf to PiosoN oen."

Thor has to cover his snort with a cough and four fake hiccups. Even Baldr gives him the eye this time.

~

"So, how's your bookstore?" Sif forks up a comparatively dainty bite of her omelet and smiles wolfishly at Thor around it.

"It's good. He's good," Thor admits. He sighs. "Keeping things quiet at home is killing me. No, too soon," he explains when Sif wonders why he's hiding the whole business. "We've only gone out a couple of times," in the last week, he qualifies silently. "You know my mom. If I tell her she'll wipe the floor with me."

"But you'd like to see more of him."

"Oh, yes," Thor says, with so much reverence that Sif chokes on her coffee. He feels his face flushing.

"Okay, yeah, I see your problem." Sif coughs again and thunks herself on the chest. "Go on, then... tell me all about him."

"Hm," she says when he finally stops gushing. "You've got it bad, don't you? But he doesn't sound like the sort to fall for a country bumpkin. Even one as good-looking as you," she teases as he frowns at her.

"I said pretty much that too," Thor admits. It still worries him a little. "But he says he might surprise me." All the same, he can't really picture Loki in this place. Not this time of year, at least, not with the tattoos and the hair and the occasional makeup. In the summer his hometown – with its lovely old Victorian-era bed-and-breakfasts and its much newer gay money – is a popular enough queer-friendly vacation destination. Still, it’s no Providence; when the tourists go home and the bulk of the hospitality business takes a couple of months off (while its comparatively liberal business owners flock anywhere warm to enjoy their own vacations), a lot of the people left behind are a little too closely tied to the town’s bible conference history. And though even the the staunchest old-timers know better than to say anything about Odin's son and his unfortunate proclivities, with Loki’s sass Thor worries that the threat of his father's wrath might not offer quite enough protection.

"You should invite him down sometime over the summer," Sif suggests, because Thor's head is an open book and fucking everyone's a mind reader. "I'd really like to meet him."

“Two dates,” Thor reminds Sif, waving a forkful of crispy home fries at her. “One comma two. I’ve been out with the guy exactly twice,” and even that’s stretching the truth a little. “You’re getting just a tad ahead of things assuming we’ll be together come summer, aren’t you? This is me we’re talking about,” he points out around his mouthful of food. It’s hard not to laugh when she orders him to swallow. “I don’t do relationships or romance or commitment.”

“Or manners,” Sif says, laughing. “It’s, um, good to see a college education hasn’t really changed you. But I don’t know.” She rounds up the bits of spinach and crab that have escaped her omelet and pushes them back where they belong. When she looks back up at him, she’s no longer smiling. “I’ve always wondered if you’d feel differently… if you met the right person.”

Thor snorts. “I doubt it.” Okay, he does feel differently... but that in itself is terrifying, and isn’t any way he’s ready to talk about it. He looks around. The dining porch is closed and the gardens snow-covered, but even in the winter sun the stained glass windows sparkle. “I love this place,” he says, because he does (want to change the topic, badly). “Growing up, I always promised myself I’d find a way to be a guest here.”

“The food’s good,” Sif agrees, nodding, “but this is where my parents always pushed me to have my reception. You know, when I got married.” She shudders. “So from where I sit it’s a little creepy.”

“We’re such prizes,” Thor says, laughing. “Sif, Sif… it really is good to see you.”

~

On New Year’s Eve the old gang – Thor and Baldr, Sif and her own brother Heimdall, Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg and Hilde (with their three little boys in tow; the kids are great, but Hilde’s pregnant again and Thor can’t help but wonder if Volstagg’s gone crazy) – pile into Hilde’s van and head out to the beach. As teens the bunch of them had always bounced along in the back of someone’s pickup, but these days they’re a little more safety-conscious and a little less interested in fucking freezing. While it’s a nice enough night for late December - there’s not much wind, and just enough moonlight to make the clouds interesting – it’s still winter.

They all scream “happy New Year” over the sound of the surf, just as the clock reads midnight.

happy happy, Thor texts Loki as they all make their way back to the van. It’s way late for the kids and plenty chilly for everyone. They were made of sterner (drunker) stuff back when they were in high school, obviously. we all went to the beach, he types, and froze our asses off. There’s not much else to say… the last little bit of everything closes up after the holiday weekend; from here until spring the town is achingly boring.

i slipped and fell on *my* ass in slush earlier, Loki texts back. guess i win holiday fail this time.

Fandral shoots Thor an odd look; he’s let a little gasp slip out without thinking. you okay?

mm, Loki sends back. just a little sore… gonna be a few days before i’m up to skating, he adds, and Thor awws (with his inside voice this time).

that sucks, he sends instead. take care of yourself, he adds as he squeezes into the middle row. “Just some of my friends from school,” he explains, loudly and unprompted, carefully hiding his screen from Baldr. Stupid.

“Heh,” Sif says, but at least she does it quietly.

~

With the holidays behind him, sure enough, things go from pleasantly chaotic to dull as fuck and then some. And with Loki back at work, Thor hasn’t even got anything to distract him.

Yes, of course, he’s a little sad to be leaving his family… but never in his life has the bus station seemed so very, very appealing.

Chapter Text

After a couple of post-holiday weeks spent suffocating under the heavy quiet of his old hometown, with the seasonal places shuttered until April and the year-'round locals settling back into the usual winter routine, it still takes Thor a few days to adjust to being back in the city. His apartment feels cramped and barren and not at all homey. The blocky concrete building feels stuffy but, when he cracks his window open at night to get some air, the low hum of the expressway and the steady flow of ambulance traffic in and out of the emergency department conspire to keep him awake. As the undergraduate students pour back onto campus, he can't shake the claustrophobia. People, everywhere.

Which is why – just after 5:00 PM Monday evening - Thor finds himself on the campus bus, bumping along into the paradoxical peace of a downtown evening.

It's a nice night for a wintery walk. There's an inch or so of fresh snow and more falling, just enough to hide the ugly grey of the snowbanks that flank what's left of the sidewalks. The streets he has to cross are a slushy mess, but Thor's boots are up to the job. He's happy, for the first time since he got- back into town. Home. Whatever.

Well, he’s happy right up 'til he rounds the corner by Heart's Desire… only to find (nothing but) the night lights on and the door locked. Shit. Of course the store is closed; it’s a normal week, and holiday hours are long since over.

Shit shit shit.

He pulls out his phone.

"Hi." Loki sounds- off. Guarded, flat. Distant.

And that makes (belated) sense, too. In the days since he came back from his parents’ place, Thor's been too busy wallowing in weird homesickness/culture shock to feel up to calling. "Sorry," he says right off, instead of hi. "It's been- I dunno. Strange being back here? Something like that. Anyway, what I mean is: I miss you." Crap. He is so. Fucking. Lame.

Loki laughs, not happily. "You do remember I live here, right?"

"Yeah." Thor swallows. Loki probably does have every right to be annoyed that he's been spacing. Although it feels like they both have. After all, it’s not like Loki's been reaching out either.

Now’s not the time for that conversation. Even Thor knows it. "What I didn't remember, though,” he says instead, “is that your store isn't open every evening anymore."

It takes Loki a few seconds to answer, long enough to have Thor looking quickly at his phone. It wouldn't be the first time he's kept right on talking to a dropped connection. "So you're...?"

"Standing on the front step," Thor finishes. He trails one foot through the fluffy new snow. "Probably looking like I'm panhandling." He tries to laugh. It falls flat. "Sorry," he says again, feeling a bit like he might cry. "I shouldn't have- I didn't mean to bother you. I just wanted to say hello."

Loki sighs. "Do you want to come up?"

"Up?" Thor looks up- at the dark underside of the entryway ceiling.

"Upstairs," Loki says. "I live here."

~

"This is nice!" At least, it could be. Thor looks around the dimly lit, cluttered space. It’s more like a nest than a living room, all big, old furniture with fluffy pillows and blankets heaped everywhere. "Hi, Oscar!" He squats to pet the cat, trying to block out the way Loki’s hovering - tense, awkward - a few feet away. "I guess we should talk," he makes himself say. His mom would be so proud. "I missed you so bad. But if you want me to leave you alone I will." It's easier to say down here, where he can look at the cat rather than Loki's face.

"If that's what you want, why did you come by?" The sharp edge to Loki's voice makes Thor look up, finally, just in time to see him stalk off to the far end of the room. He stands facing the window, hugging himself tightly.

Thor gets up. His heart pounds. That’s not what he meant at all, but he’s almost afraid to get any closer. "No, it's not what I want," he says softly. "I want- I really like you. I want to get to know you better."

"I was worried," Loki grumbles, shoulders still hovering up by his ears. "I thought you were dead in a ditch somewhere."

"You could have called me," Thor blurts out, even though he truly does know better. He shoves his hands in his pockets and wishes he hadn’t left his boots and socks down by the door; up here barefoot on the worn oriental carpet he feels- naked. Small. Defenseless and frightened.

"Mm." Loki sags against the window frame. "If you must- well, I was afraid to."

"But that's silly!" Because the pit he’s dug wasn’t deep enough already. What Thor knows – really, really knows – is that he should just fucking turn around and go. He sucks at this. People are complicated. They’re too delicate and strange. Too confusing.

"Mm," Loki hums again. "Maybe." Thor follows his gaze; outside the window, the snow is really starting to come down. "Come here and take a look," Loki suggests, nodding towards the street. "It's snow-globe snow. So pretty."

Thor picks his way around the furniture and books. He comes up beside Loki, not too close, and peers out into the winter evening. The view is all (snow, against) trees and old low-rise urban buildings... much nicer than anything he sees out his own window. "Nice," he agrees, softly. “You have a great spot here.”

They both take deep breaths, at the exact same time. Which, of course, finally gets them laughing a little. "Tell you what: let's try this again," Loki says, sidling closer. "It's good to see you."

Somehow Thor finds himself with one arm slung around Loki, his hand resting on the flannel-covered jut of Loki's hip. Against his face the mass of black curls smells faintly of cinnamon. "It is," he says, pulling Loki close and pointedly not dwelling on what any of this might be about. "And it's lovely to be here."

~

"Want some wine? And some cheese, from the sound of it," Loki adds, cracking a wry smile as Thor's stomach rumbles.

Does he fucking ever. Yes, yes, all the yes. Thor smiles back and nods, probably a little too enthusiastically. “Please!” He sits, for something to do with himself. The big heap of throw pillows on the couch is as soft as looks; he pats it. "And then come sit here and tell me about your holiday."

"I strongly suspect," Loki says over one shoulder, "that yours was more interesting."

“Not to me,” Thor whispers as Loki disappears through the doorway.

He pats the couch again, this time for Oscar. The cat isn’t the least bit conflicted… he’s up on the cushions before Thor has even finished inviting him.

~

"I don’t always live in squalor, I swear. I would have picked up a little," Loki insists as Thor leans forward to move a pile of magazines off the table. He sets down the tray: a bottle of red wine so dark it looks black, two glasses - big ones, the kind you see in the restaurants back- near Thor’s parents’ place that rich tourists frequent - with little winter-themed cocktail napkins, and a cheese plate piled high with olives and fancy crackers.

It's all really nice, nicer than Thor's ever eaten (let alone served) in his own apartment. Even his mother would be impressed. "Right, if I'd called first," he supplies, a little apologetically. It’s his fault Loki’s off-kilter, probably. "I'm a shitty guest." He laughs when Loki protests. "No, I am. I should have let you know." Except how could he have, when he hadn't actually planned on coming over? He hadn't even known where over was an hour ago. "Then again, I suppose if you'd showed up at my place unannounced, you would have been stuck with half a glass of used-to-be-sparkling water and an orange."

Thor doesn't miss how Loki winces and tries to cover it. Interesting. But "okay, fair enough, it's a good thing you came here, then" is all Loki says. "Move, bud," he tells Oscar, scooping the cat up and gently depositing him next to the magazines on the floor.

~

For a while they sit quietly, sipping their wine and watching the snow outside. Thor tries his best not to Hoover the cheese, which isn’t easy since he hasn’t had dinner. He feeds Loki a few pieces and pretends he doesn’t feel little jolts of electricity run up and down his spine every time Loki’s lips brush his fingers.

By the time Loki leans forward to pour them both a second refill, Thor can finally feel himself relaxing. “Did it really hurt,” he asks, “when you fell on your butt a few weeks ago?” Ugh. A few weeks. It really has been too long.

“Maybe. It’s better now,” Loki says. He lets his head rest on Thor’s shoulder. Thor’s reminded of sitting with Baldr years ago, when Baldr was much younger, except tonight the gesture doesn’t feel particularly brotherly. “It was as much the surprise as anything. I came back here and cried, because I’m that pitiful. All alone on New Years’, wet and bruised, wah wah, boo-fucking-hoo. And you know as a skater I’ve probably never fallen on my ass before.” He snorts. “It’s a good thing you were away. No one needs to see that kind of ridiculous self-pity.”

Thor thinks back to his own night, to the bunch of them out on the beach in the cold. “I wish you’d been with me instead,” he says quietly. “My friends there- we always go out on the beach and-.”

“-get shitfaced?”

“No, actually.” Thor nuzzles Loki’s hair… which - now that he’s right there in it -smells like homemade pie, maybe, or really good cookies. Whatever it is, it’s enough to make Thor’s mouth water. “Okay, I guess we did when we were kids. But now we just go out there and stand on the beach and freeze.” He laughs. “I’m not much of a salesman, am I? It’s a lot nicer than it sounds.”

“What are your friends like?”

“Me,” Thor almost says, reflexively. They’ve always traveled as a pack and stood up for one another. But it’s not really true; they’re complementary but not all that similar, if he takes the time to think about it. “They’re all right,” he offers instead. He shrugs. His shoulder bumps lightly against Loki’s cheekbone. “It’s just something we’ve done since- forever.”

“It sounds kind of cool,” Loki says softly. “Do you think your parents miss you?”

That’s an easier question and Thor jumps on it. “All the time,” he tells Loki. “My mom, especially. Sometimes I think my dad just misses the slave labor. That’s not fair,” he corrects himself when Loki hums. “They both love me. Mom’s just more likely to show it.”

“You’re lucky, you know,” Loki says, sounding wistful.

Thor has so, so many questions. He doesn’t ask them. Well, not those questions, anyway. “How come you don’t like the hospital? The one over by my apartment,” he adds, because the city has several.

Loki tenses and Thor fights not to mentally kick himself. He needs to know Loki better, he reminds himself. It’s not an unfair question. “I spent some time there,” Loki says, finally. “That one’s too heavy for tonight, sorry. Go on… tell me more about your family.”

Thor does. Thanks to the wine, maybe, talking gets easier and easier. He probably does too much of it… although along the way he does finally manage to learn a little about Loki.

They’re about a year apart in age; despite first impressions, Thor’s actually the younger of the two. Loki wasn’t born here in town either, but has lived in the area for many years now. He has an undergraduate degree (“better late than never, I guess”) from another local institution.

The brick-and-mortar book shop – in fact, the entire building, including the apartment where they’ve been holed up all evening – belonged to- well, Thor hasn’t yet quite succeeded in connecting all the details, but it has something to do with the orchard. Loki apparently built the associated online business himself and then bought out the rest; popular as the bookstore is, it’s really the Internet sales that sustain it.

Yes, the whole endeavor makes enough for a couple of people to live on. Yes, Loki really is passionate about it.

They settle into a pleasant back-and-forth conversational rhythm. Thor never does get any dinner.

~

“Shit!” When he finally remembers to check his phone, it’s after midnight. Which would not be a big deal on the weekend… but on Mondays the last campus bus leaves downtown around 10:00 PM. “I didn’t realize how late it was.” Thor peels Loki off and stands to dig for his wallet; he’s got just enough cash for a cab, barely.

“You could stay,” Loki offers when he explains the situation. And Thor could – he wants to – but he knows he shouldn’t. He has an 8:00 AM class. More to the point, they haven’t even kissed or anything. Not really. If he spends the night he’s bound to do something that seems amply smart at the time but ends up being totally regrettable.

“I’d love to,” Thor says carefully. He’s tired, and feeling a little foggy. “Another time after we’ve gotten a little better acquainted.”

“Don’t hold your breath.” Loki’s eyes narrow. “You already know me a whole lot better than most people ever do.”

Thor puts out a hand and then kisses the back of the one Loki offers. Loki’s fingers are cold in his, even after the wine and the blanket. “Well, that’s their loss,” he says, “isn’t it?” He stretches and starts folding the blanket. “Really, I do want to take you up on it.” You have no idea, he doesn’t add. His whole body is humming. “But tonight? Tonight, I’ll get a taxi.”

Chapter Text

Thor's not sure what they are, exactly... only that they're something. At least, he really hopes they are. Really.

Despite how life is confusing.

Since that night, the one where he'd stepped in the stupid and showed up at the very closed bookstore, things - whatever they might be – have- intensified, somehow. Or something. Nowadays he and Loki talk or text every day, sometimes more than once. And while Loki never really comes right out and invites him anywhere, Thor's own suggestions - more skating, a few movies, lots of snacks and coffee - are invariably met with agreement. Enthusiasm, even.

~

Tonight, much like every other week, Loki pokes carefully around to determine whether or not Thor is seeing anyone. Anyone else. Which he isn't, and doesn't want to. "I've never been much into dating," he confesses over brownies, which is a (true, but) stupid thing to say considering dating is probably pretty much what they've been doing.

"Why?" Loki's expression changes abruptly, from curious to- pinched. Closed-off. "Would you rather be alone?" He sets his fork down and wipes his hands, suddenly all business. There’s none of the finger licking that sets Thor's blood on fire.

Shit. Thor mentally kicks himself. "It's not so much that," he tries. Sometimes it has been... but not anymore. "I just suck at it."

At that Loki laughs. Thor relaxes a little. "Oh, I don't know about that," Loki says. "You seem all right at it to me." He frowns. "Or isn't that what you think we're doing?"

Is it? Thor’s not sure. Loki flirts (normally, that is, when Thor hasn't gone and fucked things up somehow) and they sometimes (often) hold hands, but beyond that Loki's advances always feel off to him. It's like Loki's acting, and that bothers him. Enough to gently turn pretty much whatever’s offered aside, but not enough to push past his fear of asking about it. "I guess? I don't know. I'm not sure what we're doing. I like it, I mean," he amends quickly; he can feel Loki's invisible hackles rising. "A lot. I do. It's just- confusing?"

"Great," Loki snaps, like it very much isn't. "Awesome. Just fucking awesome. Good times with Loki the weirdo. Stupid me, thinking you were different." He leaps up out of his chair and slaps two fives on the table. "Thanks. Bye."

Thor's still struggling clumsily to his own feet when the cafe door closes.

~

"Maybe he didn’t want to be just friends," Sif suggests when he calls her in desperation a few days later.

"But I don't want that either," Thor protests. "I don't- didn't," he corrects, and his voice catches, "think of him that way. I- I really like him." He sighs. "But apparently I fucked up somehow, because he's mad and I guess he's not talking to me." Loki hasn't returned his texts or taken his calls in days now. When he went by the store Friday evening - just by, not into - Loki was at the counter, packaging something up for an older couple. So Thor knows things – in the larger sense, anyway – are fine. Which somehow manages to be both sad and reassuring.

"Why didn't you poke your head in?" Sif laughs. "Who can turn your best sad puppy face away, really?"

He doesn't know why. He didn't want to risk a scene, maybe? Not in Loki's workplace. Not in a spot he wants to remember as a haven. "It wouldn’t work,” he tells her. “He's a cat person."

"You have to try something," she counters. "This is killing you."

~

"I miss you," Thor tells Loki's voicemail. "A lot. I wish we could talk." He sniffles. "I want to understand where I fucked up, even- even if I can't do anything about it." He ends the call then, before he starts sobbing.

He's not quite done crying when his phone rings a few minutes later.

"Hi." Thor knows he sounds stuffy, even trying hard to hide it. "How are you doing?"

"Kind of shitty, actually," Loki says, which is unexpected.

"Me too," Thor tells him. "Can we talk, maybe?" Please please please.

"Would you meet me by the arboretum – at the conservatory, say – around three?"

Thor looks at his laptop. It's noon, and the park in question isn't out of walking distance. "Okay," he says, because he wants a chance at- at something. Badly. "Sure. See you later."

~

Thor trudges past the bars - busy enough, even this time on a Sunday - and the huge nursing home. It's snowing a little. There isn't much traffic, especially once he heads into the quiet residential neighborhood flanking the southeast corner of the park.

Across the street two little kids in bright snowsuits are helping - "helping" - their father build a snowman. It should all be relaxing, but it isn't. He's practically sick with nerves. Getting together to talk was his idea, though... he can't exactly turn back now and leave Loki hanging.

~

"I don't want to fight in the conservatory," Loki explains when Thor asks if he's freezing.

"I don't want to fight at all," Thor says, maybe a little too insistently. "I just- I want to know what happened? I like you. I miss you. I'm sorry," he adds, in the face of Loki's oddly startled expression. "Please? Just talk to me."

Loki sighs. Below the confines of his hat his hair is a crazy, wild mess today and Thor wants to touch it. Doesn't, but wants to. "I'm kind of ace, I guess," Loki offers, after a painfully long silence. "People don't like it and don't get it, so I normally pretend not to be. Which works out great right up 'til it doesn't. I thought you were okay with it. I suppose that was all stupid wishful thinking," he hurries on before Thor can get a word in, "since it was my slut routine that hooked you, but... I hoped, that's all. There. You have it." He glares at Thor. "Go ahead and scream at me."

"But I don't want to," Thor protests. He needs a little time to get his head around everything, sure. But it’s time he probably doesn't have, judging from the look on Loki's face. "Why would I want that? Why would someone do that to you?"

Loki shrugs. "I'm infuriating."

"I'm not angry," Thor promises. He isn't. Confused and upset and frightened? Sure. But not angry. "I- does this- I thought we'd been having a nice time together. But then again I do suck at- at people."

"Can we walk around?" Loki sounds fractionally more like himself than he had even a minute or two ago. Thor clings to that, to the tiny tendril of hope that curls inside him.

"Sure," he says. He steps aside and lets Loki go first; there aren’t any actual sidewalks up by the building; with the snow, what passes for a pathway is really narrow.

Plus, doing so gives him a chance to watch Loki walk. The view is captivating: even in sloppy weekend lying-around-the-place clothes – and who knows… that may be exactly what Loki had been doing – Loki is literally breathtaking. Thor follows patiently along behind, trying to pretend Loki- isn’t.

He’s okay with being friends, probably. That’s kind of what they’ve been doing anyway? Maybe? “So what does it mean?” He clears his throat. “I mean, I know what it means,” and he does, because even chemistry majors come out from under their rocks occasionally. “But what does it mean for- for you? With other people? Because you’re gay, right?” Suddenly he isn’t so sure. “I think you’ve said that?”

Loki sighs heavily. He’s clearly beyond tense again. Thor’s careful not to crowd him. “It doesn’t have to mean anything,” he grumbles.

That can’t be true. “No, it does,” Thor insists. “I did something wrong the other night. It must mean something.”

“Guys my age- our age,” Loki corrects himself, “are expected to think of sex and nothing else, all the fucking time. Pun not intended.” He doesn’t laugh; Thor doesn’t either. It isn’t funny anyway. “I don’t, really. Never have. I can take it or leave it.”

Fair enough, probably, but it doesn’t really mesh with (some of) what Thor’s seen of Loki’s behavior. “So why do-?” He can’t come up with a good way to phrase it.

“Why do I dress like a slut? Why do I crawl all over people?” Loki doesn’t stop, or even turn to look back, but there’s no missing the edge in his voice.

“No,” Thor exclaims. “That’s not what I meant at all.” But he can’t put words around what he does mean. And that may not be bad… it’s probably best to say as little as possible.

“It’s what people expect of me,” Loki says. “Yes, I’m gay. I’m a young gay guy, and attractive enough. For me sex is transactional; it’s something I exchange for relationships. Except that hasn’t worked out so well for me,” he adds, laughing a little. Thor finds nothing about that funny either. Which, honestly, seems to hold true for both of them. “And, yes, I know it’s kind of dumb to lure people in with something I don’t even really want. But it’s all I know? Something like that. I should just be a hermit. But then I get lonely. So. Not what you bargained for, I know.”

“You don’t know,” Thor says. He’s trying hard not to sound testy but it’s difficult not to be frustrated when Loki insists on speaking for him. “I didn’t bargain for anything in particular. I don’t have any expectations.” He doesn’t go on to admit that he’s never been in a relationship, because they’re not here to pick apart his situation. “I like you,” he says again. “A lot. I enjoy spending time with you. I’d like to spend more of it. If what you want is to be friends, then-.”

“I don’t,” Loki cuts in, quick and sharp. “I mean- shit. That didn’t come out the way I meant it. I do want to be your friend. But that- it’s never been enough for me. I want to be with you.”

“But no sex.” Thor isn’t sure that’s a problem, either. He and his own hands are well, well acquainted. It’s just- different, and he’s trying to understand the rules here.

“I didn’t say that.” Loki sounds exasperated. He takes a big, loud breath. “Look, I’m sorry. I know you’re not actually arguing with me. I’m just- this is hard.”

That, Thor understands. “Loki?” He stops. “Can- can I hug you?”

Loki skids to a halt. His boots aren’t as good in the snow-covered grass as Thor’s are. “You know you can.”

Well, he does but he doesn’t. Maybe Loki’s been hating him a little all along for his hands and his behavior. “Now, I mean,” he says instead. “Can I hug you now? Is that okay?”

It must be, because about half a second later he has Loki all up against his front. He wraps both arms around Loki’s ribs carefully. Loki’s hat is soft and sweet-smelling; it feels nice against Thor’s own chilly cheek and ear. “Do you like what we’ve been doing?”

Loki nods, the velvety fleece of his hat rubbing up and down Thor’s face.

“Me too,” Thor says. He holds Loki a little tighter. Out of- like. Out of fear. “Can you tell me what went wrong, then?”

“Maybe nothing did? I just-.” He nestles closer. It still feels perfect. Thor wants to cry. “Can you honestly tell me you don’t want to fuck me?”

They’re on a dangerous precipice; that much, even relationship-impaired Thor can tell. He thinks carefully. When he finally answers – “I mostly just want to kiss you, but I guess I can’t promise what I might want after that” – his voice is shaking. “I would never do something you didn’t want to do, though. Not ever.” That much he can promise, confidently.

“I wouldn’t mind it if you liked it,” Loki mumbles into the shoulder of Thor’s jacket. “As long as you didn’t need me to fake it all being awesome.”

“Oh, Loki.” A tear does escape, finally, followed quickly by another one.

“Do you want to kiss me?”

Thor does. Right now, though, he isn’t going to. “Yes,” he admits, “but not in the middle of this conversation.” He shivers and snuffles. “Do you want to go inside?” The conservatory looks warm; all fogged glass, with bits of green and color. It’s an oasis in the snowy landscape. “I’ve never been in there.”

Loki pulls back a little. Below the hat his nose crinkles. “Never? You’ve never seen all the little quails? The turtles?”

He hasn’t, but he wants to. “Nope. Come on. My treat?”

“Mm,” Loki hums, and kisses him. On the mouth.

Thor kisses Loki back, but only for a second.

Chapter Text

While it hadn’t been a very long drive, the Heart’s Delight van – still not completely cooled down from earlier, probably – had warmed up quickly. Their breath hadn’t even been steaming. "Go home and think about it for a few days," Loki'd told him when they'd parted company that afternoon. That fateful afternoon, the one where they'd left themselves with not nearly enough time to watch the quails before the conservatory had closed for the day and sent the two of them back out into the wintery landscape. "I mean it… non-negotiable. I've had too many people tell me 'oh, Loki, it's fine,' only to decide it absolutely wasn't fine a little while later."

Thor had (reluctantly, but what choice was there?) agreed, and then stood sadly on the snowy sidewalk half a block from his apartment watching the back of Loki's little SUV disappear into the broken darkness.

Privately, he suspects those people Loki mentioned had never really meant it was okay to begin with. They were probably biding their time, hoping they could "cure" Loki of his "problem." Thor's known plenty of people who thought that way himself, people who tried to convince him he actually did like girls and was "just experimenting." People who insisted he would be happier if he paired off and settled down, because “everyone wants that.” People who warned that being a hermit wasn't good for him; that it wasn't healthy to spend so much time alone.

He doesn't ever want to be one of those people. That’s the main (only, maybe) reason he agrees to give them both some space. Because, while he doesn't need to think about whether he wants things with Loki to continue, he does need to think through the why of it.

~

"Can you really do that, all your life? Marry your hand, I mean?" Sif laughs, not unkindly. "I'm so crass. Not to mention, I know, putting the cart before the horse by marrying you off and everything. And I do want you to know that - out of everyone I've ever met - you might actually be the one most capable of doing that. I'm not trying to talk you out of- whatever this is, I promise." She sighs. "It's just- well, if you were completely certain, would you have asked me?"

“Yes,” he tells her. “You know I can always second-guess me.”

He's thought about things with Loki a lot, all week. So much, in fact, that he'd gotten really behind on his work for school and had condemned himself to spending all of Friday evening - and both Saturday and Sunday - deep in the bowels of the science building.

More than one night, in the privacy of his sad concrete apartment, he'd jerked off to the mental image of Loki... all - okay, most of - the while thinking about whether he could spend forever jerking off picturing Loki. The only real conclusion he'd come to was this: he'd be doing it anyway, probably, whether or not the two of them ever spoke again. Right. No probably.

"You won't miss knowing your partner is- this is so awkward, Thor! You owe me a solid week of waffles this summer. And don't think I'll forget it," she warns, which is silly. He wouldn’t ever. She always remembers. They both laugh this time, pretty damned uncomfortably. "It's okay with you that he won't want you the same way you want him?"

Thor's not sure he fully gets how Loki does or doesn't want him. It's something he's nervously hoping to have a chance to learn over time. "I've never really had that anyway," he reminds her. He hasn't. His only real experiences with other people's want have involved rugby and, um, beer goggles. He sighs. It's been the better part of a week and he's still as certain as ever. Which is actually surprisingly fucking certain. "I want to try. I think it will be fine."

"Hmm," she says. He knows if they were together now Sif would be studying him closely. That, he doesn’t miss… not with this kind of discussion. "Maybe,” she admits, “this is what you've been seeking."

~

Monday morning he spends a bunch of time online. He knows what asexuality is, of course, but he wants to understand what it feels like. Ultimately, all he really learns is that people are complicated. Which, of course, he knew anyway.

"Hi," Thor tells Loki's voicemail around lunchtime. He tries to keep his tone bright and upbeat despite the panicky sadness bubbling up inside him. "I've been thinking all week, just like you said to, and I think I want to keep giving this a try. I mean, if you still want to." This is the part he especially hates, the part where he has to put his heart in someone else's hands and fervently hope no one crushes it. "I have to go into the lab for a couple of hours, but I'd love to talk later." He doesn't add that he's missed Loki so badly it's felt like drowning, or that Nat had actually threatened Saturday night to - if he didn't get his shit together soon - beat his bad mood right the hell out of him.

No need to look desperate, after all. He'll save that for another time, in the event it turns out to be necessary.

The whole (eternal) rest of the afternoon he has to fight not to think about how much it's going to suck getting over Loki. He even manages not to cry – much, anyway, or often - until he makes the mistake of thinking how nice Loki's perfect green penmanship would look in his lab notebook.

After that, he has to give up and put his things away because the tears are making his vision dangerously blurry.

~

"You're serious?" Loki sounds as nervous as Thor is.

"Oh, yes," Thor insists. He's still a little breathless from fumbling his phone trying to take Loki's call and very nearly dropping it. "I don't feel any different. Well, sadder, maybe," he adds, making himself smile. He's so anxious. Feelings suck.

"Mm," Loki hums. "Shit. I didn’t realize how late it was. I need to get up off my lazy ass and go practice," he says. "Any interest in joining me?"

"Yeah," Thor admits, so fast that Loki laughs. "Plenty."

~

He walks - okay, jogs, because he's too excited for walking - almost all the way up to the county hospital, so Loki can just loop off the expressway and grab him. Loki leans over and kisses him before they pull out into traffic. It’s more than he’d let himself hope for; Thor’s just this side of bursting.

"Don't expect anything fancy today," Loki warns as the city disappears behind them. "I’ve been slacking recently, bad, and I need to work on my basics."

Thor doesn't care, not one little bit, and he says so. Loki skating is like the best kind of fairytale, even without the acrobatics that he remembers left him stunned. "I brought some reading," he teases, patting his backpack. "It's okay if you completely bore me."

"Asshole," Loki says, but they're both laughing. Thor's- relieved. A little more comfortable, now that things might still have a chance of being okay between them.

He does actually unzip his bag, right when he sits down. Probably predictably, that's as close as he ever gets to reading.

Loki does a few laps, slowly at first and then faster and faster with each successive revolution. He switches from forwards to backwards with such ease that the transitions are nearly invisible. But – even though it all looks so effortless – he’s breathing hard when he comes back to the railing. He twirls his wild ponytail into a messy bun, materializes another elastic band out of nowhere, and frowns at Thor. “Don’t gawk,” he complains. “Seriously. I suck. I’m so rusty.”

“I’m not gawking,” Thor protests, but he’s kidding. Gently. “And don’t worry. I’m no expert. You- your skating looks fine to me. I’d have been on my ass ten times by now.” Ten times a lap, at that speed anyway.

“Don’t forget,” Loki teases back, “that in this particular case, flattery may actually get you nowhere.” Thor knows that isn’t true, regardless of- of the things they’ve talked about recently. Loki eats compliments right up. Even now he’s glowing.

Still, Thor shrugs and doesn’t try to argue. “If you’re so bad, then,” he says instead, “get yourself back out there and keep practicing.”

Loki sticks out his tongue as he pushes away from the boards. Thor just grins at him.

~

"People tell me this is cruel and unfair," Loki says quietly between sips of hot chocolate. They'd driven back through the village itself this time, and found a cute little pastry shop along the (mostly empty, frozen) canal. Thor figures the place is probably insanely busy during the summer; today, though, they have it all to themselves save for one solitary, elderly man reading a newspaper in the far corner. "But I can't help how I feel. Even if it's selfish."

When Loki doesn't go on, Thor makes what he hopes is an encouraging little sound. His mouth is way too full of chocolate croissant for any actual talking.

"I want to be exclusive," Loki says, finally, and it's no shock given how he's always asking. "Despite how I may be abnormal, - or so people have told me," he adds as Thor meeps unhappily, "- I'm not okay with my partner going outside the relationship for- more. More anything. When it comes to me, that is," he adds quickly. "I'm fine with people who aren’t dating me doing- well, whatever they feel like doing."

"Me too," Thor says, when his mouth is finally mostly empty. He needs to take smaller bites, his mother's often told him. "I mean, that's what I was" - expecting won't come across the way it ought to, he knows that - "hoping."

Loki frowns. "You've never done this before, you told me," he points out. "How can you have been hoping anything? Not to mention, how can you be sure you’re okay with it?"

"No idea," Thor admits. "But I am anyway." He takes a deep breath. “Okay, that is. So does this make us boyfriends?” He tries (and almost manages) to ignore the way his heart is racing.

“I don’t know.” Loki is still frowning. He’s gripping his mug with both hands, so tightly his knuckles are white. Clearly, Thor’s not the only one worrying. “Do you want it to?”

Thor doesn’t need to think about that, not at all, but he feels like Loki expects him to. He takes another bite of his croissant, and then a few sips of hot chocolate, before responding. “Mm,” he says, after what he hopes is a reasonable pause. “Yes. I do want it to. Although you’ll have to tell me what an ace boyfriend does and doesn’t do.” He smiles, because (it’s true, but) he just can’t stand the tension any longer. “Since you’re the expert and everything.”

Finally, Loki relaxes a little. He lets go of his mug and stretches his fingers. “I don’t think there is such a thing as a typical ace boyfriend,” he says, arching an eyebrow at Thor, “but this guy does everything any other boyfriend does, except with more cuddling and probably a bit less, um, dicking.”

A bit less, then, but not none. Thor knows they’ll need to discuss that further. Some other time, though, when they’re not so wound up about it. When things aren’t quite so raw and new. Instead he thinks for a few moments about what he might like in a partner, personally. “So, more movies and dinner dates and good conversations,” he ventures, “plus snuggling together on the couch?”

“Yes, and kissing,” Loki adds. “Lots of kissing.”

Huh. Thor wrinkles his nose. “Kissing- that kind of stuff is really okay with you?”

“Mm. Just as long as….” Loki frowns again. “This may sound- weird. Even so… don’t you dare laugh at me.”

Thor doesn’t. Instead he waits as patiently as he can while Loki takes a deep breath, and then another. Loki’s eyes close. “I do like that stuff, as you put it. Just as long as it’s not always- the means to an end? I like to do it just for the sake of doing it. To enjoy it. Not to get somewhere. And especially not to be set up so someone else can get somewhere.”

Okay. That sounds okay. Thor nods. “I think I can do that.” It’s so unlike his past experiences, too, that he’s not too worried about- mixing things up. About forgetting what he’s agreed not to do and upsetting Loki.

“It’s not all sunshine,” Loki warns, “even then. With all the cuddles comes the not-so-awesome boyfriend stuff, like screaming at each other at 3:00 AM.”

Thor snorts. “Not on work nights. No screaming after midnight. Promise?”

“Uh huh.” Loki holds up a loose fist, pinkie extended. “Swear?”

They do. And they don’t pull apart afterwards. “Look,” Loki says. “Thank you for all this. For being understanding, and patient. Really. And I do know this conversation isn’t over. But do you think we can talk about something else now?”

Oh, yes. Thor’s happy to move on to something less draining. Almost. “So, will you be my boyfriend, then?”

“Yeah,” Loki says. He looks down at their hands, pinkies still hooked together. His lashes are dark against his cheeks, long and feathery. “I will. So,” he adds, more loudly, “how’s school going?”

Thor laughs. He’s happy. Really happy; he’s sure of it. He feels- light. Better. Heading towards cheerful, even. Boyfriend. He tries the idea on for size, in the privacy of his own mind, and it’s good. Scary, sure, but good. “School is fine,” he says to Loki, still grinning. “So, you tell me: exactly how much do you want to know about chemistry?”

Chapter Text

Over the next few weeks Thor spends a lot of time learning. Of course one could make a solid case for how that is what grad school’s about, and it isn’t as though he's completely neglecting his actual, paid studies. Most of what he discovers, though, is well outside his curriculum.

For example, he quickly comes to understand that there's a lot involved in running a store. The logistics - especially when you factor in the sizable Internet business, the part that keeps a roof over Loki's head (and both Darcy and Amora employed) - aren't vastly different from those his own family faces. Because while books don't have the short shelf life produce does, it turns out that many are fragile and sensitive to their environments in ways Thor has only ever begun to consider.

The regulations (and costs!) involved in shipping overseas are so complex as to border on ridiculous.

Throughout everything Loki has to maintain good supplier relationships, too. Some of his best finds come from other little mom-and-pop places that don't have his reach, shops for which he brokers on commission, and without their ready partnership he would be much less successful.

On top of everything else, there's insurance. Oh, and labor law. And making sure there's enough marketing done to keep things going, all the while avoiding overpaying in a pointless attempt to extend sales out to minimally profitable segments. Or something like that. They talk about the whole thing a few times, but Thor’s still not sure he’s followed it.

Almost everything about it is complex and demanding. Not that he’d ever thought Loki’s work consisted of lazing around but any doubts he might have had are banished.

~

When Oscar comes down with some sort of horrific stomach bug in February, Thor just as rapidly comes to understand that pets are both expensive as fuck and- and terrifying. For a few days Loki - and the vet, from what Thor gathers - isn't sure they can turn things around. Those few days feel like a lifetime; they’re both awake nearly around the clock, and half the time at least one of them is crying.

Loki’s cat gets better, but something inside of Thor still feels- damaged.

Through it all he realizes something else: he’s used to tears. His mother raised her boys to be free with their feelings and, while he sometimes prefers to struggle with his anxiety in relative solitude, he's never felt unmanned by a little salty water.

Loki, on the other hand, seems to hate anything and everything about being caught crying. He hides away and fights Thor's solicitousness with an icy rage that's disturbing. It really isn't until he sees Thor crying (openly, unashamed and so, so sad) because he's fighting that they even begin making headway.

~

In between life lessons, Thor finds that Loki is eager to understand chemistry. It's not something he's studied, and not something he likely will, but he's quickly conversant and clearly proud to be able to help Thor brainstorm complex issues. He could have been a very good scientist, from the looks of it, if he’d been so inclined. There’s no doubt he has the smarts for it, for sure.

~

It isn't long at all before Thor discovers that Loki kisses beautifully. There's a delicate, brutal artistry to his technique that's been utterly lacking in anything Thor's experienced previously. As he starts to get his head around the fact - and it still is fact, even now that theory has been replaced by actuality - that Thor really isn't going to insist on making it lead to something, Loki offers kissing up more and more frequently.

It takes Thor a while to bring up what feels like a really awkward question, but once he does it turns out Loki is actually fine with Thor jerking himself off afterwards. Watching is fine, too, and sometimes Loki kisses him through it.

What isn't okay is- well, anything to do with slopping the resultant mess around. Tasting it. Even smelling it leaves Loki wrinkle-nosed and glaring.

They compromise. Thor doesn't put his jizz anywhere it hasn't already landed; Loki lets him laze about and does nearly all the leaping up and rushing off to fetch tissues.

Every now and then Loki upgrades to a washcloth. Sometimes he even helps with the cleanup, as long as Thor (gets the worst of it, and) doesn't try to make him.

~

Thor gets to know Amora, and to learn more about how she and Loki have been friends for ages. Loki doesn't much care for her boyfriend and takes no pains to hide it; in return she reminds Loki that he's really not one to be talking. "Present company excepted," she's quick enough to amend whenever Thor happens to be present. But every time she goes on to add "until you, he's had a bad, bad track record," Loki shuts her down before she can continue. The main thing Thor learns about Loki's own past is that it's Expressly Off-Limits.

~

"We can do more, you know," Loki says quietly. He smiles, but the little pale strip between his brow furrows. Thor kisses it gently. "We can. You're not condemned to kissing and jerking off forever."

Thor nuzzles Loki's forehead again. "Trust me, it sure doesn't feel like condemnation. Hardly." It doesn't, either. It feels warm and safe and hot as fuck and he can always give himself more when he wants it. He's struggling most with not being able to reciprocate, honestly... taking and taking isn't in his nature. He sighs. "Tell you what... we can talk about it when you're ready to give me a little history on what hasn't worked previously."

They have quite the fight before Thor finally gets to explain that he can't know he's going too far unless he knows where the line is. Oh, and then they have another fight afterwards.

All in all it's a good thing he is fine with things as they are, but Thor’s finally wise enough not to say it.

~

"I don't like hurting people," he explains after some thought when Loki asks why he's often so anxious. "I don't want to screw up, or disappoint anyone. Even when no one but me cares, probably. I know," he admits. "It's dumb. It has pretty much nothing to do with reality."

"Do you worry about me leaving?" Loki leans in to kiss him. "Because you shouldn't."

"Mm," Thor hums against Loki's mouth. "A little. But I worry more that you won't when you ought to."

~

Maybe it doesn't count as learning per se, since he's pretty sure he's known it all along, but Thor's reminded that his friends - old and new, back on the coast and here at school - are patient and open-minded. Natasha and the guys from class take things with Loki in stride, at least for the most part. They only whine a little when Thor’s endlessly busy, and not at all when he ditches them and heads to the store after what they consider less than half an evening's drinking.

Even Sif doesn't hassle him for wanting to make a solid go of it. "As long as you're happy," she reminds him whenever he worries, "I'm happy for you. But don't think this gets you out of letting me meet him."

Thor doesn't. It's not her that worries him. He does have a hard time imagining Loki and Fandral, though, and even his own dad may be challenging. "You're welcome to visit any time," he stalls. "You know that."

"I do," she says, "and thank you. I might even take you up on your offers, once the weather’s a little nicer. But your family has a farm to run, Thor. He's going to have to come down here sometime."

She’s probably right. No, she is right, and Thor knows it. Even so he changes the subject. When Sif tries to circle back around later on, he changes it again.

~

Spring comes late to this part of the country. Thor can’t decide quite how he feels about that; the cold gives him a nice excuse to curl up with Loki on the couch, but it’s starting to feel like the world will be frozen forever. He’s ready for snowbells and crocuses and the fresh, green smell of life returning.

He’s ready to be done trudging through slush and slop, at least for the season. But he isn’t ready for the semester to be over. There’s too much left- left to catch up on.

Loki still won’t come over to Thor’s apartment. He does offer from time to time, just because it feels rude not to, but Loki always has a reason why the warm nest over the store is better and Thor is careful not to press it. Oscar doesn’t like to be alone. The alarm system is acting up. Parking around campus is bound to be a problem.

And Loki’s reasons aren’t lies, exactly. At least, they’re all factual. Which, true, doesn’t make them any less excuses. They’re clearly not the whole story and that’s no secret, but Loki’s not sharing and Thor’s not pushing. He’s gradually coming to really believe that none of this is personal; Loki in turn is finally bringing the van all the way down to the access road that runs right in front of the building. Yes, Loki’s still not turning onto the medical center campus proper. But at least he’s not stuck walking all the way home from the drug store on the corner anymore. That definitely counts for something.

In silent exchange, Thor does still walk as far away from the building as he can; he doesn’t want to expose Loki to something unpleasant. And Loki’s right… even thought it’s not exactly convenient living downtown as a student, the second-floor apartment actually does feel more- more homey.

~

Almost every day Thor discovers something new. It takes him longer than it should to realize that, despite the way his boyfriend gives convincing lip service to not wanting a fuss made, Loki secretly appreciates (and, just maybe, expects) every last bit of it. Once he finally does catch on, Thor makes the extra effort any time he can. Not because he has to, but because he enjoys pleasing Loki just as much as Loki likes being pleased. Thor’s never had someone to do things for before; it’s fun picking out the perfect card or the nicest piece of candy.

Even when it isn’t, the way Loki’s face lights up makes it all worth it.

Time marches on. True to what the locals say, it really isn’t until April that the city starts to see a few breaks in the wintery weather. Snow turns to rain (mostly) and the occasional sunny day actually borders on pleasant. Thor finishes up a round of exams and heads into the least real breather before finals; Loki shifts some of his own responsibilities around so the two of them can spend more time together.

Thor stays over, marveling aloud over the number of pillows and soft throws covering Loki’s bed and getting whapped with one in return. He learns that Loki has icy feet and hogs all the many covers, but that works out fine because he personally hates roasting. And a few days later, after Loki tries making homemade soup – it’s not bad, it isn’t! – and Thor returns the favor in kind by washing all the dishes, he discovers something truly precious… something he hadn’t been sure he would ever come to know:

The tiny, perfect, breathy sound Loki makes when he gets off, with one of Thor’s big hands covering his own.

“Was that okay?” Thor wipes Loki’s fingers clean first, then – all business, no nonsense – smooths the globs spattering Loki’s pale ribs away. He still can’t quite believe what just happened; neatening up feels like worship. Is worship. “We don’t have to do it again,” he whispers into Loki’s hip. “Not if you don’t want to.”

“You’re silly,” Loki says. His voice is rough and his chest is still heaving. “It was fine.”

Thor swallows. As much as he wants to just lie here cherishing the moment, that’s dangerous. “Should we talk about it?”

“No,” Loki says, tugging up the covers. He sighs softly. “Go put that thing away,” he adds, nudging Thor’s hand with its damp washcloth. “And then we should gets some sleep. Isn’t that what people do- after?”

“Mm,” Thor hums. He kisses Loki’s cheek. “It could be.”

Chapter Text

"Reading period," Loki says dumbly, like the words aren't making it through somehow. "And then what?"

It's a conversation Thor's been putting off, an argument he's been dreading.

By mid-April the weather had finally really turned. With that has come beautiful things: streets and parks full of flowering trees; cheerful birds, just back from their southern winter vacations; long, lovely walks; more daylight, with the promise of lazy evenings. The last few weeks have flown by. When you’re pointedly ignoring the end of the semester, especially, it’s all too easy to (conveniently, sure) forget how fast late May’s approaching. He and Loki have been having the best time, far too good to ruin with unhappy conversations… otherwise known as: I barely hinted at it once, and you looked at me like I’d destroyed you.

Since that happened, he’s been far too chicken to mention anything.

Until now, when time has all but run out and the end of the world looms before them. Two weeks, barely, and the school year is over. "Finals," Thor says. He has two, and a paper to finish. As much as he's not looking forward to- to the rest of this, it really is time for classes to be done already.

"And then what?" Loki's voice is toneless, flat, but the tight lines of his back and the white-red dents where his fingers clutch his upper arms say plenty.

They've been over this. Three times now, each repetition a little more painful. "Graduation, for a few of my friends,” – Tony, Bruce – “and then I load up my little uHaul and drive down to my parents' place for the summer."

"And you can't get a job here instead, even though all your friends did?" Loki lets go of his arms and jams his hands in his pockets, so hard his pants inch down below his hipbones. Between that and the way his shoulders jut up Thor can see the roots of the tree that winds along his spine.

All of which is irrelevant. It’s just a tattoo, one he’ll get himself slapped for touching.

And what Loki's saying isn't true, really; Bruce and Tony are graduating with jobs, sure, but neither one took anything local. Natasha's snagged a co-op in town, and so have three of Thor’s other classmates, but Steve and Bucky are planning to travel most of the summer. One friend, four people... that's hardly everyone. "My dad needs me at the farm," he says. He's trying to sound calm. With each progressive round, it gets less and less easy. "At least through the worst of it. But I'll be back for sure by the start of next semester." He will, before the tourists have even left his hometown. Before Labor Day, the de facto end of summer.

"And what exactly will I do," Loki asks, enough chill in his voice now to make Thor shiver. "While you're off farming?"

The same thing you do now, Thor thinks to himself. The same thing you did before you met me. "Run your store," he says instead. "Skate, play with Oscar." He tries to smile at the back of Loki's head; he can’t. It's futile. "It's not even three months. I'll be back before you know it." He'd pictured a few back-and-forth trips, too, whenever he'd let himself think about summer, but he never did get as far as saying so and now is clearly the wrong time to mention it. He's tired. Tired of being picked out as the bad guy in a game where the rules aren't clear. Or changing.

"I won't wait for you, you know," Loki bites out, nastily.

It’s the wrong thing to say. The wrong thing to hear, and Thor's resolve short-circuits somehow. He snorts. "So, what, you're going to run all over town not sleeping with anyone?" And then it's too late, because it’s out of his mouth and destroying everything.

"That was a shitty thing to say," Loki says, followed by "I thought- you always told me you didn't mind," the last a little wetly.

“I didn’t. I don’t,” Thor tries. Which doesn’t work, obviously.

“Riiight,” Loki drawls. “Yeah. Don’t even.”

Thor's own eyes are stinging as Loki orders him out of the apartment. He puts out a hand, desperately; Loki whirls around, ready to attack him.

What choice does he have? He leaves.

~

When he gets back to his apartment - it's a literal dump these days; between Loki and classes he's barely been here recently, and when he has stopped in he hasn't bothered to spend his time cleaning - Thor texts im so sorry to Loki. He doesn't get a reply; he reminds himself firmly that he didn't really expect one. When Loki is upset, whatever the reason, it inevitably takes a while for things to settle down again.

Plus, there’s work to be done: studying, writing, packing. That evening Thor puts in some solid library time, rather than letting himself dwell on what could be nothing.

The next day, he calls instead of texting. Reality kicks him right in the fucking nuts: Loki's cell number is no longer in service.

There’s no point in trying to study, or to pack, even; he loses the entire day to sobbing.

~

"I said something awful," he tells Nat over the strongest coffee his poor, shot nerves can handle. "Unforgivable, maybe." It's a hard, ugly battle not to go up to the store; only the thought of making Loki afraid is stopping him. The summer no longer feels short or hopeful... now, it stretches out before him, wider than the Grand Canyon. "I don't want to leave things like this. I don't- I don't know what to do."

"Yes, you do," she reminds him. "You’ve told me already. You’re going to finish up your classes and go home. I'll be around; I can keep an eye on Loki."

She's better at snooping than anyone Thor knows. "It’s not just me being weird,” he points out. Again. “He has secrets he doesn't share," he confesses. "I'm worried. I don't know what's going to happen to him." Based on what (little) he knows, it's a valid concern. That, and the more he worries about Loki the less he has to think about how over things might be (are?) between them. "But I ought to do something." He has to. He can't live with the thought of trying anything less than pretty much everything. "To show him I really am sorry."

Natasha sips her tea; it's mint, by the smell of it. Of course, she has the decided advantage of not having spent all of yesterday on a crying bender. She purses her lips and looks at him. "You love Loki."

"Yes," Thor blurts out without thought, even though she probably wasn’t asking.

"And he loves you?"

Thor nods, his throat abruptly too tight for speaking. Loki does, of course. Did, anyway.

"Send him a really nice card," she suggests. “Maybe a simple present. And then – hard as it sounds - sit back and let time do a little healing."

It's hard to imagine driving down to the coast with everything still so fragile and uncertain. "That's it?" He’s pleading now. He wants- closure, probably? Unless it's the bad kind. Maybe then, even. "There’s nothing I can do beyond that?"

She stares him down, frowning. "If you have a better idea," she says, "I'm listening."

Right. As if. Of course he doesn't.

~

The day before commencement Thor takes the bus up to the arts district. He wants to be on his way out of town before the card arrives, long gone before it can come back return to sender. He wanders from store to store, taking his time and mostly just browsing. In the end he needs almost all afternoon to find the right card, along with a tiny, antique metal vase and one of the markers he's seen Loki use for lettering. He has to run to the UPS store, to get there before the place closes.

The marker isn't magic after all; it doesn't lend much grace to his own shitty writing. “I love you more than anything,” he scrawls, as neatly as he can. “More than the air, more than the ocean. What I said to you was terrible, not to mention stupid. And worst of all – or is it best? - I didn't even mean it. I'm so sorry.” He has to stop and wipe his eyes to keep his tears from dripping on the pretty card, on the nice, smooth paper he's already spoiling with his trite garbage. “If you ever want to get in touch please don’t let anything stop you. Either way, I hope you have a lovely summer.” That, plus his contact information - which hasn't changed, but who knows if Loki even kept it? - is all there’s space for. Which is fortunate, considering he’s said too much already.

Maybe the guy at the counter looks at him oddly; maybe it's just his imagination. Whatever it is, he simply can't get out of the store fast enough. He tells himself it’s just that he needs to rush through the last of his packing.

~

“So,” Sif starts when they’ve run out of small talk. Which doesn’t take long, as – despite how Fandral swears she’s not really a people person - she’s always been the most perceptive out of all of them. On top (or because) of that, she has a very sensitive bullshit meter. “What’s wrong? Did things not work out after all?”

Thor makes a face he hopes passes for puzzled. Evidently it doesn’t; Sif rolls her eyes at him. He sighs, heavily. “I’m not sure,” he admits, because he isn’t. He’s been home more than two weeks now… almost three, actually. And although he hasn’t heard anything from Loki, Thor still can’t get his head around the idea their relationship is over. He sets his fork down – at this point he’s just playing in his food anyway – and clears his throat. “I said something stupid and- and now he can’t trust me? Something like that. We were arguing about this summer. It was dumb, I guess. All of it.” He shakes his head sadly. “Everything I didn’t want to have happen did… and I guess that’s true for him too, probably.”

“Aww, man, that sucks,” Sif says, like she really means it. “I’m sorry.” She pokes at her eggs and makes a face. They’re back to dive-y diner food, now that it’s summer and all the good places are (charging summer prices, otherwise known as three times as much as normal, and) wall-to-wall tourists. “Not that I’m any expert, but have you tried talking to him? Again, I mean, now that things have cooled down?”

He hasn’t. He can’t. “I left it up to him to contact me,” he tells her. “After- well, it’s a long story,” and I’m sure as hell not telling it, he doesn’t admit, “but I pretty much had to. It wouldn’t be right for me to bother him.”

“Bother him,” she echoes. “Why would it- um, sorry, not trying to be nosy. If you want to talk about it sometime, you know I’m here… whenever you’re ready. But- oh, I don’t know. Don’t give up too easily, Thor. I know you were really happy.”

Thor opens his mouth to argue, because she can’t see inside his head… but she’s- right. That, plus none of this is her fault; there’s no point in being a dick about it. He takes a bite of his bacon and pretends stuffing his face is all he’d intended.

~

There’s something to be said for farm work, even (especially?) at its most odious: it’s hard. It’s tiring, enough so that most evenings he joins his parents in nodding off shortly after dinner. His friends – those few who don’t work in agriculture or construction have jobs in the hospitality business; no one who lives here year ‘round can afford the glamorous life, honestly – are all in the same boat, too, so no one questions why he’s being reclusive. In fact, odds are they never even notice.

Maybe Thor catches Frigga eyeing him speculatively once in a while; she never actually says anything, but he steps up his cheerfulness game anyway. As long as he stays out of town, away from all those happy vacationing couples, he’s fine. And when he’s not, he fakes it.

He even manages to avoid bugging Natasha for news of Loki.

~

Everything is almost okay until Independence Day. In his sappy little heart of hearts, Thor’d planned on having Loki come down for the long weekend. (In the little world inside his head) it would have been Loki’s second or third visit, with all of the meet-the-family, meet-the-friends awkwardness behind them. There would have been pie, with ice cream. Sparklers. Hands held and laughs laughed as everyone ooh’d and ahh’d about the fireworks. Lightning bugs and cuddles and- yeah.

It’s a good thing July fifth (dawns hot and clear, which) means both sorting and spraying; the tractor cab affords Thor a much better place to cry than would the prep area, in plain sight of everyone.

That night he’s too tired for anything. He rinses off the day’s considerable grime and falls into bed without dinner. The following morning, though - in the warm, pale light of another dawn - he digs out what he still considers his Loki pen and starts practicing.

If talking’s hard, writing’s (surprisingly) even harder. All the things he should have said and didn’t crowd Thor’s head and spill out in ridiculous jumbles. In the end, it takes him ten attempts and at least that many sheets of nice paper.

“I miss you, Loki,” he carefully prints. “It sucks being down here without you.” It does; now that he’s let himself think about it, every single week brings something else he’d hoped to share. Even his favorite things feel- wrong. More to the point, they feel sadly empty. But that’s all his own fault, really, and he’s not dumping it on Loki. He’s also not begging - because begging is pressuring, and he shouldn’t pressure - much as he might like to. “I hope you and Oscar are selling lots of books, and having a good summer. Love, Thor,” he signs off, “the coast’s loneliest farmer.”

Idiotic, sure… but it’s honest.

Chapter Text

"Just explain what you're really thinking," Sif had suggested that morning – over the same toast and the same sad eggs, in the same sketchy little diner, because it just isn’t summer without lukewarm, foil-topped plastic tubs of butter and grape jelly - when Thor’d fretted yet again about what more he could be doing. "What you’re thinking, and what you’re feeling. He needs to hear it, Thor, and you clearly need to say it.” She’d frowned up at him then, buttery knife in one hand, toast steadied with the other. “Who knows… maybe by now he’s even ready to listen. Besides,” she’d asked, before he’d finished chewing or come up with an answer, “what's the worst that can happen? Your heart's in shreds already."

She's most likely right, Thor has to admit, when he sits down later and really thinks about it. The more time goes by, the more he realizes exactly that: there are so many things he regrets not saying. Which, at least, is something he can actually rectify. Loki is a book-lover, someone as drawn to beautiful paper things as he is. His own anxious worrying is just that, his. There’s pretty much no way his letters are making their way to Loki’s garbage can unread.

He can do this, he reminds himself. Sif really is right. If nothing else, he’ll have done his best; someday (no day soon, but someday) that might bring him comfort.

Making up his mind is one thing; delivering, frustratingly, is altogether another. After three progressively more and more horrifying false starts, Thor swears under his breath and throws down his pen. He needs to relax, or writing this stupid letter will never fucking happen. Easier said than done… under the circumstances, relaxing is pretty much impossible.

A snack, maybe.

Outside the glow of his desk lamp it’s already deep twilight. The summers here used to feel so long. This one, though, is simultaneously dragging and flying by… regardless of how that should be impossible. Maybe the universe is collapsing in upon itself. Wouldn’t that be fucking ironic? Thor pokes a head out into the hall; the coast is clear, so he slips out his bedroom door and sneaks downstairs. Yes, it’s silly - his parents are out visiting friends for the evening, and he's years past the point where they'd reprimand him anyway - but old habits die hard... especially under such stressful conditions.

The kitchen, too, is dark and quiet. Off in the distance he can (barely) hear music playing; Baldr must be home, then, and holed up in the den or something. Thor pulls the refrigerator door open and grunts; the light inside is so bright it’s blinding. He has to blink a few times to get oriented. There’s nothing worth eating, but he grabs himself a beer and then two more for good measure. The bottles clink together in his hands, cold and slippery and full of promise.

One down and halfway through the second, he vows to ignore his own shitty penmanship and just get it over with already.

"I love you, you know," Thor scrawls, squinting at the paper. "I should have told you that months ago, rather than worrying about how you might take it. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know it then. I. Love. You. There. It’s out in the open, and the earth hasn’t swallowed me up after all.” It hasn’t even shuddered.

“On top of that I'm pretty sure you have," or had, maybe... but there’s no way he’s saying that; he really, really hopes whatever they are is not all behind them, "feelings for me as well. And all of that makes me doubly sorry that we can't do a better job of fighting fair." He sighs, then blows tunelessly across the top of his bottle. "My friend Sif keeps telling me I should grow up already. I'm trying." Failing, sure, but trying.

"Anyway, I miss you and I'm sorry for my big mouth and my stupid hurt feelings. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I hope you'll let me try - that you'll let us try - to make things better." Thor takes a long swallow of beer, and then another. He should be past the hardest part now... but isn't, somehow. He finishes off the bottle and pops open its last brother; if he doesn’t get this wrapped up soon, he’s going to have to re-raid the fridge. "I'm coming into town a week from Thursday, for an event at school. If we're still a thing, you're welcome to join me" - it's a couples event, a publishing party for his advisor, and he'd love to pass entirely except for how he can't - "but, regardless, I hope we can catch up. There are so many things I still want us to do, and see, and there's so much more I'm looking forward to learning about you. I love you," he writes again. He's getting increasingly sloppy; he’s a little buzzed, what with the empty stomach and all (it’s hours and hours past breakfast, and lunch just never happened), and his hand is cramping. "See you soon,” he adds in closing, “if you'll let me."

Thor doesn't let himself re-read the note – it’s too- too something to count as a letter - before folding it and cramming it into its envelope. If he looks at it even once, he'll shred it. And then die of shame, before he can write another and get it to the post office.

"Hey," he yells downstairs to his brother. He’s a little floaty-feeling. "I need to mail something. Right now. Give me a lift? I'll pay you," he offers when Baldr protests. "It's for that school thing. I forgot to drop it off earlier and it really has to get there by Monday."

Baldr comes out of the den as Thor’s halfway down the stairs. He might consider Thor’s excuse a lie, if he knew the whole story. Which he doesn’t. And won’t ever, probably. Sure, it kind of is one… but then again it kind of isn't.

Thor burps and covers it with a fake hiccup. “Come on! I’ll pay you more.” He dangles a twenty over the railing, just out of his brother’s reach. “See? This will all be yours. I promise.”

~

Packing for his little trip is hard; driving, even harder. Every mile marker Thor passes pushes him farther out of his comfort zone and closer- closer to something he’s not certain whether he’s supposed to be longing for or dreading. The only thing he knows for sure? As he pulls away from the coast and heads up into the hills, he feels like crying.

~

In nice weather like this the actual drive itself is easy. He heads into the city a day early; he's made plans to stay at Natasha's - he sublet his own shithole for the summer, so his favorite chair and good books are safely tucked away in her apartment... that, and she's the only one who really knows his situation, so he can be himself around her - and knows he’ll need a little time to get situated. Time to do recon, too, if he feels like it.

She’s at work when Thor gets there. He digs her spare key out of his pocket (she has his, too… it’s their backup system: nothing weird, nothing shady), lets himself in, and starts unpacking to keep his brain busy.

It takes about an hour. Natasha won’t be home for ages. He's got his good stuff hanging from the shower curtain rod (who doesn’t hate ironing?) and is sprawled on her sofa - pointedly not thinking about much of anything - when his phone buzzes. He’s so surprised, he almost sends it flying.

No Caller ID. Thor’s stomach flips. It might be. It can’t be. He’s not even sure he can do this.

"Hi," he says, trying to sound more brightly friendly and less like he's dying. "Who's calling?"

"Hi," Loki says. Loki. LOKI. "It's Loki."

"Holy fuck," Thor blurts out, because that’s a great way to start a conversation. "Um, I mean, how are you?"

"Sad," Loki says. "Scared, maybe."

Of life or of me, Thor wonders, fortunately with his inside voice this time. He squeezes his eyes shut. "Do you think it’s the kind of scared that might be helped by cookies?"

Loki clears his throat. "Are you in town already? Yeah, then," he goes on when Thor affirms. "Okay. Let's try cookies."

"I have my truck," Thor announces, a little too proudly. For once he can get places on his own, like a grownup. That, and nerves make him babble. "Where should I meet you?"

Proud or not, grownup or no, when he gets back behind the wheel his hands are shaking.

~

Loki looks just like Thor remembers, except maybe a little more worn-down. Thinner. He hasn't spotted Thor yet... he's watching the road, hands in his pockets and hair pleasingly messy, but Thor’s come in from the other direction and of course Loki has no idea what to watch for.

Any doubts Thor wasn't having about his own feelings vanish instantly. He's never seen anyone in his life - not even his own mother - he's wanted to hug so very, very badly. "Hey," he calls out from a few steps away. “How’s it going?”

As good with secrets as he is, even Loki fails a little at showing no reaction.

~

This time around they’re both painfully awkward. Thor isn’t sure what to say or what to do with his hands, and Loki doesn’t seem to be faring much better. They’ve never been great at small talk, and Thor doesn’t feel like- like what, telling quaint farming stories? Yeah, right. Everyone loves tales of farming.

"It's been like groundhog day," Loki admits, two cookies into their- whatever it is. Except he's mostly playing with his food, breaking the cookies into chunks and pushing their remains around the plate; Thor's not sure he's actually eaten much of anything. "I wake up, go to work, come home, and then spend the rest of the evening replaying the awful things we said and trying to make everything come out differently." He inspects his crumb-dotted fingers. “And then I get up the next day and do it all over. Except I never do fix anything, you know?”

Thor swallows harder than intended, which makes him cough. "Sorry!" He thumps his chest like an idiot. Is an idiot. "Yeah, me too. That’s pretty much all I’ve thought about all summer, but I still don't know why I said it."

Loki finally, finally looks up from his plate and cracks a tiny almost-smile, and Thor melts. "Don't lie," Loki warns. "You know exactly why. I was being a brat. I probably had it coming."

The look on Loki's face - shy, worried, kind of sheepish - gives Thor hope. "May I," he asks, making as if to reach for Loki's fingers. Loki hums and grabs for him.

Even in the summer's heat, Loki's hands are chilly.

Cookies don’t work quite as well as drinks do; it takes another two or three, big soft ones with melty chocolate chunks, to really get them talking. Loki confirms he hasn't made good on his springtime threat. He seems flat-out shocked to hear it's even an option, but does nod when Thor asks if - in his mind - they're still together.

Thor laughs. For the first time since May he feels light. Happy. Like there’s something left to look forward to, out there in his future. "Not to tell you how to live your life, then,” he half-teases, “but I sure would like it if we talked more often."

Loki gives Thor's fingers a quick little squeeze. "Yeah, me too, actually."

"Would it be okay..." – Thor’s chest aches. He pauses for a breath, or maybe to gather his courage. "Would it be okay if I hugged you?"

"It would," Loki says, and Thor lets the rest of his air out in a low whistle. "In fact, it would be lovely."

Chapter Text

Thor's whole body vibrates with the beat. The heavy bass comes up through the long wooden countertop and jiggles his glass; now that the head has settled out, the surface of his beer is all tiny ripples. It’s still early for a Saturday. On the other side of the brass railing surrounding the dance floor, where things haven’t yet started to get really crowded, Sif and Loki boogie with wild abandon.

It’s fine. Thor smiles. He isn't much for dancing, personally (and that might just be the grossest of gross understatements; if he has to do more than stand in one spot swaying to the music, he's fucked... and outta there), but he's a big, powerful guy. He doesn’t have to be right out in the middle of things staking his turf. They’ve been here for over an hour and no one but Sif has dared to approach his boyfriend. Of course, when it comes to Sif, Thor's not worried. He's just happy his two best friends have found something (else, besides him) in common.

"You don't know what you're missing, Thor," Sif kids as the two of them - breathing hard, sweaty, grinning ear-to-ear - join him at the bar. "This boyfriend of yours," she goes on, and Thor can't miss the way Loki's face lights up a little brighter, "is all the dancer you'll never be."

"He skates," Thor offers, returning Loki's smile. He pulls Loki close with one hand, pressing into the damp shirt to feel hot skin and sleek muscle. "I played rugby. It's hardly surprising he's a little more graceful."

Loki bends to kiss Thor's temple. "Are the bathrooms okay here?" Thor nods, because they are. Safe, that is. Even with the tourists in town, this isn’t the kind of place where things happen. All the same, Loki looks wary and his nervousness is contagious. Thor's grateful to see Volstagg – another big guy, big enough that no one would ever take chances - tailing Loki around the corner and out of sight behind the bar.

"I can’t say I’ve ever pictured you going for tattoos and an undercut," Sif leans in to tell Thor once they're effectively alone. "You've always been so- ordinary. But I like him," she adds, “really. He's smart… and nice, once you get past all the snark."

"You know me," Thor shoots back, nudging her shoulder and giving her a big, silly wink. "I always have liked my friends a little sassy."

"Ah-ah," she chides. "I've seen how the two of you look at each other. Whatever you have going on, it's not just friendship. You don't have to label everything," she reminds him when he makes a face at her. "If you've figured it out, you've figured it out. If you're happy, you're happy."

Thor isn't sure he and Loki have figured it out; in his mind, at least, things still feel a little dicey. All the same, they've talked every day since he's come back to the farm. And now, three weeks after their- whatever it was ended, Loki's finally down here checking out the scenery. It’s progress. Thor is happy. Even better, watching Loki dancing (with Fandral this time, which is not quite as okay, not compared to Sif… but Thor is a big guy and all his friends - Fandral the Suave included - do know better when it comes to poaching), he thinks they both are.

~

"It's up to you," Thor tells (reminds) Loki. "You can meet them if you like, but if you don't feel like it" (or up to it, he thinks but decides not to say) "no one is going to be angry. Least of all me." Which is easy to say, given that the rest of his family doesn’t even know Loki exists, here or anywhere. And he’s not positive how he feels about the whole thing himself, really; as much as he'd like to see his mother get a chance to know Loki, Thor isn't quite as sure about Odin. Plus, if his worlds continue to avoid colliding Thor knows he can avoid the worst of the Friggan Inquisition.

Loki yawns loudly into the night air. The cute B&B where he's staying - gay-friendly, and just far enough away from the water to be peaceful (and cheap, relatively speaking; that matters to Thor, regardless of whether or not it does to Loki) - is just around the next corner. It's that time despite how Thor isn't quite ready for the evening to be over. "I'll think about it," Loki promises. He stops and pulls Thor in close for a kiss that tingles head to toe. "See you in the morning?"

"Mm-hm," Thor hums into Loki's hair. "I hope you worked up a good appetite tonight... I swear the place I want to take you for breakfast has The. Best. Waffles. Ever."

They make the turn. The air is heavy. "I wish you were staying," Loki says, his voice very, very quiet.

"Me too."' Thor hugs him, a little fiercely. "But remember: I'm supposedly just out with the gang. If my ass isn’t home by 2:00 AM mom will be sending the police out after me." Frigga grew up in a different time… even now that they’re largely grown, she worries far too much about her boys sometimes.

"Just what I need," Loki grumbles, but he's smiling now and Thor grins right along with him. "A little baby boyfriend with a curfew."

"You know what they say about younger men, though," Thor teases. Loki's (temporary, sadly… how nice it would be to have him right here in town forever) front steps are right there. Marching him up them and straight on into bed would be so easy.

"I do." Loki snorts, giving Thor a teasing shove. "Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em."

Thor walks on the beach for a while, just to cool down. Sure enough... when he gets home his mother's waiting up for him. It’s late, though, and they’re both tired. For once he gets off easy: she only grills him a little.

~

"Have you ever had to meet someone else's family? Some past someone, I mean." They've gotten a table outside; while it's windy enough that they have to keep a death-grip on their napkins, Thor’s just grateful the patio isn't buggy.

"Nope, never." Loki's waffle sits surrounded by a perfectly round maple syrup moat that’s exactly as deep as his plate is. Thor has no idea how he's actually going to manage eating anything without spilling. "I'm not what most people want to take home to mother. Not most people I've- hung out with, anyway."

Thor only just resists the urge to point out that he isn't most people. Not like Loki doesn't already know it. "And they weren't the sort you took home either, then?"

Loki's face hardens, just a little. Thor winces. Bad topic, again. No matter how carefully he tries to get there, Loki fights off every opportunity to talk about parents. About any family. "I guess there's no point in hiding it," Loki says as Thor thinks about how to best backpedal. "You seem to be sticking around, after all. I guess I can't hide it forever."

"I don't-," Thor tries. He’s startled. They never go here. "You don't have to..."

Loki sets down the knife and fork he's been using to dissect his waffle into neat, perfect, bite-sized pieces. There still isn't a single stray drop of syrup anywhere. "Just stop," he insists, and Thor does, abruptly. "I don't have any family. Apparently I was abandoned as a baby… something about my father leaving me out in the cold after he’d gotten it in his head that I was a going to bring curse down upon him and his other children," Loki elaborates, as Thor searches desperately (albeit in vain) for something - anything - to say. "After that, I was in the system, I guess you could call it. I never really stuck anywhere... wasn't quite what anyone was looking for, probably. Or maybe the curse bit was actually true."

Thor realizes his mouth is hanging wide open and shuts it with considerable effort. He’s not sure what he should be doing, but just sitting there letting himself keep on gaping has got to be the wrong thing. “But what about-,” he tries, not quite certain what he means to be asking. He can’t think straight, even.

"I lied," Loki says flatly, nodding, as Thor's mind keeps right on reeling. He has no idea what Loki might be planning to confess, let alone how badly hearing it’s going to hurt him. "About the woman with the orchard,” Loki goes on, though. It’s nothing, and Thor silently orders himself to calm down. This is not about him; it happened a long, long time ago, and every single bit of it is all about Loki. “She was my so-called big sister, from one of those charitable organizations. Supposedly she also knew my mom? Something like that. At any rate, she’s- she’s always been good to me."

"I'm glad," Thor tries. It doesn’t feel like enough. He can't even imagine how growing up under those circumstances might be. "Glad you had- someone." He vows to be a little more patient with Loki’s quirky behavior around being abandoned, if (when?) it surfaces again in the future. He takes a deep breath and smiles a wobbly little smile. “Just don’t tell my mom, or she’ll mother you within an inch of your life trying to make up for it.”

Loki’s frown deepens. He hasn’t even picked up his silverware, let alone started back in on his waffle. “You’re really just- okay with- with all of this?” He carves a big circle out of the air with both hands. “It seriously doesn’t bother you?”

It certainly does bother Thor that someone threw baby Loki away like so much garbage, but he’s not sure that’s what he’s been asked. Probably not. “I’m sorry you had such a shitty start in life,” he offers anyway, carefully. “Of course I am. But I’m okay with whatever it means to us now.”

“Even the part about how I lied to you?”

Thor reaches for Loki’s hand. He’s not sure a story Loki’s likely been telling all his speaking life counts as lying, really. “Are you keeping other secrets?” It’s a safer question than it sounds, since he already knows the answer.

Loki picks up his fork with his free hand and dips it into his syrup. The tines break the surface in four tiny, perfect dimples. “Maybe,” he says quietly. “Okay, yes.” He doesn’t look at Thor. “A few, actually.”

“Anything that affects me directly?” This one isn’t quite so safe, but Thor knows he needs to ask it anyway. He rubs a thumb lightly over the back of Loki’s hand and bites the inside of his own cheek to keep from fidgeting.

“Um, no?” Loki still doesn’t look up from his food. “I don’t think so?” He sounds worried and uncertain, which is actually (and, yes, paradoxically) reassuring.

“Then, yes,” Thor says. He lets a long breath out, silently. “I’m okay with that part too. But don’t underestimate what I said about my mom, Loki,” he adds, still trying to lighten the mood. Whose mood, he’s not quite sure. “If she could, she’d be everybody’s mother.”

When Loki finally looks up from his plate, he looks- grateful, maybe. He also looks young, and stubborn; Thor sees a little of what had originally looked like punk-ass kid in him. “Duly noted,” he says, nodding. “I’ve filed it under topics to avoid in front of Thor’s mom, I promise.”

“I was kind of kidding,” Thor admits, “but that really is the best approach anyway.” He waits for Loki to fork up a bite, to give himself time to muster a little- balls, maybe. “So, does this mean you’re actually willing to meet her?”

“Mm,” Loki hums around his mouthful of waffle. “I guess so.”

Chapter Text

"So," Thor starts. Easy enough, sure, but getting any farther is a real challenge. Even after lying awake half the night thinking about it he’s pretty sure he isn’t ready for this conversation. Then again, honestly, he doesn’t think he'll ever be ready. No amount of time or preparation is going to change that fact. Case in point: two hours (thinking, again, while) sorting produce hasn't done anything. Well, not beyond making him all the more anxious.

What had been a perfectly pleasant morning is now a hot early afternoon, and the air in the sorting line is thick with dust. Thor coughs into the sweaty, gritty crook of an elbow. "I'd like you to meet someone. Um, not right this second, I mean," he adds, struggling to cover his nerves with a forced laugh that he’s sure sounds more like a hiccup. "Later. Later today, ideally." He finally chances looking up from the belt only to have to bring his eyes right back down; he's certainly not ready for the bright, pure joy in his mother’s expression.

"A boy, you mean?" Frigga laughs too; coming from her it sounds genuinely happy. "A special boy? That kind of someone?"

Thor shakes his head, ruefully. "Yes," he admits, because Loki is indeed a very special someone. "But please don't call him that. Ever." He’s confident the absolute last thing Loki wants to be is someone’s special boy. Seriously.

Frigga skips right past all of that and continues on. "Is he from here?" Thor's not sure if she's ignoring his point, or just so excited about his news that she’s not quite listening. Either way, he knows the real question: “Is Loki a tourist?”

When Thor and his brother were younger, their parents used to warn them off the tourists. All the local parents did (and at every possible opportunity, from what he remembers). Baldr used to complain, of course, but - in Thor’s opinion - the seasonal folks were mostly just a nuisance anyway. Fandral's the only one who broke the rules (openly, anyway). If memory serves, doing so got his friend grounded. "No," he tells his mother, "and no, he’s not a vacationer. I met him over the winter. More like the end of last fall, actually."

"A fellow student, then?" Frigga's hands move over the belt with an economy of motion Thor’s never quite developed. She's been sorting fruits and vegetables longer than he's been alive; in all these years he's never once heard her complain about it. Given the way his own back is protesting just now, that's no small accomplishment.

"No," he says again, sneaking in a quick shoulder roll. Too much time spent stretching makes for lazy sorting; when your parents own the place, that just isn’t an option. "He runs a small business." Thor clears his throat – no point in faking anything this time, not with the proverbial cat out of the equally proverbial bag – and swallows. "He's just in town for a few days, visiting- visiting me, actually."

"No wonder you were out so late last night, then," Frigga exclaims. Thor can feel his face heating, like he’s a kid all over again. "You know you could have had him stay here, honey."

Yes, of course, he does know that. And it’s not something he wants to explain... how he and Loki need time to ease into everything. How change is hard; challenging, and scary. "He's never been out to the shore," he says instead. "I wanted him to have the whole experience."

"You wanted to keep him safe from us, you mean," she teases. “Then again, I can’t say that I blame you.”

"We really did go out with everyone last night," he protests. He’s starting to seriously wonder if maybe he isn’t so grown-up after all. Maybe he’s cursed with Eternal Teenagerdom. "It was the whole bunch of us. Sif was happy to finally have someone to dance with." Not that Fandral won't if pressed, but Sif usually doesn’t bother. They all know every moment spent pairing off with friends is wasted time, time Fandral would rather spend, er, hunting.

When Thor finally looks up from the belts and bins again, his mother is still beaming. "I’d love to meet him. Cocktails," she suggests, "or dinner?"

Thor isn't sure. Now that it's on the table, he really should ask Loki. "Can I check in with him and get back to you?" He winces. "I mean, is that okay? I don't want this to be an imposition."

"Of course, and it isn’t one," she insists. "But don't cut it too close. You know how badly things go when I have to send your brother to the fish market."

Oh, does he ever. Not that Baldr does it on purpose. "Oh, I don’t need long," he assures her. "I'll call him as soon as we break for lunch. And then I'll run down to the docks if I need to."

~

"Everyone's going to be there," Thor warns. It’s not a great connection; Loki’s voice is really faint, and things are broken-up and crackly. "Not just my mom, but my dad. Oh, and my idiotic half-gay brother. Half in the sense that his body knows but his mouth isn’t admitting anything. It’s- well, we can just do drinks if the idea of spending an entire meal with them makes you crazy."

Loki clears his throat. "Honestly, it sounds more like it's making you crazy."

It isn't. Not the way Loki likely means, anyway. Thor's just worried about screwing this up. "No," he says more firmly than he feels. "Not at all. I'd love to have you spend the evening with them. Us. Whatever."

"You are the worst liar," Loki says, and Thor stiffens. "But, sure,” he goes on, and maybe things are still okay. “Let's do dinner, then. What can I bring?"

Booze, Thor thinks, and lots of it. "Just some pretty flowers or something," he says instead. "My mom's a sucker for pretty."

~

The market is jammed, even though he's gotten there fairly early. Any earlier, really, and the day’s boats won’t even be done unloading. The air smells like salt, and fish. Thor grabs a ticket and takes his place in line, pointedly ignoring the already drunk tourists at the raw bar who are a little too interested in his tan and his muscles.

"If they were downwind of you, they'd shut right up," one of the women who works at the diner teases, smiling. "They have no idea what they aren’t missing. Ah, the luxury of distance."

He knows she’s just kidding, but then again he has worked a long, hot day already. On top of which adding in a little eau de waterfront won’t help matters any. After he gets back to the farm and plops the fish in the refrigerator, Thor puts himself through a very, very thorough scrubbing.

~

"Oh, call me Frigga," Thor's mom insists before Loki's even done saying "hi, Mrs. Borson." "And come in, please. Oh, aren’t these lovely!"

As Loki hands over the bouquet in its simple paper wrapper, Thor sneaks a quick second look at his boyfriend. He's never seen Loki quite so non-controversial, probably; he's simultaneously impressed and a little bit saddened by just how hard Loki's trying.

"You look nice," Thor mouths as Frigga goes after a vase. Loki does, all tricked out in an airy blue-and-white-striped tunic that covers his tattoos, with loose linen trousers and simple, masculine sandals. His hair is in a low bun that hides a lot of the close-cropped sides, and he's completely devoid of any jewelry. Thor's never seen him without the rings in his lip; he looks serious and proper and kind of- of country-clubby. It's a little shocking, actually.

"No I don't," Loki whispers back. "I look ridiculous. I look like some sort of corporate fag zombie."

Thor can’t help but snort. Loki glares at him. Thor mouths back “I love you,” because he does. Always.

~

"Your father should be finishing up soon," Frigga tells Thor as he pours Loki a gin and tonic. She's already settled into one of the lounge chairs and sipping away at her own concoction. "At which point he's under strict orders to shower, so Loki here doesn't think you were raised in a barn or something."

They all laugh. "I kind of was," Thor tells Loki. He's pleased, though. His mom rocks. Slowing Odin down gives them a good opportunity to relax a little while they start getting to know one another.

Thor holds a chair for Loki and then sits down himself. He takes a sip of his drink, and then another. "So my son tells me you own your own business," Frigga prompts, smiling and friendly. He’s reminded – yet again – how dearly he loves his mother.

"Mm," Loki hums into his glass. The humidity is high; their tumblers sweat. "I do: a bookstore."

"Oh. My. God. Seriously? That’s amazing,” Frigga exclaims, beaming. "I adore you already."

~

Odin’s running a bit farther behind schedule than expected, apparently. Not that Thor’s complaining. No one is; the three of them have had a nice chat – really nice; he’s impressed (okay, and relieved) by how well Loki and Frigga seem to be getting along - over what had become two drinks and is now three. Thor's feeling a bit buzzed; if he stands up he knows he’ll have to concentrate on not wobbling. Loki in turn has started to get a little giggly.

Everything is going better than he’d hoped, too… Frigga's so pleased to be intelligently discussing books that she doesn't broach any of the more awkward topics - where Loki's from, what his parents do, whether he's prepared to move to the farm and make an honest man of her baby - and Thor's just happy to see Loki relaxing. By the time his brother shows up, he’s handily managed to forget anyone else was even coming.

"Ooh," Baldr says as the porch door slaps shut behind him. He grins at Thor’s eye rolling. He’s a nuisance, but a mostly harmless one. "Hi, I’m Thor’s little brother,” he says, putting out a hand. “You must be Loki."

They’ve barely sat back down before the door opens again. This time, it’s Odin. Even outside like they are, Thor still feels like all the air’s been sucked out of- of everything.

Loki’s poker face goes back on for introductions. It doesn’t come off again, either.

~

“A bookstore,” Odin says. He stirs his drink idly. His grey hair’s pulled back into the same sloppy bun Thor’s is, but his eyes are shrewd. Calculating. “That must be tough in today’s economy.”

“It can be,” Loki agrees. He shrugs. “The online business covers it, though, and my overhead isn’t bad because I own the building.”

Odin nods. “Smart thinking. What made you want to go into that sort of thing?”

“The timing was right,” Loki explains. “I was already working in retail, and a coworker’s aunt was looking to sell the place… complete with all the inventory. I’ve always loved books, and I have a soft spot for readers,” he adds, smiling at Frigga. She smiles back at him. “One thing just led to another.”

Thor’s never really heard this part of the story. In his head, ridiculous as it sounds, everyone who works at Heart’s Desire sprang out of the stacks fully formed. Consequently he has no idea if Loki’s telling the truth or fabricating, just making up what Odin wants to hear. Maybe he’ll ask about it later.

Maybe he doesn’t want to know.

Odin, of course, isn’t finished. Nothing is ever that simple. “And your parents didn’t mind?” Thor cringes. He has a pretty good idea where his father’s taking this, and he really doesn’t like it. “There wasn’t anything else,” Odin presses on, “anything they wanted for you?”

“I guess not,” Loki says, a little too brightly. “At least, not that anyone ever told me.”

“The fire’s ready,” Frigga cuts in. Thor wants to kiss her. “I’ll bring out the fish, dear, so you can get things underway. I’m sure everyone must be starving.”

Thor takes her cue and sets his glass down. “Come on,” he suggests to Loki. “Let’s give mom a hand in the kitchen.”

“Guests don’t have to work,” Frigga reminds him, but he knows she’s just being polite. She wants to save Loki just as badly as he does.

“It’s fine,” Loki assures her as they all struggle to their feet. “Really. I’d love to.”

Chapter Text

"The fish here is so good." Loki rubs his belly with his free hand - the other one is all tangled up with Thor's, which is exactly where Thor wants to keep it - and groans softly. “And so massive.” The perfect-sized meal for three huge farmers is probably a little much for Loki, Thor figures. "Still, it’s all so fucking good. I'm going to be hopelessly spoiled; just one visit here and I've been ruined for the fish at home forever."

"Mm." Thor doesn't admit that he loves everything about what Loki’s saying; that he wants to kiss each and every tiny thread that's going to help bind Loki to this place. To his home. "There definitely are advantages to living so close to the ocean."

They're walking back to Loki's bed-and-breakfast, slowly. Lazily. Strolling, even. The shoreline is beautiful in late twilight, and they could both use the exercise (okay, “exercise”) after overindulging in Frigga's generous portions (she’d outdone herself in terms of sinfully delicious cooking; even Loki the foodie couldn’t stop talking about how wonderful everything was). Then too, Thor prefers not to drink and drive - especially in tourist season - and he knows he's had a few too many. Navigating life with Odin can do that to you.

"I don't think your father likes me," Loki says, out of nowhere. Thor vows to think about winning the lottery next time, if Loki’s just going to read his mind anyway. "I- I don’t think- I'm not what he was looking for."

Thor’s not sure his father’s been looking for anything. "He's never met anyone like you," he says. He squeezes Loki's fingers gently. "Not that wasn't a tourist, anyway." He laughs. "I mean, I suppose you are a tourist, but not the way he's thinking."

"It's impossibly difficult to win over the locals here, isn't it?" Loki's voice is so soft Thor can barely hear him over the surf, even though they're not quite out onto the sand yet. They’re still picking their way through the rocks and tufty grass just past the roadside.

"Oh, I don't know," Thor kids gently. It’s unfortunate timing; he's not as sharp as he'd like to be for this conversation. He splays his fingers across his chest faux-dramatically. "You've done pretty well with at least one of them. Oww," he huffs as Loki's elbow catches the muscle just below his ribs. "Okay, you win. Serious answer." Thor thinks of all the gay businesspeople who've settled here in town in his lifetime, of the odd looks they sometimes still get when they stay all winter. "The farmers can be a little tough, but there are enough year-rounders in town to balance things out, kind of."

"Kind of," Loki echoes. He tugs Thor's hand up to make air quotes. "That's reassuring."

Thor leans in to kiss the side of Loki's head and clunks into him in the process. "Oops. Sorry." In a lot of ways, that, but there’s no point in weighing down a summer evening with relationship baggage. "It's a small town in the offseason, and that does have its challenges," Thor goes on, "but it's not awful. You'd find people, people you could deal with. Will, I mean," if only wishing could make it so. "Because I'll never let you get away with just this one visit,” Thor covers, steering Loki carefully. “Here, follow me. We should go right down to the water."

They're way too full to swim, not that it would pay to get caught skinny-dipping anyway, but it doesn't take much to coax Loki into slipping off his sandals and rolling his pants above his knees. The tide is halfway out, exposing a soft, clean stretch of wet sand; from past experience Thor knows there aren't too many things to slice tender feet open, but the two of them move slowly and cautiously anyway. "Is this where you and your friends ring in the new year? This spot," Loki asks as the waves bubble and tug around their bare ankles. "It's so pretty."

It is pretty, especially with the way the moon's reflection breaks into ten thousand pieces and ripples gently. "Nearby," Thor says. "Maybe a quarter mile? This stretch of beach always feels more summery. Dad will warm up to you, you know," he tells Loki quietly. "It's hard for him to look past the farm and see- actual people."

Loki huffs. "Does he love the farm more than you?"

Thor- hopes not? He's never really thought that way about it. "Who knows? Mom loves us all like crazy, though. If he does, she certainly makes up for it." She’s got more than enough love for both her boys. Enough for anybody.

He doesn't ask any of the questions tumbling through his head - "does all this mean you might actually be willing to live here" chief among them - because he- he's not ready to accept any possible answer, maybe. "Dad aside, are you having a nice time? Visiting, I mean," he asks instead. It's- safer. Loki is warm and close and kissable, so, so kissable, but Thor needs to know things are okay first.

Loki stretches to catch Thor's other hand and pulls them face-to-face. "Mm-hm," he hums, nodding. "It's lovely, and quaint, and I like knowing where you're rooted."

"Ah-ah," Thor chides, taking a big sideways step up the beach and tugging Loki along with him. "Not facing the water is the surest way of going accidentally swimming." Letting a surprise wave get them with their good clothes on and their phones in their pockets isn't very kind, not when he's grown up with the Atlantic right here and knows better. "No, please, stay," he begs when Loki dutifully starts to turn back towards the water. "I'd really like to kiss you."

It's good. Better than good, even, with the warm, damp breeze and the taste of salt on their skin.

They trade kisses (and nips, and more kisses) at the edge of the surf until the night is pitch black around them. "We should get a room," Loki whispers against Thor's lips. He nudges at Thor's erection with his hip. "I think someone here needs one."

"Sorry," Thor says, very much meaning it. He'd been adrift in the wet softness of Loki's mouth and had lost track of what the rest of his body'd been doing. "I can walk you to your place and head back off to the farm if you want me to."

"You should stay over," Loki suggests instead. He presses his lips to the ridge of Thor's cheekbone. "I think that would be a lot nicer, don't you?"

"Uh, yeah," Thor says. Squawks, more like. He clears his throat. Somehow life never loses its ability to be ridiculously awkward. "I never thought I'd be saying this, but I just have to text my mother."

Loki snorts and Thor shoves him, lightly. "Although after that tart she just served us," he concedes, "I might even forgive you."

"Regardless, we can stay out here longer if you'd like," Thor offers. He can be patient when he needs to. In fact, patience may finally be turning into one of his defining virtues. "I mean, we need to sit up on the rocks and let our feet dry anyway." Putting sandals on wet, sandy feet is a recipe for awful blisters.

Loki smiles. His eyes shine in the moonlight. "Not too long. Seriously."

~

The room is probably very nice. Thor doesn’t really see it. He’s too busy alternating between worrying about whether they’re going to regret this in the morning and enjoying – holy understatement of understatements – the feel of Loki’s hot, slick mouth on his penis. Oh, and wondering how Loki might have gotten so good at something that- that doesn’t make sense, even. Something Loki should never have even been interested in do-.

Loki pulls off and looks up at Thor. He’s sweaty – they both are – and frowning. “Hey,” he orders, “stop thinking. You’re supposed to be enjoying this, no? Unless I’m so bad at it that-.”

“No! You aren’t. I am. It’s not that. You’re fine.” Thor clears his dry throat. It’s hard to breathe, especially when he’s so torn between wanting to be back in Loki’s mouth and doing the right thing. Whatever that is. “Better than fine. Much better. I- I just don’t want to do something that- uh- you don’t want to?” He doesn’t… doesn’t want one night of mildly drunken fun to undo months of kindness and trust building.

“Seriously, stop,” Loki says. His voice is scratchier than Thor’s. “I mean it. I do want to do this for you. Whose idea was it? Mine. Who started it? Me. Stop. Fucking. Worrying.” He punctuates the words with wet kisses to Thor’s thighs, warm, sloppy presses of his lips that leave Thor writhing. “Just sit back and let me do this, okay?” He stretches up to kiss Thor’s hipbone. “I promise not to hate you in the morning.”

“Good thing.” Thor laughs. His mother is still right; as always, he’s stupidly transparent. “Okay,” he concedes, gamely. “As long as you promise.” His dick bobs between them, and Loki sneaks a lick along it. “Ahh!”

“I promise,” Loki whispers, breath hot against Thor’s skin. “I promise.”

The larger part of Thor does want this, after all. He watches himself disappear into the pink-red haven of Loki’s mouth and shivers; Loki hums.

With each passing second it gets that much easier to do precisely as instructed.

Thor does manage to keep his head enough to be a gentleman. He lets Loki set the pace, his own hips pressed into the bedding to keep himself from thrusting up where it’s probably not welcome. And when (despite all that fretting) he can’t hold off any longer Thor pushes Loki gently – albeit urgently – away and finishes things up himself. He’s relieved when they can both laugh breathlessly at his warm, shining handful of semen. “I’ll get a tissue,” he pants, trying to disentangle his legs without kicking Loki.

“Shh,” Loki soothes. “My treat. I’ll get some.”

~

“Still want me to stay over?” Thor’s perched on the edge of the bed, not sure if he should undress and wash up or pull himself back together and start walking.

Loki frowns at Thor again. “Of course.” He sighs. “Sweetie?” Thor blinks. They’ve never quite made it to terms of endearment before. “I want you to stay. Really.” He steps in between Thor’s feet and pulls Thor’s face against his ribs. “Stay. Please.”

Thor does. When they climb into bed he holds Loki close, long after Loki’s breathing evens out into soft little snores.

They’re still curled up together, sticky and warm, in the morning. Thor’s unspeakably relieved to wake up to and see Loki smiling.

~

“I don’t want you to go home,” Thor tells Loki. They’ve tried to cram too much in today, their last day together – the beach at sunrise, which is stupidly early; a tour of the farm, including some gritty, sweaty time spent bouncing along in the cab of one of Odin’s newer tractors; the fish market late in the afternoon; one more Borson Family Dinner – and are absolutely exhausted. Still, it’s been beyond perfect. Except for how Loki is leaving in the morning. Thor wants to cry just thinking about it. Is crying a little, maybe. “I want to have you all to myself forever.”

Loki blinks. His eyes aren’t the driest either, now that Thor really looks at him. “It’s August,” he says, with a wan little smile that only makes Thor tear up that much more. “You’re going to be back at school in, what, two weeks?”

“Two and a half,” Thor corrects, because of course half a week is the difference between soon and not for an eternity.

“It’ll be fine,” Loki says, wiping his eyes with the back of one hand. “As soon as I get back home we’ll- plan something. Dinner. Date night. Something to look forward to, you know?”

Thor’s even looking forward to packing, which is probably a sign he’s losing his sanity. He can’t help it; packing is just one more sign that they’ll soon be back together. “Yeah,” he says. He snuffles. Tacky. “Yeah. I’d like that.”

Chapter Text

The last days of summer tick away, rich and steamy and golden. While life on the farm is as busy as ever Thor - unlike the past few years, where the upcoming semesters hadn’t held much promise and the harvest’s bounty had felt oddly like loss - feels himself drawn resolutely towards something. He's going back to school again, sure, back to the friends he's made there and the coursework he's actually not dreading. The place is familiar now, and he’s come to kind of like it.

Mostly, though, he's returning to Loki. And that feels like going home.

"You could just stay at my place," Loki suggests when Thor learns that his sub-letter really can’t be out until the day before classes, and it's tempting. Really tempting. Except he's not sure - once he settles in - that he'll want to leave, and every way that could play out scares him. Every permutation, every combination. His undergraduate statistics professor would be so fucking proud of him; his mother, rather less so.

"It's just a couple of days," he reminds Loki. "And my stuff's at Natasha's anyway. Thanks, though." His throat feels a little tight; he hopes he hasn’t just done something awful.

"Fine. No, it is," Loki huffs when Thor presses. "I get it. Just come home soon, okay?"

Thor can’t quite decide if Loki sounds (just) sad, or frosty. He takes a deep breath. In his panic over Loki’s small offer, he’s almost forgotten he has good news to share. "I'm bringing a car," he says. Yells, almost, because this makes all the difference… the difference between easy and complicated. It’s an idea Thor’s been kicking around for weeks, but he and Frigga had just worked it all out last night. The car once belonged to her cousin, and it's even less anything special than his old truck is, but it gets the kind of gas mileage that pairs nicely with no job, just a stipend.

Even right here in the middle of a stressful conversation, it's still such big news that he's stupidly excited. "Should make the logistics of- of us a lot- easier."

"A car," Loki echoes. He laughs. "Okay, okay. You just might be actually forgiven."

~

"He said I could crash there," Thor tells his mother as they shuck their way through the endless heap of freshly-harvested corn that he has to keep reminding himself is sure to play a starring role at dinner. They’re not the only ones growing corn here, by far, but Odin’s is always special somehow. Odin swears it’s the same stuff everyone else has. The neighbors, Thor knows (because he’s overheard them), joke endlessly about what exactly the bunch of them might be doing to it.

Which never quite stops anyone from lining up to eat it, somehow.

Now that he’s gone on to graduate school, what was once just something she did when the urge hit has hardened into an actual tradition: Frigga throws together an informal, friendly mini-party the last Saturday before he leaves for the semester. It’s not a big thing, and not a fancy one; just a few neighbors, a few relatives, maybe some farm staff/coworkers, his friends. It’s nice. Perfect, even. Next year, because he's getting ahead of himself like always, Thor vows to plan better so Loki can partake of it. "But I told him I'd just stop off at Nat’s. To see my chair. It’s about my chair, not Natasha," he babbles on as his mother looks at him oddly. "Fine. Okay. I was afraid," he confesses. "Afraid he would want me to stay there forever. Also, afraid he just meant 'for a couple of days' and would be expecting me to leave."

Frigga tips her head and raises one eyebrow. It’s the face she hauls out any time he’s being ridiculous; over the years he’s seen it far too often. "And you couldn't ask him to clarify what he meant because why, exactly, darling?"

Even thinking about it makes his head hurt. "It's like getting my grades," Thor tries to explain. “As much as I want to get them… I really only want the verdict if it's good news." In this case it’s made all the harder by his not being sure what good news might look like, although he doesn’t add that. He’s ridiculous, sure, but not flat-out crazy.

His mother sets another ear on the cleaned pile and holds up her silk-covered hands before trying to wipe the mess off with her apron. "I think life would be so much easier if this stuff tasted better." She wrinkles her nose. “I also think you might be making your whole business unnecessarily complicated.”

"But it is complicated. Loki's ace, you know," Thor blurts out, knowing he'll be redder than red in well under fifteen seconds. So red it glows through an entire outdoor summer’s worth of suntan. "Ace. Asexual. But he doesn't hate sex; he can take it or leave it." Good grief. His mouth gets so far out ahead of his brain, sometimes.

"Hmm. When he was here, I didn’t get any sense you were uncomfortable being with one other. Have you found ways to work around it?" Frigga studies Thor so closely that he has to look away. And wonder, of course, why the living fuck he’d thought this was something that needed discussing just now… with his mother, of all people. Of course, he hadn’t thought, which is basically the problem.

"I think so," he tries, because the rest doesn’t bear saying. He’s given his mouth far too much leash already. "It's fine, actually. Going into this, I didn't really have any expectations.” He breathes in another good lungful of humid, corn-scented air and sighs. “Sif was a little weird about it, though."

"Well, then," Frigga says with a lopsided smirk, "it's a good thing she isn't dating him:"

"Are you okay with the fact that he doesn't feel the same way about you," Sif had asked, way back at the beginning. Something along those lines, anyway. But that isn't the way things with Loki are, not really. Loki loves Thor; it's just sex he isn't wild about. She might have had a good point… if she hadn’t been, well, wrong.

"Yeah," he agrees, smiling back and nodding. "That would be awfully complicated."

"Never let anyone else tell you what's right for you," his mother tells him (okay, reminds him, because they’ve been having some variation on this conversation for as long as he can remember). "If you're good with things, and Loki’s good with things, that's really all that matters."

"You like him." He doesn't ask, even though he does want to know, because he doesn't want another lecture about other people’s opinions. Not so close on the heels of the last one.

"I do," she says anyway, just like he’d hoped she would. "He's smart and fascinating, and – best of all – the two of you are sweet to one another. And, yes, he's quite attractive," she adds with a laugh as Thor rolls his eyes. "You're a grown man, and you don't need my blessing... but for what it's worth you do have it. Now back to work, you! The corn's not exactly cleaning itself while you and I yammer."

~

It’s gotten impossibly more humid as the day has worn on. Everything – even Thor’s hair, his clothes - smells like toasted buns and crab cakes and spicy-sweet grilled chicken.

He looks out over the yard, at everyone chatting happily. They're in t-shirts and jeans, half of them barefoot. He thinks about next year - pictures Loki still in sandals because the grass is prickly, Thor; prickly! - and smiles. It's just another thing, a thing he wants to work through.

Right now everyone’s filling up on crab cakes and beer. Toting around plastic plates heaped with slaw and tomato salad and chicken... and all that corn, obviously. Later on there will be sparklers and more beer and pie that's nothing short of to die for. Every last person will go home full and sticky and worn out from laughing.

He will miss this badly, Thor knows, if he somehow never sees it again. It's a choice he hopes he won't be forced to make.

Consequently it comes as a bit of a surprise to him, as he pushes off the post he’s been leaning against and makes his way out to the impromptu buffet table for another ear of corn (or three, and won’t he pay for that tomorrow), that it’s not like he has any doubt what he'd end up deciding. No doubt at all. In fact, he’s pretty much decided already.

"I miss you," he tells Loki later from the wall phone in the kitchen. The party’s still humming along just outside, but his cell's been too long off the charger. He doesn't trust it not to cut them off, right in the middle of something important. “So much. It’s awful!”

"I miss you too," Loki says, “and although I do realize this is totally out of character, as it’s not like me to look on the bright side of anything, I can’t help but point out that we’re only talking three more sleeps now."

Three more days, Thor corrects, inside his own head. He’s not sure he’s going to be doing any sleeping.

At the end of the evening, everyone slowly disperses. For the non-students in the crowd – meaning everyone but him - it’s still only August. This isn’t an ending, or a beginning; it’s just a fun way to break up the late summer monotony.

It’s an ending for him, though. Thor and the old gang stagger down to the beach to watch the ocean. Sif and Volstagg and Fandral talk happily around him, as Hilde and Hogun and two of Volstagg’s kids try skipping stones off into the surf, but Thor barely hears them. His head is somewhere off in the stars already.

~

Not having to stop for gas along the way - and not bumping along in a dirty, stinking bus, especially – almost makes driving back to the city stuffed like a sardine into the little car palatable. Just almost, though, and as the drives wears on it gets rather less so. Still, Thor makes good time; he gets into town and out of the car around 3:15 PM, and by 4:00 he's unloaded and showered and wedged right back in it.

Finding a parking spot near the shop is no picnic, but he feels so grown-up with his parkable little car that every bit of suffering is worth it.

And when Loki runs to meet him just inside the door, full-on squealing right in front of Amora and half a dozen customers, Thor knows full-well he would walk all the way here from his parents’ farm if he had to.

~

Dinner is delicious. The restaurant is new over the summer, sleek and trendy, but on a Tuesday evening they have no real trouble getting a table.

"I did wait for you," Loki says softly. "I know we talked about this already, and I should probably just let it all go before I turn it back into an actual problem, but I really am sorry." The skin between his brows wrinkles. His hair is up; the left side of his head sports a tiny new tattoo, mostly hidden in three week’s worth of regrowth.

Thor would love to ask about it, to pull Loki in and inspect it closely, but this isn’t the time. "And I came back," he counters, just as serious as Loki. He takes a deep breath and goes out on a limb: "next time," he says, like it’s nothing, "I'll do better."

Loki forks up a delicate sliver of pastry shiny with lemon, butter, and wine. In the spirit of- of the shore, and of summer, they're both skipped the fish this time. He feeds it to Thor; it's melt-in-your-mouth perfect. Thor can't help but moan. "Next time we'll have a plan," Loki promises. “We both will.”

Plan. P L A N. Thor’s sure those four letters have never sounded better.

Chapter Text

"Huh." Loki’s hair is a curly mop; he tucks it behind his ears and leans over the worn stone railing to look straight down at the river flowing beneath him. "It really is pretty here."

It’s only just midday. This early (for a given value of early, sure, but Thor’s still in college after all) the trees overhead block most of the sun; consequently the stone is cold against their palms. The world around them needs time to warm back up. And it will warm… although the nights are starting to get quite chilly, crops harvested and leaves already beginning to turn, the afternoons are still hot more often than not. Summer hasn't yet given itself completely over to the long downward spiral of fall.

"Mm," Thor agrees, without really thinking what he’s about to say all the way through. Or maybe he has, and he’s just tired of dancing around it. Someday they’re going to have to talk through things, or they’re both going to drive themselves crazy. "I'm glad,” he tells Loki like it’s nothing, “you finally got out here to see it."

I'm glad you finally got out here to see it.

The park they’re visiting is literally just south of campus. While it’s not impossible to go the long way around and bypass the school entirely, making use of the closest, most accessible parking lots means driving right past Thor's apartment building... and with it the sprawling hospital complex in all its brick and concrete glory. The first time they’d talked about this section of the river – one of Thor’s favorite spots within walking distance of school - he'd been simultaneously surprised and not surprised to learn that Loki'd never been here.

At any rate, it’s not a popular topic and part of him really does know better. Sure enough: "Thor...," Loki warns, straightening up and pushing back from the railing.

Thor raises his own hands in supplication. "I didn't mean that the way it probably sounded," he says (but maybe doesn't quite mean after all). He’s rapidly feeling more and more guilty. The hiss Loki gives him isn't entirely unwarranted. Isn’t unwarranted at all, really.

"You know I don't want to talk about it."

"I do," Thor concedes, letting his hands drop. He certainly wishes it wasn't the case sometimes, but that doesn’t take away the fact that Loki’s right: he does know. "I wasn't- pushing."

Except he kind of was.

Thor likes the arts district well enough, sure, and it's worth putting up with the city proper in order to see Loki, but this watery, woodsy urban park – along with the old, treed cemetery it faces, which is even closer to the medical center and therefore entirely off limits - calls to him in ways the downtown streets never will. "I just wanted to see some nature."

"We could have gone out into the boonies for that," Loki grumbles. “I don’t even mind driving-.”

"-but you have to be at the store before 2:00,” Thor cuts in, “and I have a lab or five to see to.” He sighs. "There just wasn’t time. Look, I'm sorry.” And he genuinely is, albeit not quite for the right reason. Once again, this clearly isn’t the time. He just hopes someday it will be. “I shouldn't have said anything. Okay? Let's not waste our one little slice of freedom bickering."

Hypocrites for the win… or something. Thor’s stopped feeling like he’s going to lose Loki with every tiny misstep, but the games he doesn’t really mean to play still feel- well, shitty.

Loki takes a deep breath. It takes him a few seconds to steady himself, which hurts to watch, and now Thor does feel all the way awful. Loki badly needs a hug, but it's times like these where hugs are least welcome. "Okay,” Loki says. He whistles out the rest of his extra-large lungful of air. “You're right. We're here, and it’s nice weather. We might as well enjoy it."

Thor breathes a silent thanks and points out over the water, towards the next bridge. Just before the big stone pilings a heron is busily fishing along the shady bank, almost invisible among the reeds. "Look at that. Are great blues lucky?"

"I don't think so," Loki says, "but I sometimes wish they could be.”

~

As Thor walks him back to his car Loki deftly corrals his crazy hair into a tight braid, starting just above crest of his high forehead and working his way quickly backward. It’s like watching a fiber artist: impossible, amazing. Thor’s lucky to get a good result, even with someone else’s hands doing the plaiting. "I can't exactly go to work looking like I've just rolled out of bed, you know," Loki points out, when Thor comments on it, "even if I haven't."

"But you can go like that?" Thor mock-leers at Loki’s bare torso. It's gotten quite hot out here in the sun; by the time the two of them had reluctantly left the shady bridge they’d already been well on the too warm side of comfortable. Now they both have their shirts off, messily folded and tossed over their shoulders. Loki's full sleeve is on nice display, along with the tree along his spine and the little runes that pepper his ribcage. The little marks are written in the same runic script as the one near his temple that reads thor, but Loki rolls around and wriggles whenever Thor tries to document or translate them. He shoots an exaggerated wink at Loki and grins. "What exactly are you selling?"

"Asshat," Loki snaps, but he's laughing. Things are a little better again, then. Thankfully. Thor leans in to press a kiss into the closest of Loki's bare shoulders.

"I'll miss you," he says against Loki’s skin, meaning that wholly. "I’m sorry I pried, and I wish we could spend the afternoon – here, anywhere - together.

"Mm." Loki sidles in for the warm, sticky hug Thor'd wanted to dispense earlier. "It could be worse; at least we're getting back together for dinner."

They are, and it has the makings of a nice, long evening. The shop's closed tomorrow and Thor has no classes, meaning they can linger over drinks and whatever follows. That, and Thor's gradually (re)reconciled to the fact that he pretty much does live at Loki's. At least with the car it's much, much easier.

"Mm," he hums in return. "And I'm really, really looking forward to it."

~

The afternoon doesn’t exactly fly by – it never does in the lab, which Thor counts as one more sign that his life’s work won’t ever be in chemistry – but he’s buoyed along by the promise of dinner together. He leaves the main campus with about an hour to spare, enough time to shower and drive to Loki’s, and spends the walk back to his apartment thinking about feeling odd around- places. Buildings. Things that aren’t people. To him the big medical campus is just a collection of nothing… buildings, signage, neat landscaping, and a series of driveways he – if he’s walking up that side of the road and not the cemetery side – needs to stay at his most alert crossing.

Maybe it’s not that simple. Hospitals can be full of bad memories, probably. Deaths and surgeries, sadness and fear. The more he thinks about it, the more he realizes he’s just been lucky.

The last thing he does, as he squeezes into his car and checks his hair in his rear-view mirror, is swear not to ruin their date asking Loki about it.

~

One or two too many glasses of prosecco – it’s a warm evening, the temperature not falling off as quickly or as far as they'd expected, and much like Mother Nature Thor (and probably Loki, to a lesser degree) isn’t quite ready to consign the glory of summer to history - makes him brave, though. Brave, or stupid and above all utterly reckless. "If you give me an idea what to avoid," he suggests, pausing mid-sentence for another big, fizzy swallow, "it might help me not put my feet in my mouth so often."

Thor’s stomach flip-flops as Loki slides down, down, down until the back of his head hits the wrought-iron chair with a cringe-worthy clunk. Their legs tangle together underneath the small table; neither of them will be leaving in a hurry, at least. Not without a whole lot of noisy chaos, anyway, and Loki’s seldom a fan of making scenes in public. That at least is reassuring.

"Okay, fine.”

Holy fuck. Holy, holy fuck. Thor starts. He opens his mouth and then closes it, speechless. “It's not what you think," Loki goes on, and (even stunned and foggy-headed) Thor’s body knows better than to say- anything.

"Nobody beat me. Nobody broke my fragile childish bones. I mean, they did," he qualifies. Thor's mouth drops open again and stays there. "Don't look at me like that. Jeez. It wasn't what landed me in- that place." Loki looks away, towards the women laughing over pie at the corner table. "Fuck," he says, softly. “Fine. When I was in middle school, with the transition to high school looming huge and terrifying and right around the fucking corner, I used to think maybe everyone was right about me."

Thor takes another drink, slowly and carefully. He doesn’t dare say- say anything. He’s sorry now that he’s drunk. That he’s reckless. That his mouth is always open when it should be shut, and his curiosity is never satisfied by quietly existing.

"Maybe I was too weird," Loki continues, still staring off into the corner. His chest rises and falls, too fast; he’s not actually calm about this, then, he’s faking it. Maybe he thinks no one will notice - it’s dark now, except for this small bubble of lantern-lit gold – or maybe he doesn’t care enough to hide it. Or he can’t. Thor’s heart hurts for him.

"Too everything,” Loki elaborates, even though Thor manages to remain silent. “Too smart, too skinny, too tall, too bossy. Too- confusing or however you want to put it: not manly enough to be a guy, or girly enough to be a woman. On top of all that I found myself drawn to the wrong gender in the wrong way, just as everyone else hit the normal hormone rapids of puberty. Everyone hated me, and it finally hit me that I couldn’t ignore it anymore; I really was the reason. Common denominators and everything." He picks at a nail. “In summary,” he tells Thor, “I wasn’t happy. Which was fine, until people started worrying about me. My foster parents du jour poked around and found my journal... replete with death talk and suicide notes and lots of scribbles of not-quite-people - as in me, but maybe no one got that - bleeding... and called Social Services."

"Oh, shit," Thor whispers. He's starting to see where this is going, to see the light on the horizon. From the rumbling there's no question that what’s coming is a train.

"Yup," Loki tells the table, "exactly. Threat to myself and others, they labeled me. Locked ward. Drug after drug to 'fix' me. And you know what? I'm pretty sure I'd never even meant any of what I wrote. Not really really. But none of that made any difference. No matter what I said, no one believed me. After all, I was crazy."

"How long," Thor asks. This is so much more than he expected, and so awful. He's actually shaking.

"Eight months," Loki says, "give or take, but it might as well have been eternity."

"I'd have believed you," Thor insists. “I still would.”

Loki gives him a long, appraising look. "You can't promise that," he counters. "I'm told I do a pretty impressive nutjob impersonation."

Above and beyond everything else, Thor's not a quitter. He's the world's most hesitant starter, maybe, but once he's underway he'll get there or die trying. “That doesn’t matter. I'd never give up on you, Lo. Not for anything."

Loki laughs, drily and with no humor. He looks- dangerous. It’s frightening. "Maybe, then," he offers as Thor instinctively tenses, "you're just as screwed up as I am."

Chapter Text

They don't fuck that evening, as Loki inelegantly terms it, not even after he demands that they do the deed and then gets so fired up he's shrieking when Thor simply won't accommodate him. Fully penetrative sex isn't something they've tried yet, and drunk!Thor still has enough sense to know that this isn't the First Time sober!Thor would ever want to have happen.

Afterwards Loki tries to jerk off loudly and dramatically in the bathroom, while Thor is making a sloppy mess out of teeth-brushing, and weeps for an hour when Thor gently - or at least that's how it's meant to be; Loki puts up a fight and it turns into something closer to rough - stops him.

Thor carries Loki to bed and pets him to sleep. When he finally succumbs without having made any move to encourage Thor to join him, Thor sighs heavily and stands.

He tiptoes through the clutter to sprawl on Loki's sofa.

It’s not the best night. Thor wakes in the morning with a dull, throbbing headache, back spasms, and Oscar curled warm and soft beside him. Everything is still- raw. He peeks into the bedroom, where Loki is tangled in the covers snoring quietly.

Thor ultimately leaves without waking Loki, but not before writing a nice note and brewing a fresh pot of their favorite coffee. He doesn’t like sneaking out like this but staying feels- creepy. That and – if Loki wakes up in a mood – another fight won’t help things any. They can talk later, when they've each had time to rehydrate… and regain a little perspective.

None of which means he doesn’t worry.

~

"Disclosure is good, though," Sif reminds him when he calls her at lunchtime. "It means he's finally feeling safe around you."

Privately, Thor thinks it might just mean Loki was shitfaced enough to be so over hiding. "I just wish every step forward didn't mean three steps back," he complains instead. "I want things to be- I dunno. Better." Which isn't fair, and he knows it. "I mean, things are better. They're good. I just wish- his childhood had- been nicer?"

Sif laughs, not unkindly. "Your mother is one of a kind," she says. "I'm pretty sure it's not possible for everyone to get that lucky. He's a functional adult, right? He's done okay by himself, even if he got off to a rough start and no one was there helping. You can't change the past," she tells Thor when he tries to protest. "It sucks, sure, but nothing’s going to fix that. Besides, it's long since over and done with. All you can do is try to move forward with him."

"I just wish it wasn't so hard sometimes," Thor whispers.

"Don't we all," Sif agrees. "Don’t we all, my friend. But, hey, that's life for you."

Frigga says pretty much the same thing when Thor chats with her mid-afternoon, as he walks from class to the lab, and if anyone’s the expert… she is. He reminds himself that her reassurance will feel more- reassuring once he's had time to get some distance. Or something.

It has to.

Thor spends the rest of the day turning everything he’d learned the night before over and over in his head. It's hard to decide if he's sad or if he’s angry. Or both, maybe. He goes to the gym with Natasha and Steve to punch out his feelings and is relieved when no one asks him about it. Unlike his friends back home, they're content to trust Thor alone with his adulthood. Probably because he's never given them reason not to.

Not that they realize, anyway.

~

"How're you feeling?" Thor's so relieved when Loki actually picks up that he's only marginally better than speechless. "I didn't want to wake you this morning... but I feel bad for skipping out on you." He hadn’t caught himself wishing people came with owners' manuals in a while; today he's been making up for it.

Loki sighs, then coughs away from the phone. "Embarrassed," he says. "There was so much last night you shouldn't have had to see or hear." He clears his throat again. "I kind of figured you wouldn't call me."

All kinds of wrong things to say hover just behind Thor's teeth. "To me nothing between us has changed. Not in a bad way, anyway," he hastens to add in case that was a really bad way to start off. "I'm sad about what you went through, sure, but it's helpful that you told me."

"Helpful," Loki echoes flatly.

"Right," Thor says. "Like, now I know I need to sublet my place and, um, find somewhere more- neutral. Somewhere that doesn't mean awful things to you." He takes a deep breath. "I want you to feel safe around me."

"Mm," Loki hums. "That's nice of you."

Thor ticks off the days. "Do you have to work Sunday? Could we maybe go back out to the bluffs together?" It's a pretty spot, wild and quiet and the right kind of desolate. The one time Loki took him out there last spring, it reminded Thor a lot of the shore where he grew up. This late in the year they should have the place to themselves, too, without annoying people or even more annoying mosquitos.

"We could," Loki says. Thor holds his breath. "But Sunday’s a long ways off. Will you come over tomorrow night? I'll make you dinner."

Thor exhales a hair too loudly. He hasn’t been sure where things stood and has been afraid to push. "Of course," he says, forcing the words past the lump in his throat. "I'd love too. Absolutely."

~

His afternoon class is canceled. Thor finishes up at the lab as quickly as possible and heads up into the city proper. Along the way he buys fresh flowers for Loki and a small catnip-stuffed plush lizard for Oscar.

It’s early enough that the store is open, so Thor goes in through the front. "Hiiii," Darcy calls from around her customer. "You're lucky I like you," she teases, "because I don't know what he's making up there but it smells so good I almost invited myself to join you guys for supper."

"You can if you want," he offers, trying to keep the disappointment out of his face. It won’t pay to be a jerk to Loki’s friends… he may need their help someday. Someday really, really soon.

In the end she waves him off anyway.

"Alas, some of us have gotta work," she kids as she slips a stack of books deftly into a dark green Heart’s Desire bag. "And besides, you know the boss would strangle me. But don't let that keep you from bringing me flowers next time. Roses," she specifies as Thor turns away. "Wait, sir, don't forget your charge card! Thor? I'm serious… I’m a sucker for roses."

The store is busy. As he makes his way back to the office door, dodging patrons and shelving carts everywhere, he starts to see - okay, smell - what Darcy means. He’s not sure what dinner’s going to be either, but it promises to be amazing.

~

“Tell me what this is again.” Thor forks up a big portion of tender, paper-thin pastry and fruity, savory filling. It melts in his mouth and makes him purr.

“Pastilla,” Loki mumbles through his own more reasonably-sized mouthful of food. He’s wearing the sparkliest green nail polish Thor’s ever seen, somehow still perfect after what must have been an entire afternoon spent cooking. “It’s loosely Moroccan,” he goes on once he’s finished chewing. “I say loosely because the traditional dish is made with pigeon.”

Thor wrinkles his nose. He likes the pigeons on campus more than many of his fellow students – he enjoys watching them strut about, with their puffy chests and their iridescent necks, and has been guilty off feeding them fairly often – but garbage seems to make up the majority of their diet and that does nothing to make eating one appealing. On top of which, they’re cute. Not that chickens can’t be cute too but, growing up on a farm, he’s (right or wrong, yes) long since made peace with eating them. “Let’s stick with loosely, then,” he suggests. “I’m not big on eating whatever Oscar catches.”

Loki huffs. “Oscar catches cat food,” he points out. “I would never let him go outside and kill things.” He looks so earnestly offended that Thor can’t help laughing… even when Loki won’t admit he didn’t realize all along that Thor was kidding. “But, yes, pears and chicken work better for me than apricots and pigeon, so all your little friends are safe from me… and from Oscar. Every poopy last one of them.”

The alarm system chirps loudly and Thor jumps. He’s surprised to find that it’s 9:00 already; Darcy must have just locked up downstairs and headed home. The cat in question meeps at the top of the stairs and hurries over to take turns winding around their ankles. “I bet Oscar would like this just as much if it was made with pigeon, though,” Loki says, slipping the cat a sliver of meat.

Frankly Thor’s pretty sure he would too, the way Loki cooks, but he makes a point of not saying so.

~

“I meant what I said this week, you know,” Thor says softly as Loki curls up in his lap after dinner. Sometimes he thinks everyone who lives here – the man, the cat – is somehow related. “About believing you. About not giving up.” He kisses the Thor rune, and then uses the tip of his nose to smooth the frown rumpling Loki’s forehead. “And about moving somewhere that’s more comfortable for you. More comfortable for me, too, really.” He’s never liked his bleak apartment anyway, except for its convenient location, and the car’s made convenience much less of a deciding factor.

Loki curls up even more tightly and buries his face in the angle of Thor’s shoulder. “This place is more comfortable for me,” he says. He wriggles and Thor hugs him. “You could move here.”

Thor takes Loki by the shoulders and pushes him away just enough to make eye contact. “You want me to move in with you. Here. You want us to live together.”

“We mostly do anyway,” Loki dodges, looking away. “We have since last spring, really.”

They have, but that’s different. “And in the summer we kind of broke up. Don’t forget that.”

Loki goes limp. Thor has to shift fast to catch him. “Okay, if you don’t want to,” Loki says in the dull, toneless voice Thor’s finally learned he uses whenever things are getting too painful, “that’s fine. Forget I asked. Go ahead; get your own apartment.”

“Lo?” Thor gives Loki the gentlest of shakes, just enough to get his attention. “Look at me. That’s not what I meant. I’d like us to live together. It’s just- it’s a big thing and I want- I wanted to be sure I knew what you were asking.”

“You just don’t like it here.” Loki pouts.

“I do,” Thor insists. He does, mess and all. “Although if it’s ‘ours’ rather than ‘yours,’ I may straighten things up a little.” He pulls Loki in for another hug. “My father is depending on me to take over the farm,” he says, bracing himself for a small explosion. “I’m pretty sure I can’t stay up here forever.”

Loki shrugs against his chest. “People down there read, right? If not the farmers, at least the hoity-toity summer people?”

Thor laughs, loudly enough that Loki winces. “Sorry,” he says. “But, yes, people near my parents’ place read. My mother could support an entire art house publisher herself, probably.”

“And it’s safe there for- for people like me.”

That’s harder. “I think so,” Thor says carefully. “And if it’s not, I’ll fix it.”

“Move here now,” Loki says. He snakes an arm around Thor’s neck and pulls in closer for a real kiss. “And then when you graduate, maybe I’ll come with you.”

“Just maybe?”

“It’s a long ways away yet,” Loki reminds him. “You may not even want me to.”

Thor’s pretty sure he will. He can’t even think about the alternative, not without crying… and tonight he’s not here to cry. “You’d really give this place up,” he presses.

“Not give it up, exactly;” Loki corrects, “move it. I’ve thought about leaving this store for Amora and Darcy to run, but I’m not sure my business model would support that.”

Thought about. This is not a spur-of-the-moment thing, then. Thor feels- intensely relieved. Much closer to weightless. “Okay,” he says. “We can try it.”

“You can neaten up as much as you’d like,” Loki says, kissing Thor again, “as long as your heart isn’t set on making me help you.”

At that, Thor laughs aloud again. He’s already mentally packing. “Don’t worry,” he promises. “Even I wouldn’t be that stupid.”

Chapter Text

Carving a workable space out of Loki's (physical) world doesn’t turn out to be as difficult as Thor expected. It’s a project, one that isn’t school-related, and that in itself makes the whole thing almost fun. Plus (who knew?) it seems he’s won himself some pretty impressive organizing and packing superpowers, thanks to all these years of helping run a farm: housing like things together, making it easy for workers to not only find what they need but also put it away (and thereby greatly increasing the odds people will actually follow through and do so), rotating objects in his head to best fit them into tight spaces, etc. Even though farming and bookstores don’t seem all that related, he’s actually able to apply pretty much all the same skills as he tackles Heart's Desire's (hopelessly disorganized, space-wasting) upstairs stock storage.

At first the job seems overwhelming, but that’s not how it plays out. The planning itself ends up being the most tedious and time-consuming part; once he’s put that behind him, the hard manual labor itself is familiar enough to be soothing. And he’s pleasantly surprised to find the work isn’t even all that dirty. It’s only in the boxed storage that he runs up against enough dust to cause any serious sneezing. Plus, books! While the rarer specimens are all in carefully controlled archival space downstairs, the rooms upstairs still house thousands upon thousands of tempting titles.

Some days the hardest part of all is not letting all those beautiful books distract him.

On the nights when he’s especially tired, that’s a battle Thor sometimes loses. Immediately afterwards, he loses the fight with staying awake. Eventually, Loki comes up and finds him.

Even without that the whole process doesn’t move along as quickly as he’d like. Thor’s ultimately here to get a degree, not to renovate, so he does have to let the coursework take priority. Some days he only has an hour or two to devote to rearranging. It adds up in the end; over the course of a few weeks’ work Thor’s able to win back two of the three small rooms adjoining Loki’s (okay, their, but it’s taking some time to get used to thinking of it that way) existing apartment. The front room, next to Loki’s living room, has lovely windows. The middle room doesn’t, but Thor finds he kind of likes it that way.

The rooms connect to each other but not to the rest of the apartment. Someday, Thor thinks, he might look into moving a doorway or two… for now, a new lock on the existing hallway door will do just fine. No one save the two of them is ever in the building after the store closes (except Darcy, who helps with shipping on the days the place is closed, just for a couple of hours around lunchtime) and it’s not like the original living space has any sort of logical flow to it anyway.

The third room – the one off the opposite side of the hall, towards the rear - along with the whole end of the building closest to the freight elevator, comprises the new, improved storage area. Thor’s surprised (in a good way, and more relieved than he’d ever dream of letting on to anyone but his mother) to learn that everyone’s pleased with the rearranged stock space. All of them, literally: Amora, Darcy, the kids who help out when the place is especially busy. Even Loki likes it, which is the biggest relief of all. It’s weeks before a workday passes without someone taking Thor aside and gushing over how much easier he’s made the job of finding everything. Best of all, Loki tells him, once everyone masters the new layout they expect the turnaround time on online orders will be a full day faster. When you’re competing with the big guys, things like that really matter.

~

Once the rooms are fully empty and he’s swapped out the lock Thor spends a few more weekends cleaning both of them like they've clearly never been cleaned before, chasing away the mounting stress of his doctoral program with a bucket, a scrub brush, and a small rag mountain. He works like he's on the clock and in a sense he is; he has big plans for these little rooms, and he very much wants to get everything painted before winter closes in and the weather no longer lends itself to leaving the windows open.

The post-cleaning process is more of a team thing. Loki comes with him to not one but three paint stores; each time, they leave with almost more small sample cans than they can carry. Together they line the walls with test patch after test patch, laughing when Loki’s are painfully perfect and Thor’s are… well, they’re exuberant. “I’m dying to see what the finished result will be,” Loki teases, but Thor’s painted his parents’ house and knows he can do the job right when he needs to. For now, because it makes him happy to see it, Thor lets Loki keep right on laughing.

It doesn’t take them long to settle on the two wall colors they like best: one the soft blue of a starling's egg, the other a rich purple that's so deep and dark it can almost pass for black. Thor insists on going with the nicest low-odor base they can afford... they're going to be here at least another 18 months and no one can know what lies beyond that. Loki sits patiently through Thor’s entire argument and then laughs and says he wasn’t planning to dispute the point anyway. Thor rolls his eyes. “Why did you let me go on like that, then?”

Loki smiles. “How could I not? You’re so lovely when you’re passionate.”

After that there may be tickling, even though Loki tries (and fails, because he can’t stop laughing) to convince Thor that tickling is Bad and Sadistic.

Thor looks it up later on, though, and discovers Loki’s right. He makes cookies to apologize. Loki kisses him.

~

After all the coats of paint are on and dry - but before the last few blue flecks grow out of Oscar's belly fur, tiny reminders of the time Loki'd left pretty much every door in the place ajar and Thor'd gone and picked the cat up (with wet, painty hands and) without thinking - Thor finally (re-)sublets his place and moves the last of his things out of the old apartment. Steve sells him a second leather chair that's as cozy as his own, for so little money it's almost embarrassing. When he briefly thinks about refusing, though, Natasha takes Thor aside to warn him that the chair has baggage. "Really," she insists. "Just take it off his hands. I mean it. You’ll be doing him a favor." She won’t elaborate, citing Steve’s right to privacy, but that doesn’t matter; Thor believes her anyway. That, and he’s never seen Steve so relieved-looking.

Loki adores the chair, right from the very first time he sits in it.

Thor reminds himself to stop doubting.

~

School- goes. The more life he has, the harder it is to stay interested. Most days Thor has no morning classes. His teaching assignment this semester is all lab, which (isn't nearly as safe, but) suits his current arrangement nicely. Most nights he and Loki stay up too late and roll out of bed around noon. He goes to the gym between classes, or out for a run when Loki’s off skating.

While Loki works Thor devotes a few minutes a day to furnishing and decorating the freshly painted space. He sets one room - the pale blue front one, with its tall, narrow windows and heavy original trim - up as a quaint little parlor. The other, he turns into a private space for sleeping (for either of them) or homework (only his, of course, because Loki’s simply too lucky) or just getting away from it all in a place that's quiet and dark.

They don't talk about it, and Oscar – who has the run of the whole place - does 99.9% of the sleeping that happens there, but Thor likes the idea that either of them can be alone after an argument without actually having to storm out of the building.

Loki loves to read in the leather chairs in the bright, sunny parlor. He's endlessly pleased with how the rooms look - at least, that's what he says every time Thor gives him the tiniest opening - and lets Thor work through the whole rest of the place. Well, not the rooms downstairs. Thor wouldn't dream of touching the store proper anyway.

It takes a while, but Thor does make less chaotic sense out of the original apartment.

Once the whole place is as done as the two of them can make it, given the very real limits imposed by their possessions and finances, Loki borrows Darcy's surprisingly awesome camera. They send the least awful of the resulting pictures to Frigga, along with a few of the store for good measure.

She returns the favor just over a week later, with a care package stuffed to the brim: three simple prints in seashore shades of blue and green, a few soft, decorative pillows, two catnip toys, and a box of homemade pumpkin cookies.

Darcy makes them share the cookies.

~

Not all that surprisingly, Thor finds that fitting himself into Loki's mental world feels a whole lot harder.

"Don’t you mind having me underfoot all the time?" Yes, he’s fishing. No, he probably shouldn’t be. No, he can’t seem to stop it. Now that he has a proper home at his disposal and not just a nasty concrete box, Thor's taken to grading his students' work in the apartment most days rather than hanging out in the library. He still does his own research on campus sometimes, but more often than not he can get what he needs online. All of which taken collectively means he’s there a lot. A lot lot.

He loves their place. He doesn't love the idea of wearing out his welcome.

"Why?" Loki tenses. The muscles in his forearms bunch as he stirs the pot full of bolognese sauce that's going to comprise most of their dinner. "What’s going on? Are you thinking of leaving?"

Deep breath. Let it go. Thor shakes out his own unconsciously-clenched fists and makes himself smile at Loki's rigid shoulders. "No, it’s not that. I'm just hoping I'll never have to," he says carefully. They still dance regularly around Loki's fear of being left, both of them tending towards a little too wary. "But if I'm becoming a nuisance, you need to tell me." He swallows. "I can give you some space without it- meaning anything. Well, besides that I recognize you need space. Oh, fuck." Thor groans. No matter how often he consults with his mom he's still royally bad at this. "I really suck at adulting."

Loki sags against the wall, sliding down it to curl up on the spattered old mat in front of the oven. Thor tiptoes closer and turns off the gas. He grunts as he leans over to set the pot on another burner; he still hasn't quite gotten himself trained to understand that - with a stove that isn't electric - doing so makes no difference. He squats alongside the tight little ball of Loki. "I want to do what works for you," he tells the space between Loki's elbow and the crest of Loki’s hip. "And when it comes to people you know I'm kind of- dense. If I don't ask you from time to time, I could wind up so far off I might as well be on another planet." He wants to tell Loki not to cry; he doesn't. "But I'm not going anywhere, not unless you drag me out kicking and screaming." Privately he doubts Loki could really drag him much of anywhere, even when he is calm and still. That's no excuse for being an insensitive asshole.

He counts silently to 50 and then sets a hand gently just above Loki's wrist. Loki snuffles and sighs wetly. "I'm sorry," he tells Thor. "The holidays are right around the corner. This time of year always kills me."

"Mm."' Thor admires the pink-gold of his own fingers against the black of Loki's tattoo. He gives Loki’s arm a light squeeze. "It’s okay, it is,” he assures, as much for his own sake as anything. “I mean that. I hear you."

Chapter Text

"I run a shop," Loki points out, looking somewhere between amused and irritated. "You know, a place where customers come to buy things. Customers who expect me to be there during the busiest days of the season." He runs the dust cloth along the shelf right below the counter and then down the full length of the cash register cables. Thor watches the little ridge of dust build up ahead of it. "The women are great, and everyone loves them, but I’m the boss. It would be a dick move for me to strand them here the day before Christmas.” He refolds the cloth clean(er) side out and starts another pass. “You know what I mean?"

Thor does know. He just hates the idea of leaving Loki and Oscar alone in the apartment, of Loki trudging up the stairs to an empty home on Christmas Eve and then drinking and sleeping away the holiday. He hates it even more in contrast to how his parents and brother will be cooking up a storm (okay, not Baldr, thankfully) and then spending the whole day hugging and eating and laughing.

He's even offered to stay in town for Christmas, an idea Loki insists is beyond ridiculous. "Why would you want to sit upstairs alone while Oscar and I work and then waste your holiday watching my exhausted ass sleeping," Loki had not-really-asked, "when you could be down on the shore with everyone else, enjoying your mother's wonderful roasting and baking?"

In the end Thor has no answer. He keeps trying (in vain) to come up with one anyway.

~

Loki carefully slits the tape on a carton of books. They’re taking shipments daily, doing all they can to stock up for the holidays, and that means they both work a bit in their downtime. "What if I plan on stopping by your parents’ farm at New Years?"

Thor has to set his own box cutter down. He rubs his eyes and his ears; even then, he can't quite believe what he's hearing. "I’m sure end-of-year inventory is going to go a lot faster now that things are better organized,” Loki explains, pausing to wait for- Thor's not sure what. He nods in a way he hopes is encouraging. "If we push it a little I think Amora and I can finish up by the 30th. And then I can close out the online stuff from your parents’ place, can’t I?"

Thor jerks a little, jolted (partly) out of his confusion by Loki's question. "Um, yeah. They do have good service," he agrees. These days it's pretty impossible to run a commercial agricultural business without a solid Internet connection. That, and both Frigga and Baldr do love their online shopping. There are times he thinks it’s probably all that’s kept them from mutinying and leaving Odin to run the place alone years ago.

Loki looks at Thor a little apprehensively, brows up and forehead wrinkled. "I know it's not the same as being there for Christmas, but-..."

"No, it's a fantastic idea." Thor thinks of being able to hug Loki on the beach as his friends all cheer. Of Loki running up and down the half-frozen sand, waving sparklers with Volstagg's and Hilde's up-long-past-bedtime children. Of collapsing into his bed (together, of course) early the following morning and sandwiching Loki's icy feet between his warm ones. "Really," he assures Loki. "It’s perfect. I just- I wasn't expecting it." He lifts the boxes between them out of the way and scoops Loki up into a huge hug. "Could you stay a few days? If one of us took the bus down, I could ride back with you. Or you, with me." He squeezes a squeak out of Loki. "Or something."

"Mm," Loki hums against the crown of Thor's head. The rush of warm air against his scalp tickles; he shivers and sets Loki down. "Your dad won't mind?” Loki frowns again. “I know he likes to put you to work when you’re down there."

Like Thor cares. "Of course not. Anyway, mom would never let him."

~

They've agreed not to exchange gifts this Christmas, since they've been spending too much on the apartment and Loki's trip wasn't exactly budgeted. Even so, Thor has a little something up his sleeve.

Literally. Or at least it will be.

He's going to get a tattoo - Loki's own name in runes, to match the Thor above Loki's temple, surrounded by a field of tiny stars - on the inside of his left bicep, right where it will press up against his heart whenever he hugs himself tightly... or Loki's heart, if he sneaks up on Loki from behind and throws both arms around his boyfriend.

It's taken him a while to work up the nerve. He isn't afraid of pain - you can't be, not and play rugby - but needles have really never been his thing and the idea of having to just lie there and take it is a little disturbing. Still, he thinks of Loki - the full sleeve, which must have been hellish, plus all the work over bony vertebrae, hips, and ribs - and knows he’s going to be able to find everything it takes in himself somewhere.

"It doesn't hurt, not exactly," Natasha assures him. She has a fair amount of ink herself, some of it acquired in countries Thor hasn't even dreamt of visiting. "To me it feels like more of a- a burn, probably. Kind of like the way it stings when sweat gets in a floor burn while you're grappling.” She smiles at him. "You'll be fine. It'll be worth it. Even though it will still be healing when Loki comes to visit…"

Everyone he’s asked has warned him about that, too. He laughs it off. Even people who’ve met Loki just don't get it that their reunions are sweet and gentle things that aren’t filled with bedroom acrobatics. "I'll be fine," he agrees, smiling back at her. "It's not like it's going to be summer."

Sif highly recommends the place he's chosen. Thor figures she would know; she has the entire town on half her back, wrapped around her side and onto the pale skin of her stomach. It’s what she’d opted to have done, out of spite, the summer her father had refused to let her leave it. Her artist is still there, too. Even better. "Plus, it's an art gallery," she tells him. "How could it possibly get closer to perfect?"

They shouldn’t be that busy between the holidays, the nice guy who answers the phone tells him. Thor books way ahead - for December 26th, when Loki will be at the store all day and won't be trying to text him - anyway. He’s not much of a leave it to chance person, when it comes right down to it.

~

"I hope you're not even thinking of doing this again next semester," Loki tells Thor in the tone of voice that says it's absolutely and completely not an option. "When I heard about what happened on the news, and then couldn't reach you- I don't think I've ever been more frightened."

Thor sighs. He'd spent last night in what they've dubbed the annex, after Loki had thrown the bolt lock to keep him out and then refused to reconsider. He'd even peed in the office sink, because it was just too cold to go back outside. He'd rinsed the sink very carefully, though, and has zero plans for confession. "I'm teaching next semester instead," he reminds Loki. "And it wasn't my lab anyway." It wouldn't have happened in his lab, he doesn't point out; he's impossibly, ridiculously careful and watches his students like a hawk. Like he's their mother.

"They said it was an accident," Loki shrills. "Accidents can’t be planned away, can they? It could have happened to anyone."

Sloppy disposal of chemicals isn't anywhere on Thor's list of allowable accidents, but he does get why the school is letting the media frame it that way. An undergrad student - 18 years old, just a kid - is dead, after all, and one of the dumbass' lab partners may soon be. Loki isn't interested in listening to logic right now anyway. "I'm sorry I didn't answer my phone," Thor says again, even though Loki isn’t interested in listening to that right now either.

He is sorry. First the police had wanted a statement, then the whole department had gotten together for an emergency meeting, and then he and Natasha and Steve had hurried over to the hospital. Besides which, the whole thing had felt like a private chemistry department tragedy. He had - okay, yes, stupidly considering how they live in this crazy connected world - not even considered that Loki might hear about it. He certainly hadn't meant to be selfish, or to worry anybody.

"Your mom called me," Loki reminds him, voice still sharp and angry. It may be the next morning – the next afternoon, almost – and Thor may be back in the apartment proper, but the fight is clearly not yet over. "How do you think I felt having to tell her I hadn't heard anything?"

Thor winces. He can imagine how badly that must have sucked. "Lo," he says softly, "I really am sorry." He digs in his pocket for his phone and brings up his department profile. “You’re my first emergency contact, see?” He holds the phone out for Loki to read. “If anything happens to me, the department office will call you pronto.”

“It would have been nice to know that last night,” Loki grumbles.

“You’re right,” Thor agrees. “I’m sure it would have.” He rubs his face and runs a hand through his less-than-clean hair. “Do you think we could talk about this more after I take a shower?”

Loki shrugs. “I shouldn’t have locked you out,” he admits, looking out the big window. When he turns back to face Thor the first hint of a sense humor has crept back into his face. “So… what did you do about going to the bathroom?”

Thor can feel his face heating. “Can we maybe not talk about that… ever?”

“You peed in the sink, didn’t you?” Loki laughs and Thor feels (embarrassed, but) a tiny bit better. “That’s okay. Please. Go right ahead; keep your secrets.”

~

Things are weird at school for a few days after the so-called accident. One of the guys in Thor’s program had been responsible for that lab; had been, past tense, because he withdrew just a few days after it happened. Thor doesn’t blame the guy, either… if stupidity had gotten a kid killed in his lab, well, he can’t imagine how he would cope with it. The remaining grad students talk about the whole mess daily over coffee. Over lunch. They go over and over all the things they’re going to do to make sure this was the last time something bad happens.

Everything they think of, though? It’s all stuff Thor’s been doing from the very beginning.

“You’re an extra-careful person,” they tell him, and perhaps he is. Farmers who – as Frigga terms it – throw caution to the wind tend to pay more for it, in injuries and deaths and ruined equipment, than they can possibly afford. Odin doesn’t tolerate that sort of crap. For the first time in a while, Thor’s actually glad to be the son of his father.

He starts leading off every lab with a short, graphic safety lecture. For the rest of the semester, he’s going keep on doing it. If it prevents one accident, ever… that will be more than worth all the odd looks and eyerolls it’s getting him.

It’s not like he doesn’t remember how much smarter than all his boring old professors he knew he was, back when in the days when he was an undergrad. A good bit of the time he was wrong, though; he sees that now. He wants every one of “his” kids to live long enough to come to the same conclusion.

~

“You okay?” Loki’s extra-clingy, and Thor knows most of that’s because he’s been a bit- off, maybe, himself. Since the day after the accident they haven’t fought at all… even the times when they probably should have. He runs his fingers carefully through Loki’s curls. The store is closed until this evening, and Loki hasn’t yet bothered with the shower or the flatiron. “I’m sorry I’ve been- weird, lately.”

Loki turns to kiss Thor’s wrist. “I’m just trying to get my head around how – even if you mean everything you say and do everything you promise you’ll do – I could still end up losing you.”

That’s life, isn’t it? Death. In the end, everyone leaves or is in turn abandoned. Thor knows that. He can’t bring himself to say it, though… at least, not to Loki. “I promise you I’ll always be as careful as I can,” he says instead. “Here at school, at the farm, wherever.” He brushes his thumb against Loki’s lips and swallows. It’s snowing outside, the first really good storm of the season. Their apartment is warm and cozy. “Do you think that’s going to be be enough to get you through?”

“I suppose,” Loki says quietly, “it’s going to have to.”

Chapter Text

Two Sundays before Christmas, just ahead of when things get ridiculously busy and it's no longer an option, Loki and Thor throw a holiday dinner party. It’s mostly for the Heart's Desire staff, and not nearly as chi-chi as it might sound… pretty much everyone will come straight from work and Thor doesn't bother enlisting Loki to help with the cleaning. Most of his chemistry department friends are running full-tilt towards the end of the semester and can't spare the time, but Natasha promises she’ll make it. She takes the bus up from her apartment late that afternoon and shows up uncharacteristically cheerful. The blintzes she brings with her are plain old spectacular; Thor isn’t sure any will make it to dinner.

Loki’s been working all weekend. Most of the actual cooking, Thor took care of yesterday… along with decking the halls in strings of lights and shooing Oscar out of the winter greenery. He checks his phone (yet again) for the time; they’re in good shape, honestly. He and Natasha set up the makeshift buffet and prep the rest of the food while Loki and the crew downstairs wrap up the last few customers. Natasha does some careful quality control on the wine and punch. Thor’s feeling a little too wound up and doesn’t.

A few minutes after 5:00 PM, a jovial little crowd – Loki, Darcy, Amora, and two seasonal kids they’ve kiddingly dubbed Tom and Jerry – comes tromping up the stairs and things descend into good-natured chaos.

There’s plenty of food and wine and camaraderie to go around, and not much work required to make it happen. Thor spends as much of the evening as he can just sitting back and watching Loki smiling. While it doesn't make up for knowing his tiny family will be spending Christmas alone, Thor can’t deny that it's a nice little party. Maybe in the end it will help some. Remembering how he felt last year, he hopes so.

~

Over the next week and a half neither Thor nor Loki can escape the sand racing through the hourglass. Thor lives chemistry; Loki breathes work. Neither of them has any time for anything else, pretty much literally. By the night Thor's written his last exam and is cramming clothes into his bag, he's all but convinced himself Loki won't notice he's gone... let alone miss him.

Except he can’t quite. Exhausted as they are, they still collapse into bed at the end of each evening to curl around one another.

And they do still notice each other. Loki bakes cookies for the road, racing up and down the stairs to mind them. Thor sneaks a Christmas card full of stars and hearts into the book tucked under Loki's pillow.

~

Time ultimately runs out. Thor throws everything – luggage, gifts, cookies – into his car bright and early Christmas Eve morning, while Loki scurries around downstairs getting the store ready to open. Much to Thor’s relief they did finally agree that Loki will take the bus down, after the early present from his parents turned out to be a nice set of brand new snow tires. While the weather hasn’t been all that bad here, there’s guaranteed to be snow and ice in the mountains and Thor’s thankful he won't have to spend all week stressing about Loki driving. Not that he hasn’t got plenty left to stress over anyway.

It’ll be fine. It’ll be good. By the time he's clear of the city and heading south along the river, he's down to barely even crying.

~

At the farm everything is the same as always, except this year Thor doesn't have as much he's hiding. Just the tattoo, really… Odin has a blurry, faded old one Frigga hates, and Thor doesn't feel like suffering through her trying to convince him not to get one. It's the holidays, after all; there are plenty of happier things to talk about anyway.

After dinner the Borson Family Choir does some of the worst a cappella caroling Thor has ever heard. He sends Loki a few sound bites, attached to an email that reads "see what you aren't missing?"

Loki sends back a picture of Oscar and Darcy sleeping behind the counter, along with one of (equally-exhausted-looking) Amora making a face and another of the long line at the register. "Give me a few minutes," Loki's reply reads. "It's a tough call. I still can't quite decide if I want to trade you."

They both use love you and miss you, and that breathes new life into all the tiny bits of Thor's heart that have been sad to the point of dying.

~

Christmas Day dawns pale and blustery. Baldr and Thor help their father with the regular chores - everyone but Volstagg, Odin's given time off for the holiday - and then Baldr chops wood while Thor heads back inside to give his mom a hand with the cooking. The whole day is one thing after another after another; it’s really not until they're just about to sit down to dinner that Thor has time for anything close to wallowing.

"Hi, Lo," he says, out in the freezing wind for tradition's sake even though there's really no need to be hiding. "I wish you were here-..."

"...to watch you stuff yourself, sweetie?" Loki laughs. "No thank you. Oscar and I will be enjoying leftover Thai and a movie." It's Thor's turn to laugh when Loki confesses: they're going to be spending the evening with Bride of Frankenstein.

All through the meal and the sleepy reading time that follows, Thor can't help but wish he was home watching it with them.

~

The morning after Christmas the wind has shifted and it's snowing like nobody's business. Thor comes in from the barn snow-caked and half-frozen and tells his mother he's spending the day with Sif anyway.

Frigga frowns as he stomps and flaps the snow from his clothing. "I hope you're planning something inside," she says.

He nods, forcing a smile through the dense haze of nervousness. "Brunch," he tells her, still nodding. Bobblehead Thor. "And then whatever sounds good. Worst case, um, a movie."

She opens her mouth and then closes it without saying anything. Thor knows she hasn’t bought one bit of it. Not even the brunch part, which is actually true. "If anything comes up," he sidesteps, "you know I'll call you."

She pats his arm. "It’s bad out there. You be careful, honey."

~

"Yeech," Thor squeals. The girls- well, they laugh, because Sif would never stoop so low as to giggle. He pants his way through the first rush of adrenaline. "That's pretty fucking uncomfortable”. It's not the dull, thuddy pain he’s used to from contact sports, or even the sharp crack of smashing into something; this feels more like tugging on your shirt, only to find a bee’s beaten you to it. And not just one bee… a whole hive of the little fuckers, magical ones that don’t die after stinging. He grits his teeth and tried to pretend it's Loki when Sif takes his other hand. The one on the arm no one is torturing.

"Just do your best to stay still," the artist reminds him. He nods. There’s no way he’s speaking.

"Trust me," Sif says. "It gets better."

It doesn't, actually, but he makes it to his happy place by picturing Loki skating. And the most important thing Sif’d said was true, Thor realizes as they blot the last of the inky blood and let him take a look; every last bit was worth it.

"I'm going to have to tell my mom," he complains as Sif helps him ease his shirt and fleece back on over his wrapped arm. "There's no way she won't notice, not with me constantly groaning and wincing."

Sif grins. "You could always tell her I bit you.”

"Oh, sure." Thor shoots her a glare and then ruins the effect by bursting out laughing. "That would be so much better.” He shakes his head. It’s hard to believe lying on his back for a couple of hours could be so tiring. If nothing else he’s just gained a whole lot more respect for what Loki must have gone through. “I’m going to have to tell dad, too.” He groans. “I guess I should have thought this through better.”

"I don't think Frigga will be mad," Sif muses. "It’s going to look great and it's sweetly sentimental. You know how she gets about things like that. And Odin- he pretty much has to side with you anyway." She smiles as Thor’s stomach growls; last night’s dinner may have been huge, but even that can only carry him so far. He'd been way too nervous to even pick at his breakfast. "Let's go find the starving beast some ice cream."

~

Thor’s never been so conscious of how he walks before. It’s hard to focus on not swinging his arms and spare the icy sidewalk enough attention. In the end he lets Sif take his elbow; that keeps his arm still without his having to think about it.

“Anyone who sees us is going to think we’re a cute couple,” she teases him.

“Well, we are cute,” he admits. “And we probably could be a couple if we weren’t, you know, gay and everything.”

“Right.” Sif snickers. “And if we didn’t know each other.” She reaches around to poke him in his good side. “No offense, but I could never date you. It would be like dating my brother. Look, if you’re really worried about your parents… tough it up and don’t tell them. I know you can. That’s what I did.”

~

It’s a good suggestion, one Thor very much means to implement. As per usual, he lasts all of two minutes.

“I got a tattoo,” he blurts out as he’s struggling out of his fleece. The jacket catches on his chin, sparing him his mother’s initial reaction. “On my arm,” he clarifies, just in case that’s not what she’s thinking. “It hurts.”

Frigga laughs. “I bet it does,” she says as he tugs the fleece loose with his right hand. It’s a relief to be able to breathe properly again, and a bigger one to see that she doesn’t look- angry. Disappointed. Whatever feeling(s) he’s been dreading. “What were you expecting?”

You to disown me, Thor (shocks himself with but) doesn’t say. It’s stupid. She would never.

Which is why it’s even stupider that his eyes tear up anyway.

~

Washing his arm hurts, too. Thor flops on his bed for a while to air dry before carefully applying another batch of glop and a mostly-flat layer of cling wrap. Sif had warned him earlier that getting comfortable in bed would be no picnic. Ultimately he’s so exhausted that – except for dreaming that he’s choking and panicking himself awake, only to find he’s gotten tangled in his t-shirt – he sleeps like a huge, furry baby.

~

“What time is your bus due in again?” Thor already knows the answer – he’s asked at least ten times over the past two weeks, and every day since he got here – but now that they’re down to the night before he’s a giant ball of nervous stupidity. The little town isn’t much to look at this time of year, and he’s worried that he’s oversold- everything. The crisp salty air. The frozen beach. The camaraderie. His mother’s holiday cooking. Himself. Everything. “The weather here is supposed to be fine. I’ll pick you up and we can- oh, something.”

Loki laughs. “I’m going to be getting up ridiculously early and spending my day on not one but three buses. I guarantee the only thing I’m going to want to do is shower.”

“With me?” Thor chokes on his own saliva as he realizes he’s just suggested a grand reveal that leaves him no way at all to feel out Loki’s mood and ease into it. Way to go, idiot. Overnight he’s turned into Baldr.

“No,” Loki says. “You grew up there, Thor. You must have noticed the size of that bathtub.”

It’s true. The showerhead barely reaches Thor’s shoulders; he has to half crouch to get all the shampoo out of his hair. His parents have been talking about ripping the whole mess out for years, but – so far – nothing’s ever come of it. “I’m sure we could manage,” Thor says, trying to decide if he relieved or disappointed.

“We’ll try in a couple of days, maybe,” Loki suggests. “But not tomorrow. Not when I’m tired enough to want to kill somebody.”

~

Finally. The big day is here. Finally.

Thor is so excited to see Loki, even bedraggled and grumpy and fresh from the bus, that he briefly forgets his tattoo – and life - worrying.

“You smell like barn,” Loki complains into the collar of Thor’s jacket when he wraps Loki in a big hug that barely hurts any.

He takes a long answering sniff, burying his cold nose in Loki’s hair. “That’s okay. At least I don’t smell like bus bathroom.” He pushes Loki back half a step, fighting the urge to rub his sleeve where his arm has started itching. While the pain has died way back, he’s getting gross and peely. “Um, I did something I hope you’ll be okay with,” because it’s too late now. He can’t keep it in any longer.

Loki wrinkles his nose. “What, rolled in shit?” He frowns. “Wait. You aren’t kidding, are you? What did you do?” He shrugs free of Thor’s hands, eyes wide. “Oh, god. Why did I let you drag me all the way down here?”

Shit. “No, it’s nothing like-.” He stops, afraid to even guess at what Loki is thinking. “It’s just- I got a tattoo. To go with yours. For Christmas.”

“You what?” Loki shakes his head, then rubs his eyes. “Fuck. You freaked me out there for a second.” He clears his throat. “Let me see it.”

“When we get back to the house,” Thor promises. He’s not stripping out here in the snow, in front of the bus station. “It looks pretty crappy right now, but I can show you the picture.”

Loki chews the inside of his lip and looks up at the sky. He breathes in and out through his nose in long, whistling pulls. “Okay,” he says at last. “Sorry.”

Thor takes Loki’s hand and then bends to pick up his duffle. “I suck at surprises,” he says, trying not to let Loki’s tension feed his own. “Don’t be.”

Chapter Text

"So no one's seen it yet? Not even your mother?" Loki hands his big, heavy duffle to Thor, who slings it behind the front seats of one of the farm's nicest king cab pickups. "I'm surprised at you. At your unusual show of self-restraint," he kids, smiling. Something about his expression is still off, though. Wary. Thor kisses his cheek on the way back by.

"Sif saw it, I guess," Thor clarifies. "She went with me when I got it. Because apparently rugby players aren't so tough after all. But that's all. It’s a gift for you. I wanted you to see it first." He winces. "Except I didn't take into account how it would be all gross and peel-y... just in time for you to get here."

Loki frowns. "You're not picking at it, are you? Not pulling off the loose parts?"

"No," Thor assures him, holding the truck door open and offering a hand up out of habit. It's a big, tall vehicle. A lot of people, not including Loki, are too short to climb in without assistance. "The girls at the store gave me some- some goop to put on it, along with a big talk on how to look after it properly."

"And you're nothing if not dedicated," Loki finishes for him, nodding. "Of course you would follow the instructions, right down to the very last letter."

It’s what you do in chemistry, Thor thinks. If you don't, you die. He leans in to kiss Loki's wrist as Loki clicks the seatbelt into its buckle. This is his father's off-hours truck, the one Odin uses to take Frigga out to dinner. The belts are clean and the cab's not stinky. Well, except for the earthy smell of his own damp jacket. "I want it to be just right," he says. "It's worth it, for something that'll be with us forever."

"With you forever, you mean," Loki corrects. Thor's stomach sinks a little, because that isn’t what he means at all. "Let's get going. This wind is crazy."

Thor makes the habitual check for stray hands and feet and closes the door carefully. "Me or us," he says to the windblown snow. "That choice is all yours, Lo. Really."

"So tell me about it," Loki says a lot more brightly as Thor starts the car. "Your tattoo place," he amends when Thor shoots him a puzzled look. It feels strange to have a tattoo place. The whole thing is still percolating, probably. Loki waves a hand at the businesses near the welcome center bus station, most of which are closed for the winter. "Is it somewhere here in town? Or did you and Sif have to go on a pilgrimage?"

"It's local," Thor says. "Not down here; over closer to the farm, kind of. The artists all grew up around here. It's- kind of woo and girly. They couldn't have been nicer, though, and I had Sif to smooth things over." He smiles. "It wasn't like tagging along to buy underwear or anything."

"Because I do that so often," Loki says, smirking. "I didn't know you'd had a girlfriend."

"Worse," Thor groans. "Way worse. I used to have to go shopping with my mother."

"Oh, shit." Loki bursts out laughing. "Who knew: an unexpected plus of the foster care system."

Thor doesn't want to joke about that kind of thing. "We can visit if you want," he suggests. "The tattoo place, not the women's underwear department," he goes on as Loki cocks an eyebrow at him. The light changes. He really, really needs to stop staring at his passenger and start paying attention to his driving. "Another day, I mean. I'm sure they're closed now.” Coming into the holiday, most everything is. “And god knows,” he half-kids so Loki won’t think he’s- pissed off or something, “you need a shower."

~

"That's beautiful," Loki says softly as Thor holds his own left arm up and out for inspection. Even this little bit of stretch starts a fresh round of itching. The winter air dries everything out ridiculously quickly. "It looks like an ancient Norse etching. If they etched. Which they didn't." Loki huffs. "Forget it. You know what I mean. It needs some salve, though. May I?"

Thor grabs the jar and passes it over. "Just a thin layer," he warns. "Too much will slow the he-."

"Hmm," Loki hums loudly. "I almost feel like I've heard that before somewhere." He pushes the cuff of one sweater sleeve up with his free hand, enough to bare one of his own tattoos. "Oh, that's right, I have. Imagine!"

"Be nice," Thor warns. "Or I'll make you wait while I use all the hot water."

"I'm good at this." Loki deftly spins the lid off the salve. "I suspect you'll be forgiving me shortly." He pats the unmade mess of a bed. "Lie down and let's do the job right right, shall we?"

It's true: Loki is good at it. His fingers are pleasantly cool and he uses them delicately. The salve itself is magic, too, even in less graceful hands; by the time Loki's done, the itching's pretty much gone and Thor's earlier anxiety is fading slowly into pleasantly sleepy. "I take it back," he says, yawning as Loki grins at him. "You go wash up. I'll rest my eyes while I'm waiting:"

~

"So," Loki prompts again. He's sitting cross-legged on the bed next to Thor, wrapped in a towel, unwilling to sprawl out while his hair's still drying. "What was it like," he asks, nodding towards the night sky that covers Thor's inner, upper arm. "You said you weren’t all that tough… did you cry like a baby?"

Thor snorts. "Not really." The tears that leaked out from time to time and burned hot streaks down his cheeks don't qualify; that was just his eyes watering. "But I squealed like one, for sure. After that I just felt- tense, I guess, and kind of pukey." He blows out a big breath, not quite a sigh and not quite a whistle. "It probably didn't help that I was too nervous that morning to eat anything." He reaches up to brush the tips of his fingers over the stubble above Loki's temple. "I honestly don't know how you did that."

Loki holds his bare arm out, rolling it from side to side to show off the full sleeve. "After this, and my back, it was nothing." He wrinkles his nose; Thor wants to kiss the bridge flat again, but it's too far away presently. "That sounded bad. It was a big deal emotionally. Symbolically. Actually getting it inked was the quick and easy business."

Loki’s slender, blue-veined wrist is closer, well within reach. Thor catches Loki’s hand and kisses just below the tattoos instead. "Shh," he soothes. "I didn't take it that way. The idea of someone jabbing needles in my head is just... gross. Creepy." He shudders. "Apparently I'm a bit of a wuss, under all this rough exterior."

Loki waves his wrist in front of Thor's face. "Stop talking and do that again," he purrs. “Me likey."

Thor likes it too. A lot, actually. "Mm," he hums against Loki's palm, the skin there still warm and a little damp from showering. He kisses slowly up from wrist to elbow, letting Loki come to him rather than pulling.

It isn’t until he gets all the way up to Loki’s collarbone that Thor forgets himself and hauls Loki down for some serious kissing.

~

“So why did you do it?” Loki sounds a bit out of breath, which is only fair because Thor is panting.

Thor blinks. After all that making out his brain is in slow motion. “Oh, the tattoo? Why did I get the tattoo? Well, yours was- you had a bit of me put on you, forever,” he tries to explain. Getting the whole idea out of his head and into the world is- is complicated. “It felt like a gift. The best kind. I wanted to do the same for you.” He shrugs, jostling Loki and then hugging him tightly. “It’s hard to explain. That’s how it felt to me, anyway.”

Loki pushes up off Thor’s chest until he’s most of the way back up to sitting. The skin around his eyes tightens. “So, how do you plan to explain it to your next boyfriend?”

Fuck. Thor blinks again and makes a face. “I don’t plan on having a next boyfriend,” he says carefully, “but if something goes wrong and I do… I’ll tell the guy it’s- it’s for someone very dear to me.” He takes Loki by the upper arms and half scoots, half pushes until they’re both sitting up, his own back against the pile of pillows and Loki straddling his hips. Loki’s towel has fallen open and they’re both still a bit hard; Thor drags his eyes up and keeps them there. “Why would you ask me that? Seriously,” he whispers into the space between them. “What’s going on? Are you dumping me?”

“What?” The brief flash of surprise on Loki’s face looks real enough. “No, of course not. I just-.” Loki glances down, then off towards the window. Thor turns his head. It’s snowing outside. Again. Still. “It always happens. People tell me they can live with- with the way things are, and some of them probably think they can, but in the end they want stuff from me that I just can’t give.” Loki sighs. “I know I can’t change how I am; I guess it’s stupid of me to think anyone else can just stop wanting.”

Thor gives Loki’s arms a quick squeeze and then takes hold of both hands instead. He’s given this a lot of thought over the past year and change, but clearly he hasn’t done a good enough job sharing those same thoughts with Loki. “Look,” he starts, and Loki does. “I haven’t stopped wanting. I haven’t had to stop wanting, because when I’m with you I get what I want. Who knows? Maybe I’m kind of ace myself. I don’t feel like I’m missing something. I’m not just saying that,” he adds as Loki sputters. “I’m not trying to trick you or lead you on or whatever.”

He isn’t. The cheap, drunk sex after rugby wasn’t about- anything… it was just a way to blow off steam after a match, better than punching walls or breaking furniture. That, and it was part of the game. It was expected of him. He did it. Didn’t mind it, doesn’t miss it.

Most of all, he doesn’t miss going home with the hollow, empty feeling that something in his life is farther away than it had been when the sun’d come up that morning.

“But whatever I say,” he goes on, sadly, because this may be what bothers him most, “it never seems to be enough for you.” He holds Loki’s hands a little tighter. “I’m happy like this. I never thought I wanted to be in a relationship but what you and I have has been perfect. Is perfect,” he corrects as Loki stiffens. “I love what we have. I never want it to end. And if it does, it won’t be because you’re not putting out.” Thor shuts his eyes and just breathes for a few seconds. “I know you’ve said everyone turns on you in the end. I’m not everyone. I’m not,” he insists. “But I’m just me. I don’t have a crystal ball. There isn’t going to be any way I can prove it to you, is there?”

When Thor opens his eyes Loki is looking at the wall behind him. Even from this angle Thor can see the tears welling. He doesn’t say anything; Loki still hasn’t made peace with crying. With anything, maybe. At least their fingers are still laced together. He holds on to that and says- nothing.

Loki swallows. “I don’t want to get my fool heart broken,” he says, and then “It’s been more than a year, Thor. I’d feel better if you just got it over with and fucked me already.”

Thor lets out a surprised little huff. “Well, I wouldn’t. And I don’t plan on breaking any hearts. Not. Everybody,” he reminds, punctuating the words by gently squeezing Loki’s fingers. “So where does that leave us?”

“In bed.” Loki looks around. He sounds a little more like himself now. Thor isn’t all the way there yet; they both need a nap. “Being stupid, apparently.”

“Apparently,” Thor agrees. He lets go of one of Loki’s hands to reach around and hug. “We’re going to be up really late tonight. Why don’t we sleep until dinner? You can rinse off then if your hair is a shitshow,” he promises, “or throw on a hat, or give yourself a braid. It’ll be fine. Please?” They need to reset, to start over. He wants celebrating on the beach to be just that: a celebration. Not a continuation of stress and assuming, topped off with a hefty dose of faking it for the friends. “Nap. With me. It’ll be lovely.”

He holds on until Loki relaxes and sags against his bare chest, warm skin on skin. “Okay,” Loki tells the hard ridge of his sternum. “But set an alarm. I don’t want to sleep through your mom’s cooking.”

Thor rolls Loki off and stands, kicking out of his jeans and boxers. He’s still too emotional and too worn to want more than sleepy cuddling. Which is probably a good thing. “Don’t worry,” he tells Loki. “She’d never let us do that.”

“Humor me,” Loki says, burrowing into the pillows. The black tree against all that white skin always startles Thor. This afternoon is no exception.

“Fine,” he gives in. He fumbles with his old clock radio. “6:00 PM. There. Are you happy?”

“Mm,” Loki hums as Thor tugs the covers over them. “Maybe.”

Chapter Text

The countdown to dinner feels more Christmas-y than Christmas had, at least for Thor. For starters, they’re hosting a bigger group: besides Loki, Baldr has invited his girlfriend Nan (and while Thor can't help but doubt the sincerity of his brother’s feelings, she's nice enough and who knows… maybe there's the tiniest bit of projection involved anyway). Having her there should even things out. It gives people more to talk about, and may shift some of the focus off Thor and Loki.

True to form Frigga doesn’t allow any accidental oversleeping. She summons them well before their alarm with a soft knock and an even softer invitation to please help get things ready. Thor rolls out of bed, pulls on nice jeans and a clean button-down, and stumbles out to the bathroom to wash up while Loki finishes dressing. By the time Thor has scrubbed his face pink and wiped down the counter, he can hear Loki and Frigga downstairs laughing in the kitchen already.

He hurries to join them. When he bursts in from the hallway, sleeves rolled up and ready to work, he can’t help laughing… because Loki’s (busy chopping at the counter) wearing a ridiculously frilly apron. The pale green, ruffled thing isn’t his mom's style at all, let alone Loki's. He has no idea where it came from. "Don't even," Loki warns, turning to waggle a knife in Thor's direction. "My only nice clothes are dry-clean-only, and we didn't want me spilling anything on them."

"I wouldn't dare," Thor says, trying in vain to smother a snort. And Loki does have a valid point: peeking out from under the apron are the long, loose legs of a pair of deep green velvet pants and the delicate sleeves of a fitted black sweater. The two things taken collectively comprise one of Thor's favorite outfits. They’re definitely nothing he wants to see damaged either. The overall effect (sans apron, obviously) is one of an exotic royal's dress pajamas.

He loves petting the pants, as much as he loves petting Oscar. And sometimes when he does, Loki purrs in ways that make him feel as though every bit of love is profoundly welcome. In fact, it’s difficult not to hurry over and pet Loki now, right in front of his mother. "Put me to work, mom,” he suggests-slash-pleads, “before I do something stupid."

“Something even more stupid, you mean,” Loki interjects. Everyone bursts out laughing.

"Here you go," Frigga says to Thor, wiping her hands on her own apron and passing him a thick slab of butter. She nods towards the three loaves on the counter, next to the breadknife and the heads of garlic. "Loki's got the salad covered already; I just need someone to get the garlic bread started."

Thor keeps a careful eye on the stove, on his pot of butter melting in the shadow of a vat of deliciously fragrant seafood fra diavolo, and listens to- to the sounds of tranquility. To Loki and Frigga chattering happily about books on the other side of the kitchen. To the thunk and scrape of knives against cutting boards. To the barely audible whoosh and pull of his own breathing.

Moments like this, he wouldn’t mind seeing last forever.

~

“My mom suggested this,” Nan says, holding out two bottles of chilled white wine. The matching gold and black labels are all in Italian. “She says it’s good with seafood?”

“Thank you,” Frigga exclaims, scooping up the bottles in one arm and delivering a quick hug with the other. “I’m sure it will be delicious.”

Frigga and Odin take the ends of the table. Thor and his brother sit diagonally across from one another, each with his date beside him. It’s hard to see everyone, between the food, glassware, and centerpieces and the bright flicker of candles.

Baldr's girlfriend, is studying European history. She's friendly and polite and kind, all the things his brother sorely needs in a partner, and Thor's a little surprised – more like horrified, really, because it's the worst kind of sellout - to find himself hoping against hope that she might be a keeper. "That's really cool," she says when Loki explains that while online sales may keep the bookstore in business there's still value to real, live face-to-face bookselling out in the community. "I bet your customers will be really sad," she adds just as Thor bites off a big mouthful of spicy, sauce-soaked bread, "when Thor's done with school and you move here."

In the silence that follows, everyone can hear Thor fighting against choking.

Loki clears his own throat. Thor doesn't dare look at him. Fucking Baldr. "I can't say we haven't talked about that," Loki says carefully, in the voice he always uses on his least favorite customers, "but it's a little premature to call it decided."

"Oh.” Nan falters. “I just- Baldr- I thought-,” she trails off awkwardly.

Frigga picks up the dropped ball and serves it back onto the court. "I'm sure you're right, Nan," she says pleasantly. "If Loki does leave, his regulars will all be heartbroken.”

Thor coughs. His chest feels tight. "Of course," he says, still not looking at Loki. "How could they not be?"

Baldr frowns. Thor glares at him. "But you-," Baldr misses (ignores?) the hint and starts. He has an arm around Nan’s shoulders, protectively. Thor stretches out a leg and kicks him hard under the table.

"So. Who's going out to the shore tonight?" Odin sets down his fork and blots his mouth with a napkin. Frigga’s lived with three men – three boys, perhaps more often than not – for more than two decades; she’s long since learned to use the dark linens when she serves Italian. "Wind's picking up again; it's going to be quite the cold one."

"We're meeting Sif and Volstagg," Thor says, still glaring at his brother. “And Hilde. And that small army they’re building." A small blond army, all of them light-haired and adorable like their mother.

Baldr winces. "It's pretty cold," he says, turning to look at Nan a bit beseechingly. "Maybe we'll just stay here and watch the ball drop on television."

"Good idea," Thor agrees fake-brightly, with a tip of the glass in Baldr’s direction. "Why don't you do that?"

When he finally dares to look at Loki again, Loki's very busy with the business of eating.

~

"I don't know why he told her that," Thor apologizes as they're back upstairs switching out their dinner dress for something warmer. "I'm pretty sure I've never said a thing to him about it. Not that it wouldn't make me happy," he's quick to clarify, because anything that ends up with Loki moving here will do just that and he doesn't want to risk Loki’s thinking otherwise, "but I know it's something we - you - have to decide. Later. Privately. He's an ass," he adds, hoping for a smile and not getting one. "Really. I'm sorry."

“It’s nothing,” Loki says, with heavy finality. “She was just being polite. Let it go already.”

Thor (acts like he) does, but of course he (really) doesn’t. Can’t, probably.

~

Odin’s right, and Baldr too; it’s not the best weather. They’re about halfway to the beach when a huge swirl of windblown snow whips across the road in front of them and Thor's all the more glad they'd opted for driving. When he was younger it had been kind of fun freezing solid; just now he's grateful to be feeling all his fingers. "You okay?" He reaches for Loki's thigh, then thinks what he hopes is the better of it. “You’re awfully quiet.”

"I guess?" Loki doesn't sound particularly confident. Or convincing. "I just have a lot on my-… I'm not sure what I'm feeling. I hate that."

Personally, Thor's feeling a big, unwelcome jolt of anxiety. "I'm sorry," he says again, even though he’s quickly losing track of why he’s apologizing. He does touch Loki's leg this time, just a quick squeeze. Nothing crazy. "You don't have to feel – or think - anything, not if you don't want to."

Loki laughs at that, a fast, sharp huff. "Oh, if only."

"Yeah," Thor says, with more enthusiasm than he meant to. He knows (and hates) the feeling. And how. "I hear you."

~

"Hey," Sif yells. They've barely even jounced to a stop and spilled out into the snowy sand before she's running up from the beach to greet them. She goes straight for the passenger side and lets Loki catch her up in a hug that's probably a little hard for both of them. Her hair whips out behind her as she and Loki stomp and skid their way around the back of the truck to join Thor, the snow crunching under their boots. Sif isn't wearing a hat, as usual, and he wonders yet again how she isn't freezing. "Hi, buddy. Happy Almost New Year!"

Her good cheer is – happily, thankfully - contagious. Loki smiles and slides an arm around Thor’s waist to slip a mitten-clad hand into his coat pocket. Thor kisses the top of Sif’s head. He throws one arm each around Sif and Loki’s shoulders. “Baldr’s not coming,” he tells her, belatedly hoping it doesn’t ruin the new, improved mood. “He pissed us off at dinner.”

Sif laughs. “Heimdall tried to tell me the same thing,” she tells them. “Good thing for you guys I don’t listen.”

Hilde and Volstagg and their brood are already down at the surf line, the youngest kids bundled up like fat toy snowmen. Hilde’s cheeks and nose are bright pink in the glow of her flashlight. “I think it’s going to be a quick one tonight,” she says, holding out the light. “Too windy for candles, too windy for fireworks.”

“Noooo,” the kids howl, like the world is ending. The adults roll their eyes at them.

“In half an hour,” Volstagg predicts, “they won’t even remember being disappointed.”

“Youth is wasted on the young,” Loki says. His lips are icy cold when Thor kisses them.

Hilde hands out small cups of steaming mulled cider from a thermos in her van. An eternity later, when their phones finally show 00:00, they all scream “HAPPY NEW YEAR” into the frozen void. One quick round of hugs later, they race for their vehicles and head out into the night.

The hour feels very late. On the way back to the farm it’s Thor’s turn to sit quietly. Loki whistles Auld Lang Syne and shoves his very white fingers into the heater vents on the dashboard.

~

“We’ll work something out,” Thor promises Loki as they laze in bed together late that morning. So late, in fact, that it’s nearly afternoon. He’s grateful for his mother’s open-minded practicality, and for the way it spills over onto his father. “You don’t have to move down here if you don’t want to. I’ll find a way to split my time. Someone to cover my work on the days I can’t be here.” He’s been up a good chunk of the night running through the options in his head. It won’t be too many years before Volstagg’s eldest might be a possibility, and it isn’t like his parents are pushing him yet to take over. He just knows he can find a way to make it all happen.

“It’s not that,” Loki says. Thor rolls onto his side and scrunches up his face in confusion. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know Loki is unhappy. “It isn’t. And - just between us – I do get it that I probably have the most flexibility. What pisses me off,” he says, frowning up at the ceiling, “is how everyone just assumes that’s what’s going to happen. I’m a responsible adult,” he grumbles. “An athlete and a business owner. I own my own building. I pay taxes, own a car, have a pet. I employ people. I have a boyfriend. Who is just a student, mind you. All that, and yet everyone assumes I’ll just waltz off into the seaside sunset with Prince Charming like some silly little schoolgirl.” He closes his eyes and wipes angrily them. “And then I remember that Prince Charming doesn’t run off with the nerdy, angry tattooed boy, and I fucking hate everything.”

“Mm,” Thor hums, in sympathy. Laid out like that, the whole business leaves him equal parts sad and angry. He’s not sure how to explain himself, though, not without the risk of becoming part of the problem. They have to head back- back home shortly and he doesn’t want things to be awful. He scoots a little closer, the movement of his body making Loki bob on the mattress like a boat at anchor. “It’s reassuring to hear I won’t be competing against Prince Charming.”

“You’re a dick,” Loki snaps, but he’s finally almost smiling.

Thor kisses Loki’s shoulder. “Maybe.” He wants to see that small, private smile always, wants to spoil it endlessly with kind words and sweet kisses. “But I love you.”

Chapter Text

Quietly and without really talking about it - they've agreed to start planning this summer in earnest by April, to avoid a repeat of last year's awful misunderstandings, but it’s only January and they have months left to slog through - Thor and Loki come at the big problem from opposite directions. At least that’s how it looks from where Thor’s sitting.

Honestly, he likes where he’s sitting.

Right from the first day back in town he tries his hardest to stop treating the city, and his stay in Loki's apartment, as temporary… as things to hold him over until he's done with college. Instead he makes a concerted effort to really settle in and appreciate what it's like to live here.

Just before the start of classes he meets with campus housing to find an approved tenant (rather than subletting yet again) and pull out of his campus housing agreement. "It won't change your stipend," the administrator warns him, her expression a mix of stern and worried, but Thor’s worked through that part on his own and feels comfortable assuring her he's fine with it. And he really is fine. He’s nervous, yes; if Loki kicks him out now he has nowhere left to go and will have to room with someone. But he's fine about the money.

Still, a stipend is by no means a living wage. Thor can't contribute much of anything to rent, which isn’t really a problem because Loki owns the building outright and doesn't pay any. That, and the bulk of Loki’s expenses are business-related. There are still plenty of personal bills, though - food, insurance, certain utilities, taxes - and Thor doesn't like the feeling of permanently freeloading. Instead he talks Loki into letting him officially work for the business part-time, where he takes over the job of managing the stockroom.

It’s a good fit, too, not just mislaid charity. Thor knows from the Big Rearranging Project that the same logistics and processes involved in shipping produce are broadly applicable when it comes to moving books, and his academic schedule makes it easy enough for him to be onsite during prime shipping/delivery hours when necessary. Plus it’s good exercise, mental and physical, and it's one less thing the rest of the staffers have to handle.

They’ll have to figure something out come summer. He’s keeping an eye out for just the right year ‘round student.

Outside Heart’s Desire, Thor talks Natasha and Steve into joining a running club – a small one right there on campus, its members a friendly mix of faculty, alumni, and graduate students – along with him. It's a way to keep up with his colleagues and school friends better. It's also a good opportunity to make new ones, people who live here permanently and plan to continue doing so, and (once the weather improves, especially) to enjoy the parks and trails around the school without inflicting them on Loki. He does happy hour with his cohort every couple of weeks – Thursday conveniently being the store’s latest weeknight - and then meets Loki out for a quick dinner afterwards. Sometimes it's a diner, sometimes it's soup and salads down the street from their apartment. Wherever they go, it's a nice mini-date night and they almost always manage to enjoy it.

During the occasional week where Loki simply has too much going on, meaning breaking away to shop would be a hassle, Thor proudly goes for groceries - at the newly renovated place out near the expressway, three or four miles from their home - and pays for the food with his own money. Loki always assures him he doesn't have to. Thor knows that, but he wants to contribute and insists on doing it anyway.

Sometimes Loki sucks him off, if he buys something extra-special. "A treat deserves a treat," Loki reminds him. Thor feels mildly guilty anyway.

It’s not like they never fight. They’re both strong-willed and stubborn, and not nearly as right as they sometimes think they are. But through it all Thor tries to keep at least one eye on the far horizon. He knows better than most people that change is hard. Even good, mostly happy change. All this is probably not as easy for Loki as it looks, and Thor tries to keep that in mind as well.

And he watches as Loki – again without discussion, but Thor’s no idiot and when viewed in aggregate small things form a pattern that’s gradually becoming more and more clear - uses the new stockroom manager position as a lead-in to the subtle realignment of his own duties. While Thor carefully doesn’t ask, from the outside it looks as though Loki is focusing more and more on stepping back; on managing the place and on developing his team, even (especially?) when that means delegating the bulk of what have traditionally been his own responsibilities.

Some of it does happen more or less naturally. A week or so after Darcy cheerfully announces she's applied (and been accepted) to grad school locally, meaning she's going to be around for at least a few more years and may even stay in town post-graduation (and would - wink wink - love to know she can always look forward to continued, steady employment), Loki names her customer service manager and asks her to take over that part of the online business. It’s a move that makes sense. She's friendly and fun, but not a pushover; there’s no question in Thor’s mind that she will do a great job. On top of that, everyone who works there know the customers love her.

Logical or not, though, with any change (and no change, Thor knows; life kind of sucks that way) comes risk. Initially Loki does worry (privately, just to Thor, when they're safely tucked into their apartment for any given evening) that Amora won't like it that her once-intern lackey is now her boss. Thor is (just as secretly) worried as well, and they’re both relieved when it turns out that Amora enjoys doing exactly what she's doing. It probably doesn’t hurt that Darcy turns out to have a knack for supporting her.

Sure, Loki’s Thor's boss too, but they pointedly ignore that. Thor knows he’s good with stock; there isn't – and won’t ever be - much actual bossing involved anyway.

It's reassuring to see that things can bend and shift without breaking.

With each passing week their life together feels a little more permanent, in a good way. Thor buys a few decent-quality tools and builds a pretty Victorian archway between the living room and the parlor. He and Loki shop together for trim – heavy sections of molding that call to mind the rest of the apartment and plump plaster cupids so ridiculously over-the-top that they know they have to have them – at the local salvage places, and once everything’s painted to match the wide arch looks almost like it’s always been there. Layout-wise, a new second entry into their dark little haven would probably have made more sense, but Thor really wants to preserve a safe space. Making the small room a de facto hallway simply wouldn’t have done that.

More and more Thor likes to flop in there when he’s stressed. He’s glad he left it alone. That, and having an extra source of light on sunny winter days makes the living room nicer anyway.

They’ve heard so many construction horror stories that they feel lucky. The project goes faster than either of them expected.

~

The timing ends up being especially fortunate, because the middle of March brings Thor an awful cold.

He’s perfectly fine – not even especially tired - when he wakes up. By mid-afternoon, though, he can hardly swallow. He escapes from school to the apartment as soon as he reasonably can. It doesn’t help… by dinner he’s certain he’s dying.

The next morning dawns on two sad truths: he’s not dead yet, and poor Loki isn’t even a full day behind him. For a minute or two it’s nice to know he's not to blame for Loki's misery. That’s about how long it takes (Loki to bite his head off over nothing, and) Thor to realize it’s also really fucking inconvenient. They could both use a whole lot of babying just now. Instead, all they have (are) is two gigantic babies.

That day Thor just can’t drag himself to campus. He has Steve cover his lab. It’s what’s friends are for; he’d do the same for any one of them. If he wasn’t home dying, anyway.

Word spreads fast; early in the evening Natasha shows up minimally announced bearing two big tubs of soup from her favorite place. It’s beautiful stuff, all thick handmade noodles and hot chicken broth. Natasha’s already toughed her own way through whatever's going around. Their hacking and snuffling doesn't scare her, and neither does their desperately-needs-a-shower grossness. On the other hand she doesn’t stay long; while she says they clearly need their rest, Thor figures he drove her out with his miserable whining.

~

Oscar’s the only one who likes the situation. He’s finally got multiple warm, smelly, lazy laps to choose from.

"Cats love sick people," Thor points out on the Loki's second day under the weather. Thor can actually talk without the pain in his throat making him want to cry, but that’s only after two hefty servings of reheated soup. Oh, and a big mug of tea with both honey and lemon.

Loki isn't there yet. He fingerspells "duh" and rolls his red-rimmed eyes. "I'm the one who's had a cat forever," he spells out, painfully slowly. "I wish we had learned actual sign language," he adds, collapsing back onto his pillow. They're curled up on the couch, end-to-end, each with a couple of pillows pilfered from their bed. They're sharing the duvet, over top of a sheet that really could be cleaner. Loki coughs. Again. "Holy fuck," he croaks. "I feel incredibly awful."

It's the middle of the day, but it's snowing hard and the store isn't open. Thor's still too sick to go in to his lab, which works out fine because both of his assistants have come down with this now anyway. He plucks the Nyquil bottle up off of the floor and waggles his eyebrows suggestively.

"I wish it was hemlock," Loki rasps, but he gulps the capful Thor pours him right down anyway.

Thor takes his own serving straight from the bottle, with gusto. "Don't make me laugh," Loki spells, "or I'll kill you."

When Thor wakes up it's the soft blue-black of a late, snowy evening. He feels halfway human for the first time all week. That and powerfully thirsty. Loki is already awake; as Thor tries to sit up, he can see Loki’s eyes reflecting the streetlight’s glow. Thor tests cautiously and is pleased to find he can swallow without feeling like he’d rather be executed. "More soup?" He coughs. Okay, that's going to suck by tomorrow. "And more tea, maybe?"

Loki swallows and winces. "We need a wife," he spells. "Just for times like this."

Thor laughs and coughs some more. "It's okay," he pants. "I have to get up and pee anyway."

~

Come the weekend it looks like they’re going to survive after all.

There’s been lots of time for thinking. Somewhere in the sea of Nyquil and wadded tissues, Thor’s had an idea. A scary idea, but it feels like it could have potential. “Summer’s pretty slow at the store, no? Once school is over?”

Loki gives Thor a funny look. All around the nostrils Loki’s nose is pink and peeling and shiny with antibiotic ointment. Thor knows his own is in much the same condition. “July and the first part of August, yes,” Loki agrees. “Things pick up again right before the kids go back to school. Why?”

It’s bigger than this, but Thor isn’t ready to fully unveil it. “I was thinking maybe you could come down to the farm for a couple of weeks,” he suggests instead. “Darcy and Amora can keep an eye on Oscar and the store, and you can have a little summer vacation.”

“Except you have to work,” Loki points out.

“Well, yeah, but just during the day.” Farm days start and end early; by the time Loki crawls out of bed, Thor’ll be halfway to done for the evening. “We could have dinner together. We could even go out… it doesn’t have to be like you’ve been adopted into my family.”

Loki starts to say something but instead bursts out coughing. By the time he’s finished his eyes are watering.

Thor’s feeling enough better that he’s kind of- of motherly. “Never mind,” he says, passing Loki the tissues and a bag of lozenges. “We can worry about it later on, when we’re both feeling better.”

“Mm.” Loki blows his nose carefully and then smiles. “Nah, that’s okay. You’re the expert; I’ll let you handle all the worrying.”

Chapter Text

Thor's starting to worry that they're at the leading edge of the zombie apocalypse - that cancer starts as a cold, or something’s resurrected the plague - before he and Loki are finally both done coughing. He’s got terrible cabin fever. It seems like years since they've worked out, an age since they've been up to going anywhere nicer than the near-empty aisles of the late-night grocery store. He's all but forgotten what it’s like to wake up and feel good, with enough energy to make it through the day. But today he does. Finally. He actually feels like doing something.

Loki is still asleep, covers pulled up over his ears and pale, bare feet sticking out the bottom. Thor doesn't quite get how he sleeps like that, with his poor feet all cold, but Loki insists he loves it. Thor learned early on that attempting to cover the poor chilly things is about as smart (meaning not) as using a short stick to poke a tiger. Loki’s toenails are shiny-black and perfect; he’s used their forced exercise sabbatical as an excuse to sport toes pretty enough they actually rival his fingers. Thor likes to wallow through a cold in thick, saggy socks and worn sweats; Loki's has been a slow parade of t-shirts and flannel pants and fancy, bloodless icy feet.

It's no particular Sunday and the world feels new. Thor makes his way quietly out into the living room and is sorry to see the world's still so new it's mostly water. Even in his second year here, he's not used to the late wetness of the local spring: leaden skies, steady downpours, sidewalks a treacherous layering of water over slush over thin slicks of ice. Spring has always been one of his favorite seasons - nature reawakening from sleep - but he's starting to think loving spring here will be more figurative than literal.

He and Oscar - the latter up on tiptoes, little black front paws on the cold sill and muscles straining in an attempt to be just a little taller - watch the rain together. Thor sighs. Natasha and Steve have been running in Yaktrax, which he personally doesn’t care for. Much as he's loath to give in, he knows cracking his head open would be worse. Especially since Loki would never forgive him. "Come on," he tells the cat. Tomorrow is another day. He hasn’t worked out in so long now that one more missed run won’t change anything. "Let's go wake up daddy."

Loki's pampered feet are far too tempting. Thor's never seen anything so soft and perfect on another grownup human being. Which make sense because most people - Loki included, at least when healthy - are too busy living their lives to devote sufficient time to doting. This won't last. Even so, he should resist.

Should, but can’t. Right... doesn't.

"Ugh." The covers shift and rustle, and then Loki's peering down the bed at him, blinking and puffy-eyed. "Please tell me you're not licking my foot."

He hasn't been... just nuzzling and touching and okay maybe kissing. Once. Twice. A few times. "That was Oscar," he lies, scooping up the cat and setting him gently on the covers. "I'm just sitting here enjoying all the pretty."

Loki struggles up onto his elbows and snuffles experimentally. "Holy shit, I'd forgotten how nice it is to have a working nose," he says. "Hey, both of you weirdos," he warns, scissoring his feet back and forth, "those are mine. Lay off them."

Thor heaves himself up onto the bed and flops across Loki’s shins. "What?" He tries for innocent but can't stop laughing. Even when Loki's toes dig into his ribs. "You said to lay on them, didn't you?"

"Hah." Loki's glare softens. "It's nice to see you with some energy. Hell, it's nice to have energy. But get off me. Seriously. You’re as big as a hippo. Stop," he squawks as Thor makes exaggerated lips-over-teeth biting motions above his knees. "Fuck, you're heavy. We should do something." He yawns, without coughing for a change. "Something outside, maybe."

"Nope," Thor says sadly as his good spirits flag. Loki's forehead wrinkles. "I mean, I'd love to. We should. But it's pouring."

Loki slips free of Thor's bulk and scoots across the bed. "Science center," he asks, snatching a quarter off the nightstand and holding it up with thumb and forefinger, "or art gallery?"

Thor would kind of like to do both, now that someone's mentioned it. But Loki doesn't get to share his student discount, and it's not like he has a good excuse to be greedy. "Flip," he says. "I'll call."

"Gallery, heads," Loki says, turning the coin. "Science center, tails." The mattress heaves under Thor as Loki pushes himself up to sitting. With a neat flick of a thumb he send the quarter spinning into the air.

"Tails," Thor says, because Oscar has one and it's half in his eye presently.

“You got it.” They both - all - watch as the coin slaps into Loki's palm. "Gallery it is, then."

Thor secretly likes the science center better, especially the cool, dark places - the carefully-lit dioramas, the planetarium with its soft chairs Loki swears aren't nearly as nice as the ones they replaced - where two grown men can carelessly hold hands and cuddle. He knows the art gallery is special, though, to Loki. That, and his school owns it. He's trying to cultivate a love of the place. "Sure." He nods. It never hurts to get more practice.

~

The current exhibitions are all about the art of war - actually, not metaphorically: wartime photographs and handicrafts, beautiful hand-woven war rugs from Afghanistan - and are equal parts fascinating and sad. The main gallery is not quite dim enough for comfy handholding, but at least this particular morning they're not the only queer couple. It’s reassuring. Thor hasn't fully gotten used to how many people here - especially in the arts district, with a locally famous gay bar just down the street and young, purple-haired, tattooed bodies everywhere - seem to look past everything. He's still waiting to see his face in the paper beside an article describing how gay men scar young lives. His picture on one side of the written copy, a pretty suburban housewife comforting her sobbing blond toddler on the other. He shivers.

"You okay?" Loki turns to peer at him, face scrunched up in worry. "Hey. What's the matter?"

Thor shrugs. "War?" That’s not really what it is. He makes himself take Loki's hand and squeeze it anyway. "How can people hate," he asks, not quite sure what he really means, "in amongst such beauty?"

Loki wrinkles his nose. He squeezes Thor's hand in return, and Thor feels a rush of nameless warmth. "People can hate anywhere, sweetie."

~

The rooms housing the permanent collection are easier. Not that Thor’s surprised; every time he comes here, they seem to be.

He loves the older parts of the building. Their heavy stone walls and plaster arches, built more than a century ago, are much more to his taste than is the late-1960’s addition. The whole original footprint exudes a quiet, solid grace he finds calming. Every room, with its high ceilings and soft lighting, feels comfortable and peaceful. Safe.

The art and artifacts are older, too, so much so that many of them qualify easily as ancient. People have been looking at them for hundreds, even thousands of years. The hands that created these beautiful things have been gone for many lifetimes. Thor can carefully examine each piece, can admire the tiniest details or stand back and enjoy how everything fits together, without feeling raw.

“You like it here,” Loki says softly as Thor studies a daytime seascape that’s all tall ships and waves, marveling over the creative magic that turns little daubs of pigmented oil into clouds and sky. Into water so real he’s always surprised not to catch it moving as he watches.

Thor blinks and clears his throat to break the spell. “I do,” he whispers back. “I wonder if the people who painted these had any idea someone would still be enjoying them several lifetimes later.”

Loki shrugs. “I doubt it.” He looks around, then back at the painting. “I took art classes in the basement of the center wing as a kid,” he volunteers. Thor carefully doesn’t react. Loki shares hints of his past so rarely. “I don’t remember learning much, but I did like sneaking into the old tower” – it’s at the other end of the modern wing, standing proud in all its gothic splendor – “and playing in the bathrooms.”

“The bathrooms,” Thor repeats, still carefully. As an adult Loki is not fond of plumbing.

“They had lovely benches. For resting. And rest I did, every time, right up until someone came to find me.”

That, Thor can picture a lot more easily. He smiles and pulls Loki close. “I guess that’s like getting a toy and playing with the box it came in instead,” he says, and Loki snorts.

“You look at the bright side of everything, don’t you?”

If only. Loki’s hair is up in a braid, leaving the close-cropped sides of his head exposed. Thor presses a light kiss against the shell of his ear. “I do what I have to, to get by,” he says. “I guess we all do.”

They spend another hour or so winding their way through the various exhibits. Thor trails after Loki dutifully, but he never really does get back into it.

~

“Talk to me,” Loki demands as they get out of the car. On a nice day they might walk to the gallery; this isn’t one. The sky is a little lighter, finally, but the rain hasn’t stopped falling. “You got all weird back there, in front of the Chase.”

It takes Thor a moment to realize Loki means the painting. The one with the ship and the water. “Nothing,” he starts, but of course that isn’t true. “I know I can’t fix it, and I know I was lucky to grow up with Frigga, but your childhood- wasn’t happy… and that makes me sad.

“Hey,” Loki says, “I had art lessons. How many foster kids get things like that?”

Thor doesn’t want to think about that, either. “I don’t like not being able to fix things,” he admits. “It grates on me.”

“It’s all over and done,” Loki says with a crisp we’re done with this decisiveness that’s actually welcome. “There’s nothing left for fixing anyway.”

~

For weeks, the rain is a steady presence. Even so the weather is gradually warming, until the dirty gray ridges edging sidewalks and parking lots are all that’s left of a winter’s worth of snow. Thor can finally run outdoors again without risking a nasty fall. Loki’s noticeably cheerier as things green up, too, and on the rare sunny days it’s nice to walk to lunch without having to don half the closet.

All of this is hard to enjoy, though, when Thor can’t forget each week brings them that much closer to the end of his semester. Yes, they’ve said they’re going to plan ahead this time. Yes, they’ve even done a little planning. It’s not helping as much as he expected. He’s still scarred from the end of the last school year, on top of which he now dreads leaving behind Oscar and the nice apartment. It’s Loki that feels like family now. Going back to the shore seems less like returning and a whole lot more like departing.

~

“You’re done with classes in the middle of May, right?” They both have calendars on their phones, of course, but it’s easier to do this with a printed schedule in front of them. Loki lines up May and June together. “And back in early September?”

“I’m staying through Commencement,” Thor says. As a graduate student he’s expected to be there when “his” students receive their diplomas. He doesn’t mind; the old theater is gorgeous, and it buys him another week or two of time with Loki. “So figure I’m leaving the fourth week in May.”

Loki picks up a pencil and makes a few marks on that month’s calendar. “And how often do you think your parents can spare you?”

Thor’s already spoken with his mom about coming back up here for Loki’s summer weekends – so, Monday through Wednesday – once a month. It’s only nine days they’ll be without him; she’s sure his dad can work around it. He points. “Here. And here,” he continues, pulling out the next page, “and here.” The third weeks in June, July, and August. “So if you come down here and here” – early August, early June – “and take your vacation in early July, we’ll never go more than two weeks without seeing one another.” He doesn’t like it – two weeks always feels like forever, on top of which he’s going to miss his cat and his friends and these big, lovely windows – but it’s manageable. Doable. “And then maybe next year-.”

“Shh,” Loki cuts in. He touches his cool, pencil-scented fingers to Thor’s lips. “Let’s get through this one, shall we?”

Chapter Text

"How's everything going?" Sif takes a bite of her donut and looks up at him, chewing. Waiting. Worrying, even, from her expression. Worrying and pretending not to.

Thor swallows the last of his own forkful of eggs and wipes his mouth, then most of his face for good measure. "Okay," he tells her. "Not great, I mean, but better."

They're four weeks into summer, going on five. Things really are a whole lot better than last year, in that he and Loki are still speaking. Regularly, even. They text every day, often multiple times, and normally manage to fit a call in. Loki's been down to the shore once already, and just a little over a week ago Thor’d gone- home.

Which was the problem. Is the problem. Seeing the place again had transformed the nagging background feeling of missing everything into fresh, new pain.

It wasn’t the easy stepping back into normal life Thor’d hoped for, either. The apartment was kind of a mess; without him there Loki had clearly been struggling with the housekeeping. Oscar’d acted afraid of him for most of the first evening, and had only just begun condescending to sit on his lap again the night before his three-day stay was over. Even the kid covering his work in the stockroom – had obviously been doing fine, in that things were put away, but – hadn’t quite measured up to Thor’s own (which he hadn’t really seen as) exacting standards.

Thor hadn't quite realized how big a part of things he was, not until seeing the minor mess everyone else was making of everything. The feeling of actually serving a purpose in Loki’s life, rather than just being there (or worse, a burden), has made him miss all of it that much more. Loki's long vacation - two whole weeks down here at the farm, all to be filled with fun and sun and wonder - is right around the corner now. As much as he's looking forward to spending time together, Thor thinks he’d almost rather head north for it.

Almost. It doesn’t matter; it’s too late. He can’t swing that sort of change in a few days anyway.

"Just okay?" Sif cocks her head. "That doesn't sound particularly optimistic."

Thor sighs. "No, it's fine. Loki and I, we're fine. I just- I miss my friends up there. I even miss my job, which is stupid." Who misses lugging heavy cartons around, then carefully slitting each one to protect its fragile contents? Who misses all that alphabetization? Or the ever-present smell of books, both paper-and-ink-new and a little musty?

He does, apparently.

"And?" Sif prompts. She’s been doing a lot of prompting this morning. Thor knows he’s right on the edge of being rude, spending so much time in his head. He’s not in the best place mentally to be a good brunch companion. Of course, that’s got to be something she’s used to.

"Not and, but," he corrects her. "But I don't want to give up my friends here either. Like you, mostly." Because that's what it ultimately all comes down to. Now that he's really been thinking about the work, now that he has something with which to compare it, the day-to-day grind of farming's not something he loves either. Unfortunately. "But I don't want a desk job," he adds, out of guilt. “You know I’m not cut out for that kind of bullshit.”

Sif rolls her eyes, not particularly subtly. "Do you even have a job involving desks," she asks, "because that wasn't the impression I'd gotten. At all. Did I miss something?"

Thor sets his fork down. There isn't any gain in pretending he's still eating, and his wrist is getting tired. "No," he says. "Well, a little, maybe." There is a steel desk in the stockroom, one of those heavy grey-green mid-century things. He sometimes even has to sit down at it and type, most often when he’s fucked up using the barcode scanner. "Mostly I drive a truck and carry things."

"That sounds oddly familiar." She smiles.

It does, now that she mentions it. "It's not the same," he protests anyway. She’s talking him into something he should be talked out of. "The truck is small. And there's no manure to step in."

Sif laughs outright. "Okay, you got me there. I can totally see the problem."

She might think she does, but Thor’s pretty sure she doesn't. He shoots her a little glare. Nothing mean, just enough to stop the laughing. "It isn't funny," he tells her. "It’s not. I feel all kinds of bad about it."

Sif sets the rest of her donut back on her plate and wipes her fingers. "Do you think this - you and Loki -," she clarifies, waving a hand in his general direction, "is going to be a long-term thing? No," she cuts him off as he starts to answer, "think about it. Really think about it. Don't just spit back whatever crap you tell everybody."

Everybody doesn't ask him things like that. It’s not worth pointing that out, not to her. Instead he chooses waiting half a minute over arguing. "Yes,” he assures her, finally. He’s given this plenty of thought, and then some. “Definitely yes. I want him in my life as long as he'll have me."

She reaches across the table and lays a warm hand on his arm. Thor misses Loki and cool hands and winter. "And he's not pushing you for a decision on where to live," she asks, "not even a little?"

Thor shakes his head. "No. We're just trying things out to see what works. To see if we can find something that’s okay for both of us."

"And he wants things with you to last ad infinitum too?"

"I'm pretty sure he does," Thor tells her. He and Loki haven't talked about the m word, not exactly, but nowadays every vision of the future Loki describes is one that has both of them in it. "Very sure, actually."

Sif sits back in her chair. She chews the inside of one cheek and studies at him, then turns to look out the window. "I wasn't going to tell you this," she says, after a pause so long Thor almost runs out of patience. "Not now. Because I really, really wanted you to make your own decision." She clears her throat. "But I'd never forgive myself if – by withholding information - I somehow encouraged you to make the wrong one."

His stomach drops. She’s caught him totally unprepared. “What?” He feels sick. Panicky. "What's going on?"

"Oh, Thor. Don't look like that!" She’s looking at him again, with a sympathetic little smile. "But I do want- oh, screw it. Just promise me you'll keep this a secret. Not just now… until I’m ready to tell everyone."

"Of course!" That he doesn't have to think about. They have bushels of secrets kept between them, some fresh and some old enough to have long since fossilized. "What? Come on… you're killing me!"

"I mean that," she insists, and Thor nods. He means it too. "Oh, fine,” she huffs. “When the fall semester rolls around, I'm leaving. I've been saving my pennies, unlike you," she teases gently. "Don't gawk at me. It makes me feel like a freak. Seriously, Thor.” He tries to do as instructed; every word out of her mouth makes it that much harder. His face hurts. “I'm going to college after all."

"College,” he echoes. “So you're not-..." His mind is whirling; his brain-mouth connection isn't working properly.

"I doubt it," Sif says, even though he hasn't finished the question. "I'm way behind all the rest of you smart people. I'll be taking classes all three summers, and working part-time... and when I'm done I'll just see where life takes me. Dad deeded Heimdall the farm this spring," she explains when Thor just sits there dumbfounded. "I love my brother dearly, but I don't want to work for him... and I'm kind of over this farming shit already. Have been for years, you know?" He does. "There has to be more out there. Don't look like that," she admonishes again, reaching out to catch a lone tear with her napkin. "And for the love of all that is holy, don't you dare cry at me."

Thor blots his eyes before anything else escapes. "That's awesome," he forces out before the silence between them has time to get too uncomfortable. "School, I mean. Not your stupid father."

"No, it's okay," she says. Her own eyes are a little wet. He knows she would never admit it. “Seriously. For once he made a choice that's going to make him sorry."

Thor laughs. For a long, long time her father’s had this coming. So long, probably, that he’s forgotten to expect it… which is just that much better somehow. “Thanks for telling me,” he says, picking his fork back up and spearing another cheese-covered mouthful of egg. “I’ll really miss you.”

Sif nods. “That was the one thing I cried about,” she tells him. “And don’t you dare laugh.” Like he has any right to. “But I figure we spend most of the year checking in long-distance anyway. Once you get beyond popping in for a drink distance, what’s a few more miles one way or the other?”

It’s true. He’ll miss – really, really miss – these long brunches, spent solving the world’s problems over eggs, fried food, and baked goods, but they’re already down to only four or five a year. If they time their vacations right, they can probably still do a couple. Or maybe he and Loki can visit Sif wherever she ultimately settles. He nods back. “We’ll make it work,” he promises.

She grins, eyes still too bright. “Of course,” she agrees. “We always do.”

On his way back to the farm Thor stops at a rocky point – it’s not a beach, and it’s not near anything interesting; even with the summer season in full swing, it’s always refreshingly free of tourists – and carefully picks his way down to the surf line. In theory Sif leaving is just a small thing, but it isn’t really. He suddenly has a lot more to think about. The kind of “more” that could change- well, everything.

~

“We’re getting married,” Baldr blurts out as Thor shuts the kitchen door carefully behind them. His brother’s expression – eyes narrowed, chin out – is uncharacteristically defiant. It’s a look that would be much more at home on Loki’s face; on his own cuddly baby sibling it looks downright ridiculous. “Me and Nan. It’s not official until we get the ring, but she said yes. And we already told all our parents.”

“Um, good for you. Congratulations,” Thor says, brightly. He fights to keep his own face politely neutral, even as his already overwhelmed mind whirs. His problems don’t need to be Baldr’s problems, and at least he finally knows why Frigga’s been acting odd lately. “Loki’s going to be visiting in a few days. Is it okay if I tell him?” He’s probably going to tell Loki anyway. Okay, he’s definitely going to, as soon as he can reasonably escape his brother and find somewhere private. But he still needs to know if Loki should be sworn to secrecy.

Loki’s a good secret-keeper. As far as Thor’s seen, he only spills things to the cat.

Baldr blinks. It’s only then, watching as shock chases stubbornness from his brother’s face, that Thor realizes Baldr had been expecting an argument. There won’t be one. Thor likes Nan. Whatever happens between her and Baldr is between them. “Uh-.” Baldr shuts his eyes for a second. Two seconds. “Mom’s having a little thing for the fourth of July. Since Loki will be in town and everything.”

Thor nods, trying to be encouraging. He does know what it feels like to be completely thrown off by small, simple things. Oh does he ever.

“Well, we’re going to announce it there.” Baldr clears his throat. “So, yeah, you can tell Loki. Just make sure he doesn’t talk about it when he first gets here.”

“He won’t,” Thor says. “I promise.” He reaches for Baldr and pulls his little brother – who really isn’t little, not anymore – against his chest. “I mean it, B. I really am happy for you.”

“I thought you would give me crap,” Baldr says into Thor’s collarbone. He smells like hay and sweat and sun. “For marrying a girl. You know. For not being brave like you.”

Thor rests his cheek against Baldr’s hair. “Do you love her?”

“Mm-hm,” Baldr answers without hesitation. Maybe he’s bi, then. It’s probably not Thor’s business. Life is all about compromises.

“Then good for you,” Thor says. He gives Baldr another squeeze. “She’s nice. I like her.”

He can feel Baldr laugh, more than he hears it. “That’s exactly what mom said too.”

“Of course she did,” Thor kids. “Mom’s pretty smart, for a grown-up.”

Come to think of it, they all are.

Chapter Text

Thor settles himself on the bench, one ankle propped on the opposite knee and both arms resting along its ornate iron back, and sighs happily. It's a warm day for the start of July. Hot, even. But it's shady and nice here in Frigga's garden. There's a lovely breeze. The air smells richly herbal.

His mother has kept some semblance of a plot of her own here - at the near edge of the small, old orchard that dates back to his father’s grandparents – for longer than Thor can remember. When he'd left for college (the first time) she'd taken to devoting more and more free time to tending it. Nowadays it's grown into the perfect mix of delicate trees and fragrant shrubs, with a riot of flowers in bloom. Frigga likes to come here and read. Thor normally prefers to soak in the beauty of well-loved nature. He enjoys the privacy. That, and the sense of being cared for.

His mother insists that she simply has more time these days, what with Baldr for the most part grown and Thor off to school. Personally, Thor likes to think she misses them. That the gentle nurturing she gives her plants is really meant for her boys instead. She laughs when he asks about it... but he can't help but notice that she's never once argued.

Today she's off to the stores, intent on rounding up cheerful red, white, and blue tableware for the party. Thor has her little haven all to himself, with nothing but the cheerful hum of the bees to keep him company.

It's the perfect place for a phone call.

"Hi." Loki sounds down and a little guarded. "Is something the matter?"

Thor wrinkles his nose. Even this far from the ocean the air has a salty tang. "Nope," he assures Loki. "I just had a few minutes free... that, and some news" - it all borders on gossip, really, but news sounds better - "I wanted to share with you."

"Shh, stop that. It's just Thor," Loki says. In the background Thor can hear Oscar meowing. "Cats," Loki grumbles. "He can hear your voice. This time he thinks he misses you. Anyway, so?"

"I miss him too," Thor says. He misses both of them, along with the bustling street and the smell of books and the miniature constellations spanning the ceiling. "So?"

Loki huffs. "So, is it good news or bad news?"

"Good," Thor exclaims, gamely pretending he’s not starting to doubt himself. "At least, I hope you'll think so. It's all kind of secret, though," he warns. "Really secret, actually."

"Mm," Loki hums, still not sounding all that convinced (let alone excited). "Go ahead, then. Tell me."

"It's a few things," Thor starts in. "Mostly, Baldr is getting married."

"To Nan," Loki asks, except it's too flat to be a question.

"Right. Baldr and Nan are getting married," Thor clarifies. "All the parents know, but the big reveal won't be until Independence Day."

"Heh. How appropriate," Loki says, voice still dull and lifeless. "Do tell… how exactly is that good news, anyway?"

"Nan's smart," Thor tells Loki. "And she loves everything about the agricultural industry.” She’s a farmer without a farm, Thor knows; her parents' holdings haven’t produced in a decade, and the land they once tilled is worth much more sold for development. Even after college there’s no way she will be able to keep the place. “With her at his side my brother can-."

"But he's gay," Loki cuts in. "Isn't he?"

Thor shivers, suddenly cold despite the warm day. "I always thought so. Maybe he's bi? We don't talk about it."

"He’s gay,” Loki says again, “and he's marrying a woman."

"She's really nice," Thor tries. He isn't quite sure what's happening, but it’s starting to feel unpleasantly similar to falling. "Educated. Dependable. The perfect complement to Baldr."

"Except she's a woman," Loki says, with a little more edge. "But I suppose to you that means nothing."

Thor grips the bench back with his free hand. "Maybe it just means there's more to life than meets the eye, sometimes," he suggests instead.

"Is this the Borson Way, then? Rather than face your sexuality," Loki spits, "you martyr yourselves on the pyre of concession? What, is Odin secretly gay too? Has this shit been going on for generations?"

"We what?!" Thor needs to keep his voice down and he knows it, but sometimes his mouth has a mind of its own. Like now. "What are you talking about? Baldr tells me he's happy. He acts happy. Why wouldn't I believe-," he trails off as it hits him, a good three sentences too late: Loki isn't talking about Baldr. Fuck. "Wait. No. You think that's what's going on with me? I swear it isn't." His pulse thuds in his ears. "I love you."

"Right," Loki says, too crisp. Too chilly. "It's not really gay when you're, what, celibate? Liking men doesn't count when your wife is a she?"

Thor swallows. He's as good as blind, now, to the wild beauty around him. "I don't want to fight about this, especially long-distance." He swallows again. Tries to sound calm. "Can we talk about in a couple days, when you get here?"

"I don't think so," Loki says, in the same cold tone. Thor can feel his own stomach flip. "I probably just shouldn't bother coming."

No. No, no. They aren't doing this again. No more heartfelt cards and stupid misunderstandings. "If you don't show up," Thor warns - promises - "I'm driving home."

"You are home," Loki points out.

"No, I'm not," Thor says. "You're home, and I need to see you."

And then- nothing.

"You would seriously do that?"

Finally. Thor breathes a tiny sigh of equally minute relief. Loki'd been so quiet just now that he'd worried the call had ended. "Yes. But it's really nice down here right now. How 'bout you don't try me?"

"Can I have a little time to think about it?"

"Of course," Thor says. In reality, he's already fighting not to throw a few things in a bag and race right up there. "If you need to."

"Thanks." Loki coughs. "I think I do. I'll talk to you in the morning?"

Thor knows he won't be doing any sleeping. He's not even sure he can run back through this with his mother. "Okay," he concedes. It isn't. "Maybe text me later anyway? If you want to?"

"Maybe," Loki says. "Bye."

Thor tells the call ended screen a shaky, wet "I love you."

~

“I’m sorry,” Frigga says when Thor finishes recounting his little tale of woe. “You can’t argue Loki out of his fears, you know. All you can do is keep telling your own truths… maybe later on, when he’s able to listen.”

“Hm.” Thor purses his lips. “I hadn’t really thought of it that way. That he might be scared, I mean.” He tends to think himself as the worrier. Which he is, of course. From inside his own head, it’s too easy to forget that they both are.

“Maybe just send him an email,” Frigga suggests. “Something he can read through on his own, sometime when he’s feeling calmer.”

~

“We got off track and I never really had the chance to finish explaining why I think Baldr getting married is a good thing,” Thor types. He needs to get back to work, but this is so important. “My brother likes the farm,” he goes on, “and I think he’s always wanted to stay here. And he’s a fun guy. The workers love him. But you’ve seen how he is.” He smiles to himself and shakes his head. “Baldr comes up with great plans, and then has no idea how to follow through with them.”

He takes a deep breath and keeps typing. “Nan isn’t like that. She has common sense and lots of experience on how not to run a business.” That’s why she’s getting her degree; without her family’s farm, she knows she needs options. And while a history major hadn’t seemed all that practical, when she’d explained how it meant she could teach in town Thor’d been forced to concede that her reasoning was solid. “With her as a partner, business or personal, I think Baldr really could take over when dad retires. And that’s the actual good news,” he explains, fingers flying over the keys now, “because if he can, that means I don’t have to.”

“I don’t want it anymore,” Thor taps out. “When I first moved up to school I couldn’t picture a future that didn’t include coming back down here… but so much has changed. I’ve fallen in love with – you, of course, but also – the city: our apartment, Oscar, your friends and mine. I like the work I do at the store. I like helping keep the place up,” he adds, diplomatically (because it’s not just helping), “and doing my part to make sure the customers are happy.” Book people are good people.

“More and more, when I think of returning to the farm permanently after graduation it’s out of a sense of duty, not out of any sort of wanting. So you can imagine, I hope, how pleased I was to hear that I might finally have a viable alternative.”

“Obviously I didn’t explain it very well earlier,” he adds, expressly not pointing out that it was because Loki hadn’t let him. “And, yes, I do hope Baldr is doing the right thing. I really want him – and Nan – to be happy. But I’m mostly just excited that staying in town after school, without resorting to working in my field of study (and just how stupid do I sound saying that… rhetorical question, rhetorical question), may now be a real possibility.”

“I hope this makes more sense,” he says in closing, “and it won’t ruin your plans to come see me. Because I know you could use a vacation, and I’m really looking forward to giving you one. P.S., I meant what I said. If I meet that bus and your very comely ass isn’t on it, I’ll be back home by evening. P.P.S., but I hope you don’t put my resolve to the test, because then you’ll miss out on my mom’s awesome picnic cooking.”

Thor reads back through the email and makes a few small changes; there’s no point in having his message derailed by bad typing or worse proofreading. “Love, Thor,” he adds, and then sends it.

“Okay,” he tells himself aloud. “Back to work. Time to keep yourself busy.”

~

sorry I overreacted, Loki texts a few hours later, as work is winding down for the day. Thor jumps when his phone chimes. and sorry i’m always such a brat about everything

who knows… maybe *that’s*why i love you, Thor teases in return with a lightheartedness he’s not yet back to feeling. see you the day after tomorrow? you know what i mean, he shoots back when Loki reminds him it’s true one way or the other. i want to ooh and ahh with you at the fireworks

yes, Loki texts back, I’ll be there

good, Thor agrees, because if you deprive darcy of her chance to cat-sit she just might kill you

~

“Better?” Frigga smiles as Thor peels potatoes, whistling to himself and grinning. He’s never quite sure where she finds the patience to put up with the bunch of them.

“Yeah,” he says, because he is. Things are. “Thanks for the suggestion.” Sometimes it feels like the universe would fly apart without her there to hold everything together. “Did you and dad go through this sort of thing?” It’s hard to imagine his rock-solid parents confused and heartbroken.

Frigga laughs. “Oh, honey,” she says, patting his arm. “Trust me. You have no idea.”

~

Thor smothers a yawn. He’d gotten up ridiculously early to do his morning chores, in part because he’d just been lying there in bed worrying anyway. But it’s fine: the sixth person off the bus is Loki, looking the best kind of rumpled in a sleeveless black t-shirt and baggy olive cargo shorts.

“I need to grab my duffle.” Loki points towards the baggage compartments, tattoos standing out against the bright white stretch of skin. Thor smiles. After more than a month on the farm, his own arms are dark brown by comparison. “I hope you brought lots of sunscreen.”

“You smell like farm,” Loki says as Thor hugs him.

“And you smell like bus,” Thor says, kissing his way up Loki’s neck and not caring who might be looking. “I’m pretty sure that means we’re even.”

Chapter Text

"This is nice." Loki stops and inspects each iron trellis as they duck beneath the trailing vines. "Ivy, wisteria. Grapes!" He turns to look at Thor; his expression is soft, finally, and Thor knows it's going to be hard to- ruin things. Well, not ruin, exactly, but talk about hardly seems easier. "Seriously, why haven't we come out here before? It's amazing."

"I dunno," Thor says, unable to meet Loki’s enthusiasm. He doesn't know, truthfully. He's never been in Frigga's garden with anyone, with the obvious exception of his own mother. "It's mom's, really. I only borrow it. Occasionally," he adds, feeling himself starting to babble. "Very occasionally. Sit," he offers, patting the bench. It’s the best bench, the same one he'd used earlier in the week on the day that he'd called Loki. The day he'd inadvertently started down the slippery slope that had brought them back here, to this conversation. "Please. It's a lot more comfortable than it looks."

"Any time Frigga’s involved I expect nothing less." Loki settles on the bench and kicks off his sandals, humming as his toes sink into the grass. "But with you," he half-kids. It’s not funny. Thor frowns. Loki catches the change and stops smiling. "Too close to home, mm? Thor? What's going on? Sweetie?"

"Shh." Thor settles cross-legged at Loki's feet and leans in to kiss the knobby knee closest to him. "It’s nothing bad,” he hedges. “I just want to talk to you. Actually," he corrects, kissing Loki’s knee again with loud smack, "I want you to talk to me while I listen."

Loki's eyes narrow. Thor grits his teeth and tries to pretend he didn’t. "I'm not sure I have anything to say," Loki says quietly. "After all, I only did just get here."

The hair on Loki's legs is fine and soft. Even the lightest breeze sets the delicate strands moving, waving and bobbing, the tiniest of sea creatures in a wide, airy ocean. Thor pets Loki's calf carefully. "I think-," he tries (but has to stop and clear his throat). "I think I need you to explain to me- fuck, this is hard… I’m sorry - why you're always so sure I'm going to turn on you and dump you." He coughs again. "Because that's what the whole Baldr thing is really about, isn't it? You're not afraid I'm ‘hiding from my sexuality.’ You're still worried I'm going to leave, and- and it would help me to understand why." At least, he hopes it will. "And I know you hate to talk about the old days," he tells Loki, "so I'm sorry about that, too. But I" - talked to my mom and she says I, he doesn't admit… later, maybe… or maybe not - "need to understand what you're feeling." Frigga’s got a good point, as much as he wishes she didn’t. Especially considering how dancing around the topic all this time has gotten them nowhere. Slowly.

"That's a good trick," Loki says, drily. "Understanding what I’m feeling. When you figure it out you can tell me. Okay, fine," he grumbles when Thor says nothing. "Remember, though: you asked for it. And no interrupting," he insists. "This isn't a question and answer thing. Not now. Maybe never."

Thor nods. He's grinding his teeth again. His dentist would be very disappointed.

Loki laces his fingers behind his head and leans back into them, looking up at the leaves overhead. "All my relationships have followed pretty much the same course," he says quietly. "I meet someone. He seems nice. We date and have fun. Like I've told you before, though, over time he always wants more and more sex and I- well, saying I want less and less of it kind of misses the point, because I didn't really want it in the first place. But whatever. As I start getting comfortable enough to share more of my own wishes – to start feeling like he likes me for me, not my body, and may actually be okay with what I’m asking - Surprise! Yet again, the whole thing turns into a problem between us."

"But I," Thor starts, forgetting himself for a moment. It makes him terribly sad to think of people treating Loki badly.

"Ah-ah," Loki chides, dropping his arms and looking Thor in the eye again. "No talking. Problems,” he repeats. “Every. Single. Time. Same shit, different day: First I'm losing interest. Then I must be cheating. Then there's something fundamentally wrong with me. And in the end, the guy leaves. They all do.” His voice catches. It’s a colossal struggle not to slide onto the bench next to him and hold him. “Sure, the details vary. Sometimes they cheat first and I get to dump them. Sometimes it's a pitched battle over how I'm crazy. The worst ones, I think, are the ones that stick around out of obvious pity. Right up until they just can't anymore.”

“They're right, of course," Loki goes on, talking with both hands now, and Thor tastes blood where his teeth have torn the inside of his own cheek open. "I've invariably misled them at the start, because otherwise it's over before- before anything. And then once I explain, everyone I date thinks he'll be the one who ‘cures’ me. You know, like the jerks who think they can 'turn' lesbians. But then again I guess I'm just as bad, always thinking this will be the one who somehow both sticks around and gets conveniently tired of fucking me. Which is never how it goes; there's only ever the one sad story. But with you- somehow things have run a different course with you. I'm so fucking confused. I don't even know what to watch out for."

Thor waits quietly, poking at his bleeding flesh with the tip of his tongue. The blood feels cooler than the sore tissue around it. It always does, like he's some kind of freakish alien reptile creature.

Just sitting is fine. Maybe he'll just never talk again. Maybe the monks have it right and silence really is easier.

"You can say something now," Loki says, finally, just as Thor’s decided he doesn’t want to. "Fire away. I can take it."

Thor's not in a shooting mood. In fact, he'd curl up against Loki's shins and cry if he thought he could get away with it. "Random, meaningless sex was how we did gay at my college," he tells Loki's kneecap. The left one, the one a scant two inches from his cheekbone. "And of course I didn't know anything different." He'd been pretty thoroughly closeted except here at home, at least until Sif had caught on, and even then he'd never dared – or wanted – to try dating. The tourists were the everyday gay ones; the few who'd stayed behind were out of his league anyway.

"We played a match, threw back a few beers, fucked in the showers, and then went to someone's place to drink away the memory." At least, that's how he'd always viewed it. "Rinse, repeat. Literally. Sure, we were a team. We had each other’s backs out there on the pitch. But beyond that I never felt close to them. And besides,” Thor points out, “you and I do have a sex life. A much nicer one than I ever imagined with any of them." He stops to breathe. Somewhere along the way he's gotten louder than he meant to. "I'm happy with what we have," he says, quiet again. He shifts his hips and leans against Loki's leg. “And if the way things are going is too much for you, I’ll adjust and still be happy.” He’s thought a lot about this. “Even if at some point everything is too much for you, and I have to go back to jerking off in the shower.” Shit. “How fucking embarrassing,” he mutters as Loki snorts. “Yeah. You really didn’t need to know that.”

“In my shower?” Loki jostles Thor, gently. “Thor. Look at me.”

Thor does as he’s told, even though he knows he’s beet red. He can feel his face burning. “No,” he whispers. His tongue feels fat and slow. “Mine. Um, way back. Before you actually knew me.”

Loki’s eyes sparkle, but Thor’s too busy being mortified to feel relieved. “So, was that Plan B?"

"Plan A, actually," Thor admits. "I was that dumb jock, remember? And you had a girlfriend? You were bound to hate me."

"Ah, yes." Loki laughs. "My wife Amora.” He shakes his head and laughs again. “We were both shockingly wrong, weren't we?"

Thor nods. "Yeah, we were. But I guess we were wrong in a good way."

“You guess.” Loki sighs. His smile’s gone again.

“I do.” Thor pokes Loki’s knee. He wants to see that smile again, to know things are improving, but they’re not quite done. “And even if I was dead certain you’d still doubt me.”

Loki looks away. “I don’t mean to be like this, you know.”

Thor reaches up and takes both of Loki’s hands in his own. “Yeah, I know,” he says. “Me neither.”

They sit in silence. Thor concentrates on taking slow, deep breaths… in through the nose, out through the mouth, counting to ten each time. He watches a brightly iridescent dragonfly land on the bench next to Loki and carefully, with much more effort than it probably should require, makes himself think about nothing at all.

“So.” Loki’s voice startles Thor, who’s a bit surprised to find himself just - just - this side of dozing. The dragonfly is gone, but in its place are two bright, cheerful ladybugs. “You meant all of this? You’re honestly happy with what we have, and not just setting me up for something? You actually-.”

“Loki.” Thor sits up as straight as he can. His back is starting to protest all this slumping and twisting. He feels stupidly old, suddenly. “Shh. Stop. Yes, I mean it. Yes, I’m happy. No, nothing I say will convince you of that. It’s okay. I get it. I do,” he insists as Loki’s expression heads back towards wild-eyed and panicky. “I do,” he says again. “We’re good. We just need to remind each other” – and ourselves, he thinks, because that’s the real problem – “more often. Thank you for telling me what’s going on.” He leans in, more careful of his back this time, to kiss one kneecap and then the other.

“Mm.” Loki brings a hand down and pushes his fingers into Thor’s hair. “Thank you for listening.”

“Thank you for being you,” they both say, in perfect stereo. “Oh, just fucking stop,” Loki orders, laughing. “You’re going to make me puke.”

“Right,” Thor says. He feels like he can really smile, all the way through, for the first time in days. “Because you’re not every bit as sickening.”

~

Loki looks this way and that, fascinated by- pretty much everything. Thor likes bringing him into town proper; walking the streets with someone who isn’t long since blind to the scenery means seeing – really seeing – all the lovely, grand Victorians. “I’m surprised there aren’t more buntings,” Loki says. “Back home there were buntings everywhere.”

“This place has never been a big bunting town.” With the heavy tourist load of a holiday week, Thor can hold Loki’s hand without thinking twice about who might care. He’s been taking advantage of this at every possible opportunity. They are celebrating freedom, after all. “But if we come in for the parade, you’ll see plenty of spirit anyway.” He’s kind of – okay, really - hoping they won’t, but Frigga’s raised him to be a good host and he’s resigned himself to doing whatever Loki wants. This is, after all, Loki’s first real vacation in ages.

Loki glances over at him. “What time is it? The parade, I mean.”

“It’s usually in the early afternoon.” Thor groans to himself. Unlike a lot of parades, this particular one is perfectly timed for even the latest of risers.

“I’m not great with crowds when it’s this hot,” Loki says carefully. “Will you be upset if we skip it?”

Oh hell no. “Thank goodness,” Thor says, laughing. “And here I was afraid you would insist on going.”

“Maybe I will,” Loki teases. “Just to see the look on your face.”

“Don’t you dare,” Thor warns him, wagging a finger in front of his nose. They almost stumble into the people walking ahead of them.

“Grow up, Thor.” Loki snickers. “I really can’t take you anywhere.”

Thor’s so light. Finally. He feels like skipping.

~

“Crap!” Thor shoots Loki a quick look across the truck cab; Loki looks almost comically horrified. “All those cute shops and I didn’t get a thing for the happy couple.”

That quickly, Thor’s body is all geared back up to panic. Loki’s words need a few seconds to fight their way into his brain. Oh. Right. Baldr and Nan. He laughs, half out of relief and quite a bit more than necessary. “It’s a surprise, remember? No one knows. Just immediate family. Like you,” he adds, taking one hand off the steering wheel long enough to squeeze Loki’s thigh. “And our gift is the stupid party.”

“That’s your parents’ gift,” Loki points out. “It’s not like we chipped in or anything.”

Thor laughs again, this time because he’s genuinely amused. “Ah-ah. Never underestimate Frigga’s reliance on slave labor. By the time the party starts, trust me… you won’t ever want to see potatoes again. None of us will.”

“But I like peeling potatoes,” Loki protests. “I do. Really.”

“See?” The farm lane is just ahead. Thor pats Loki’s leg and grabs back onto the wheel. “I always knew you were a weirdo.”

“Touché,” Loki says, laughing. “But, then again, they do say it takes one to know one.”

Chapter Text

"Thor." Odin nods, then gestures with his glass of scotch towards the red Adirondack chair beside him. They have a whole fleet of the things, red ones and blue ones, and one of Frigga's missions in life is to stay at least two jumps ahead with the upkeep. Consequently the chairs are always shiny, and it's wise to check for tackiness before sitting. "Please, join me." He looks up at Thor's face and then down at Thor's empty hands. "What, no drink?"

Thor makes himself smile, mostly to cover his nerves. "I know, I know," he says, settling deep into the wide, angled seat and hooking his ankle around the leg of a footstool. "It's always 5:00 somewhere," they say in unison, laughing. “But you know mom would kill me,” Thor adds. “There’s still way too much work left to do.”

“Why do you think I’m hiding?” Odin laughs again. He looks tired, though. Tired, and older than Thor remembers. He’s come in from the field early and showered; his hair is down, the grey waves drying slowly in the hot breeze. He'll put it up later, Thor knows. Not much later, either… probably before they start moving the outdoor furniture. It’s one way they’re very much alike: neither of them can stand having their mops down in this weather. "Where's that handsome book peddler of yours?" The beard hides his mouth, but Odin's eye sparkles. The one without the patch, the one closest to where Thor is sitting. Years and years in a noisy tractor cab haven't been kind to Odin's hearing; even though he can hear them fine when they speak up, they all sit in his line of sight out of habit. "I hope you haven't left him alone with your mother."

As a matter of fact that's exactly what Thor has done: abandoned Loki in the kitchen with Frigga, both of them sweaty, smudged, and in hysterics - the good kind - preparing for the party. "Maybe," Thor says. "I'm not sure she can teach him any new tricks, though. Loki's pretty crafty."

"Oh, no… never, ever underestimate your mother," Odin warns. The ice in his glass clanks. "I've known her forever, and I still don't know half the things she's capable of. What brings you out here?" He twists in his chair to look at Thor. "Besides escaping the kitchen work detail, that is."

Thor forces another laugh. "Just 'taking a quick break from’," he corrects. “There is no ‘escaping’.” His mouth is starting to feel unpleasantly dry, but it's a bad afternoon to start out hammered. They all have a long night ahead of them. "You of all people must know that." Stalling isn't helping. He's still feeling tenser and tenser. "What with the big reveal tonight," he tries, willing his voice not to waver, "this is bound to come up in conversation." He can practically feel his father’s gaze boring into his face, but eye contact is too hard. Thor looks straight ahead and lets his own eyes drift out of focus. The bright color of the flowerbeds melts into an abstract painting. Which doesn’t help either. "I wanted you to hear it straight from me first. So it, um, doesn't feel underhanded." Thor digs his nails into the palms of his hands. A little pain is grounding. "Now that Baldr and Nan are making it official," he says, carefully, still not looking at his father, "I'm- I don't think I will be moving back down here after graduation. At least, not if things work out the way I hope they will with Loki."

"Mm." Thor hears the ice again as Odin swirls his drink and then knocks back a good mouthful. "You trust your brother with the farm, then?" His voice is- surprisingly normal. Then again, it often is; that's part of what’s always made him dangerous.

"Not really," Thor admits. He's trying hard to be honest here. He counts silently to eight, then ten. "But I do trust Nan. And everyone likes Baldr. When the time comes he can be the face of things, as long as she's the brains of the business."

Odin takes another sip of his drink, a more reasonable one this time. Thor just may live to see the evening’s fireworks, then. "And you?"

"I've been working at the bookstore," Thor says. "Shipping. Receiving. Inventory, logistics. I drive when someone buys a rare, old book and pays enough for really special handling," he goes on. "We rent a climate-controlled vehicle. It's a lot of the same things I do here," he chances. He’s explained it this way now to several people, and most have seemed to get it. "But with books."

"And with Loki," Odin adds. Thor doesn't answer. "So Loki won't come here?"

"He would." Thor's sweating. He peels his t-shirt up off his belly and blots his face with it. "Or we'd go back and forth. We’ve talked about it. But I like it there." He sighs. "I didn't want to like someplace else better, I swear. It's just worked out that way."

"And what does Loki think of all this?" Odin clears his throat. "He seems pretty independent."

"We've talked about it," Thor repeats, hedging. "Nothing's decided."

Odin sets his glass on the ground. In the corner of Thor's vision, there's nothing left but a few half-melted chunks of ice. They won't last long, not with it this hot. "We always knew this place wasn't for you," he tells Thor, who struggles not to choke on a bit of saliva. "Since you were a little boy. When you went off to Texas, your mother swore you were gone forever."

Thor blinks. His eyes hurt from forcing everything to stay blurry. The flowers bob back into focus.

"You're smart," Odin says. "And you're just too- big for a place like this. Too complicated. There's no shame in not wanting to work this dirt pile, son. I hope you know that."

This time, the sting in Thor's eyes is tears. "And how about in marrying a man, dad?" He's in dangerous territory here, but he has to know. Has to. He can’t bring Loki into a bad situation. "Is there shame in that?"

Odin coughs and thunks his chest with a worn, meaty fist. "Are you springing that on everyone tonight too? This will be quite a party to remember." Thor sneaks a quick a look at Odin. He doesn't look angry, or repulsed. Actually, he doesn’t look any different. "Um, no,” Thor admits. “First I would need to spring it on Loki."

Odin smirks. "So I still have time to talk you out of it?"

"No," Thor says, a bit too sharply. "Please don't even try."

"Teasing, son. Sorry." Odin actually looks contrite. It's not an expression Thor's seen on him often. "Fear not. I don't actually want to."

Oh. “So you- you’re really okay with it?”

Odin reaches over to give Thor’s forearm a quick squeeze. “If you’d asked me twenty years ago what I hoped your future would hold, sure, this wouldn’t have been it,” he says. “But that was a long time ago. A lot has changed since then. And what hasn’t, I like to think I understand better.”

Thor half squints, half frowns at a bird flying off in the distance. It’s too big to be a crow. A gull, maybe. “Meaning?”

“Your mother is amazing.” Odin gestures towards Frigga’s garden. “What she did there? She does it to everything she touches. Everything, everyone. Always has. What did I want for you? To experience that with someone.” He sighs. “And, believe me, I still do. No, wait,” he insists as Thor starts to protest. “Please. Let me finish. What I’ve ultimately realized – over what I’m sure she would consider to be far too long, because she’s so much better at this sort of thing than I am - is that it’s Frigga that’s amazing. Not because she’s a mother. Not because she’s a she, even. She’s just a very special person. She’s perfect for me. I’m incredibly lucky.” He takes a deep breath and holds it a moment. “I want you to have someone special. Someone who’s perfect for you. That’s all. And when I see the two of you together, I think that someone could very well be Loki.”

“I love him,” Thor agrees. “I love the life we’ve built together.” He tries to smile. It’s not the time or the place for crying. “I’m not sure anyone can measure up to mom, though. She set the bar pretty high.”

“Maybe it’s more that I set an awfully low one,” Odin suggests. “As I look back, there are a lot of things I could have done better.”

“Oh, I think you did all right,” Thor says. All the ugly worry is draining away, leaving him feeling grateful. Magnanimous. “I mean, look at how-…”

“Hey, guys! I wondered where you were.” Baldr skids to a stop at Thor’s feet, resembling nothing more than an overgrown golden retriever. He points at Odin’s glass. “Oooh, don’t let mom catch you drinking.”

“I take that back,” Thor says, laughing for real now. He and Odin share a look. “You win, dad,” Thor concedes. “I’ll try to do better.”

~

“What can I do to help?” Thor wipes his freshly-washed hands on a dishtowel. It’s so hot in the kitchen. Frigga and Loki both have their hair up in sloppy buns; she has a riot of curls stuck to the skin all along her hairline and Loki’s shirt is blotched with sweat. “Besides run out and buy you two an air conditioner, I mean.”

“It’s not that bad once you get used to it,” Frigga says. Loki mouths oh yes it is and Thor bursts out laughing. “I think Loki’s just about done peeling.” It’s true. There are just a few potatoes left on the counter. The rest sit white and bare in their big pots of water. “But I bet he’d love your help with the cutting-upping. And Thor?”

“Mm?” He’s already at Loki’s side, knife in one hand and three dripping, naked potatoes in the other.

“Try not to cut yourself this time, sweetie. We’re already a little behind schedule.”

“Mommm,” Thor groans. “I was ten.” They’d had to cancel the party that year, after losing six hours to getting him stitches. “Are you ever going to let me forget it? And don’t you start,” he warns as Loki snorts. He brandishes the knife, and then the dripping potatoes. “Both of you. I have weapons.”

“Good thing,” Loki teases, “because you’ll never get by on your mouth alone.”

“Right.” Thor elbows Loki in the ribs. Loki’s squeak is- well, gratifying. Thor winks at him. “Unlike some people.”

Loki glares, but he’s fighting back laughter. Thor can see it leaking out around the edges. “Both of you,” Frigga cuts in, laughing right along with them. “Behave. Don’t make me separate you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Thor and Loki say in unison. Loki picks up one of the last few potatoes. His fingers are even paler than normal. White as white, and wrinkly.

Thor rolls his eyes at all the peeled potatoes soaking. His turn will come. All too soon, from the looks of it. “Just so you guys know,” he says briskly, “I warned dad that I’m not sure my future lies with farming. In case someone asks if I’m going to wrestle Baldr for the place,” he goes on over Loki’s you what?! “I didn’t want to lie, and I didn’t want anyone keeling over. From the shock, I mean.”

“Wow,” Frigga says. “I hope you did a little better job of easing into it.”

“It’s okay, Lo.” Thor leans over and plants a quick kiss on Loki’s sweaty temple. The salt on his lips tastes sharp and clean. “I told him nothing was cast in stone. Yes, mom,” he goes on. “I’m not stupid.”

“Just now I think that’s debatable,” Frigga points out. “Loki, do I need to give you two a couple of minutes?”

“It’s fine,” Loki tells her. “We need to get this stuff done. Thor and I can talk later.”

Thor refuses to let anyone dampen his good mood. He’s defied the Word of Dad, which is far stronger than any religion, and lived to tell about it. “We can talk now,” he says. “It’s simple. I love Loki. I love the bookstore. I don’t love farming. All the rest, we can sort out. We’ve got plenty of time to work out the details.”

Loki shuts his eyes and squinches up his nose. “Thor,” he says, after three or four long breaths, “just cut up the potatoes.”

“Of course.” Thor does as he’s told this time. There’s pushing your luck, and then there’s pure idiocy. When he sneaks a peek a few potatoes later, though, he’s relieved to find Loki – wholly focused on flipping away long curls of brown skin, oblivious to everything around him – full-on smiling.

Chapter Text

"I'm not sure I've ever seen quite that much potato salad." Loki pulls a fresh t-shirt over his head. It’s one of Thor's all-time favorites, soft and richly blue and thin enough that - backlit - it shows off more than it hides. Sure enough... Loki leans in front of the window to grab a comb and Thor gets a look at one perky nipple. "Not all in one place, anyway.”

"Mm," Thor hums, because Loki’s voice makes it sound like he ought to agree. He's lost track of the conversation. "I love that shirt."

Loki smirks. "Why do you think I'm wearing it? Plus, it's cool. And blue. Holiday, you know."

"It kind of makes me want to- to take it back off." Thor catches Loki's wrist and spins him closer. "Because what's underneath is looking pretty fucking lickable."

"Ah-ah." Loki extricates himself from Thor's fingers and starts combing out his still-wet hair. Fat droplets of water only make the shirt that much more transparent. Thor swallows and tries to stop breathing so heavily. "If you're going to make an honest man of me someday," Loki jokes, "you'll want to keep me pure and unsullied."

"Right." Thor laughs. He needs the small change of mood. "From what all the little birds tell me, you were already pretty thoroughly sullied way back when I first met you."

Loki freezes for half a second and then goes on combing. "Does that bother you?"

It does and it doesn't. Not so much because someone – well, several someones, from what Thor understands - got there first, whatever that means. It’s more that Loki didn't like it. "Yes and no," he admits. He shrugs at Loki's reflection in the mirror. "Not in the way you're probably thinking, though. I'm glad you didn't have to find out, with me, what it was you never wanted."

Loki cocks an eyebrow. He blots his hair with the end of Thor's bath towel. "Want to try that again in normal-people-speak? Because I'm not sure I’m following you."

Thor clears his throat. It's hard to be clear when he's only half-sure where his own thoughts are headed. "It bothers me that people have pushed you beyond where you wanted to go, whether or not you opted to let them." Thor watches Loki scrunch the curls back in to all that shiny blackness. "But at first you probably didn't know what was okay. I'm happy that, by the time we met, you could communicate your needs, um, effectively." He looks at his hands. Even after a shower his nails could use a good scrubbing. Farming is the antithesis of manicures. "I mean… I'm thankful I'm not the one who did- did all the wrong things to you."

"Ah." Thor holds his breath and starts counting but, no, it’s okay. Loki's smiling. "I'm not quite sure if that's sweet or creepy."

"Creepy, definitely." Thor sidles up behind Loki and kisses one shoulder through the wet-dry spotted t-shirt. "100% creepy."

Loki turns into Thor's hug until they're kissing properly. "I think," he says between nips and smooches, "I’m inclined towards sweet, actually."

"Which just goes to show," Thor teases, "you're a bad judge of people."

Loki pushes him away after one last kiss. "Mm-hm. Clearly. Are these pants okay?" Thor looks down. They're pale grey linen, almost white, fabric barely any heavier than the shirt Loki’s wearing. Thor adores them.

"You look great," he says, nodding and grinning, because Loki does. "But wear some underwear. There will be children present."

Loki digs around in his bag - no matter how long he's staying, evidently, he simply will not unpack into the furniture provided - and pulls out a pair of knit boxer briefs only the tiniest hint pinker than his own petal-pale bottom. "Fine," he huffs. "But if I smell like sweaty balls it's all on you, baby."

Thor grins. He grabs the briefs away from Loki and mostly pretends to inhale deeply. Honest, mostly. "Eh," he says. "With all that potato salad no one's going to smell anything beyond onions and vinegar." Loki reaches for the underwear and Thor gives up without a struggle. It's far too warm to wrestle, even in seasonally appropriate clothing. "I just wanted another look at your backside," he says, waggling his eyebrows as Loki's pants come down. "It's purty."

"That's the farm boy I know and love," Loki tells him. "Now let me finish getting ready before we both get in trouble."

~

Baldr hasn't showered yet. He’s still out in the yard hanging the last strings of paper lanterns while Thor watches and Nan and Loki actively supervise. "Hey," Sif calls from the back steps. Thor turns to look up at her; she and Nan are both in floaty summer dresses, which probably means something's gone wrong with the universe. She's holding a big red bowl covered over with tinfoil. "This place looks ready for a party!"

It does. Thor turns and looks down over the yard, at the pretty lights and the smoky citronella tiki lanterns. At the dented aluminum trough full of ice, the one Frigga had the guys at the cider mill make years ago after Sif's mom gave them all a bad bout of food poisoning. At the stacks of plates and the outdoor bar and all the rows of red, white, and blue plastic glasses. "Rumor has it," he says as he walks up to help her, "it's both a holiday and a small occasion."

"Don't let your mom hear you say that," Sif warns him. "Any time she cooks for a crowd it's a guaranteed big occasion."

"Baldr," Frigga yells, right in their faces. "Oh my goodness, I'm so sorry. Sif, you look very pretty," she says, pushing the screen door open and reaching for the bowl. "Here, let me take this. Thor? Make yourself useful," she suggests (as in orders; not like there's any chance he'd disobey her). "Go herd that brother of yours into the bathtub. And he'd better not be in there half the evening, either."

"B," Thor turns and hollers. "Get your ass in the shower."

"Bite me," Baldr yells back, but he picks up the box from the lights and starts trudging towards them. "Even like this I smell-."

"...more like ass than I do," Thor finishes.

"That's my boys," Frigga tells Sif. "Always so classy."

Sif snorts. "Sometimes I wonder how they both found people to love them." She pat’s Thor’s arm. "Especially this one here. That city boy of his is so darned fancy.”

Frigga shrugs. “They did get the better end of the deal, didn’t they? Both of them.”

~

Thor sits at the kitchen table, face in his hands, and tries to get his head around what just happened.

~

It had all started with a blowjob.

Well, probably, it had started before that - with a hangover: the party last night had been long and lively, excessively so, and at some point he and Loki had both retreated a little farther into their glasses than was probably prudent – but he’s not entirely certain how that had played into it.

At any rate, Loki (used to sleeping in the dark haven of the apartment, and not living the sort of summer’s life defined – except on the day after a holiday, with a guest in residence – by jumping out of bed at dawn and starting in on a day’s worth of hard labor) had lost the battle of sleep to the early morning sun. Thor’d mostly-kiddingly suggested they kill the time dealing with their morning erections. In his half-asleep memory, at least, Loki had ripped the covers back – “ugh, it’s so hot… why is it so hot?” – without needing further encouragement and pounced on him.

It had been nice, too, at least once he’d stopped wondering how anyone could dive in like that, not with what had to be a pounding headache, and had given himself over to the feel of Loki’s mouth and hands all around him.

~

Looking back, it was all out of character. He should have known something wasn’t right. Sleepy only goes so far. Hurting only excuses so much bad behavior.

~

The unexpected pleasure of an early morning orgasm had helped some with the throbbing in his skull, enough that Thor had been able to flip them over and haul Loki up the bed to reciprocate. It had taken him far too long to notice that Loki was tense all over – hands fisted in the bedding, jaw clenched – and not from anything that spoke of enjoyment. As soon as he’d noticed, though, Thor’d promptly stopped.

At which point things had not gotten better.

“You could have told me you weren’t in the mood,” he’d grumbled when Loki had rolled over and curled up into a ball, tree tattoo dark against all that skin.

“You could have tried asking,” Loki had snapped back at him. “I don’t even care what you do, you know? It’s the part where I’m supposed to act like I’m having fun that annoys me.”

Thor had let out the sort of wordless growl that’s never smart in a house full of people. Unsurprisingly, Loki had flinched and scooted even farther away. “You weren’t supposed to anything,” Thor’d protested. “I wasn’t expecting anything. I wasn’t thinking anything-.”

“Right,” Loki had cut him off. “Bingo. And fat lot of good communicating my needs effectively does me, eh?”

“That’s not fair,” Thor had complained, embarrassingly determined to dig the deepest ditch possible. “You know that’s not what I meant.” He’d taken a couple of breaths. High road, Thor. High road. “Anyway, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah,” Loki’d said. “Sure.” And that’s when his cell phone had rung.

They’d both frozen. Not even 6:00 AM. “What the fuck,” Loki had said as Thor’d passed the phone to him. “Darcy?”

Thor hadn’t been able to hear most of her side of the conversation, not with the phone pressed tight to Loki’s head, but what he’d heard of Loki’s – “What? What?? Oh my god. Is everything okay? What about Oscar? No, it’s fine. I’ll be there before dinner. Make sure you call Amora.” – was more than enough to frighten him.

“Lo? What’s going on?” Thor had rolled off the bed to stand there, numb, watching as Loki’d yanked on his cargo shorts and tank and then raced around the room shoving things back into the duffle. “What happened?”

Loki had looked at Thor with real horror in his eyes. “Someone broke into my building.”

Thor’d felt his heart leap into his throat. “What?! When? Is everything okay? Is Oscar okay?” He’d reached for his own jeans. Someone had invaded their little haven. “Wait. Please. I’ll come with you.”

“Overnight. It’s fine. And no,” Loki had said, sharply enough to bring tears to Thor’s eyes. “I need to go deal with this. It doesn’t involve you.”

Doesn’t involve me, Thor hadn’t repeated. I live there too. Except maybe not anymore. “I’m sorry,” he’d said again, pleading now. Panicked. “Sorry I was a jerk. Sorry we had a fight, or whatever that was. Please. I’m worried. Let me come with you.”

Loki’s expression had settled into blank, businesslike nothingness. “You have things to do here. The police came. Darcy’s fine. Whoever did it didn’t get upstairs, and Darcy’s been making Oscar sleep in the apartment. Thankfully. I just need to go deal with the paperwork, and get the locks taken care of.”

“And then you’ll come back?” They’d only been a couple of days into Loki’s two-week vacation, two weeks that should have been wonderful. If he hadn’t gone and fucked it all up over a stupid fucking blowjob.

Loki had cleared his throat, and Thor’s heart had dropped back into place and then kept right on falling. “Let me see what I get home to,” Loki’d said. “I’ll call you.”

“Take my car, then,” Thor had insisted, picking up Loki’s bag and looking back over his shoulder as he’d started for the stairs. “Driving is hours faster than going by bus.” Which it is, of course… but more than that he’d selfishly wanted to retain an indestructible connection. A guarantee they’d have to see each other again, ideally sooner rather than later.

“Okay,” Loki had said. “Thanks. That will make it easier.” His face had softened, just for a moment. “I really will call you, I promise. Just let me get up there and see what happened.”

~

“Thor? Is everything okay?” Frigga hurries over, letting the screen door slap closed behind her. “When I saw your car leave, I figured the two of you had gone out to breakfast.”

“One of the supervisors called,” Thor manages. He clears his throat. There’s so much here he just can’t share with his mother. “Someone broke into the store overnight. Since he owns the building, Loki felt he needed to be there. I let him take my car,” he finishes, because he has to stop talking before he makes himself sorry. “The bus would just take too long, and he’d have no one to come get him.”

Frigga’s forehead creases. “That’s terrible,” she says. “Why would someone-…” She breaks off and wraps Thor’s head and shoulders in a hug. “I’m sure everything will be okay, sweetie.”

Thor nods against his mother’s arm. “Mm,” he says, blinking back the tears. “I really hope so.”

Chapter Text

Thor's an antsy mess the entire six hours or so he knows Loki's still driving. With their day off to such a shitty start, he just can't shake the feeling something awful will happen. Something more. Something more awful. The car is an old piece of junk, really, one Loki's hardly ever driven. Thor knows he should have sent Loki off with one of the trucks. Should have taken him to the bus. Should have waved a magic wand and made it all better.

"Sounds to me like all the heavy stuff scared him," Frigga tells Thor mid-afternoon when he just can't keep it to himself any longer and is embarrassed to find himself admitting that the two of them had parted kind of fighting. "Like he needed something, and wasn't able to ask for it."

"Awesome," Thor says in a dry, sarcastic tone Loki would be proud of. "Because I sure did the right thing in return, then."

"You're young," his mother reminds him. He doesn't feel young. He feels a thousand years old, and counting. "Both of you. This is new to you. Be patient. You're learning. Loki’s learning. Give him time. It will blow over."

"What do you think he wanted?" Thor scrubs an imaginary sticky spot off the sorting belt with so much elbow grease the metal beneath his rag ends up weirdly shiny. "I mean, I know you weren't there, but what does it sound like?"

Frigga smiles. “That’s an easy one.” She wrings out her rag and dips it back in the wash water. "Just a little reassurance, most likely."

Thor groans. Put like that it's all so obvious. And instead of being kind, he'd been- kind of an ass about it.

"Don't be too hard on yourself, sweetie," Frigga reminds him as he wrings out his own rag. "You sent him off with your car, right? You did what you could to make things easier for him. You wanted him to get home as quickly as possible. He sees that."

"I wanted him to have to come back to me, more like it." Thor shakes his head. Loki probably sees that, too. "I'm an idiot."

"Oh, sweetie. It's just a fight." Frigga hefts a steaming bucket of hot, clean water. She upends it onto the sorter; as the water cascades onto the floor, she and Thor jump back in unison to keep their feet out of it. "Remember: we all have them. The world hasn't ended. I promise." She sets the empty bucket down. "Can you grab a new bottle of disinfectant out of the storeroom? And Thor?" He turns back towards her, already on his way to the door. "What were you two fighting about this time, anyway?”

Good grief. No. He hopes his hot, sweaty face isn't physically capable of getting any redder, no matter what it feels like. "Just stupid stuff,” he hedges. “Um. Nothing."

Frigga laughs. "Seriously. Stop worrying. I know, I know," she adds as he rolls his eyes. "If only it were that easy."

~

Thor spends a good chunk of the afternoon agonizing over whether or not to reach out first. On one hand Loki's message - "I'll call you" - is a pretty clear one. On the other, if his mom is right (and the odds of that are good), maybe what Loki really needs isn't quite what Loki asked for.

As Thor’s standing in line at the fish market, still mulling it over, his mom wins out. Rather abruptly.

hope the car got you there in the same number of pieces you started out in he texts. It's probably safer not to gush just now. Not until he knows where things stand. Mostly.

He shoves his phone in his pocket and crosses his arms, willing himself not to constantly check it. He's so wound up by the time it finally dings that he jumps, all but smacking into the woman in front of him.

sry insurance guy here it did ty call u ltr

whew, Thor replies, smiling at how Busy Loki texts like an overgrown tween. He's so relieved, though, he can’t help taking small chances. i love you, he sends, and then immediately wishes he hadn’t. One. Two. Three. He counts in his head, trying to fight back the rising panic. Four. Five. Loki’s busy. There are people there. The phone is probably back where it belongs, in Loki’s pocket, to be ignored until things quiet down. Eighteen. Nineteen. Twenty.

lu2 g2g ttyl

"Oh thank- everything," Thor breathes.

The lady in front of him eyes him a little strangely. "It may be that good, but it's really just seafood."

Thor blinks. "What?" He hadn't meant to speak aloud. "Oh, right, sorry." He smiles his best customer service smile. "I got some good news just now, and it must have gotten the better of me."

He gives her plenty of space when she edges away. She’s probably more than a little concerned for his sanity.

~

"Jesus," Loki says as soon as Thor picks up. He sounds exhausted. Not like there was ever any realistic, safe chance of him driving back tonight. A tiny piece of Thor snaps in two anyway. "What a fucking nightmare.”

Thor listens as Loki unloads, interjecting with sad little sounds every couple of sentences. There's some actual damage, more than either of them had expected. Loki ticks it all off matter-of-factly: the rear door itself needs replacing, not just the lock, although he, Darcy, and Amora have managed to jerry-rig something; most everything easily upended in the downstairs office is broken; there’s graffiti on the rear of the building; one of the big fire extinguishers was discharged up into the stairwell. That’s where it had stopped; the silent alarm had done its job, meaning the police had flushed the perpetrators out (and caught two) before anyone had gotten through the office door and out into the store proper. "Darcy here," Loki says, and Thor can hear her yelling hello in the background, "locks up a lot better than we do."

"Than we did," Thor corrects. He's shaking just thinking about it. "Because from here on out I'm going to be extra-extra-careful." He stops. Shit. "I mean-..."

"No, you're right." Loki coughs. "I don't even want to think about what could have happened." He doesn't say anything about the I. Maybe Thor’s mom is right and it’s blown over really isn't outside the realm of possibility. "Anyway, the investigators already did what they had to do. Once they finished up, they said we could start cleaning. So, we did. We are." He laughs. "I should have taken you up on it when you offered to come with me. No, no," he goes on when Thor says it's still doable. "We've already gotten the worst of it. The insurance company is sending someone tomorrow morning to do the stairs. I'm going to have to get the paint professionally removed... but that will wait, unfortunately."

Graffiti. Right. "What did they draw?" People are unbelievable.

“Wrote, mostly,” Loki corrects. “’Fag go home,' in red. With a giant anatomically-incorrect penis." He snorts. "Talk about fucking irony."

Thor can’t make himself laugh along with Loki. Their home, their safe place, their sanctuary has been invaded. Violated. “That’s awful,” he says instead.

“No.” Loki sighs. “It’s just stupid.”

“Are you safe there?” Thor’s mind whirls on and on. Loki’s strong, and no coward, but he’s not exactly a force against armed intruders. “I mean, what if they-.”

“Thor, stop,” Loki cuts in. “Shh. It really is okay.” He goes on to explain that the police think it’s more of a gang thing than a personal thing. One of the local gay-friendly businesses websites had updated its listings in June, they’d told him, and several of the listed establishments had been hit recently. “Same graffiti, similar damage. It was kids,” Loki says. “Stupid, obnoxious kids. It wasn’t about me. About us. We’re just another faceless statistic.”

Thor doesn’t particularly care for being a statistic, especially when he’s hundreds of miles away and helpless. It’s only 8:30 PM; he could be at the store a little after 3:00 AM, as long as he didn’t waste too much time packing. “I don’t like the idea of you sleeping there alone,” he fusses. “What if their friends come back to finish the job?”

“Oh, I think they pretty much finished it the first time,” Loki says. “But seriously. Thank you. I’m okay. Darcy’s got to stay anyway. They’re painting her dorm, remember? That’s part of why she’s cat-sitting in situ to begin with?”

Right. That was the deal. “Is Ian there too?” Thor isn’t quite sure if Ian is Darcy’s boyfriend, exactly – Thor’s not really even certain Darcy is drawn to boys, all flirting aside – but Ian’s been around a lot the past few months. He’s nice. He’s helpful and considerate. Everyone at the store… well, they all like him, enough that if he needs a job when he graduates they’ll do their best to fit him in somewhere.

“Ian’s out back sorting through things in the office,” Loki says. “He’s not as emotionally attached as I am; I can trust him to throw out what’s really garbage, rather than thinking it’s somehow worth saving. And he’ll write up an actual list while he’s at it.”

I would write up a list,” Thor insists. Keeping the place organized has really turned out to be his forte. “Sorry,” he adds. He is. “I’ll stop. It’s just hard to be so far away. So helpless.” That’s really what’s at the bottom of everything. That, and he can’t properly enjoy the peaceful resolution of their small battle with everything else that’s going on.

“Darcy’s in the guest room,” Loki tells him. “Ian and Oscar will be sharing the sofa. I’m okay. We’ll all be fine. I should be able to get out of here by tomorrow afternoon.”

“Get out of there,” Thor repeats. It’s not computing.

“To come back to your parents’ place? To bring back your car? To see you?” Loki’s voice shifts. “Assuming I’m still welcome.”

“What? No! I mean yes! Of course you’re still welcome,” Thor babbles. He’d given up on the next week and a half; his mind is struggling to catch up with what his ears are hearing. “I’m just- it sounded like you had a lot to do there.”

“We should have most of it finished by lunchtime. And after that, well, Darcy’s good at being in charge; she and the cleaners don’t need me.”

Thor runs down the ever-growing mental catalog of his worries. “Are you going to bring Oscar?”

Loki laughs. “Thor, Thor. Cats don’t travel. It’s fine. Really. Darcy will look after him.”

“Hm.” Thor rubs his face with his free hand. He still hasn’t quite gotten his head around it. Loki’s coming back. “You’re sure?”

“I’m sure,” Loki says, a little too sharply. “Now stop trying to talk me out of it.”

~

Getting things wrapped up takes a little longer than Loki expects, which is both disappointing and oddly reassuring. By the time Loki – in Thor’s little car - bumps his way back up the farm lane three days later things are actually well under control.

The new rear door has been installed, along with the surveillance cameras (on the exterior only, excepting one in the upstairs hallway… Loki feels strongly about maintaining a homey, comfortable customer environment, and there’s no place in his vision for making people feel like he’s suspecting them all of shoplifting). What he’d always considered an especially neighbor-friendly silent alarm has been converted to an audible unit, after the other tenants along the block convinced him that being made aware of trouble wouldn’t be a nuisance to them. The stairwell is clean, the office is usable, and a friend of Loki’s tattoo artist is about halfway through painting over the graffiti with a mural of books, hearts, and flowers.

Loki explains all of this to Thor, with the cell phone pictures to illustrate it, from inside the tight, too-warm circle of Thor’s arms. The before pictures hurt, regardless of how Thor had felt ready. “You’re squishing me,” Loki complains every few minutes. “And I’m roasting.” All if which is true. Even so, he makes no move to get away.

Thor makes no move to let him.

~

“They’ve taken up a collection to help out with my expenses,” Loki tells Frigga later. He and Thor are busy shredding lettuce for salad, now that she’s officially pronounced the evening too hot for cooking. “Can you believe it?”

Thor’s not surprised at all. Everyone loves a bookstore, and Loki’s been a good neighbor. The other retailers aren’t interested in seeing him pull up stakes and head for the suburbs. “They want to make sure you stay,” he tells Loki. “They want you to feel safe and loved there.”

“And the police don’t think you were targeted?” Frigga wipes her face on the shoulder of her t-shirt. “How is it so hot? It’s not even the middle of July yet.”

“Sort of? I’m told the store was singled out because it’s locally known as gay-friendly,” Loki corrects gently, “but I guess the kids they caught don’t know anything about me personally. So, no? Not really? And it’s hot back home, too. Hotter than it is here, probably. At least it feels a little more comfortable this close to the water.”

“I’m glad things are okay,” Frigga tells him, “and that it didn’t ruin your vacation completely.”

We can do that on our own, Thor thinks. He gives Loki a quick kiss on the cheek. “Ugh,” Loki grumbles. “Sweaty.”

“I don’t care,” Thor says, because he doesn’t. He never does. “I’m just happy to see you.”

Chapter Text

Their remaining time together (for now, Thor has to keep reminding himself, because they've only got a couple of every-other-weekend visits left before he’s back in town for the fall semester, for good) is both sweeter and sadder than he'd expected. Sweeter because each new day together feels like a bright, shiny gift; sadder because his heart plain old breaks every time he thinks about Loki having to go back to the store without him.

Morning after morning Thor rolls out of bed (at his usual farm-life time, which has come to feel) painfully early. He smiles as Loki flops around yawning and then nestles back into the wreckage of their bedclothes. Even when it's hot Loki prefers to be buried in covers. Sometimes it's mildly annoying; right now it's a relief. A comfort. Loki can relax here, enough to keep right on sleeping, and that in itself pleases Thor immensely.

Loki snoozes while Thor does the morning chores. Baldr and Nan have been gradually picking up more and more of the workload, but Thor knows he isn't the one on vacation. His brother and future sister-in-law will be taking over for him soon enough. Right now he still has room and board to be earning.

The two of them meet for brunch post-chores each morning, Thor sweaty and dirt-smeared and Loki sporting a messy ponytail and at least one sheets-creased cheek. Sometimes Frigga cooks them a proper meal of vegetables and eggs; other times they fend for themselves by foraging among the previous night’s leftovers. One day Loki even makes Thor thick Belgian waffles and then hums happily the whole time they’re eating. Afterwards, he makes one for Frigga. He hums while she eats hers, too.

While Thor helps out with the sorting and cleaning, though, Loki works. He answers emails, deals with contractor issues, and - slowly, painstakingly - hand-letters neat little signs for the new back door. The lettering matches the rest of the store; the colors, though, he takes from photographs of the new mural. "I'm going to have to redo the loading dock ones too," he announces when Thor compliments him on how nice the new signs are. "I want everything back there to look like we meant it."

Thor leans over and kisses the soft stubbly hair above Loki's left ear. Loki'd gotten a fresh haircut just before the holiday. Most of the initial mild prickliness has passed; now the sides of his head feel like old-fashioned velvet. "Pretty much nobody sees it, Lo, at least besides you and me and the dude from FedEx."

"Right." Loki nods. His flippy, straightened ponytail smacks Thor in the chin. "Precisely."

It's not until later on that Thor gets it. And when he does, he cries a little.

~

Darcy and Ian send pictures of the work-in-progress office. Loki'd left them $2,000 in cash and sent them “garage-sale-ing.” It had worked out well, too: between them they'd found three glass-front bookcases, four chairs, and a large wooden file cabinet. "If you want," she writes, "we can paint them to tie things together better. We still have plenty of leftover money.”

"What do you think?" Loki frowns at his laptop, scrolling back and forth through the pictures. "I kind of like the new stuff as is, honestly."

Thor scoots closer, until his nose is full of Loki: sweat, shampoo, the mildly fruity tang of Loki's favorite aftershave. "Go back to the top." As Loki slides the thumb, Thor can’t disagree. Everything is just the right sort of battered. His leather chair is in good company. "We should probably have the chairs reupholstered," he suggests, because ripped and leaking stuffing takes well loved a bit too far. "But aside from that, I think it's all perfect." He dips his head to nuzzle Loki's neck. "I wasn’t sure I would, but I love it."

"Yeah," Loki says. "I just wish it wasn't necessary."

And how. "I'm-." Thor clears his throat. This is all really shitty, no matter how nice a face they keep putting on it. "I'm worried about you going back alone," he says. "What- what if something happens?"

"It won't," Loki tells Thor, clicking back into his inbox and scrolling through all the email. "We have:" – he points and scrolls and points again - a kickass new camera system, new panic alarms, and get this... an awesome new security console. This fall you can pretend you're in a Bourne movie. Or a Bond one." His shoulders sag. "I know," he says, very softly. "I'm worried too." He pushes the mouse and laptop away and lets his face drop into his hands. "But I have to go back. I have to." Thor rests a careful hand on the back of Loki's neck, right where the delicate bones broaden into the rest of his spine. "Fuck," Loki whispers. "I hate this."

"I know," Thor breathes. He hitches one of the chairs forward and slides into it, then gently gathers Loki's hands into his own. Loki tilts, coming to a stop warm and solid against Thor's arm. "Me too. But I think it will get better. If we're patient." It's what his mother says. He's been repeating it often, hoping he'll come to believe it. While it hasn't quite worked its magic so far, he’s still trying. "And we’ll have awesome new furniture."

"Right," Loki says. After that he just slumps there quietly, not making a sound as his tears spill onto Thor's skin.

~

A couple of nights they go out. Once to celebrate with Sif, even though they don't feel much like celebrating, because it’s not her fault they're all up in a mess just as she's finally won - okay, bought - her long-awaited freedom. The other time they head for a popular seasonal restaurant. The owner is gay; queer couples dot the dining space. The food is divine - seafood at its coastal best, with amazing wine and local produce. The two of them do their best to have a good time…

…but fall just a little short of it.

"It's normal to be traumatized when something like this happens," Frigga assures them both when Thor grumbles about it the following day. "Give it a little more time. And if even that's not enough, you could always seek out professional help with it."

Loki stiffens. His fork clatters into his plate.

Frigga looks startled. She didn't mean any harm, Thor knows. He’s never told her what happened all those years ago, and he’s pretty certain Loki hasn’t either. "I'm sure we'll feel better," Thor insists, taking Loki's hand. "Positive." He squeezes Loki's rigid fingers. "On our own, I mean. We just need to give ourselves time to move past it.”

~

“He had a bad experience with therapy,” Thor explains to his mother as they clean up afterwards. Loki and Nan are outside wrangling the garbage. “It’s up to him to share the details. At any rate I’m not sure he would be willing to give it another go.”

Frigga frowns. “Ugh. I’m sorry. I was only trying to help.” She scoops up the wet glass Thor’s just set on the drain board and wraps it in her dishtowel. “I wish I’d- no. I get it. I’m just sorry. I hope Loki understands.”

Thor thinks about it for a minute, under cover of carefully studying, scrubbing, and re-inspecting one of the dirtier serving forks. Loki can be perceptive, almost uncannily so, but is just as likely to see conspiracy and accusation where neither is intended. “If he doesn’t,” he tells his mother, “I’m sure he’ll get over it.”

She nods. “He’s more upset than he’s letting on, isn’t he?”

“I think so.” Thor smiles, ruefully. “Not that he’s going to admit it.”

“Obviously.” Frigga laughs – they both do, in that sad, companionable way Thor both hates and cherishes – but when she speaks again her tone is serious: “Do you want to take him home? Rather than sending him off alone, I mean. You could stay up there for a few days and make sure he gets settled. And reassure yourself that things really will be all right,” she adds, “because I’m not sure Loki’s the only one who’s secretly struggling right this second.”

They’ve done the last of the easy stuff and moved on to the cooking pans. Not for the first time – this week, even – Thor wonders why his parents, who really have done plenty well by themselves, haven’t broken down and bought themselves a dishwasher. He picks at some especially stubborn burnt-on nastiness with one thumbnail and thinks back to when he first moved in with Loki. When Loki’d promised to think about moving here. When that had seemed like their only shot at a life together. “I feel like I’m failing you and dad,” Thor admits. “We were going to move here. At least, I wanted us to. But now I’ve gone and fallen for that stupid building.”

“Sweetie, sweetie. Thor,” Frigga insists. “Put that thing down and look at me. You need,” she goes on as the pan thuds against the sink bottom, “to do what’s right for you and for Loki. He’s your future. We’re your past.” She smiles at the choked little sound he makes. “You will always be welcome here. Both of you, if you change your minds… or if you just get tired of the life you’re living. But now is now. And if the right thing now is for you to go with him, that’s what you should do. Without beating yourself up about it.”

“Go where?” Thor jumps as the screen door squeaks shut behind Loki. He and Nan are both good about not letting it slam without being reminded, unlike either of the boys who grew up here. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt anything.”

“You’re not,” Frigga assures him. Thor wonders how long Loki stood outside the door, how much he overheard. “I was just telling Thor-.”

“She suggested that I drive you home when your vacation is over,” Thor cuts in. He doesn’t want Loki to think Frigga’s pushing him anywhere he doesn’t already want to go. “She thinks it might be good for both of us to face the place together.”

For half a second plain relief shows through a tiny crack in Loki’s emotional armor. That’s all Thor needs to make a decision. “And I think it’s a great idea,” he finishes. “Unless of course you don’t want me to.”

“It won’t be a problem? I know you were supposed to work.” Loki elbows the spigot back to the dirty side of the sink. “Can you get that for me? I have garbage hands. Seriously, though… I don’t want to cause anyone any trouble.”

“It’s fine,” Thor and Frigga say in unison. No on laughs this time. “Baldr and Nan are rapidly outpacing me,” Thor adds. “I’m pretty sure they can handle it.”

Loki takes such a deep breath that his ribs press up against his t-shirt. “Yeah. Okay. It would be nice to have some company.”

“Just for a few days,” Thor promises- someone. Everyone. No one. He really doesn’t know anymore.

~

He’s ashamed to admit it (and so he doesn’t), but knowing they’re both going home together – even for a little while – sucks all the impending doom feeling out of what’s left of Loki’s vacation. Now Thor hurries to finish his work by early afternoon, so he and Loki have time to head down to the beach and play in the surf. They go out with Sif and Fandral one last time, because they may never be here together again, and Thor tries not to be jealous watching Fandral and Loki dancing. They stop by Volstagg and Hilde’s place one afternoon, just to say hello. Hilde gives them cookies.

It’s nice. He’ll miss it. He’ll miss everyone. Still, when he and Loki hug their goodbyes and wedge themselves into the car, driving away feels like going home rather than leaving one.

~

“If you cry when we get back to the apartment, I swear I’ll send you packing.” Loki’s been silent for an hour now, ever since they left the outskirts of Philly. He’s spent the time staring out the window, head lolling against his headrest. Thor’s been listening to the radio – the car is too old for bluetooth, but he didn’t bother bringing any CDs with him – and carefully not thinking. Or singing, since Loki’s resting. “I mean it. Because every time I go in there I can’t stop bawling and I sure as fuck don’t need you to inspire me.”

Thor swallows past the lump in his throat, the giant one that just sprang up out of nowhere. He doesn’t blink. If he does, the tears will start. “Oh, Lo,” he says, only keeping his eyes on the road with effort. “I’m so sorry.” He doesn’t promise not to cry. He isn’t that stupid.

Loki chokes on a huge sob. Thor hurts. He has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from joining in. “We’ll get through this,” he tells Loki instead. “We’ll take care of each other.”

Chapter Text

Reality turns out to be- differently hard, probably, from what Thor had been expecting. The building looks just as comfortingly solid as always, and the newly finished mural - actual anatomical hearts, not cutesy ones, tucked into an intricate field of flowered books and books of flowers - is amazing. The back of the building is welcoming now, rather than just unattractively (if benignly) industrial. Even the parking lot looks clean and neat, its dumpster cage sporting fresh, rough-edged stripes that echo the colors in the mural. The new brass locks shine. Yes, the security cameras are a little - as Loki puts it - jail chic. Still, the overall effect is nice… nice enough to leave Thor all but smiling.

Loki unlocks the new door, which doesn't squawk or clank like the old one, and disarms the alarm. Thor follows behind him, heart thumping. When Loki hurries to latch and lock the door behind them, even in broad summer afternoon daylight, Thor can’t hold back a few silent tears.

Someday, he hopes, they’re going to look back on this with more gratitude and less horror. Everywhere he turns there’s more good than bad. All the new hardware shines. The long staircase looks better than it ever has. He makes a mental note to schedule a professional cleaning a little more often. As in: something more regular than never.

"Want to check on how things are coming along in the office before we head upstairs?" Loki's still stony-faced and tight-lipped. Thor knows that, once they get to the apartment, they're going to want to curl up like cats and stay there.

"Sure," he says as Loki fiddles with the deadbolt. "It probably looks a lot different than it did in the pictu- oh, wow!” Thor can’t keep from gushing. “Aww."

"Fuck," Loki says a little too loudly. "Those guys. Seriously?"

Everything is back where it goes. Or, rather, all the new things are in their new places. And on the new table is a pretty vaseful of seasonal, local flowers, two bottles of wine, and a snack basket. "Welcome home, Loki," the notecard reads, and it's signed by everyone who works here.

Loki bawls this time, too, but it's a better kind of heartbreak. And they both laugh at the second, smaller note, red ink in Darcy’s distinctive writing: "Put the cheese in the fridge. Now. Just do it. No one likes cheese that’s gotten all nasty."

The main security console - command central, Loki terms it - is apparently up in the stockroom, but there's a small monitor down here that lets anyone in the back keep track of what's going on outside. Just now that's pretty much nothing: two tweens at the front curb eating ice cream, one pigeon sitting on the gate by the dumpster. "There's a monitor under the checkout counter, too," Loki says, wiping his face with the heel of one hand. "Just in case someone is working alone while we're out for the evening. The panic alarms are here" - he runs a finger under the edge of the second bookshelf - "and just beneath the register."

Thor nods. Swallows. "And upstairs?"

Loki nods. "Oh, yeah. Lots. Up there I went a little crazy." He unlocks the door into the store proper and swings it open. "Hello, my love. Did you miss me?"

The familiar rush of good paper and better ink washes over Thor. He blinks the wet away. "You know,” he tells Loki, “it's really nice to be here."

"I have a surprise for you, too. A real one, something I haven’t told you. While everyone was cleaning and fixing and putting things right, the guys were pulling the camera cabling," Loki tells Thor as they close the store door. He nudges Thor towards the other end of the office, to the narrow, dark hallway leading out to the loading dock. It's a part of the building Thor knows all too well, having rolled countless vanloads of book boxes through it. "And they found something super-cool. Out here,” - he points with one hand and tugs at Thor's arm with the other – “it turns out we have a tiny, old freight elevator. It goes up to that weird boarded-up bump-out we thought was a utility stack, over in the back of the stockroom."

The hallway wall hasn't been repainted yet, but the ripped-away drywall has been patched and trimmed out properly. Thor gasps. It’s hard not to let his mouth hang open. There it is, exactly as promised, an antique elevator in all its tarnished, dirty glory. He digs out his phone and shines the flashlight through the door grate. The car is barely big enough for a cart and a person. Its floor is littered with chunks of drywall. "Holy shit." It's brass. Old school. Even under decades of grime the little lift is wonderful. He turns back to Loki, who's legit smiling. Finally. "Does it work?"

Loki snorts. "I dunno. Without you here, no one was crazy enough to try it."

"Riiiiight." Thor grins at Loki. Everyone knows who the reckless one here isn't. "So, does it?"

"Seriously, we didn't try it. We didn’t want to break anything. I've got a call in to have it serviced." Loki shrugs. "But the security guy says these things are pretty bulletproof, and he's almost sure it will be fine with a few days’ worth of maintenance. Well, that and lots of polishing."

"Mm." Thor runs a finger over the latch, then over the dainty buttons. "I'm going to polish it regardless. Worst case, we can stick a chair and a reading lamp in it and call it a den."

"And, what, refer to heading out here as going to jail?"

Thor winks. "Nope: as going nowhere. So," he asks as Loki fake-retches, "where's the metal cleaner?"

"Not tonight," Loki says, firmly. "Right now we're tired. Tired, and hungry."

"True." He is. They are. Thor sighs. It’s going to be so pretty. He wants to get started, despite how restoring the elevator would really make a better fall project. No one wants him to spend his few, brief days here alone in this dingy hallway, himself included. "Fine.” He sighs again. It will be. “Let's go put the cheese in the refrigerator."

~

It's a hot, humid evening. Washed up just enough to be presentable, Loki and Thor walk - hand-in-hand, because screw everybody - to one of the bustling indoor-outdoor restaurants a couple of blocks away from their apartment. "I've missed Oscar so bad," Thor tells Loki as they wait for a table. Loki makes a face, and Thor smiles at his own sloppy college kid grammar. "I know, I know. Badly.”

"He misses you too," Loki admits. He takes a small swallow of prosecco from the sweating glass he's holding. "The last time you left he howled and howled. It got seriously annoying."

"Hah." Thor takes a bigger swig from his own glass. The wine is sharp and bubbly. Delicious. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Loki looks away. Thor watches his jaw work and takes another, smaller sip of wine. "I wanted to be positive who you were coming back to."

Shit. “Oh, Lo.” Thor encircles Loki with his free arm and pulls them stickily close despite the heat. He presses a kiss into Loki’s hair, up in the long part of it. “I have plenty of love to give to both of you.” If the mood were only different, he might tease Loki about being jealous of the cat. He knows now isn’t the time for joking about it. “I wish I could wave a magic wand and have you believe me.”

“Ugh. You’re so hot.” Loki wriggles out from under Thor’s arm. “I do believe you. It’s just- life is difficult sometimes. Don’t worry about it.”

Thor nods because he’s supposed to. He knows he’s going to worry anyway.

Things are a bit less strained again once they sit down and start eating. Loki even hints at a blowjob during dinner, although Thor gets the sense his heart isn’t quite in it. It turns out not to matter; by the time they get back home they’re both dead tired anyway.

~

Thor slips near-silently out of bed, steps into a pair of clean boxers pulled from his bag, and tiptoes out to the parlor. In the pale light of morning, the summer streetscape outside feels less oppressive and more dreamy. Oscar stretches up beside him, front paws on the sill, and chirrups to get his attention. Thor scoops the cat up and onto his shoulder, so they can both see out the window properly. “Better, buddy?” He snuggles Oscar’s soft, black side. “Your daddy’s sad, you know. What do you think we can do to help him?”

Oscar only purrs. Thor wasn’t seriously expecting anything more – the cat is just a cat, after all – but it feels like a loss anyway.

~

“You have no food here,” he complains to Loki a couple of hours later. “None. All we have for breakfast is cheese, beef stick, and crackers.”

Loki rubs his face with both hands and yawns. His hair is a curly mop in this weather. Thor loves it, although he knows Loki doesn’t. “I’ve been gone for almost two weeks, Thor,” he grumbles. “Would you rather have moldy bread and spoiled chicken? Go to the store and then make me pancakes. Oh, and Thor?” He looks Thor up and down, smiling. “Before you leave you should probably put some shorts on.”

Thor gives Loki’s curls an affectionate tug and almost trips over Oscar as he heads for the bedroom. Food or no food, it really is nice to be home.

~

They’re having a thank-you party. It’s a perfectly decent idea, it really is, and Thor is in complete agreement. Still, it’s a lot of work… quite a bit more than he expected, and his mother’s been throwing impromptu parties for as long as he can remember.

“Let’s have a thing for the neighbors,” Loki had suggested a couple of days ago, while they were making those emergency pancakes. “You know, just drinks and snacks. To thank them for their support through- everything. The other stores, their tenants, our staff. We could even turn the back into a patio of sorts, rather than trying to jam everyone inside the building… which would probably work out better for both the books and Oscar.”

Thor had smiled at Loki’s enthusiasm. At the mental picture of the parking/loading area decked out in paper lanterns and citronella torches, full of people chatting and laughing. “That’s a great idea,” he’d agreed without really thinking. “But we need to do it fast, so I can be there.”

What he hadn’t really counted on, though, was how much easier party planning was at his parents’ farm where they already stocked the raw materials.

He and Loki had subsequently spent – while wasted actually feels more apt, Thor carefully doesn’t say it in front of his partner – the bulk of one of their precious together days apart, Thor (with the Heart’s Desire van) scouring the bulk of the county for just the right party supplies and Loki (with Thor’s car) dealing with food and beverages. And then they’d collapsed into bed without supper that night, after Thor had spent hours putting everything away and Loki had worn himself out spreading the word about the “party at our place on Saturday.”

“I was only supposed to stay until Friday morning,” he’d reminded Loki as they’d curled up together. Not that his parents would mind, but every day spent at the store will only make leaving again that much harder.

Loki’d sighed. “I know. But we can’t exactly have a party on a Thursday, can we?”

~

Thor stands on at the edge of the loading dock, grinning. Between the fresh paint and the bright, bobbing lanterns, their normally functional-but-ugly little parking area really does look festive. Best of all, last night’s thunderstorms have ushered in a rare perfect day: cooler, still sunny, and breezy with unseasonably reasonable humidity. It’s made setting up – stringing the lanterns, prepping the makeshift bar, stocking the galvanized tubs with ice and bottles – easy and, with late afternoon approaching, promises to be just as nice for socializing.

“This is awesome!” Thor jumps and squeaks; Darcy laughs. “I didn’t mean to sneak up on you. Honest.” She looks around. “Where is everyone?”

“Loki’s washing up.” He checks his phone, in case it’s later than it feels; it isn’t. “It’s only 5:00. I’m pretty sure he told everyone 5:30.”

“Oh, he did. I just couldn’t wait any longer. These are so cool!” She touches the closest lantern. “I want a couple of strings for my room.”

“I got them at that party place down by the mall,” Thor tells her. “But I bought the store out. You might want to give them a few days to restock before heading down there.”

She fake-pouts and Thor snickers. “I can’t just have these, then?”

“Yeah, no. We’re keeping them. We might want to have a party again sometime,” for happier reasons, he doesn’t add. Not that she wouldn’t agreed wholeheartedly.

You might,” she corrects. “Loki’s never been Mr. Social.”

“This was his idea, you know,” he points out, laying a finger against his lips. “But don’t go telling everyone.”

Darcy winks. “Me? I would never.”

~

Everything turns out really nicely. People Thor’s never even met stop by to express their support, grab a drink, and ooh and ahh over how nice the place looks. Everyone is relaxed and friendly. There isn’t any subtle gay bashing. And when he and Loki make their way back up the steps at the end of the party, after the last guests have said their goodbyes, it hits him: it’s been three whole days now since he last saw Loki crying.

He hopes that’s enough to tide him over, as it’s that time… much as he’d rather not, he’s got to drive back to the farm come morning.

Chapter Text

What's left of the summer rolls by in a sweaty, jumbled haze. When Thor's at the farm he wishes he was- home. When he's in the apartment over the store, though, he alternates between feeling a bit down because things still have an impermanence he finds almost painful and, paradoxically, about the same amount of down because his life at the farm is about to end forever.

It isn't that he doesn't want to be with Loki and Oscar. It's not that working at the bookstore isn't enough for him. He doesn't begrudge Baldr the normalcy of a wife and property, and he certainly wouldn't want Sif trapped on the shore forever. Adjusting to so much change all at once is just- it’s hard. Dealing with Loki's reaction to his trouble adjusting is sometimes even harder.

It probably doesn’t help that he’s not really anywhere long enough to get settled. Not long enough to feel comfortable.

~

The last two weeks of summer are both the busiest and the hardest. They’re filled to bursting with so much work and so many endings:

Inspecting the conveyors in the sorting rooms for the last time, made all the more challenging by having to – patiently, kindly - teach Baldr and Nan how to break the machinery down and reassemble it.

Spending the last few forced-cheer-filled days working elbow-to-elbow with his mom, surrounded by literally farm-fresh produce, washing and chatting and laughing and grading and all the while pretending there’s nothing hanging over them… that there’s no abyss growing beneath their feet.

Going out with Sif and Fandral one last time, only to belatedly remember that dancing isn't much fun at all without Loki.

Blinking back tears over one last round of onion-studded home fries, looking out over the crowded dining room where Sif is never getting married.

Not bothering to blink back anything while driving Sif's stuff to UPS and her person to the bus station, because her own family won't even break ranks and lend one of their trucks to the cause. With her secret plans out in the open, her father has made no bones about expressing opinion after opinion... none of them the least bit helpful or supportive. It all comes as no surprise. Even so Thor manages (as does Sif, actually, and that’s the worst part) to find one last well of disappointment to drown in.

~

"Bye, Siffy." Thor hugs her too tightly as the tears fall, only realizing it when she starts pounding her fists against him. "Love it out there," he instructs as she makes too much show of catching her breath. "The new place. Your new life. And we'll talk every week. Just like always."

"Just like always," she echoes. "We've already been apart for six years," she reminds him, as he doesn't point out that they've always had summers, “and we’ve never let each other down. This doesn't have to be any different."

It is different, of course, in almost every way that counts. Still, he wants very badly to believe her. "Let's get you on that bus, then," he says, slinging her big duffel over one shoulder, "before you miss it and have to crawl back home to daddy."

"Not happening." She slams the truck door and jogs away. "If you can't keep up," she calls back over her shoulder with a grin as he hurries after her, "you'll just have to ship me all my dirty laundry."

When she waves her last goodbye through the smudged, tinted bus window, the wheels kicking up gravel and dust, Thor makes himself grin and wave back until the whole thing shrinks to a black dot in the distance. He only turns to go when the bus disappears completely.

~

"We're not building a shrine in your memory, if that's what you're asking. I'm only teasing," Frigga adds, her smile fading as she studies Thor's face. "Oh, sweetie, no. You'll always have a home here if you need it. Both of you, or just you. Don't ever forget it."

He has an awful lot not to forget just now. He nods anyway. Guilt bubbles up, deep in his stomach. "I feel like I'm failing you by going and Loki by staying. I don't want to fail anybody. I don't want to hurt anybody."

Frigga sets aside the shirt she's mending and takes Thor's hand. "You just need to do what's best for you. Your father and I don't expect anything more than that."

Thor clears his throat. His voice breaks anyway. "I want to be with Loki, then, at Heart's Desire."

"And so you shall." She squeezes his hand and lets go. "Buy me lovely books. Make me happy."

"Mom-," he starts, but his throat constricts again.

"Shh," she says. "I'm proud of you. Now let's get back to work, before we run out of time and you're stuck fixing your own clothing. What a mess that would be.”

~

Thor doesn't want a big bon voyage party, so he doesn't get one.

Even after sending (more than) a few things home with Loki earlier in the month, his car is jammed to bursting. He's leaving plenty here despite his mom's warning - his rugby plaques; all the worn coveralls that would look beyond ridiculous at home; anything that smells irrevocably shitty; the sandals he always wears to the fish market, the ones that reek of fish and bleach and feet - but there's no point in leaving without the rest of his summer clothing. Next time the season rolls around he'll be holed up at the bookstore, plowing through his dissertation. That's where he's going to be when he wants to go swimming or dancing or shopping. And when they do visit the farm, he'll bring what he needs and live out of a suitcase. Or, more likely, put his stuff in the drawers and watch Loki make a face when everything ends up smelling faintly farmy.

It'll be fine.

Really.

All of it.

"Give your old man a hug," Odin orders. There's none of the usual manly back-thumping. "Come back and see us soon, son."

"Of course," Thor promises. He and Loki have already talked about one of the holidays. They haven't come to terms yet, but they're talking. "Take care of yourself, dad," he suggests with one last squeeze. He knows better than to even hint at taking care of Frigga.

His mom sends him off with a week's worth of produce, a big kiss, and a sandwich. Baldr and Nan, already hard at work hours ago, had said their goodbyes before breakfast.

Ultimately there's nothing left to do but wedge himself in among his stuff and drive away.

This time it's his parents doing the waving and Thor doing the disappearing.

He doubts Sif cried like a baby as she faded off into the future, though.

~

The drive itself is uneventful, except for how there’s so much in the car that Thor can’t sit comfortably. What seemed easily tolerable when he’d first sat in the car – his seat one click farther forward than normal, its back not inclined as far as he likes it – turns out to be markedly less so after several hours of driving. Most of the route consists of bleak stretches of highway, too, with no place to pull over between rest stops and nowhere safe to walk the kinks out.

It’s miserable. He’s miserable.

By the time he pulls into the narrow driveway alongside the bookstore, Thor’s long since ready for a solid nap and a back rub. Not in that order, and not after unloading all his things either. He hauls himself out of the car, grunting and muttering, and heads for the back door with three bags of fruit and veggies in tow. He’s too tired to fumble for his keys; instead, he takes the lazy route and rings the doorbell with one elbow.

The deadbolt snicks open. Thor smiles at the one green eye he can see through the cracked-open door. Loki squeals and shuts the door to- to free the chain? Thor blinks. The chain swings in its holder. “When did we get a door chain?” Thor asks, because there’s no way he would have missed that on his last visit home. “Wait. Did something happen?”

“Hiiiii,” Loki says, hugging Thor despite the bags of food and kissing one cheek loudly. “No, nothing happened. Okay, yes, but it’s stupid.”

Thor wriggles free and sets the bags down just inside the door. He takes Loki by the shoulders and looks for anything out-of-the-ordinary. “It’s not stupid,” he insists. “Come on. What happened?”

“Don’t say that.” Loki laughs. He squirms in Thor’s grip. “You haven’t even heard it yet. What have you got there? Corn?”

“Mom sent half the farm, seriously. She doesn’t think we can get good produce here. I don’t even bother arguing. Speaking of which” - Thor jostles Loki, just a little – “don’t go changing the subject. Tell me what happened.”

Loki sighs. His cheeks pink up as he looks away. “This is so embarrassing. I was in the office a few days ago and I heard someone pounding on the door.” He shrugs against Thor’s hands. “I totally lost it. As in, freaked out and dived under the desk. Heart pounding, gasping for air, the works.”

Thor nods. He sure knows that feeling.

“Of course, there’s that awesome new, expensive security camera. The one I could have easily checked out via the equally new, expensive monitor on the desk under which I was hiding. But that’s too logical, right?”

It is. Thor gets it. He nods again, then pulls Loki in for a hug. “But it was nothing?”

“Worse,” Loki says. He groans. “Seriously. Pretty soon Darcy lets herself into the office – there I am cowering under the desk, remember, like some tin-hat time-traveler from 1960 – to tell me the guy is up front with my takeout. That I’d just ordered half an hour earlier. And asked to have delivered to the rear entrance.” He shrugs again, already too warm against Thor’s chest in the summer asphalt-and-brick heat. “I felt like such a idiot, even after tipping double. So.” He gestures with his head. “Door chain. Now I can peek out in relative safety.”

“Mm. I’ll peek out for you,” Thor offers. “You won’t even have to deal with it.”

“You’ll be upstairs in your lair,” Loki complains.

“No matter. I’ll come down and take care of it anyway. All that running up and down the steps builds strong thighs.”

Loki sneaks a hand loose and runs it up Thor’s leg, inside the hem of his baggy khaki shorts. It tickles; Thor jumps. “Right, because you’re clearly lacking in the thigh department presently.”

They both laugh. “I still don’t think it’s stupid,” Thor tells him. “You’ve been through a lot. It’s upsetting.”

“Nice try,” Loki counters. “The building’s been through a lot. I was down at the farm when it happened, remember?”

Thor does. He also knows it’s not that simple, but just now he isn’t sure he’s up to debating. “I should get my stuff inside,” he says instead. Loki doesn’t even mention the change of subject.

~

The elevator – Darcy’s named it “Lifty” now that it’s working again, although Loki’s a little claustrophobic and the thing hasn’t done any lifting (or seen any polishing, which is actually fine because polishing is just the kind of work Thor loves doing anyway) – turns out to be very handy for relocating endless amounts of personal belongings. First Thor and Loki stack everything from the car onto the loading dock. Once it’s inside and they can close the dock door against the heat, the two of them bucket brigade Thor’s stuff from the dock into Lifty and from the stockroom into the apartment. In the end it barely takes more than fifteen minutes to siphon everything out of the car and into the living room.

Thor’s so tired. It feels more like fifteen hours anyway.

“I’ll start putting this crap away,” he tells Loki. Oscar’s only just feeling brave enough to come out amidst the chaos and start sniffing. The whole place looks like a Thor bomb exploded in it. “Sorry!”

“Sorry?” Loki shakes his head. “For what? You know I’m not the one who can’t stand clutter.” He eyes Thor. “You should snooze. We’ve got the rest of our lives to put away our laundry.”

It’s true. They have time. Thor knows he should leave it for tomorrow. “Shower first?” He’s sweaty and gross. If he crawls into bed like this, no matter what Loki claims, they will both come to regret it eventually.

“Whatever works,” Loki says. He picks Frigga’s bags of food out of the wreckage. “Go on. I’ll take care of these while you’re washing.”

“Don’t put the tomatoes in the fridge,” Thor tells him.

Loki cocks an eyebrow. “Not,” he says, pointing towards his own chest with one shiny-black-nailed thumb, “born yesterday.”

Thor snorts. “Hardly, old man.”

“Watch it, you, or I’ll turn off the hot water.”

“Right.” Thor can’t help but laugh. He’s sweaty enough right now that he’s not sure he’d mind the cold, but there’s no reason he needs to admit it. “Do you even know where the valve is?”

“Your showers take forever,” Loki counters. “I’m sure I have ample time to find it.”

~

The rest of our lives. Thor rolls the idea around in his head as he strips off his clothes and digs around for a clean towel. He’s too tired to fully appreciate anything, except the happy, matter-of-fact way Loki’d said it. “I like that,” Thor says, to himself. Mostly.

“What was that?” Loki cracks the bathroom door open and sticks his head inside. “I couldn’t hear you over the water.”

“Nothing,” Thor hedges, but he’s smiling. It’s not a frightening idea, not anymore. Instead it just makes him happy.

Chapter Text

Actually living above the store - for what Thor hopes is forever, even though forever is a very long time and sometimes good things don't stay good... or don't actually happen, or... but he's carefully not dwelling on that because his mother (and Sif) isn't here to pull his head out of his anxious ass so he needs to try especially hard not get it stuck there - feels different. He'd been here the better part of the last school year, of course, and he's always felt carefully protective of both the building and its occupants. Now he can settle in, though, in a way he hadn’t quite previously.

He and Loki build a routine around themselves, together, and around each of them separately. Thor runs with his club, happy to see new members and old friends alike. For the first time he doesn't say no outright when the department chair asks if he might consider staying on the faculty. Part time, of course, since they know he has a job already. The chair, in turn, doesn't reject him when Thor stresses he'll only consider teaching theory. No lab, no demonstrations. Whatever he decides to do, he's not getting hurt there. Not keeping at it until lazy confidence sets in only to have students turn into statistics.

He's pleasantly neutral when Natasha’s offered a position locally and when Steve opts – boyfriend Bucky still in tow - to telecommute to a job in Washington. They need to make up their own minds. Each of his friends afforded him that chance; he owes the same back to all of them. Once they do decide, though, and he finds out that some of his favorite people will be here with him for a few more years… well, Thor doesn’t even try to hide his excitement.

Twice a week he makes time to watch Loki skate. Loki claims to enjoy performing for the right audience, and Thor likes the regular reminder that - no matter how gross or mundane his daily life may be - his boyfriend is a creature of unceasing grace.

Sometimes he brings his books and laptop to the rink. He never actually studies.

~

Darcy and Ian gradually become an official thing (that may or may not also include Amora; it's hard to be certain and damned if Thor's asking). She stays on in her management role but isn't quite as available to work in the evenings. After the break-in Loki's less inclined to let one of the random kids work there alone; similarly, Thor isn't thrilled about Loki working solo nights either. They compromise: Thor takes advantage of the office’s summer transformation into a more-or-less den and studies there - door wide open - whenever Loki takes the late shift; Loki in turn doesn't complain or make babysitter comments.

Both of them, without mentioning it to one another, find ways to sneak in more and more small nods to the ace, bi, gay, trans, and lesbian community. Gently, not in heavy-handed ways that might alienate their cis, straight customers. Whenever Thor sees Loki's added a framed quote or a famous photo, he feels warm inside. Pleased. Likewise, Loki grins ear to ear the day Thor decks the gray club chairs out with flowered needlepoint pillows sporting all the colors of the ace pride "rainbow."

It's a game. A happy game, one they both seem to like playing. There’s no way to know for sure, as they carefully mention nothing.

Buoyed by Thor's obvious love of well-made, old things, Loki starts frequenting the local estate sales. The store gets beautiful bookends (ones Thor takes a break from the Lifty Project to bring back to delicately patinaed glory); the apartment, gorgeous beaded floor lamps and all sorts of lovely period barware. Dishes, in small sets to mix or use alone. Tableware and serving pieces engraved with other people's initials.

Thor polishes the silver. For the monogrammed pieces, he and Loki take turns making up stories.

It’s not that either of them has turned into a social butterfly, but when they do have friends and/or staff over the place is a lot more interesting.

~

Even though it works and doesn’t need to start a new career as a tiny reading room the elevator is a special sort of haven. Thor polishes his anxiety away with the layers of grime and finds having something good to show for his stress surprisingly rewarding.

Loki still won't let anyone close Lifty's gates while he’s inside, but he evidently can't help but admire the gleaming brass… every time he walks by and sees Thor working, he has to stop and fuss over it.

Thor and the service tech rewire both the overhead fixture and the one at the tiny operator's station. Loki comes home a few days later with the perfect faux-period exposed element LED light bulbs. Afterwards they kiss in the soft amber glow. Thor's very, very careful to keep the carriage perfectly steady.

~

Thor and Loki drive down to the farm for Thanksgiving. Just for a couple of days - Black Friday and Small Business Saturday are too important to dump off on the staff, and someone has to keep an eye on Oscar - but it's nice to see the family. As much as Loki insists, though, Thor just can't bring himself to go back alone for Christmas. Not their first Really Real Christmas in this place together. "We'll drive down for New Years," he says, firmly. His mind is made up. "You know mom will make us another big dinner."

"But they want you there," Loki argues anyway. "They don't want you collapsed on our couch with Cranky Business Owner, too tired for anything but wine and Chinese takeout."

"You may be right," Thor concedes, since that’s not the point anyway. "But this year I want to be here, with you and Oscar. My folks will just have to get over it."

"And what if Nan and Baldr are pregnant?"

Even though he know Loki’s reaching, Thor chokes on his own saliva. "They aren't even married yet," he reminds Loki, still coughing, "meaning – if it’s true, and it isn’t – dad will kill them. And that's a shitshow I'd much rather deal with over FaceTime.”

~

Christmas Eve finds Loki behind the Heart’s Desire counter serving all the last-second shoppers - many of whom have clearly made a final trip to the bookstore something of an annual tradition - and Thor curled up in the office marking finals. The semester just came to an end, so grades don’t have to be posted for a couple of weeks yet. Still, Thor wants to put the whole mess behind him. He doesn’t need his teaching duties hanging over his head while he tries to enjoy (a quick trip back to the farm, the holidays, and) his own winter break. Plus, Loki’s working just now anyway. As times to grade go, it doesn’t get any better.

For a while he lets the security system distract him, but everyone who stops in is friendly and cheerful. He’s eventually able to tune out the monitor entirely.

By 7:30 PM the steady flow of customers has slowed to a trickle. A few minutes later Thor finishes grading the last exam – everyone actually passed this time, which is a bona fide Christmas miracle – and heads upstairs to the apartment to pull together what he needs to make them both bourbon toddies. It’s been a long day, on the heels of a long week. He wants Loki to relax and unwind before bedtime.

Thor assembles extra-large toddies, using the cute snowman-and-pine-tree-decked mugs Loki’d scored at an estate sale back in early November. Three teabags, three shots of the fancy small-batch bourbon they normally save for company, and an ample spoonful each of local apple-blossom honey. He digs out the heavy press and juices a lemon into the cone strainer, knocking the seeds in the trash with a thunk and carefully dividing the juice between the mugs. Just before the store’s 8:00 PM closing time he puts the teakettle on – the cobalt-blue whistler that replaced Loki’s old, battered one; new, dependable, but still quirky and nice-looking – and neatens up the kitchen while he’s waiting for Loki. At 8:17 PM the alarm system chirps. Finally. Thor fills both mugs with boiling water and sets the timer.

“Jesus.” Loki throws the cash bag in the wall safe out in the hallway. “I thought that last woman was never leaving.”

Thor pokes his head out into the hall.

Loki is still wearing that ridiculous reindeer antlers headband over black hair raked into a long-since-gone-sloppy up-do. He looks twelve years old, and exhausted. Thor frowns. “Did she at least buy something?”

“Yeah.” Loki sighs. “She did. She spent over six hundred dollars. I’m such a hag. I really shouldn’t be complaining.”

It’s a nice haul, one that makes staying open so late well worth it. “Come here,” Thor suggests, offering a hand. “You’re worn out. I think you’re entitled. I made tea,” he says as he pulls Loki into a gentle hug. Loki smells like the store, like books and leather. It’s reassuring. “It’s the good kind, the kind with lots of booze in it.”

“Mm.” Loki sniffs. “Oh, yes. Let me at it.”

Thor carries their drinks into the parlor, where they don’t have to choose between sitting comfortably and watching the snow float down. He lets Loki pick a chair, sets the toddies on their coasters, and hands over an afghan. “Lift up your feet,” he suggests, slipping beneath them and onto Loki’s ottoman. “They must hurt. Let me rub them.”

The feet in question do hurt, if Loki’s long groan is any indication. In between sips of hot, bourbon-flavored tea, Thor does everything he can to make it all better.

“When’s the last time you had sex?” Loki’s been enjoying rather larger gulps of his toddy. Even so, Thor stops rubbing and blinks at him.

“What? You were there. It was, what, Saturday? You went dow-.”

“No, sex-sex,” Loki cuts in, too loudly for the small room. “You know. Actual sex. Fucking.”

Thor sighs. He really, really hates this conversation, every single time. Not to mention, he isn’t nearly drunk enough to be having it. “You know how I feel about this,” he says, yet again. “What we have is real sex. But if you mean penetrative anal intercourse, that would have been my senior year of undergrad. Fall rugby season, probably. That year I was too busy getting ready to graduate… I didn’t really play much during spring exhibitions.”

“Exhibitions.” Loki giggles. “How apt. Why did you stop?”

“Playing rugby?” Thor knows that’s not what Loki means, but he’s hoping he can get them safely sidetracked. “I was busy. And kind of tired of it. It gave me something physical to do while I was in school… but once I got back home I didn’t need that. My dad always made sure I had plenty of hard, physical farming labor.” He rolls Loki’s toes between his fingers. “And when I came up here I just wasn’t into it anymore. When I needed to de-stress I went running.”

Or, er, shopping.

“Nooooo,” Loki protests. He wiggles his toes against Thor’s hand. “Stop changing the subject. Why did you stop fucking?”

Thor thinks carefully before answering. When it comes to Loki, wording is everything. That, and he needs to be consistent. “I didn’t really enjoy what I had in college. I mean, I guess I did in a way because I kept at it,” he adds before Loki can point out the gaping hold in his logic, “but it certainly wasn’t the life I wanted to be living.” By then, he’d decided being a hermit was just- easier. “And when I moved up here it really wasn’t something I was looking for, you know? On top of which my only gay friend” was so not my type, he doesn’t add, and “already had a committed partner.”

“And the two of them didn’t fix you up with someone? Swine.” Loki hiccups and Thor wonders if he’s been too free with the bourbon. He hadn’t planned on either of them chugging their drinks when he’d made his calculations.

“No, it’s not that. I didn’t- I didn’t want them to.” He hadn’t. They’re great guys, and he loves them, but their lifestyle is a little too hyper-masculine for his own tastes. He’s not into leather bars and apartments full of art that features heavily muscled, nude men. Even though, of course, he often is one. “I didn’t think I wanted anything. Turns out I was wrong. I just hadn’t met you yet.” He curls down to kiss the soft, cool inside of Loki’s arch. “I’m not being sappy,” he insists, “and I’m not changing the subject. I’m happy with what we have, with what we do.” He kisses Loki’s foot again, parting his lips to lick this time. “I’m not tired of you, or bored, or whatever else it is you’re thinking.”

“Do that again,” Loki purrs. “The tongue part, not the talking.”

Thank goodness.

Thor does. Loki’s fingers – hot from the tea – thread into his hair as he presses a lingering kiss to Loki’s heel, and then another to the ankle just below the hem of Loki’s leggings. He nips his way up one calf, through the dense fabric, to hum hot and damp against Loki’s inner thigh. He doesn’t joke and he doesn’t offer, because this is them. It’s Christmas Eve. They don’t need (even more) crossed signals or hurt feelings.

Loki giggles again. With every passing second things feel a little more- more hopeful. “Don’t just hover over my crotch feeling awkward,” Loki says, and Thor can’t help joining in and laughing. Loki tugs at his hair. “Come up here and kiss me.”

“Oh, no you don’t.” The chairs in here really aren’t two-seaters, and Thor likes them too much to chance breaking one. He catches Loki’s wrists and rolls them both off onto the rug instead, with Loki sprawled across his chest still laughing. “If you want it, Lo, you’ll have to come and get it. Even if it is nearly time for Santa.”

Chapter Text

Christmas morning dawns much like the night that preceded it: snowy, quiet, and peaceful. Thor wakes up early, having never quite rid himself of the childhood excitement that always sent him tiptoeing downstairs well ahead of his parents to look over what Santa had left everyone, and slips carefully out of bed. All he can see of Loki is a few black curls peeking out from under a nest of blankets, everything rising and falling gently with the slow rhythm of breathing. They were up late, and he doesn’t need to be entertained; Thor opts to let Loki sleep. He grabs a sweatshirt and flannel pants off the top of the hamper and slips out into the chilly apartment.

Oscar winds around his ankles purring as Thor makes a cursory effort to wash up. The inside of the sweatshirt he pulls over his head - it's an old, ragged favorite, one of his big, soft school ones - smells intensely of Loki. Thor inhales as deeply as he can and holds his breath, smiling at his own messy hair in the mirror.

As much as Loki'd tried to talk him out of staying for fear of his being endlessly bored, Thor finds there's actually a pleasant novelty in not having anything whatsoever to do. Christmas at the farm always means (crack-of-dawn chores, just like any other morning, and then) a full day of cooking and silver polishing. Oh, and making time in between to open presents. It’s never until early evening, when they're all stuffed full of food and so very ready to collapse into bed, that anyone in the family gets a chance to sit down and relax. The whole thing is a cheerful enough frenzy, sure, but happiness doesn’t make the whirlwind any less exhausting.

In contrast, the only thing awaiting Thor today (if Loki was joking about Chinese takeout... it's a popular local Jewish tradition, from what Thor’s heard, so it’s possible he wasn’t) is helping Loki scrape together a meal or two.

Later.

Much later.

Until then, or at least until Loki finally rolls out of bed, Thor can simply look out at the pretty snow and let his mind idle.

He does, too, until his body reminds him that it’s not very good at sitting still. Thor walks both feet out for dips off the edge of the sofa, where the old springs make it wobbly enough to challenge even his solid muscles, and then drops down onto the rug to do pushups and crunches. With a little added weight from Oscar, of course, because cats are so helpful. Every curl up brings with it a fresh puff of Loki-smell; he does an even hundred, so he can keep on enjoying.

Afterwards he still feels a little fidgety. He sets everything up for coffee, so Loki - assuming Loki surfaces before Thor's back upstairs, which is a big if on such a dark, snowy morning - just has to start the water, and then grabs himself a banana and heads downstairs.

The floor in the back hallway is uncomfortably cold, to the point Thor wishes he'd thought to grab his slippers. One he's cross-legged on a stack of drop cloths, though, he can tuck his feet between calf and thigh to warm them. With Oscar piled on top of everything, he knows he’ll be fine.

~

"Ahh!" Both of them yell as Loki sneaks up on Thor - lost in concentration, rag in one hand and toothbrush in the other, busy working decades of grime out from around the tiny mother-of-pearl-inlaid buttons that control Lifty's lighting - and slips a couple of ice-cold fingers down the back of his sweatshirt: Thor from sheer surprise and Loki from the resulting violent (over)reaction.

"Shit," Loki pants, laughing. "You scared me."

"Oh, like this was my fault somehow. Sorry, buddy," Thor offers to the glaring, fluffed up cat huddled in the far corner of the elevator car. "Your daddy's having problems with his Christmas spirit." He's all jangly with adrenaline himself. His heart hammers in his chest. Still, try as he might he can't keep himself from grinning.

Loki squats next to him and winks. "Isn't Christmas about all giving?"

Thor grabs for Loki. "I'll be giving you a spanking," he warns. He doesn't deliver on his threat, though. It’s Christmas. He pulls Loki close for kisses instead.

~

"So why do you always turn me down?" Loki swirls a thick stream of shop-made local fudge sauce into his coffee with the long end of a candy cane. "I mean, when I ask you to fuck me."

Thor inhales a little of his own coffee and starts sputtering and coughing. "You want to talk about that on Christmas morning?" He clears his throat again as Loki goes still. "I'm sorry. I just meant-."

"You're not interested. Not that way." Loki sets the mug down. "Fine. I get it."

No no no. No. They are not fighting on a holiday morning. Not even if it is nearly afternoon. Thor takes an experimental deep breath and has to cough again. "No, I am. Interested, that is. I just- I don't want to hurt you." To hurt us, he doesn't add, because he’s trying to stop the impending argument from happening.

Loki huffs. "I'm ace, Thor. I'm not a fragile little trinket you have to handle with special care. Fuck, Thor. I’m as strong as you are. That's just stupid."

"Not what I meant." Thor takes another sip of coffee, to buy enough time to frame his thoughts halfway properly. "I don't want to put you in a situation where you feel obligated. Pressured. That's not how I want to treat you."

Loki smiles, but it's all teeth. Two spots of red dot his cheeks. "No," he says sharply. "I'm the one offering, remember?"

"But you're always drunk," Thor blurts out. His face feels hot and tight. "Whenever you ask me."

For an instant Loki looks nakedly, genuinely startled. He opens his mouth and closes it, shaking his head. "Seriously? That’s all? You would do it if I asked you sober?"

"Mm." Thor thinks for a moment. Any longer and Loki will be back on the offensive defensive. "I think so. Yeah. I'd be a whole lot more likely to consider it. And do it," he adds as Loki frowns, “under those circumstances.”

"There's always a catch," Loki grumbles. He shrugs. "Because I can really only do it when I'm hammered."

"Oh." Thor gets that, he thinks he does. His own experience hasn't been any different. All the same he feels- sad. Sorry. "That sucks, kinda."

"It’s fine," Loki says. "I just relax better. I'm not all up in my head thinking." He hefts his cup and rolls a mouthful of chocolaty coffee around in his mouth. "Wait." He smiles again, expression sly this time. "Hey, if I ask you when I'm sober, will you do me when I'm lit?"

"Maybe?" That’s a loophole Thor hasn't even considered. He looks away. "I- I don't think I know how, though. Not really." He's never gone at it right, that's for certain.

"You're the PhD candidate," Loki jabs. "I'm sure you can figure it out."

"If you hate it will you promise not to ask again?" Thor looks at Loki; Loki’s conveniently busy stirring more minty white-and-red candy into his beverage.

"Why don't we cross that bridge when we come to it?”

Thor takes another sip of coffee. As much as it feels good to hide behind semantics, he doesn’t want any misunderstandings. “So,” he says as evenly as he can, “was this you asking? Or should I just file the whole conversation away for future reference?”

Loki sits up straight and squares his shoulders. Thor struggles not to visibly flinch. “Thor,” Loki starts. He sounds tired. Tired of this, probably. “I want us to have sex. I know you say it’s not important to you, and maybe it never will be, but if the way you feel about that changes I want to be sure what I can give you will- will satisfy you? Be enough for you? Whatever. I don’t want you to look back someday, long after we’re far too committed to just back our respective ways out undamaged, and regret what you’ve signed yourself up for.” He wilts slightly. “I just want to be sure you’re okay with it. Is that so bad?”

They’re long past the point where there’s going to be any backing out undamaged. Thor studies Loki’s face. “Do you want to have sex with me?”

“Jesus, Thor. Are you deaf?” Loki slams his mug down. Coffee-chocolate sloshes up over the rim and down the outside to form a slowly spreading moat on the table. “Is this your everyday normal? Did you stop to question the motives of everyone else you’ve fucked this way, I mean?” His voice wavers; he pauses to clear his throat. “Did each one of your shower stall flings start off with a fucking quiz about feelings? Somehow I don’t think so.”

Loki’s shouting. Thor sets his own mug down, carefully, and rests his head in his hands. “No, of course not,” he tells the table. “But this is different. You’re different. Like I said, I don’t want to hurt you. Look, I’m sorry I’m being weird about it. I- I guess I don’t know what to do.”

“Okay,” Loki says, at more normal volume. “I promise I’ll tell you if it’s not okay.” He reaches out to tug gently at Thor’s wrists. Thor lets both hands be pulled away and then fake-collapses onto the table. “Oh no you don’t. Get up. Stop it.” Loki swats at his head. “I’m trying to be- this is serious.”

“I know.” Thor sits back up with a groan. He’s not sure if he wants to laugh or cry. Both, maybe. “I don’t mean to be so screwed-up about it.” He doesn’t. He’s probably making problems where there aren’t any. Not that that’s ever happened before. “Okay, fine,” he tries. He takes a deep breath, because the only way this is going to get said is if he lets it all tumble out in a rush. “If you want to have sex and we’re not too drunk to be reasonable and careful, I won’t argue with you… but it doesn’t need to become a regular thing, and I don’t ever want you to feel like you have to.” There. “Why is this so fucking hard?”

“You’re too nice,” Loki says.

Thor shakes his head. “No, never. Here, let me get something to clean that up.” He nods towards the ring of brown surrounding Loki’s mug. “This wasn’t a very festive conversation. I’m sorry.”

Loki looks up as Thor walks to the sink and runs the water, waiting for it to warm up enough to be useful. “Why are you apologizing? I’m the one who started it.” He takes Thor’s offered wet paper towel. “Thanks. I didn’t mean to get into an argument.”

Thor makes himself smile. He doesn’t want either of them spending the holiday upset, with one another or in general. “I honestly don’t know why this particular topic is so difficult.”

“Sex?” Loki shrugs as Thor nods. “We don’t follow the usual rules, so whenever we try to fall back on assumptions things get- they go off the rails, I guess. And don’t make the assumptions joke,” he warns as Thor smiles for real. “Just don’t.” He squeezes the paper towel into a ball and threatens to hurl it at Thor’s chest. “Do not. Seriously. Don’t make me hurt you.”

“Assuming makes an ass-,” is all Thor manages to get out before Loki gets him right over the sternum with a wet plop.

Chasing ensues. When he pins Loki against the wall, both of them panting and laughing, Thor mouths the side of Loki’s neck wetly just to feel Loki shiver. “We don’t have to do it right now, do we? Because I’d rather go for a walk in the snow. With you,” he clarifies. He doesn’t want it to sound like he’s looking for ways to escape.

He can feel Loki’s laugh all up and down his front. “No,” Loki admits, “we don’t. It’s way too early for day-drinking.”

~

They bundle up against the wintery weather and amble through their neighborhood, enjoying the winter scenery and the pleasant lack of traffic. There aren’t many people out and about but the few they do see are friendly and cheerful. Driveways are packed with cars, and every now and then they can already smell wonderful things baking. Nothing is open.

Thor likes it that that everything here stops for a day.

“Let’s make soup for dinner,” he suggests as they window-shop their way past some of the closed stores. They’re driving to the farm tomorrow afternoon; it’s a good way to do something warm and relaxing, and avoid having to throw much food out to boot. “We can freeze whatever we don’t eat, or have it for lunch before we leave tomorrow.”

Loki nods. “Mm. I didn’t really feel like Chinese this year anyway.”

It hadn’t really hit Thor that he might be screwing up Loki’s normal celebration. “I don’t mean to ruin your holiday,” he says, which isn’t quite how he meant it to come out. “I mean-…”

“Shh.” Loki stops him with a fluffy black mitten, wooly-scented and damp from the snow. “You haven’t. You aren’t. I think I like your way better anyway.”

Chapter Text

Thor splashes his face with not-yet-warmed-up water and grimaces at his own reflection. He's up too early for what’s going to be the start of their vacation, but the store will be open before 9:00 AM and he knows everything needs to be extra-extra-ready to leave on its own before Loki will feel comfortable departing. In prior years there would have been absolutely no prying Loki away before New Year's, but now Darcy and Amora have Ian to help them. That, and this year's crop of students and other young workers is an especially fine one.

Even so, not abandoning anyone unprepared is very important to Loki and that makes it just as important to Thor… enough so that he's up well before dawn to whip everything into shape in the stockroom. Loki and Darcy will take care of the first wave of returns - they get far more than normal after the holidays because gift shopping draws in lots of non-regulars - and then hand out what Loki calls the "pay off your charge bill" post-holiday bonuses.

Once things are as settled as possible, Thor and Loki will be gulping down a quick lunch, throwing their stuff into the car (or the van; they're still debating who's going to do the bulk of the driving), giving Oscar lots of goodbye smooches... and hitting the road. They plan to be at the farm for a late dinner. The re-festivities will be a day or two later, when there's no risk of the weather screwing with anything. And then they're pretty much turning straight around and coming back up here.

Grading and schoolwork serve as handy excuses, whereas not wanting to venture out to the surf line without Sif in town is Thor’s real reason. If things aren’t going to be the way they always have been – and this year they simply can’t be - he wants a change of scenery. He and Loki can watch some of the city fireworks from their roof if they feel the need for festivities. If not, they can cozy up together inside and fall into bed whenever they want to.

In other words, their plans are all up in the air. Normally that leaves both of them stressed and on edge. This year, though, it feels like the right thing somehow.

~

"Take good care of Captain Hairball," Thor teases Darcy as he stops in the office after loading the last of their bags into the van. Now that the time has come Loki's especially adamant about driving. It's not worth a fight; Thor knows he can always use one of the trucks while they're visiting his family. He hugs Darcy goodbye, then does the same to Ian. "I'll miss you. We both will."

Darcy laughs. "You'll be gone five days, silly. I don't think you'll even have time to think about us."

It is kind of silly. In the past he's been away from the store for weeks at a time. The more he's home, though, the less he feels good about leaving.

~

While Loki drives, Thor does some homework. Not the kind he should be doing, either: largely thanks to Loki’s challenge, he’s busily researching how to tackle anal sex the right way. His findings are not particularly encouraging, either. The more he reads the more he realizes that his own experience – be it the drunken, shampoo-and-conditioner-lubed shower quickies or the usual cornucopia of Internet porn - is completely useless.

First there's training into the main course with toys. Starting small, learning how to relax and bear down and not fight it. After that, there’s so much foreplay. And the ridiculous prep beforehand... skipping meals, laxatives, douches or enemas. It's a two-day project once you're finally finished "training," and it sounds about as erotic as getting ready for a colonoscopy. Once the sex finally starts things don’t sound much better: Special greasy, cushioning lube. Risk of injury. Dripping ejaculate. Yum.

Not.

All that for something he's not all that interested in. Something Loki views as a test to be passed. An obligation.

It's not anything he wants to put his own body through, and it’s certainly nothing he can imagine wishing on Loki.

"Did you ever, um, penetrate one of the guys you dated?"

Loki jumps. The van jerks a little. They both laugh it off like it's nothing. "What?" Loki laughs again, breathless and kind of raw. "Where the fuck - the literal fuck - did that come from?"

"Inside my head." Thor shifts uncomfortably. It's easier to talk in the car, when they don't have to make eye contact. Easier, though, is definitely not the same as easy. "Well? Did you?"

"No," Loki says. "Okay, yes, I tried sticking it in a girl once. To see if I was really gay. And afterwards I was so freaked out I spent half an hour dry-heaving. I was just a kid, though. Not even really all the way into puberty. And after that she wouldn't speak to me."

"That sucks," Thor says. His heart breaks for little, sad, misunderstood Loki. Still, it's press on or lose his nerve. "Never one of the men you slept with?"

"Yeah, no." Loki's grip on the wheel tightens. "That wasn't ever what they wanted from me. Plus, you know what happens…. when I'm drunk enough to fake it my- my performance suffers. I may be ace, but I'm still too proud to stomach failure."

"The whole business sounds like an awful lot of work, all the way around," Thor chances. "Hey, eyes on the road," he orders as Loki makes a sudden grab for his phone.

"What the hell are you reading?"

Thor jams the phone into his right front pocket, out of Loki’s reach. "Skipped meals,” he recites from memory. “Enemas. Industrial strength lube. Doing it right sounds like a major project.”

"I don't know about that," Loki says, drily. "Not eating, sure. But after that they just pinned me down and pounded me."

"That's awful." Thor clears his throat. "Who would want to do that to you?"

"What, hurt me? Humiliate me? Put me in my place? Plenty of guys, apparently. You know, kind of like you and rugby?"

Rugby hadn't been like that, though. It had been laughter and backslaps and drunken shenanigans. At least that's how it had felt for him. For the first time, Thor wonders if it was really that way for everybody.

Wonders, and feels a little sick.

"I guess they didn't think I was worth the work," Loki adds when Thor doesn’t answer.

"Sounds more like anal isn't worth the work," Thor says instead. He hates the idea of someone carelessly using Loki. That, and the idea that he might have similarly used somebody.

Loki snorts. "I suppose it’s worth it if you like it better."

Thor shakes his head. "I guess I just don't like it enough, then." There are so many other ways to get off, ways that don't have to mean hurting someone… or taking advantage. "If I come up with - what would it be, plan C? – instead will you accept it?"

"I don't know," Loki says. "Let’s see what C is. And then… can I think about it?"

"Sure," Thor says when he really means "I promise you won’t need to bother."

He doesn’t want to read about sex anymore. By the time Loki’s yawning and it’s time to switch drivers, Thor’s actually gotten several exams graded.

~

“It’s almost more fun this way,” Frigga tells the two of them as Loki and Thor peel sweet potatoes. “I mean, think about it: everyone else is all sad because nothing’s as over as Christmas and here we are gearing up for a whole new celebration.”

Thor flicks a long strip of red-brown skin onto the linoleum and has to stop and retrieve it. The floor is such a long way down. “So what are we going to call it?”

“Bagging Day,” Loki deadpans. “What? ‘Boxing Day’ is already taken.”

“Get back to work,” Frigga admonishes them as they laugh and shove. “At this rate we’ll be calling dinner breakfast.”

~

Nan and Baldr show up just after the ham gets its third glazing, Baldr with two bottles of wine and Nan with a basket of fresh, hot rolls wrapped in dishtowels. Thor’s heard that his brother and Nan have set up house in what used to be the foreman’s quarters, back when neither transportation nor agriculture was what it is today and staff was expected to be in residence. The simple house is just past the main barn: easy walking distance. Rumor has it they’ll be getting married this coming fall, after that bulk of the year’s harvest is over. Thor’d panicked briefly when his mother had told him; after so many years of being in school it’s hard for him to get his own head around the fact that, by then, it will no longer be awful timing. Once May comes he can just up and visit whenever he needs to.

“They look happy,” Loki whispers into Thor’s left ear. His lips are warm and soft; Thor wants to kiss him.

“Whatever they have, they’re making it work,” Thor says, nearly as softly. “I don’t think we should be assuming anything.”

Loki shakes his head. “It’s just- odd.”

“Right,” Thor teases. “Because you and I- we’re so damned normal?”

~

Dinner is wonderful but Loki seems lost in thought and Thor can’t stop dwelling on it. He does his best to look interested as Nan and Odin talk about replacing one of the big tractors come spring, and manages to unobtrusively field most of his mother’s questions about Heart’s Desire’s nicely successful holiday season, but every glance he sneaks at Loki – who’s only smiling when someone’s looking and pushing food around the plate more than actually eating – leaves him that much more concerned. It’s not a big enough crowd, though; he can’t ask what’s wrong without drawing everyone else’s wholly-unwanted attention.

It’s bound to be hours before Thor can catch Loki alone.

After they finish eating Nan volunteers for cleanup duty – “you guys and Frigga did most of the cooking,” she points out. “It’s only fair” – and Loki immediately offers to dry. Then, once the kitchen’s put back together, everyone collects in the den for another glass of wine and more conversation. Odin hauls out the photo albums and, with ample help from Frigga, tells stories of holidays past: long ago, when the boys were young and Odin and Frigga were barely older than Nan or Baldr.

All in all it should be a pleasant way to spend the evening. The reminiscing is gentle and sweet, the stories cute and funny rather than mean or teasing. The wine is good. Odin has a fire going. Everyone is relaxed and a little sleepy. Loki’s back to smiling.

Even so, Thor can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t the way it should be.

~

“I don’t belong here,” Loki says as the bathroom door latches behind them. “Everyone is nice about it, sure, but I simply don’t fit in.”

Oh. Thor frowns at Loki’s reflection in the medicine cabinet’s mirrored front. “Neither do I, Lo,” he says softly. “That’s part of why I chose not to move back to the farm.” It’s not the biggest reason, no. That doesn’t make it any less true.

“You were happy here,” Loki counters. “All those pictures. Two cute, smiling toddlers. Two cute, smiling boys. Football in the side yard. Proms and graduations. All those parties.”

“It was a nice place to grow up,” Thor concedes. This isn’t one of his favorite topics, not with the sketchy details of Loki’s own childhood hanging over them. “That doesn’t mean I want to spend my life here.” He sets the toothpaste down and dries his hands on his bath towel out of long habit; Frigga never liked dirty little hands on the good towels, and using an old one always made more sense to Thor’s childish mind than did scrubbing his fingers and palms more thoroughly. “Come here,” he suggests, bracing against the door before hooking one arm around Loki and pulling. “Please. Let me kiss you.”

Loki tastes of wine and, under that, salt and scallions. Thor’s tired of the rollercoaster emotions… he pushes more than usual, taking everything Loki will give him. “I love you,” he says when they’ve caught their breath. “I love our life together. I’m not leaving. I’m not coming back to the farm. I’m not finding a person who wants me to fuck him. You.” He kisses the tip of Loki’s nose, then the lone tear making its way down Loki’s cheek. “I love you. I want to be with you. And you know what?” He cups Loki’s face in his hands. “I’m not going to ask if you believe me. I know you have lots of good reasons to be cautious and doubtful. All I can do is show you.”

Convincing delivery or no, Thor’s afraid. He holds his breath until Loki tries to wriggle free, and then has to force himself to let go.

“Can we not have sex tonight?” Loki’s obviously working hard to keep a straight face, but he’s just as clearly joking and a little smile sneaks out anyway.

Thor feels a good chunk of the weight of the world lift off his shoulders. “Oh, thank god,” he exclaims, mostly kidding. “I thought you would never ask.” He tucks a wayward curl behind Loki’s ear. “Seriously, yes, I just want to curl up together and sleep. And it’s not because I’ve lost interest or whatever it is you’re worrying about now. It’s been a long day, and I’m tired. Of being awake, not of you.”

“You’re too nice,” Loki says. He elbows Thor and snatches up the toothpaste.

“Nah,” Thor says. He holds out his own toothbrush for Loki to daub. “You’re worth it.”

“Sentimental fool,” Loki grumbles through a mouthful of foam.

“Whatever,” Thor says, still smiling to himself. It may be a long road, but he’s starting to think they may make it.

Chapter Text

On New Year's Eve Loki sends the behind-the scenes stocking and shipping crew home early after assuring them they’ll all be paid through the end of their normal workday. The store proper had closed at lunchtime, and he warns the last few employees that they need to get going sooner rather than later; he wants them safe at home before anyone's out drinking and driving. Truth be told Thor thinks he just wants to get on with his own private holiday. Calling Loki on something he doesn't want to discuss never ends well, though. Thor knows that, and doesn’t.

Instead he puts everything away neatly and locks up the stockroom. Loki and Darcy had secured up the store earlier, but out of (new) habit he goes down and checks on everything anyway: the doors, the alarm, the loading dock. Something small scurries off into the darkness as he flicks the dock lights on. They’ve been talking about adopting a feral cat for pest control now that Oscar spends most of his life upstairs. Maybe this is the time to do it. “Enjoy it while you can,” he tells the apparently-not-quite-empty dock. “Um, Happy New Year?”

~

The people who make up their neighborhood - Loki's fellow shop-owners, their tenants – have decided to have a potluck New Year's cocktail party. The street has been buzzing about it for weeks now. Post-gathering some will walk down to the river to join in the festivities and others will head to french balconies or rooftops to catch at least part of the fun without any of the crowds to contend with. A few aren't into the holiday at all and plan to watch a movie or read before turning in early. Because he and Loki will be going with the roof approach - Loki, especially, can be a bit weird in a crowd but neither of them wants to miss out entirely - Thor heads upstairs with a snow shovel to clear space and then pulls the summer chairs and side tables out of storage.

It's supposed to be a really cold, clear evening. Too cold for snow, perfect for viewing. They'll have hot drinks and hand-warmers and heavy woolen throws; Thor's really looking forward to it. He loves the festive holiday lights. The city's always the better for them.

Loki's in the kitchen assembling what will soon be baked, stuffed mushrooms. Everyone is supposed to bring an appetizer to pass and whatever - alcoholic or no - he, she, or they feel(s) like drinking. Sharing is fine, clinging tightly to your own stuff is fine too; the whole point of the event is to enjoy a little bit of neighborly company. Since the break-in everyone has been- friendlier, somehow. As much as it sucked - still sucks, sometimes, e.g., when Loki has a nightmare and spends the next two weeks ridiculously militant about security - Thor's grateful for the newfound sense of community. Their block feels more like home: safe and friendly. Good for business. Good for tenants and stores alike. A nice place for friends, customers, and family.

"Those look tasty." Thor comes up behind Loki and wraps him in a tight hug. The stuffing smells garlicky and rich. Thor's always amazed at how thoroughly portabella mushrooms evoke the taste, look, and dense chewiness of good beef. They weren't popular at the shore, not years ago at least. It wasn't until coming up here that he really learned to enjoy them.

He smiles against the softly stubbled side of Loki's head. All in all this city has gifted him so many nice, new experiences. "I love you."

"Even like this?" Loki holds up fingers and thumbs gooey with stuffing. He snuggles back against Thor’s chest and belly. "Personally I think I'm pretty disgusting."

Pretty, yes. Thor touches the tip of his tongue to Loki's cheekbone. "I can clean them off for you. Kidding," he grunts as Loki's elbow catches him in the ribs. "You know I wouldn't dare."

"I love you, too." Loki sighs and digs both hands back into the bowl. Considering how easily squicked he is, Loki is always surprisingly hands-on when he's cooking. "I'm just- I don’t know. I feel like you're missing your favorite holiday because of me."

Thor presses a gentle kiss where his tongue had just been. "It was my idea, remember? Plus, I don't see it that way. I'm spending my favorite holiday with you." He takes a deep breath. For Loki to feel okay about it, Thor knows he probably needs to be more forthcoming. "Everyone's moved on, Lo. The old childhood traditions are- they aren't the same. I'm happy for everyone. Feeling sad about losing ‘my’ New Year's at the beach isn't a great way to keep that in mind, you know? I’d rather move on. Move forward."

"Mm. I kind of miss Sif too," Loki says. He scoops up a mound of sticky stuffing using an even-stickier-looking spoon and tucks it neatly into the first mushroom cap. "I liked hanging out with her. And dancing."

Sif and Thor do still talk regularly, although his fears are gradually coming true as they each find their own lives more and more absorbing. He tries his best to keep in mind that this is good and right and normal. That it doesn't mean either of them cares any less. That it isn't about friendships ceasing to matter. "She enjoyed it too," he tells Loki. Oddly enough, these days his mood usually improves when he's generous with his feelings. "Maybe after I graduate we can go out there and visit her."

"Not until your dissertation is done," Loki warns. "And in case that's not abundantly clear: yes, I most certainly am nagging you."

Thor's made better progress than he dares let on... if he keeps it up he will actually be finished with the work and ready to defend before the end of the semester. He likes a little nagging, though; it makes him feel supported. "Oh, I know," he says. "Don't think I don't live for it."

Loki wriggles. He's so quick at this; even with all the talking he's already setting down the first of a second full row of mushrooms. "See?" He smirks sideways at Thor. "You really are crazy."

"I'm going to wash up," Thor says. He's completely thawed out from shoveling, and the combination of warm Loki and warm oven is starting to make him dangerously sleepy. "Anything I can do to help out first?"

"I'm set," Loki says. He wipes his hands on a wadded paper towel and dips out a half-ladleful of mulling wine. "Just tell me if this is too spicy."

The wine is really good, the very essence of winter. It has just the right amount of bite to it. "Mm," Thor hums happily. He takes another sip and rolls it around on his tongue. "Not at all," he assures Loki. "No surprise here, but it's perfect."

~

The neighborhood gathering is a nice party, not least of all because it’s early. Now that he has something to come home to, Thor likes going out better when he knows he’ll have some quiet time afterwards: time to unwind, to recharge his batteries, to spend alone with just Oscar and Loki. Any given event feels less like a chore when it’s accompanied by the promise of nice things to follow. And the food is uniformly wonderful. In addition to the variety of lovely homemade treats there are high-end commercial samples; Lily (the owner of the cooking store at the other end of their block, one of both Loki’s and Amora’s favorites) is toying with the idea of following in the footsteps of some of her biggest online competitors by adding a few fine consumables to her kitchenware options. If the hors d’oeuvres she’s brought are in any way representative, Thor thinks, she’s really onto something.

Of course he may have to up his weekly running by at least 25% - and talk Loki into giving him a raise - to compensate for how much of her stock he’ll be eating. Or not; the tenants huddled around the stockpot of mulled wine are talking about starting an urban hiking club, complete with those vintage rubber-tipped poles that were all the rage a decade ago but have long since fallen out of favor. Thor happily joins in the discussion; he can solve two problems at once – burning off all that deliciousness, and keeping up his fitness routine post-graduation when he won’t be down at campus nearly as regularly - by partnering with them. That, and it’s neighborly. Happy tenants make the block, just as much as good stores do.

~

Loki and Thor walk back to Heart’s Desire hand-in-hand, too full to bother with dinner and pleasantly buzzed. Thor is warm and Loki is cheerful and around them the snow is crisp and white.

It’s yet another thing that’s just the way Thor likes it.

~

“You taste delicious,” Loki says, leaning in for another long kiss. “What is that?”

Thor kisses back enthusiastically. “Probably,” he mumbles around Loki’s tongue, “Lily’s crackers.” He pulls free of Loki’s mouth to slide his own lips along the ridge of Loki’s jaw. “They were the last thing I- ahh!”

Loki laughs breathlessly against Thor’s ear and licks into it again, leaving Thor writhing helplessly. “You like that?” He pushes back until they’re nose to nose. “Let’s get drunk. DrunkER. I want to- to do something.”

They’re already more than a little tipsy, Thor thinks. It’s still hours until midnight. Wise or no, his body is very interested in whatever Loki might be selling. He swallows down a little thrill of fear. “Yeah, okay,” he says. “I’ll get the prosecco.”

The better part of two glasses each later they’re naked in bed and kissing frantically. Thor isn’t quite sure where his clothes are. “You’re not going to back out on me yet again, are you?” Loki hiccups. “You promised, remember?”

Thor bites Loki’s collarbone just hard enough to redden the skin and laughs when Loki squeals. “I remember. You win, Lo. As long as it doesn’t involve either of us getting hurt, I’m up for it.” He rolls partially free and takes another big gulp of his prosecco. He really hopes they don’t regret this – any of it – in the morning. “But if you want to stop, just-.”

“Shut up, Thor.” Loki giggles and then can’t stop laughing.

“Shh,” Thor tells him. “It’s going to be fine.”

Partly because he thinks Loki will like it, but more (mostly) because it’s guaranteed to keep either of them from reneging on (what feels a little too much more like his than) their agreement, Thor maneuvers flailing, giggling Loki around until they’re more or less crosswise on the bed with their heads pointing off in opposite directions. He noses around in the warm, musky curls at the base of Loki’s penis as Loki’s laughter ebbs and flows. He can feel Loki’s hot breath across his own inner thighs, Loki’s cool fingers tracing the curve of one hip. “Shh,” he says again. “Relax. Just go with it.” Humming to cover his nerves, he takes Loki into his mouth and sucks gently.

Loki goes rigid, but it’s only a couple of seconds later that he’s doing the same.

Thor can’t do his best work this way. Everything is upside down, and he can’t get his tongue where he really wants it. He has to do a lot of making up for his mouth with his hand. All of that’s quickly lost, though, in the heady rush of being so completely surrounded by Loki: the smells, the taste, the hot mouth on his own dick. The soft grunts and tiny moans. The way the two of them are tensing and rocking together.

At the end he has to shove Loki roughly off and finish into his own hand, just as Loki ejaculates across his neck and cheek.

“Ow,” Loki grumbles as they both lie there panting. “That’s going to leave a mark.”

“Oh, stop,” Thor tells him. “If I came in your mouth you would never forgive me.”

“Mm.” Loki laughs. The good kind, not hurt sounding or angry. “You can’t win for losing around me, can you?

Thor smiles up at the ceiling. He needs a tissue. Or five. There’s stuff trickling everywhere. “Oh, I think I did win, actually.” He doesn’t ask if they’re okay. He isn’t sure he even needs to.

~

They can’t see as much of the fireworks as they’d hoped – the bigger buildings downtown block all but the highest bursts – and they opt for straight cocoa over the planned alcohol-laced concoctions, but it’s all okay. Better than okay. Loki cuddles up against Thor, blanket tucked chin-high, and “oooooh… ahhhh…”s with every whoosh and explosion.

“Happy New Year, Lo,” Thor whispers into Loki’s hair as the finale’s last cracks and booms fade away and the crowd starts cheering. It’s not like standing at the beach, no, but this could actually be better. “I hope it’s a good one.”

“Mm,” Loki hums against Thor’s chest. “I think it might be.”

Chapter Text

As the calendar turns over - and he dives into his first year wholly away from the farm - Thor renews his private vow to learn to see these northerly seasons differently. There’s much more variety here than he’s used to, and he knows needs to find the good in all of it. If life is kind he will be here a long, long time. There’s nothing to be gained by wishing the days away… or by steadfastly refusing to be made happy.

Winter – all his life the time of death and darkness – poses the first, biggest challenge.

Thor does his best to let Loki's own love of cold weather spill over onto him and Loki seems happy to oblige. The two of them make a concerted effort to carve out tiny chunks of their busy schedules; by mid-January they’re walking to the local rink a couple of times a week and skating together again. And while it’s no longer novel, in some ways their small ritual feels even nicer than it did before… with nothing left to prove Loki is finally content to simply hold hands as they circle the rink, to the accompaniment of gentle conversation and sickly-sweet poppy classics.

The good ideas don’t stop there, either. Loki and Thor buy cheap plastic sleds and head out to one of the county parks whenever it's good and snowy. And almost every weekend they return to the conservatory. They’ve learned their lesson: these days they start right off with the tiny quails, rather than wasting precious moments fighting.

It’s an approach they try to apply to the rest of their lives, too. They’re getting increasingly good at it…

…most of the time.

Definitely not always.

~

"All you do is study." Loki frowns at Thor over the top of the laptop. "I'm bored. You're boring."

Thor sighs. He's bored too. But dissertations don't write themselves and with everything else that’s going on he doesn't want to get behind on his aggressive schedule. He's told Loki he intends to finish by May. They've both been looking forward to it, to enjoying a summer of relative freedom. "Stop already," he says as Loki continues to grumble and sputter. "We've talked about this. Neither one of us will be the least bit pleased if I’m still writing after graduation."

Loki resorts to some particularly impressive pouting. Normally it works - he's good at it, very good - but Thor's been on a roll and is determined to make it to today's target. "Only four more pages and I'm all yours, Lo. Please?" Just a little more work and they can focus on pleasure. Plus, deep down, he’s feeling a little stubborn. He’s in a groove. He doesn’t like being interrupted.

"But I'm bored now," Loki complains, closing the laptop on Thor's fingers.

The day had already been starting to feel long. Suddenly it's getting longer by the second. "Okay, you're bored," Thor agrees, not very sweetly. "You lived alone for years. Don't tell me you can't find some way to amuse yourself while I finish my last few pages." He can hear the strain in his own voice. He's tired. Frustrated. At risk of losing control of his temper, maybe. "Whatever did you do without me?"

"A whole lot less fucking laundry," Loki snaps. Which is true, yes, but also patently unfair; every time Thor offers to help with their clothes – not to mention the sheets or towels - Loki insists on doing all of it solo. "And a lot fewer dishes."

"Oh, that’s just bullshit." Thor glares at Loki. "You know I wash almost all the dishes." He pushes the laptop's screen back into position. "I’m not screwing around here. Just let me finish this and then we can-."

"You're only with me because it's convenient."

Thor knows he's being baited. Knows it in his very bones, and knows the price he’ll likely pay for stooping. Still, he's drained and sick of school and he just doesn't need this crap from- from anybody. "It's not particularly convenient right now, I've gotta tell you," he says under his breath. "In fact, it's kind of annoying."

A bright flush rises in Loki's cheeks. His lips settle into a thin, hard line. "Fine," he says. "You're free to go, then. I'm serious, too," he goes on as Thor tries in vain to ignore the whole mess and get back to reading. "Get out. Consider yourself no longer welcome."

Thor shuts his eyes against the hot sting of equally unwelcome tears. He gets to his feet with a grunt and starts collecting his books and laptop. Hopefully the office is far enough, because he really wants to get this done and outside the building it's snowing. He marches past Loki and pulls the door closed (softly, because he’s already tired of this fight and there’s nothing to be gained by inciting open warfare) behind him.

The office is nice and quiet, but his nerves are shot. Even with his favorite headphones on, it takes him quite a while to calm down and get back to writing.

~

It's almost past time to start thinking about dinner when Thor finally finishes. He's made great progress, though; not just what he'd planned for today, but also everything he'd hoped to accomplish tomorrow. He's hungry. And thirsty. And cheerful again, surprisingly. He can only hope that (Loki's own bout of temper has worn off and) he has been forgiven.

Just in case he hasn’t been, though, he stacks his textbooks on the desk and locks his laptop in the safe. Better to come back upstairs empty-handed.

It isn't until he gets to the top of the stairs that his brain processes the fact that the alarm is on.

Shit. did you go out, he texts Loki, and then where are you?

Nothing.

Loki’s phone rings to voicemail.

Thor races back down the stairs, turns off the alarm, and yanks the back door open. There's a foot of snow on the steps, broken only by footprints. The van is by the dock and his car’s by the dumpster, everything shrouded in mounds of white. Shit shit. He dials Loki four more times, all the while praying aloud to whatever might be out there that he’ll eventually get through to somebody.

"Oh thank goodness," Thor breathes as Loki says "hm?" "It's late. It's cold. Where are you?"

"Are you sorry yet?" Loki sounds distant and slurred. There's a lot of noise in the background. Laughter. Voices. Glassware clinking.

Bar, probably. At least Loki is indoors. Thor struggles to focus his racing mind. It isn't easy. "Of course," he says. He's been sorry since the beginning. Nearly. "Put the bartender on, baby."

"I'll come get him,” Thor tells the man he’s passed off to. “I can head out now. Where am I going?"

The restaurant is about a mile away. Loki must be soggy, not to mention half-frozen. Thor grabs two coats and a packing blanket from the rack in the dock and heads out into the snow to get his car unburied.

~

It's kind of late for a nondescript winter weekday. This particular bar is the Hot New Thing, though, and – looking in the windows - it’s still jam-packed for happy hour. Thor can't begin to imagine why Loki might have chosen this place over all the others. Especially since he walked by plenty of perfectly nice alternatives on the way over.

The parking lot is as full as the bar, meaning Thor has to circle and circle.

~

The hostess looks him up and down. Thor is prepared for a day of homework, not for dinner; to say he’s underdressed is the grossest of gross understatements. She’s probably never had anyone show up in flannel pajama pants and a ratty old field coat before. "I'm told you have something here that belongs to me," he tells her, trying for what he knows is his most endearing crinkly-eyed, megawatt smile. "A- a friend who needs to go home. Badly."

"Ah. Yes.” She signals the manager. "This gentleman here will help you."

"I'm so sorry," Thor says pleasantly, still smiling. "How much does he owe you?"

He has to fight not to choke when he hears the figure. "He never does go half-out," he jokes as he hands over his credit card. He isn’t carrying enough cash to accommodate that kind of balance. "Now,” he says as he signs the slip, “let me get both of us out of your hair. Where can I find him?"

The manager directs Thor toward the bathrooms. He picks his way through the thick crowd at the bar and pushes the door marked Men open carefully. “Lo?”

“Mmph?”

“You okay?” Loki isn’t at the sink, or the urinal. The stall door is wide open.

“I’m thad,” Loki howls from inside the stall. Thor steels himself for the worst and steps into the narrow doorway.

“Shh,” he soothes. Loki is sitting half on, half off the toilet, fully dressed and slumped against the marble divider. “You don’t need to shout. I’m right here. Why don’t you give me that before you drop it,” he suggests, reaching for the champagne bottle dangling from Loki’s fingers. There’s at most an inch of liquid sloshing around inside. “Thank you,” he says as Loki lets him take hold of the sticky neck. “Did you share this with friends, or keep it all for yourself?”

“Thith one or thothers?” Loki hiccups. “Whachoo think? I don’t thare.”

Thor laughs. “That you don’t. Or skimp on luxury, from the looks of it.”

Loki frowns. He blinks up at Thor, face wet with tears. He’s shaking. “I’m worth it,” he says, enunciating very carefully and clearly.

“That you are,” Thor agrees, any last fight long since gone out of him. He should have grabbed a snack. It looks like dinner isn’t going to be happening. “Can you stand for me? Let’s get you home.”

There’s no way they’ll make it back through the crowd. Thor opts for the exit closest to the men’s room. Of course, it sets off the alarm. Oh well. Right this moment, he figures, that’s the least of their problems.

~

Getting back to the apartment takes a whole lot longer than it ought to.

The restaurant parking lot is slippery and only partially plowed; while Thor (in sturdy boots) had been easily able to navigate it alone, Loki hadn’t bothered to dress for the weather. Thor can’t fathom how he made it here. Now, his flat-soled shoes are worthless on the ice and there’s no way to prop him up reliably enough to go get the car and circle back for him. That, and it’s far too cold an evening to leave him standing anywhere in just slacks and a button-down. If he’d worn a coat, which Thor likes to think he must have, it’s still inside somewhere. They can straighten that out another day, once Loki’s sobered up and they’ve had a chance to take inventory.

He’s heavy and uncoordinated and Thor ends up mostly carrying him as they pick their way across the messy asphalt.

“Just sit,” Thor insists, for the third or fourth time, as Loki clings to his neck in terror. “I’ll swing your feet in for you. And I won’t let you fall. I promise.” He push-tugs more forcefully at Loki’s coat-and-blanket-wrapped hips, trying to brute-force shove everything into the car. “Come on. Let go of me. You’re freezing.”

Once he finally gets Loki situated – belted in, door closed – Thor hurries around the car to slide into his own seat and the engine started. He turns the music off and jacks the heat up as far as it will go. “Put your hands up here,” he orders Loki, guiding Loki’s ice-cold fingers away from the fogging window and onto the heat vents. “In a couple of minutes they’ll feel better.”

“Uh oh,” Loki says as they bump out onto the main road. Thor shoots him a quick look; he claps both hands over his mouth. They skid to a stop against the curb, four-way flashers on, and Thor stretches past Loki to shove the door open. As Loki vomits into the dirty snow, Thor silently thanks his parents for not getting him a modern car with tricky locks. Sometimes simpler really is better.

They make three more stops along the way. Traffic is light, fortunately, thanks in large part to the weather. By the second stop Thor’s cold enough that he wishes he’d thought to grab a bucket.

~

It takes a good ten minutes to fumble their way up the outside steps and into the building. There’s no way Thor’s going to get Loki up the stairs safely. “We’re going to have to use Lifty,” he explains as he pries Loki’s hands off the gate over and over. “It won’t be that bad. You can’t spend the night down here in the hallway, Lo. Let go. I know you can do it.”

The ride from floor to floor is blessedly quick. Even so, Loki screams like he’s being murdered.

~

“It’s okay, buddy,” Thor tells Oscar as he half steers, half carries Loki into the bathroom. “Daddy’s just not feeling well.”

“Thad,” Loki corrects.

“Right,” Thor says. “Daddy’s sad. Either way,” he tells the frightened-looking cat, “you stay out there. I’ll feed you later.”

He props Loki on the edge of the tub and strips him bare, doing his best not to rip any clothing. “In the tub,” he orders when Loki clings again. He needs to warm Loki up, and to rinse away the puke that hadn’t made it out the car door. A warm bath will solve all their problems.

Most of them.

Afterwards, Thor wraps Loki in one of the fluffy bathrobes they normally save for lazy-day reading. They both watch as the tub drains. “Drink this for me,” he says, handing Loki a plastic tumbler of water. “And then you know what?” He points to the bathtub; the bedroom is way too far away. “Why don’t you just get back in there?”

By 2:00 AM Thor can’t keep from nodding off and Loki is sleeping peacefully. It feels safe to leave. He brushes his own teeth, knowing his future self will be grateful tomorrow, and staggers off to their empty bedroom.

~

“Oh fuck.” When Thor flushes the toilet, Loki clutches at his head with both hands. “So loud. Make it stop.”

“I had to,” Thor says. He doesn’t laugh. “You know you hate it when I leave poop in the water.” He refills the tumbler. “Here, have some more water. And some Advil,” he adds, shaking a few out of the bottle. “Go back to sleep. When you feel better you can tell me what happened.”

~

“You left,” Loki says, eying Thor across the table. It’s around lunchtime. He still won’t eat anything, but he’s pink now instead of grey and has pulled on a fuzzy sweater and a pair of Thor’s sweatpants. His hair is up in a curly bun. Thor really, really wants to hug him.

He doesn’t. “Just down to the office,” he reminds Loki. “After you told me to.” He sighs. “What happened? And can you please please please not do that again?”

“I dunno,” Loki says. He worries the corner of a napkin between forefinger and thumb. “What happened, I mean. The rest was dumb, huh?”

“Yeah,” Thor says, laying his own hand over Loki’s. “Kind of.” He squeezes Loki’s fingers. “When- when you need something, you know, you’ve really got to learn to ask for it.”

Loki squeezes his eyes shut and presses his temples with his free hand. Thor fights back the urge to lecture him about how he could have died out there. “Sorry,” Loki whispers. “Please don’t leave.”

“I won’t. I don’t,” Thor reminds him. “I live here. With you. Because I want to,” he adds as a tear trickles along the bridge of Loki’s nose.

“And when you don’t want to anymore?” Loki snuffles. “What then?”

“Don’t cry when you’re already dehydrated,” Thor warns. “It sucks. Trust me. And I’m pretty sure I’ll always want to be with you.” He is completely sure, truth be told; it’s really the reverse – Loki, the more mercurial, impatient one, boring of their life together – that worries him. “Everything has its ups and downs, Lo. That’s just- living.” Thor wants to cry too. Which isn’t helpful. He thinks of his mother, of the burden of a life spent calming everyone else’s worries. Of how he never really expected to come out anything like her. “It’s okay,” he says, scooping up Loki’s fingers and kissing each one on its pink, soft tip. “I’m good. We’re good.”

Loki draws a shaky breath. “Should we go see the quails today? When my head’s done exploding, I mean.”

Thor looks at the wall clock, the one that hangs over the stove. They’ve got plenty of time. “Yeah,” he says. “I’d like that.”

Chapter Text

Everyone's told him the actual defense is kind of anticlimactic; you've already had everything reviewed a gazillion times, and both your advisor and committee are fully onboard with it. His committee has assured him his work is fine. Great, one professor had even told him. Not just that, either, but original… full of fascinating insights on the chemistry and physics of weather phenomena that no one has investigated quite this way previously. The department wants him to come back and teach. They've met all his conditions. There’s really no question they, as Loki puts it, really fucking love him.

Thor can’t disagree. It’s all true. It should be reassuring.

Should be doesn’t help him sleep the night before. True does nothing to keep his teeth from chattering (despite the unseasonable late-May heat) as he waits in the lounge for his results afterwards.

He almost thinks he may die when his advisor finally comes out to get him.

"Congratulations, Dr. Odinson," the committee chair says, rising with a big smile to shake Thor's hand. "I know I speak for everyone here when I say I hope we have the pleasure of collaborating with you for many years to come."

"Thank you," Thor thinks (hopes) he says. He’s still too busy freaking out to pay any real attention.

~

"Well?" Loki meets Thor at the office door, face a pinched mix of worry and hopeful expectation. "You said you would text me, but you didn’t. Does- did- Thor? Hey,” he exclaims as Thor struggles to keep a straight face. “Are you okay? Thor? What is it?"

"That's Dr. Odinson to you," Thor teases, and then grunts as his back hits the doorframe under the weight of Loki's flying tackle-hug. "Man," he pants, hands hooked under Loki’s thighs as Loki covers his face in kisses. "You are so much heavier than you look."

Loki frees one arm and flexes. "I'm-."

"-dense," Thor finishes, laughing. He ducks Loki's swat. "Okay. Fine. You're solid."

"So, it's really done?” Loki wriggles partially free and stands. “You've really been, what, doctrified? Indoctrinated?"

This time Thor lets himself laugh with Loki. He's so, so relieved. And it's not like he doesn't deserve a little gentle ribbing. "Something like that," he agrees. "Nothing left but graduation, and then I can move on to being the most overqualified stock-boy in the country."

"Co-owner," Loki corrects brightly and Thor chokes on what’s left of his own laughter.

He can’t process anything he’s just heard. "What?"

Loki's forehead wrinkles. "Is that not a good thing? I thought-..." He steps back, eyes narrowed. "Fine. Never mind. Forget it. Pretend I never said anything."

"Lo, no! Stop. It's- I just can't believe it. You surprised me. Come here. Please? I want to hold you," he implores, reaching out as Loki edges away. It's been a long few days. His brain was already mush when he got here. He gives up and slides down the doorframe until his rear thuds onto the floor. "Please. I'm sorry."

"Don't be." Loki pinches the bridge of his nose, eyes screwed shut. "I would probably have reacted just as badly if you'd, um, popped the proverbial question. I suppose this isn't that different."

"Not if, when," Thor says. "Because you know I'm going to someday, as soon as I know you won't refuse me. I just didn't expect- this place is yours, Lo. You love it more than anything."

"It's ours," Loki corrects. He squats down next to Thor and points across the office. "The paperwork is in the safe. All you have to do is sign before a notary."

None of it is sinking in, not yet. School is over. Loki wants to share Heart's Desire with him. "Holy fuck," Thor says, mostly to himself. "Let’s try this again. Thank you. Hug me."

Loki does. Thankfully.

~

The two of them head out to celebrate over dinner with Natasha and Steve and Bucky – while his school friends aren’t anywhere close to finished with their own dissertations yet, they're good people and are graciously pretending he’s their hero - and Ian, Darcy, and Amora. The place Darcy and Amora have picked isn't far from the bar where, earlier in the year, Thor had needed to rescue Loki. He's glad they're returning to the neighborhood under happier circumstances.

As much as he’d like to relax at home, Thor doesn’t want to deprive everyone of the chance to do something nice for him. They’re just going to insist on going out another time anyway. That, and this place is a fancier dish-to-pass kind of restaurant... one he and Loki have never tried alone, save a drink or two at the industrial-chic bar, because even two hearty appetites can't do it justice.

Because he hasn't officially graduated yet, they even let him get away without bringing - and wearing - his mortar. "If a farm boy like me can do it," Thor reminds them as the congratulations roll in, "I know the bunch of you can too. Let's order," he suggests as soon as he can, mostly to change the subject. "I can’t be the only one who’s famished."

The food is as good as it sounds. They start with meat and cheese platters to share, alongside family-sized plates of lentils and salad. For dinner they agree to split gnocchi, pizza, and a few burgers the size of small children. No lamb or rabbit, because the idea makes Darcy sad. She does let them add a smokehouse plate, though, with pulled pork, ribs, and house-made sausages.

"To friends," Thor toasts, raising a glass of a wine that, price-wise, nearly rivals Loki's champagne incident. "You shouldn't have, really, but I love you."

"And by you he means me," Loki points out, but he's smiling. Nicely.

"I love Loki more," Thor clarifies. "But there's plenty of room in my heart for all of you."

"Don't worry," Natasha tells Loki. "He's crazy about you. No one's poaching. To friends," she says to the table as a whole. “Now. Then. Always."

Thor has the waitress take a picture of the whole group with his phone, once they’ve taken the first edge off their hunger, and texts it to Sif. To all his friends from the farm. Everyone is here in spirit, despite how life is life and they rarely see one another. thinking of you, he sends. wishing you were with us.

no way ,Volstagg shoots back almost immediately. you’ve barely ordered enough for one person. Everyone at the table laughs. Only Loki knows Volstagg isn't kidding.

"Reading something that isn't about science," Thor says when Darcy asks what's next on his agenda. "A weekend or two with my parents. And maybe a short trip to visit Sif over the summer." He squeezes Loki's hand. They don't want to share their other big news with the staff this way. "But before any of that, you all get to meet my mom. Well, and my dad… both my parents will be coming up for commencement."

"Lucky you," Bucky kids around a mouthful of pizza. Thor snorts, but Loki bristles.

"He is lucky. His mom is fucking amazing."

"She is pretty great," Thor agrees. Personally, he could do without all the pomp and circumstance. No good can possibly come of mentioning that here, though. "And I definitely am lucky," he says instead, tipping his glass and smiling. "So, thank you."

~

The week before commencement is known for being one long party, and maybe for some students it is.

Thor and Loki, though, spend the entire week- well, cleaning.

“It’s a lot better than it was when I first moved here,” Thor reminds Loki. “And it’s not even your parents. Tell me again why we even care?” Yes, the apartment isn’t nearly as neat as it could be – he’s had a dissertation to finish, after all, and the weather’s been nice enough that they’ve easily found better things to do with their scant free time – but it’s not like the place is a total disaster. It’s just messy. Mostly. There may be a few cobwebs here and there. Some under-the-bed dust-bunnies. Nothing crazy. The rooms in the middle of the floor – the kitchen, their bedroom, the haven, the bathroom, most of the living room as well – don’t get any natural light, so no one’s going to be giving those spots a close inspection anyway… if anyone even wants to.

At least there’s no hair caught in the drains. They both hate that and consider it beyond disgusting.

“I don’t want your parents to think we live in a hovel.” As if there’s any chance of that. All the same Thor knows better than to protest when Loki holds out a clean(er) dust cloth. “Seriously. Now, go deal with the parlor.”

“I grew up on a farm,” Thor complains as he heads for the doorway. “My mom and dad aren’t afraid of a little dirt, silly.”

It isn’t until half the furniture is dusted that it hits him: Loki’s probably never had a parent over. Anyone’s. Ever. So maybe it’s not all that silly after all… and no wonder the whole thing’s making Loki a little bit crazy. Thor fetches the glass cleaner from the shallow hallway cabinet that serves as their linen closet and tackles the tall parlor windows with a lot more enthusiasm. When he’s done there, he starts on the living room without being asked to. It doesn’t even bother him that Oscar’s bound to make anything he does in here a losing battle.

~

“Oh, Loki!” Frigga spins around twice to take everything in. “All these beautiful books! This is even better than I imagined.” The store (which they do their best to keep nice anyway; they want it to feel like home, sure, but only in a good way) is so clean it sparkles. Everything is perfect. Ian’s at the counter helping a customer. In the children’s section, someone else’s mother is pointing out picture books to her smiling blond toddler. The tree in the sidewalk outside the front window is finally leafy and green. Frigga hugs Loki, who looks over her shoulder at Thor a little frantically. “You’ve got something really special here.”

“Thanks!” Loki takes a deep breath while Thor holds his. They really haven’t talked about telling his parents. He isn’t sure either one of them is ready. He’s even less sure his parents are. “I’m glad you like it,” is all Loki says. Thor’s relieved. There really is way too much going on this weekend already.

“Impressive,” Odin says, nodding, as the front door closes behind him. “I hope your mother hasn’t bought the place out while I’ve been parking the car.”

Frigga pretend-shoves Odin’s shoulder. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she tells him. “I had to look around first. I’m only just getting started.”

“Come here,” Thor says to his father. “I have to show you ou- the,” he corrects, catching himself just in time, “really, really cool antique elevator.”

Loki shudders and Thor reaches out to give him a quick squeeze. “We’ll be fine,” Thor assures him. “You and mom come on up the stairs whenever you’re ready.”

~

Everyone loves the books and the storefront, of course, but Thor’s especially proud of Heart’s Desire’s behind-the-scenes operation. He takes his father on a tour of the dock, the stockroom, and the work area where he manages all the shipping and receiving. Oh, and where he monitors the security cameras. There’s even one on the roof now, to keep an eye on the patio furniture and watch over Thor’s cheerful new planters.

“Sounds like a solid business you and Loki are running here,” Odin says as Thor talks him through how they handle the Internet volume.

“It’s all Loki’s doing,” Thor counters. He’s still getting his head around how he partly owns the place now – they’d gone to the lawyer earlier in the week and made it all official - and he doesn’t want to take away from any of Loki’s accomplishments. “I just help out where I can.”

Odin shakes his head, smiling. “Don’t sell yourself short, Thor. That’s exactly how your mother always talks about farming.”

~

“8:30,” Thor reminds the back of Loki’s head. “Not 9:00, or even 8:45. That’s a little over an hour from now,” he says, “and you know how you hate rushing.” Loki is still facedown on the bed, pink-white bottom glowing in the circle of light from Thor’s bedside lamp. “I have to go. Mom’ll be mad if you miss it.”

Loki groans. “It’s college. Why do they do this so stupid early?”

That’s something Thor’s always wondered too. “No idea.” He kisses Loki’s backside with a loud smack. “I’m heading out. Get up, Sleeping Beauty.”

It’s not quite too warm outside this early in the morning, and the graduate ceremonies and reception are conveniently held – when given the choice, Thor would always rather not have to deal with a parking garage - downtown rather than over at the main campus. He sets out on foot, even though he knows it will mean pacing himself carefully. Thor doesn’t want to end up dripping sweat after walking from their apartment to the theatre.

One thing he knows for certain after just two blocks: he’s very, very thankful he won’t be spending his working life with a tie on.

~

Thor and his fellow degree candidates have practiced all the steps before: Putting on their regalia without messing up their clothes. Receiving and donning their hoods. Shaking hands and accepting diplomas. Smiling through their introductions. Crossing the stage without tripping or falling.

He’s sat in the balcony in previous years, too, to support his friends and colleagues.

None of it is new. It’s all old and familiar. Still, it feels so much more real today as he and his cohort walk past the clapping, cheering audience.

Past his parents, beaming and waving from the second audience row…

… and Loki - hair up, looking sharp in a suit and tie - standing right there beside them.

Chapter Text

Classes are done, possibly forever. Thor’s parents have gone back to the farm. The gloomy rainy days of spring are finally over. Summer is just about upon them now, with its warm days and relative freedom, and everything about it promises to be positively glorious.

With graduation present shopping out of the way and all of the area schools - be they public, private, or so-called institutions of higher learning – scaling back their schedules until the start of the next academic year, Heart's Desire can once again drop down to a four-day-a-week schedule: Thursday through Saturday the store is open regardless, with appointments on the occasional Sunday or Wednesday if a customer specifically requests one. They may schedule a few more days the week local schools send out their summer reading lists, if it looks like they’ll see enough increased demand to keep the staff busy. The Internet business is big enough now that, especially to stay competitive, they really need to ship daily... but that just helps provide hours for the full-time front-of-the-house staff displaced by the start of the slow season.

After a long meeting on the pros and cons Thor, Loki, and Darcy opt for letting the rest of their crew decide how to allocate all the hours on the new schedule. The workers opt for a lottery and then, when that doesn't come out particularly fairly, work together to come up with really creative options that serve everybody nicely. They nominate Ian to put it all in the computer… which he does, promptly and cheerfully and without a single bit of the cheating his status with Darcy might otherwise allow him.

It’s all taken care of in a single afternoon, over cookies and coconut milk, without a single instance of raised voices or visibly hurt feelings. Thor doesn't think he could be more proud of the bunch of them if they were his actual children.

"They're good kids," Darcy says when Thor is still gushing about it the following day. "And they love this place. They’ve made a nice little family. Even Amora," she teases, winking at Amora across the office, "has seen the light and stopped hiring assholes."

"Asshole," Amora corrects, sticking out her tongue. “As in just the one. Singular. And you do have to admit he was really, really pretty."

Loki snorts. "He was fiiine. Right up until he started talking."

"Right up until you wouldn't screw him, more like it."

Thor braces reflexively – one day there’s going to come a point where she’s gone too far - but Loki just keeps on laughing. "Touché. That’s about when I decided I needed to set some bare minimum standards. But just the same I don't think anyone was sad when I sent him packing."

Darcy grins, nodding. "And we were even less sad when he wouldn’t go and Bucky ended up slugging him."

Thor stiffens. Bucky? Steve’s Bucky? It’s not possible. "Wait, what? This happened after Loki and I were-...," he trails off. Even after all this time he’s never quite sure how to put it. Not when Loki’s friends are around.

"Down, boy!" Darcy laughs as Loki rolls his eyes. "I was a student at what’s now your alma mater, remember?"

"So you know- you knew Bucky?” Thor can’t make it compute. His face is getting hot, and he’s ridiculously aware of his own stammering. “Before- before I met Loki?" Thor makes a mental note to ask Steve and Natasha a few verrrry pointed questions, at the first possible opportunity

"Math TA," Darcy says. "Freshman year, second semester. Liked men better than I did, practically, which was kind of a shame… but even so I knew he was bound to come in handy."

Thor blinks. Twice. "I didn't even think he was here then." He tries to recall what Natasha had said that first Thanksgiving, how she’d introduced her slightly scary friend with the special ops history, but all that comes back is that knife in the turkey. He can’t decide if he’d been set up or not. Either way, he probably isn’t sorry.

He’s going to ask those questions anyway.

Amora winks and salutes Thor with her glass. "Good thing you aren’t planning a career in espionage, boss man."

"Don't call him that," Loki says. "You know how claustrophobic I am. I’ll die the day his head no longer fits in the elevator."

"So funny," Thor tells Loki, making sure to keep smiling. "Both of you. Be sure you don't quit your day jobs. I don’t want to have to worry about either of you starving."

"Heh," Amora says. "I don't know about that. Loki has options, after all. For example, I think he could get by just fine as a pole dancer."

Loki grins. “We both could, for that matter.”

They’re not wrong, and Thor knows it, but the very idea sets his teeth on edge. He smiles anyway. There’s nothing about it he’s interested in discussing. Hell, he doesn’t even feel like unpacking the what or why of how it bothers him. “Sure,” he says. “But let’s not test it out, shall we?”

~

They’re hours from the ocean but, with the lake nearby, the climate’s not a dry one. Loki regularly grumbles about the heat and humidity. While Thor tries not to be annoyingly cheerful, he (on the other hand) secretly loves everything about it. He loves sleeping in his birthday suit, covers thrown off the foot of the bed and big oscillating fan humming. He loves padding about the quiet apartment while the rest of the world is still asleep, enjoying the feel of warm wood and linoleum beneath the soles of his feet. He loves the thick, damp air and how green everything is, long after much of the country is baked brown for the season.

Best of all, for the first summer in his post-toddlerdom life, Thor doesn't have to be a morning person. He typically does get up with sun, from la lifetime’s worth of long, long habit, but that’s different. Being able to sneak back into bed and nap another hour (or three) – or to sleep as late as he’d like on a dark, rainy morning - is blissfully freeing. He has no animals to feed, no crops to water. No morning lectures to attend. No TA sessions full of yawning undergrads who want to be there even less than he does.

There’s nothing about it that isn’t heavenly.

He's quickly reminded that Loki does not take kindly to being awakened, but watching his partner sleep - pink lips parted in a soft O, cheeks pale beneath the dark sweep of lashes - is ample compensation. That, and even in warm weather Loki, when left to regain consciousness naturally, sometimes wakes up soft and snuggly. On those days, they laze together in bed while Thor reads aloud from whatever book of poetry Loki's currently enjoying.

They won’t be whiling the entire summer away lying in bed, of course. A body like Thor’s needs to move, and Loki is still very much the closet athlete… meaning they both find a way to fit in workouts almost daily. While Loki – who swears there’s nothing as recharging as an ice-cold rink on a hot day - skates, Thor runs. All those farming summers have left him able to take a lot of heat, and most days he enjoys the rural countryside that surrounds the rink with pretty fruit trees, fields of beans, and long rows of fast-growing feed corn. The area is a steeply hilly one, full of terrain challenging enough to push him hard and scenery beautiful enough to help him forget it.

On the rare days nature’s just too hot to endure, Thor runs the concrete bleachers inside the arena. There, the scenery is always better on the way down.

Loki and Thor meet up afterwards for a quick rinse in the locker room, and follow that most days with a leisurely lunch along the canal. And then they head back to the store to get some actual work done.

Once or twice a week they skip the trip out east and make themselves start work before lunch, so they can finish up early enough to pole-hike with their neighbors. They both feel it’s important to stay connected to their little microcommunity. Following an hour of brisk walking and catching up, everyone heads back to his/her/their respective building(s), only to reappear upstairs a few minutes later. They enjoy the sunset from their own rooftops, waving back and forth and sipping summery cocktails. There aren’t many better ways to spend an early evening.

In fact, Thor thinks, there aren’t many better ways to spend an early summer. It’s only the end of June and he already has a (non-farmer!) tan, along with the strongest calves and thighs of his life.

Loki – by contrast - has managed to stay almost as white as always, but his normally porcelain cheeks and nose are sprinkled with the lightest haze of freckles. In the fading light of the evening sun his hair is full of rich auburn highlights. Thor always wants to bury his face in it. Some evenings, like this one, he does.

~

Thor's surprised at just how proud he is of being a business owner. He’s so wrapped up in keeping the property clean and well maintained that Loki jokingly insists he's actually a doctor of sanitation engineering, but everyone compliments them on their spotless stretch of sidewalk. Before long the neighbors are collecting each day’s little bits of trash and sweeping up right alongside him.

The store itself is still pretty much off-limits, but Loki happily lets Thor take over anything maintenance-related. The contractors and tradesmen are typically more at ease with his own rugged farm boy self than they are with Loki's quirky hipster. He sets up a regular maintenance schedule with Loki’s favorite plumber and finds a great roofer, someone as interested in working with nature as he is. Together they make plans for the coming fall, when they will whiten the roof and look into long-term options for true green roofing.

Meanwhile, Thor’s planters grow and multiply. Sitting outside in the evening warmth starts to feel more and more like visiting his mother’s garden.

~

They close the store the week of Independence Day and take a few days off to visit Thor’s family. Loki wears his hair up, showing off the new row of runes along his cervical spine that he had tattooed there in honor of Thor’s freshly minted degree, but still insists on wearing what Thor teasingly calls his country club zombie outfit. “I like your parents,” Loki says, earnestly, when Thor kids him. “Nothing about them makes me feel like rebelling.” His cheeks pink up beneath their dusting of freckles. “It isn’t fun hurting them. And, yes, I know that isn’t like me.”

“It’s okay, Lo,” Thor says, hugging Loki tightly and letting his actions say what he doesn’t dare voice. “I won’t blow your cover, baby.”

~

The second week of July Darcy gets the worst case of food poisoning any of them have ever seen. As her boss Loki (shakes off all of Thor’s well-meaning advice to the contrary and) insists on visiting her in the hospital and then holes up in bed bawling for two days afterwards. Thor makes him soup and rubs his feet and never once mentions having pointed out that it was a bad idea to begin with.

Sure, they do still fight, because who doesn't? But they're more and more careful to be sweet to one another afterwards. Because it works, and because it’s something everyone really should be doing.

After a few days off work Darcy shows back up at the store, pale and drawn but eager to get down to business. They’re glad to have her back; along with – first and foremost, honest! – being pleased to see her feeling better, Thor and Loki are happy to give up her shifts and return to their normal routine.

Around them, the world spins on. Steve and Bucky head off to the Alps, because even with real jobs they’ve got a reputation to maintain: they’re serious vacationers.

Natasha gets pregnant – almost no one is sure how, and the one who knows isn’t telling - and won't say a thing to anyone about it. Nan and Baldr do the same and can't talk about anything else, to the point Thor wants to go back in time and preemptively murder whoever it was that invented group messaging.

"Life is getting kind of weird," he tells Loki that night over lemonade. The last birds of the evening still flit from flower to flower.

"It is," Loki agrees, condensation-damp glass dangling from sparkly green-nailed fingers. "So weird. Thankfully."

Chapter Text

"But- why?" Loki's voice is soft, but there's still no missing the way it catches. "What's wrong with it?"

A quick gust of wind swirls the leaves at their feet. It's a lovely, warm evening for this late in the season, but the air smells like fall. The sun is low in the sky, its light sharp and golden. Despite the mild weather they’re well past summer. "Nothing," Thor says, yet again. His heart breaks a little more with each subsequent repetition. "There's nothing wrong with- with him." Natasha's new baby is a boy, no matter how insistent Loki is on ignoring that. "From everything I've heard he's just perfect."

"So, why, then? I don't get it."

Thor shuts his eyes. It’s hard not to doubt himself, to wonder if he should even have told Loki. Their friends are friends, though, and like any close-knit posse they do a lot of talking. And as bad as this is, it’s not like it would have been better for the whole thing to surface in casual conversation. Especially not once Loki learned it wasn't new news to Thor anyway.

"Part of being a family is honesty," his mother had reminded him earlier, when Loki had still been downstairs in the store working. "If you try to protect him from the truth, even with the best intentions, he's pretty guaranteed to feel hurt about it."

She's right and Thor knows it. He'd be a little upset himself, if their roles were reversed, and this particular topic is far more charged for Loki. Still, the discussion isn’t going well and he’s sorry. "She's not in the right place in her life to raise a child," he says carefully. He can't decide how to word the next bit. Instead he stirs his tea, watching the lemon slices spin across its surface. Small, yellow pinwheels.

"I don't get it." Loki glares down at his own teacup. Thor hasn't quite decided whether or not the decision to skip the whisky in their drinks was a wise one. "If she didn't want a baby, why did she even have it?"

Thor all but laughs, more out of nerves than anything. "Things happen," he says, because something did… even if Natasha isn't sharing the details. "Not everyone has it as easy in that department as- as gay folks."

"She could have gotten rid of it."

"Yes," Thor says evenly, “she could have. But I guess that isn't what she wanted."

"It would have been better off," Loki says, very quietly.

Thor's eyes fill with tears. So many implications, all of them painful. He clears his throat. "She told me about them," he tells Loki, rather than trying to argue. "The new parents." It's a private adoption; the family has money to spare but lives relatively simply, in an old farmhouse on pretty acreage southeast of the city. They have a young daughter. Two ponies. An in-ground pool with the most extensive childproofing he's ever seen anywhere. "They want their little girl to have a sibling. A little brother." He thinks of his own little brother, roughly the same number of years behind him. About how excited he was to be a big brother. "It's not going to be like what happened to you," he says. "They're going to take good care of him for her."

Loki sets his cup down hard enough to slosh tea out into the saucer. "No,” he says. “You can't possibly know that."

"I can't," Thor admits, blinking away the hot pain behind his eyes. "That’s true. But it seems pretty likely. I guess they've been part of the whole pregnancy, at least since they signed the paperwork. Natasha likes them. She thinks they'll give him a good home and a nice family. This isn't what anyone wanted," he tells Loki's stiff, tight-lipped profile. "She's making what she really, really hopes is the best of it. For herself, sure, but also for the baby."

"Right," Loki says nastily. "For yet another fucking throwaway baby."

This isn't about you, Thor doesn't say, because of course it is. The entire conversation is very much about Loki. "I hope they love him," he offers instead, “and he loves them in return. But if that’s not what happens, well, I especially hope things work out in the end anyway."

"You're a sentimental fool," Loki huffs.

"Yup." Thor blots his own eyes with a napkin. "You're right, I totally am. And I'm sure as hell not the least bit sorry."

"I wish she wanted it, though," Loki says, sadness slowly taking the place of anger.

"So do I," Thor agrees. "So does she. But she's doing what she can with what she was given."

"Right. I hope it's enough." Loki picks up his cup and Thor cringes; Loki loves these teacups. He'll be quite upset with himself later on, in the not-unlikely event that he smashes this one.

"Yeah." Thor watches out of the corner of his eye as Loki takes a sip and sets the cup back in its saucer, gently. Whew. "Me too. Honestly."

"Like you would be anything else."

Thor reaches slowly for Loki's fingers, leaving plenty of time for darting away if darting away is what's needed. When Loki stays put, though, he carefully pets first one finger and then two. "I'm not ashamed of myself," he says. "I like it when the people I love are happy."

"And the people you hate, and the ones you barely know, and all those folks in your imagination who might not even exist in reality."

Thor gives Loki's pinky a quick squeeze. "All of them," he agrees, nodding. "What can I say? I'm sappy."

"Good thing, I suppose." Loki takes another sip of tea. He holds onto the cup this time, more as though it’s pleasantly warm and less like he’s planning to fling it. "Since you chose such a project."

"What I chose," Thor corrects, forcing himself to smile, "is a handsome bookseller with a great cat and the loveliest eyes I've ever seen anywhere."

"Who is also a project," Loki insists.

"Maybe," Thor concedes, “but then again we all are." The sun sets earlier and earlier these days. As it dips below the horizon the air turns abruptly chilly. "Dinner?" His hands are cold, now that he’s drained the last of his tea.

Loki shrugs. He's always more at home in the cold than Thor is and, after all their time together, Thor still hasn’t quite gotten used to that. It should be the other way around: Thor is broad and hot and bright; Loki is pale and slender. "I like it out here. Maybe a little later?"

It's not like either of them is on the brink of starvation. Thor knows he can easily enough afford Loki more thinking time. "Later it is, then," he agrees. "But come sit on my lap. I'm freezing."

~

“He’s still pretty upset about the whole thing,” Thor tells his mother. It’s been two weeks since he’d first broken the news to Loki about Natasha’s son – a little more, probably; closer to three – and Loki doesn’t seem to be any closer to coming to terms with it. For now they’ve tacitly agreed not to discuss it, but Nan and Baldr’s own baby (also a boy, which is perfect because Thor’s fully absolved of any familial duty) is due between now and Thanksgiving. He’s worried that it’s going to be all that much harder to dance around the subject once his sister-in-law has given Loki a de facto nephew. “I don’t know how to help him see that Natasha’s decision isn’t- it’s not personal.”

Frigga hums quietly into the phone. “I realize Loki’s an adult and you can’t –shouldn’t, for that matter - make him do anything, but I don’t think this is the kind of problem you can fix, sweetie. If it’s reached the point where it’s causing him difficulty, maybe he should consider seeking out a little counseling.”

Thor sighs. He learned long ago, even before he knew the story behind it, that Loki bristles at the very mention of therapy. It’s not a battle worth fighting. “He won’t,” he says, sadly. He can’t tell his mother about Loki’s inpatient stay, can’t betray Loki’s delicate, fragile confidence. “He- he had a bad experience a long time ago,” he tries instead, “and I think it’s soured him on that sort of thing permanently.”

“That’s too bad,” Frigga says, and maybe it is. Or not. Thor sometimes worries (secretly) if a therapist wouldn’t just talk Loki out of being with him anyway. And his own childhood family is solid, unified, and happy. He has absolutely no justification for his own silly he’s going to dump me worries. Maybe none of this really makes a difference. “Don’t push him, Thor,” his mother warns. “He needs to know that you’ve got his back. No matter what happens.”

“Mm.” Thor takes a deep breath and sighs again. He sometimes wonders how much of the earth’s atmosphere is made up of his own sad-worried exhalations. “It’s not something that’s hurting me, really. I just hate like crazy to see him unhappy.”

“I know, sweetie, I know,” his mom says. It can’t have been easy being his parent. In fact, it probably still isn’t. “And don’t worry about Baldr,” she adds while he’s pondering. “We’re right here. He and Nan won’t need much of anything from you, and it will be years before your nephew remembers anybody.”

That doesn’t feel like the point, somehow. “But I don’t want him to grow up feeling the same way,” he protests, no longer entirely sure what about this is bothering him.

“The same way as what?”

Loki.

Thor jumps so hard that his back twinges. “It’s my mom,” he says brightly, hoping his face isn’t as red as it feels.

“Oh,” Loki says, flatly. “Hi, Thor’s mom,” he yells into the phone.

“Ow! Tell him hi,” Frigga, says, laughing. “I’m thinking we can finish this later.”

~

“You scared me,” Thor tells Loki once he’s ended the call. “I didn’t even hear you come in here.” He has no idea how long Loki was listening. Even so there’s no gain in acting weird, not when he isn’t even sure he’s in trouble.

Loki perches on the edge of the desk, frowning. “Who’s growing up, and how would he be feeling?”

Thor pokes at a pen with his finger. “We were talking about Nan and Baldr’s son,” he says. “Less than a month to go… technically could be any day now.”

“And?”

Ugh. “And I don’t want the baby to feel like his uncle doesn’t love him.”

“Ah.” Loki looks away. “Especially not because his uncle’s friend has problems.”

“You’re not just my friend,” Thor says. “I don’t want this to be hard for you.”

“Life is hard.” Loki shrugs. “It isn’t about what you want, sometimes.”

And how. Thor pushes up from his chair and wraps Loki in a hug. “I love you.”

“You can’t fix everybody,” Loki mumbles into Thor’s chest.

“I know,” Thor agrees, sadly. “I can’t even fix me.”

He holds Loki for a long time, stroking Loki’s hair and- and not thinking.

“I love you too,” Loki says, finally. He wraps both arms around Thor’s waist and hugs back. “Even though you’re kind of suffocating me,” he adds, digging his nose into the big muscles of Thor’s chest. “These things should come with those ‘keep away from children’ warning labels. The ones that plastic bags have.”

Thor feels the tension easing. “You love my boobies,” he teases, finally daring to smile a little. “Don’t talk smack about them. You’ll hurt their feelings.”

“Mm, I do love them,” Loki says, and bites. Thor squeals as Loki’s teeth sink into him.

“You guys are so weird,” Darcy says from the office doorway. “Would you classify that,” she asks, as both of them jump and shriek this time, “under vivisection or cannibalism?”

“Neither,” Thor says, panting and laughing. He lets go of Loki and pats his damp shirt. The skin is tender. “We’ve been trying to keep it a secret from the staff, but Loki here has a cotton problem.”

Darcy shakes her head, tsk-tsking the two of them. “Like I said, weird. Anyway… we’re getting take-out. You guys want something?”

“Meatballs,” Loki says, just as Thor says “a do-over.”

Chapter Text

"It sucks," Thor complains. He puts Sif on speaker - he's got to use the fancy new phone in the stockroom for something, and it's not like he conducts many (as in any, ever) meetings in here - so he can stir his lemonade and start in on his sandwich. "I don't want to pick sides. That and, whatever I do, I feel like I'm being a traitor to someone."

Sif's fork clatters against her plate. With the three-hour time difference, she's only just eating breakfast. Still, sharing a meal (even long-distance) makes things feel more- more normal. "I don't think you need to pick sides," she says. "In fact, I don’t think you ought to. It's not like one of them - willfully or otherwise – has actually hurt the other. And it’s not your job to referee. Just make the time to talk to each of them. Separately."

Thor swallows a mouthful that’s nothing but bread and a little cheese. The meat and lettuce must be a few bites in yet, thanks to how haphazardly he’d thrown his meal together. "They'll still be mad."

Sif laughs. "Did they actually tell you that, or are you just assuming?"

It's almost entirely the latter and both of them know it. "They say things," he protests anyway.

"Don't make their problems your problems," she says, still laughing. “It’s not like you don’t have enough already.”

"That's easy for you to say, all the way on the other side of the continent," Thor shoots back, ignoring her last comment. He sips his lemonade. It's mouth-puckeringly sour. "You don't have to live right here in the midst of it." He wants to be there for Nat, he wants to be there for Loki. He wants to be needed, really and mostly.

"So bring Loki out here," she suggests. "Either college isn’t as hard as I thought, or my courseload isn't what it should be this semester. Whatever happened, I actually have some spare time. And it's a great area; even during classes I'm sure you can find plenty to keep yourselves busy. It'll be good for you. You know: get your mind off your own troubles and onto mine for a while."

Sif’s got troubles he can relate to. It's hard to find good help down at the shore after the harvest’s mostly in and the weather starts turning. Her brother – with help from her father, which is really the opposite of helpful - has been pressuring her to take a break from school and come back home to the farm. She isn't planning to cave, a rebellious approach Thor wholly endorses, but the whole business is draining her just the same. And he and Loki had been kicking around the idea of a visit all summer. With the stress of everyone being pregnant it just hadn't worked out somehow. "I'll try," he says. This time of the year the store can be busy, and an anxious Loki tends to be a micromanaging the world will end if I’m not here to see to things personally Loki. "We'll see. I'll have to get back to you on that one."

"I miss our brunches," Sif says, sounding a bit wistful. "The people here are nice enough, but it's... different. That, and the home fries are uniformly shitty."

Thor feels another little twinge of guilt. He's found fabulous home fries in his new hometown, at not one but two diners. If he kept looking, he’s sure he could find even more. Everything here is like that. His own sacrifice mostly feels like heaven. At least when everyone's getting along, anyway. "I miss them too," he tells her. "I miss you."

"Everyone loves you, boo," she says. "You'll always end up surrounded by good people."

"Whatever. It's not the same," he grumbles. Sure, he's stubborn... but it really isn't.

~

"Up for a walk?" He and Loki are planning on going out with the pole hikers before dinner, but it’s not like a short jaunt with Natasha is going to take too much out of him. She's still working her way back into real exercise anyway. "I'm done with what I need to do today; I can stop down and get you."

"And his royal highness won't be mad?"

"Don't," he warns. "I don’t want to talk about that. In fact, I really just want to catch up with you."

~

"I'm going down to campus for a couple of hours," he stops off in the store proper to tell Loki. "Anything you want me to pick up for dinner?"

Loki pops up from behind the counter, frowning. "If you're going to be hanging out with her you owe me dinner out, minimum."

Thor makes himself smile. He's promised Sif he won't let either of them bait him. "Deal. Decide where you want to go and text me if I need to make reservations. It's not really dinner out," he points out when Loki huffs, "if you have to book it yourself, now, is it?" He stretches across the counter to kiss Loki's cheek. "Pick someplace good. We're bound to be famished by the time hiking's over with."

"Tell her I said hi," Loki calls out as Thor opens the front door. It's a nice day; he's going to leave his car behind the building and take the bus down.

"I will," he says, smiling for real this time. It's a small, huge thing; he'll sure as hell take it. "See you later, Lo," he calls back over his shoulder. "I love you."

They've agreed not to be too sappy in front of the staff. Thor doesn't care. Even this small improvement is enough to leave him giddy.

~

"I'm sorry he's mad," Natasha says as she laces her running shoes. He's told her not to walk in them a million times but she's at least as stubborn as he is.

"It's fine," Thor says, still stupidly pleased that he might finally not be lying. "But I didn't come here to talk about Loki, remember? How are you doing?" She looks good, pink-cheeked and healthy, but the dark circles under her eyes are as pronounced as ever.

"Meh." Natasha shrugs. "I feel fat. And sad. And tired of everyone judging me."

"I'm not- surprised," Thor catches himself just in time and self-censors, because they’re not here to talk about Thor either. "For lots of people it's their own fears talking."

She straightens up with a small groan. "And when am I going to stop being so fucking achy?"

Thor has blissfully little knowledge of human baby-having. "Did you ask your doctor?" He shrugs. "Way outside my area of expertise, sorry!"

Natasha snorts and then groans again. "Keep it that way, I tell ya."

Thor gives her a hand going down the stairs. "I'm gay and I live with a gay, ace man," he reminds her. "My odds pretty much couldn't be lower."

"You and your endless dicks, show-off. Where to?" She pulls the door closed and gives it a shove to check that it’s locked behind them.

"The park?" Most of the leaves are down, but the place is always peaceful and pretty. He waits for her to nod before they head in that direction. "But don't think I didn’t notice how you changed the subject."

"Pretty smart, aren't we, Mr. Pee Aitch Dee?" she teases and they share a quick laugh. "I'm getting by," she concedes, eventually. "I'd just rather talk about- well, anything else, actually."

Whatever works. He’s here for her. "Sure," Thor says. "Pick a topic and I promise to stick with it."

Once they find their pace and settle in, they both start to relax a little. They talk about everything and nothing: his work, the store, Natasha’s job and her never-ending dissertation. By the time they get around to commiserating over how hard it is to stay motivated to write when day-to-day life isn’t school-centric any longer, Natasha seems happier and Thor feels like the weight has- well, shifted. The whole mess hasn’t magically gone away, and he still has to head home to a partner who struggles with all things adoption, but working out with a friend has been just that and not counseling. All in all things really are better.

“Thanks for coming down,” she tells him as they hug goodbye outside her door. “This was fun. I guess I do need to get out more often.” She’d gone back to work quickly - too quickly, perhaps - but Thor gets it that not every workplace is a happy little family. “I hope Loki isn’t too upset with you.”

He gives her one last squeeze. “It’s fine,” he promises. “We’ll manage.”

~

“I guess her son’s family wants her to keep being part of their lives,” Thor tells Loki as they wash up after pole-walking. “They plan to tell him he has two mommies, just one who doesn’t live with them. Do you think that will help things any?”

Loki sloshes a mouthful of water around and then spits foamy toothpaste into the sink. He turns on the tap and rinses every last bit away before nodding. “If she wants it to work, sure. But kids are smart. She’ll need to be genuinely happy to see him.”

Thor considers that for a moment. The way Natasha’s face lights up now when she talks about the baby. The things she says, and how she says them. “She’s mostly just nervous that she’ll let him down.”

“And sometimes she will,” Loki says. He blots his face dry with a towel, one of the soft black ones he and Thor keep around for just that purpose. Black towels save the rest of their stash from the smudged, dark arcs of Loki’s mascara. It’s another trick of Frigga’s, one that Thor hadn’t really expected to need after settling on a life filled with men and solitude. “That’s how being human works, isn’t it?”

“Do you still hate her, Lo? She seems to be trying.” Thor scrubs at his own face with one of the pale blue hand towels. The few times he’s tried wearing any sort of makeup, everyone present has quickly agreed that it does exactly nothing for him. Maybe he should drop the whole topic, but he can’t help it; he just can’t be happy when the people in his life are quarrelling.

Loki sighs. “I don’t hate her, Thor. I never hated her, except maybe way back when I thought she was my competition. I don’t even hate what she did. Not really. I only-… I only wish every baby was coddled and loved, you know? The way your mother treated you and your brother. Everyone deserves to be that special.”

Thor shakes out his towel with a loud snap and hangs it neatly back on the rack. He’s been trying to set a good example. Most of the time he still ends up following Loki around, retrieving an endless trail of damp, discarded linens. “I don’t think Natasha would disagree,” he says carefully. “That’s why she picked this family for the baby.”

Sure enough, Loki’s towel hits the floor with a wet splop. “But are they really that nice? Should I go spy on them?”

“Don’t you dare,” Thor admonishes. He bends to retrieve the black towel “That’s creepy. And are you constitutionally incapable of picking up after yourself something?”

Loki pulls him up by the hand and kisses his temple. “Of course not. I just know how much you like to feel useful.”

They almost miss their reservation – the one Loki booked all by himself, despite Thor’s earlier promise – after elbowing and tickling give way to kissing… endlessly.

~

“Could you carve out a four-day ‘weekend’ right now?” Thor asks Loki over wine, crusty bread, and a nice flight of four different olive oils: Greek, Israeli, French, Italian. “It wouldn’t have to be on an actual weekend, obviously.”

“What for?” Loki’s expression turns sharply wary and Thor wonders if he’s misjudged how okay things are. Badly.

“We never did go visit Sif over the summer,” he says instead, breaking a slice of bread into four pieces and dipping each into a different bowl of oil. “She thinks we would like it out there. I think we could probably use a little breather. But we’d lose most of two days to travel, between heading out and coming back, so anything less than four days really wouldn’t be worth it.”

Loki looks so relieved that Thor doesn’t dare ask what he’d been expecting. If it’s something that needs discussing, Thor’s starting to – probably belatedly – learn, they’ll have ample opportunity to talk it to death later. “That sounds like fun, actually.” Loki samples Thor’s wine. “Mm. So, do you think she’d take us dancing?”

Chapter Text

"They look sharp together," the bartender says, nodding towards Sif and Loki as she sets Thor's beer down on the bar. "Your friends. The tall ones." She looks Thor up and down and laughs. "To a big boy like you I suppose they're not all that tall, are they?"

Thor pushes a bill across the scarred varnish. "They love to dance," he offers. "Unlike me here, born with two left feet and no sense of rhythm." He spins on his stool to watch. Loki twirls Sif across the floor to something vaguely Latin. When they end with a deep, graceful dip and Sif’s ponytail sweeps the floor, people all over the room start clapping. Thor turns back to his beer. "A bunch of us grew up together," he half-truthfully tells the bartender. "Nowadays we're spread out, and no one has much time for dancing."

He purposefully keeps things light and vague, because he can’t quite decide if the place is gay-friendly. While he hasn't heard any disturbing talk, pretty much everyone around him has an opposite-sex partner. Sure, he’s getting better and better about being openly out. Tonight, though, he doesn't want to call attention to anything that might deprive Sif or Loki of their little slice of moving heaven.

"And what about you, sweetie?" the bartender asks, checking glass after glass against the pendant light and scrubbing away at the smudged ones. She's old enough to be his mom. Or Sif’s, or Loki’s.

"It makes me happy to see my friends having fun." Thor shrugs. "Like I said, I'm a crappy, crappy dancer."

"Oh, I don’t know. A handsome thing like you could make the ladies swoon by simply standing there swaying."

Thor laughs on the outside but makes an emphatic mental note not to climb all over Loki. "I think we're all better off,” he says, “if I just stick to drinking."

~

"Looks pretty straight in here," Thor tells Loki and then Sif, very quietly, as they each fling a sweaty arm around him. "I think playing it friendly is our smartest option."

Sif surveys the other patrons, eyes narrowed. "Mm," she hums, nodding. "I'm a poor student; don't get out much. Haven't learned the lay of the land, you could call it."

Loki frowns. "I'm not above being crass," he reminds Thor. “Not for a good cause, especially.”

As if Thor needs reminding. "I know," he assures Loki. “I'm usually not either. But if we get tossed out that's the end of your dance party." It's a small, small town; this is the only drinking establishment bigger than an old-school diner. "Have a drink. Catch your breath. And then get back on the floor and shake it all out of your system."

Sif nods. "High school pals, back together for vacation," she says. "Just catching up with the tribe or what have you."

"Yeah," Thor says, looking at Loki. "That's pretty much the way I framed it. I'll make it up to you later, Lo. Go dance. Behave. I know you'll thank me."

~

They'll never see these people again. And he’s had a couple more beers now. As they're walking out the door at the end of the evening, Thor winks at Sif and lets Loki kiss him.

~

"That was awesome." Loki sprawls across Thor's lap in Sif's dorm's common room and massages one (very pretty) calf. "I haven’t danced like that since the last time we all went out together.” It’s true; these days Loki’s dancing opportunities are pretty much limited to bouncing around the living room. Solo. “I'm going to be so fucking sore tomorrow."

Thor kisses Loki's wrist. “Sorry not sorry,” he says, pulling in his own feet so they’re less likely to get stepped on. This isn’t a great place to hang out, but Sif’s room is ridiculously small and her roommate already has friends over. He so hasn't missed on-campus living. There are undergrads everywhere. He isn’t sure he can even remember being that young. Or that tiny.

"At least you're not the one facing a full day of classes," Sif points out. "Skip your hike. Hang out all day in the hotel hot tub."

Privately Thor thinks the hot tub in question is a few too many years past its prime. "If you're not up to hiking," he suggests instead as Loki switches legs and starts kneading the other one, "we can just drive around and look at things. We'll manage."

"You can carry me," Loki says. Sif snorts. "I really want to see that little creek Sif mentioned."

Thor rolls his eyes. "I don't remember them calling it 'Carrying Miss Daisy’."

Loki is clearly not too worn out to kick him.

~

Back at the hotel - where the rooms are, fortunately, both more modern and less grubby than the hot tub - Thor kneels astride Loki’s thighs and dribbles a wavy line of almond oil (they use it on their hands, they do… that's Thor's story and he's sticking to it) along Loki's spine. "Is this okay?" he asks as the cherry-rich scent of almonds drowns out the sweat and the greasy bar food. Loki grunts and Thor takes more of his weight back up with his own strong legs. "I know you’re sore from all that dancing. I don't want to hurt you."

"It's fine," Loki says, his voice muffled by the sheets. "Please. Stay there. I know it's going to be worth it."

Thor nods (not that Loki can see him, but nodding makes him feel better) to the back of Loki’s head and silently vows to do his best to deliver.

He starts by smoothing the oil, slowly and evenly, from the sharply bony base of Loki's neck to the dimples just above the tailbone. Only when there’s a thin film of oil everywhere, tattoos and pale skin alike shiny and slick, does he move on to just as patiently rubbing all of it in.

Loki relaxes more and more completely as Thor traces the lines of his shoulder blades and tattoos, ribs and spine. He hums happily as Thor works the tension out of the muscles along his shoulders and sighs as Thor kneads his upper arms until they’re limp.

The skin of Loki’s back is smooth, with nothing but tiny baby hairs. For a long while Thor zones out as he watches it shift with the push and pull of his hands. He’s mesmerized by the tattoos appearing and disappearing between his fingers. Their lines bend and come together differently again and again, much as clouds racing overhead turn from fish to trees to faces to elephants. It’s a secret language brought to life by touch.

Okay, yeah, maybe it’s not the only thing.

When he’s thoroughly de-kinked every muscle above the waist and it’s time to turn his attention to Loki’s lower back and hips, Thor is forced to inch gracelessly down the bed to give himself a better angle. Loki laughs as the mattress shifts and Thor’s not-the-least-bit-soft dick slaps against one thigh. “When you’re done,” Loki tells the rumpled bedding, “you can jerk yourself off on me if you want to. Not until you’re done, and if you don’t wipe it up before it gets cold I may hurt you. Tomorrow,” Loki adds, laughing again. “Right now I don’t think I could move if I had to.”

“You’re serious?” Thor holds very still, carefully not looking at Loki’s backside. “You don’t mind?”

Loki shifts just enough to glare at Thor with one eye. He blows a few strands of hair out of his face. “I very much mind that you’ve stopped.” His face softens. “But the rest? No. You know I would never suggest it if I minded.”

Privately – as much as he’d like to believe – Thor doubts that last bit, at least based on past experience. Still, Loki’s been better and better about sticking to the truth recently. “We’ll see,” he says. With all the thinking and talking (and the corresponding dearth of rubbing) he’s a little less hard now anyway. “Plus, like you just pointed out, I’m not even close to finished.”

He gently rocks Loki’s pelvis with the flats of his palms. “Relax,” he warns as Loki tenses back up a little. “Don’t make me start all over.”

“That’s hardly a threat, you know,” Loki shoots back. “I could lie here like this until morning.”

The skin of Loki’s bottom is softer and finer than it is farther up Loki’s back. Thor leans into several long up-and-down strokes, and then another, and another… partly just to compare and partly because Loki’s contented little grunts and purrs leave him grinning.

By the time he makes it to Loki’s ankles (after lavishing special attention on thighs and calves, because the muscles there were extra-tight and knotty) he’s yawning so often that it’s starting to get stupid. From what he can see Loki’s about three quarters asleep anyway, and they can’t curl up in bed while they’re both this oily. He thinks briefly about just going to the bathroom and grabbing a towel but reconsiders; he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t still aroused, and Loki worries needlessly when he refuses to act on it.

“Still don’t mind?”

Loki waggles his rear. “Shut up, Thor.”

Okay, then. Thor pours himself a little extra oil.

And he does let the splatters of semen cool before getting that towel, just for the fun of hearing Loki grumble.

~

Loki’s still complaining about sore legs when they sit down to breakfast, in a small place that looks reasonably promising. Thor remembers Sif’s warning, though, and steers them both clear of the home fries.

They ultimately settle on french toast. It’s fine. Not the best he’s ever had, no, but it’s better than adequate. Especially heaped with fresh strawberries and heavily dusted with powdered sugar. Sugar Loki helpfully licks off Thor’s bottom lip for him. “So,” Thor starts. He has to stop and clear his throat. “Should we just go for a drive? If you’re not up to hiking?”

“Hm.” Loki scrunches his nose. “I really do want to see that creek. I’ll suck it up. Let’s do it. It’ll be fine,” he adds as Thor protests. “It will. Really. I’m just feeling a little whiny.”

~

It actually is fine. Thor hangs back and lets Loki set the pace and, while they start off slow and a bit grumbly, before long they’re practically jogging. After all that food it just feels nice to be moving.

The hike out to the creek takes slightly less than hour. It’s only a creek in the end, nothing special, but they hug and Loki smiles and that makes everything totally worth it.

~

“I’m sorry I’ve been weird lately,” Loki says as they turn and start back towards the car. The return trip always feels shorter; Thor isn’t sure why. Maybe it’s because everything is familiar and there are no more surprises. “I thought I’d put all my own stuff behind me.” He gropes around for Thor’s hand; Thor reaches out and lets him grab it. “Maybe I haven’t.”

“That’s okay,” Thor tells Loki. He smiles to himself; he’s pretty sure they’re both falling a little short in that department. They’ve gotten through worse. “Look at the bright side,” he suggests. “It gives us something to work for.”

That’s the Thor Frigga knows and loves,” Loki says. He squeezes Thor’s fingers. “So… where do you think we should take Sif for dinner?”

Chapter Text

"It's been almost five years," Thor says, rolling his eyes. "When are you going to give the whole thing a rest already?"

Sif smirks at him around the fat straw of her smoothie. "Maybe when you finally convince me you're over it," she says. She takes another sip. "As in never, probably. You're not the only one here who's so. fucking. stubborn. What do you have to lose? Just call him already."

It's been almost five years. "He probably doesn't even remember me," Thor tries. As comebacks go it’s ridiculously weak. Loki invariably remembered every wrong life'd ever dealt, along with some it actually hadn’t. There's no way all of this somehow disappeared from memory. "He's bound to have moved on ages ago."

"Right," Sif says. She slices off another chunk of her omelet, egg and cheese plump with crabmeat and avocado. "Just like you did." She dips her loaded fork in the pool of spicy sauce and swirls it idly. "You don't even know what happened, Thor. You'll never rest without some closure."

He does know what happened, although over time it's grown less clear and not more so. "You're never going to let this go, are you?"

Sif sets her fork down and pats his hand. "Only when you do, kiddo."

She's heading to Alaska for the summer term to gather first-hand data on the shrinking glaciers. Most of the places she'll be staying have a generator at best. It will be at least four months before they talk again. Never in Thor's life has she been gone so completely. He loves it that she's in grad school, though. Loves how he won't always be the only doctor in their childhood posse. On her way north they're spending a few days in Seattle together. It's his treat; a little bon voyage gift before they really part company.

"This place has such a great view," he says in place of a real answer. Not that he’s lying; it’s gorgeous. They'd grabbed breakfast to go at the cafe downstairs - omelets and waffles and two freshly-made, raw whole-fruit smoothies - and brought it up to enjoy on the hotel's rooftop patio. He can see the whole of the bay from here, out over Pike Place market and Seattle's big ferris wheel. Last night they'd ridden the silly thing not once but three times, both of them giddy with excitement and a little too much craft beer. Later today they're going down to the aquarium, where Sif tells him he's going to pet some starfish. It’s a match made in heaven: Sif never could sit still, and Thor does a whole lot less thinking when his body’s in motion.

Except right now it’s not. Loki would love this place, Thor knows but doesn't say. Everything about the hotel would hit the spot, from the insanity of the market to the fancy burlesque restaurant across the back alley. The posh linens. The amazing scenery.

Without Loki here Seattle is a little less bright, a little more faded. And that’s the theme of Thor’s world these days. He’s starting to feel like the rest was a dream… like drab has been the story of his life forever.

"Yeah," Sif says, stretching up in her chair and twisting to look towards the stadium. The water is dotted with blue and white boats. She squeals. "Do you think we'll have time to ride one of those ferries?"

They'd actually meant to come here together, he and Loki. Back when they were still thinking in terms of our next big vacation - when they still thought of our- anything - Seattle had been on the short list, perhaps with Vancouver or Victoria if time and money permitted. That was before they'd spiraled down into a black pit of shittiness and given up rather than keeping on trying.

“It's not up to you what I fucking get over," Loki had screamed that fateful day in the office, with Darcy and Ian looking on in shocked silence. "I just can't do it. I can't do me. I can't do relationships. I sure can’t do this one. Maybe you should just get out already."

Thor still doesn’t know what made that fight any different from all the others. He’s had five years to think about it, too. He’d been out with Natasha that morning; had met the baby, had come back to work at lunchtime and commented on how nice the new parents were. He'd only meant to reassure Loki that someone did love Natasha's little one, not launch a war.

Or maybe it wasn’t so much that fight as- as everything. Maybe he'd just been daydreaming along, blind to the true depth of the mire into which they'd been sinking. To the way they were slowly drowning.

Not just Loki, but both of them.

Whatever it was, and after all this time he still hasn’t figured that out, something had snapped that afternoon. He'd leapt to his feet, chest heaving and ears ringing. He’d cursed and shouted right back at Loki, smashed his phone to pieces on the linoleum-over-concrete floor, and stomped straight out to his car. And then he'd driven away, ignoring Loki weeping and flailing behind him.

And for once Thor’d stayed mad. Not just a little bit, either; he’d been really, really fucking angry, with the furious righteousness of someone desperately trying to avoid feeling guilty. He hadn't bothered replacing his phone for several days. Not until after he'd come back – mid-morning, knowing Loki would be out at the rink - and retrieved his worn leather chair and some clothing. Oh, and left his keys and a signed, notarized quit-claim deed on the counter.

Thor had checked his voicemail, though, several times a day. Loki hadn't once bothered calling him.

Never did, actually. Not as the days stretched into weeks and then months. And now, somehow, it's five years later.

Even with the anger long gone that awful time still feels raw. Still feels recent. Thor can still picture Loki's frantic face when he closes his eyes, a little rectangle of horror neatly framed in the rearview mirror’s black plastic border.

"Huh?" Sif’s frowning at him from across the fancy teak picnic table, the pergola overhead painting her face and chest in broad stripes of sun and shadow. Thor belated remembers that she’d been talking. "Sorry, ferries. Right. I think so?" He blinks. Everything is blurry. His brain has shorted out. "There are lots. Lots of ferries, and they seem to run pretty often. If not, I’m sure we can do a harbor cruise or something."

He’d stayed around. At the time going back to the farm had felt like the worst sort of failure; in retrospect, he’d probably been more afraid of facing his mother’s endless questions. Either way the concept of pushing ahead instead of falling behind had given Thor something solid(ish) to shoot for. He'd moved in with Natasha for a while, splitting the rent to help them both get back on track until things had picked up again at school. His department head had been excited about the sudden openness of his schedule; the following term had found Thor teaching a full courseload and well on his way to publishing not one but two papers.

With nothing to concentrate on beyond chemistry for the first time in years, he had never been more focused. He'd never been more hollow, either.

"You should talk to him, sweetie," Frigga had suggested. "Of course I'm not trying to push," she'd assured him when he’d snapped back at her. "I just hate seeing you so sad. So lonely."

"If you're so over it, date someone else," Fandral had challenged (a few months’ worth of holiday visits back to the old hometown) later. "You're a hunky nerd. A fucking sexy college professor. Who wouldn't want a piece? You’re barely into your thirties, my friend. There’s no way you won’t feel better if you get some."

After that, Thor'd tried. He really had. Even in a smaller city there were, of course, plenty of places to meet somebody. He’d met lots of people, too. Except no one had the right dark hair or the right green eyes. More than that, no one had the sharp sarcasm and the warm hugs… all wrapped up in the right slim, tattooed body. And while the freedom to fuck someone's brains out without guilt or regret should have been exactly that - freeing - it wasn't. In the time he’d spent with Loki Thor had evidently lost whatever taste he'd once had for sex. The first time someone had climbed all over him, he'd literally vomited.

"Nah," he'd told each of his friends the next time they'd suggested he go out more… and the next time, and the next one, and every time thereafter. "These days I actually kind of like being solo." Over the years, most of them had finally let it go. All of them but Sif, actually.

"Are you going to finish that?" Her fork hovers over the wreckage of his waffle. Thor can see his own sad relection in the mirrored lenses of her sunglasses. He looks- pitiful. Ridiculous. "Because I can't watch it go to waste,” Sif goes on, tines barely a millimeter above the syrupy crispness. “Not when I won't be eating food this good again until sometime mid-October."

Waffles seem like pretty standard research camp food, but whatever. Sometimes the truth loses out to mental drama. "Take what you want." Thor forces a smile. "I guess I'm just not very hungry."

~

When he gets back to town everything is wrong somehow. Thor’s lonely. He rattles around in his little house – when things had quickly gotten too cramped at Natasha’s, and he’d longed to have time and space alone, he’d combed the listings and snapped up a small Cape Cod out in the suburbs – like he hasn’t in ages. Not since he’d first moved, probably.

Then, it had been a surprisingly large adjustment. He’d cried (in peaceful alone-ness) every day.

The setting was nice, sure. He wouldn’t have bought the place otherwise. It was a relief to be out of the noise of the city, he’d told everyone (himself). To have a yard instead of pots in which to garden. And it wasn’t like he was all that far from work, now that everything centered on the university. He’d quickly invested in a nice bike. Three years later he’s still riding it everywhere, whenever the weather will let him.

He shops in the suburbs, going to the movies and patronizing restaurants near his home. It’s easy not to go downtown. When you surround yourself with college kids on a budget, it’s not like you’re getting pressured to follow the trends. Thor normally manages to avoid everything he used to love completely.

After his week with Sif, though, he somehow no longer wants to.

~

The store looks exactly the same. Thor chains his bike to a signpost across the street and stands (okay, hides) behind a tree, just looking. The same lettering. The same words. The same green cards on the door, probably printed out in the same pretty handwriting. He’s too far away to know for certain.

Now that he’s here, Thor’s not sure what he expected. His heart thumps uncomfortably, and not from the ride alone. He glances up, at the windows of what used to be his apartment, and has to bite his knuckles to keep from crying.

He- he can’t. He’s just not ready. In the end, he unchains his bike with a sigh and pedals away… and then kicks himself the rest of the evening.

~

Four (four!) tries later he makes it past the door. The bells still chime. The store still smells of leather and paper, ink and dust. It’s clean enough. The kid at the counter is no one he recognizes. “Hi,” she says. “Can I help you?”

Thor’s palms are sweating. It’s gross. He wipes them on his shorts. “Just looking around,” he says, apologetically. “A long time ago, I used to work here.”

She frowns for a moment, studying his face, and then grins broadly. “Thor,” she says. “Right? Your picture is in back. Well, pictures,” she corrects herself, still grinning. “There are lots. Sorry.” Her face is so pink. “I don’t know how I didn’t recognize you.”

Pictures. Lots. Thor wrinkles his nose in confusion. “Really?”

She nods enthusiastically. He must be almost old enough to be her father. “This is so cool. Listen, are you in town for a few days? Loki’s not here,” she explains as he stares blankly at her, puzzled. “He’s gone for the day. You should come back… he’s going to be so bummed that he missed you.”

His brain had stopped working somewhere between lots and Loki. By the time her words finally take on meaning, the cashier is the one looking confused and wary. “Um, yeah, sorry,” Thor says. “Tired,” he doesn’t lie. “Long day. I’ll be around, sure. I can stop back if you think I ought to.”

“Oh, yes,” she says. “You’re a real, live legend.”

“Um, okay.” He knows he’s sounding stupid. Not like a published, tenure-track college professor. “When’s a good day, then?”

She fiddles with the wireless mouse; they’ve gotten a new computer, an integrated retail system with a built-in card reader. The door chimes again as another customer comes in behind him. Thor’s head swims. This place is so full of memories, he can hardly breathe. It’s stifling. “Be right with you,” she calls over his shoulder. “Right. What about Thursday? We’re open until nine.”

“Yeah,” Thor says. He clears his throat. “I know that.”

“Of course you do.” She smiles. “Sorry. I’ll tell him you were here.”

No,” he insists, voice a little too loud. “It’s been a while, I mean,” he covers. “I really wanted it to be a surprise.”

“Oh, right. Good idea. Want to have a look around while I help this lady?”

He just wants to run away, to be back out in the sunshine where his head’s not swimming and the world’s not on fire. “Nah,” he says. “I can do it all Thursday.”

“Bye, then,” she tells him. “See you later.”

“Mm.” Thor nods. “I’ll see you Thursday.”

Chapter Text

He doesn't tell Sif. Doesn't need to, since he knows exactly what she will say – for real - considering how many times she’s said it already. And of course Thor doesn't call his mom about his Thursday plans either. In Frigga’s case he's not quite sure what she will say, less sure he wants to hear it, and dead certain over thirty constitutes way too old to run every personal problem past your mother. And while he does tell one of his more perceptive (as in nosier, and probably more worried about him) teaching assistants he's going to meet up with an old ex, he quickly stumbles under the weight of her subsequent questions. No, it's not a booty call. No, it's not date. He sure hopes it's not an ambush, although he knows he might deserve one. "It's just a chance to say hi," he keeps repeating, "because it feels like too long since we've had one."

"You still like him," she says, far too matter-of-factly to pass for another question. She’s a wise kid. He's not old enough to be her dad, although some days - like this one - he feels it. "Is he seeing somebody?"

Thor shrugs. He hasn't yet decided if yes or no is better. Which is irrelevant, as he has no idea anyway. Even after an evening full of guilty googling, one that had barely turned up anything... not even a recent picture, just a few short news blurbs on small awards Loki and the store had won. "No idea," he tells her. "It's not like that."

"Mm," she hums as she slips her computer into its case. "Maybe not, but it sure seems like you want to."

He glares at her. She grins, which reminds him that he puts up with her because she calls to mind a much younger Natasha. "Want to what, exactly?"

She pulls off a perfect imitation of his own signature shrug. "Why, whatever you used to, Dr. Odinson."

~

He has no classes most Thursdays, just office hours around lunchtime. Thor stumbles through his normal routine on autopilot, gulping his coffee without tasting it and riding hard from his house to the campus gym so he can count his commute as cardio. He lifts weights alone, glad for once that Natasha, Steve, and Bucky are all stuck working. The few college kids and random faculty sharing the machines are virtual strangers; they're not likely to notice something’s going on, even if he's throwing himself into things a little too hard or his form is a bit too sloppy.

Plus, once he settles into his reps Thor stops going crazy.

While he's working out he feels good. It's not 'til he's done with his shower, dressed in actual clothes, and pedaling lazily between buildings that his brain finds its way back to worrying. In town for a few days, the Heart's Desire cashier had confirmed. Did Loki think he'd left the area, gone back to the farm or perhaps fled to the west coast? Would Loki be furious all over again after learning they'd spent all this time practically under one another's noses? Or wouldn’t it even be a real surprise? Thor moved away could just be the story Loki tells the staff, an uncorrected rumor that makes explaining easier.

Will Loki be happy he's got a place with a pretty yard, or will its address brand Thor a suburban sell-out? Will they never even get that far during a worthlessly brief "hi, bye" nonversation?

Will Loki even be there?

Is it better if he's not?

And of course it's almost the full hour before Thor sees a single student. One friendly, flirty freshman with one easy question. It feels like a setup, like he’s part of her experiment. He carefully keeps the whole discussion nice and professional. It's not like his colleagues think he's into girls anyway, but people talk and he sure doesn't need that kind of hassle.

She tries to linger. He reminds her office hours are over and gently but firmly closes the door.

~

The ride from campus to Loki's place will be a short one, only three or four miles long and not particularly hilly. Thor sets out his helmet and gloves in the interest of safety, but opts to leave the rest of his sweaty technical gear in his workout bag. He does this a lot, knows everything fits in his panniers with minimal pushing and shoving.

Which is handy; this time he has to pack twice, because he forgets to pull out a clip for his right pant leg and of course the nasty little things have all migrated straight to the bottom.

He pulls his hair back into a low bun, slides a wicking headband into place at his hairline, and snaps the chinstrap on his helmet. He's done this a thousand times before.

Regardless, he’s so fidgety and rattled that it's a struggle to get his gloves on.

~

Slowly, slowly, Thor reminds himself as he shifts gears and the park scenery flies by him a little less quickly. There isn’t any hurry. He’s not expected at any particular time, and he doesn't want to get there all gross and sweaty. Taking the park route may have been a poor choice, too, despite its peaceful beauty and the relative lack of traffic; he gets himself all choked up thinking about how most of the quails he and Loki once took such delight in watching have long since lived out their lives and died there.

In the end he turns back twice, each time changing his mind and starting over.

He knows with brutal certainty that failing to show up amounts to welding the tiny window of opportunity shut forever. It may already be tightly closed, and he may not even care (riiiight), but Thor’s positive he doesn’t want to be the one who seals it for all that’s left of eternity.

~

Same street, same signpost, same lock. Same terror. Thor unfastens his helmet and digs his fingers through his hair, finally opting to shake it out and then pull it back again. He rinses his face with his water bottle and strolls around, helmet dangling from his fingers, until he's mostly dry.

“Okay,” he tells himself aloud. “Here goes nothing.”

The door jingles far too happily. Thor swallows hard and squeezes into the store. There's no one at the register; just an older woman flipping through a basket of second-hand paperbacks at the far end of the counter. "They're eating lunch," she says with a friendly smile. "We're supposed to ring if we need something."

Thor makes himself smile back, unable to shake off the old habit of delivering good customer service. "Thanks," he tells her, because it’s the right thing to do. "But I'm just looking."

She laughs. "Sure you are," she says. "I tell myself that every time I come in here." She pats a neat stack of books – at least ten, maybe twelve high – waiting on the counter. "And you can see how well that's going."

He smiles again and turns away, helmet shoved under his arm. This is already too hard without the added burden of making small talk. He thinks yet again about turning around and going home, but they – whoever they are today – must have already seen him on the front door camera. Cowardice got him nowhere five years ago. It will get him nothing better today. At least the books are still wonderful. He slides one off the nearest shelf, a photo essay on the local barbeque competition circuit. Unsurprisingly – Loki picked it, after all - its pictures are compelling; tiny, heartfelt windows into so many lives. He turns its pages and wills himself calm.

“Hiii!!” Darcy’s near-shriek in the quiet store startles Thor. He fumbles the book and barely manages to catch it again without bending any pages.

“Crap. Hi!” He surrenders himself to her full-body hug, book in one hand and helmet in the other. He can’t just stand there dumbly while she squeezes him. “It’s so good to see you,” he tries. “You must never come down to campus anymore.”

She pushes him out to arm’s length and looks him up and down. “You look older. In a good way, I mean. And buff. So, so buff.” She grins and he’s sure his burning cheeks have more than a little to do with it. “I don’t need to come down there. I have Jane to spy on you. I’m kidding,” she adds as his mouth drops open. “Really, I am. I don’t remember the last time she mentioned you. Like, never, maybe?”

Thor’s heard that Jane – Darcy’s friend from that long-ago Chemistry of Space class – has stayed on to do some sort of post-doctoral work for one of the Physics and Astronomy professors. Space has never been his thing the way weather is, though, and it’s a big enough school. He pretty much never sees her. He says as much. “She must not be much of a spy.”

Darcy winks. “Either that, or she’s a really good one. Extra-extra stealthy.” Just like that, her smile’s gone. “So, why are you here?”

Thor blinks, startled briefly speechless. He carefully slips the book back where he found it and tucks the helmet up under his arm. “One of the cashiers told me to stop back today?” It sounds stupid. He feels stupid. He is stupid.

“Well, yeah, because you were in here already. Why?”

He clears his throat. “I-,” he starts, but he’s heading for a lie and it’s the wrong place to tell one. “My friends talked me into it. Sort of.”

Darcy rolls her eyes. “Seriously? All this time and that’s the best you can come up with? You’re really going to have to try harder.”

Thor takes a deep breath. “I miss you guys okay I miss this place I really miss Loki I just want to be sure he is all right,” he says in a rush, before he can think himself silent. “How about that? Is that good enough for you?”

She purses her lips. She’s wearing what might just be the reddest lipstick Thor’s ever seen. “It’s better, but… no. Are you sorry?”

The whole thing is surreal. It’s the middle of some random afternoon and he’s standing in the Food and Cooking section being grilled, of all things, by Darcy Lewis. Who is dressed for a date, not for work, which only makes everything all the weirder. “What are you?” Thor wrinkles his nose. “Loki’s bodyguard? His personal screener?”

“I’m the head of security here, since you quit. Yes, I hate it as much as you’d think I would, thanks for asking. So, are you sorry?”

Yes. Of course he is, in so, so many ways. All this time and he’s still discovering new ones. He looks at the floor. “Would it be better if I left?”

She reaches up, catches him by the chin, and gently shakes his head no for him. “Already been done,” she reminds him. As if he needs reminding. “Let’s just say it didn’t work so well last time.”

He snorts, even though she really isn’t funny. “Yeah, let’s. And yes, I’m sorry. Sorry you got stuck with my old job, even. But mostly sorry about- about Loki.” He’d liked that job; he misses it. He misses Loki a thousand times more.

“He’s sorry too,” Darcy says. “Loki, that is. We all want you to know that, no matter what he says to you.”

Thor’s stomach sinks. “Okay,” he tells her. “Thanks for the wa-.”

“Well well well,” Loki says from just behind Thor, so close and so suddenly that Thor and Darcy both jump; Thor’s hot and cold all over. “Look what the cat dragged in.”

“Good to see you, Thor,” Darcy says as she backs away. “See you around, maybe?”

She’s gone before Thor can hope to answer.

He turns around, heart hammering. “Hi.” His fifteen or twenty carefully prepared speeches all desert him, along with most of the rest of his words.

“Welcome back,” Loki says, in an icy tone of voice that’s expressly not welcoming. “To the place you don’t work. To the building where you don’t live. To the-.”

“Please don’t,” Thor begs. He’s already starting to tear up and he’s barely had a chance to say anything. “Please. I’m so sorry.”

“Why are you here?” Loki’s jaw is set. The sides of his head are still just longer than shaved, but the dark braid hooked over his shoulder hangs nearly to the nipple Thor is expressly not picturing. He looks tired. Strained. Like he’s going for angry but only barely making it past fucking terrified.

Thor thinks back to his discussion with Darcy. Tries, anyway… his thinker isn’t really working. He’d planned to keep this light; it isn’t. “I miss you,” he says, simply. He shrugs. “Been wondering how you were doing. My friends reminded me I could probably find out by, um, asking.”

Loki jams his hands in his pockets. “This is weird. You know that, right?”

“Yeah, probably.” Thor tries to smile. And fails: from Loki’s expression it must look more like he’s getting something amputated. “Okay, no, definitely. I’m weird. Can’t help it.”

“That you are,” Loki agrees. His expression softens a little. “Look, I didn’t mean to be an ass just now. This is just- hard for me. Unexpected.”

“I’m sorry,” Thor offers lamely. Now that he’s finally said it he can’t stop, evidently. “I didn’t mean to freak you out. I can leave if you wa-.”

Loki cuts Thor off with a quick hand to the chest, just the very tips of his thumb and fingers. The other hand is still safe in its pocket. “No,” he says, “don’t.” Thor shivers. “Give me a minute, okay? I really do want to talk to you.”

“Um, yeah. Sure.” Thor brings his own free hand up to touch the tiny burning points Loki’s fingers have just vacated. He nods towards the books. “Take your time. I’ll just browse until you’re ready.”

Chapter Text

"Do you really think that's a good idea?" Loki turns to face Thor but stops short of making actual eye contact. "I mean, given everything that's happened?"

Thor doesn't know what that means, isn't sure he wants to. It's just coffee. "I don't know? I hope so?" He rubs an imaginary smudge off the edge of the counter with the tip of one finger. There are so many things he isn't sure he wants to know these days.

Loki neatens a pile of books. The customer from earlier is long since gone, her selections gone with her, but there are plenty more stacks to choose from. It’s still a bookstore, after all. "Look, are you with someone? Because if you are I don't-." He stops and clears his throat. Thor tries to stay calm(ish) by skimming the titles. Minotaurs. Greco-Roman mythology. Norse legends. Creative writing. "Never mind,” Loki says, instead of continuing wherever he’d been heading. “Are you?"

"No," Thor says softly. "Nobody. Listen, it doesn’t have to be coffee. Would you rather go for a walk or something?" It hits him rather belatedly that Loki may be working. "Or I could come back another time." He wants to drop to his knees on the hard floor and beg. He doesn't; that would be too far over the top (under the bottom?), no matter how sincerely he meant it. In fact, maybe it’s time to cut his losses and head back to- anywhere that’s not here before things get any more awkward. "I should just-," he starts.

"A walk is good," Loki says before Thor can finish. "Let me get someone out here."

He doesn't offer a tour or a quick look around. Thor's glad, actually. It's too much. He's not ready.

~

"Hi." The college-aged woman who trots down the main aisle and slips behind the counter to sign into the register - to sign in, here of all places - isn't anyone he's met before. "The boss should be back down in a couple of minutes."

Thor nods. Before he can find his manners and thank her, let alone introduce himself like a normal person, the door jingles. Customers. Three women and a man, all chatting happily. Thor strains to remember the last time he'd sounded so upbeat. Never, maybe.

~

“All set?”

"Wow," Thor blurts out, shocked back from his daydreams. He can't help himself. Loki's leaning against one of the bookshelves, having traded slacks and a collared shirt for- for layers. Diaphanous, that’s the word Thor’s looking for. Loki’s calf-length open coat skims over a flowing tunic and loose pants, everything in shades of green that range from spring-leaves-pale to mossy. A sudden gust of wind and Thor will know, well, a lot more than he needs to just now about Loki. He coughs a little and thumps his own chest. "You look nice," he says, because he's still Master of the Obvious, even all these years later. "Sharp outfit." He hopes this is for him, or just for Loki, hopes Loki doesn't have a date after this. Didn't kiss a lover goodbye upstairs. Is okay, of course, but alone and maybe even slightly lonely.

"Careful," Loki says, the beginnings of a sharp grin playing around his eyes and lips. "Despite our best efforts, we do sometimes get a fly in here."

Thor snaps his own mouth shut so fast that his teeth clack together. His neck, cheeks, and ears burn. "Sorry," he says. "You look nice,” he repeats. “I'm-... I'm-."

"Thirsty," Loki finishes, grinning solidly now. "I see that. Maybe we do need to stop for coffee."

"A walk is fine," Thor counters. He must look something more than flustered; Loki's smile falters. Thor spreads his hands, trying gamely to recapture the fluttering shreds of his lost composure. "Shall we? I'm ready when you are."

~

"Where did you park?" Loki scans up and down the street as the door thuds shut behind them. It's kind of an off time; there are actually several open spaces.

Thor points. His bike is in the sun now and it stands out, its cherry red and silver bright against the dark grey sidewalk. "Today’s a nice enough day. I rode over."

Loki frowns and Thor feels a quick spike of worry. If Loki honestly does think he's just in town for the week, they may have only seconds left before things turn ugly. Thor counts silently to ten; any longer will look sketchy. "From school," he offers. Better to know, he tells himself, but of course it probably isn't. "I had to go into work for a little while earlier."

"Mm," Loki hums in something like agreement. Thor breathes out through pursed lips, not quite a sigh and quite a whistle. "Nice color,” Loki says, nodding towards the bike. “It suits you. Do you keep it in your office?"

"Never for more than eight or nine hours," Thor jokes, laughing increasingly uncomfortably at his own lame attempt at humor (which is, as always, more stupid than funny). "I commute on it when the weather lets me," he explains, not checking to see if Loki's laughing with (or at) him. "So, no, I rode in from- from my place earlier." He's lived there for a while but "home" still doesn't come easily. Not in front of Loki, anyway.

"And where's that?" Loki shades his eyes with one hand and squints at Thor. "Let's get going. That sun behind your head is brutal."

As he falls into step beside Loki, Thor mumbles the name of the suburb. "I like being closer to nature but I miss- I do miss the city."

"Oh," Loki says. Thor counts to twenty this time. "Want to walk to the park? You must have seen the fountain."

Sometimes in the movies the bomb lands right in front of you... but doesn't go off somehow. Thor's always wondered what that feels like. A bit like this, maybe. "Read about it," he says as evenly as he can (yeah, not very). He’s still bracing for the explosion that hasn’t come. "I- I try not to go downtown if I can help it."

"White flight," Loki says as Thor says "too many memories."

"Oh," again, and then Loki lands a step wrong and almost stumbles.

"Too hard," Thor adds, softly. "Couldn’t do it. I've really missed you."

"Mm," Loki hums. Which could mean anything. Or nothing. Both, probably.

They stroll along in what Thor hopes is companionable silence for one block and then another. It isn't until he steps politely aside and gives Loki room to squeeze past a construction pylon that Thor notices that Loki's limping slightly.

"Did you hurt yourself back there?" He hadn't even thought to ask; he'd been far too buried in his own shit to notice. Story of his life, probably. "Do we need to stop? I'm sorry!"

"It's fine." They're walking single-file past a dug-up stretch of sidewalk; Thor can only watch the back of Loki's head. The sharp lines of his shoulders through the thin layers of fabric, the olive duster fluttering along behind him. "I broke my ankle a while ago. Sometimes it's still touchy."

“Holy shit,” Thor says. “That must have really sucked.”

Loki snorts. When he turns his head and glances briefly back at Thor, his small smile actually feels genuine. “You could say that,” he says. “The store isn’t great with crutches. I had to use the front door – not nearly as many steps that way – and hopping all the way up to the apartment was so not happening.” His shoulders stiffen. “I had to take that fucking elevator of yours for eight straight weeks. It was awful. The first few days Darcy actually had to ride with me.”

Thor can feel Loki’s anxiety, knows just what it’s like. “Ugh,” he says sadly. “That must have been horrible.”

“Mm hm.” Loki nods. “I’d love to say I got used to it, but what I really got was sick of looking so cowardly. I found that, if I put my hands over my ears and squeezed my eyes shut tightly enough to see stars, I could just do it. Now I have a hard time even walking by the goddamned thing.” He laughs. “Apparently I’m a lost cause and everything about it’s hopeless.”

“You can’t help it.” The old familiar rush of guilt washes over Thor. “I never should have fixed that thing.”

“Nonsense!” As they reach the end of the sidewalk work, Loki slows to let Thor come back up beside him. “Living in the office for eight weeks would have been a whole lot worse. Look at it this way: you practically saved me.”

Thor smiles at Loki. He wants to take Loki’s hand, has to remind himself doing so would be totally inappropriate. “Was that,” he half-kids, “when you stopped hating me?”

Loki shoots Thor a shrewd look. “It was less than a year ago. I’d stopped hating you long before that.”

“I only lasted a couple of weeks,” Thor tells the storefront they’re walking past. “At least, that’s the point where I realized it was actually myself I was hating.”

“Ouch,” Loki says. He’s laughing but it hasn’t been so long that Thor’s forgotten this particular tone of voice. “I bet that took all the fun out of it.”

There hadn’t been any fun, not from the very first second. “Wasn’t the best day of my life, let’s just say,” Thor confesses. He hadn’t planned to talk about this. Not that he’d actually planned to talk about anything… but not this, for sure. “So,” he tries, brightly. “Tell me about the fountain.”

“Nice try,” Loki says. “If you’d been honestly curious about the park you’ve had, what, three years to get there? “ He sighs. “Likewise, if you’ve been wondering how I’ve been doing, well, you’ve had even longer to investigate that one. So, why? Why now? Did you just get dumped or something?”

“No!” Thor stops walking, no longer able to safely operate both his feet and his brain. He can hardly remember the last time he went out with someone as anything more than friends. “I haven’t dated in years. I’ve been-.”

“Moping?” Loki comes a few steps closer. So they’re not forced to shout, maybe.

“Kind of.” Thor takes a deep breath. “Listen. When you asked me back at the store and I told you I missed you, I meant that.” Two more breaths. He studies his own feet in their dorky convertible bike shoes. “Not just one but three of my friends pointed out that, sure, while the odds of your agreeing to give things another try might be close to zero if I asked you… they were guaranteed zero if I didn’t.” Oh, good grief. Not the right thing to say, not now especially.

Loki blinks. “And this was when, exactly?”

Thor can feel his face flushing again. “It started months ago. More, maybe.” He’s such an idiot. “It took me a long time to work up to- to risking crushing the tiny seedling of hope, I guess.”

“Oh,” Loki says, yet again. Thor shuts his eyes. It’s probably just him, but he could swear he feels the sidewalk swaying. “Huh. For years I told myself this might happen. I dreamed about it. I probably would have prayed, except that it’s not like there’s anything out there to listen.”

Thor feels abruptly sick. “And by the time it finally did happen,” he finishes, “it no longer mattered, right?” He’s such an ass. Five years alone and of course this whole thing between them is long since dead, gone, and buried.

“I didn’t say that,” Loki says, hotly. “I wasn’t going to say that. It’s just- I gave up, I guess. Shelved everything away.”

“So it’s too late. I’m too late.” Thor can feel the tears starting. “Fuck. I’m such an idiot.”

“Jesus, Thor, would you stop that?!”

Thor wrinkles his nose. “Hm?”

“This is all confusing enough without your mountains of self-sabotage heaped on top of it.” Loki shoves Thor forward, just this side of roughly. “Fountain. Park. No more talking.”

“I didn’t mean-,” Thor starts.

“Hush,” Loki insists. “Fuck.” He scrubs his face with both hands. “I’m sorry. That was rude. What I meant was: please, give me a little time to process this.”

Thor needs some processing time too, time to get his head around the fact he’s basically just laid it right out there that he’d like them to be a thing again. Which, yes, is getting the cart so far ahead of the horse that it’s rolling down the road somewhere in the next fucking time zone. For starters, he doesn’t even know if Loki’s single.

Still… Loki hasn’t said no, exactly.

~

The fountain isn’t quite what Thor expected. There’s no water arcing up into the sky; instead it pours down from the top of the hardscape in a series of cascading, splashing waterfalls. “Wow,” he says, forgetting for a moment that he’s being respectfully quiet while Loki’s thinking. “It’s cool,” he adds, sheepishly. “Pretty.” He hasn’t been here since the two of them last skated. Even though it’s warm out, the stress of- of everything has him shaking.

A sudden burst of wind presses Loki’s thin clothes against his body. Thor has to close his eyes; everything is so achingly familiar. “Okay,” Loki says, finally.

It doesn’t compute. “Huh?”

“Okay,” Loki repeats. “You’re right. Maybe we should go out for coffee.”

Chapter Text

"So," Sif says brightly, "how was it?"

"Fun," Thor tells her. And it had been, at least once the initial cognitive dissonance of simultaneously wanting to flee and being exactly where he'd hoped and dreamed for the previous 1,280-ish days had started to dissipate. The coffee had been delicious, the company even better. "It was nice. I had a good time; I think he did."

"And?" Sif laughs. "I'm not trying to push things along, I swear. I just know there's more. You're a closet planner."

Unflattering but true: Thor always feels most at ease when he's pretty sure what's coming. He's never been much of one for surprises. "And,” he concedes, shaking his head at the smile in her voice, “we're going to take a few days to see how we feel and then maybe go out to dinner."

"And he's doing well?"

Thor shrugs even though there's no one to see and they're on opposite ends of a conversation that's actually bouncing off a satellite somewhere. It's handy that Sif's near a base camp when he's got things to talk about. "Seems like it. He told me he took advantage of the last few years to finally get some counseling, and stuck it out until he found a therapist he could work with. Says he's still himself, but calmer. Better." He laughs. "But he assures me he can't call himself grounded without gagging."

Sif laughs too. "So, no lobotomy?"

"Nope!" Thor sighs, happily. "Pretty much seems like the same old Loki." He's fighting not to get his hopes up; they're too close to dizzyingly high already.

"I'm excited for you. Both of you," she says. "And I really do hope you find more than closure."

He's fine with closure, actually, so as long as it means the rest of their lives spent together. He knows better than to say that; she'll give him a lecture. "I really do want this to work out," he tries instead, hoping he’s striking the right balance between honest and crazy.

"Yeah," Sif says. "I know you do, kiddo."

~

Thor doesn't tell anyone else he has a date – if that’s even what it is - although he can't shake the feeling that his coworkers can sense it. After the fourth "someone's extra-cheerful" in as many days, in fact, he knows he must be practically broadcasting it. And the whole thing only gets better-ly worse when Loki's the first to reach out and confirm things.

By phone. At lunchtime. Both are Things That Never Happen.

"You're sure Saturday is okay?" Thor asks, stupidly, for at least the third time in a five-minute conversation. He doesn't want to get in the way of Loki's store obligations.

"It's fine," Loki promises. Again. "I sometimes pay the kids a little extra to work the weekends. They love it." He laughs. "Seriously, Thor, they're home by 10:00. No party worth going to starts that early. Please don't tell me you've forgotten what it's like to be young."

"Ah, true," Thor hedges. That particular part of college, he kind of had forgotten. Old age has crept up while he hasn't been paying attention. "Anyplace in mind?" He hasn't been out in the city in ages, doesn't have a clue what's opened or closed there.

Loki hums. "Nothing better than nice casual," he suggests. "But let's not pick until we know what we're in the mood for."

Thor's in the mood for talking with Loki. He thinks back to Loki's cool fingers on his wrist over coffee, to how they'd shared a surprised little smile, like it was more than either one of them had been expecting. "You decide. Just remember," he warns instead, "I've really never made my peace with the fish here."

Loki's full-on laughter makes Thor warm all over. "Two places in town have started bringing daily loads from Boston," Loki says. "But, no, I hadn't forgotten." He quiets. "I don't think I've forgotten anything, really."

"Oh." Thor comes back down to earth with a jarring thud. "Lo, I really am sorry," he offers, too depressing and too familiar. “I didn’t intend to-.”

"No no! I didn't mean it that way," Loki tells him. "Shit. I still suck at talking on the phone, apparently."

Thor makes himself smile at the book in his lap. The drawings of sheep are silent. Judging. "That's okay," he says. "Same here. Me, too. Clearly."

~

On Friday Thor gets a good haircut. He's been letting his mop go; when it's up in a knot one day after another it's too easy to forget how long you've gone between trims. Several inches long, apparently. When it just brushes his collarbones again he feels so much lighter.

Saturday morning he tries on every shirt he owns and thanks whatever's out there that he has no witnesses. It's a beautiful day and he could be outside. Instead he’s in his bedroom, proving he's simply lost his marbles. He wants to look the same; he wants to look different. He wants to be everything but feels like nothing.

when's good, he texts a little after noon, after tapping out and then deleting five or six variations on are we still doing something?

six? Loki suggests, not thirty seconds later. little walk, drinks, dinner?

Mm, perfect. pick you up or meet somewhere? Even Thor's not ridiculous enough to bike to dinner. Not this (first, he hopes) time, anyway.

'i'd love to see your house' is too forward, isn't it, Loki replies. meet me out back by the stairs... we'll go somewhere around here maybe

Not so perfect. Thor desperately hopes parking by the dock won't leave him sobbing. sure, he sends instead, ignoring both his own stupid brain and Loki’s house comment. looking forward to it

me too

That's good enough. That's plenty.

~

He settles on a smoky grey shirt (from his mom, a couple of years ago at Christmas). It's new to Loki, it gets lots of compliments, and it hasn't been tainted by his own failed attempts at dating. There won't need to be any awkward conversation around how or why or when he got it. Not that he doesn't intend to be wholly honest when it comes to his sad little interim activities; he does. Perfectly. But not this time. Not before dinner.

Not before drinks, anyway.

Red knit tie. No tie. Red tie again. He studies himself in the mirror and makes a face at his sad-anxious reflection. Tie. No Tie. Tie. Ugh. The shirt needs something, but the tie? It screams dorky professor.

"I like the red knit," Sif says when he emails a few pictures. The connection where she isn’t up to a webcam. "Makes you look like you're trying too hard." She laughs. "At this stage, in this game, I think that's a good thing."

She’s got a point there, Thor thinks. At this stage in this game, Loki likely needs a lot of winning over.

With the tie decision settled Thor moves on to the rest of his outfit. He ultimately swaps out his dark khakis (too preppy) for jeans and pronounces the whole thing serviceable. With his hair in loose, messy waves and his sleeves rolled up, he looks fractionally less academic and more date-worthy. No watch. Braided leather bracelet with a large silver hammer as its catch, because it turns out his brother’s wife has an actual sense of humor. Boots.

By the time he finishes screwing around it’s already after 5:30.

~

Thor’s shaking as he comes to a near stop and then turns into the narrow driveway. He hasn’t been behind Heart’s Desire since the day he’d moved out. Sort of. Barely. He’d been in a big hurry, desperate not to get caught there. He wonders if Loki ultimately put the rest of his stuff out in the dumpster. Donated it, probably. Loki always likes to be neighborly and it’s only natural that someone who loves old things would prefer to avoid being wasteful. Thor feels sharply sad for his lost stuff. Especially since – in five years – he’s never even bothered to miss it.

The big mural hasn’t changed much, only looking a little weathered around the dock where things inevitably rub against it. There isn’t any evidence of a recent party.

There is, however, one new sign on the door. Not new-new, though; it’s a little scuffed and the lettering has that chalky look paint gets in this climate. If you’re reading this, you don’t belong back here, it says. All business to the front door, and everything is business. No exceptions.

Thor’s not sure if he should laugh or cry. Rather than ringing the doorbell he decides it’s better – safer – to walk back over to his car and text Loki.

Instead of responding Loki opens the door and peeks out from behind it. “You look pretty,” he says, smiling, and Thor wonders if he’d been watching all along. Loki slips out from behind the door and pushes it gently shut. “Ready?”

Thor doesn’t answer; he’s suddenly far too busy gawking.

Loki has somehow rolled back the clock. He looks exactly like he did back when Thor first met him. He, too, sports freshly-cut/shaved hair. The snakebite piercings are back in place. Out from beneath an airy green sweater that’s more air than fabric peek a tight, dark tank and even tighter, darker pants. Loki’s chunky black boots are mostly straps and buckles. His initial smile fades into worried confusion. “You okay?”

“Um. Yeah. I’m good.” Thor coughs politely into his own elbow. “You- I- crap. You look wonderful.”

Loki snorts. “I look old, more like it.” He tugs at his pants. “This may be the last year I can get away with dressing like this. Hopefully it’s not one year too many.” He starts down the steps. “You’re just too far away to fully unappreciate it. Or maybe you’re getting hard of seeing.”

As far as Thor’s concerned he’s fine seeing only this forever. “Nonsense,” he insists. “I don’t believe you. Um, walk or drive? Since you’re the one who knows where we’re going,” he adds. Stupid. It had been his idea to begin with.

“Walk, I think.” Loki looks at Thor’s boots, then down at his own. “It’s not like either of us is sporting stilettos.”

That breaks the ice. Thor giggles. Loki has the legs for it, but the idea of his own big feet and meaty calves dolled up drag-queen-style just- well, it isn’t an appealing one. “No,” he agrees, still laughing. “It’s a good thing we’re relatively sensible.”

They round the corner and head east. Thor lets Loki set the pace and drive the tone of the conversation. It dawns on him belatedly that he’s still not sure if this is an actual date or “just” an attempt to strike up a plain old friendship, and that leaves him feeling even more awkwardly self-conscious. Relax, he tells himself. Whatever this is, he’s out on a beautiful night with a beautiful man... one he misses terribly and wants to spend time with. There’s no need to overreact, no need to let himself drive himself batty. He nods and hums sympathetically as Loki tells stories about difficult internet customers. It’s almost like talking. Easy-peasy.

“This okay?” Loki asks and Thor shakes his head in what he hopes is an unobtrusive attempt to snap out of the fog he’s slipped into. The bar-restaurant, while not new, is still fairly trendy. It’s not somewhere they ever went when they dated. It’s also well over a mile from the store, far enough that he’s not sure how they got here. Hopefully they haven’t been stumbling along in silence for the last twenty minutes.

“Sure,” he says. “It’s great. Sorry I’m being weird. I’m nervous.”

He expects a good-natured joke but doesn’t get one. “Yeah,” Loki agrees instead. “Me too. Very.”

“This place is fine,” Thor promises. “Really.” He pulls the door open. “After you,” he offers with a silly, dramatic hand swoop, just because he desperately needs to be doing something.

“Two,” Loki says to the host. “It’s under Laufeyson.”

~

“Ooh, cool!” Loki’s already teetering at the edge of a large glass rectangle, in the floor of all places. Thor comes up beside him and has to blink away an unpleasant wave of vertigo; there’s a wine cellar beneath them, its floor dangerously distant. Loki steps onto the glass and tugs Thor forward. “Good thing we don’t have skirts on.”

“Do you wear skirts often?” Thor watches Loki’s face to keep from looking down. He’s not normally weird with heights but this is getting to him. Even so he’s genuinely curious. It’s been five years. A lot can happen.

“No,” Loki says. He smiles. Up close Thor can see the beginnings of wrinkles around Loki’s eyes. Thor wants to touch them, to feel the soft skin beneath the tips his fingers. He doesn’t. “I’ve found it gives people the wrong impression.”

“Do I have the wrong impression?” Thor bites the inside of his cheek. He shouldn’t go there. On the other hand, he really doesn’t like not knowing what they’re doing.

Loki takes his hand and steers him back towards their table. “I hope not.” A quick squeeze of the fingers. “No? I don’t think so?”

“Are you dating?” Thor finally dares to ask over their third round of drinks. He knows they should order some actual food shortly. He has enough for cab fare, and he can bike back tomorrow if needed, but leaving his car at the store feels like a bad idea regardless.

“Hm.” Loki gestures back and forth between them, at their intertwined fingers and the glasses on the table. “It looks it. But overall? No. Not in a while.” He shrugs. “I tried but my old shtick just wasn’t working. I’d gotten too used to having boundaries, I guess, and to having people respect them.”

That’s all kinds of sad. “So you never really found someone?” Thor asks instead.

“Hah,” Loki says. “As if. Seriously, no one even made it back to the apartment.”

Thor takes another swallow of his drink. The ice clinks. “Is that why you’re here, then?”

Loki frowns. “No,” he says. “I’m here ‘cos I’ve missed you.”

Chapter Text

It’s a cozy table, more or less out of the way, in what barely passes for a quiet corner (and if Thor has one complaint about this place, it's that the main restaurant space is far too loud... next time he intends to find out what it takes to eat in the wine cellar, even if doing so requires both friends and money). Once they’ve taken time to relax and set aside their drinks for fancy comfort food, Loki and Thor finally find themselves doing some actual talking.

It turns out Loki's been busy while Thor's been- coasting, or at least that’s how it feels: along with all that therapy ("They made me do group. Group," Loki says, with an overly dramatic shudder. "Like there was actually something wrong with me," and how on earth do you respond to that?), he's gotten his MBA ("concentration in Marketing, of course; mad manipulation skilz for the win") and spent some time studying Pilates. He hasn't skated for months, not since the ankle, but recently found both a personal trainer and a sports-medicine-focused physical therapist with the intention of getting back on the ice next season.

"It's amazing how much time and money you have when you suddenly find yourself doing pretty much nothing," Loki says when Thor expresses- surprise? Admiration? More like shock, probably. "I was running away from pain like I always have. My therapist wanted me to try running towards something." He sets down what's left of a drumstick and licks his shiny fingers.

Thor's glad the place is dark enough to hide his own burning cheeks and neck. "An MBA, though? You? Seriously?"

Loki snorts. "Pretty funny, huh? All those earnest young suits and then me in my ink and my jeggings. Not my first choice of majors, for certain." He picks up the bone-in breast and studies it carefully. "This is so good, but I can never figure out how to knife-and-fork it. Anyway, my stupid degree did open some new doors for me. And it's been surprisingly great for the brick-and-mortar store. Plus," he adds after a dainty nibble of meat - Thor's never understood how Loki can eat sloppy food so neatly and knows if the situation were reversed he would be wearing half the plate by now - "the looks on people's faces when they try to reconcile MBA with this are priceless. Seriously." He licks his lips. Thor both figuratively and literally shakes off the urge to do it for him. "So, what have you been up you while I've been shifting paradigms?" he asks, making pretty air quotes despite the chicken.

Thor blinks. Even after all this time it’s practically impossible to both think and watch Loki eat. "Um," he stalls, like he always has. "Working? Gardening."

"Right." Loki winces. "I've tried my hardest with those roof planters of yours, but I pretty much suck at it. I'm actually embarrassed to show you."

Oh. Inside the apartment. Up on the patio. Not ready. Another time, maybe. Thor has to set down his fork and clear his throat. "I do come from a long line of farmers," he reminds Loki. "Probably gives me just a little advantage." He tries his best to smile like a normal person. "The house is nothing special but I do what I can to make the yard pretty." And it is: a never-ending parade of flowers three seasons out of four; conifers and bright berries to brighten the sad drudgery of winter. He has more bird feeders than his mother and tries to think fondly of Oscar whenever one turns into a cat cafeteria. "And you know about the bike: staying fit, reducing my carbon footprint, blah blah blah."

"Setting a good example for all those poor little students," Loki teases. "The ones who spend their whole semester ogling these thighs." He nudges Thor's leg under the table and Thor manages not to jump. Barely.

"Believe it or not I think they prefer molecules," Thor insists.

"Right," Loki says, laughing. "That's exactly what Darcy always says about them. Anyway, speaking of farmers, how's the family?"

They're sure not getting any younger, Thor tells Loki sadly. Just last summer Odin had fallen in the barn and scared the crap out of everybody. It hadn't turned out to be a stroke after all, and Thor’s father’s been back on the job for months now, but in the aftermath Odin has yet another scar and a fancy new implanted defibrillator. Nan and Baldr have taken pretty much everything. Thor’s nephew For is in kindergarten already.

Sif almost counts as family, so he fills Loki in on her degree and her post-doctoral research. He's more than halfway through the Alaska part before it hits him that he sounds exactly like a proud father.

That’s okay. She deserves one.

"Wow," Loki says when Thor finally runs out of things to share. "That's- it's a lot. I'm sorry you had to deal with it. Your dad being sick and all that, I mean." Loki rolls his eyes. "Obviously Sif's degree didn't put you out any."

It actually kind of had, her being completely off the grid through the worst of his self-flagellation, but that’s not something Thor’s ready to admit quite yet. He'd rather not make a big deal of how down he'd (he's) been feeling. Not until- whatever this might be is more firmly established, anyway. He shrugs. "I got by," he tells Loki. "I always do."

"Mm," Loki hums, and Thor's not sure if it's over the speech or the food. "Still, it must have been difficult. I feel like I’ve missed a lot somehow."

You did, Thor doesn't bother saying. They did. They have. "Same," he tries instead, thinking about the ankle. All that studying. The elevator. “It’s kind of a bummer.”

Loki sits up straight and squares his shoulders. "So," he says briskly, blotting his lips with his napkin. "We should get to the point. You looked me up. You've missed me. You seem to want to go out – to continue going out, I mean - again. What are you hoping will happen?"

Thor coughs, caught off-guard and oh, so happy his mouth is actually empty. "I- I’d like us to be a couple again. If you would. But I want whatever that means now to unfold naturally." He clears his throat again. He's practiced this, repeatedly. It's still hard. "I don't want to just rush back into everything, in case that lands us right back in-."

"-a shitheap of bad old habits," Loki finishes.

Thor nods. "Pretty much. Plus, like you said, we've missed a lot. That has to mean we're not the exact same people we were. So I suppose what I really want is to get to know you all over. Oh, gross," he groans, half laughing and half crying. "That sounded so much better in my head. Honestly."

"Stop," Loki says a little too sharply, but his warm hand is on Thor's wrist and he's grinning. "I know what you meant. I do. That, and what you actually said was too fucking funny.” He gives Thor’s hand a quick squeeze. “How ‘bout I say ‘I want the same’ and then just leave you guessing?”

~

“A date,” Frigga echoes. In the background Thor can hear his brother talking with someone. “With Loki.”

“Yeah.” Thor doesn’t bother clarifying that it’s been dates, really. Along with the walk, the coffee, and the awkwardly delicious dinner, they’ve been to the art gallery, the museum, the zoo, and a campy fun screening of Godzilla at the local museum of photography. Oh, and a guided hike along the waterfront and a tour of the lighthouse, and they’re planning on doing the ArtWalk next Thursday. It’s neat being tourists in their own city. And while they’re still working their way up to really visiting one another’s private spaces, Loki has picked him up at his house (and oohed and ahhed properly over all the greenery) twice now. They’re taking the time to really ease into things – to get to know each other properly like normal people - now that they’re real grown-ups and not just a young bookseller and a graduate student. “It’s nice,” he tells his mother. “I’m excited.”

He is. Nervous, sure, but less so with each fun afternoon the two of them spend together. Loki has only gotten more engaging over time – he’s come back to Thor with even more great stories – and surprisingly enough Thor’s own relationship capital appears to have risen as well.

“Is this just a casual thing,” Frigga asks, “or are you hoping for a chance to get back together?”

Ten. Nine. Eight. Old habits die hard. “I’m hoping it works out,” he admits. “I’ve really missed him.”

He makes himself not count while he waits for her answer. “I’ve missed him too,” she says, finally.

“You’ve just missed the books,” he huffs, mostly kidding. It’s hard to talk about any of this with anyone without wanting – without needing - to relieve the tension.

“The store is online,” she reminds him, laughing quietly. “Don’t you be so certain.”

(Far) more than once over the last few years Thor had nearly succumbed to the same temptation. Only a sad lack of creativity over shipping locations – he hadn’t wanted to give himself away, and ordering things for delivery at school had always felt like it would set off every alarm possible – had stopped him. Which is dumb now that he thinks about it, given his new home address. Regardless he’d bought very few books post-Loki, actually, barely enough to count on two hands. That’s not good. If things keep going well, he plans to fix that particular problem shortly.

“So you’re okay with it?” So awkward. All these years and talking about his feelings with his mother still doesn’t come easily.

“You’re my son,” she says. “I love you. Whatever you decide, I just want to see you happy.”

~

“I’d like to be exclusive again,” Thor says very carefully. He thinks about taking a sip of hot chocolate but decides it’s both safer and wiser not to. “You and me, I mean. A couple.” He can’t help but smile at Loki’s pleased expression. “And I’d like to have you over to my place for dinner.”

Loki’s own smile fades a little. “You have to make peace with the other guy in my life first,” he says, and Thor isn’t sure how much of this is teasing. “You know I can’t be with someone who’s not okay with Oscar.”

Thor sighs. “It’s not that,” he starts. It isn’t. He gets it that Oscar won’t remember him, but that won’t prevent them from becoming friends. He’s afraid- of what, exactly? That the cat will look old and sickly now, and that he’ll forever regret missing so much of Oscar’s life? He still feels guilty thinking of the cat searching all over the apartment for him five years ago. It’s not worth trying to find a way to explain. “It’s just- going back there will be weird. Trying to make friends with Oscar again will probably be weirder.”

Loki nudges both mugs out of the way and takes Thor’s hand. “I live in a place where we shared another life together,” he says. “I know that. It’s a place that’s full of good and bad memories, for both of us. But none of that will be changing any time soon. I live there. I work there. If you want to do this, sooner or later you’re going to have to find your way past it.” He strokes the heel of Thor’s hand with one thumb, gently. “Sooner would be kind of handy, you know? But I’m not going to rush you. And you’re in luck either way, since I’m not seeing anyone else anyway.”

Thor pouts for show, trying to help make light of the whole thing. “Fine,” he huffs. “If I visit your apartment will you be my boyfriend?”

“We’re getting a little old for that word, don’t you think?” Loki hands Thor his cocoa. Even in warm weather they both like their chocolate. Thor figures it balances out the lifetimes they’ve spent shamelessly eating ice cream all winter. “But, yes. And it’s not really about that… it’s just about being ready.”

“Fine,” Thor tells Loki, ignoring his own racing heart in a valiant effort to feel as brave as he’s (probably not) sounding. He can be ready if he has to. “Once we finish up here we can stop over.”

“Okay, but I haven’t cleaned,” Loki warns, stretching across the table to kiss him.

Chapter Text

Thor's beyond distracted during dessert, and then the walk back to Heart’s Desire feels far, far shorter than ought to. He shouldn't have agreed to stop up now, not when they've been drinking and it's dark and they'll both be tired. Or, rather, he should have agreed now to stop up later. He could have kept the peace, ended the evening on a good note, and then dropped by the store tomorrow. A few days from now. Perhaps next weekend.

Any time they'd both be peppy and sober and cheerful.

Right, like never.

Loki fumbles with the keys for a moment before tapping the code into the alarm panel. Thor briefly wishes - and then pretends - he hasn’t noticed Loki pressing the same old string of digits, that he hasn’t just realized he could have gotten in here pretty much whenever.

That even when they were both at the considerable height of their anger, Loki – always the one with enough baked-in self-preservation to cover three people - had never been afraid of what Thor might do to him.

Thor swallows it all down and follows Loki across the threshold.

~

"These were Darcy's idea," Loki offers as Thor lets out a surprised little huff at the wall of pictures. They stretch all the way up to the second floor: a neat parade of cute, framed candids. The smiling faces of maybe 50 people, some Thor knows and some he doesn't, scattered along the staircase like it's a popular bar or someone's family cottage. "There’s at least one of everyone who ever worked here." Loki smiles. "She fought me over you, but I reminded her you were a big part of the place no matter what had ultimately happened. Plus, I let her put up at least a dozen of Ian. She kind of had to give in eventually."

"Darcy and Ian-?" Thor just can't get the words broke up out, not with the light dancing over his own framed face right in front of him. The Thor in the pictures looks- happy. Young. All the things he's lost forever.

"Nothing that dramatic," Loki says. "At least, I don't think so? He had to head back to England after graduation since that was the end of his student visa. But they still talk all the time." Out of the corner of one eye Thor catches the flash of white as Loki grins. "At least they seem to talk whenever she should be working."

"Doesn't the time difference-," Thor starts, trailing off again as he spots another familiar picture. This one’s from down at the shore: it’s him and Loki smiling into the camera at Sif's favorite restaurant/bar/dance emporium. Thor's arm is slung over Loki's shoulder and Loki's toasting- anyone, everyone. They could be brothers, or friends.

Partners.

Lovers.

"Nah," Loki says, breaking the spell. Thor flinches and hopes he hid it. "I guess he works nights cleaning some university lab. The whole thing works out unfortunately neatly." Loki nudges Thor, just a gentle brush of fingers. "So, shall we?"

Thor doesn’t remember the staircase being this long. All these stairs, one after the other. So, so many.

~

"You can stick your head in there another time," Loki tells Thor at the start of the hallway, nodding towards the door that leads into the stockroom. "Don't worry, it's neat. Darcy and the kids won't ever let me trash it." Loki leans past Thor, keys clinking and jingling again as he unlocks the door to the main apartment. Its hinges groan just like they used to. "Ah, home," Loki sighs into the dark. "Daddy's here, darling!"

“Gah!” Loki flicks on the lights just as Oscar - Oscar - materializes out of the darkness. The cat spots Thor; he skids to a stop mid-chirrup and fluffs spectacularly. Thor's breath catches. Loki makes a soft shushing sound. "Whoa there, tough guy. It’s fine. Nothing to be afraid of."

"It's okay," Thor echoes. He squats, all creaking knees and leather. "It's okay," he repeats. "I won't hurt you. Back in the day we were buddies, even."

"Been awhile since he saw someone besides me or Darcy," Loki explains. "He doesn't hear as well as he used to, the poor old lug, so I don't let him down in the store anymore. Not even when I'm working."

Thor wills himself not to cry. "Congratulations on your retirement," he tells Oscar faux-seriously, holding one hand out. "I hope you're making the best of it."

The cat sniffs gingerly and then rubs against him. This time Thor can't help it... three or four hot tears do well up and spill over. "Good," Loki says softly above their heads. "I see he hasn't lost his taste in people."

Thor's neighbors have cats. He likes to watch them. He even pets them sometimes. It's not the same, though. Maybe that's (part of) why the tears keep coming.

"Shh," Loki soothes, and Thor suspects this time it's him Loki's shushing. "It's fine. You've haven't even seen the mess I've made of everything."

~

It's not a mess, actually. Or, rather, it's not nearly the mess Thor's been expecting. There are stacks of magazines and piles of books, sure, but the living room curtains are open and the floor is mostly visible. "You look around," Loki tells Thor with a quick squeeze of fingers. "Take your time. I'll make us- tea or something."

~

Thor just stands and stares for what feels like two lifetimes. There are more pretty little lamps with jewel-like shades; the whole room glows with them. Even better, Loki's paid someone to fit out the window wall with lovely built-in-looking bookcases. And, best of all, when Thor stretches up on tiptoe he can see how they've been carefully fitted around the original trim behind them. He smiles. He's really missed that kind of care for history.

The resulting window seat is easily big enough for two. It sports lots of cozy pillows. The seat cushion is thick and springy. "This is nice," he tells Oscar, who’s been trailing along behind him. "I can't believe I didn't think of something similar."

"Me neither, actually," Loki says from just behind them. Thor lets out a surprised little meep. Oscar hops up on the sofa, tail lashing. "It's great for stargazing." Loki elbows a book aside and sets his tray down on the coffee table. "So what did you think of the rest?” He peers at Thor and smiles. “Wait, did you just stand here like a statue?"

"No," Thor says stupidly. "I walked all the way in from the doorway. You saw me."

Loki rolls his eyes, laughing. "What I meant was, didn't you make it through the rest of the apartment?"

Oh. Duh. "Um, no. I was looking at-."

"-my pretty, pretty bookcase," Loki finishes, which is more or less accurate. Thor says so. "That was a year's take-home," Loki tells him, managing to sound both exasperated and proud. “I hope someone besides me thinks it's worth it."

Thor looks at the neat rows of books, at the art and pictures nestled into the shadows. "Oh, definitely," he says, "everything’s perfect. It’s amazing."

Loki’s exhale is almost a whistle. Only then does it hit Thor that, despite the drinks and the bravado, Loki is probably just as nervous as he is. More so, maybe. “Go on, then,” Loki tells him. “Take a look at the rest. These are too hot to drink yet anyway.”

“Are you sure-…” Thor can’t help it; it feels weird to walk through the place like he’s visiting some kind of historic site while Loki hangs out alone in the living room worrying. “You could show me around, maybe?”

“Just go look,” Loki says, shaking his head. “I’ll have my hands full keeping Oscar out of the beverages.”

Okay. He can do this. Thor shuts his eyes briefly and pictures what he remembers of the apartment. Which is everything. He knows – knew – every inch of the place. Intimately. “Is the other side locked?” he asks. “Because I don’t have a key to it these days.”

“You don’t need one,” Loki says. In the multicolored glow of the small lamps Thor can’t quite read his expression. He points over Thor’s shoulder, next to the new bookcase. “I did the whole thing right, since I was doing it.” Thor turns and- and gasps. Because… holy shit. Between the living room and the parlor, there’s a new-old door set into a perfect plaster-and-trimwork archway.

“Why?” Thor asks, because even after all this time it’s often the first thought rushing into his head that falls out of his mouth. “Sorry, sorry. That’s obviously not something you have to tell me.”

Loki shrugs. “I was having all that work done,” he says. “And I’d gotten sick of carrying Oscar out into the hallway.” He looks away, laughing. “Okay, no, I locked myself out in the hall one time in nothing but my underwear. Fortunately Darcy has keys, since she’s my de facto cat-sitter… but even facing her the next morning – with Sleepless Face, ‘dressed’ in a packing blanket – was enough to make me good and motivated. The door actually drove what turned into that bookcase.” His shoulders sag. “I’m such an ass. Sometimes I think I forgot how to live alone over the time that you lived here.”

Crap. Thor’s own laugh dies in a choked little hiccup. “You’ve done fine,” he says, too brightly. “More than fine! The place looks great. It’s a real home now.”

“No,” Loki says quietly. “It was a real home when we shared it. Anyway, go on. Finish your tour. Please,” he insists when Thor continues to waffle. “Look around. Take your time. Oscar and I will be in here when you’re finished.”

Thor looks at Loki’s sad-anxious face, then at the black cat winding in and out around Loki’s ankles. “Okay,” he concedes, backing slowly away. “I will. Really.”

~

The kitchen is fine, dishes in the sink and all. It’s just different enough to let him detach, and just the same enough to be comforting.

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, that compared to the original apartment the new rooms are- harder. These are – were - Thor’s rooms and he’s painfully reminded he left part of himself in them.

For starters, the parlor is a bit of a shock. The other leather chair – the one Thor’d bought from Steve, the one that had never really been his to start with – is still there. Alone. Rather than replacing its missing friend, the one Cowardly Thor had snuck back here and taken, Loki has instead opted to fill out the space with an antique newspaper rack and a soft, tufted leather ottoman.

The blue walls and eggshell trim are just the way Thor left them, with the new doorframe trimmed and painted to match. The door itself with its bright glass knobs fits the place perfectly. It’s probably salvage.

Yes, the parlor is still a pretty room. Loki clearly still reads here, if the table piled with books is any indication. Even with the second door the windows are still its defining feature; on nice days, the place doubtless still fills with light and sunshine.

Thor’s original design has held up well over time, and he does feel a tiny, guilty flush of relief on seeing that Loki never intends to share it with anyone else ever. Mostly, though, the room looks sadder now. One reader, and a cat.

Alone.

Lonely.

The little bedroom-cum-office is worse. Much worse. It’s a museum, a time capsule.

Thor stands in the doorway, first wrinkling his nose at the puff of dust and then blinking back the tears that follow.

If it weren’t for all that dust, actually, he could have just gotten up and walked out of here this morning.

Plugged into the power strip next to the desk is his spare laptop charger, the one he’s always thought he’d lost in Natasha’s apartment. There’s his old blue hoodie in a rumpled heap on the foot of the bed. The bed itself is messily made, as though he’d gotten up from a nap and just tugged the covers back together.

The magazine open on the desk is Thor’s university newsletter. The books are holdovers from his dissertation. There’s a picture of Frigga, Odin, and Baldr. One of Sif. One of Volstagg and the boys.

One of Oscar.

One of Loki.

Thor carefully shuts the door of his- his tomb. His shrine, maybe. He’s still sobbing with his forehead resting against it when Loki comes to find him a few minutes later.

“I can’t go in there,” Loki says. “It’s probably all gross. I should have warned you. I’m sorry.”

Thor snuffles, feeling naked. Disgusting. “It’s not that,” he says wetly. “I- I don’t even know what to say.”

Loki’s hand is cool now, even through the fabric of Thor’s sleeve. “That’s your room,” Loki says softly. “It belongs to you. It is you, in a way I never really understood when you lived here.” He sighs. “I really am sorry,” he tells Thor, catching a tear with one finger. “I didn’t mean to be- well, creepy.”

“No,” Thor says. He pulls Loki into a tight, soggy hug. “It’s not. You’re not. And don’t be.” He takes a deep breath, and then a couple more. “I shouldn’t have left,” he admits, still holding Loki close.

He can feel Loki’s head shaking no against his neck and shoulder. “No,” Loki says aloud, voice rough and wobbly, “I- I shouldn’t have made you.”

Chapter Text

Thor wakes for the first time in years to total darkness, to a velvety black so complete it makes no difference whether his eyes are closed or open. Inside his sleep-dulled brain the whole thing doesn't compute; long ago freed from the constraints of farming, he still sleeps with his blinds up and his curtains thrown wide open. He loves coming up out of his dreams to the pale glow of morning, to the birds chittered welcome at the start of each new day.

Even at midnight it's nothing like this. He rubs his eyes, again. The dull sparks fade as soon as he stops pushing.

He gropes for his phone, only to not find his night table. At his muttered "what the fuck?" something near him in the darkness groans.

"You okay?" Loki's - Loki's, and that's why none of this makes sense to Thor - voice is rough with sleep. He clears his throat; the next word out of his mouth - "Thor?" - sounds a lot more normal.

Thor rubs his face this time and groans in turn. Everything’s finally clicking into place now. "Sorry," he whispers. "It's pitch-black in here. What happened to your nightlight?"

"I've be told – and then actually learned, when I couldn’t believe it - that I sleep better without any lights on," Loki explains. He yawns. "When I sleep better, loathe as I was - and am - to admit it, I seem to be a better human being."

Thor smiles into the dark. He gets that, really get it... it's the same change that comes over him when the spring equinox approaches, when summer's lightness begins to reclaim what he’d thought forever lost to the dull slog of winter. "What time is it?" he asks, matching Loki yawn for yawn. He hadn't meant to spend the night, hadn't thought through how to manage morning.

"7:56 AM." The blue-green glow of Loki's lock screen leaves them both blinking and squinting. "Perfect timing: my alarm goes off at 8:00 anyways."

Shit. Their life isn't theirs anymore; Thor knows he's probably interfering with whatever Loki's got going.

"It's dumb, I know." Loki's smile is blue-green and blinding. "Next thing you know I'll start vomiting rainbows."

Huh. That doesn't compute either. "I should go," Thor offers, struggling to sit up and kick off the unfamiliar covers. "Let you get on your way to wherever you're supposed to be heading."

Warm arms snake around his middle. "No. Please? I’m just getting up for the sake of it. Stay and I'll make you breakfast?"

They should talk. They should. Thor doesn't want to. Doesn't want to poke at this fragile peace. It's Sunday, he thinks. Nothing on his own agenda except groceries and laundry. "You sure?" he asks. "I don't want to make anything- creepy."

Loki leans against Thor's shoulder. "I'm sure," he says.

"Okay," Thor concedes. He doesn’t want this to be over yet and despite the dull headache his stomach is growling. "Hey, can you turn the light on?"

It's only after Loki logrolls across the bed like an overgrown toddler and turns the metal key that Thor looks down at himself and realizes he's half-hard and completely naked. "Jesus," he huffs, scrabbling frantically at the sheets. It’s hopeless. Everything's tangled up with Loki.

"Shh," Loki says. "Stop. It's fine. You're pretty. Ohh," he adds as Thor runs clumsy hands through tangled hair. "You kept the tattoo."

"Of course." Awkwardness forgotten, Thor gives the rune and stars the side-eye. "You know me. I keep anything and everything that might be - that is -," he corrects, since with Loki words matter, "important. This is important: I kept it."

Loki turns his own hands palms up, then palms down. In the lamplight they’re pinky-pale and glowing. "Do you still love me?" he asks, so softly Thor can barely make the sounds form words.

Thor lets his head drop forward, fingers laced together in the air behind it. He sighs. None of which helps; his heart's still pounding. "Of course I do," he says carefully. "It's complicated."

"Yeah," Loki says. "It is, isn't it?"

~

Thor splashes his face with cool water. He's puffy from sleep and red-eyed from last night’s crying; it's not a good look, not the state he wants to be in when he shows up at the breakfast table.

It’s lighter in here, even without the stupid old fluorescents. A little natural light goes a long way. The tiny window in the shower with its perpetually rusty bars still amuses him... with the huge stretches of Victorian era glass all up and down the front of the building, why anyone would attempt ingress - or egress – so close to the roofline is an endless puzzle. The bathroom is reasonably clean, even. All of Loki's cleansers are simple, natural, and marked hypoallergenic. Thor sniffs two bottles; each smells faintly (but pleasantly) of berries. He carefully recaps both and sticks with cold water, trying to be mindful of any lines he might be overstepping.

A cold washcloth over the eyes while he's taking a dump and he’s a new man, almost. When he once again stops to study his face in the mirror, things are better; he looks marginally less ratty and a bit more cheerful.

~

Thor's expecting sweet, too sweet after last night's drinking. It's a relief when the cooking smells that hit him as he comes out into the living room aren’t that at all: everything is sharply savory.

"Fake strata," Loki explains as Thor pokes an aching head into the kitchen. Loki gestures at the covered pan, the one with steam curling around it. "Eggs, cheese, tomato, onion. Spices. Sriracha. Toast, since my fake strata’s breadless. Coffee?"

"Please." Thor groans. "And water? Advil?"

"Ooh, right, sorry." Loki adjusts the heat and stops to open a cabinet, the same one as- before. As always. "I’m a bad host. I had some already," he apologizes as Thor tips him the bottle. "A few minutes ago, I mean, while you were getting ready."

Thor gulps down the pills and leans in to set bottle and glass on the counter. "And you brushed your teeth in the kitchen sink, didn't you?" The air around Loki is decidedly minty.

Loki shrugs. His cheeks pink up, just a little. "I’m not telling. Maybe?"

Breakfast turns out to be just as good as it smells, rich and strong-flavored and the perfect amount of greasy. Thor's not sure if it's that, or the water and Advil, but by his second serving the worst of the throbbing has left him completely. Everything is- nice. He's missed this, missed the companionable sharing. Missed the cool brushes against his ankles that mean Oscar is begging.

"Oscar! You have food. Oh, shit, do you have a pet?" Loki asks, face abruptly creased with worry. "It's the middle of the morning already and I only just realized some poor furry friend might need feeding."

"No no, it’s just me," Thor assures him. The urge to get a cat had hit several times but some part of Thor had always found it too- too final. "Thought about it, couldn't do it. Still think about it," he adds when Loki's frown only deepens, "still can't. I want to help but it feels like cheating."

"Oh." Loki stirs black coffee, old habit lasting long after he’s stopped with sugar and with cream. "That's sad, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Thor admits. "Probably."
~

They laze the rest of the morning away, until it’s almost painfully clear that Loki’s had too much people time (“I swear,” he complains when Thor mentions it, “being alone has somehow made me even more introverted. It sucks, really”) and that Thor’s own atypical lack of preparedness (he’d had zero intention of staying over, and was consequently both relieved and inconvenienced to find Loki hadn’t enshrined his old toothbrush...) is becoming a problem. Even spending quality time with Loki can only temporarily stave off the unpleasantness of fuzzy teeth and a ripening body. Thor can feel himself gathering speed until he’s tumbling down the slope from good enough to disgusting.

“I guess I should go back to my place.” He sighs. “Don’t want to accidentally overstay my welcome. When do you think you’ll be free for dinner?” he adds as Loki’s expression tightens and Thor’s own mind-body fills with the overpowering, self-protective urge not to hear whatever Loki might be thinking. He has himself to wash, those groceries to buy, a week’s meals to prep, and tons of laundry to do. Sunday is the day he combs the metaphorical tangles out of himself so he can face each new week ready.

This particular Sunday he feels especially tangled. Nothing good will come of letting himself get snarled further.

They’ve long since moved from the kitchen to the window seat. Loki inspects his pewter-colored metallic nails, then shifts to looks out the window. His feet bump Thor’s. The morning’s sunshine has slowly given way to grey clouds; Thor knows the feeling. “What’s your work schedule this week?” Loki asks, about the time Thor’s finally made himself accept the fact there won’t be any answer forthcoming.

“I work full-time now,” Thor reminds, feeling a bit apologetic. He’d worked full time then, too, but most of his time had been spent here in the building so it hadn’t been an inconvenience. “But my mornings are always flexible on Tuesdays and Thursdays.” Tuesdays he tends to write from home before showing up for his afternoon classes, but by Thursday most weeks he’s kind of done with the whole work thing. Skipping the gym and going for a run Thursday morning always gives him the happy sense he’s playing hooky. Because of that he’s careful not to do it too often; he’s found that, in becoming routine, good things tend to lose their harmless magic.

Both of them watch as two small birds half hop, half fly from tree to streetlight to tree to tree. Thor thinks of himself, of Loki. He can all but hear their brains whirring. “If I pick Monday and Wednesday,” Loki says, “does that make me seem-… needy?”

“Nope.” Thor turns to meet Loki’s anxious lip-biting with a happy smile. “Not to me, anyway. Is anyone else counting?”

The two of them hug a long goodbye outside the back door, at the bottom of the short staircase. This time, when Thor drives away, the shrinking Loki in his mirror is smiling and waving.

~

Thor hasn’t looked at his house with visitors’ eyes since right around the time he’d moved there. Yes, Loki’s seen its bland greyness (and not died laughing) from the end of the driveway a couple of times now. That, and Thor actually has made some improvements. The ugly concrete birdbaths he broke up and used as fill. The deep front yard is all but taken over with beautifully tended gardens, and out back is practically a wildlife sanctuary.

Still, it’s- well, nothing special does the place far too many favors. The roof was new when he moved in, and he’s since brought the interior back to better than it would have been when the house was built, but nothing changes the fact that it’s- small. Utilitarian. Old, but not old enough to offer any real character. He does like the hardwood floors he’d found under all that awful carpet, and the fireplace in the tiny den. The quaint brick steps and matching chimney are sweetly charming. But there’s nothing to be done upstairs, where the twin bedrooms were not designed for tall people. Thor’s gradually learned to navigate without smacking his head, sure, but only barely. When he’d first moved in he’d tried to concuss himself with annoying regularity.

He stands next to his car and looks the place over, up, down, and sideways. He groans. He’s spent far more time on the yard than he has on the house, in terms of making anything pretty, and that’s nothing he’s going to fix between now and Monday… even if he didn’t have to work. Which he does, and early. “Dude,” he asks himself, “what were you thinking?” Dr. Thor Odinson does not talk to himself, so he’s careful not to answer.

“Get to work, slacker,” he orders himself instead.

Operating under the theory that his sad little dwelling has to look better clean than dirty, Thor races through his normally leisurely Sunday chores and then descends upon the house in a spring-cleaning-worthy frenzy. Windows are washed. Tile is scrubbed. Hinges are oiled, on both doors and shutters. Every last diminutive throw rug is taken out in the yard and soundly beaten, then hauled back inside and put back where it came from.

By nightfall Thor’s seriously tired. It’s dark outside before he’s done. He can’t help himself: he strongly suspects the place is still pretty ugly.

Monday morning before work he wire-brushes the grill and gives the patio chairs a thorough hosing. He has a new thing of bug spray and fresh citronella candles. He’s got the makings for kebobs. Oh, and nicer skewers. And a good prosecco in the refrigerator. If he can just live through the day, he’s basically ready.

Nervous as fuck, yes (duh)… but ready.

Chapter Text

"This is really what it was like when you moved in?" Loki looks at the book spread across his lap, then back up the den around him. Two or three years ago Thor’d had the before-and-after pictures hardbound via an online printing service, to take along when visiting friends and family. "Wow. Amazing. You really have a gift for seeing past everything, don’t you?"

"It had good bones," Thor agrees. It's a trite phrase, an overused one, but at the time he’d bought this place it had fit the house perfectly. "It just needed time." Time or money, really, but money doesn't gravitate to sad little, dingy houses built too close to shopping plazas. "And I needed a hobby." He shrugs. "It had been really neglected," he admits. Even from a few pictures that much is very, very obvious. "I guess I just felt sorry for it."

He had, terribly. At the time he and the house had a lot in common; they were both lonely and alone. And there was so much to do. The work - chipping away at rewiring, plaster repairs, and painting; pulling up carpet; sanding, staining – was comfortingly endless. It had kept him busy on and off for years. That, and (of course) the gardening. He and the house were both the better for his labors, too: in the course of keeping his demons at bay, Thor had somehow transformed the place from complete dump to cozy, homey (if homely) haven.

Loki pats the book affectionately. "So this is what you did instead of-."

"-moping," Thor finishes before Loki can settle on a verb that sounds more damning. Not that he hadn’t moped like a champ too. "This, and I learned to paint. And I might have picked up a little mixology in there somewhere.”

"I live in your last project," Loki says. "I hardly think you've just learned painting."

Thor smiles. He can feel his cheeks starting to burn. "Not painting like walls; painting as in pictures. Little pictures. Um, for my walls? You know, paintings. Artwork."

"Hah, of course you did," Loki says. "Thor Odinson, Renaissance Man." He looks around again, face brightly curious. "Which ones?"

"Uh," Thor starts and fizzles out, so hot-faced now he knows he must be blushing furiously. He runs through the rooms in a quick mental inventory. "Pretty much all of them?"

Loki sets the book carefully on the ottoman and jumps up. He turns in a quick circle, arms spread wide, away from Thor and back again. "All of them? Seriously? All of them? Holy shit, Thor."

Looking Loki in the eye is too hard. "I had a lot of spare time," Thor tells the fireplace, sheepishly. "A lot of time, a lot of feelings."

"Hence the cocktail-making?" Loki teases.

Thor shakes his head. "Not really. The house came with a lovely built-in bar. I just rolled with it."

"Well well," Loki says cheerfully. “Okay, then. Now we need to start the whole tour again. All," he stresses, shaking a finger at Thor for emphasis, "the way back to the verrrry beginning."

It’s not as bad as it sounds. They're only two rooms in anyway. "If we have to," Thor kids in return, hoping a little humor will help cover his awkward nervousness. "But before that I probably really do need a cocktail."

~

"I should have guessed from the start," Loki says quietly. The ice in his glass clinks as he leans in to study the little seascape in the foyer. "I just wasn’t paying enough attention. The point. The farm. The old trucks. The fish market. No one else loves these places quite enough to render them this deeply."

Thor tsks. "No way," he says. "Tons of people do. Even the tattoo place has a whole fucking gallery." He'd liked some of the work there, actually, back when he'd gotten inked for Loki. Thought about buying a piece or two. Never gotten around to it. Story of his life, really.

"Not the same," Loki counters. "You love it. They just want to sell it to people."

"Says the bookseller," Thor jabs. Even with a nice, summery Tom Collins he’s feeling a little too edgy.

"Book collector," Loki corrects, twisting to tap Thor's sternum. "We're not talking about me here. We're talking about my wonderful painter."

Thor sighs. "All I see is the flaws," he admits. The pictures have become part of the house; he knows they’re there, but doesn’t have to look right at them.

"Now that, I get." Loki pulls Thor in for a hug. "I'm sorry. They're still amazing," he sneaks in, "but I really get waaaaieee! Ah! Stop! I'm going to spill my drink all over your fancy stone floor."

"Eh, it's sealed," Thor says, toeing the slate, but he does call it quits with the tickling.

~

"Everything's so peaceful," Loki says as they stand together looking out the kitchen window. "The house. The yard. It's- it's nice here."

"So you might stop back Wednesday after all?" Thor kisses Loki's temple. "If it doesn't make you feel too crazy?"

"Oh, I dunno," Loki says. Thor's throat tightens. Loki only smiles, and winks. "I'll let you know after I've tried your cooking."

~

The grill doesn't need watching but the kebabs will, so they prep the rest of dinner while the coals are catching. Thor fetches Loki a pretty glass bowl and the salad spinner. He sets the table while Loki – who showed up to his door armed with a large bagful of fixings – turns a counter’s worth of fresh vegetables and jars into a delicious looking greek-style salad.

By the time Thor dumps the chimney into the kettle everything else is done. He and Loki take turns dousing themselves with bug spray, then coating their own hands and carefully daubing one another's faces. "With the creek so close it's bad," he warns. "Even with all this we'll probably get bitten." This time of year everyone's a mosquito magnet. "You really can stay inside if you want to."

"But I don't want to," Loki insists. Again. "Patio cocktails... the best part of any evening."

"The best part?" Thor smiles. He needs to do a better job of stopping worrying.

"Okay," Loki concedes. "Second best, after the company."

There's a bit of a breeze. That and the candles - and the smoking grill beside them - help keep the bugs to a relative minimum. Thor turns the kebabs to brown each side and then moves them over to the cooler part of the grate to finish cooking. He sets the cover into place and picks up his drink. "Whew." The cold glass feels nice against his forehead. "It's going to be a few more minutes before these are ready."

"Mm." Loki pats the empty chair. "Sit, then, and talk to me."

Thor sits, obediently. "Nice night," he tries.

"It is," Loki agrees, laughing. "So tell me why you're so panicky."

"That obvious?" Thor groans.

"Well, you have to remember I do know you a little," Loki says. He sips his drink. "You okay?"

Thor thinks about it. "Yeah," he says. "I'm just- I've never really had you over. Never had an over you could come to. I don't know if it's gross or weird or upsetting or-... crap. I'm such a loser."

"Oh, sweetie. Shh." Loki hums softly. "It's lovely. I like the house. I like being here. I like this" - he points towards the trees – “and this,” he adds, gesturing back and forth between them. "It's new-weird, not bad-weird." He squeezes Thor's arm, fingers sliding a little in the bug spray. "From time to time it’s going to be tricky, Thor. We’re in a new relationship, but we’re not exactly. A little cognitive dissonance here and there is- it’s normal. It’s expected. It doesn’t have to Mean Something," Loki adds, air quotes and all. His face changes abruptly. “Ahh!” he squawks, slapping at one arm. “Stupid mosquito!”

“Dead mosquito,” Thor corrects. He makes himself take a few deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. In, out. Again. Again. “I know it’s early on and I know I’m getting way ahead of myself, but I really want things to work out this time,” he tells Loki. “And then I remember how I thought they’d worked out last time. I don’t know what happened” - he still doesn’t, not really, even after five years of thinking back through it – “and that terrifies me, because I don’t know what I need to do differently. Except not burn dinner,” he adds as he gets to his feet, just to leave a little opening. A chance to laugh if things are getting too heavy.

The deck hasn’t seen much use; although Thor likes to grill in the summer, he doesn’t spend a lot of time pacing around on it. The wood squeaks as Loki comes up behind him and wraps both arms around his ribcage. “I don’t think you- we did anything wrong,” Loki says against Thor’s shoulder.

Ah: the universe in all its randomness. Thor laughs. “And that’s supposed to comfort me?”

“Hey,” Loki complains. “At least let me finish, maybe?”

Deep breath. Thor can feel Loki’s arms stretch and relax against his middle. “I’m sorry,” he says softly. “I’m-.”

“-prone to overthinking?” Loki gives him a little squeeze. “Well, you are. As I was trying to say… I don’t think it’s so much that we did anything wrong. We just- we weren’t ready? We didn’t have the skills to identify real problems, and we didn’t have the tools to work through them anyway.”

“And now we do?” Thor isn’t sure he’s feeling much more skilled or well-tooled today than he ever has. Ever was. But the kebabs are ready (even if no one else is). He lifts each skewerful of food over the grill’s lip and onto the waiting plate, moving carefully so as not to jostle Loki, and then sets the lid back down. The fire can go out at its leisure.

“I know I do,” Loki says. “And while I can only speak for myself, I have to imagine you’ve learned a thing or two as well over half a decade’s worth of living.”

Thor probably has, he thinks. He’s bought a house and paid his bills and counseled five classes’ worth of incoming freshmen… and navigated the aftermath of a crushing breakup without running home to mom, with his best friend off the grid and everything. Nowadays he nurtures plants and houses. Is pretty much done with losing his temper. “Yeah,” he admits. “I guess I did grow up in there somewhere. Let’s get this stuff inside.” Sandwiched between the grill and Loki, Thor’s a whole lot warmer than he like to be.

“Mm, let’s,” Loki agrees. “I’m starving. And as pretty as it is out here, I’d rather not share dinner with a yardful of mosquitos.”

“Rather not be dinner, more like it,” Thor says. He feels a little worse and a lot better.

“Right.” Loki laughs. “I’m already plenty itchy.”

~

“Not at all,” Frigga assures Thor when he confesses. “I’m sure you’re being smart about it. And I’m not just saying that because you’re my son,” she adds, smiling, as he studies her face for any hint that she’s not being wholly forthcoming. “Talking about your concerns is a good thing. In some ways it was not talking about them that got you into hot water last time.”

Thor trails his fingers across the butcher block, its wooden surface worn to velvety softness by the endless cuts of a hundred knives. He’s only in town for a couple of days, to help celebrate For’s kindergarten graduation, and he’s grateful for the chance to spend a few minutes with his mother. Especially considering how’s she’s fussing twice as much over her grandson’s milestones as she did with her own children’s… something Thor would have sworn couldn’t be possible. “Thanks,” he tells her, meaning it. “Loki offered to come with me, you know. But it’s For’s big day. I didn’t want everyone to be weird about anything.”

“Oh, honey,” Frigga starts. She shakes her head, smiling, and Thor knows he’ll never pry whatever she isn’t saying out of her. “The summer’s still young. Bring Loki to meet your nephew whenever you’re both ready. We’re not going anywhere.” She turns the faucet on full force and shakes an entire colander’s worth of peppers under the column of water. “I’d love to see him again, and of course you’re always welcome. Here,” she adds handing Thor a wet pepper so richly red he wants to stop time and paint it. “Help me cut these up. Much as I’d rather catch up with you, we’re going to have a yard full of guests in a couple of hours and you and I could both use a really good scrubbing.”

The pepper is cool and heavy, flesh so ripe Thor’s knife glides easily through it. He thinks about decades of cooking, about how each new cut stains the wood a little differently. “Thanks for listening,” he tells his mom. While he may no longer need her to validate his life choices, her reassurance always leaves him feeling lighter somehow.

“Any time,” she says, looking up from the bowl of hummus she’s mixing. She smiles. “I’m your mother,” she teases, gently. “That’s what I’m here for.”

Chapter Text

He’s a worrier. It’s just what he does. And so from time to time – especially at first, but of course it doesn’t magically disappear as the weeks pile up - Thor frets that living this reborn relationship is going to be too complicated. This time around they’re juggling houses, after all. Juggling schedules. Juggling lives. It’s not like the old days. Not like the first time, when navigating their combined logistics had been so much easier. Back then he'd been a student, for starters, moving through life without much baggage and still looking for a sense of direction. A sense of permanence. Rather than having to make room in his own grown-up life for Loki, Thor had just waded straight into Loki's life and let it soak him.

Loki had kept his own routines. Thor had carefully crafted new ones around them.

It was a fairly long time ago, yes. But while Thor can't say for sure it was easy, he doesn't think it was all that difficult.

Now, though, they’re surrounded by things. They have places of their own with purpose and meaning. Life has gone on. They aren't where they were. Even Loki, despite living in the same building and holding down the same job, is at the other end of a lengthy journey. Thor can’t help wondering how – no, if - the two of them can grab onto all that change and let it pull them together instead of forcing them apart.

He’s not completely wrong; in some ways it is a challenge. Thor can't just tumble into bed at the end of a long day and assume Loki will automatically flop down beside him. He can't make breakfast out of the blue and know Loki will be there to share it. If they want to spend time together, they need to make a conscious effort; they have to text, to call. To plan. Loki's apartment isn't Thor's apartment. Thor's house is just his own.

That, and Thor knows he’s plain old busier. He's not just screwing around at school now; he cares about his students. He hopes to make tenure. His spare time has filled with art classes and painting.

Thor can’t help but worry that Loki will be jealous. That Loki won't feel like they spend enough time together or, even worse, will feel abandoned. To a lesser degree (because he never quite has pumped dry the little well of optimism that bubbles deep inside him) Thor also fears that he'll be tempted to cast everything he’s built aside, incautiously and without nearly enough forethought, and then find himself right back at square one if their relationship falters.

"Do you think that what's happening?" his mother asks when he calls to chat. Loki's driving back to town from a book-signing in Toronto, after a couple of wearing-sounding days spent adding new treasures to the Heart's Desire inventory; Thor's sprawled on the sofa after two exhausting hours of figure drawing. They'll probably talk later, right before (or after) bedtime. At least Thor hopes they will.

"No," he tells her. "He always insists he likes it that I'm still painting. Obviously we both have to work. And we do find the time for us anyway. A few nights most weeks, we spend together." His mom is hours away... what does it matter if he's blushing? "Sometimes he comes out to the house. Other times I stay downtown. It feels... right, I guess? Easy. Not too crazy."

"Mm," Frigga hums. "And Loki? He's pretty much okay with everything?"

"I think so?" Thor does. The bouts of drama that once felt like intensity but were probably poison are gone now, replaced by an eager cheerfulness he'd somehow never really noticed ‘old Loki’ lacking. "He seems more comfortable with himself these days." Huh. "I guess we both are."

"If that's true you can probably ease off on the worrying, sweetie," she chides, gently. She probably won’t believe him if he says he's started that already. "But you know what?" Oh yes, he does. It makes him shudder. "If you want to be certain, why don’t you ask him?"

Thor sighs. "You're right," he admits. May there never come a day when she isn’t. He sighs again. "I will."

He and Frigga share a rueful laugh when they both say "someday."

~

"Is this too complicated?" Thor blurts out. A student kept him late at school; they missed their reservation. Loki's at his place instead, and not by design. They both have empty fridges. It’s easily 9:00 PM already. It’s Thursday evening. Thor teaches an early class tomorrow; Loki has to open the store in the morning.

Loki shoots Thor a speculative look and takes a long sip of champagne. No matter how may days (weeks) it's been since he last went shopping, modern-day Thor can always be counted upon for a selection of ridiculously fancy fine adult beverages. "Well," Loki says, and a vacuum forms; all the air rushes out of the room. "Tonight certainly hasn't worked out the way we planned it." While Loki does smile, Thor is still holding his breath. "Wait," Loki says, peering at him and frowning. "That's not what you meant. You meant us-this, didn't you?"

Thor studies the little furrows between Loki's neat brows and wishes like fuck he knew the right answer. He shrugs. Nods. "Yeah, I suppose. Kind of."

"Then no," Loki says. "Not at all. I actually like how hard we're trying."

Thor's so busy remembering how to breathe that it takes him at least half a minute to realize the "why, do you?" he's been dreading hasn't come.

"Oh," he says stupidly. "Good. Me too."

"It doesn't make me feel like you're thinking of leaving," Loki says. Thor’s mouth drops open without permission. "That's what you really wanted to know, isn't it? Counseling," Loki reminds, tapping his own chest as Thor collapses against the chair back with a loud groan. "I figured that part out. It wasn't as straightforward as I'd always thought it would be."

Thor swallows. He looks at the ceiling. "So when days like this happen-," he starts.

"I think ‘wow, that's shitty,’" Loki says. "You had a bad day, or I had one. Both, sometimes. And then I think about how we can salvage it."

"But not-."

"-'this is all 'cos I'm unlovable. Everybody leaves me. I would leave me'? That? Yeah, no. I don't think that anymore."

The weight on his chest is almost physically painful. Thor has to fight the urge to ball up and roll away. "Ugh," he says. He closes his eyes, tears blooming hot behind them. "I never felt that way. I nev-."

"Shh," Loki whispers. "I know. Trust me; at the time, you didn't need to."

Thor's stomach chooses that moment to growl with ridiculous insensitivity. He and Loki collapse together in a heap, giggling despite themselves. "I'm so sorry," he says, “I really am,” but even then he can’t completely stop laughing.

"Feed me, Seymour," Loki sings. He elbows Thor in the side as the laughter ramps up all over again. Maybe a bottle was too much champagne. "Twenty-four hour grocery store. Let's go find ourselves something to feed that monster."

Thor squints at the clock on the wall by the window, blinks, and looks again. It's not that late, actually. Even if it is a ‘school night.’ "Okay," he gives in, "but we're walking, not driving."

"Good," Loki says.. like he means it, too.

~

This is the suburbs; it’s late for a Thursday and, like the trail itself, the back of the plaza’s pretty much deserted. Someone – an employee, from the ugly orange uniform, because no one would leave the house like that by choice – is having a cigarette by the back door of the movie theatre, lungfuls of smoke hanging close in the humid summer air.

By unspoken agreement Loki and Thor stay on the railway trail, walking carefully to the right of the unkempt bushes rather than skirting the edge of the abandoned canal lock like they would in daylight. Sober. They both love the place and can spend hours poking through its graffiti-covered, overgrown concrete, but falling would end in a trip to the hospital (at best) and that’s a risk neither of them feels like taking. That, and anyone they might run into this time of night would be up to no good anyway.

Just a little further along, at the far end of the plaza proper, a waitress and two busboys toss big bags of garbage into the dumpster behind Applebee’s. In the side parking lot a few cars sit in groups of two or three: weeknight regulars tossing back the last few drinks, maybe, or a team sharing a round after softball. Steve’s place of employment is over-the-top into that. Thor’s never been able to decide if it sounds fun or stifling.

They pick their way down the embankment single-file. The well-worn, dusty trail is slippery; Thor leads Loki off into the grass so nobody skids and twists an ankle. The grocery store parking lot is still dotted with cars. While it’s far from jammed this time of night, this place is never, ever empty. “Hot bar?” Loki asks as they make their way past the carts and into the over-bright, produce-filled lobby.

“Closes around 8:00 during the week,” Thor reminds him. It’s a conversation they have often, the lazy weeknight chefs they are. “We’re going to have to attempt to cook something.”

“There’s always sushi,” Loki teases.

“Gross,” Thor says, even though the fish here is usually fine. It’s important to keep up his reputation.

Thor knows they can’t wander the store aimlessly. After this much champagne, if he lets Loki make it over to housewares, Thor’s certain they’ll go home with pretty, expensive bakeware he absolutely doesn’t need. They settle on nice bread and gruyere for toasted cheese sandwiches… that and two perfect, shiny Granny Smith apples. There’s nice sweet-tangy mustard back at the house, because even an empty fridge needs good condiments. Thor herds Loki straight to the register.

“No dessert?” Loki pouts.

Thor kisses him.

There aren’t many people around. Thor doesn’t care anyway. “We’ll figure something out,” he says. The sweet shop bakery’s closed. “I want to eat before midnight.”

“I guess I can be dessert if I have to,” Loki teases.

Thor kisses Loki again, humming as Loki nips back this time. They set their dinner makings down on the belt. “Keep it up,” Thor warns, “and you’re going to be hors d’oeuvres instead.”

~

Climbing back up the bank feels like too much work, especially with Loki’s iffy ankle and a bag to juggle. Instead they half walk, half jog along the back of the plaza, laughing and panting and wrinkling their noses at the most obnoxious-smelling trash bins.

~

“Should we talk more?” Thor flips the sandwiches, poking a wayward slice of apple back in with the corner of the spatula. “I didn’t mean to get us off-topic earlier.” He didn’t. Hadn’t. Uncomfortable as that particular sort of talking always is, he knows they need to do it if they want to say together. Which he does. Ever so much, and then some.

Loki pops a leftover slice of apple in his mouth and chews, expression thoughtful. “I think we’ve proved my theory out, actually,” he says with a smile. “Things got complicated, we worked around it, and here we are having fun anyway.”

“It won’t be very much fun in the morning,” Thor warns. They should have been in their respective beds by now. By the time Loki makes it home there won’t be much night left for sleeping.

“Eh. I just have to time things right,” Loki says. “So I miss most of the stupid rush-hour traffic.”

“Mm,” Thor purrs. Things are looking up and up; it seems Loki’s staying.

It’s almost 11:00 PM before the sandwiches are done. Thor gets two plates out of the cupboard, serves up their dinner, and hands one to Loki. Loki takes a bite – right there in the middle of the kitchen, where they Do Not Eat - and moans happily. They’ve already broken half the rules. “Why stop now?” Thor kids. Loki sets the plate down on the counter and lunges at him.

~

Thor’s not quite sure if they’re eating or making out. Both, maybe. Loki licks the crumbs from Thor’s fingers. Thor chases the sweet-tart taste of apple in Loki’s mouth. By the time the food is gone they’re both pleasantly full, out of breath, and a little more butter-smeared than they probably should be.

The two of them are still going at one other hungrily when Loki backs Thor down the hall. “Yes. We both. Triple-checked. The gas. Is off. Thor,” Loki admonishes between sloppy kisses. They stumble up the stairs and into the bedroom, claw off their clothes, and fall into bed.

It’s a bad idea. They should wash up, Thor knows. Brush their teeth, scrub their faces. “Who cares?” he asks himself. Inside his own head, hopefully. He’d rather roll around in the sheets together, and tomorrow morning’s just going to suck anyway.

They stop pretty much where they always have. Except Loki’s not pushing to be fucked this time, and Thor’s not wondering what it means if he doesn’t. Instead they drift off to sleep, sticky and hot. The last waking thing Thor realizes comes as a nice surprise: he and Loki just had a Big Talk, and yet here they are happy anyway.

Chapter Text

"So, was it?" Sif rubs her thumbs back and forth across the ends of the chair arms, over leather worn smooth by a lifetime of palms.

Thor blinks. He's lost the thread of their discussion, too busy thinking instead about how nice it is to see her. She's only in town for the afternoon; her barely-up-and-down flight leaves at 8:35 PM, which should get her to her Boston hotel just too late for the pre-conference cocktail party she's dead set on missing.

"What?" he says. "Was what? Was what what, maybe?"

"Counseling," she reminds him, laughing at his smiling confusion. "Was it as bad as you thought it would be?"

It was, and then again it wasn't. "It was really hard at first," he tells her. "I'm not used to pouring out my feelings to strangers." Or to anyone else, besides Sif and his mother, and even with them he'd really rather avoid it. "But my therapist" – only with months of practice can he finally get that out of his mouth in a nearly-convincingly-blasé manner - "has been really patient with me and these days I'm doing the work more- easily?" It's not quite the right word, but nothing more suitable is coming to him. "Regardless, our joint sessions are certainly more productive these days. That was the main point anyway."

That's at least where the whole thing had started. Late last year Thor (and Loki, he's learned to truly believe, which is in itself significant progress) had wanted to start talking about making things permanent. Loki, tired of everything permanent being so fucking temporary, had insisted that the two of them learn to fight more effectively first. "But we're not fighting," Thor had protested, a wave of panic catching his voice and painting his body with cold, sticky sweat. "Not anymore. We haven't in ages."

"But we will," Loki had pointed out, expression sober. "And when we do, I want us to live past it."

Thor couldn't dispute that. Wouldn't if he could have.

Once they'd gotten started, though, Thor'd quickly found himself at a disadvantage. Loki and the counselor shared a common lingo that was meaningless to him. And whenever they made an effort to include him, he felt like they were dumbing things down. Which, in turn, sent his anxiety soaring.

"If you spent a few sessions doing individual work," the counselor had suggested the second time Thor'd had to stand up mid-discussion and announce that he just couldn't do this, "I think you might find our time together a lot more useful. I know someone who might be a good fit. I can give you the name if you're interested."

"No thanks," Thor'd said.

He'd needed five full days to admit (to himself, and then to Loki and the therapist) that his "no" had been a knee-jerk reaction.

"I'm glad I stayed with the whole business," he confesses to Sif. He hasn’t come right out and said this to anyone, not even Loki. "I don't think I had any idea how much I actually needed it."

She smiles and crosses one leg over the other. It's a hot afternoon; the leather releases her thigh with a sucking pop. "Yuck," she says, quickly adding "this heat, I mean, not your needing," and Thor’s embarrassed to realize his face must have given away his gut reaction. "It’s days like this that I miss Alaska. But I know what you mean. We both came from generations of farmers. Solid stock and all that. We weren't supposed to need any of that new-age-y frou-frou stuff."

They both laugh; her imitation of her own father is so good it borders on uncanny. "But I've done it too. California," she explains with a shrug when Thor raises his eyebrows. "Everyone sees someone. And all joking aside it really did end up being good for me."

Thor blinks again. "You never mentioned it," he says. “Never mentioned seeing someone.”

Sif winks. "Then it wasn't helpful enough, maybe?"

He shakes his head and smiles. Nothing’s ever quite helpful enough. That’s one thing his life has insisted on teaching. “But in fairness I don’t think my parents feel that way,” he tells her. “Like your father does, I mean, like we were born too tough to need help with anything.” Frigga has always seen the inherent value in feelings, and even Odin rarely preaches the pull yourself up by your own bootstraps already gospel that – in their hometown and, no doubt, in countless small towns like it – families like Sif’s own have always favored.

“Where’d you get it from, then?” Sif tips her head. “If your parents were soooo open-minded?”

“It’s not even that,” he says. She has to be used to him dodging her questions. They’ve only known each other pretty much forever. “Not really. I just didn’t – I don’t - want to be a disappointment. Not that they went around telling me I was one, but I didn’t need- need that to know it. They wanted me to- to be Baldr, I guess, only better. Marry a nice local girl. Run the farm. Supply them with happy, healthy grandchildren before they’re too old to enjoy it.” He sighs. “Not be gay and alone and up here teaching chemistry.”

“Pfft,” Sif scoffs. “They’re proud of you, Thor. You know they are. You went and got your PhD. You have a beautiful house-.”

“-that they’ve never seen,” he interjects.

“Because you’ve never invited them, probably.” She’s right. He hasn’t. He spends his breaks, the few he has, visiting his family down on the shore instead. “And you’re only alone when you choose to be. Seriously, Thor. Your parents adore you. Your mom just wants you to be happy.”

“I know, I know.” That’s what his dad wants too. Odin’s idea of what constitutes happiness just isn’t as broad or as flexible as Frigga’s. Still, they’re both good people. He’s lucky. And with that, Thor just can’t hold back anymore. "Speaking of happy, I think Loki and I might get married," he blurts out. He's been carrying this particular secret far too long, only sharing it with (Loki, obviously, and) their various therapists. Once again it had been about not wanting to let anyone down, blah blah blah, etc. And by the time Thor’d finally started to really recognize the issue with his problematic, thinking, he and Loki had already agreed to surprise- well, everyone, meaning his parents. Or anyone who might slip and accidentally tell them.

But he'd discussed the whole thing with Loki when Sif'd first mentioned she might be able to pay a quick visit and they'd collectively agreed she could share in their secret. If and only if, of course, she kept it a secret. "But don't tell anyone from home,” he instructs. “We want it to be a surprise. Whatever you do, Siffy, don't tell my mom!"

"Are you nuts? Have you lost your mind?" Sif waves her hands. "Frigga would outright murder me. And then come for the two of you, as fast as her car could travel."

“She would never,” Thor counters, grinning through the sweat. The tears. “Okay, maybe a little.”

“She totally would and you know it.” Sif leans forward and reaches for his hand. The chair squeaks and groans in protest. “So things are good this time around?”

Thor squeezes her fingers gently. “They were always good,” he says. “The part that tripped us up was coming to believe it.”

“Eeee!” Sif smothers Thor in a hot, sticky hug. “I’m glad things are working out this time. I hated seeing you so sad… so lost, apart from each other.”

“Thanks,” he tells her ponytail. “I hated it too. I think Loki and I both did. Now get off me already.”

She laughs as she straightens back up. “Not my fault,” she reminds him, wiping her face on her shoulder. “You should get air conditioning.”

“Loki says the same thing,” Thor admits, laughing with her. It feels so good to have told someone. “Me, though? I kind of like it. Reminds me of growing up. Makes the place feel like home.”

“You’re so weird,” she teases. “What are you going to do, then? When you do get married?” He likes it that she said when. Not if, when. “Are you keeping this place or moving back downtown?”

“I think we’re going to hang onto the house, at least for a while,” he tells her. They’ve done the math. Yes, Loki could make some money renting out the apartment, but neither of them wants to be a landlord. Or they could cut a few expenses by selling the house, obviously, but Thor likes to garden and paint and the apartment isn’t great for either. “We’ve been going back and forth for months. Sounds like a pain, probably, but it hasn’t been. Right now it’s working for us. Speaking of which” – he leans forward, hands on knees; he wanted to share the big picture but isn’t ready to dig down into the actual details – “I should take you downtown to see the store. Loki will never forgive me if we don’t give him a chance to say hi. Oh, and it’s air-conditioned.”

Sif hops up. “What are we waiting for?”

“That hot?” he kids, because it is pretty brutal.

“Seattle,” she reminds him. “Alaska. More Seattle. Why do you even have to ask that question?”

Thor helps her take her bags back out to the car. She’s presenting her recent research at a national conference, which means – as she’d rather unhappily phrased it when he’d met her at the airport earlier – dressing like a grown-up, but she’s also made plans to meet up with some grad school friends and go hiking (and brewery-touring) in eastern New Hampshire. That, in turn, means dressing like a west coast hipster. Even though she’ll only be in New England for a few days, she’s had to drag along enough stuff to clothe an army. Not that she isn’t amply capable of carrying everything herself. He just likes to be useful.

~

As (almost) always, the bells on the door make Thor smile. “Sif!!” Loki hurries around the counter to wrap her in a hug. It’s a slow time of day. With the exception of Loki the place is probably completely empty. “You look great!” He kisses her cheeks, one after the other. “I miss you.”

“You guys could still move to Seattle,” she reminds them both. “You know, just sayin’.”

They could probably learn to like it there, Thor figures, but with each passing year they’re bound here more tightly. And this is a happy day; he doesn’t want to talk about how (well, why) Sif and Loki haven’t seen each other in years now. “Let me show you around,” he offers instead. “I’ll give you the famous Thor Odinson behind-the-scenes tour.”

“It’s nice!” she calls out to Loki as Thor whisks her away from the counter and between the stacks. Behind them the door jingles; Loki needs to deal with an actual customer.

~

“This is the staff office,” Thor tells Sif rather unnecessarily. Duh. What else would it be? Two student employees have stayed in town for the summer; their thesis project involves building a rare books registry. That, and Thor thinks they might be secretly dating. They both smile shyly as he makes introductions.

He can walk through his old haunts now without feeling- regretful. “And out there,” he explains as she looks down the hall, “is the infamous elevator, the one I resurrected.”

“Can we?” Not for the first time this visit Sif’s grin reaches all the way from ear to ear. She’s actually bouncing.

Thor beams back at her. “Of course we can. My pleasure.”

~

He shows her where he used to sit, back when he actually worked here. These days he does help out again from time to time, but Loki’s hired a recent grad for the security job. It’s a good thing, better than it sounds, because it means Thor’s no longer facing guilty pressure from Darcy.

“Do you miss it?” Sif asks, looking around at the stacks of boxes.

He scrunches up his nose. “Sometimes,” he admits. He does miss rolling out of bed and staggering off to work in his sweatpants... and having Loki right there, every day, all of the time. “But it’s probably better that I’m more independent. ‘Healthier,’ you know.” He makes air quotes; she smirks. “Anyway, this is- the Internet stock.” Not saying our still doesn’t come easily. “And across the hall,” he adds, pointing to the metal door with its brand-new painted garlands of blood-red-on-black roses, “is Loki’s apartment. Well, it’s really Oscar the cat’s apartment. He just lets- me and Loki stay there.”

She stops to admire all the right things. Exclaims happily in all the right places. Plops down on the window seat to pet Oscar and point at the birds in the trees outside.

“This is great,” she says when they’ve finished their loop. “I see your dilemma.”

Thor’s not even sure it’s a dilemma anymore. He shrugs. “This way we get to have everything?” It’s not true, of course; no one really does. Case in point: in half an hour, he and Sif need to climb back in his car and head for the airport. He has dinner with Loki to look forward to afterwards. That isn’t going to make saying goodbye any easier.

“See?” Sif says. “I always knew you would.”

Chapter Text

Sometimes change happens so, so slowly. Much as the soft, steady pit-pat of water reshapes sandstone, things shift so minutely, so gradually that it’s easy not to notice that anything’s different. Other times change crashes down like waves along the shore, thundering in with all the wild force of the ocean.

Coming out of summer and into yet another academic year, Thor can’t shake the sneaking suspicion it's going to be a big one. A watershed year with changes everywhere. He and Loki talk about it. There’s no reason to feel that way, they agree. Together they laugh it off.

The feeling's still there, though. It pops up whenever Thor least expects it.

~

At the start of the term he makes tenure. It shouldn't come as a surprise. His chemistry colleagues have always loved him, dating back to his lowly days as a teaching assistant. His classes are consistently well reviewed, by students and faculty alike. He’d used his lonely Loki-less years to get a big jump on being extensively published, and now that he’s in the habit it hasn’t been that hard to keep on going. He’s exceptionally popular with new students, too, which means his continued presence is likely helping with recruiting. His sessions are the first to close at each successive enrollment; even those (fortunately) rare times he agrees to be scheduled ridiculously early are no exception.

There you have it. It shouldn’t be surprising at all.

It is.

Thor can’t remember the last time he was so shocked, in fact. He's literally and completely speechless. All he can do is cry when he calls and tries to tell Loki, which results in Loki showing up on campus so fast the trip there can't possibly have been safe. Or legal.

The whole thing is comically ridiculous. Thor keeps right on bawling as he holds out the official offer letter. He's surprised right out of his own tears, though, when Loki starts crying reading it. Loki. Loki who's teased him – relentlessly, mercilessly - about a job for life. But in truth it really is a huge relief. Not just boring stability, but a guarantee of salary, benefits, and all the trimmings. There’s no better complement to self-employment.

That, and with it comes with a hefty raise... which can only help when you're still insisting upon juggling multiple residences.

~

They celebrate (briefly) with a quick trip to Burlington: hiking, craft beer, good food, a visit to the aquarium, and a sweet Victorian bed-and-breakfast. Once again Darcy and Ian – they’re together-together now; Thor and Loki attended their hand-fasting, not really a wedding, but beliefs aside in the eyes of the state the kids are legally married – stay in the apartment to look after Oscar. Not for the first time Loki hints at renting the apartment to the two of them ‘someday,’ in the event the time comes when it's no longer sensible or convenient to semi-live there. As always he backs right off when Thor ever-so-gently calls him on it.

Which is fine. It's so not something Thor's ready to talk about either, but he does sometimes roll the whole idea around in his head. Eventually, he knows, they should really discuss it. Darcy and Ian are good people. They’d take care of the place. Best of all, they’d love it.

~

Thor comes back from their long weekend in Vermont with a strong taste for Seattle. He still wants to take Loki there, wants to walk around oohing and ahhing at the eclectic scene and to take the lock cruise on a sunny morning. He wants to watch Loki smile at the waterfowl and gag at the weirdness of a whole block of chewed gum. They could savor coffee and pancakes on a rooftop deck overlooking the sound. Loki and Sif could go dancing.

They won't get to do it during the school year, not the way he wants to. Thor vows to make something happen after graduation. That gives them both - all, probably, because Sif's always pleased to see them - months and months of happy anticipation.

He also starts shopping (casually, quietly, because this too is not something he’s quite ready to talk about) for a ring. After all, what better way to remember Seattle?

~

Natasha calls a few weeks into the semester. Although Loki's never quite come around to hanging out with her adopted-away son, he's long since gotten past being outwardly (and inwardly, Thor hopes; there’s no way to know) bothered by Thor's continued-but-occasional involvement.

Her son's adoptive parents are moving away, she tells Thor this time. They've taken jobs in the vicinity of Cleveland. The actual news, though, is that she intends to relocate with them. It's okay, she assures him. An old friend of hers from her pre-grad-school days has a farm in the area. There's a great apartment over the workshop. It'll be fine, she insists. They can always come visit.

It isn't fine. Thor thinks back to the time he'd needed a home, to how she'd taken him in before he'd finished asking. He forces a smile, knowing it will come across in his voice. Wishes her the best. Reminds her she’s one of his dearest friends; he loves her.

She laughs then, hard. Once she’s caught her breath she tells him he still sucks; she knows he's lying. Not about friends: about how he’s okay that she’s leaving.

Thor waits a long two weeks before telling Loki and is (happily) shocked yet again when Loki shows absolutely no sign of relief whatsoever. “That sucks,” Loki tells him, voice full of sympathy. “I mean, I get why she’s moving… but still. You’re really going to miss her.”

At least, Thor reminds himself, he’s finally at a point in his life where he can make himself work out without having her around to nag him.

~

Odin has a stroke right before the holidays. Frigga calls, rigidly matter-of-fact, to let them know things are not all that good. The whole thing is too much for the little local hospital to handle. She’s going to be staying in a hotel, so they should only call her cell phone.

Loki shushes Thor with trembling fingers when Thor insists it's fine; he can make the run down to the shore alone. “It's the busy season,” he tries to point out. His voice is muffled by Loki's hand. "You need to be here," he reminds Loki. No one can be everywhere. No one.

"No," Loki says, firmly. "The girls can handle it here. Let's get you home." He makes Thor pack. Won't let Thor drive. Navigates the rain-soaked Atlantic City shopping district like a pro while Thor wonders aloud what brainiac decided to put a fucking hospital out by the boardwalk.

“We’re here,” Loki says, squeezing his hand. Thor’s tired brain is still struggling to make sense of why they’ve had to park at a casino to go to a medical center. “Something about taking the elevator to the third floor walkway. I looked it up before we left town,” Loki explains patiently when Thor can only boggle at him. He smiles at Thor’s bleary confusion, a little sadly. “Spending all this time with you has taught me a thing or two about logistics, baby.”

They stagger out of the van, stretching their stiff backs and yawning. Thor tags dutifully along behind as Loki (consulting his phone) leads the way through the maze of brightly-labeled concrete. Third floor. Walkway. Sure enough: hospital. He hopes someplace inside will sell them coffee.

~

“Oh, you’re dears, both of you! You made it.” Frigga loops an arm each around their waists and pulls them into a warm communal hug. She doesn’t say a thing about how they haven’t been down to visit. About how this is the first time she’s laid eyes on Loki in six long years. Thor hugs her fiercely and loves her all the more for it.

“How is he?” Loki lets Frigga hold his hand. He looks just as grateful as Thor feels.

She wilts a little. Thor’s struck by how tired she looks. How old. “I’m not sure,” she says. “They’ve given him medication to let his brain and body rest. They tell me his test results look a little better each time, and a lot better than they were when he got here.” She sighs. “Everyone say he knows when someone’s there, so don’t hesitate to talk to him.”

It’s a lot harder than Thor expected. Intellectually he knows his father isn’t really- what? Unconscious? Dead? It’s been explained to him several times now, by his mother and then Loki and finally not one but three overzealous staffers. None of that helps when he stands by Odin’s bedside looking down at the still, pale face and gently touching his father’s limp fingers. “Um, mom says you can hear me,” he says when Loki nudges him encouragingly. “So. Um. I love you, dad. You have to get better, for mom.” His voice breaks. “You have to get better for everybody.”

~

They settle into a single hotel room, with double beds and a tiny bathroom. It saves the cost of a second one – which isn’t such a trivial thing in a resort city, even in the off-season – but, more than that, it means Frigga won’t be alone. The whole arrangement can’t be comfortable for Loki, who really values privacy and isn’t used to being holed up with family. When Loki graciously says nothing, Thor isn’t sure he can be more grateful. They go out to dinner later, halfheartedly freshened and far from dressy. None of them drink. It’s profoundly disorienting to be on such a somber mission here in the middle of party central.

~

They’re too tall for their double bed. Even Frigga complains about feeling cramped in hers, and she’s considerably smaller than the two more-than-six-foot-tall adult men stuck sharing. There isn’t even room to toss or turn. Eventually Loki curls up in a ball in the middle of the mattress and dozes off; Thor gives up any hope of being comfortable and wraps tightly around him.

The room faces roughly east. Thor wakes before dawn, one arm all pins-and-needles and his hanging-off-the-bed feet naked and freezing. The clock radio (seriously!) says it’s only 5:12 AM and, based on the posted unit visiting hours, there’s no point in going back to the hospital much before noon. He tiptoes off to the bathroom as quietly as he can. When he comes back into the room proper, Loki has rolled over and is curled up again in the opposite direction. Thor smiles – this will be better; his arm is still not fully awake – and lies down. Loki is cozy warm. There’s nothing to do but go on sleeping.

~

Baldr and Nan stop up to the hotel on Christmas Day. They do bring cookies; they don’t bring For. He’s with Volstagg’s brood, Nan explains when Thor asks after him. He’s not quite old enough to understand all this. He knows grandpa’s sick, but they don’t want him to see this place and really worry.

They’re just as good about- about things as Frigga. “Merry Christmas,” Nan tells Loki, like it’s perfectly normal. Like she’s seen him recently. Like they’re already related. She and Loki stay behind in the visitor’s lounge to let Baldr and Thor visit Odin together.

“She’s nice,” is all Thor can pry out of Loki later. “I always enjoy talking with her.”

~

With two days left in December the doctors finally deem it time to lighten Odin’s meds. “Be cautiously hopeful,” they tell Thor and his family (well, just Loki and Frigga; with a farm to manage and a young son to deal with, Nan and Baldr have long since gone back home). “His tests all look good, better than we hoped for.” Still, there’s no way to know for sure what’s going to happen.

The first words Odin utters once he’s extubated? “Loki. Thor. Thanks for coming down. It’s good to see you.” If he makes it out of here, Thor knows, they’ll always tease his wife about that one.

~

Frigga orders the two of them out on the town for New Year’s Eve. “I’ll be fine here by myself,” she insists. “You’re young. You need to make the most of your lives while you have the chance. I’m serious. Go. Really.”

~

“This isn’t how I pictured New Year’s in Atlantic City,” Loki says into the wind. Neither of them is in the mood for the club scene; instead they’ve bundled up against the weather and are planning to watch the fireworks from the boardwalk.

Thor nods. “It’s not how I pictured a lot of things,” he says, thinking back to all they times they’d stressed over how to reintroduce Loki into his family. He gives Loki a one-armed squeeze. “Thank you.”

“You keep saying that.” Loki twists to kiss Thor on the nose. “It’s okay. Things work out. We all do what we have to.”

“Mm.” Thor kisses Loki properly instead. “That we do, don’t we?”

Chapter Text

"I'm afraid I haven't been completely forthcoming." Loki stares into his glass; the ice cubes spin as he swirls the dregs of a Tom Collins. He doesn't glance up. Doesn't meet Thor's squinting eyes. Behind him the sun is setting, the cloudless, humid haze turning its last light more glow than riot. Even so, the sky’s too bright against the dark walls to make facing it without sunglasses reasonably comfortable.

Thor listens to the ringing in his own ears. It takes him what feels like an eternity to compose himself. Yes, day-to-day life changes with the seasons; they've been spending more evenings up here in the comparatively bug-free city air since summer's really taken over. Even so, a sudden invitation to the shop on what would otherwise have been a night of suburbs and sushi has left him a bit on edge all afternoon. Ever since the text, since Loki’d suggested it. "Oh?" He counts to three, silently, and then rethinks his hastily drawn plan and adds four and five, six and seven. "How so?" They've been talking about heading out to Seattle in July. They've booked their flights. This feels like- like Seattle has once again doomed them. Maybe they should never go. Maybe he should never even suggest it.

Loki takes a big, big breath and sighs. He swallows the last of his drink - more water than gin in this heat - and keeps right on twirling. It’s a parade of small movements, all wrist and fingers.

Fighting the urge to fill the silence with words is hard, really hard. Thor makes himself wait. Keeps on waiting.

"Is that awful?" Loki asks, looking up out of his glass and off the roof into nothing.

Thor shrugs. "Everyone has stories." It’s too soon to know, and he doesn’t have nearly enough information. Right now he can't say more without lying himself. Instead he takes the highest road he can find, the one where he says pretty much nothing.

Loki's hand stills. He brings the glass closer to his chest, cupping it in his hands like it’s something- smaller. Smaller and more fragile. Condensation trickles between his fingers and trails down the inside of one arm. "Remember what I told you about the hospital?" he asks Thor. "The stuff that I wrote? About my foster family, about my journal?"

"Mm." Thor does, of course. He remembers the sad, teenaged references to suicide. More than that he remembers Loki's blank emptiness, the emotionless recounting.

"That part was mostly true," Loki says, very softly. "But I left out a little. Well, more than a little. Like, um, the part where I'd actually tried it before. And the part where that was really my second hospitalization."

Oh. It’s a bit too much to take in all at once. "I'm sorry," Thor volunteers, gently. He is. “That sucks.” He'd have far more to offer - squeezed fingers, a hug, fresh ice and a refill - if only he knew for sure this was the full extent of Loki's confession. As it is, he's still too busy not freaking out to be left with much of anything.

"It's hard to explain," Loki says at some length. Out west of the city the sun must be hovering just at the horizon; it’s silhouetting Loki and the building across the street, slender and sharp against solid and blocky. "It felt like the ground opening up practically beneath my feet. Like a gaping hole, with gravity pulling me lower and closer."

Thor frowns. It sounds awful. Awfully scary.

His own depression tends to be so tangled up with anxiety that it comes and goes without his paying it any real notice. And on the rare occasion when it does show up alone, things are (fortunately?) never that dramatic. The world's just dull, as though everything is smothered under a heavy, gloomy blanket.

He doesn't dare ask Loki what this all has to do with now. Doesn’t know if he wants to know, even.

"It started happening again a few years ago," Loki goes on. He's holding the glass tightly now, his long fingers straining themselves white around it. "Straight out of nowhere. It was horrible. I was terrified. I'd thought it was long, long since gone… that when I'd grown up, I’d somehow grown out of it.” He shakes his head. “I didn’t know what to do… thought that maybe if I ignored it that would be enough." He sighs. "Surprise surprise, of course it wasn't."

Somewhere in Thor's head a tiny lightbulb goes on: the increasingly lonely togetherness. The ugly fights, the baseless anger. All those weeks and months spent feeling like he'd done something wrong, like he'd committed some foul, foul sin but couldn't quite put a finger on it. "Shortly before we- before I left," he whispers. It isn't a question.

"Bingo," Loki says, just like he had down in the store all those years ago. Except this time Thor’s not the only one who’s not finding it funny. "I was out of control. Didn't know how to handle it. Tried the only things I knew, one after another, and nothing worked. I did the whole thing wrong, clearly," he adds with a sharp noise that falls just short of a laugh. "I sure didn't help me... instead I fucked up everything."

Thor takes a sip of his own drink. Although his mind is going a million miles an second he, too, has put a lot of hard work into learning how to handle things better. This is not about him. Well, not entirely. "Is it happening again? Now, I mean. Recently."

A tiny indrawn breath and something closer to a laugh, softer and sweeter this time. Maybe for once, Thor thinks, his measured reaction wasn’t what Loki had expected. He looks at the chest-high wall that rings the edge of their roof. Their roof, and so many others. He shuts his eyes, picturing Loki stepping off into nothing. He shudders. Swallows hard, bites back a whimper. Doesn’t wipe away the lone tear that spills over. Hopes Loki won’t look over and catch him crying.

"No," Loki says. “It’s been years again. Seriously.”

"Oh thank fuck," Thor says, only realizing when Loki snorts that he's spoken rather than thinking it. Good grief. "Shit. I'm sorry."

"Me too." Loki sighs, again. "This is hard. Hard and awkward."

"If not now, then why-," Thor tries. He can't finish, though; he has no idea how to clearly, safely explain what he's thinking.

"It's been eating at me," Loki says. "Last time I let kept it to myself and let it destroy us. That can’t happen again, not if we're going to make this work. For things between us to have any hope of success I need to commit to- to us completely."

"But it's not your fault," Thor gets out. He's struggled with his own brain all his life, knows how little control a person really has over one. "It’s nothing you did on purpose, and it's certainly not something you can stop by committing.”

"Maybe not,” Loki says. “I mean, you’re right. But if you know, maybe you can help me- get help next time? Or at least I’ll feel more comfortable telling you what's happening? I don't know. I don't know." Loki sets the glass down too hard, just this side of slamming it on the heavy metal table. They both wince. "I really don't,” Loki goes on, “but I do know I needed you to know about it. Need you to. Whatever. Fuck. Fuck it. I sound like a fucking idiot."

Thor breathes slowly in through his nose, out through his mouth. Twice. Three times, until he can respond calmly. “You don’t sound like an idiot,” he tells Loki. “I’m sorry you have to go through this,” and sorry you couldn’t just tell me before, he doesn’t add. No one can rewrite the past. Maybe back then he wouldn’t have been ready to hear it. He might have overreacted, might have made things worse instead of helping to make them better. All he can influence is the future. Their future. “Promise you’ll tell me if things start getting bad? Especially if- when it seems like I haven’t noticed?”

He sneaks a sideways glance of Loki. Watches Loki worrying a fold of pink lip between teeth that glow bright white in the deepening twilight. “I’ll try,” Loki says. “And I’ll keep in mind that you asked… in case maybe one of these days I reach a point where I can make you that promise.”

“Thanks,” Thor says. He sets his glass down on the low, tile-topped table to the far side of his own chair and twists back to lay his cool hand over Loki’s unusually warm one. Under different circumstances the role reversal might make him giggle. “Thanks for doing whatever you c-.” His phone buzzes. “Shit, sorry.” It’s Frigga. Even better. He groans. “Hi, mom. What’s up?” he says fake-brightly. Under his fingers, Loki stiffens.

~

It turns out she’s just calling to say hello. Thor manages to keep it short. She’s known him forever, after all, and probably senses he’s in the middle of something. Since Odin’s stroke last fall calls from home have taken on a different meaning, a note of unhappy ominousness that hadn’t been there previously. Thor misses the old days, the blissfully ignorant ones, when a call from mom was just a call from mom and not a potential announcement of his world’s impending end. Maybe this is yet another part of what his parents had meant when they’d told the pair of them – Thor and Baldr, two sulking teenaged boys who couldn’t wait to be grownups – that they should stop trying to rush things and enjoy their youth; that being an adult gets increasingly complicated.

~

“How’s your dad?” Loki asks when Thor stuffs the phone back in his pocket. Thor wonders if last year’s string of hospital visits brought all of this the forefront somehow, even thought Loki’d sworn it was no big deal at the time. He wonders if that’s a good or a bad thing.

“Fine,” he tells Loki. “Mom says he’s graduated to a regular cane as long as he wears his brace. Braces,” he corrects himself: wrist, knee, ankle. Baldr, who’s finally gotten good at people, tells Odin it’s the kind of look you see on aging superheroes. Thor shrugs, t-shirt-covered shoulder bumping up against Loki’s bare one. “I think she’s just a little lonely.”

“Mm,” Loki agrees, nodding. “It has to be hard, sitting back all the time while he insists on proving himself solo.”

It is hard; they of all people both know that too well. Thor feels abruptly itchy. Restless. “Hey,” he suggests, “want to go for a walk?” He needs to do something, they both do, and heading out for a stroll is probably smarter and safer than more drinking. If nothing else, it’s a lot more likely to cheer them up a little.

Loki slips his hand out from underneath Thor’s and gets to his feet, rolling his head and neck and groaning. The back of his gauzy grey tank is dark with sweat where it’s been pinned between the bones of his spine and the chair. “Mm,” he hums again. “Good idea. Where to?”

~

Walking and talking has always come (relatively) easily to both of them. Tonight is no exception, the sidewalks thick with people making their hot, lazy way back and forth between home and drinks and dinner notwithstanding. As they circle the long block over and over Loki shares further detail about what goes on in his head and Thor finds the right answers more and more easily. They end with a long hug by the back stairs. The air between them feels so much clearer. “So,” Loki says into the damp cotton of Thor’s shirt, “are you still in the mood to get that sushi?”

They can do it another time. Right now, Thor thinks, takeout on the sofa with Oscar sounds better. He wants Loki to feel secure, safe and comfortable. “Next time,” he tells Loki. “Tonight I think I’m really in the mood to stay here.”

Chapter Text

"It's fine," Sif insists. She actually sounds like she means it, too, as best he can tell over an iffy connection. Her laugh is open and genuine. Not that it would be the first time it was just him that's freaking. "Really, it is. I totally get where you're coming from. And maybe this is all for the best," she goes on when he hums skeptically. "I've been having a hard time getting those days off anyway. New kid problems," she explains, laughing again. She's just started a different research job, a good one, in a field of study she's been trying to break into for ages. "Rites of passage. I’m pretty sure they only hired me to work the holidays."

Thor makes a point of smiling, and not just so he’ll sound authentic for Sif either. He's learned it's an important aspect of winding himself down; not just fake it 'til you make it, but the beginning of a complex biochemical process that starts in a tough place but ends with him feeling- relaxed. Settled. "Thanks for understanding," he tells her. "I am still bummed we won't get to see you."

"Dude! Hawaii," she reminds him. Like there's a chance in hell he's going to forget, regardless. "You'll be having so much fun. No way you'll miss me."

He will miss catching up with her, of course, but she already knows that and he doesn't bother trying to argue.

In the spirit of committing completely he and Loki have decided to scrap Seattle (for now) and go someplace new, to visit a welcoming landscape not darkened by dashed hopes and memories.

The original idea was Thor's; Loki'd loved it pretty much instantly. It hadn’t taken the two of them a whole lot longer to settle on Hawaii, either. The 50th state is cheap in the summer, they had quickly discovered. It's a hot place in the hot season. Throngs of tourists give way to vacationing locals. Sure, the flights are still brutal, especially with the rebooking charge added in... but once they get to the islands lodgings will be about a third of what they'd pay in Seattle.

On top of all that they’ve agreed to push the trip out a few weeks – into late July, early August – to leave themselves more time to plan, which also means there’s time to launch an Internet sale and squirrel away a little more money. It all works out. "You might be right," Thor concedes, only the slightest bit reluctantly.

"I am," Sif agrees, "not that that’s a surprise. Just remember you owe me pictures."

~

"This place looks good." Loki beckons Thor over to look at his laptop. "It's got a cute pool. And there’s even a kitchenette, in case we feel like cooking."

Or having leftovers for breakfast, Thor doesn't add, despite how he finds that scenario a whole lot more likely. Hilo is neither a tourist town nor a fancy one; even so, they’ve already found several great-sounding restaurants. "Oh my," he says instead, choking out a laugh. "It has lava lamps, Loki. How- how 70's."

"It’s gotten great reviews," Loki presses on, undeterred. "And while it's off the highway” – they’d hoped to stay within walking distance of downtown – “we're going to need a car to get around anyway." He pouts at Thor's unconvinced frown. "Breakfast. Hot tub. Pool. On a cliff overlooking the ocean. Cat," he says, pointing at the fluffy orange tiger in one of the pictures. "Please please please? It's the only place that doesn't blather on and on about being great for families with children."

That does sounds good. Thor pays better attention as Loki flips back through the pictures. Once he gets past how dated the decorating looks – kitschy more than quaint, old in a way that’s far less romantic than the Victorian places he grew up seeing - the place really is warm and appealing. He likes the way the owners write. They love their business, and he respects that. "Okay," he gives in easily. "Go ahead and email them."

~

"The Big Island," his mom gushes. "How exciting!" Her voice drops to a whisper; even though it’s barely past dinnertime he must have caught her in the den, already holed up for the evening with books and Odin. "There isn't something I should know, is there?"

"MOMMM," he squawks, like he hasn't been through it all himself over and over. Yes, the ring is locked in the diminutive safe in the hallway closet. No, he is not going to propose on vacation. "It's just a nice getaway," he says. "It's been too long since we did something special," and too soon since Loki's heartfelt confession to even think about something so- so final. "Seriously," he kids, knowing he sounds anything but, "If we were pregnant, you know we'd tell you."

"Haha." She snorts. "You always did think you were funny."

"I learned from the best," he shoots back.

"Oh no,” she says. “You learned that from your father."

Thor drops the act. "Honest, mom," he promises. "Unless you know something I don't, it's simply going to be a nice vacation."

"And I'm envious," she says, "but that part can't be surprising."

They share a final laugh about growing up in one coastal paradise and yet longing for another. Even though they both love the shore, the farm's no dream vacation. Not for him. Not for Frigga.

~

Most of their friends have never made it off the continent.

Except Steve and Bucky, of course; somehow those two have managed to get practically everywhere. Neither one can say enough about the rainy side of the Island of Hawaii. Steve raves about the birds and flowers, about the pretty tidal pools. Bucky, on the other hand – which comes as no surprise once you know him - fell head-over-heels in love the road-eating lava. Darcy tells Loki that Jane – who visited exactly once, way back in her second year of college – hasn’t stopped gushing about the observatories atop Mauna Kea all these years later.

Clearly they won’t be bored. In just a few days' research Thor and Loki have found more to do than they'll have hours to do it in.

~

“Are you really looking forward to this?” Thor asks. Loki is hunched over his laptop at Thor’s dining room table, brow furrowed and nose all but pressed to the screen. He’s been that way for over an hour now. He looks exhausted.

Loki turns and blinks at Thor. He seems- shocked, maybe. Puzzled. Like Thor is speaking a language that sounds like English but isn’t somehow. “Why? Do I seem like I’m not?” He points at the screen, expression shifting from confused to frustrated. “All I’ve done all week is look at pictures and reviews. What more do I need to do to pr-?”

“No. Shh,” Thor soothes, crossing the room in two long strides and reaching out to pull Loki against him. He kisses the top of Loki’s head and pets Loki’s hair. “I- I didn’t mean you weren’t putting on a good enough show or whatever. I don’t want you to put on a show. Honest. It was just a question.” He gives Loki’s shoulder a quick squeeze. “There’s no wrong way to do this, Lo.” What he really means is there’s no wrong way to be you but, if he comes right out and says that, odds are the whole thing will spectacularly backfire.

“Mm.” Loki slumps against Thor’s chest, scrubbing at his face with one hand while the other still hovers over the keyboard. “I’m just nervous. I don’t want to screw this up, you know?”

Thor does know. In all the years they’ve known each other this is their first real, big vacation. The first time they’ve traveled together that isn’t going to end in someone’s dorm and doesn’t involve visiting family. Part of why they’ve put it off so long to begin with, probably, is the pressure-generating mystique they’ve stupidly built up around it: there will never be another first time. They can never do it over.

Which, of course, is the perfect recipe for hating everything about it. Thor sighs. “We’re being dumb about this, aren’t we?”

Loki’s nose pokes into the v neckline of Thor’s shirt. His breath ruffles the tiny baby hairs below Thor’s collarbone; it tickles. “Probably,” Loki agrees. “We both are.”

“Tell you what,” Thor suggests. He wants a do-over on the afternoon. Something soft and peaceful. They need to decompress before (what should be pleasant) vacation planning leads to a fight instead. “Let’s go over to the store and find a book on tropical flowers. Not horticulture, I mean,” he clarifies. “Photography. And then let’s curl up on the sofa with Oscar and take our time flipping through it. We can enjoy what we’re going to be seeing in a few weeks up close and personal.”

“Hm.” Loki presses gentle, dry kisses to Thor’s neck, low over the muscle and then up beneath the jaw. “If we crease the spine or smudge any pages,” he warns, like either of them would ever be that careless, “you know we’ll have to buy it.”

“Write it off, more like it,” Thor teases, his own mood buoyed by the relief that’s crept into Loki’s voice. “But if it happens that’s okay,” he says, more seriously. “Once we get back home, I’m sure we’ll want to look through it over and over.”

Loki sighs. “Do we have time-?”

“We do,” Thor cuts in. The trip is still a few weeks away. They’ve already booked everything they really have to. They need to take pains not to plan this to death. “Put your stuff away.” He sighs. “Why do we make everything so fucking stressful?”

“I’m not-,” Loki starts to protest. He cuts himself off, shaking his head, and shuts his laptop down. “I can’t speak for you,” he says softly, “but it’s always a struggle for me to feel like I deserve to be happy.”

That’s sad. Really sad. Still, Thor gets it. “Maybe we shouldn’t try to look at it that way, then,” he suggests. “Let’s just focus on how we’re in need of some world-class relaxation.”

Loki turns away from the table to look at Thor, the warmth of a real smile spreading across his face. “That’s a fabulous idea, you know,” he says. “Right up there with your better ones. Definitely a keeper.”

Thor starts to shrug by force of habit, then gives in and nods instead. It is a good idea, one his mom would be proud of. It’s not long before he can’t help but return Loki’s smile again. “Now if only it had come to me, oh, twenty years sooner…”

“No worries,” Loki teases. His face is still lit up and grinning. “Even if you were absolutely perfect, I couldn’t like you- love you more anyway.”

Chapter Text

Thor smiles. The view out the window above the kitchenette sink is lush and sweet and encouraging. It starts with the beautiful foliage and little sitting area along the edge of the lanai. If he stretches up on tiptoe he can just make out Loki – cheerfully socializing with one of the other guests - hanging off a bright foam noodle in the pool. Then there’s the surf rolling in across Hilo Bay. Way out in the distance, both the Pacific Ocean and the sky overhead are the bluest blue imaginable. Everything is lovely, bright and perfect. Through the screen he can hear the waves breaking against the base of the cliff. Closer by, Loki is laughing and chattering a bit too loudly.

Their vacation is off to a wonderful start. Really. The bed and breakfast does indeed have lava lamps, which they’d learned last night are very hot and slow to bubble. That aside, the place is as nice as they’d hoped. Nicer, even. It has only five rooms, one of them given over to a common space pretty much no one uses; there’s never any reason to stay inside. From what Thor’s seen, even when it rains (which is every day; this is the wet side of the island, after all) anyone caught out in the weather simply moves from pool to hot tub. When it really, really pours they leap out of the water and take shelter under the long roof overhang above the lanai instead.

Marge, the guest in the pool with Loki - a retired history teacher from rural Ohio who now sells and supports educational software; she says she comes here for three months every summer… she's on the island for another sixty days, after which she’ll head back to the Punta Gorda condo she calls home the rest of the year - is basically living down at the far end of the building. On this side of the common room, between it and Thor and Loki's suite, a young couple from Germany is enjoying a two-week honeymoon. That’s not as weird as it sounds; both are fit and active and, so far at least, they've been off adventuring from just after breakfast until well after everyone else has deemed it bedtime. At breakfast they're bright and interesting. They've promised to order from Heart's Desire online.

The fifth room isn’t occupied this week. So far, it’s not booked next week either. The owners live upstairs.

Their cat lives where she wants to.

Thor's cleaning and cutting farmer’s market vegetables. He’s going to serve them to the bathing beauties, with nice-sized bowls of tzatziki and hummus. Marge is off work this afternoon - she seems to have every afternoon to herself, on top of which her entire stay counts as a business trip so she’s on expenses; if that's not the life, he doesn't know what is - and she and Loki are already well into their day-drinking. Thor wants to make sure Loki puts some food in there with the mimosas, even if it's just a double-handful of crudités and dip. That, and he wants to give Loki a little space first. They don't normally spend so much time packed into such tight quarters, and he wants their time together to be a gift rather than a burden. Not that Loki's once seemed less than pleased to see him, but they're here almost another week and a half yet. There's plenty of time left for him to drive Loki crazy.

He absolutely doesn't want to.

"Thooooooor," Loki howls from the pool's near edge. "She's going on and on about learning styles. You’re the professor. You have to come help me."

Thor smiles again, more broadly this time. "Be there in a second," he calls out the window. "Just let me get a plate for these babies." He doesn't need to change clothes or anything. They're still settling in, still relaxing; he hasn't been out of his trunks all day.

~

"Here you go," Thor says as he sets the tray down in the shade along "their" end of the pool. With so few guests, all of whom are on different schedules, both the hot tub (just off their lanai) and the pool beyond it feel pretty much private. Most of the time he and Loki can pretend they're in paradise alone. "Don't be silly," he counters Marge's oh, I couldn't. "There's plenty for all of us. Even you," he tells the fluffy cat lying under the bushes.

"You're silly," Loki chirps. "All she eats is lizards."

They both know that's not true. Not entirely, anyway. Thor doesn't bother pointing it out; he's already lost Loki to a fit of giggles.

Thor swings his legs over the side of the pool and slips in, taking care not to splash the food or the "swimmers." He's thankful he'd remembered to grab sunglasses; out here in the tropical sun Loki's skin-tight white rash guard is so bright it's blinding. With a huge, floppy straw hat, glamour shades, and a tiny pair of black boy shorts that are nearly indecent, Loki looks every bit the part of a movie star doing the islands. "C'mere, beautiful," Thor wheedles. "Give me your glass. Really, Lo. No more 'til you've eaten."

Loki snickers. "If I eat and swim I'll get a cramp and drown," he singsongs, standing wide-legged in the blue water just out of reach.

"Right, like this counts as swimming." Thor waggles his finger at Loki. "Tell you what... if you don't I'll splash you and get water on that precious hair of yours."

"You wouldn't dare," Loki warns as Marge bursts out laughing.

"Oh?" Thor winks at her. "Why don't you try me?"

Loki pouts. Behind those big, dark lenses, he's doubtless batting his lashes. "Glass," Thor reminds, stepping closer and reaching.

"Uh uh," Loki chides. "What do we say?"

Thor cocks an eyebrow. "See what I have to deal with?" he says to Marge. "Please, Loki."

"Oh," she says, "I bet it's worth it."

It is. Thor grins. “Every penny.”

Loki wobbles forward; Thor's hand closes around the flute, around Loki's chilly fingers. Even with a heavy coat of sunscreen, Loki's nose sports a faint dusting of freckles. "Eat," Thor reminds, steering Loki towards the tray.

"Cucumbers," Loki squeals, all reluctance forgotten. He scoops up some tzaziki with two wedges and takes a big bite. "Mmm. This time of year they're my Ab. So. Lute. favorite."

"And here I thought I was," Thor teases.

"Wait." Loki waves his remaining half-spears at the cat. "I can never remember. Do these count as fruit or vegetable?"

"Fruit," Thor says, swift and certain. He needs to change the subject before Loki says something truly embarrassing. "There you go,” he soothes as Loki double-dips in the hummus and takes another bite. “Good boy. Keep on eating."

~

The food helps (as, probably, does hiding Loki’s glass behind the closest large tropical plant under the theory that out of sight actually might be out of mind). By the time both dips are mostly gone, Marge has excused herself to go wash up for dinner and Loki is no longer shrieking or giggling. “You did put on sunscreen, right?” Loki swims over to inspect Thor’s shoulders, eyes narrowed and nose wrinkling. “I know it’s late in the day and all that but down here we really can’t be too car-.”

“Too careful,” Thor finishes. “I know. And yes, I did. See?” He points to a smear along the inside of one arm, where he’d put an extra coat on his tattoo and done a crappy job of rubbing it in properly. “I am being careful. Really.”

“It’s not fair how fast you tan. That you tan, even. Look at you! And then there’s me, with only two unattractive shades: white, and lobster.” Loki’s hat isn’t suitable for actual swimming, not even the kind where your head doesn’t end up in the water. He’s left it safely poolside, between the cat and the last few lonely slices of carrot and pepper. His sweetly curly hair is up in a clip, the sides freshly shaved just yesterday morning. His ears, nose, forehead, and cheekbones are shiny with sunscreen. His sunglasses are resting on top of his head.

There really ought to be paparazzi.

Thor grins. He can’t find any fault at all in what he’s seeing. Loki’s an impressive study in black and white, only green eyes and pink lips breaking up the otherwise monochromatic palette. The water’s pleasantly cool against the warm, wet air, meaning Loki’s paler than ever… long, long white legs below the little shorts, just a hint of pink in his cheeks and earlobes. “Oh, I don’t know,” Thor says, leaning in to give Loki a lingering kiss. “You’re pretty fucking gorgeous yourself, you know that? I’m feeling very lucky.”

Loki sighs. He looks at his hands; they’re bone-white and pruney from more than an hour in the water. “Maybe you’re onto something,” he admits. “I wouldn’t look nearly as good tan as you do.”

“Shh,” Thor tells him. “Trust me, you don’t need to. Anyway, as nice as this is,” he adds, looking around at the plants and the ocean, “we should start thinking about dinner ourselves. And then turning in… since we have to get off to an early start in the morning.”

~

As pleasant as taking the first few days to acclimate has been, in hindsight Thor can’t help wondering if they should have gotten the full-day, early start stuff out of the way immediately. Now that they’ve finally adjusted to island time, waking up to an alarm feels doubly insulting. That, and he’s anxious. He’s still a worrier at heart, and from what he’s read there’s so much that can go wrong on the way to and from the summit.

“Still up for this?” he asks as Loki stumbles around the room, groggy and uncoordinated. “We don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

Loki stops in the middle of folding a fleecy half-zip to blink at Thor and rub his eyes. “What? Are you crazy? We came all this way. I am not leaving Hawaii without going up that mountain.”

~

It’s fine. At least, it should be.

They have a big, four-wheel drive vehicle and very detailed self-guided tour instructions (printed, since they’ll likely lose cellular coverage). They’ve remembered long johns and sunscreen, mittens and hats, sturdy boots, and tons of water. The honeymooners did it yesterday while they were playing in the pool and lived to spend an early breakfast raving about it. Thor lifts his hands off the wheel, one at a time, and shakes them to break himself out of his death grip mentality.

“You’re missing out on some awesome scenery with all that staring straight ahead,” Loki admonishes. He pats Thor’s thigh. “It’s okay. We’re okay. Nothing bad is going to happen.”

Except for altitude sickness and passing out and going crazy and fighting and dying, Thor doesn’t counter. He’s being a stick in the mud and he knows it. “When are we supposed to get out and walk around?” he asks, instead. Loki doesn’t need to know that he’s already lost his mind before they’re even halfway to their destination.

“Another couple of miles, I think,” Loki says. He flips the page. “Oh good,” he adds. “This says there’s a bathroom.”

~

It feels- easier, maybe, to be out of the car – it’s a truck, really – and moving around. They’re at 8,000 feet and Thor doesn’t feel- anything. Not dizzy, not breathless, not like ripping Loki’s pretty head off. He takes a few slow breaths and imagines an actual fog of calm settling softly over him. He’s in an amazing place – already the landscape looks more like the moon and less like America than anything he’s ever seen in his life, and they’re not even above the last of the vegetation – with his favorite person in the whole fucking universe. He knows he can and should do better.

“Hey.” Loki takes Thor’s hand, interrupting his little self-coaching session. They’re strolling side by side along the dusty access road. Taking their time. Getting ready. Working their way up to it. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, you know. Do- do you want to spend the rest of our lives together?”

As usual, Thor’s mouth is light-years ahead of his brain. He snorts. “That’s easy to say when we’re walking around here on the verge of dying.”

“No,” Loki insists. “Thor! It has nothing to do with that. I mean it.”

Oh. Holy Jesus, Thor thinks. What an ass he’s being. He trips over a stone and staggers to a graceless halt, fingers still tangled together with Loki’s. “Did you just…?”

“Probably,” Loki says, turning around and smiling. “Well, yes. But I left it a little vague so, like, if you don’t want to we can pretend my question was nothing.”

Thor pulls Loki into the tightest of hugs. It’s cool here but not cold. So different from the coast. It’s nice to cuddle and still be comfy. Focus. He needs to say something, the right thing, before the moment passes. “Yes,” he says into the side of Loki’s neck. “Yes, I very much do.” He snuffles as the tears start. “I have a ring,” he says softly. “I didn’t bring it in case we wanted to- oh, I don’t know. Keep this trip separate?”

“Is it pretty?” Loki asks, a bit wetly. He’s crying too, and Thor knows. It’s all real. This. All of it.

“Of course,” he says. “It’s for you. How could it not be?”

“You mean what you said?” Loki wriggles free and takes Thor’s face in both hands. “Look at me,” he demands. “Tell me.”

“Yes.” Thor shifts to kiss Loki’s palm. He carefully looks Loki straight in the eye, willing himself not to be distracted by those thick, wet lashes. “Yes,” he says again, firmly. “I mean it. I want us to be together. Together forever.”

Loki wipes away their tears, first Thor’s and his own. “Good,” he says softly. “Me too. Now let’s finish our hike and get back to driving.”

Thor can’t stop grinning on the way back to the car. It’s nothing like the way he’d had proposing planned out in his head. Nothing. That’s okay. Because this? It’s so much better.

Chapter Text

"How're you feeling?" Thor knows better than to whip the covers off of Loki, even on a good day (which this may well not be). Instead he rests a palm gently on a lump in the covers, the one that seems most likely to be Loki's shoulder. "Need some water or anything?"

The view at the summit had been spectacular, even as distracted as he'd been by being up there (in the snow(!), in Hawaii, in summer) with the fiercely lovely man who was now his fiancé, but the drive back down had been brutally steep… on top of which, what they'd been lulled into stupidly thinking was hunger had turned out to be enough of an altitude reaction to leave Thor more than a little green and Loki flat-out carsick. They'd done their best to cross over to Mauna Loa - they'd at least gotten to see the desolate lava fields and five or six solid-looking, black-hooded nene - but the rolling terrain had gotten the best (worst) of them before they'd made it even halfway to the base of the mountain.

The return trip along the saddle road had taken forever; every mile or so Thor'd had to pull over so Loki could leap out and- well, not actually puke, but spend a couple minutes drooling and swearing and insisting he was going to. They'd stopped one final time just before the highway to strip out of the last of their warm clothes, and then sped along the coastal road in strained silence with Thor needing to pee like crazy and Loki clamping both hands over his mouth and sobbing.

Thor hadn't felt all that great either, but Loki’s own suffering was – no matter how vehemently he denied it - clearly on a whole different level. Even so it wasn't until they were back in their suite, with Thor’s bladder finally empty and Loki all dosed up (meclizine, Advil, plain toast, water) and tucked into bed at an unprecedentedly early 5:22 PM, that the truth had come out: Loki’d been lightheaded at the summit, dizzy and weak, to the point of feeling like he’d really had to fight to stay conscious.

Awesome. "You should have told me. You saw the video… we should have gone back down right away," Thor'd chided.

"But you love the sky," Loki'd mumbled, eyes closed. "And history, and science. I didn't want to ruin the whole thing for you."

There hadn't been any point in arguing. Not by then. Karma had clearly taken care of settling the score anyway. Instead Thor had just tugged the covers up to Loki's chin and kissed him lightly on the forehead. "Let's take a nap," he’d suggested, shifting his weight onto the bed extra, extra carefully to keep Loki’s side from bobbing and rocking. "Maybe after an hour or two we'll feel better."

~

When Thor had awakened a few minutes ago now, still atop the covers in his clothes and once again needing to pee quite badly, he'd only needed a minute or two to realize that the light in their bedroom was coming from the completely wrong direction.

Whoops.

Ah well, he’d thought. They’d clearly needed it.

"Lo?" Thor gently pushes Loki's wild mop of curls out of his face. "You okay?"

Loki blinks and groans. "What time is it?" He rolls onto his back. "Maybe I do feel a little better. Dinner?"

"Breakfast," Thor corrects. "It's- um, it’s tomorrow."

"Jesus." Loki squints at the clock radio over on the dresser. "Wait, I just slept fifteen hours? That's fucked up." He flops back down to rubs his eyes, hands in loose fists. "I'm so sorry."

"We," Thor assures him. "Not only you. I just woke up myself. Seriously."

Loki rolls his eyes and smirks. "Good thing we found each other, then. Who else would want to vacation with two old men? "

"Speak for yourself there, grandpa." Thor smiles and pats Loki's hand. "Couple of cups of coffee and I'll be back to normal."

"Show-off." Loki lets his feet drop over the edge of the bad and, grunting and grimacing, pushes himself up to more-or-less sitting. "Fuck me," he mutters under his breath. "All the hangover, none of the drinking."

Maybe tonight will be different; right now even the thought of booze is completely unappetizing. "At least you were a cheap date," Thor kids Loki. He looks at the clock and sighs. It’s quickly getting late. "If you think you're up for a little breakfast, we really need to get moving."

Loki clears his throat and nods. "Working on it.” He groans again. “I really hope breakfast is less sweet and more eggy."

~

They're last to the table, obviously. The other guests are chatting happily, forks and knives clinking as they work through plates of fruit. There aren't two chairs together; Thor sits on the miniature loveseat instead and lets Loki sprawl half on top of him.

"How did you do?" their host asks, retrieving two empty plates and the fruit platter from the sideboard.

"Fine," Thor says brightly just as Loki says "shitty." Everyone laughs. "We made it all the way to the top and did the whole tour," Thor explains, "but the altitude was rough. We're used to pretty low geography."

"What he means is that it took us fiveever to get back," Loki says, forking slices of mango and papaya onto their plates. "Because one of us, by which I mean me, had to keep panic-stopping for nothing."

"The view was incredible, though," Thor gushes, to a chorus of hums and nods. "What do you think?" he asks Loki. "Overall, worth it?"

Loki snuggles closer. He's warm and sticky; Thor doesn't care. "Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, I think so."

Whew, Thor thinks, which he knows is silly. Loki had been the one insisting on going to begin with.

Loki had been the one who’d popped the question.

~

"I wasn't sure if I should tell them we’d gotten engaged," Thor starts, carefully. They're back in the room resting up for a few minutes after doing brief but effective battle with generous helpings of eggy, cheesy, salty strata. "We hadn't talked about it. But I want to," he quickly adds, just so there's no misunderstanding. In actuality, he wants to rent one of those advertising planes – the kind that tow banners - and send the news streaming off across the island.

Loki smiles. His eyes are still heavy-lidded and the littlest bit puffy, but otherwise he looks much more like himself again now that he’s gotten some food in his stomach. Well, and spent all that time sleeping. "You're cute," he tells Thor. "Like a puppy: so excited. But let's wait and tell them in a few days," he suggests. "I want some time to enjoy it while it's still our secret."

"Mm." Thor leans in and kisses Loki sweetly, then lets Loki rub the tips of their noses together. "Sounds good," he says. "I like it."

Loki kisses him again. "Well, isn’t that convenient?"

~

The tide pools are stupidly hard to find, especially when both Thor and Loki are still a little woozy and carsick. Loki swears it's probably just PTSD. Whatever it is, it sucks regardless. Thor's so, so relieved they'd listened to Darcy('s imitation of Jane) and left the day after their ordeal completely unscheduled. There’s no way they could have tackled something complicated and come out of it okay.

“God fucking dammit!” Loki slams a fist down on the armrest jutting out of his door. “This fucking map app is abso-fucking-lutely useless. We’re on an island, for chrissake. How can it be this fucking hard to find the fucking water?”

Thor steals a quick look at him. Loki’s slumped against the passenger door. His eyes are closed, lashes and cheeks wet with tears. “Hey,” Thor says softly, putting on the hazards and easing the car to a stop. It’s a quiet weekday morning in a residential neighborhood… they’re probably not going to get rear-ended or anything, but it never hurts to be careful. That, and the relentless tick-ticking will give them each something to focus on. “It’s okay,” Thor says. “We’re not in a hurry. We have all day, and it has to be here somewhere. Shh.” Loki jumps when Thor lays a hand on his leg. His head clunks against the window. “Oh, baby,” Thor whispers as Loki whimpers. “Come over here. I’m softer.”

They huddle together in the middle of the car, its console digging into their ribs and hips, with the air conditioning on high and static-y eighties hits blaring out of the backseat speakers. Thor rubs Loki’s shoulders until the crying stops. They’re both worn down; for a while there, when things were still looking especially hopeless and it had felt like they might spend eternity circling the little tract of houses, Thor’d had a bit of a fight not to join him. “Here, have some water,” Thor suggests, groping for the bottle. “We’ve got to be almost there. Once we’re out of the car I’m sure you’ll feel better.”

Loki snuffles and claws uselessly at Thor’s arm. “Why do you put up with me?” he asks into the meat of Thor’s shoulder. “I’m such an ass. A soggy ass,” he adds, with a choked noise that could almost be a snicker. “Here I am drowning in paradise without any tissues.”

That? That’s a problem Thor knows how to solve. “Glove compartment,” he says. “I threw some in there when we finished unpacking. And it’s not ‘putting up with,’” he reminds as Loki blots and blows and sniffles. “I love the time we spend together.”

“Even like this? Honestly, Thor. No one loves this about me.”

Actually, Thor does. Loki’s oh-so-very capable; it’s not often anyone else gets the chance to feel truly useful. All he says, though, is “always.” Sometimes it’s best just to keep his thoughts quiet. “Here, take these,” he adds, passing Loki what’s left of the packet of tissues. “Let’s get this done already.”

They make another lap, and another, before Thor finally spots it. “There we go,” he says, pointing. The turn-off looks pretty much like any other residential driveway. It’s easy to miss. So easy, in fact, that they must have driven by it at least four times already.

Loki groans. “Ugh. Shit. All I can say is… this’d better be worth it.”

And it is, at least once they’re done picking their hot (both of them), timid (just Thor, since Loki, ankle notwithstanding, has the graceful, laws-of-physics-defying sure-footedness of big cats and mountain goats) way across the dark expanse of lava stretching from the parking area out to sea. Thor’s slowed even further by his open-toed water sandals – the terrain underfoot is sharp and uneven - but that just gives him all the more opportunity to enjoy the view: Loki (once again in the white rash guard, glamour shades, and tiny black swim shorts, now sporting a pair of black plastic-and-nylon Keens at the far end of those miles of legs Thor could watch moving forever) prances on ahead with a bottle of water in one hand and a striped beach bag dangling from the other. Out in the distance the waves roar and sparkle. “Paradise,” Thor echoes, to himself. Although they’re far from alone, there’s no one close enough to overhear him.

~

They don’t snorkel, exactly - Thor inevitably has too much to say and Loki always finds breathing through the mouthpiece both upsetting and distracting – but they do slap masks on and take turns holding their breath as they push their faces into the warm, still water. The ocean’s just over there, not even as far as they’d walked to get here, but the old lava keeps the pools and their mostly fresh water safe and protected. It’s a perfect metaphor for his own life, Thor thinks: a ringside seat to danger, sure, but with danger trapped behind the bulletproof glass that stretches from floor to ceiling. He laughs. There’s no way he’s sharing that with Loki, or the next thing he knows they’ll be out in the breakers.

“What?” Loki bobs up beside him. “What’s so funny?”

“Look at that fish,” Thor says, pointing with one elbow. Both hands are occupied; he’s trying to disentangle his hair from his mask strap. “Right there. The blue one.”

Loki grins. Even with the mask on he’s somehow managing to look glamorous. “I love it,” he- teases? Probably. “You’re just such a bad liar.”

“But it was a blue fish,” Thor insists, finally working the mask free. “And you’re so busy congratulating yourself that you’ve missed it.”

“That’s okay.” Loki leans in to lick Thor’s lips. He’s close, so close. His mask digs into Thor’s cheekbone. He takes a step back and smiles, pretending to look Thor and down. “I like this better anyway.”

Chapter Text

It only takes one morning spent towards - not even on; the southernmost point in the 50 states isn't much closer to the island-chic touristy areas than it is to where they’re staying, but despite the humidity it's still as windblown and baked as any desert - the west coast of Hawaii to convince them they've picked the better of the Big Island’s vacation destinations. No, Hilo doesn't have the upscale dining and artsy vibe of home, but the city and its surroundings are so rich… so full of breathtaking tropical beauty… that the two of them waste little to no time missing either. It’s the softest part of settled Hawaii. Everything is cooler, lush and wet. Yes, Loki insists the mosquitoes are the size of horses (they're not; the ones Thor's seen are about half the size of the ones at his house... although their bites do leave the itchiest welts he can ever remember getting). Yes, it sometimes rains just when they're trying to enjoy a walk.

Even so, it's better than tromping around in the blazing sun certain you’re just this side of dying.

"I'm crisping," Loki complains, pressing a finger into the meat of his own forearm and leaving a pinky-white mark behind. "I put on entire tube of sunscreen back in the room, and then slopped on some more before we left the car... but I still feel like bacon under a broiler. You're going to look like a swimsuit model," he grouses, nodding at Thor. "All buff and golden. I, on the other hand, will be nothing but tiny piles of ash around a desiccated skeleton."

"You need a parasol," Thor teases, even though that’s an idea that could never work. It’s so windy out here that even a serious golf umbrella would be ripped from Loki’s hands in the first ten paces.

"More like a radiation-proof fallout shelter. How do people live like this?" Loki asks, shading his eyes and pointing towards the fishermen scattered here and there along the rocky ledge overlooking the surf line. There's nothing in the way of a real beach here, just the occasional break in the rocks where the water surges inland before it’s pulled back to sea. "They're crazy."

Hungry, more like it. There are a lot of very poor people here, quite a few more than Thor had really expected. They don’t have the luxury of choosing to be porcelain dolls. Can't live in the shadows or stay out of the weather. "I expect they get used to it," he answers, carefully. "It's all they know. They were practically born acclimated."

"I could never," Loki says. "If I even tried, you'd throw me away like so much Florida leather."

Thor's made up his mind now. He's staying in this relationship, no matter what the future has in mind for Loki. He'll love Loki wrinkled and wizened; he'll love Loki freakishly preserved in alcohol and a fortune's worth of fancy European skin repair emulsion. "Never," he says. "This time I'm keeping you."

"That's a pretty easy commitment to make," Loki huffs, "when I'm bound to be going up in smoke any minute."

"Mm." Thor leans in to kiss Loki's lips through their hazy coat of sunscreen. "You're really hot," he agrees, abruptly- worried, actually. Loki's mouth feels feverish. "We should get you back to the car, into some air conditioning."

"I just need to get in the water," Loki says, shaking his head. His hair is a riot of curls, sort of less-than-more of up in a clip and salty-sweaty. "These shorts dry fast. Or I can just take them off and go au naturel." He says it Thor-style, more like all natural.

Loki is not wearing anything under his shorts. That much Thor's sure of, from a hot half hour spent trailing along behind him with nothing but sand and rock for scenery. "Better leave them on," Thor says. "I'm not sure the fishermen are ready for that much gay here."

He catches Loki's hand. "Either way, we need to head back." They're up on a low ridge, near the windswept remains of what must have been buildings and not nearly close enough to the ocean's edge. From here he can barely even hear the waves breaking. "When we get back down to the water we can talk about sitting in it." Speaking of water, the bottle in his hand is unpleasantly warm; even though the liquid inside is as taste-free as always Thor can't shake the unpleasant feeling he's swigging urine. There's a cheap foam cooler back in the car, packed to the lid with icy goodness. "Come on," he says. It really is too hot; Loki is practically panting. "This way." He tugs. Loki, still grumbling, follows.

~

The ocean feels wonderful, even sitting on the odd rough chunk of tumbled lava. Thor clips their car key onto his hat and lets the waves splash his chest as Loki - tank top, hat, and sensible hiking shades in a pile on the rocks behind them, put of reach of the water - cautiously settles back onto both elbows. A bigger than normal crest rolls in. Loki yelps and sputters.

"I feel like a fish," Thor says.

Loki coughs, then sneezes. "And I smell like seaweed."

~

"We should still head back," Thor reminds Loki gently when they're salt-streaked and comfy. "We must be completely dehydrated by now." It's hard to keep drinking warm water, and they gave up entirely when they started wading. He doesn't want to lose another vacation day to a booze-less hangover. "We'll get something to eat, and then if we're up to it we can go watch the turtles."

Loki's pout fades at turtles. They'd found a great shaded beach a couple of days ago, just out of downtown. The locals - mostly families with children; the place had felt safe, warm and friendly - were there to snorkel, but Thor and Loki'd been completely taken by the sea turtles. "They're right here in the water with everyone," Loki had marveled as one had bobbed between them. "How can I keep ten feet away when they're swimming right into me?"

Thor'd laughed at that, at the too-rarely-seen earnestness of Loki's childish wonder. "Maybe they're trying to get us arrested."

“No,” Loki had disagreed. “Nope. Can’t be. Nothing so pure would ever.”

“Up,” Thor prompts. “We should be mostly dry by the time we get back to the parking lot.” Dry enough, at least, to get sit in a rental vehicle. And they do have towels stashed in the back somewhere, in the bag they’ve put together for impromptu beaching. Or wading. Or simply sit-lying in the water because they’ve gone and overheated. He pushes gingerly up to standing and holds out a hand for Loki. As much as he’d like to shake like a wet dog, the resulting battle would not be worth it. “Now,” he insists. “Turtles, remember. After ice cream. Or cookies? Whatever sounds most appealing to you.”

“Fine. Cookies it is.” Loki sighs as he gets his own feet back under him. “I think maybe I wish we were merpeople.”

Thor smiles and gives Loki’s wet hand a squeeze (with his own nearly-as-wet one). “I don’t think you do. Not really.”

Loki shrugs. “Not in this sun, I guess. Okay. I’m up. Let’s grab our stuff and get on with it.”

Back at the car they use their t-shirts to wipe off the worst of the salty sandiness and then rinse their hands and faces with the warm dregs of their water bottles. “More sunscreen,” Thor suggests, just as Loki reaches for it. Together, they laugh. It was just a stupidly short walk, but with the sun and the heat it somehow felt like a big adventure. A big failed one, too; they’d walked at best half a mile each way, barely more than a third the distance to the green sand beach they’d been trying to get to, and even that little bit had taken more than they had to give out of them.

“I did want to see the green sand,” Loki says softly as Thor shakes the grit out of their t-shirts.

“Me too,” Thor says, a little wistfully. From the pictures he’s seen, the beach itself is nothing special, but green sand is so, so rare. And while they can’t really say they’ll never be back here again, he doubts they’ll be more able to handle the heat and the wind as they get older. Maybe they should have tried it early in the morning… or towards evening. He makes himself mentally shake off the grey fog of regret and forces a smile. “It’s okay, though,” he says brightly. “We’ll still soothe ourselves with turtles.”

~

On the way back they stop off at the neat yellow bakery they’d passed on their way to the point. Thor buys fat cinnamon rolls for the two of them, solely (okay, mainly; the things are damned good) for the pleasure of watching Loki lick glaze off slim, sticky fingers. They sit on the porch in the shade outside, chewing and sipping cold water and resting. Thor idly wonders if they could adapt to such a slow pace… if they’d eventually feel like this was being in a hurry, simply because they had stuff to do later.

“Why do you think things went wrong between us?” Loki asks. The sound alone startles Thor out of his thoughts. Not just the current ones, ether; completely. Never mind the actual question.

“Uh?” He clears his throat, hoping that will buy enough time to jump-start his brain again. Of course it doesn’t. “What’s going on?” Great response, Thor. Stupid. He can feel his throat starting to tighten.

But Loki only smiles, sweet and genuine and a little sad. “Sorry. Nothing’s going on. I was just thinking about how nice it is to be here with you and wondering how – not if, but how - we can keep it.” He rips off another small chunk of roll. “I just want to be sure we have… everything covered? Something like that.” He swirls the sticky bit of roll around in the air by his temple. “If I’m not making sense, just chalk it up to ‘the heat made him crazy,’ okay? Don’t let me get you all freaked-out. No overthinking. Really.”

Thor takes a few deep breaths. This isn’t then. Everything is fine. “Just what we talked about in therapy,” he says. “We both had things to work through, and neither of us was doing anything about them. I’m sure we’ll always have things we need to deal with,” he goes on, carefully, “but I’d like to think we’re better now at recognizing them before they come between us. And I’m- I’m wholly committed to making this work. Yes, I probably thought I was before,” he admits, “but now I know what commitment really means and… well, I’ve learned a lot more about how to do it.”

Loki swallows. He wipes his pretty fingers on a wilted paper napkin. “That you have,” he says.

We have,” Thor corrects, nicely. “You know that, right? You must. I think you’re amazing.”

“I’m sorry I just blurted that out,” Loki says. “I do know… and I know things like that get to you. I guess I still have a few old habits to work on.”

“Talking under the influence of cinnamon rolls,” Thor kids, holding up the last little bit of his. “Seems like nothing, but it’s really dangerous.”

“Thank you,” Loki says. He’s grinning now. His eyes sparkle. With each passing second Thor feels less like Something Has Gone Wrong and more like they’re just- tired. Maybe a little too tired to be sharing. “I love you,” Loki says, leaning against Thor’s shoulder.

“It’s okay. I love you too,” Thor assures him.

~

Later in the afternoon, when they’ve had fruit and cheese from the cooler and are bobbing in the calm water surrounded by little kids in water wings and curious young turtles, really talking feels safe again. Loki apologizes once more for being too blunt with his silly worries; Thor reminds him that worries aren’t silly. “Do you feel like we dodged a bullet?” Loki asks.

“No,” Thor says, treading water with his feet and holding his hands above the surface Matrix-style. “I feel like we caught one.”

Loki reaches up to take Thor’s hands. Rather than too, too hot, their fingers are wet and chilly. It’s nicer. “Good point,” Loki concedes. “I guess therein lies the difference.”

Hm. Thor thinks about that for a moment, then nods. “Yep,” he agrees. He pulls Loki in for a quick hug, one that won’t put them at risk of sinking. Things are good. He feels better. “Dinner later?”

“Duh,” Loki says, smirking, so close that his face is a little blurry. He points away from the trees towards the reef line, out where the sun is shining. “Later, I mean. Right now I’m not anywhere near my turtle-time quota.”

Thor kisses Loki on the cheek. He isn’t either.

Chapter Text

Thor likes the idea of the winter solstice. Wants to bring cheer to that bleak stretch around the holidays where Loki's always hurting. When Loki points out that the timing will invariably be shitty, though – and that’s true: most years the chemistry students are right in the middle of finals, and even with a long-seasoned retail crew a shop owner has to expect to cover the holiday rush on occasion - not to mention that neither of them is particularly pagan to start with, Thor caves without any real struggle. "Early the second week of January, then?" he suggests instead. "I'll always be on intersession, and the worst of the Christmas returns should be over. And it's in that awful dead zone when it feels like winter will last forever." Thor knows that – unlike him, despite his best efforts - Loki's actually fine with most of the cold season.

He hopes that Loki will humor him anyway.

"Hmm," Loki hums softly. Thor watches as he turns his hand this way and that in the tiki torchlight, admiring. The ring is still new enough to be novel. Thor (happily) catches Loki looking at the pretty gold band with its prettier emerald at most every opportunity... which basically means any time his hand moves. Thor's own ring is plainer, just a heavy platinum band with softly rounded edges, but they spend a lot of time looking at it, too.

Yes, the rings are really more like wedding rings. It’s fine. Neither Loki nor Thor likes the idea of the more traditional bridal set, and they don’t need second rings anyway; when they tie the knot they're planning to make it permanent with tattoos. And if people mistake the two of them for married between now and then, as far as Thor's concerned it's all for the better.

"That could work," Loki says, about the time the sparkling stone has distracted Thor to the point of forgetting the original question. "Yeah." He smiles at his spread fingers, then at Thor. "How about the 10th of January?"

One-ten - one hundred ten - is the street number of Loki's building. Thor hadn't even thought of that. He's glad Loki did. It's perfect. "Oooh, yes! You're so smart," he says, kissing Loki's fingertips.

The smile gives way to a wink and a smirk. "Wooing me with compliments, doctor?"

"…and insufferable," Thor tacks on, laughing. They're both smart. It's hardly a secret, from them or from anybody. It’s one of the things they like best about each other. He pours them each another glass of wine and settles back into his chair with a happy sigh. "Don't let me fall asleep out here and forget to call my mother."'

~

With all the history they share Thor's a little (pleasantly) surprised by everyone's pleased reactions. Back in Hawaii, they'd announced their engagement at breakfast and had been immediately smothered in hugs and good wishes. The two of them had called his parents during their layover in the Honolulu airport, afraid of being tagged in pictures spilling onto social media, and then Baldr and Nan a few minutes later.

The whole family had (shrieked, and then) cried, Thor (and Loki) included.

Back home, they'd told most of their individual friends- individually. Thor hadn't wanted to risk anyone's just-a-moment-too-slow-in-coming good wishes, or clearly-not-heartfelt congratulations – hadn’t wanted Loki to suffer for their past mistakes, to have to smile wanly through anyone sounding skeptical - but that had turned out to be the least founded worry ever. All of his friends, colleagues, and students were quick, warm, and heartfelt in their enthusiasm.

Darcy'd been so excited she'd left Heart's Desire mid-shift to fly over to campus and hug Thor about it... right in front of a TA and a whole class of grinning summer students. It hadn't been until late that afternoon, when he'd stopped off in the restroom on his way to the bike rack, that Thor'd realized he'd been walking around all day with her bright red lipstick print just above his jawbone.

No wonder everyone else had been unusually cheerful. Students. Gotta love ‘em.

Steve and Bucky'd bought them dinner. Darcy and Amora had thrown a small party on the Heart’s Desire back lot. Ian had flown into town, saying it was just to take part in the festivities.

Watching him with Darcy, Thor'd had a few private doubts about Ian’s motivation.

Not, of course, that he'd ever minded being the excuse behind someone else's happiness.

~

They've been back in town a month and the happy congratulations are still coming. There hasn't been a day where a customer hasn't stopped by the store to wish Loki well, or sent a pretty card or sweet trinket. Online buyers send love with their orders. Alumni and retired faculty email Thor their good wishes.

"They're glad the waiting's finally over," he jokes.

Loki grimaces. "I'm just glad the life together part's beginning."

Of course they've been together for ages, but Loki’s right. As much as Thor’s always expected otherwise something really is different.

~

Thor makes the hard decision to rent the house to Darcy’s friend Jane - after one last fellowship abroad she’s come back to the university to teach in the fall, wanting a peaceful yard and a green-thumbed landlord to tend it for her - and move (back) to the apartment. He and Loki will both miss their suburban oasis, but at least Thor isn’t giving up the chance to do the best of the gardening.

It's getting increasingly silly having two whole homes between them. Renting the house frees up more money for other things. More than that, though, they could put the time spent keeping up two separate households to far better use. Any use would be better, really. Especially from Loki’s perspective… but even Thor – who knows he gets a real pleasure out of restoring order that Loki just doesn’t share – has reached a point where he can feel the clock ticking. He knows what it’s like to be apart and wants to spend the time they can have together, together.

Not scrubbing toilets at the house while Loki (naps on the sofa and) does(n’t do) the same back at the apartment, or vacuuming and dusting while Loki (dangles a cat toy and) does(n’t wash the sheets and towels or otherwise do a single scrap of) laundry.

It isn’t that Thor’s gotten lazy. He’d just rather be spending his cleaning time in the apartment, where he can sense Loki’s presence in (almost) every room. Having a space that’s theirs doesn’t feel hard anymore; instead, it’s comforting.

~

Thor watches from the sofa just inside the doorway as Loki arches backward, falling away from the barre in a slow, graceful curve. Loki’s hair is loose today. It trails each move in a soft spill of inky curls, one of a few hints of darkness – alongside the lacquered mirror frames, Loki’s tattoos, and the charcoal-sketch lines of his brows and lashes… and the could-be-cleaner bottoms of his feet, inevitably – in the bright, white room. Even the artwork on the walls (and Thor has never seen art in a dance studio before, not that he’s an expert or anything) is light and sunny. Thor likes it here. It’s a cheerful place to spend a few hours, a bright, happy nest in the art heart of the city.

Sometimes Loki dances to music. Today the studio is silent save for the sweep and thud of his feet and, when he circles close by where Thor is sitting, the quieter rush of his breathing.

A thin stripe of sunlight spills in through the open doorway. Loki’s eyes are closed as he leaves the mirror behind and turns to face Thor. The muscles of his torso shift and bulge as he leaps, legs rising into a split that makes Thor’s hips ache in sympathy.

Loki’s dancing a lot these days. As Thor understands it it’s something he’s always done, to improve his technique and build strength for skating. Since the broken ankle, though, Loki’s found dancing hurts less- less intensely than skating. It’s still very physical, very demanding, but the jumps aren’t as high and the landings aren’t as jarring. Feet meet the floor with more give than skates and ice afford. Modern dance is not as freeing, Loki says – it’s unpleasantly warm, for one thing, and he misses the sense of flying skating brings him – but it’s a lot better than nothing. They’re not getting any younger. He’s probably never going to really skate again. Not the way he wants to.

Thor agrees, albeit sadly. He misses the rink too but this beautiful work is far better than nothing.

The studio owner and one of the instructors slip silently in from the hallway. Thor sits up and uncrosses his legs to make room. Across the space Loki’s bare arms wave in the air like branches in the wind. The pale grey of his leggings is slowly darkening with sweat at the waist, at the small of his back, at the articulation points of hip and knee. “He’s so graceful,” the instructor whispers and Thor nods.

When Loki turns and sees them, he breaks form and gallops towards the sofa like an overeager colt. The women leap up. Amidst the gushing enthusiasm and the air kisses, Thor feels a little lost and a whole lot more out of shape. Mostly, though, he feels proud of Loki. For Loki.

It’s a great arrangement, really. Loki dances as much as he wants, whenever the studio or performance space is empty. Since the majority of the students work regular jobs, that’s pretty much any time outside lunch and rush hour. He doesn’t take classes, but the instructors help him out for free when he needs to work through something.

In exchange, the owner and her staff get a book allowance over at the store.

The two buildings are in perfectly reasonable walking distance of one another. Free advertising. Kindred spirits.

Thor’s not sure whose idea it was. Regardless, he loves it.

He doesn’t dance.

It doesn’t matter.

~

Moving back in means – by mutual agreement, with some tears and a carefully curated photo essay – dismantling the shrine. Sure, Jane will be renting the house largely furnished; she’s been bouncing from apartment to apartment to country to country for years and hasn’t had the time, need, or opportunity to collect much stuff of her own. Thor still has things of his own he needs to bring, though – his favorite chair, riding so low after all these years that (even after at least two repairs) sitting in it is not much different than perching on a cushion on the carpet, some of his art, his painting supplies and clothing – and that means finding (making) places to put them. They’d opened up the upstairs originally because they’d needed the space. That much hasn’t changed; they still do.

Plus, Thor knows, they need to shake off the weight of it. They’re together now. They’ve learned the value of being together. He doesn’t think they need the constant, painful reminder of what being apart was like to help steer them away from a fresh major fuckup. Not anymore. He gets it. From everything he can see, Loki gets it too.

Leaving the room as is would just mean pain for no reason. That’s not something they need, not anymore.

~

“This place is so nice,” Jane says as Thor turns over the keys. She hugs Darcy and then Thor, a little awkwardly. He knows she’s used to living alone. Likes it that way. Has her job. Her passion. He reminds himself that it’s not sad. From everything Darcy says, Jane’s genuinely happy. And now she can be happy in a pretty house, with a nice deck and Thor to look after the gardens.

He swallows and wills himself not to cry. She’s a careful, precise person. She’ll take good care of things. “It is,” he agrees, glad that she doesn’t know him well enough to catch the little hitch in his voice. “I hope you love it.”

“Oh, I will,” she assures him, just as Darcy says “I’ll make her.”

He hefts the last box: art supplies, his favorite coffee mugs, a couple of bottles of wine. “I’ll leave you two to get moved in,” he tells Jane and Darcy. “Let me know if you need anything. Otherwise, I’ll stop by to take care of the plantings on Thursday.”

“Thank you so much,” Jane says, pulling on her work gloves. The little rental truck in the driveway is hers to empty. “You have keys to the shed?”

Thor shakes his hips. The keys jingle in his pocket. “Yep,” he says as Darcy laughs. “We both do.”

“Oh, I don’t think you have to worry about me getting in there,” Jane says a little too enthusiastically.

“Good,” Thor tells her. He’s laughing too. It’s better than crying. “I won’t, then.”

~

Loki comes in just as Thor is putting the last of his things away. He pokes his head out into the living room at the musical sound of Loki’s keys hitting the bowl on the table by the door. The bowl is there to save the table. By happy accident it also chimes nicely.

“Hi,” Thor says, a bit tiredly. He’s been working for hours; even though it doesn’t feel like he brought that much stuff, putting it all away has taken forever. He needs a shower; he’s sore and sweaty.

“Hi,” Loki echoes, much more brightly. He’s coming back from the studio, artfully sloppy in a baggy, lightweight sweater thrown on over dance crops. His ankle is taped, his feet in worn birkis. He holds out a baguette in its paper-and-plastic sleeve with one hand and a jar of organic apple butter with the other. “I thought you might want a snack. I know you forget to eat when you’re working.”

“Thanks, Lo.” Now that he’s stopped to think about it, Thor actually is a bit hungry. More than a bit. “Share it with me?”

“Mm.” Loki pecks a quick kiss on Thor’s cheek as he whisks by on his way to the kitchen. The air in his wake smells sweet, like he’s been rolling in mint. “I’m glad you’re here,” he calls over the clatter of plates and knives. “Welcome home, baby.”

Chapter Text

"When did you first realize it? That you were ace, I mean," Thor clarifies, because Loki's always a little annoyed when he starts a conversation in his head and forgets he’s dragging Loki into it somewhere in the middle. He thinks back to the crazy swirl of hormones that he only as an adult really got as having been puberty. Back to the endless, desperate wanting, long before he knew what he was(n’t) looking for. He remembers slowly realizing – far too late - that he might never be sure quite what it really was he wanted.

All those awful, awful quests. All that (worse) never finding.

Loki swirls the ice in the dregs of his Tom Collins. It's not summer anymore; the air is cool and crisp and they’re both wearing jeans under baggy sweaters. Before long they’ll need jackets and gloves every time they venture out into the elements. Up here on the rooftop it still feels right to be drinking summer drinks anyway. "Hmm.” Loki’s forehead wrinkles. “When I was in college, maybe?" He tips his head back and swallows everything but the ice in one go. "It wasn't an ah hah moment so much as a slow, gradual descent into misery. I didn’t have a name for it – didn’t even know it was a real thing - until quite a while later.” He holds up his glass, empty save for three rounded-off ice cubes and a perfect half-moon of lemon. “I think there’s a hole in this thing, you know? All around the top of it."

Thor grunts as he gets to his feet. He forces himself to laugh anyway. Being tense always leaves him tired and achy.

He and Loki have been making good use of their most recent weekend antiquing find – a neat vintage chrome-and-glass bar cart – this fall, now that he’s devoted a good chunk of his spare time to restoring Lifty's long-ago-closed-off roof egress to the point where the doors no longer need to be caulked shut and covered to keep water from leaking down into the rest of the building. That done, it had taken them no time at all to settle into a workable system: after deciding what they’re in the mood for they load the cart with the appropriate glasses, booze, and fixings down in the apartment, after which Thor rides up to the roof in the elevator with it while Loki races him on the staircase.

As impromptu games go, Thor thinks this one is kind of fun. It certainly beats lugging everything upstairs in a basket, or – even worse – having to go all the way back down to the kitchen every time one of them needs a refill. Plus, it’s just nice to count another job really finished. Thor thinks he can finally add antique elevator repairperson to his list of oddly useful random life skills.

Leaves crunch underfoot as he heads over to the cart to mix himself and Loki another round. Most of the trees in this part of the city are of the smaller, urban sidewalk variety; Thor's never quite sure how so many leaves make it up here to the roof in the first place. At least having working elevator doors should make it easier to clean the leaves up and get rid of them. No more blackened, slimy mess to cope with in the springtime. "And before that?" he prompts, clamping down on the citrus press and splitting the juice between two fresh glasses. “Before you figured out what was happening?” Loki’s stopped talking, and Thor’s chest and throat feel a little tight. Now that they're getting married for really, really real, he knows, they can’t keep letting themselves dodge the hard conversations. Not anymore. He's been doing that for far too long already. They both have.

"Before that?” Loki laughs, but not like what Thor’s said is funny. “Well, at first I thought I was doing it wrong," he says. "And then after a while I decided they were."

Thor knows they are the people who – to his way of thinking - basically used Loki for sex and then tossed the rest aside like so much garbage. He’s pretty sure they were doing a lot wrong. He also has to concede that Loki sees it a little differently. Okay, more than a little. Loki blames most of what happened on unspoken wants and missed signals. It's hard for Thor to be that forgiving.

"When I was a teenager everything was about sex," Loki says. “You know that.” Thor hands Loki a glass and sits back down, carefully. "I had a body that – deep in its little reptile brain – thought it wanted it. I could get off to erotica and to certain types of porn, the kind where the bottom- seemed to be into the whole thing authentically. I could even ride the emotions of other couples, of a crowd in a club, and manage to get myself all hot and bothered."

He sips his drink. "In high school I was too weird but, when I got to college, other guys were finally actually drawn to me. I’d come into my own, I suppose, kind of late but not quite never. I thought everything would finally be fine for a change… but then the real thing was always- so disappointing. Every time I had sex I found myself wanting it over with as fast as possible. There was nothing I liked about it; it was all just mess, discomfort, and fakery. More and more I missed quiet time spent in my own head, with my own fingers. And I could never sustain the illusion that things were okay for long… as soon as the thrill of danger was gone, forcing myself got more and more awful. I guess when it all comes down to it I just wanted the company."

Thor squeezes Loki's hand. He gets the part about really being on the outside looking in, remembers what it was like being weird and disappointing, even now that he's found someone whose company actually works for him. "But that's never what they wanted," he finishes for Loki, sadly. He's heard that part of the story before. Thinks he’s come to understand it, even though it’s so different from his own. He’s always been bigger, for starters; even back in his rugby days, no one would have dared trying to really force him into anything. That, and there wasn’t much room for disappointment when he never really let himself get close to anybody.

"Right," Loki agrees. He returns Thor's squeeze.

They're both what would be pleasantly tipsy, Thor figures, if not for his having chosen such a lovely (not!) topic of conversation.

"And I was willing to do it, even," Loki insists. Yes, Thor knows that all too personally. "But willing was- it was never enough. Any time we’re talking more than a hookup – and even then, probably – the guys I was screwing around with always wanted to know I liked it. Except it wasn't really about me and my feelings," he says a bit more harshly. "It was all about them needing to know they were pleasing me. It was all about them, full stop… about their so-called prowess. They wanted me to want their dicks. To want them. But I didn’t. And I could only fake it so long before I lost anything else I'd managed in terms of intimacy." He clears. “Which was pretty much nothing anyway, I guess, since all along I’d been lying.”

"Mm," Thor hums. He'd like to chase down those ugly-hearted jerks and make them sorry. Which probably isn't fair, because in all likelihood they were just a little closer to 'normal.' It's hard to call them out on consent when they likely thought they had it. Not everyone reads people well, especially the ones as skilled at hiding their real selves as Loki. Thor blinks and shakes his head. It feels- odd, realizing he ought to count himself among the ones who actually do understand people. Him, the one who’s always found everyone so goddamned confusing.

"Being plain old gay would have been a whole lot easier," Loki says quietly. Thor's whole self aches for him.

“I’m sorry,” Thor can’t help but say another drink later, even though they’re both trying to be better about not letting themselves stumble into baseless apologies. “I didn’t mean to bring up something so depressing and ruin the evening.”

Loki smiles over at him, soft and genuine. “It’s okay,” Loki says. “I know this whole business bothers you. I know you want to be sure we’re doing things the right way.”

“I’m just like that, I guess,” Thor says. It’s true. He really struggles with unfinished business.

“I know,” Loki says yet again, still smiling. “Believe it or not, it’s one of the nicest things about you. And don’t worry.” He leans in to kiss the tips of Thor’s fingers, one after another. “I don’t think our evening is anywhere near ruined.”

~

“Oh, come on.” Loki nudges Oscar with his toes. “It’s just a little bit of nylon. Don’t be such a drama llama.”

They’ve been trying to acclimate Oscar to a harness and leash. Both Thor and Loki think he would like it up on the rooftop patio – he’s starting to get on in years now, and they’re trying to make sure he doesn’t miss out on anything – but it’s not safe to let him run free there, not with the chest-high parapet in easy jumping range. That, and they don’t want him chasing the occasional bird… especially come spring when all the migratory ones are back in town for the summer.

It’s a good enough plan, in theory. It’s also so not working.

Oscar acts like the harness is made out of pounds and pounds of lead. Like he can’t move at all, not with the stupid thing being soooo heavy. Loki and Thor take turns picking Oscar up, snuggling him, and standing him carefully on all fours… only to have him sag into a flat, furry puddle, over and over.

“He acts like we’re torturing him,” Thor worries.

“He needs to man up,” Loki grumbles. “Sorry, that’s not fair,” he adds, which pretty much sums up exactly what Thor’s been thinking. “Sorry, buddy,” he tells the cat. “Maybe it would help if you see what you’re in for.”

Loki’s right and not right. Oscar is so fascinated by the sights, sounds, and smells on the roof that he almost forgets he’s wearing the harness. After the first couple of minutes he isn’t even hunkering down and creeping. As soon as they get him back downstairs to the apartment, though, he slumps onto one side like the delicate red straps with their tiny white paw prints are going to kill him. Or, even worse, like they’re draining all his catly superpowers and turning him into an Ordinary Mortal.

Loki unfastens Oscar and they both watch as the cat stalks off into the parlor. “We tried?” Thor says. Loki seems pretty down. It’s contagious. “At least now he’s had a chance to see what’s up there.”

“Yeah, I guess. Something like that.” Loki shrugs. For a moment Thor wants to hug him and tell him everything’s okay, but then life marches on. “I should get back to work,” Loki says, “probably.”

~

“You really don’t mind?” Thor makes himself loosen his crushing grip on his phone. He and Loki are dead set on a really private wedding, just a trip to City Hall for a simple civil ceremony with a couple of witnesses. They do want to have casual parties afterwards, one down at the shore and the other here in town, but Thor knows that’s just not the same as an actual reception. He doesn’t want his parents to be upset. He and Loki don’t mean anything by it… they just prefer keeping the private parts of their life together, well, private. “Mom?” He feels like a little kid again, small and worried. “You would tell me if you did mind, wouldn’t you?”

Frigga laughs. “I gave up the American Wedding Dream decades ago, back when I had two boys instead of daughters. If I ever had it to begin with, that is. Seriously, sweetie,” she assures him, her voice warmly reassuring. “It’s not a problem. Not for me. Not for your father, either. We’ll have a nice party here next spring, maybe? Once we’ve turned the corner on winter and made it back to nicer weather?”

It’s a great idea. Better than trying to stuff the house with guests in their winter clothes, certainly. And by then he and Loki will have been married long enough that it won’t feel new and terrifying. “June,” Thor agrees. “After the end of the spring semester.”

“Perfect.” He can hear Frigga rooting through the junk drawer in the kitchen, hunting for a writing implement. “There. I’ve penciled you on. You’re officially on the agenda.”

Whew. Thor feels a lot lighter than he expected. “You’ll let me know what days are good, once it gets closer?”

“Of course,” she agrees, over the familiar squeak of the junk drawer closing. “And Thor? I know I’ve said it before but congratulations. I don’t think I could be any happier for you, and for Loki too.” She laughs again. “And before you ask me, yes, I really mean it.”

Chapter Text

The closer it gets to their big little day, the happier Thor is about their choices.

The wedding is coming up fast. They want to enjoy it. Enjoying things isn’t what they normally do this time of year, but they’re working on it. For starters he and Loki have been making a conscious effort to take real care of themselves, rather than pretending that working out alone is enough to make up for the usual complement of lousy holiday season habits.

There’s also the change-of-seasons problem. Thor invests in four pretty brass full-spectrum lights, the fancy, expensive kind that are certified for use in light therapy. He takes two of them to work, one for his office desk and one for his lab. Loki, who's always claimed to be unaffected by the lack of sun (but who turns discernibly more ogre-ish in the winter anyway) claims the other two, one for the Heart's Desire staff office and the other to use out at the register. The kids – Loki’s cashiers, Thor’s students - tease them mercilessly about growing pot. Thor’s pretty sure the abuse is worth it.

The two of them have been helping each other keep to a reasonable sleep schedule, too. They make a game out of hunting down frozen local produce, instead of subsisting solely on bread and pasta. Neither of them gives up wine with dinner or the probably-a-little-more-than-occasional cocktail. They’re only getting married… not sainted.

Treating their minds and bodies the way they do in the summer is starting to pay off, though. Thor’s not chunking up. They both have more energy. Best of all, for the first time in his adult life, Thor can't feel the ugly fog of death seeping in under every door and around every window.

They’d wanted to feel their best this time, and they do.

They’ve shared a laugh or ten over wanting to look good in their three or four pictures but really, more than anything, they’ve just wanted their pending nuptials to fill them with pleasant anticipation rather than the usual mild wintery dread. Instead of joining just about everyone else in stressing over the coming holidays, Thor and Loki wanted to look forward – and they are looking forward, very much so - to creating a new one of their very, very own.

It’s all working nicely, and that’s a good thing.

~

Thor invites Sif to stand up for him, such as it were. To be his witness. Whatever. It’s not that he hasn't got good friends here in town... he does. She's just his oldest bestie, and he knows it wouldn't feel right to do this without her. He makes arrangements to fly her in a couple of days early, to give her a little time to adjust. He and Loki plan to have dinner with her the night of the wedding and then pack her up and send her right back where she came from. Yes, it’s going to cost quite a bit. Fortunately (and not surprisingly, really), Loki agrees that it’s worth every penny.

The whole thing is not as easy for Loki, who just can't decide between Darcy and Amora. He mentions it to each of them privately; each one assures him she would be honored, of course, but won't feel hurt if she’s not chosen. Which is sweet and polite, Thor thinks aloud, and Loki agrees. Even so, it doesn’t solve the problem.

After two solid weeks of listening to Loki’s increasingly convoluted logic, Thor tells him to flip a coin for it. Loki can't. Thor won't. In the end they delegate the honor to Ian, who’s in town for the holidays (and possibly more; just last week Darcy’d very, very excitedly told them her partner is actively, locally job-hunting), since he’s the only one who’s brave (foolish) enough to agree to do it.

Ian flips, Loki calls it. The three of them watch the flick, the spin, the catch, and the reveal. Tails. Amora it is then.

Thor can't say he's glad, exactly, but it does seem fitting. It gives their odd little pre-marriage relationship a proper pair of bookends.

In the end they decide to have Amora and Darcy (and Ian) and Sif come out to dinner. That way they know everyone is actually happy. It will make for a fun little party. Sif can even stay over at Amora's (or Darcy's and Ian’s) afterwards if three starts to feel a little too crowded.

Don’t laugh. It actually may, too.

For months now Loki has insisted that the two of them must consummate things to make it legal. When he won't have any part of Thor's argument - that, since neither of them is in possession of a vagina anyway, nothing they can do will officially qualify - Thor gives in. There doesn't seem to be any point in continuing to refuse him.

That said, Thor isn’t willing to commit to anything that doesn’t feel right. Which means doing a lot of research, on their own and then together. Their collective experience is pretty much limited to what they both admit was fairly impersonal (for different reasons/in different ways), unpleasant (at least for Loki) oral and anal. Nothing about the things they did as young adults was loving, honest, or kind. It's certainly not the kind of time together Thor wants to share with Loki; even if they do somehow avoid PTSD quicksand, he’d rather come up with something new anyway. Something that's just theirs. Something they can share and try to enjoy together.

Loki won’t let the topic die. Thor makes suggestions here and there, but it’s not his call and he refuses to let it be. Loki (grumbles for two straight weeks and pooh-poohs Thor for worrying, like always, but) eventually settles on intercrural. After some careful thought Thor agrees. He sees the appeal: there's little cleanup - no more than jerking off, really - and less prep, and no one's going to end up really hurting.

They try it a couple of times, on their sides and taking turns. It's fine, Thor thinks. Nice, even. Spooning lets them get in the snuggles they both find comforting. Loki even admits (red face and all) that the back-to-front position spares him feeling obligated to look happy and gives him the privacy he needs to protect himself.

Thor gets that. Personally, it’s even better than shutting his eyes; it lets him just feel things without scanning Loki's face constantly for signs of distress. While he’s not entirely sure if that’s good or not, he can’t deny that it makes staying in the moment easier.

At one of the stores nearby (but not too nearby, because that would be plain old horrifying) they find a sweet-smelling, oily lotion both of them love. They buy a couple of bottles and set aside a soft pile of what Loki teasingly calls dedicated consummation towels. Thor ferrets out a few high-quality, cat-safe wax LED candles to help set a nice (peaceful, calming) mood. The two of them try it a few more times just to be sure it’s going to work for them. They take turns indulging in long, thorough body rubs before and after.

Loki makes noise about adding intercrural sex to their (minimal and not very) regular repertoire.

Thor’s not sure. He still feels a little bit guilty. Selfish. Not the way he wants to feel or be around Loki. "Let's get getting married out of the way first," he says. "After that we can think about it." He has to admit it: Loki's pouty, pouty face is almost reassuring. It’s not even close to enough, though.

~

"Yeah," Loki says when Thor - caught off-guard and (in hindsight) a little too sharp with concern when he catches Loki packing his skate bag - asks if the doctor said it was okay to. "I asked. I promise. I've been amping up my jumps in the dance studio. My x-rays look good. I'm building bone faster than I'm breaking it down now." Loki zips the bag closed and pats it lovingly. "I need to start slowly, and to expect some pain." Thor winces and Loki looks frustrated. Frustrated and sad. And annoyed, probably. For good reason, yes, if Thor takes a step back and considers the whole business from Loki’s perspective. "I'll be getting my ankle checked regularly, especially at the beginning,” Loki goes on. “Can you trust that?"

Not trust me... trust that. Thor's not quite sure what to make of the difference. He thinks about what Loki’s asking. Thinks of how beautiful, free, and happy Loki always was on the ice. Thinks about how they've got each other. "Mm," he hums, half to himself. "Yes," he says, softly. He makes himself meet Loki's eyes. He doesn’t like risk, doesn’t like to take chances. None of that needs to be Loki’s problem. "Yes,” Thor says again, a little more firmly this time. “I think so.”

~

Thor lets Loki go to the rink alone the first several weeks. He doesn’t want to intrude. More than that he doesn’t want to add performing to the list of things that might distract Loki, that might cause a missed step or a bad landing.

Most of all, though, he knows he needs to let go here. He needs to let Loki do this, without trying to control everything. Anything. He’s still aware that it’s happening – Loki hobbles around the apartment in the evening, differently than he does when he’s putting a little too much into his dancing, and nurses a whole new collection of blisters and bruises – but Thor makes himself act like everything’s perfectly normal. After a few weeks it’s not even acting anymore.

Only then, when he’s finally gotten so comfortable with the idea of Loki skating again that it’s faded quietly into their day-to-day background, does Thor dare say anything about it. “How’s it coming along?” he asks one Friday night over dinner. He wants to ask Loki if the ankle is hurting, but that’s not far too likely not to go well. “Are you enjoying it as much as you’d hoped?” he asks instead.

Something like surprise flits across Loki’s features, almost too quickly to catch. Right on its heels – before Thor even really gets a good start on panicking - is the brightest smile Thor’s seen on Loki’s face in a long time. “It’s great,” Loki says. “Finding an actual coach to work with me again, even though the whole thing is really just for fun… it’s made such a difference. I’m not fucking up nearly as often.” He sighs, but it’s clearly the happy kind. “And I’m training the right way: getting stronger this time instead of wrecking my body. Believe it or not my physical therapist is actually pleased with me.”

Huh. While physical therapy has been a regular thing for a while now, since right around the time Loki’d upped the dancing, Thor hadn’t known about the coach or the official-sounding training. In his head Loki’d just been flying up and down the silent rink alone like always. “Um, good,” he says, kind of stupidly. He closes his eyes and thinks for a moment about how nice it had felt to get back into gardening, how much he’s looking forward to really tackling the rooftop planters again come summer. “I’m glad for you,” he adds, trying to pour a little of the good things he’s feeling into it. He opens his eyes again. Everything is okay. Loki is still smiling.

“You should come out to the rink with me sometime,” Loki suggests. His fingers are cool on Thor’s bare wrist. They’re coming up on the holiday rush; the weather says winter now, even if the calendar still doesn’t. “Maybe next spring,” he goes on as Thor tries not to choke on a mouthful of coffee, “when I’ve actually gotten halfway decent at it.”

Next spring is months away. Thor covers Loki’s fingers with his own to make a warm-chilly-warm sandwich. “I do miss watching you,” he admits. “I miss all those mornings in the stands, not doing my schoolwork.”

Loki pinches his fingers gently. “Ah, right. The good old days, when you were a carefree student and I was working for a living.”

The days you were freaking about my chemistry lab and I was just- freaking, Thor doesn’t say. He smiles instead. Leans down. Plants tiny kisses on Loki’s pointy pink knuckles. “Just let me know when you’re ready,” he tells Loki. It’s fine. Maybe this will be the next thing they can look forward to, after getting married.

~

As the fall semester winds down Thor stays right on top of his grading. This year he’s got far better things to do during intersession; for once he spends zero time procrastinating. It may be the first time ever that he goes into finals with everything else completely graded and recorded.

And then it’s over. While Loki works the Christmas rush, Thor holes up in the apartment and puts marking the exams themselves behind him.

By New Year’s, there’s little left to do but (procrastinate about the last-minute cleaning, and) party.

Loki starts New Year’s Eve off at the rink. He’s missed a few sessions recently, what with the holidays, and he’s going to miss another one tomorrow. “I’m too old to slack off like this,” he tells Thor as he slings his bag over one shoulder. He gives Thor the kind of kiss that very occasionally turns into something. This one doesn’t. “Have a good morning,” he says instead. “I’ll see you around lunchtime.”

Thor goes to the gym. Sitting around while Loki works out always makes him feel fat and lazy. That, and all the resolutioners will pack the place tomorrow. He’s going to be skipping rope in the stockroom for weeks, until they all give up and go back to their sofas.

When he’s finished on the treadmill (which is a dumb place to start, he knows; he’s simply never been able to get in the better habit of lifting before cardio), he works his arms and chest until he’s dripping wet and shaking. In just about a week they’ll be old married people getting fresh tattoos. He’ll have plenty of time then to take things easy.

They pull up behind the Heart’s Desire dock about a minute apart, pleasantly tired and still damp from their showers.

After lunch they throw together baked cheese twists for cocktail hour. The neighborhood merchants are having a late afternoon get-together – the retail stores, anyway; the bar owners on the next block are far too busy – and everyone’s agreed to bring a little something.

Midnight finds them on the rooftop, bundled up and cuddling. They ring in the new year with champagne and (the city’s) fireworks. And kisses. And long, tight hugs. For once Thor doesn’t miss the beach of his childhood.

They don’t stay up much later, though. They can’t. There’s still all that cleaning left to do before Sif gets into town late tomorrow.

Chapter Text

"Oh, no, after you. Guests first," Thor says to Sif, handing her a fresh stack of towels and steering her gently towards the bathroom. If he says "ladies first," he's pretty sure she'll deck him. Either way, it’s fine. He's already peed (twice) and brushed his teeth. The rest can wait until she's done in the shower.

They're planning on their standard diner breakfast, just the two of them, at the old-school converted train dining car down near campus. The food is greasy and good. The place itself is well-worn and not squeaky-clean. He hardly ever goes there with Loki.

At some deep, fundamental level Thor is used to living amidst mild chaos. At his parents' farm there were always too many dirty bodies and not enough bathrooms. In comparison Loki's lived pointedly, intentionally (almost) alone ever since doing so had finally been legal. Loki's used to rattling easily around this space, not stepping over (someone else’s) luggage or dodging people.

Not that there’s been any complaining; Loki hasn't said a thing. He'd welcomed Sif with what had felt like real excitement. Had showed her to the little room off the parlor, all proud smiles and hand gestures. He'd been the one to suggest that the three of them go out for a round, and the one to drag both Thor and Sif out onto the dance floor together. Now, though, he's the one lingering in bed nursing the dull edge of a hangover. Thor can sense that Loki's overwhelmed. They need to get out of his hair and let him spend some quality time with (plenty of Advil, and) a huge mug of coffee.

Plus, Thor does want to share another breakfast-and-chat with Sif. They've done it for every major milestone... and a lot of minor crap in between. It wouldn’t be right to skip this one.

However you look at it, though, they need to get moving. Unlike many diners, the place they’re going doesn’t serve breakfast all day. He hurries like crazy when it's his turn to wash up and get out of there.

~

"Are you nervous?" Sif studies Thor over the rim of her juice glass. She tips it at him. Eases into a smile. "Mm. Citrus. Don't want scurvy."

Actually, he is nervous. He's getting married tomorrow. Tomorrow. It's here already. He unwinds his scarf. It's warm where they’re seated; the place is jammed. He's gone from shivering to sweating in all of ten minutes. "Uh-huh," he admits. It's probably not what she thinks, though. His own feet have never, ever been warmer. "I can't stop thinking he's going to change his mind," he says, adding "Loki" even though that much has got to be stupidly obvious. "It's his last chance to walk away. I'm afraid he's going to."

Sif sets her glass down, then her fork. After hesitating so briefly that Thor wonders if he's imagined it she takes his hands in both of hers. One's cool from her glass, the other isn't. He thinks of chemistry and physics. Thinks of Schrodinger. Of living and dying. "You know that's silly, right?" she asks softly. Thor lets a held breath out in a hot whistle. He nods… but things still feel iffy somehow.

"You get like this," she reminds him. "Always have, at least as long as I remember. And sometimes you are right," she concedes as he opens his mouth to say it. "But not this time, kiddo. Loki adores you." She gives his hands a squeeze and goes back to her meal. "He won't bail on you, Thor. He might not even if you asked him to," she adds around a bite of toast. "Ugh," she groans. "So. Much. Food. Thanks for bringing me here. This place is just about perfect."

Thor does know she's probably right, even if he’s struggling to match her confidence. "Hangover Helper," he says, following her lead and forking up a solid mouthful of hash. He’s better off than Loki looked. Still, his pulse thumps painfully at his temples.

Sif smiles. She holds up a big scoop of cheesy eggs. "This probably really is the breakfast of champions.”

Thor looks at all the crap they've ordered. Ordered and made a good dent in already. “Champion sumo wrestlers, maybe.”

"I miss this," Sif says. She sighs. "Not being hung over," she adds with a sad little laugh. "Just this. Breakfast. Hanging out. Really talking."

He misses it too. They do still Skype or FaceTime sometimes, but it's never as good as the real thing. "But not enough to move here."

"Riiight," she says, smirking. "You live six hours from the coast. That's not inconvenient."

Thor bites his lip. All morning he’s been just this side of queasy. It's 90% stress, 10% hangover. "You know I was just jerking your chain, right?" he asks.

At that, she snorts. "I've got my PhD," she teases, grinning broadly. "Don't worry. It'll take more than a night out to render me stupid."

"Just making sure," Thor tells her. He needs the knot in his stomach to keep on easing. "I don't like hurting the people close to me."

He expects her to laugh. She doesn't. "I hate to say 'it's just a piece of paper,' Thor, but it actually is," she reminds him instead. "When you two were apart, you were both in agony. You've worked so hard to make sure it will never happen again. That’s what has sealed your fate," she points out. She's definitely not wrong, and he definitely knows it. "All you’re doing tomorrow is getting that piece of paper. It’s kind of like graduation, when you think about it."

They chew for a little while in companionable silence. “Remember when I first told you about Loki’s- um, preferences?” Thor asks, when the quiet starts to stretch on too long and gives his mind too much room to get going. “When you asked me if I could really be okay with it?”

“Oh, I was a whole lot more tasteless than that,” she says, laughing. “I remember offending myself, even.”

Thor smiles. His face is getting awkwardly warm. “It’s ended up being nothing like I thought,” he says. He’s still not going to kiss and tell. “I just wanted you to know that. It’s so much better.”

Sif’s still laughing. She’s blushing, too. He’s not going to ask her what she’s thinking. “Thanks,” she says. “For inviting me. For being my friend. For everything.”

“I’m getting married,” he says. He wants to pinch himself. It’s all happening tomorrow.

“You are,” she agrees, cheerfully.

No matter what he says or does, it still doesn’t feel real anyway.

~

By the time Loki gets home from skating, they’re back from the diner. Thor is in the kitchen dealing with yesterday’s dishes and Sif is on her laptop in the living room catching up on emails. Thor smiles as Loki pokes his head into the kitchen. His hair is in one of those anything-but-smooth ponytails that happen when there’s no mirror handy. His ears and nose are pink from the cold.

Thor wants to hug Loki all the way back to warm, but can’t. Not with soggy, soapy hands, anyway. They have a little dishwasher, a fancy, modern one. Thor still does the dishes in the sink unless he and Loki have let things pile up extra-lazily. “How’d it go?” he asks as Loki shakes off skate bag, rink tote, and duffle in the doorway.

“Good,” Loki says. He unwinds yards of green-and-gold scarf, rolls his neck, and then unzips his puffer. “I’m so out of shape for real jumps. My thighs are fucking burning.”

If they were alone Thor might risk teasing about that getting in the way of Loki’s ridiculously-hyped-up consummating. After the discussion earlier, though, he knows sharing that with Sif would be a little too personal. “I’m proud of you,” he says instead. “My hands are wet. Come over here and let me kiss you.”

Loki kicks his boots off and walks into the kitchen, stretching and groaning. “Where’s Oscar?”

“On me,” Sif calls in from the living room.

Thor shrugs. “He likes her better.”

“I’m taking him home with me,” Sif says.

“Oh hell no,” Thor and Loki shout back in stereo.

“Good work, guys,” Sif says. “You scared him.”

So much for kisses; Loki hurries off to apologize to the cat. Thor props the last of the dishes in the rack and dries his hands as he watches the sink drain. He needs to keep busy today, not leave himself time to sit around and think and worry. “Want me to wash your skating stuff?” he asks (quietly) as Loki comes back out of the parlor, holding Oscar.

“It’s gross,” Loki warns, “and stinky.”

“Whatever. I’m washing it, not sniffing it.” Thor smiles. “I’ll get the basket. Got anything you want washed, Siffy?”

She winks at him over the top of her screen. “All these years and you’re still trying to cop a look at my underwear.”

“Nah,” Thor quips. “It looks better on Loki.”

He owes that cat. Without Oscar there, Loki and Sif would both be screaming.

~

The laundry room is downstairs, behind the dock area. Thor has taken on the bulk of their washing; it’s a lot less work when you’re willing to use Lifty. He tries not to think about what Loki must have had to do while they were- on hiatus (yes, five years is one long hiatus… but – even more so, now that they’re back together - he simply can’t bring himself to use broken up to describe it). Reflecting on it makes him sad. Sad and a little guilty, which might be silly: Loki stayed in this place knowing it might never have a working elevator (let alone another occupant willing to use it).

They could probably carve out room for a washer and dryer upstairs if they had to.

They don’t. They haven’t. This room, with its long, commercial-kitchen-esque stainless steel counter and its wired, barred glass windows, couldn’t be more perfect. Thor kind of (really) likes the feeling of going to the laundromat without ever leaving the building anyway.

~

“Last chance,” he tells Loki as they’re getting dressed. Neither one of them can decide what to wear; the evidence of their hopeless indecision lies strewn across the bed behind them.

Loki smoothes the front of his jacket and wrinkles his nose at his own reflection. Again. He must be on jacket seven or eight by now, not that Thor is doing any better. “For what?” he asks.

“To decide you don’t want to go through with this,” Thor tells Loki, trying to hide the way he’s trembling. “Get it out of the way now if you’re going to do it. I’ll literally die if you leave me at the altar.”

“There won’t be an altar,” Loki reminds, drily. “It’s City Hall.” He slips out of the jacket and tosses it onto the ever-growing pile. “Come here.”

Thor picks his way through the pants and shoes. He lets Loki wrap him in a hug. “We’re good,” Loki says softly. His lips brush the edge of Thor’s jaw; Thor shivers. “We’ve got this.”

“Mm,” Thor hums into Loki’s hair. It’s down today, the curls big and bouncy. Thor doesn’t want to get dressed and head downtown. He wants to hole up here in the apartment – alone - and play with it. That won’t get them hitched, though. “It just doesn’t feel real,” he whispers.

“It is, though,” Loki says evenly. He gives Thor a squeeze and then sighs, loud and dramatic. He’s not falling into Thor’s trap. Thor’s so thankful. “I hate all my suits,” Loki complains. “Maybe we shouldn’t try to be quite so fancy.”

This is why they’re doing it the way they are. Minimal planning, minimal fuss, less judging. It’s not like Sif will care what they’re wearing, and Amora’s bound to show them up style-wise regardless. It’s what she lives for. Loki settles on black leggings, chunky boots, and one of Thor’s favorite grey-black, whisper-soft sweaters. Thor goes for a lighter grey v-neck over charcoal wool slacks. It’s better. They smile at their reflections in the mirror.

They look happy, and real, and comfortable.

Sif whistles when they make their way back out of the bedroom. She’s changed into a dark tunic/dress and leggings a lot like Loki’s. Thor marvels at all the good legs in his living room. “I was so afraid you guys were going to suit up and leave me looking hopelessly Seattle hipster.”

Thor and Loki exchange a look. Thor thinks back to the mountain of clothes heaped on their bed. Neither of them says a word about it.

~

The vows are very simple, just the basic “do you takes” without any nods to religion or fancy promises. The entire ceremony lasts all of two minutes.

Everyone cries a little bit anyway.

Darcy and Ian surprise the four of them with an atrium permit and an authorized local photographer. After Thor and Loki get themselves under control – no red, runny noses and no more smears from Loki’s eyeliner – they spend a little time shooting candids in the pretty atrium: hugs and kisses between the fierce, twinned Liberties; racing each other on the marble staircase; Loki studying the lions on the upper balcony while Thor looks out over the floors below; Sif and Amora, the latter ridiculously fancy in patent heels and the sort of jewel-green dress Sif wouldn’t be caught dead in, pretending to ballroom dance down by the fountain.

It doesn’t really hit until they’re back out in the cold. Holy shit, Thor thinks. It’s done. We’re actually married.

Chapter Text

Sometimes this place can be painfully loud. Tonight it’s fine. They're sitting at their favorite long table out front - far from the bar – and things are relatively, pleasantly undeafening. Outside the tall windows fluffy snow is falling. In the warm glow of the streetlights it reminds Thor of confetti.

They first came here as a group after his graduation. All these years later, it’s still Darcy and Amora’s hands-down favorite. It’s always a nice time, and just fancy enough for a not-really-a-reception. Thor’s certainly not about to argue.

He’s at the head of the table. Sitting there always makes him feel like someone’s father, but it lets Loki curl up on the end of the banquette without making talking to everyone too complicated. The table would be – has been - crammed with ten (or even eight) of them, but with six they can spread out and not feel crowded. There's plenty of room to pass plates, planks, and platters of food to share... and still enough space to set down the heavy porcelain squares they're eating from. Oh, and the bottles of water and the tall, ringed glasses with bright wheels of lemon. And, of course, the wine and cocktails.

It's not far back to the store, nor to most of their apartments. Even so, Thor and Loki have sprung for a limo. No one's driving (or walking) home in this messy weather. Everyone's already had enough to be loose. The evening is young; they've barely started in on dinner.

"What did you want to be when you grew up?" Sif asks Ian, whose cheeks are pink and whose hair is everywhere. If he didn't look like a similarly hot mess at least three quarters of the time during hat season, Thor just might be wondering what he and Darcy'd gotten up to. And where, really. They'd all met up outside City Hall after the photos. No one has been MIA since then for more than three or four minutes. Not that Thor is keeping score on purpose. From the head of the table, it’s hard not to notice.

"A student," Ian says, blushing harder. His mouth curls into a sheepish half-smile. "Obviously I never got beyond it," he adds as everyone laughs. He pumps a fist in the air. "Aimed low, got there."

"I always thought I'd farm," Thor says around a bite of roasted beet salad. Under the table, he gives Loki's knee what he hopes is a reassuring squeeze. "Not so much because I loved it as because my brother is clueless." He shakes his head fondly. "But he married a smart woman and I found this one,” he explains, nodding towards Loki, “and- and here I am. A whole lot happier." It doesn't hurt to say that anymore. His parents made their choices, he made his own. His family is still close. His new family's closer.

"I thought I'd farm too," Sif says without prompting. "Or, failing that, follow my cousins into the military. But my father thought women should cook and make babies," she tells everyone, eyes harder than Thor's seen in ages. "So I showed him. I got my PhD and now I wrangle wet animals for a living." She smiles, eyes still flinty. “Didn’t aim low, got there anyway.”

"I dunno." Darcy playfully nudges Sif's shoulder. "What you're doing instead is a lot cooler anyway. Government," she adds, thumbing herself in the sternum. "I know, I know. Talk about a dumpster fire. Still, I never thought I'd be a manager at the world's awesomest bookstore. And I know that's bad grammar." She waggles a finger at Loki, who's probably less likely to care than half the table. He's cozy and soft against Thor's thigh. "But I'm saying it anyway, Married Boss Person." She sticks out her tongue. Amora stretches across the table to flick it with a red-lacquered nail. “Oww,” Darcy squeals, both of them laughing.

Amora's changed into a sweater and cigarette pants. She's still fancy anyway.

"What about you, Loki?" Ian smiles. He's at the other end of the table, too far away to see how Loki stiffens. "You're an awesome boss, you are, but I always feel like there has to be more to you."

Thor holds his breath and starts counting.

"I wanted to skate. Internationally," Loki cuts in over Darcy's uncharacteristically ill-advised "you do skate, Loki." "I saw the Winter Olympics when I was a little kid. Fucking loved it. I've never in my life wanted something so badly."

"What changed your mind?" Sif asks. Her forkful of mushrooms hovers in midair, forgotten.

Thor winces. "Maybe we should ta-."

"No, it's fine." Loki looks over at Thor, a little wild-eyed. "It is," he hisses. He's drunker than Thor, less drunk than Ian. "I was sick for a while," he says like it's nothing. "And then back at it, and then sick again. By the time I could really put enough into my skating, I had fallen way too far behind. That, and I'd started to grow like crazy. The moment had come and gone. I’d missed it." He plants a wet-mouthed kiss on Thor's cheekbone. "I'm not sorry for what I have," he says. Everyone at the table is pin-drop quiet. "I'm not. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't wish things had been different." He shrugs. "Whatever. It was a long time ago. Morrie, can you pass me the pizza?"

Amora scrambles for the metal plate, clearly relieved to have something to do. Thor leans in and kisses Loki slow and sweet. In the past he would have worried about What It All Means. Now he doesn’t; he knows better. Down the table, someone whistles.

The pizza is good. The gnocchi is good. All the vegetarian stuff is pretty much to die for. As always they’ve ordered neither duck nor rabbit. Not with Darcy here. Regardless, there's so much less-sad-making deliciousness Thor knows no one will miss it. "So what about you?" he asks Amora.

"Honestly?" She grins. Loki snickers. Thor wonders what he’s stumbled into. "That’s easy,” she says. “A call girl.”

Everyone freezes for two long seconds. Then Loki and Amora burst out laughing. Thor watches the rest of the table thaw. One at a time they go back to eating. Thor rolls his eyes. He loves his crazy band of misfits.

Through it all, Loki is still laughing.

~

“This doesn’t need to be awkward, Thor.” Loki rocks back onto his heels, hugs himself with both arms, and sighs. “After all, we’re married.”

It is awkward, though. They’d been kissing easily, lazily throughout the whole meal. Had amped it up during the limo ride, to the point even Amora had ordered them to get a room. Back here in the apartment, though, coats and scarves and boots and gloves strewn across the foyer and Oscar eyeing them grumpily from the sofa, it’s all started to feel like play-acting. This is not them. They do not crawl all over each other like animals rutting. Loki does not pin Thor against the wall and claw up underneath his sweater. Thor does not push Loki down to kneeling. Loki does not mouth at Thor’s dick through his trousers like a starving man. More than awkward, it’s simply all wrong. Thor’s skin is fucking crawling.

“I know consummating our marriage is really important to you,” he says, choosing his words especially carefully, “and that makes it important to me, too.” He takes a breath. Now that he’s stopped moving (and the room around him hasn’t), it’s looking like he’s quite a bit drunker than he thought he was. “I made you a promise and I won’t break it. But this- this feels like faking. Like,” – you’re, he almost says, but that’s going to lead to a fight and it’s not fair anyway – “we’re performing. I’m not saying no,” he soothes as Loki, glaring at him now, withdraws a little further. “I just- I don’t want it to be like this. This is the kind of thing we’ll regret later.”

Loki’s angry expression collapses abruptly into a sad one just as the tears come. “I don’t know how,” he says, unwinding enough to cover his face with one hand. “I don’t know how to be both real and sexy.” He snuffles. “I suck at this. I suck at everything.”

Thor slides down the wall until his butt’s flat on the floor and his legs stretch out on either side of Loki. He pulls Loki close in a semi-controlled tumble that makes Loki squawk unhappily. “Shh,” he says quietly, one arm around Loki’s waist and the other rubbing Loki’s back gently. “That’s not true.” He doesn’t bother arguing that Loki’s good at pretty much everything. Knows he can’t win against booze-steeped self-loathing. “You’re sexy all the time.”

“I’m not sexy now,” Loki complains into Thor’s shoulder.

He is, actually. He’s wiry-soft in Thor’s hands and heavy against Thor’s groin and one of those awful parts of Thor that will never, ever see the light of day wants to overpower him right here on the rug, to rip off his clothes and fuck him senseless. “I love you,” Thor says instead, voice a little rougher than it should be. “I’m going to make myself some coffee, and then give you a backrub. Whatever happens, happens.” They both need a moment. Need to hit the reset button. “Okay?”

Loki hiccups. He’s stopped struggling and wriggling; he’s draped limp all down Thor’s front. “Okay,” he agrees, not making any move to get up. “Make me some too. I’ll go wash up and meet you in the bedroom.”

“Lo?” Thor prompts when Loki just lies there. They can’t do any of- of anything stacked up here halfway to the kitchen.

“I love you too, Thor,” Loki grumbles. “Jesus. Do I have to tell you everything?”

It takes Thor’s brain a few seconds to put two and two together. Once it does, he can’t stop laughing. He’s shaking them both and that does the trick; Loki finally struggles back to sitting. “That’s not what I meant,” Thor finally gets out. “It’s not. Honest. I was just trying to get you to move out of my lap, so you could do your thing and I could make us both that coffee.” He puts a hand out. Loki slaps it away. “I’m serious,” Thor says, even though he’s still kind of laughing. “Of course I know you love me.” He finally gets himself under control. Mostly. “I would never try to make you say it.”

It’s a dumb- argument? He’s not even sure they’re actually quarreling. They’re probably just being drunk and stupid. “I love you,” he says, again. “Go wash up. I’ll meet you in there in four or five minutes.” More than that and he runs the risk of Loki falling asleep on the comforter. If he lets that happen, he’ll probably never be forgiven.

Loki struggles to his feet. He doesn’t offer Thor a hand, which is probably wise. If Thor gets him off-balance, they’ll just collapse into a heap again. “Fine,” he huffs. “Go make me coffee.”

Thor opts for too much grounds and not enough water. He wants to stay awake. Doesn’t care what he has to suffer through to get there.

~

“Mmmmm.” Loki wiggles his toes. Thor’s massaging his calves, working slowly down to from knees to ankles. His feet are pretty beat up, between the skating and the dancing. Thor makes a mental note to handle them especially gently. “More, please. Oh, yessss,” he groans, voice muffled by the bedding. “That feels fantastic.”

It does feel good… to give, anyway. Thor’s fingers tingle from the fine, dark hairs on Loki’s legs. He’s half-hard in his baggy shorts, the warm, sweet sort of mildly horny. “Where next?” he asks as he carefully smoothes oil over Loki’s instep, over the rough semicircles of half-healed blisters.

“Roll me over,” Loki tells the pillow, “and do whatever you want to.”

~

It doesn’t work out anything like they’d practiced. Even with the coffee Thor doesn’t trust that they’re not too drunk and loose to make an awful, regrettable mess of it. Instead they sixty-nine, for the first time since- since they’ve gotten back together. The whole thing’s clumsy and sloppy – Thor’s shorts tangle around his ankles; Loki’s slippery, muscled thighs just won’t stay put anywhere – but they both get off and Thor gives Loki neither a mouthful or a facial in the process.

They lie limp in bed afterwards, head-to-foot and mostly cross-wise, as Thor carefully balances a cooling handful of semen. He’s not sure relief has ever been quite so tangible. “Congratulations,” he whispers. Loki’s already snoring gently. They’re going to be cold, sore, and crusty in the morning. Thor doesn’t care. He doesn’t want to wake Loki. He’ll deal with it when the time comes. “Congratulations,” he says softly again. “Husband.”

Chapter Text

It's a hard year.

They haven’t even made it to the end of January when the winter blues come back with a vengeance. Probably because preparing for his (their) upcoming wedding had been so low-key (and then high-key, whether or not he would have admitted it to anybody) stressful, Thor hadn't even begun to realize just how effectively the building excitement – all that scary-good anticipation - had been keeping his depression at bay. He still uses the lights, at home and at work; despite how he feels they must help a little. Regardless, most days he just wants to roll over when his alarm goes off. Bears, he thinks, have it right when they start the winter off by curling up and hibernating.

Spring can’t come soon enough, with its longer days and nicer weather.

When the Ides of March roll ‘round, of course, the southern shore of the lake is still bound in the icy grip of winter. It’s a blustery, unpleasant, snowy day on campus when the vet calls to tell Loki (who then shares the news with Thor, in between raw, gasping sobs so hard it sounds like Loki’s literally bawling his lungs out) that Oscar’s routine labs are back and their beloved pet is in mild-to-moderate kidney failure. Loki says the vet told him it's not unusual given Oscar's age. They can treat it for now with prescription oil and a new diet. No one knows how long Oscar has... probably a year or more, Loki tells Thor she assured him, and sometimes a cat surprises everyone.

Thor stops walking about halfway through the conversation and just stands frozen in the middle of the sidewalk as people tromp through the drifts around him. He stands there for a while after Loki hangs up, too. He’s not wearing any gloves. His fingers are like ice by the time he finally shakes the whole thing off enough to keep on moving.

Sure, Oscar is slowing down. They probably all are. But he looks as good as always, and it breaks Thor's heart to think he may be dying.

~

In early, early April, with weeks left to go before the end of the semester, one of Thor's closest colleagues is abruptly diagnosed with breast cancer. She's out of work the next day, in surgery by Friday. There isn’t really time to recruit and train a substitute; as a department they agree they will divide and conquer. For his share Thor picks up one of her classes... meaning he also gets stuck with the exact sort of really dangerous student lab section that he’d long ago stripped out of his repertoire. Yes, the current situation is out of Thor's control. In hindsight never doing that sort of thing again was a promise he couldn’t even make. Knowing that gets him pretty much nowhere; it doesn’t help at all with Loki's bruised trust or shredded feelings. The ensuing battles are ugly enough to leave Thor wondering if this marriage the two of them have worked so hard for will survive to see its first anniversary.

~

The hits don’t stop coming. Midway through the week before reading period Thor, already worn dangerously thin by his shitty spring and not feeling the usual mood boost of impending summer, slices his hand open on broken glass (yes, in that lab, trying to look out for yet another woefully inept student). While there’s nothing major cut and no permanent damage done, it’s an ugly gash and closing it up takes sixteen stitches.

Every camel has a breaking point, a point at which even one more piece of straw is too many. That evening, after Thor drags his tired ass and heavily bandaged hand back from the hospital, Loki moves loudly, angrily out. Rationally it seems more dramatic than dangerous – the building belongs to Loki, after all… Loki who just stormed out with nothing but Oscar, a toothbrush, a few pieces of clothing snatched up off the bedroom floor, and his skate bag – but Thor’s not feeling particularly rational and no amount of logic makes it any less terrifying.

Things went to hell on Wednesday. Loki’s back – all the fight gone out of him, quiet and sad and as shaken as Thor is - before the start of the weekend.

It's a good thing, because during his Monday morning training session Loki misses a landing and falls awkwardly, jabbing himself in the ass just above the back of his right thigh. As sports injuries go it’s pretty minor, sure, but Loki has to be sedated because it's that hospital and he just can't. Thor meets Loki at discharge and brings him home woozy and shaking, not-so-blessed with the unfortunate combination of a tetanus shot and crutches. The first night Loki can't sit and is only (barely) comfortable sleeping on his stomach. Every time his firmly-side-sleeping body tries to roll over Loki half-wakes with a start. At least every third time rolling over happens, he grabs Thor's still-sore hand.

Fortunately for everyone their bedroom has no windows; even in this nice late spring weather they can't accidentally wake the neighbors with their shrieking and howling.

Loki apologizes for the whole business over the lab. Thor holds him (one-handed, awkwardly) and shushes him. Thor gets it. It's fine to feel- gutted. Loki makes them both boozy french toast for breakfast. Thor stands up and eats it with him.

It’s a few days before they can make it out to the rink to fetch the van. They try to laugh it off: free advertising.

~

Everything’s reduced to reddish-purple scars by the time Baldr rolls one of the tractors at the end of July. He's ever-so-fortunate – a few broken ribs, nothing serious – but it’s a busy time of year and farming can’t be put on hold to make room for healing. Odin still does a little work here and there, but is just not up to that sort of exertion anymore. Thor offers (has) to go help out until Nan and Frigga can bring someone on to cover Baldr’s (large) share of the day-to-day operations. Loki shuffles everyone’s schedules around at the store and makes time to tag along. Thor's unspeakably grateful.

Loki isn’t a vacationing diva this time around. Wherever he can, he’s actually pitching in and helping.

A couple of mornings into their unplanned trip to the shore, produce ripening left and right and three pairs of hands more than busy at the sorting table, Nan tells the two of them she’d just had a third miscarriage a few days before Baldr’s accident. All of this is news to Thor (and, consequently, to Loki); it’s not that he and Baldr aren’t close, exactly, but he and his brother rarely see one another these days and Baldr was never one to put anything resembling feelings into writing.

Nan is friendly enough one-on-one but she’s not the natural-born hostess Frigga’s always been; running a farm doesn’t leave her much time for friendship cultivation. Her voice breaks a little when she tells Thor and Loki how nice it is to have someone to really talk to.

Even Loki (who Thor knows still can’t quite fathom why people have children to start with) cries with her on that one.

When Loki and Thor fall into bed together, Loki’s out like a light but Thor’s too tired for sleeping. Which sucks, as he’s not in a good place mentally to be lying awake. For the first time in ages - since his father’s stroke, probably - he finds himself squinting into the future with the keen, painful sense he can see the horizon.

He likes the company, but not the view.

~

Despite it all they're so good together.

~

“So, was it true?” Loki smiles a little slyly at Thor across the tile-topped metal table.

Thor blinks. It’s a warm, hazy August evening. Although he’s not dozing off, exactly, he’s been lost in his own thoughts for at least half a drink now. He blinks again. Nothing. “Huh?”

“My sign,” Loki prompts. “The Heart’s Desire sign.”

When he closes his eyes, Thor can picture it easily. We Have Everything You Need. Thinking about it takes him back to that very first bus ride, to arriving in town, to how happy he was to find a lovely bookstore. Oh, how little he knew back then. “Mm,” he hums. “New and Used?” He grins. “Hm. I’m not so sure about the New part. Kidding, kidding,” he backpedals as Loki’s face falls. “I know what you meant. Honest. And, yes, it was true. It is true.” It is, too. He walked into this building all those years ago and found- well, everything. He reaches for Loki’s fingers. Pries them carefully off of Loki’s drink. Brings them to his lips and gently kisses each and every one of them. “You do have everything I need, Lo. Even the things I didn’t know I wanted.”

Across the street a bird chirps. Loki sighs. “Sorry we’ve had such a crappy year.”

It’s not your fault, Thor thinks, but he knows that’s not what Loki’s looking for. “Me too,” he says instead. “It’s fine. We’ll get through it.” He pulls Loki in for a proper kiss, on the mouth this time. Loki tastes like wine and smells like heaven. Well, if summertime heaven was a tiny bit sweaty.

Loki settles back into his chair. He smiles with his whole face. “We always do, don’t we?”