Boltedfruit Archive

Bloom

Published: 2021-07-17

Category: M/M

Rating: E

Words: 21,032

Fandom: Thor

Ship: Thor/Loki

Characters: Thor, Loki, Avengers Team, Hela, Thanos

Tags: Post-Avengers (2012), Post-Thor: The Dark World, Mutual Pining, First Kiss, First Time, Hurt/Comfort, Angst with a Happy Ending

Summary:

“He is away.”

 

“Did he die?”

 

It chokes a laugh from Thor, hoarse. “Yes.”

 

The boy doesn’t linger long on the subject. Thor sees the father shift his weight to his other foot, waiting.

 

“Did you beat the elves?”

 

Thor smiles softly down at him. “Yes.”

 

“Cool.”

 

The boy looks over to his father when he hears his name called. “Sorry.”Thor doesn’t know why he’s apologizing, he’s just a child. But then he is running back to his father and hugging his leg. Thor watches them go.

Author's Note

Originally posted 2014-2015.

Loki is dead, Malekith has fallen, and so Thor goes to Midgard.

 

He finds peace in the tender arms of Jane, who does not torture him with needless questions of his sorrows. She was there. She witnessed Thor’s life fall to pieces.

 

There is quiet in her presence as they lie together at night and she tells him of the stars. Of atoms and nuclei bursting, stretching, growing, and molding together again. He’s seen the stars she speaks of, the way it seems a burst of powder can paint a canvas of black with endless colors and spots of blinding light. She never begrudges his silence. He enjoys listening to her as he always has.

 

Thor knows Jane can never understand but a part of him loves her for the way she does not try to. She knows she cannot understand. She doesn’t pretend that she one day will.

 

So Thor does not resent her for how she never says Loki’s name. Or how she wordlessly, respectfully, returned his mother’s armor and flowing robes, scuffed with dirt and the blood of elves. She simply stays with him. Her fingers play lightly with his hair as he drowses on her bed and she kisses his cheeks should the stray tear fall over them. He loves Jane dearly for these small things. He does not hate her. He cannot.

 

But Loki is dead.

 

As is Frigga.

 

His world has gone to pieces, trembling and empty and he feels heavy in the face of victory and peace where he should feel grateful, proud. His friends bid him celebrate. His father bids him live. Jane bids him wordless welcome and kind touches and easy words.

 

But he is alone.

 

And it is a feeling he fears he will never shake.

 

Thor cannot sleep most nights and so ascends to the skies. He brings soft rain that swings over the realm of Midgard and watches as new life blooms in even the smallest of places. The pulse of water seems to beat in time with his heart and though he catches Jane watching him after he returns—for she knows, she must notice—she never says anything of it.

 

One night he returned but could not bring himself to go inside. He let the rain envelop him, soak him through, weighing down the Midgardian clothes he now wore. Jane came outside and stood with him, her hand on his lower back.

 

And he wept.

 

Jane smiles as he tends to plants and runs careful fingers over the bark of trees when they walk through parks. She knows he is a god of nature and life.

 

In a way Thor can only name Jane’s, she gifts him a tiny pot filled with dirt, a slim green stalk peaking out and crawling toward the sky. She smiles as she explains its purpose as he’s already reaching to take it from her. He kisses her cheek in thanks and sets to watering the small thing. Midgardian farming, taken to the sill of one’s room. It’s endearing.

 

It’s a distraction but it helps.

 

Thor soon starts a garden in the back of her lab.

 

By the time Spring rolls around, there are flowers blooming large and vibrant. He cooks them dinners of vegetables that are so fresh he thinks of Asgard for the first time in a long time and it hurts.

 

He thinks again of Loki.

 

Thor dreams of Loki that night.

 

He wakes up, drenched in sweat and heaving. Jane hasn’t woken, thankfully and so he slips out of bed slowly. His heart is pounding.

 

Thor sits in her kitchen and drinks glass after glass of ice water. He thinks of that day on Jotunheim. The moments of battle he missed while he swung Mjolnir, Loki out of his sight.

 

He thinks of Loki’s rage.

 

The following nights bring dreams of the same nature. Loki falling. Loki screaming. Loki dying.

 

Thor tells Loki he’s a fool. Over and over in his mind, until the memory blurs over the line of what is dream and what is waking. Thor can’t bring himself to make the difference distinct. It will hurt no less regardless.

 

Jane sees him drawing into himself and he knows she will say something soon. She must. She is a smart woman, smarter than most of this realm can be and so Thor knows something must change. He must take his sorrow elsewhere. A god’s grief is not a burden any mortal should shoulder, let alone witness.

 

Jane nods, tearful, when he tells her the next day.

 

He kisses her softly on the mouth and she wraps her arms around his neck and they stand there for a very long while, breathing together. Then Jane gives one long shuddering sigh and lets him go.

 

Thor palms her cheek and smiles as happily as he is able. It is a weak substitute of the truth and Jane knows it. He pecks her once more on the lips, presses his mouth soft to her forehead, steady.

 

Then he leaves.

 

He leaves his mother’s armor and dress with Jane. He knows she will keep them safe.

 

One day he will return for them.

 

It is a small way of sharing his anguish, and his soul is lighter for it.

 

Thor will not return to Asgard.

 

He can’t. Not yet. He thinks of Sif and Volstagg and Fandral and Hogun. He thinks of how he never even saw Hogun returned to Asgard and feels a fresh pang in his heart for his friends. He departed without ever saying farewell to any of them.

 

When he does return, he knows Sif will throttle him for his sudden absence.

 

Abhorrent as it is in the face of all respectability. But he will welcome it and then he will crush them all to his chest in joyous hugs. But today is not that day and so he does not dwell too long on it.

 

The thought still soothes him, though. And it’s enough to drive him through the day.

 

He sits in a park on a bench and watches people amble by. Children recognize him from the news and the street art that line buildings and subways and they eye him eagerly, tugging at their parents. The parents recognize him from the news reports, and while some smile at him and seem in awe as their children are, most keep walking with a firm grasp on their children’s small wrists. They know him to be dangerous. They walk by with haste and he cannot fault them that.

 

He’s been seen in this realm calling down the light of their most vicious storms. They have a right to be wary of him.

 

But then there are those who walk up to him and shamelessly ask him for his name scrawled on random pieces of Midgardian items, parchment—feeble, thin sheaves they produce on a grand scale—and he is happy to oblige so simple a thing. Many are curious of him here, as he’s come to learn. It’s a strange feeling.

 

He wishes his brother had been so taken with the realm as he had been. That he could have found some simple happiness in the mortals that ambled about and went about their days. He thinks it could have led to happier times.

 

But Thor knows Loki had always been a changeling of a god and so could never be satisfied with just one such happiness or another. It was trite. And in Thor, Loki saw it as his greatest fault.

 

Thor will disagree with that always, but if he had but one day more to see Loki standing before him, beside him, he thinks he would forsake any realm to have his brother whole again. To have Loki with him. Alive.

 

But the thought of such selfishness is childish and whimsical and one Mjolnir would not favor even in temperate exile.

 

The days pass by with bouts of soft rain and howling winds and Thor finds the skies darkening months earlier than this part of the realm is accustomed to.

 

He sails through the clouds, soaking his clothes and rinsing his skin in misty dew. They blanket him in soft, foamy white and the wisps swirl about his body in soft waves as they vanish, clearing like they never formed in the first place. He could sleep here for an eternity and it feels like Valhalla’s simplest treasure. But it’s a half-truth and so Thor forms clouds for fun, morphing their shapes and giving the children far below something to smile at. This, at least, he can do.

 

Thor follows Mjolnir’s path over seas, jungles and deserts. He does not sleep.

 

Instead he collects seeds from brightly colored plants and spies animals even Asgard doesn’t have. He thinks Darcy would enjoy Brazil, for they are a cheerful culture and Thor knows she would enjoy their celebrations.

 

Thor returns to Jane’s new lab every few months. He brings her the seeds of far away plants and sees her makeshift greenhouse begin the process of splicing new species. A hobby they had grown to both enjoy between her study of the stars and his grief of the home he’d left behind.

 

She still waters his small plant, now a thriving peony, and he returns the favor by leaving her gifts from countries she always wanted to visit but never had the time to. They exchange these gifts without seeing each other. Thor knows it’s easier this way. He doesn’t want her to grieve him as she once had.

 

He is careful now of the sorrow he leaves in his wake.

 

He had never been careful with Loki.

 

And look where it had led them.

 

Thor is drowsing in the lulling waves of a lake in Germany when he feels a tickle drag smooth over his cheek. It makes him sneeze and he scratches at his cheek. It happens again, trailing over his neck and his shoulder and he itches at it. It seems trapped deep beneath his skin and so he relents. Then he shivers and the peaceful drifting is lost to him.

 

He sighs and dunks his head, letting the cold seep through his skull to chill his thoughts.

 

He hasn’t slept for months.

 

Thor speaks with Heimdall.

 

Small whispers as he sits in parks or forests and enjoys the nature surrounding him. Thor tells him of Svartalfheim and of the black waste of their lands and how it chilled him through his armor. He tells Heimdall of his brother and how he died and that he never expected to see that part of his brother again.

 

He asks Heimdall if he’s ever had to suffer through someone dying in his arms, helpless to stop it. He asks if Heimdall ever had a brother.

 

Heimdall never answers but it’s enough to know he is listening. That he will always be listening.

 

He’s sitting on a fencepost in London near a construction site, watching the people dig up huge sections of earth and shattering them to drizzle along the ground once more. It’s sunny.

 

A brave child yanks free of his father as they’re walking past on the sidewalk and comes over to him. He smiles at the child, knowing he will want his name written down or that his father will come over and draw him away.

 

But he surprises Thor.

 

“What happened to Loki?”

 

“Um.” It’s not the cleverest thing he’s ever said.

 

“Your brother?”

 

The child has large, wondering eyes and he’s all innocence as he stares up at Thor. The father stands watch some feet away, eyebrow raised. He shrugs when Thor catches his eye.

 

Thor feels the tickle drag over his side and it nearly makes him squirm in the light clothes he wears. Mjolnir is on the ground at his feet. The child leans on the handle, toying with the strap. But he seems enraptured by Thor and so doesn’t even glance at the hammer beneath him.

 

“He is away.”

 

“Did he die?”

 

It chokes a laugh from Thor, hoarse. “Yes.”

 

The boy doesn’t linger long on the subject. Thor sees the father shift his weight to his other foot, waiting.

 

“Did you beat the elves?”

 

Thor smiles softly down at him. “Yes.”

 

“Cool.” The boy looks over to his father when he hears his name called. “Sorry.”

 

Thor doesn’t know why he’s apologizing, he’s just a child. But then he is running back to his father and hugging his leg. Thor watches them go.

 

He sleeps that night. On the roof of Jane’s old lab in Puente Antiguo. The sign Smith looming high over his head. It’s long been cleared out but he still remembers his time here fondly.

 

This time, Loki yells at him. He screams at him. His voice cracks and he starts bleeding from his chest and Thor can’t move. He can’t do anything.

 

Loki claws at his face, his mouth chanting low words, issuing seidr from his wound that is dark and smells of ash and then his skin is turning blue. Not like that day and so Thor knows it’s a dream.

 

He startles awake and he isn’t surprised to find he is sobbing.

 

It continues like this for weeks. His dreams plagued by Loki’s face, twisted into rage or sadness. His hands and words molding dangerous, dark things that ply at Thor until he is weeping.

 

He is tired of traveling.

 

He goes to Stark tower and stands on the highest balcony until Pepper notices him with a jolt. She rushes over and opens the entry for him after several bright screens appear before it.

 

“Thor! Oh, my god. We didn’t think you’d show up again, here, uh.” She takes a deep breath and smiles up at him. “Hi.”

 

He nods, walking in and setting Mjolnir down on a wide granite countertop.

 

“It’s been a long time, I know.”

 

“How is Asgard?” She tries. Her eyes dart around until she spots Tony coming out of what Thor’s learned is an elevator. Tony catches sight of Thor and claps his hands together.

 

“Thundercat hooo!” Pepper swats his arm when he approaches but Thor doesn’t understand why. Tony is beaming. “Hey, big guy, how’s it been? London been good to you?”

 

“I will speak with you of what happened in London. But first, I’ve been neglectful of my duty here. I do apologize for my lapse. I owe you a debt, a large one. You aided in me in returning Loki to face his due where I alone was not enough. I intend to help here. I want to help. I am here to see it done.”

 

They quiet when they realize Thor is nothing but serious.

 

“Um, well.” Tony blinks and clasps his hands together. “The others will be happy to hear it. We’ve had some run ins with a few baddies here and there, could have gone a tiny bit smoother with you. But, you know. Gods got stuff to do like the rest of us.”

 

Thor nods. “You will accept my help?”

 

Tony slaps his arm. “Well, duh. You saw the add-ons when you flew in, yeah? After what happened, we had this place built up like new. Added on some floors, realized a dream; Pepper’s words.” She smiled at this. “You have a whole floor to yourself, buddy! Just wait. Steve was just so desperate to have a roommate, but, well…”

 

Thor smiles, genuine for the first time in a long time.

 

He’s missed his friends.

 

Tony wasn’t lying. Thor does indeed have an entire floor to himself. There is a full stocked kitchen, a hallway of rooms Thor doesn’t entirely know what to do with, a bathroom, a spacious bedroom. He goes inside the bedroom.

 

Thor hasn’t slept on a bed since he left Jane and the sight of pillows and blankets and a mattress large enough for his height is enough to have his thoughts leaning toward napping the rest of the day. But then he remembers his dreams and thinks better of it.

 

Thor came here for a reason.

 

He will help the people of this realm as he’s always loved to do.

 

And in the process, he will keep from his dreams. As much as he is able.

 

Thor spies a door on the opposite end of the long entryway and sees it exits to outside. It is a long pathway that wraps around the side of the building, no railing or any other objects present.

 

A place to fly from with ease should he need to.

 

Tony was more thoughtful than Thor first took him for.

 

The tickling is constant now. It seeps beneath his clothes, his armor, his skin, his very bone. It feels like the drag of cold is aiming to pick apart the sinew of his nerves and sometimes it hurts. It is always with him. Like the unintended buzzing that lingers in the ear or the back of the mind for hours on end, never ceasing, always trilling.

 

A bell that will not stop ringing.

 

They welcome him back with ease. They’ve missed him too.

 

Steve, Bruce, Tony, and Natasha are currently living in the new tower Tony built. Thor asks after Clint and learns he’s been away on recon in Europe. Natasha seems tense despite the smile she gives him.

 

“Barton will return,” Thor tells her, when the others aren’t listening. She nods tightly. “He has survived far worse.”

 

She meets his eyes and smiles, sincere. She knows he means Loki.

 

Bruce adjusts his glasses and gives him a warm smile as he walks over to the kitchen in the rec room, as Tony calls it. Thor hands him a pomegranate from Brazil he’d been saving for Darcy. He can always gather more one day.

 

Bruce raises an eyebrow at the random gesture but accepts it, holding it awkwardly at his side.

 

When they were younger, he and Loki would oft trade gifts. Loki had been a fan of gifting those around him with simple or elaborate things, depending on the day. There were days Thor would witness Loki gift Fandral a pair of gold rings meant for a lady’s hair, and the next a jar of grease—for more lewd-oriented events. But they would smile and accept them and be in his debt.

 

Loki enjoyed that.

 

And when they turned their cheek and ratted him out and put Loki to blame for all the many things he did or did not do, it sat as poison in him. And Thor saw the smiles warp to smirks and then to frowns and outright glares and then to nothing at all. He saw the change, even as Loki continued his gift giving. He had always been gracious.

 

But he used the debts owed to him to motivate base things. Things his brother would call mischief and others began to dub as cruel. Thor among them. What had been kind, selfless offerings turned to manipulative aims at driving those he disliked to be in his debt, should he ever need a favor.

 

What had been joyous exchanges of treasures and embraces began to be the fear of estranging a wrathful god. But they did not stop. They did not try. They did not care in the face of the glorious bounty Loki seemed so set on laying upon them. They were glad to be so lavished.

 

He would smile wide, teeth glinting and Thor thought his brother honestly happy in those moments. And maybe he had been.

 

It had been a hopeless cause.

 

Thor had seen, but he kept accepting Loki’s offerings and still he kept on ignoring the signs. He ignored his brother.

 

He sees the joy in the act of giving things to those who don’t always expect it. Like Bruce. Bruce, who is always wary of others and quiet, but holds one of the fiercest hearts at bay. Thor knows Bruce holds fire in his palm and a clever mind on his shoulders.

 

Thor wonders if Loki felt that small, light flutter in his chest whenever he gave someone a gift, as Thor feels now.

 

He wonders when exactly it began to sour.

 

He gives Steve a book from Asgard. It’s a beginner’s guide to training, though he knows Steve would still enjoy it.

 

He gives seeds to Bruce along with the fruit, and Thor is happy to see small pots of budding plants lining the counters around the tower.

 

He spends hours trading stories with Natasha. She is keen on listening to his days before he even had the thought of wielding Mjolnir. The days when he simply had large eyes for traveling and the crops and the skies that would thunder at his worst moods. She picked apart his stories of his first battles, throwing in her own experiences. Then they would switch and she would tell him of being trained as a child to steal and to listen and to fight her way through life. Thor enjoyed their conversations.

 

Thor raced Tony often, high up in the skies and whirling through the clouds. He would throw rain, hail, and even snow Tony’s way but he would only laugh, and dart between whatever obstacle Thor threw at him. Thor won each time and it had him laughing honestly.

 

It was better.

 

Thor was doing better.

 

The dream is upon him before he even realizes he fell asleep. He didn’t mean for it to happen.

 

But now it’s here and he can’t wake up.

 

Loki is standing, calm before him. He’s still and staring, hands behind his back. There is no wound in his chest. His face is not ashen with elven rot. He looks like his brother and Thor wants to reach out and tug him to his chest. The last time Thor embraced his brother was when he was dying.

 

Brother, Thor tries to say. The word never leaves his mouth.

 

“Think you can live the lies your brother bought? Think you can pretend to be the one you lost that day? Simple, for you.” “Loki,” Thor chokes out.

 

Loki takes a deep breath and scowls.

 

“You’re pathetic,” he spits. “And you’ve become a liar. I suppose that’s my fault. But look at where it’s brought you. You pretend now. How quaint.”

 

Loki tosses a gold coin at his feet, then more follow. Hundreds more. Thor feels like he’s being buried.

 

“Give them everything of you until there won’t be anything left.”

 

Thor feels his skin itch. It’s maddening. Crawling up his spine to settle at the base of his neck, digging, clawing, burning.

 

“It’s the least you can do. Brother,” he snarls.

 

Then Loki is turning away and Thor wakes up. His eyes are dry. But he’s shaking. Trembling.

 

Fear sits cold in his belly and he can’t bring himself to leave the bed.

 

Thor feels anxious and his friends must notice.

 

They watch him.

 

“Hey Thor, feel like punching some sand?” Steve asks him when the silence between them all drags on for too long.

 

“Aye,” Thor mutters, following after him.

 

It’s a relief to leave the room to their gym, but he can feel eyes on his back until the elevator door slides shut. They’ve not seen him like this. In mourning. It’s as rare to them as it is to him.

 

Loki’s words sit bleak in his mind, toiling with his thoughts throughout long days and even longer nights.

 

It was the first time Loki had spoken in his dreams, and not just screamed at him, blind with fury.

 

It felt as if Loki was aware.

 

Thor does not bring the others gifts any longer. His conversations are often one sided-for when Natasha shares stories he hasn’t the energy to return them. Tony pouts and pokes at him but with Thor’s mood churning the sky grey and murky, he soon stops. Bruce splits an orange with him, casually chatting about gamma radiation research. Thor nods along, thankful to have something to occupy his thoughts.

 

He was playing at being Loki. He was trying to understand where it went wrong.

 

He tells himself it was his conscience speaking to him, through Loki’s visage. But Thor can’t quite believe that.

 

Thor knows seidr is a tricky thing.

 

Thor begins to doubt.

 

That perhaps coming here to the new Avengers tower had been a mistake. He finds comfort in his friends but they have as much understanding as Jane has. Which is little; on the surface at best. Steve has the most experience with loss out of all of them and he seems to catch on to what Thor is feeling.

 

Though of course, he was no friend of Loki’s and so the point is rendered somewhat moot. Irrelevant. He doesn’t know. None of them do.

 

Thor doubts his dreams.

 

Thor doubts that day on Svartalfheim.

 

Thor doesn’t fight his sleep any longer.

 

He can’t. It feels like he hasn’t slept in years and maybe he hasn’t. Not really. Not since before his failed coronation. Eons.

 

He expects Loki to yell at him. But he doesn’t.

 

He stands still. He stares. He hums.

 

Once, he punches Thor in the face and Thor feels the ache in his nose all day even after the last threads of sleep abandon him. A part of him knows, then.

 

His doubts have standing.

 

Then the trouble starts.

 

Midgard is under siege by a man named Doom and Thor revels in the chance to fight. It’s been so long. He hasn’t had a chance to swing Mjolnir in ages.

 

Doom fights with technology that Stark collects when it’s over. When Thor flies up high that night to bring soft rain, he sees Tony’s floor lit up bright. Tony is toiling.

 

Thor flies over New York and takes in the lights that stretch up to him like stars littering the ground. He alights atop a high building and listens to the traffic below.

 

When he raises his head he sees a dash of bright green and towering golden horns and his eyes are welling up before he can blink.

 

Loki is watching the traffic rage below.

 

Thor blinks and then Loki is gone.

 

He doubts, yes.

 

He doubts his dreams.

 

He doubts what is real.

 

He sees Loki when he’s sleeping and when he wakes. He can’t escape.

 

Perhaps he is not meant to.

 

Birds begin falling from the sky in droves. People are panicked. They stay indoors and don’t walk outside for fear of one falling on them. They litter the ground and Thor is angry. He’s truly angry. But he cannot place why.

 

He stares at the sky for days.

 

The news is always on. Reports of not just birds, but now deer being found in woods. Squirrels. Insects lying in gardens in piles, all dead. It’s a horror to this realm and Thor hasn’t seen the like of it either.

 

He would name it seidr if the mortals had but an understanding for it. They call it magic, it’s something unattainable to them. This mass of death is not of their realm, he is sure.

 

He doesn’t know who to name.

 

Loki continues to haunt his dreams, but he is quiet now.

 

Thor is driven mad by the silence and now it is him shouting in his dreams. Demanding why his brother died twice. Why did he leave. Why did he kill Thor again and again.

 

Thor always asks why and Loki never answers.

 

Thor weeps during his dreams.

 

Thor feels Loki is stealing his time for grieving, and says as much.

 

Loki’s eyes shine. Thor bites back what he would have said next, whatever it had been and watches as Loki hangs his head, tears falling. He is still silent.

 

Shortly after this, Frigga’s image, all soft beauty warm smiles, manages its way into his dreams and thus they can finally be called dreams.

 

Loki is still there, but Thor does not mind as much.

 

It is like he has his family again, no matter how disjointed the image or silent the voice.

 

Loki watches Thor. And Thor wakes rested, calm.

 

He has his doubts.

 

The days bring flight burdened with haste, calling rains and winds to lands not used to such weather at this time of year, driving the migration of birds further and further up. He derails flight patterns, he forces life to bloom along the ground and in the trees when ice still clings to the branches.

 

Thor is forced to watch Midgard’s animals turn up in mass quantities. He is forced to watch as the mortals weep and pray and study.

 

Thor wants to tell them his theories.

 

Thor thinks of Loki. Something doesn’t fit.

 

His friends have questions hovering on their tongues, Thor can tell. But he has a look about him that tells them not to bother voicing them. It would be useless. He desperately wants to tell them, comfort their searching gazes. But he cannot. He will not.

 

This is a matter he can fix and he knows it.

 

Thor just doesn’t entirely know how.

 

Loki is there, standing before him. His face is tilted, gaze lingering along the floor. Thor watches as he worries his thumbs over one another.

 

“What is this, brother?”

 

Loki doesn’t answer him.

 

Thor takes a step but in his dreamscape it is like walking through tar. Black sludge of night clings to his legs and Loki finally looks up.

 

He walks to Thor and nears him so that Thor is surprised at the proximity.

 

Loki doesn’t meet his eyes. Instead, his gaze skips across his lips, chin, his neck and the edge of a clavicle, snapping from his chest to his belly and lower. He finds the ground again and when next he blinks Thor can see the hazy pull of his eyes.

 

They are always dull in these dreams of late. These night horrors. A pale green murk, as if partially blind.

 

“Can you not see me,” Thor breathes.

 

Loki’s lips part then close again. His eyebrows draw together and Thor feels the urge to lean forward, chase Loki’s worry away, smooth the anxious skin with a firm press of his lips. He raises his hands to pull Loki to him, to spread over the pale column of his neck and bring him forward, but Loki turns from his grasp. Movement graceful and sharp, something akin to dancing. Thor doesn’t understand how Loki seems to move straight through him.

 

Loki walks behind him and Thor feels a terrible panic settle in his heart. It feels like it did before. Like how it felt to watch his brother die in his arms. How it was to see him stabbed through, lifted in the air.

 

Thor tries to turn his head to catch a last glimpse of Loki but he thinks he snaps his neck for it.

 

“You cannot see me,” Loki tells him.

 

Then Thor wakes up.

 

He wakes calm. Stoic. Serious. Each beat of his heart is an even, heavy press behind his lungs and the pain keeps his head clear.

 

He feels closer to finding out what sort of dread is clinging to the world.

 

“Heimdall, what is this? Please do not tell me there are yet more elves hiding in dark places.”

 

Like always, he does not receive an answer. It sits ill with him.

 

Thor knows what he must do and so he goes to his balcony that Tony built him. He sits on the edge, legs dangling over the sides. Mjolnir is tipped onto the side beside him and he trails slow fingers over the haft.

 

He remembers when they were young, not quite yet men but already years past childhood. He remembers Loki eyes trailing after him as he lifted into the air, calling his first winds and rains and snows.

 

Thor has spent an eon staring at the beauty and might he was allowed to grasp in the form of a simple hammer.

 

He thinks Loki spent an eon staring after it, and oh, how it must have broken him. Small pieces, falling away over time.

 

Thor removes his hand from the ancient hum beneath his fingers.

 

He feels tired. Sick. Anguish litters his heart and he feels disgusted with himself to have it so rule his mind most days. But then there is guilt for wanting to be rid of it, for Loki was his brother. His only brother.

 

He thought he’d had an eternity with him; that Loki could die had never been a part of his plans.

 

He feels childish for ever having thought so.

 

The first time Thor felt something linger in his bones after his brother let go.

 

He did not fall, he was not tossed. He made his choice.

 

Thor knows Loki makes many choices, and not all of them pan out as he wished them to. There had never been an exclusive feeling ofLoki is dead my brother is dead he is gone from all worlds.

 

Thor felt there was still yet something to search for.

 

Now, it feels final. He felt the life slip from Loki’s body, tremors running faint in his hands.

 

Thor feels like his brother is dead.

 

And yet.

 

He takes Mjolnir into his lap and runs his palm over the side, runes faintly glowing from the familiar touch. He smiles briefly. Mjolnir’s bright hum has always sent a warm, bestial joy through his heart. Something so innately home that he could never explain it.

 

But the weight feels heavy to him now and he cannot think why.

 

He lifts Mjolnir before him and drops from the side of the tower, enjoying the rush of the air against his skin before raising Mjolnir before him and letting her guide his path.

 

He calls to Heimdall and Heimdall answers.

 

Thor nods to Heimdall as the Bifrost whirls behind him, the sound filling the golden room with almost an energy. Heimdall inclines his great helmed head.

 

“The year has been long, my Prince.”

 

“And none too boring. Have you seen what has been happening?”

 

Heimdall blinks and Thor can see his eyes flick behind them, to the palace.

 

“How fares my father?” Thor says instead, knowing questions will not be answered until they must be.

 

“He fares ever as a King of Asgard must.” Thor eyes him. He does not understand.

 

“He often watches after your mother. The night shines brighter for Frigga.”

 

Thor nods. He hasn’t heard or spoken her name since he left and it leaves his throat aching.

 

Mourning. Time for such is irrelevant. It will always be there, the pain of it.

 

Thor frowns at himself for being so dire and fights to place a smile on his face for Heimdall. It’s been a long time since he’s seen him and his friend is a welcome sight.

 

“I am happy to see my father did not imprison you for long.”

 

“He realized there were larger evils at work that needed keeping an eye on.”

 

Thor swallows, at a loss for words. He thinks of the death plaguing Midgard. He thinks of his theories.

 

“I will be away to speak with him then.”

 

“You would be better listening and watching, Prince. There is little he has seen to these last months.”

 

“Aye,” Thor murmurs.

 

Heimdall is acting odd, and he knows there must be a reason for it.

 

Thor goes straight to Hlidskjalf. He has questions for his father. Questions of dark magic and ancient cosmic forces and the desire to answers of how to stop them. Or in the very least, deter.

 

But Thor sees not Odin on the great throne. There is no one sitting in it at all.

 

But before it, on the lowest step of the dais is someone he would know until the end of his days.

 

He sees Loki.

 

Thor opens his mouth to speak but cannot manage words. A choked sound leaves him and it has Loki flinching.

 

“Thor.”

 

Thor closes his eyes.

 

Loki is alive. He wasn’t dead. He’d never been dead. Thor was right to doubt.

 

But then he realizes the absence of Odin. The empty throne.

 

Thor finally opens his eyes and meets Loki’s gaze from across the distance they stand apart.

 

His brow quakes but his eyes are bright, clear, vivid. The pale blind murk of his dreams is not present and Thor knows he is awake, he knows it is Loki he is staring at. He knows it is Odin who is missing.

 

He would never allow Loki alone in his hall and Thor knows

 

“Thor, please,” Loki says. His voice is even and Thor cannot even begin to understand how. “You must listen to all that I have to say.”

 

Mjolnir is rising before he can even shake his head. Loki’s lips part and he seems in awe over such a threat.

 

“I have no mind for your lies. Your betrayals. Odin lives. Tell me our father yet lives.”

 

Thor’s eyes are watering and he wishes his mother were here. He wishes time would turn on its heel and march back to when they were but boys. Before the torment of past lies had the chance to set in, take root; grow deep and aching in their chests to bear great burdens.

 

Loki moves his hands in a languid sweep, one looming over the other, and in his grip is fine Gungnir. It is all the answer Thor needs.

 

Tears fall from his eyes as he lowers his arm and sets to walking. He would see Odin’s chambers for himself. So that he could let rest his anxious, trembling thoughts and the imaginings of Odin lying prone in sleep. Oh, if it could be only just.

 

There would still be hope left. There would be time.

 

Thor walks past Loki and it has Loki gasping in his wake, shocked at being left standing. Thor doesn’t understand what Loki expected.

 

Loki follows him.

 

Loki is a shadow on his heels and it is a cruel mirror of the past when they were small. When they would run through the halls laughing. Now there is darkness and the ruin of the elves and Thor wants desperately to be back on Midgard.

 

He wants never to return to this place.

 

Their capes whisper along their ankles and the curve of cracked and shattered columns as they twist and turn through the once golden palace.

 

Now it is burnished and bitter and tedious. In the midst of half-finished construction.

 

Thor can hardly stomach the sight of it. He has no idea how Loki has managed to walk these paths the last year without burning it all to the ground.

 

Mjolnir feels ever heavy in his hand and his palm sweats where she weighs him down.

 

Thor is fearful of what he will find.

 

Loki finally hastens his steps to spin to a stop before Thor, blocking his entry into Odin’s room.

 

“You will not find happiness here.”

 

“I haven’t known happiness for a long time, Loki. Let me through.”

 

Thor isn’t looking at him, he will not. But at the juncture of his vision he can see Loki staring balefully at him, trying to catch his eye. He does not move.

 

“You are better staying on Midgard. Dedicating yourself to the realm you love. The realm that needs you. Not here, Thor. Please.”

 

“You’ve begged few in your life, and not once had I ever heard sincerity lace your tone. Why should now be any different?”

 

“Because I died knowing your tears to be true.” Thor bites his tongue and finally meets Loki’s eyes. He is pleading. “I died as your brother, embraced.” “Yet here you stand,” Thor forces out slowly.

 

“I had not intended on it.”

 

“What did you intend, Loki? I am tired of never knowing your goals. Your desires. You torment me as a shade. I cannot bear it any longer.”

 

Loki’s eyes are shining and Thor is vaguely aware of shaking his head.

 

“Thor—”

 

“I cannot,” he says, and pushes Loki aside.

 

To feel his brother’s body, firm and there, burns. But Loki doesn’t fight him.

 

Odin’s bed is empty. Thor doesn’t know what he expected.

 

They are not children anymore. Their lives are far too ancient for such fantastic endings.

 

He doesn’t realize he’s fallen to his knees until Loki is there, crouching beside him. Loki’s hands are on his face and so Thor shoves at Loki’s chest. His balance tips and he’s forced to his knees in a mirror of Thor. He keeps moving to hold Thor’s face in his hands and Thor wants to scream. He wants to cry. He wants to be done with the dead and mourning lives he’d not properly parted ways with.

 

Loki grabs hold, fingers strong where they press against his neck and cheeks and Thor finally stills.

 

“No, no, no, no,” Thor keeps saying, over and over again. It is a cruel parody of that last day.

 

“Thor, look at me.”

 

Thor cannot bring himself to.

 

“It was not I.”

 

Thor grabs Loki by his arms and shoves him back, forcing Loki to fall to his side. He is staring at Thor with his hands poised up, ever pleading. It is so unlike Loki to plead and to bed and to ask.

 

“He died in his bed. Sleeping. Sapped of his strength and his will and all that he had been. It was not I who did such to him.”

 

“No matter how much you craved to be rid of him? Not even then?” Thor says back to him. “You hated him for a single lie, and many resentments you harbored.”

 

Loki’s expression shifts, hardens. He’s angry. “I killed Laufey, but not even I am fool enough to believe I could overpower the Allfather.”

 

“Then who, Loki,” Thor breathes. His voice is a tremor.

 

“The same who would see your favorite realm drained. Who would see all realms under his heel, blanketed in bones.”

 

“I killed Malekith. His body was severed. Crushed.”

 

“I do not speak of Malekith, Thor.”

 

Thor is at a loss. His theories he cannot name. He cannot focus on anything other than the empty bed just a scant few metres away. He had expected to see Odin cocooned in a soft halo of light. He had hoped.

 

Hope was frail.

 

Thor stands and leaves the room. He cannot bear to be there any longer.

 

Loki’s steps soon sound behind him and he wants to collapse to his knees right there in the hall, sink into the very ground, vanish. Be done.

 

But he is ever himself and he must persist. So he keeps walking.

 

Loki follows him all the way to the flickering Asbru. The bridge is a cascade of iridescence and pulses under each step. He could fly but he feels like walking.

 

His arm shakes where he holds Mjolnir.

 

“Heimdall, please,” Thor whispers. He knows Heimdall will hear him.

 

The golden orb of the Bifrost site begins turning just as Loki closes in on him.

 

“How long. How long have you been masquerading as our father?”

 

Loki juts his jaw at our but otherwise ignores it. “I was the one to see you off. I thought you would be safer there. Happier.”

 

Thor reaches for Loki’s throat and Loki allows it. He shuts his eyes briefly as Thor shakes him.

 

“You are the one who I must obey? For the best of mine own self? I am a fool to have ever lingered on other options,” he scoffs. He releases Loki and shoves him back so that he may continue on his way.

 

“Thor!”

 

Thor turns back and stares.

 

“Brother,” is all he says. It’s soft. Sorrowful.

 

Thor shakes his head. He feels madness drive a smile from him and it shocks Loki still.

 

Loki must run to catch up with him before he misses Thor stepping into the blinding, swirling light.

 

Heimdall deposits Thor on the balcony to his room.

 

Loki follows him to Midgard and Thor realizes he wasn’t hallucinating. He’d truly seen Loki that night, on the building’s ledge.

 

He stops so suddenly, Loki almost trips to stop himself from colliding into Thor’s back. The spinning light is a chaos in so small an area and he almost trips and goes over the edge. But Thor is there to grip his arm to pull him inside.

 

“You’ve been haunting my dreams? My days?” Loki is silent but Thor knows the answer.

 

“Why? It is pointless to seek absolution after what you’ve done.”

 

Loki stills. Thor just goes to sit Mjolnir on her head on his bedside table. He stands and keeps his side to Loki. It feels too much of an allowance to give Loki anything else.

 

“You cannot mean that,” Loki mutters.

 

“I told you once. I told you what would happen should you betray me.”

 

“I died for you on Svartalfheim!” Loki shouts. It startles Thor out of his mercurial avoidance. He turns to face Loki fully. “I suffered the throne, Thor. So that you could do what I could not.”

 

The comment throws Thor off. His resolve is a smattering of truth buried under a raging current of half lies and he doesn’t know what to think anymore.

 

“Suffer a throne you craved not two years past? You’ve become a poor liar, Loki,” Thor tells him.

 

Loki closes in on Thor, near enough that he can lower his voice so that the sound shivers down Thor’s spine.

 

“You believed me on Midgard because I could not allow you to think it a lie. Thanos demanded no less of me.”

 

The breath is knocked from Thor. He had his theories.

 

Thanos was a relic among them.

 

“How?” he manages. “How can he possibly…”

 

Loki’s smile then is dark and sad and Thor wants very badly to know what places Loki walked between the darkness of that lost year.

 

“He has a lover who would demand great things of him. In turn, he demands grand things of others. Young hearts often are led to the call of brilliant lies, blinded in the light of them. Had you not snatched me away—had I not died that day on Svartalfheim—I would still yet be his to call.”

 

Loki swallows, throat bobbing. Thor wants to bring Loki into his arms, keep him from the many harms they would do each other; but they are all ones that had already been done. He remains standing.

 

Loki frowns. “He is set on pleasing his mistress. She would have all life fall for just one moment of pleasurable silence.”

 

“Death does not concede for a single being. Death is not pleased,” Thor murmurs.

 

“Of course it is not. And then I failed him, and so he hunts for me. Thanos does not forget. And neither does Death.”

 

Loki swallows thickly and his eyes still shine. He takes a step back and regains his balance, breath even, away from Thor.

 

Thor wants to ask where Loki is going. If he intends to simply return to Asgard. To sit prone and wait.

 

“You’ll die.”

 

Loki laughs, bright.

 

“I’ve done so twice before. It is not so terrible, brother.” Thor calls his name but Loki shakes his head, twirls his hands.

 

And Thor is alone.

 

Thor is unsurprised to see Loki there, in his dreams that night.

 

“What did you mean when you said by what you could not do?”

 

“It doesn’t matter, Thor.”

 

Thor frowns. He needs to know.

 

“Loki.”

 

Loki’s eyes are the heavy murk of distance once more and the color bleeds like rancid milk into Thor’s mind. It’s a sight that haunts him through his days.

 

“Loki,” he says again.

 

Loki remains silent. His hands are on Thor’s neck, his shoulders, the jut of his clavicle. He walks around and splays his hands wide over the blades of his shoulders and rests his forehead along the back of Thor’s neck. Thor can feel the ghost of his breath fan along his skin. “You’ve watched me. Each day. Each night.” “I have done little else,” Loki whispers.

 

Thor’s breath catches.

 

“Once, I had thought my one highest need was to destroy you utterly. I have done little to earn your favor. Such a devoted, wholly unwavering breed of god you are, brother. You put shame to any other who would dare murmur the word. You are ever yourself, and you grieve as greatly as you anger and it’s so unearthly. There is fame tied to your name as a Jotun slayer. Yet you let one do this, right now.” And to drive his point, Loki begins to knead his fingers over Thor’s back. “You let a frost runt, cast out by all who would not house him when they simply saw who he truly was, touch you. You call a giant, brother. You name me kin to such harrowing courage and strength and loyalty. It is so very unlike anything I have yet seen.”

 

Thor wants to turn but finds he cannot. He is rooted to the spot, much like the previous night. Loki begins digging harder into the muscles of his back and it forces a groan from him. Loki trails down, fingers probing and working at the skin and the muscle, all along his spine. He stops at the base and continues his work, mouth shuffling fevered breaths against his shoulders.

 

“I wanted us to fight together one last time, so that I could die in peace, knowing I had undone the only wrong I had ever regretted. But I failed even that. I cannot even succeed in the things I had no hand in planning. And so how can I dare to ask your trust in that? How could I expect you to believe? Of course you would name me liar. For I am one. But lies must be fed a bit of truth now and again, or else they will scarce succeed. I simply wanted you. My brother. The one who would not forget me among all other harsh breeds I would lead into Asgard. To crush and to maim.”

 

Thor is weeping slow tears. His eyes remain open and his lips are parted on deep breaths.

 

“I am the cause of our mother’s death.”

 

His hands dig unforgiving into Thor’s back and he groans low in his throat for it. It hurts. But then Loki’s touch softens when they move to rub over his sides.

 

“I failed Thanos and inevitably led Odin to wither. Something I refuse to regret. Though I will regret slightly the pain it has caused you. The pain of not being able to say farewell.”

 

Again, Loki’s hands dig into Thor’s sides and there they remain. His forehead is back to resting on his neck, lips ghosting over Thor’s skin as he speaks.

 

“Just as I was not able to take back the last I spoke to Frigga. They were terrible things, Thor. She did not ever deserve them.”

 

“Resentment breeds, Loki.”

 

“Aye. That it does.”

 

They stand there, still and silent and breathing together. Loki’s arms fall away and Thor wants to turn and embrace his brother. Hug him to his chest and remain there, content in simply breathing the scent of each other in.

 

But Thor knows it is a dream.

 

“What had you intended, before?”

 

“To kill Thanos, together. I had thought Odin capable. He was gone and searching the stars for him by the time you’d offered Mjolnir up before the throne. But when he returned he went straight to his bed. And then he died. I did not know what to do. I simply continued the façade.”

 

“Why are you telling me all this? Now, after everything,” Thor asks him.

 

“They are words I will only ever say to you once. Words I was too breathless to tell you when I was dying before you. Words I did not yet know.”

 

Loki removes himself from behind Thor and comes to stand before him. Thor gazes into the murk of Loki’s stare and it is like watching a shadow blink.

 

“What will you do?”

 

Loki lowers his head. “You will stay here. I will keep you out of this.” “Loki,” he starts.

 

Loki shakes his head. “If I cannot find another way to defeat him, all will die. Do not deny me what I owe you. In what little peace I can offer before the end comes.”

 

“It is no peace here.”

 

Loki’s smile is brief. “Perhaps it is not. But it is a simpler existence, one you were once ready to fully embrace.”

 

Thor feels his throat close up.

 

“Please, Thor. I will only ask you once. Let me do this for you.”

 

The world of his dream fills with black fog and Loki washes away, like a curl of ink.

 

Thor wakes, gasping for breath. He focuses on his breathing, on calming his heart.

 

His bed is empty and somehow, that hurts.

 

He reaches for the nearest thing at hand and finds the haft of Mjolnir. He wants to toss something, watch something break. Watch something fall to pieces in his hands.

 

Thor goes to throw Mjolnir into the useless desk across the room and succeeds only in tugging himself half out of bed.

 

Panic grips him.

 

He tries again.

 

And again.

 

Mjolnir has forgotten him.

 

And he realizes then that in that shared dream he liked what Loki was offering him. He liked the option of backing out. Of letting others handle the burdens they’d earned. To let Loki shoulder the consequences of who he betrayed sat as a pleasing alternative to returning to Asgard and facing the empty halls once filled with Frigga’s soft smiles, Odin’s rare humor, their scheming plots in mischief as siblings to a shared cause.

 

He wants to leave Loki to ruin in the pit he has made for himself.

 

But.

 

But it would mean the death of all. It would be the end of his friends, of Jane, of every realm he has ever had the chance to see. The end of brave, brash, violent, and kind lives all. There is no discrimination in who Death would come for and Thor knows Midgard would utterly fail in the face of such cosmic forces. All would fail.

 

It would mean the death of himself.

 

His stomach twists on his next thought for it is true, and he hates that it remains so after everything.

 

It would mean the death of his brother. A final, true death. One unable to be brought back through scheme or good fortune or unheeded, blind luck.

 

There is a part in Thor that simply wants to be let alone. To tarry away the days as anyone other than himself. But he did that once before. He tried to forget. He tried and failed.

 

Mjolnir’s hum is a distant, muddled thing beneath his palm and yet he still tries.

 

He would not see the cosmos littered with the corpses of trillions.

 

The hum is stronger, sweet.

 

He would not so bow to forces his father died trying to overcome.

 

Thor winds his fingers tight over the notched handle. He feels energy crackle through his veins.

 

He would not allow Loki to hunt down Death in any form without following after him, for they were brothers. And Thor knows that no matter how many times he tried to forget that, he couldn’t. Just as Loki could not.

 

Thor will help Loki in his plight.

 

He will help Loki be rid of his shame, his guilt, no matter how much he deserved them. Thor deserved so much after leaving his brother to his cell. After he argued with Frigga to forget him; her son.

 

Thor was a failure in forgetting his family. But Mjolnir’s hum is a resilient, powerful drone beneath his palm and as he hefts her above his head and calls masses of rain to cover the city beyond his balcony, he thinks it is a fitting failure to shoulder.

 

He goes to his balcony and calls to Heimdall once more, thunder booming all around him.

 

It is still dark when he returns to the golden realm. Heimdall nods his hello, neutral and knowing as ever.

 

“You knew but did not tell me,” Thor says. It is not a question.

 

It takes a long, slow moment for Heimdall to answer him. “Aye.”

 

“Why wait? Why let the lie unravel when it did? My family has slipped through my fingers in a matter of two years and Asgard is left without its rightful King.”

 

Heimdall hums and does not take the way Thor throws him a mild glare an insult. “You forget, my duty above all else is to serve the realm eternal. Were I to deviate from such would be failure of the utmost kind on my part, and inevitably aid in the destruction our enemies seek to lay to it. Loki is Loki and though I do not…tolerate his company as well as I did Odin’s,” he gives Thor a sidelong glance, frowning slightly, “He has not led us to ruin as readily as I would have believed. You would have been the first to know had he but sighed in an untoward manner.”

 

“You let my father die, Heimdall,” Thor says, voice lowering. Heimdall only meets his stare head-on, and succeeds in cowing Thor’s tempest mood. He is still angry.

 

“I did.”

 

Thor is not expecting that. He staggers backward a step, mouth parted in surprise. He is dumbfounded, confused. He shakes his head slowly, intending to leave. He knows whatever he will have to say to Heimdall will only worsen their long withstanding friendship. It is too grievous an allowance, too soon, too much.

 

“You forget also it is not my place to intervene in matters that do not directly hinder Asgard. I am Keeper of Asgard’s Gates. No more, no less. Had Loki slain Odin where he lay that day I would have taken it upon myself to first inform you and bring you back, and head there myself, in arms beside you. But it is not how it happened.”

 

“Loki was telling the truth?”

 

Heimdall looks sad and Thor cannot tell if it is genuine or a trick of the endless orbs of golden light strewn about the reflective surface of the Bifrost site.

 

“Thanos believes himself a god. That he withered the Allfather so only furthered his false belief. He is gaining strength, in numbers and power. He feasts on the cosmos’ sorrow.”

 

“I will show him a god.”

 

Heimdall’s gaze switches to the cosmos, peering on the stars and the studded nebulae.

 

Thor glances at the palace, standing high and shining in the distance, even under the cover of night.

 

“I will show him two.”

 

Loki isn’t expecting him. Thor knows he has no reason to. The last they’d met was only hours before, in dreams vague and fogged. With words shared that Loki intended never to be said again.

 

Loki had spilled a piece of his heart to Thor and Thor knows Loki is readying himself to die. To truly end.

 

Loki startles when Thor bursts into his room, steps loud in the infinite quiet. He’s bent over a tome, dressed in a simple tunic and trousers, when Thor enters.

 

There is a small glint of light caught between two of Loki’s fingers.

 

It is a small gem, flickering blue where Loki shifts his grip on it and Thor recognizes it as one of the infinity gems.

 

Loki is shaking his head slowly.

 

“You’re a fool to return here. To rescind what I’ve granted you.”

 

Thor snorts and walks towards Loki. He is shaking and it twists something Thor thought long withered inside him.

 

“To give back what you thought was the greatest gift. It was something not granted but forced. You act as King, and so you would drive away the aid of Asgard’s greatest weapon?”

 

“You are not a weapon, Thor,” Loki says, frowning.

 

“I speak not only of myself, Loki,” Thor says, hand on the hilt of Mjolnir. Loki still does not believe him, he can see it in his eyes.

 

“How can you expect me to linger while watching the universe fall to pieces around me?”

 

Loki is silent. He swallows and Thor can see his throat bob with it.

 

He walks to Loki and places his hands on Loki’s shoulders, squeezing mildly. Loki’s eye twitches and Thor sees his gaze dart to the door.

 

“You think I will forget my brother?”

 

Loki bristles at that and shrugs harshly from Thor’s grasp. He takes a step back and nearly trips over his desk. The cowering is gone from him.

 

“Now you would name me your brother? After all you’ve said, after what I’ve done. I don’t deserve your aid, nor do I even want it. Leave. Go back to Midgard.” “Loki—”

 

Loki shoves him back and Thor allows it. He’s furious and snarling. “I told you what would happen. To the cosmos. To us. All due to these.” And he holds up the small blue gem for Thor see. “These gems could render the realms undone. See them torn apart and vanquished, eradicated, erased entirely. You’ve made clear you want nothing to do with your false brother, so why come back? Why mock me so?”

 

“It is not to mock, Loki!” Thor shouts. Loki is glaring, refusing Thor with a look, and if they’ve ever had one trait in common it was to be unflinchingly stubborn. “I am a fool yes. And so are you, for thinking I could give in to a sense of false peace. I could not do it the first time. How could I possibly do so now, when the threat is to every life in existence?”

 

Loki is quiet for a long time. Thor worries Loki will not believe him in his sincerity. He is trying not to make the mistake he did the first time, when Loki came to ravage Midgard. When he almost gave in to living a mortal life.

 

Thor is desperate to have Loki accept this.

 

“We are too old, Loki. Too old for flippant desires as false as innocence, or ignorance. Or for peace crafted on the backs of lies. For apologies to actions we’ve been aware of having made for years, centuries. For the pain we have caused each other.”

 

Loki is shaking his head again. “We tried already. We tried with Malekith. We fought side by side and I was supposed to die that day. I was supposed to be done with this. This fool’s errand of dreaming there is a way out of any of it. Of the ruin I’ve lain to Asgard, to you, to myself. There is nothing. We’re hopeless in the face of each other.”

 

Thor sees Loki’s eyes are watering.

 

“We’ve failed each other too much, Thor. Too much.”

 

“It isn’t about finding a way out. It’s about finding a way to defeat the situation we are faced with.”

 

Loki’s mouth falls open and Thor hears a sharp breath leave him.

 

Loki’s brow crumples on itself. “Let me do this. Let me be done. Let me die with this one last thing. Please, Thor—”

 

Thor surges forward and takes Loki’s neck in the grip of an open palm. Loki closes his eyes and tears fall to drip to the floor. Thor shakes him, once, soft. Loki’s free hand comes up to wrap around Thor’s forearm, fingers digging into his bracer.

 

“I will not let my brother die a third death. I will not. I’ll not go through it again. And I will not sit back and allow the realms to fall for all I wish to simply have the time to grieve a true mourning. I am done with sorrow, Loki, and I do not wish to simply call more of it to rest upon my shoulders.”

 

Loki is weeping now and Thor feels he can bring an arm up around his brother’s shoulders, embracing him. Loki trembles in his hold.

 

“Nor will I call it to rest upon yours.”

 

Loki twists a hand through Thor’s hair and sobs.

 

Thor wakes up with the realization they both fell asleep.

 

Loki had mumbled something under his breath and Thor could feel the trembling ebb into something like swaying. He was tired.

 

He’d asked Loki, “When was the last time you slept?” Because each night Thor had seen Loki in his dreams, awake and standing and speaking.

 

Loki had shaken his head and not answered so Thor had walked them to Loki’s bed and settled himself on his back in a mess of pillows and furs. Loki had lain down beside him, a hand still trapped between Thor’s own on Thor’s chest, and promptly fell asleep.

 

They’d not shifted much in sleep, and Thor recalls nothing of his dreams, if he had any at all. Loki is still breathing evenly beside him, on his stomach with his face turned toward Thor.

 

Thor feels his skin tingle.

 

It is like watching the moon sleep and so he stays as quiet and as still as he can manage, watching.

 

Loki wakes a short time later and he meets Thor’s eyes almost immediately. He’s quiet, and staring, and Thor blinks when Loki takes a deep breath.

“I feel old, Thor.”

 

We are old, Thor thinks, but he doesn’t speak it.

 

He squeezes Loki’s hand and Loki turns on his side, sliding his hand away to drape it over Thor’s waist.

 

“I want to sleep for a thousand years.”

 

“You’ll end up growing a beard. I’ll have to trim it.”

 

Loki snorts and shuts his eyes. “You’d fall asleep too, eventually. Then we’d wake and have too much beard to know what to do with.” Thor’s chuckles shake Loki and he smiles for it.

 

“I’m sorry,” Loki whispers.

 

Thor turns on his side and Loki is able to rest his hand in the dip of Thor’s back.

 

“Now we are too old for those, like I said.”

 

“I’ve never said it.”

 

Thor cannot say that that day on Svartalfheim was enough.

 

“We do not need to.”

 

Loki’s lips stretch into a rueful smile. “Then I will say it for us both. I have a talent for believing my own lies.”

 

Thor bites his own tongue for not making clear what he means.

 

“It is not a lie for it makes it no less true of us,” he says. Loki opens his eyes and lifts a brow.

 

Thor bows his head and their foreheads come together. Loki’s breath fans his chin and neck in hot waves.

 

Loki’s eyes are on Thor’s mouth and Thor finds the will to bring his hand up to rest along Loki’s neck. Loki’s hand on his back finds the courage to finger at the hem of the simple shirt he wears. Loki’s fingers find his skin and they finally fall back to sleep.

 

The second time Thor wakes, Loki is so close he can feel the air between them push and shift with each breath. Loki finds his eyes, gauging Thor’s reaction. Loki has one hand on Thor’s side and the other on his chest, and their thighs are pressed together where they are still lying facing each other.

 

Loki waits and when Thor does nothing he presses closer, his mouth soft on Thor’s.

 

And Thor wonders how he never knew, before. How he never suspected. How, in the recent months, with Loki invading his dreams, his every thought, it seemed something just off to the edge of his sight. There and something he’d been aware of, but had never been close enough to touch.

 

His lips part and Loki’s sigh is broken. Thor raises his hand to hold Loki’s jaw as their tongues meet.

 

And he thinks that, it could be the third time his brother will be facing death. That he could die, a final end. That Thor could lose his brother for all time and that he’d have to seek some terrible thing to find a way to cheat the Norns and return Loki to him, should he still be living after all this.

 

But the thought is not so terrible. Not so new. It seems only natural that, in a thousand years, a thousand thousand millennia into the future that he should still seek out his brother. That, should Loki die, it would be only second nature for him to go and rally his friends, his shield-brothers, and all manner of sorcery available to him to bring Loki back. He thinks that, in another life, in any life, he’d venture the dark paths, go to Hel itself and appeal to the true goddess of death that his brother is owed to him. That Loki deserves to be living and breathing, even though it would be the most selfish act Thor could muster.

 

But he’d do it in a heartbeat.

 

And so embracing Loki like he is now, touching him, kissing him, loving him in a manner unbefit to brothers—blood or not—is not so strange. It seems a natural progression of the universe they find themselves in, tethered as they are, through heart and soul.

 

For Thor cannot forget his brother. He will not.

 

Thor rolls onto his back, pulling Loki with him. Loki braces his weight on his knees and rolls his hips and Thor groans, low in his throat. They rock together for a time, slow, with breathy sighs and low moans leaving their throats.

 

Loki makes a wounded sound when Thor’s hands trail down and under the waist of his trousers, gripping and squeezing his rear as he jerks his hips forward. Loki is hard against him and Thor simply wants to feel Loki’s skin against his own.

 

Loki sits up to unlace his pants and then do the same to Thor’s, tugging then open to take Thor in a hand and squeeze. Thor lifts his hips and Loki with him.

 

Loki takes both their cocks in his hands and strokes them together, breath harsh and leaving him in heavy gusts where he’s perched on top of Thor’s thighs. Thor is gripping his thighs hard enough to hurt, he must, but Loki only strokes longer, slower, circling the heads with both thumbs and spreading the sticky pre-spend between them.

 

“Thor,” he breathes. Thor looks up and meets his eyes.

 

“Spill for me.”

 

A choked sound leaves Thor’s throat and he has to shut his eyes then, throwing his head back.

 

It doesn’t take long, for either of them.

 

Loki collapses onto Thor’s chest after. He’s laughing softly, breath coming out in short spurts. Thor wraps his arms around his brother and holds him.

 

Eventually they must get up and they head to Loki’s private baths. His hands are slick and sticky with their spend and they are the first he dips into the heated water when Thor is finished yanking the lever near the other end of the stone depression. He walks back over to Loki as Loki slips waist deep into the water, a bar of lye in one hand and a cloth in the other.

 

They wash each other and Thor feels more at peace with his brother than he has been in centuries.

 

When Thor rinses the last of the suds from Loki’s skin, he leads Loki to sit back on the first step of the large basin. Then he drops to his knees in the swirling water and takes Loki in his mouth, laving the soft length of him with his tongue. Loki gasps something short and twists his fingers into Thor’s hair.

 

Thor sucks him down twice more before he’s had his fill, and they have to rinse again before leaving the bath.

 

Thor thinks they’ll finally get dressed and go on with the business of dealing with Thanos and the gems. That they’ll finally get to talking about what their plan of action will be.

 

But Loki isn’t done with him.

 

He leads Thor back to bed and Thor is laughing gently as Loki pushes him down on his back, commanding him to center himself on the furs comfortably. He rummages around in his bedside table and brings forth a jar.

 

Thor does and it is only not two minutes later that Loki is there, settling himself on his stomach between Thor’s spread legs. He has Thor’s cock buried in the warmth of his mouth before Thor can even think to voice his wondering of what the jar is for. Loki is thorough and careful and takes great pains to lick as often as he desires into the slit at the head and soon enough Thor’s thighs are trembling with how badly the tension in his gut has pooled.

 

Loki pulls off and Thor makes a sound in protest. Loki smirks and reaches for the jar and Thor begins to suspect.

 

“Loki, what is that?” His voice sounds suspicious even to his own ears. Loki is dipping his fingers beyond the rim of the jar, pulling them back out to rub a clear sort of oil between his fingers.

 

“Shh. You will enjoy it.”

 

“Is that…unguent? Slick?”

 

“Aye. Do not sound so nervous, it won’t bite you.” Loki meets his gaze and holds it, considering him.

 

“You’ve not ever touched yourself?”

 

“Not in the way you’re about to.”

 

“Do you want me to stop?”

 

Thor is silent for a moment, then lowers his head back, closing his eyes. To the air he says, “No.”

 

Loki chuckles and presses a kiss to the sensitive skin of his sac. Thor’s belly flutters.

 

“Relax, you will like it. Trust me for this.”

 

Thor feels Loki’s fingers dip back behind his balls, between the flesh of his cheeks and then he is pressing lightly at the center of him. Loki is nuzzling his cock where it rests still soft and damp. His fingers return, trailing back upward, then back down, pressing against him once more. It’s a firm pressure and Thor feels his stomach quake. But he is curious and wants to know.

 

Loki begins mouthing at him and Thor feels himself growing hard. And all the while Loki does not stop, the sensation of his trailing, tickling fingers back and forth, up and down, soon becoming maddening to him. Thor arches his hips upward and then back, pushing into Loki’s touch. Loki smiles against his skin.

 

He slides his fingers through more of the oil and then he returns to his goal. A single finger slides against his hole and presses forward, upward, and Thor feels his skin stretch as Loki’s finger enters into him.

 

“Breathe,” Loki tells him. And Thor realizes only then that he is holding his breath.

 

Loki’s finger slides nearly out and then back when Thor lets his breath out.

 

And it feels good.

 

Thor rolls his hips into the touch and soon Loki is prodding at him with a second finger. The stretch is tighter, and it burns, but the oil soothes it. And all the while, Loki still mouths and licks at his length, distracting him.

 

Loki pushes both fingers in more deeply, forcefully, and suddenly it is too much.

 

When Thor spills, it is as if his entire body is convulsing, his pulse radiating throughout every muscle and nerve. He cries Loki’s name, and Loki licks him clean.

 

He is smiling when he climbs up Thor’s body to kiss him.

 

They’re in the bath again. Thor is on the last step, submerged up to his chest, holding Loki as he floats in the water.

 

“Are they able to be destroyed?” Thor asks. He means the gems but Loki doesn’t need the clarification.

 

“I don’t know. It’s what I’ve been researching the last year. I knew there had to be something behind Thanos’ power when I first came across him.”

 

Thor drags the cloth over Loki’s absently as he listens. Then, “And he helped you?”

 

“Yes.” Loki’s voice is soft. “The power he offered was like a drug. I knew it would affect your mortals even moreso. It’s easy to use to lure souls in, like an insect to a bright light. But I knew it was consuming. Something I could use, of course, but nothing I wanted to be used by. Not forever.”

 

“And he no longer knows where to find you?”

 

“No. My heart stopped on Svartalfheim. It was the bond between my soul and the seidr I possessed that kept me tethered. I knew how to find my way back, but was not aware of actually finding it. When I woke up it was merely where you’d left me. It was both to my advantage and disadvantage. As ever.”

 

“I could not bring you with me. I did not even know if I’d be able to get Jane off that realm.” “I know.”

 

Loki hums when Thor cups water in his palm and lets it wash over his hair and temple.

 

“He will not find me. I’ve already stolen one gem from him. Two more are in the Vault. And another I had your friends deposit to a certain collector.”

 

“And where are the last two?”

 

“One I suspect is lost to all, for it was tossed into the abyss of space long before we were both even aware of their existence. The other is with Thanos.”

 

“Then we need only worry about ending Thanos and collecting the one he still yet has. Is it hidden?”

 

“Not exactly. He has it guarded. Kept in a prison locked in the spaces between. It is not a place I’ve managed to reach just yet.”

 

“And how are we to reach it?”

 

Loki shakes his head and turns over, sloshing the water over the basin’s rim. He twines his arms around Thor’s shoulders.

 

“I will have to use the other gems to find it I’m afraid. If I cannot find another way.” Thor does not miss the way he does not include Thor in the gems’ retrieval.

 

“Vanaheim has libraries dedicated to seidr. There must be something you’ve not yet researched. Some facet of information that you can craft to your aid.”

 

“I have scoured their libraries for anything to help. It is simply not in my power to manipulate the structure of the spaces between realms. I’m unsure how Thanos even managed to, without each gem in his possession. I will have to use the gem, in the end. And I will not have you there with me. Their temptation is great, and I won’t expose you to it.”

 

“Honk on that. I will inquire with Heimdall. He will know of something, surely.” Loki is silent.

 

“Had you not asked him?”

 

Loki turns his head away and Thor chuckles.

 

“Then he is where we will go to next.”

 

Loki’s sigh falls along his collar and Thor kisses his cheek.

 

It has been a week since they met with Heimdall. A week of Loki researching books so rare they are nearly ash when they finally find them. Heimdall had been hesitant to say any more than the books location across Asgard, Alfheim, and Vanaheim. Easy enough places to acquire literature if one knew how to shift their skin, their shape.

 

It has been a week of Loki going it alone. A week of Thor pondering how best to lure more words out of Heimdall, for he knows they need them. He knows there must be more.

 

It’s hard, waiting for Loki.

 

Hard trusting him.

 

It’s a difficult thing to sit around and wait for Loki to speak any news of where they might find the next gem, of what aid he has found in the depths of the ancient tomes, of how they shall destroy the gems. Thor’s fingers itch with unshed thunder and he brings harsh rains for a week straight before Loki makes a rare appearance outside his room and pinches Thor’s side hard one day to make his point.

 

Thor begrudgingly obliges and ceases his torrents of rain.

 

Loki glares at him the few times they see each other throughout the days, passing so slowly, one into the other. But it is in concentration, and not in hatred, so far as Thor can tell. Loki is busy, possibly the busiest Thor has ever seen him and their interactions are few and far between.

 

Loki is withdrawing further into the labyrinth of his studies and Thor scorches his hand more than once when he’s tried the catch to Loki’s door.

 

They have not lain together since that first time and each passing day is like another notch of tension upon his shoulders.

 

Finally, after three weeks, Loki goes to Thor, seeking him out for the first time. It has always been Thor looking for him since this started. Since Loki let go and was swallowed by void.

 

“We will go to Heimdall,” he says. Thor arches an eyebrow and wants to ask what revelation his brother has come to, but Loki is already walking away. He is content that they are at least of the same mind on some level.

 

Thor rushes forward, snatching Loki’s arm back. Loki jerks his arm out of Thor’s hold, clearly affronted.

 

What?” he snaps.

 

Thor’s lips part, at a loss for words. Loki is staring at him and Thor can’t think of what to say.

 

“I thought us past this,” Thor murmurs, finally. He can feel his brow quaver and hates that Loki can still affect him so.

 

Loki’s glare lessens, his gaze softening somewhat. Thor is not expecting that. Loki shakes his head and drags his eyes slowly away.

 

“I—” he starts, but then he closes his mouth and Thor can see his jaw twitch where he’s clenching his teeth.

 

They’re too old for apologies.

 

Thor moves his hand past Loki’s neck and threads his fingers through dark hair. He rubs at the base of Loki’s skull and eventually Loki allows his eyes to fall shut, relaxing. He sways with the motion and so Thor moves to cradle his neck entire, massaging Loki’s scalp until there is a flush high on his cheeks.

 

When Thor leans in and presses his lips to his brother’s, Loki doesn’t flinch. He merely sighs with it and soon Thor feels Loki’s hands come up to wind through his own braids, holding him close.

 

Thor crowds Loki back against the wall and Loki makes a sound deep in his throat, slow and heady. He arches beneath Thor’s weight but Thor refuses the temptation to rut against him, to move eager fingers past buckles and belts and layers upon layers of intricate leather and silk his brother wears to get at the skin beneath.

 

He keeps kissing Loki until Loki has to pull away for adequate air, lungs heaving and mouth wide as he gulps in breath. Thor moves to sucking and licking languidly along his throat, lazy and endless.

 

He smoothes a thumb over Loki’s cheek and soon their hearts slow, their breath catches up with them.

 

Thor closes his eyes and almost says something he will surely regret. It is far too easy to lose himself to loving thoughts of an era long passed while having his face nuzzled into the neck of his brother. While he is breathing in the scent of him he has known for over a thousand years.

 

Words he can never take back.

 

Words he knows Loki could find reason enough to maim him for.

 

So he will not speak them.

 

Not yet.

 

Not ever.

 

“Brave, isn’t it?” Loki says suddenly on their way to the Gatekeeper. Thor is confused.

 

When Loki glances quickly over to Thor he is met with a blank stare. Loki smirks and goes on.

 

“Brave that men should give their sons swords knowing one day they will die clutching them tight in bloodied knuckles. Braver even are those who hand their son a sword, knowing one day their own boy might grow to be he that dies unlucky; sword out of reach, or a limb lobbed off. That these boys will grow each and every one into a man half coward, half fighter. Rare are the ones who stay loyal, rarer still the ones who would stay a blade of a foe for another, standing in their place and accepting death early. But for your precious realm, it seems that honored time has passed.”

 

Thor feels uneasy. His gut coils with the images that Loki is weaving for him with soft, quiet words, and feels like Loki is in some way speaking of them. Of the gems.

 

Of war. But war has been far behind them for some time.

 

“We face total annihilation Loki. Of all things.”

 

“Aye. ‘Tis a dim prophecy you would screech to others, dear brother.” Thor finally stops walking and Loki with him.

 

“Loyalty will be all any of us have in the face of total destruction.”

 

Loki smiles. “I knew you would say something like that.” “What are you planning, Loki? Please,” Thor asks.

 

Loki just stares at him. The silence stretches for so long Thor must shift his weight from foot to foot to keep from growing agitated.

 

Then, with a flicker of something from their childhood of finding themselves in endless trouble making, Loki flashes a grin and reaches inside one of many pockets. When he withdraws it, there are three gems in his palm. They shine in the early morning sunlight, casting bright shadows across Loki’s skin like pale, colored milk.

 

“How?” Thor breathes. He is already reaching toward Loki’s outstretched palm, hands hovering. Loki watches him closely.

 

Thor can feel their power. The lure of them. They are potent indeed, to hum so strong a song. But none compare to Mjolnir ever at his hip, and so they are easy to ignore.

 

He looks back up at Loki and sees his brother has a shine to his gaze. Something like joy.

 

But that is an old thing and he can no longer recognize the genuine emotion in Loki.

 

“Which ones are they?”

 

“Mind, space, soul, and reality,” Loki says, pointing to each. “Thanos has either power or time, and neither is good to be up against. It will be difficult. But he will be easy to trick.”

 

“How?”

 

“We will appeal to his baser desires.”

 

When Loki grins then, it is a wide and wicked thing.

 

When they approach the Bifrost site, Heimdall is clutching his great broadsword with no intent of moving it anytime soon. He stands at the threshold of the newly rebuilt opening and bars them from entering.

 

“What is this, Heimdall?” Thor asks, cautious. He’s half laughing, but inside he feels dread cloud his thoughts. He wonders if Loki has finally done something so dire in the last three weeks that Heimdall finally is passing judgment.

 

Thor fears they might come to a fight.

 

He wants to grab Loki to him and hold him, kiss him, love him until they are both lost of voice and breath, panting and moving as one, staining sheets and tearing through pillows—

 

The thought—the images—are so sudden and so vivid he gapes for a moment. He knows he must look a fool to Heimdall, who has likely seen them and knows their secret far better than even they do— “What you intend, Loki, is a great risk.”

 

“Thor will be fine. I’ll not have him harmed. It has never been my intention…not truly anyway.”

 

Heimdall casts a sidelong glance at Thor, watching him.

 

“You’ve not told him,” Heimdall continues, still speaking to Loki.

 

“No.”

 

“How long will you be?”

 

“As long as is needed to do what the Allfather failed to.”

 

Heimdall just stares at them both in equal measure, gauging them. It always seemed to Thor that when Heimdall looked upon you it was to be scrutinized under each and every memory of your life. That he could gaze upon anyone and know their most terrible secret, should he have chosen to look upon them a certain day at a certain time.

 

It has always fascinated Thor and undone him in the same moment.

 

Heimdall finally, finally, closes his eyes. He inclines his great helm and Thor realizes they are being let through.

 

Heimdall turns and it is only a few moments before the blinding whirl of the Asbru is glaring bright and vivid before them, filling the golden husk of ancient starlight with the hum of a thousand thousand galaxies, nine realms, interwoven by a bridge of light.

 

“Do you intend to sacrifice us both to see this done?” Thor whispers to him when they stand side by side, waiting.

 

“You will be safe, Thor, do not fear,” is what Loki says.

 

Thor doesn’t mean himself, not entirely.

 

The protest dies on his tongue as they’re swallowed by light and colors too immense to name.

 

Loki’s hand grasping his is the last thing he knows before they’re pulled away.

 

When Thor catches his breath he realizes they are in Niflheim.

 

When Thor realizes where they are, he turns on Loki.

 

“What have you done?”

 

Loki ignores him. He is staring up at the grey sky, seemingly judging some distance Thor is unaware of.

 

There are great black spires of arching timbre piercing the sky. They yawn over incredible heights, weighing down the invisible stars. For miles upward there is so sign of any star or moon or source of light. The only font of luminescence seems to come from the fog coiling languidly around their legs. It stretches for an eon in each direction, interrupted only by trees and the occasional hulking root. They loom from the ground in great loops and whirls and Thor feels as if he is staring upon the body of Nidhogg, squirming and deadly.

 

“Loki, what is this? Why have we come here? There is no business with the gems to be found in this place,” Thor calls to his brother.

 

Loki is walking ahead through the grey dusk and Thor has to push through to follow. The ground is thick with decay and layers of salt; spillage from the ancient rivers that flow through this realm. Their steps sink and drag through the path Loki is setting them

 

There is a chattering about the air, ebbing and flowing and it fades should Thor turn his head one way as opposed to another. He knows it is the old serpent, gnawing.

 

“Loki!” Thor calls again, and finally Loki stops.

 

“We have every reason to be here. There isn’t the time to discuss the merits of why we are here right this very moment, so do step quickly and lightly. I have not the energy to drag you from the depths of Hela’s ghostly ruins.”

 

Loki shoves lightly at Thor’s chest, just a push of his balled fist, before he is reaching down and tugging on Thor’s wrist.

 

Thor grits his teeth and sets himself to silence, following close on Loki’s heels.

 

Loki’s grip is a tight and menacing thing and Thor knows it as concern.

 

Neither wishes for the other to be left behind here.

 

They are at Hela’s door. A great towering archway with bones of bodies forgotten built in twirling spires for the dour threshold. Thor must clench his teeth again and again to refuse the nausea rising within him. This place has made him feel sick, lightheaded, since they arrived.

 

He has only ever been here once, a very long time ago. So long ago he can barely remember.

 

But he knows he hasn’t ever been this nervous before, for he has no idea what Loki is planning.

 

He leans close and Loki hums, noticing. He turns into Thor’s air, breathes him in.

 

His eyes are dark when he looks up at Thor.

 

“Brother, I would know your mind,” Thor murmurs.

 

“We must paint Thanos over again than what his mistress originally intended.”

 

“What?” Thor questions once more. He is beyond confused, and can think only of the fear sitting lonely and cold at the bottom of his threadbare heart.

 

“There is Death yes, but who greater than she who holds death close for all eternity to fight against a single moment?”

 

“Hela will not combat Death for us,” Thor gasps.

 

“We do not need her to. We need Death to be forgotten, and for Thanos to pine over she who is true to her own realm.”

 

Thor feels the breath leave him too quickly, a rush of understanding flooding through him. Loki recognizes the realization dawning in Thor, and smirks for it. “Come now, this would be cause to gossip for even the most lame of souls.”

 

Thor hisses a second breath through his nostrils at Loki’s words, realizing then how close they truly are.

 

A flash of mirth rushes through him. He leans closer and swipes his dry lips over the spread of Loki’s cheek, nuzzling the smooth skin for a moment before pressing their foreheads together. He grips Loki’s bicep in a strong hand.

 

“You are a clever thing, Loki, but not so clever to know I would risk even a dead man’s gossiping tongue.”

 

Loki startles, pulling back. His lips part, and Thor hears his breath hitch.

 

There is a blush high on his cheeks but it fades quickly in the cold of the realm they find themselves in. He shakes slightly and Thor worries he’s overstepped some boundary.

 

“Brazen fool,” Loki breathes.

 

But then he shoves Thor back, out of sight of the threshold, pushing Thor against the trunk of a large black tree thick with dark leaves and webs of spiders too small to see.

 

Loki’s teeth are sharp where they trap Thor’s lower lip and Thor can taste copper a moment later, when Loki licks past and meets Thor’s tongue with his own, soothing the sting. Thor holds Loki tight, close. Cradles his skull and grips his waist. They kiss and kiss only but it’s with an urgency Thor hasn’t yet felt from his brother.

 

When Loki draws away it is to step back, smoothing his hair into place and to set his clothing to rights.

 

Thor says nothing. Simply leans forward when Loki takes the time to blink and presses one last soft, wondering kiss to his lips. Loki allows the moment to drag.

 

When Loki looks at him it is like staring into the gaze of a giant; cold, calculated, hard, unwavering. Unfeeling.

 

A sight Thor had thought his brother incapable of once before, on that cliff of what seems so many years past. When Loki denied him their fraternity for a second time.

 

The fear settles as a stone, solid and unmoving. Something unavoidable.

 

Something is to happen this day, and he knows—he knows—it won’t be good.

 

Hela is picking at a collar of fine finger bones when they step into her hall before her stone seat she deigns a throne.

 

Thor would name it nothing less for how her ghostly silks pour and fold over the edges, pooling along the steps that herald their arrival. She wears a headdress of arching antler, black and burnt with old blood. Her eyes are closed, and her face is shrouded in a grey veil of spider silk.

 

She does not turn her attention towards them. She continues with her work.

 

Thor squints to focus on her actions and he marvels that she is weaving the bones together in a band. The string is short and thin and she must constantly pick at a spool of the stuff sat wedged between her thigh and the arm of the throne. Thor can see her pale flesh through the fine robes she wears, uncaring as death always is in regard to such a vulnerable state; nude and flaunting, existing but not quite breathing.

 

Thor also sees the decay and paint of dark and dying things all along her legs and arms and if it was not for the way her visage flickered every now and again—for she had seidr about her as any old being of creation has—Thor could fool his tongue into naming her a beauty.

 

Loki is a greater worker of charm than he, and knows how to summon sincerity when Thor lacks such tact.

 

Thor feels sick.

 

Loki is smiling.

 

“Cease your grinning, idiot. You have not been here for many centuries. What is it you want?”

 

That stops them walking and Thor almost snorts. Loki collects himself and bows.

 

“Oh, don’t be a fool. You never come here unless you want something of me. Out with it, so that you may be gone and leave us each to the affairs we were born to,” Hela tells him shortly. She still hasn’t glanced away from her work.

 

Thor thinks he sees the shadows that stretch far above them amass and then smooth themselves out. One great hulking mass of darkness.

 

A muscle in Loki’s jaw leaps as he bites his tongue, clenching his teeth.

 

“Surely you are aware of what takes place an eon from here…” he starts.

 

Hela’s fingers twitch, but she otherwise keeps on.

 

“And what is it that demands my attention if it lies an eon hence from my doorstep? Surely it’s nothing so demanding that I leave,” she says, voice low and threatening.

 

Loki takes a step and Hela finally raises her great head. The antlers perched upon her silken hair seems to arch ever higher.

 

She sets down her fine boneturning and regards them fully.

 

“Of course not, treasured one. Merely a task I need but a moment’s aid in.”

 

Hela laughs, a gargling, ugly sound. “Had I the arms to help you, dearest sire, I would but rip them from my body until they wilted entire. I know of what you speak and why you come here, to my hall, seeking my help. You and that golden soul beside you. Had but Valhalla taken him early so that I would not be forced to endure such a slight as having to stare upon him now. Brought by you.” She pauses, taking a breath of rancid air. Thor knows it is for show. “I feel them leaving this place. These deadened things. Souls long ago promised to my fields and bones long buried, risen again and forced from their beds. ‘Tis a murky creature that would drag their hands through what is my burden, and for no small thing either. They mean to steal from me. I know they do, I know they are—”

 

Hela closes her mouth abruptly, cutting herself off. Thor craves more words, and Loki is shivering beside him, eyes downcast in obeisance. He has always had a measure of fear for his long ago begotten child, rotten thing that she is. Fear and respect. Thor wants to think there is a measure of love inside his brother as well, though the both of them are two black spirited to give way and show it.

 

“And why have you not stopped this robbery of your graveyard, if you know so much of it?” Loki questions.

 

Hela leans back in her cracked throne. She toys with the shadows to her left as if they were toys and they curl about her hand like careful, learned things. “I only know they are learned in the art of evasion. Much like you, father.” Loki is poised to reply but Thor cuts in.

 

“Please, Goddess. It is one who calls herself Death, Mistress Death. She would see the world collide and grow drunk on the moment all life ceased. She has a last infinity gem and we seek only to destroy them. We need to separate her from her subordinate, Thanos.” Hela goes very quiet.

 

Loki turns on Thor, jabbing a finger at his chest. “You fool, you are no help here. I am the one—”

 

“Peace. Peace,” she murmurs. Then Hela is standing and her height is a terrible thing. The shadows cling to her skin, to bone, dancing about her like the thin shroud she wears. They follow her as she descends the steps to meet them. “You have them on you. I can smell them,” she mutters when she is close enough to Loki to reach out and touch. Thor stands near, ready to step between them should Loki’s daughter deign to touch either of them and rob them of life. “Show me.”

 

Loki withdraws the gems, holding them in a cupped palm. He holds them close, guarded.

 

Hela’s eyes are wide and Thor thinks they are glowing against the black of her hair and the milky tone of her flesh. A breeze seems to lift her to youth in a mirage of a moment, her hair coiling about her. Her hands shake where she holds them poised at either side of Loki’s hand.

 

But then she blinks and the moment is over.

 

“Dangerous of you to bring them here. A risk you would never take lightly.”

 

“Not lightly, no,” Loki breathes. Hela searches his gaze and then shrinks back, the shadows leaving her side. She stands like a corpse before them, still and unblinking. Then her gaze shifts to the murky dark that bathes the walls of her hall and raises a hand.

 

A disc of light appears and Thor knows it is a way to travel.

 

“Death is bold to take the name of someone far older than she.”

 

Loki grins. “I thought you would say that.”

 

Hela is already half through the portal as she says, “I will have them apart briefly. Be ready to act.”

 

Her hall seems a dim and darker thing for her absence. Something Thor thought incapable of the dead.

 

Loki is tugging on his arm. “Come. Let us leave this place. I am hungry and tonight might be our last chance to sup together.”

 

It is only when they are once again outside, trying to avoid tripping over looming roots that Thor finally has to ask.

 

“You speak as if only one of us is returning.”

 

Loki stops and faces him. He is wearing the same removed look as before and Thor feels his skin go cold.

 

Loki takes Thor’s face in his hands, gentle, so gentle.

 

He embraces Thor and Thor cannot remember the last they did so simple a thing.

 

They’re both silent on the return home. Loki pensive, Thor anxious. Thor can hardly keep from fidgeting as they step into swirling light.

 

Thor knows Loki is planning something. Something too terrible to think on.

 

Thor isn’t stupid.

 

Loki is planning on going where Thor cannot follow, where he will not allow Thor to follow, and Thor hates Loki for that. He hates his brother so vividly, just then.

 

It is a long walk to the palace. Thor drags his heels and scowls at the back of Loki’s head the entire way.

 

Thor grabs Loki by his bicep as soon as they have solid footing in Loki’s chambers. Loki goes wide eyed when Thor shoves him inside, kicking the door shut loudly behind him. But then, his gaze goes dull. Like he expected nothing less.

 

Thor slams Loki against the wall opposite his door and drops to his knees. Hitches steady thumbs into the waist of his brother’s pants under too many layers of leather and integrated mail to yank the clothing down. Thor drags his nails down and then back up Loki’s thighs, raking through fine hair and reducing his brother to shivering.

 

Loki is breathing heavily. His inhales are deep and his voice wavers a little loud with each breath he lets out in a shaky gust. His hands are already woven through Thor’s hair before Thor’s mouth even has the whole length of his cock inside, safely tucked between palate and tongue.

 

Loki’s cock pulses hot on his tongue for hardly a minute before he is spilling. Thor smears spend all along the length of him, licking up and painting over a patch of skin at Loki’s groin. When he spreads his fingers wide to slip under and push up Loki’s layers to lave at a hipbone, Loki keens with it. Thor is painting Loki in his own spend and it’s filthy and the look in Loki’s eyes is vulnerable and Thor wants to do so much more.

 

Thor rips belts and leather and sends mail clattering to the floor in a cascade of metal, raining like thunder just borne after a lazy afternoon. Thor can feel a storm clinging to his bones, inching up and climbing the lining of his stomach, his lungs, his throat—and he can hardly breathe.

 

Loki tumbles to the floor with him and Thor lets Loki know exactly what his seed tastes like. Loki licks into Thor’s mouth eagerly, moaning, making sounds Thor’s never heard before as he too tears Thor’s clothes away—banishing the rest with seidr when he tires of the struggle.

 

When Loki is finally free enough of his clothing for Thor to reach skin, he rakes his nails down a long, pale spine, feeling Loki arch up against him. He stutters out Thor’s name and it’s a wonderful sound.

 

Loki’s hands squeeze his rear and their hips surge forward to meet each other. They rut, the wet of Loki’s spend minutes before sliding between them. Loki sucks on Thor’s tongue.

 

“I want you inside me, now,” Thor demands. He wants to steal Loki’s voice away from him by wrapping thighs around his brother’s waist.

 

Loki laughs, bright and cheerful to Thor’s ears. There’s disbelief there too.

 

“You’ve never had more than two of my fingers. You can’t possibly—” Thor rolls his hips sharply, sending Loki’s skull to thump back against the floor.

 

“Not yet. Not now,” Loki manages.

 

“Then when?” Thor asks. It comes out a little more vicious than he intended. Desperate.

 

Loki blinks up at him, staring thoughtfully.

 

Loki opens his mouth to answer but then shuts it again. Thor feels like shaking him, like choking him.

 

Loki brings his arms up around Thor’s neck instead and lets his head roll to the side on the floor.

 

“I’ve wanted the stretch of your cock inside me since I understood just what it was I actually wanted in another. Since before girls had even taken an interest in me.” Thor gapes and Loki shrugs beneath him. They had been so young, then.

 

“Is it really such a fault to rob me of that?”

 

Thor is shaking his head slowly. He buries his face in Loki’s neck and Loki holds him. Thor is shaking.

 

“You can’t do this to me, Loki. I won’t let you leave me, brother. Not again.” Loki sighs into his hair.

 

Thor feels like screaming like he did once, dangling from the Asbru so long ago.

 

Thor feels like Loki is slipping away even before Loki’s careful seidr finds its way beneath his skin, tricking him into dreams dark and muted.

 

Thor feels like Loki will die, and he knows there is truth enough in the feeling to name it fear.

 

Rational fear waiting to be realized.

 

Thor wakes up in an empty bed. He’s already halfway to standing before he realizes its Loki’s. He tells himself it was Loki that tucked the furs up around his shoulders and not his own shifting hands seeking warmth.

 

Thor wonders where Loki is but then he hears what sounds like a splash. He angles his head towards the door and focuses on listening.

 

He hears the soft rushing of water, the wooden creak of a lever.

 

Loki is bathing.

 

Loki is reclining in the water, eyes closed with his arms and head leaning back against the ridge of the large basin. Thor steps into the water slowly, quietly enough he thinks Loki doesn’t notice. Not until Thor is there beside him, Thor’s shoulder touching the side of Loki’s ribs as he sinks to sit on the lower step.

 

“You were sleeping so soundly. I wonder just when the last time you slept without dreams was.”

 

“Without dreams influenced by you? I barely remember if I am to be honest.”

 

He can see Loki frown out of the corner of his eye. Thor focuses on the way Loki’s chest expands with each subtle breath.

 

“I had to. I couldn’t bear to lie in bed with the thought of not seeing you at least once, every few nights.”

 

“You were always there, in my dreams,” Thor murmurs. “Every night. You haunted me.”

 

“It’s an addiction, knowing how to walk one’s subconscious. Dangerous. Perverse.”

 

“Hardly,” Thor snorts. Loki’s frown deepens but it twitches when Thor elbows his side gently. “I am glad for it. You came back to me.”

 

Loki’s inhale is sharp. Thor settles further into the bath, enjoying the slow roil of warm water swallowing his limbs. He dips his head to soak his hair and comes back up to see Loki watching him.

 

Thor’s tongue feels easy and his heart beats slow and relaxed. The words come easy, “You’ll die fighting Thanos alone.”

 

“Better only my tongue be stilled than both of ours.”

 

“I would rather lose my tongue than your heart,” Thor chokes out. It’s the closest he’s come to a confession of any sort in so long, too long, and it burns his throat as soon as it’s left him.

 

Loki’s face falls, entirely open for once. But then the moment is gone and Loki has closed his eyes again. He brings his arms down and he sinks just as low in the tub as Thor. The water pools around his chin. Thor sees his lips go thin.

 

“I can’t risk your life. You don’t owe me that.”

 

“You’re being oddly selfless, Loki.”

 

Loki opens his eyes slowly, stares down into the water with something like sorrow heavy on his brow.

 

“I’m tired,” he whispers, before slipping beneath the surface.

 

When Loki resurfaces Thor is there, drifting close enough in the water that they press their lips together gently, lazily. Loki only closes his eyes when Thor wraps his arms around Loki’s waist.

 

He can feel Loki hard against his thigh as their legs bump together. Thor wants Loki’s fingers on him, inside him, stretching him open. Something he wants so badly his mouth goes dry at the thought of it, his cheeks burning.

 

But while Loki has an arm around Thor’s neck to brace himself, there is one snuck around behind him. When Loki bites his lip and pants, breaths short and rapid, pelvis rolling backward, Thor knows exactly what it is Loki is doing.

 

Thor holds him and strokes Loki slowly, leisurely, happy enough with just the weight of his brother safe in his palm.

 

Loki eventually opens his eyes, finds steady footing to shift his legs over Thor’s lap. Thor finds the step to sit on and braces himself as Loki hovers above him, staring down at Thor like he’s waiting.

 

Thor reaches a hand up and traces Loki’s jaw, his neck. His hand rests over Loki’s heart and it finally has Loki bearing down, skin slipping over skin. He’s biting his lip and Thor thinks it will bruise, but he’s doing no better. It’s tight. Loki is so tight, and it almost hurts being consumed by such heat. But then Loki is taking in deep lungfuls of air, seated flush in Thor’s lap. His hands find their way to tangle in Thor’s too long hair and then he’s rolling his hips.

 

Thor has sounds ripped from him; soft pleading, moans that bounce off the stone walls, cries that are muffled by Loki’s mouth.

 

They cling to each other and Thor knows he could easily be squeezing the air from Loki as they move faster, rougher. The water churns and splashes in wild snaps against the basin’s edge.

 

But then that height is reached and he feels Loki swell with breath.

 

Loki dozes in Thor’s arms until Thor shifts and slips from his brother. When Loki smiles against his neck, planting a kiss there, Thor raises them both to standing to leave the tub and dry off.

 

They barely manage it before they’re tumbling back in Loki’s bed.

 

Loki is belly down, legs spread wide, Thor rutting deep into him. He holds Loki close, nearly crushing him against the furs and feathered plush. Thor is draped over Loki, Loki’s arm held tight around his skull, fingers wound through his hair. Thor’s arm encircles his waist, his neck. Their hips roll together and Loki has soaked the pelt beneath his groin twice before Thor finds a second release.

 

Then they go again.

 

It’s easy to forget, for a while.

 

They will have to face Thanos soon.

 

They wait for Hela to return. They wait for Heimdall to summon them.

 

They spend three days eating and sleeping curled in each other’s arms, or pressed back to back. They eat custard and pie and Thor brings three wild boar in from the surrounding woods that they might have some meat before they go. They prepare their own meals. They make their own beds.

 

Thor banishes the servants from doing what they’ve always done so that they all might know some freedom in walking around Asgard before Hela returns. Thor has no idea what might happen when they must face Thanos.

 

Loki comments on none of this. He goes about his days, gaze distant but touches nearly constant. They wear their skin more often than clothes and Thor’s anxiousness is soothed slightly by having Loki sprawled over him as they laze about. Loki whispers him soft and secret things and Thor regrets never having known these pleasures earlier. The hum of Loki’s breath, the beat of his heart, the way his fingers curl and trace over all of Thor as if Loki is afraid he will forget just what he is shaped like.

 

Maybe Loki is afraid.

 

Maybe Loki doesn’t want to die.

 

It sends hope to hook inside Thor’s heart. But he’s known the feeling before and knows he can no longer rely on it.

 

Hoping and knowing are two vastly different things.

 

They spend two days more licking each other open, plying warm bodies with slow fingers and painting each other’s skin in sweat and spend. Thor stills wants Loki to lie above him, stretch him, but Loki has not yet gone beyond his fingers.

 

“Please,” he murmurs the fifth night.

 

Loki closes his eyes so Thor kisses him.

 

Thor rolls on top of Loki and Loki winds his limbs around Thor, hoping for a repeat of the week previous. But Thor does nothing but kiss and nip and lick at Loki’s lips and jaw, his neck. He rubs his hands down Loki’s arms and sides, then back up to do it again.

 

When Thor sits up and straddles Loki’s waist, Loki opens his eyes.

 

“I cannot give you more things to miss.”

 

“I miss you already,” Thor tells him. “You’ve robbed me of my brother before even he knows his fate.”

 

Loki’s eyes shine. Thor does not like Loki like this. He always hated Loki being sad as a boy, his moods only growing and swaying to things that lingered. Moods that were dark and silent, only to give way to bright laughter at a trick’s success and someone else’s expense.

 

He misses his brother the trickster, and his brother being remorseful is so foreign to him. It makes him ache for days before he knew Midgard’s ways. Before he knew the Avengers. Before everything that marked them as they are.

 

This is different. This is something Loki is expecting and not dreading. Loki is expecting to die fighting Thanos and Thor will not allow it.

 

Thor moves to rub strong hands over Loki’s torso, kneading the pectorals and branching out to rub into the dips between the ribs. Wants Loki to feel Thor reaching inside him. He wants to pinch his breath away with careful fingers, only to replace it once more.

 

Loki’s hips are shifting upward the longer Thor digs his fingers into his sides. He moves down to rest his weight on Loki’s thighs and he can feel Loki’s erection straining against his backside. Loki gasps and rolls his hips. Thor smiles and keeps kneading the muscle and skin he finds.

 

When Thor dips his thumbs into the bowl of his pelvis, Loki cries out, hands flexing at his waist. Thor grinds back against Loki, rolling his hips.

 

Loki sobs out a breath. He bursts out, “Thor, I cannot let you want this when I am gone. It will rule you to know how close we can be. It will break you.”

 

Thor reaches back and presses two fingers to Loki’s length, slotting them together. Loki digs nails into his skin.

 

“You underestimate me.”

 

“I know how it is to suffer wanting and never having.”

 

“Who says you have to stop having?” Thor throws back at him. He cups Loki’s neck until Loki is looking up at him. “Who says you have to do this alone? You owe me nothing but to be here, with me. Be my brother again.”

 

“We aren’t brothers,” Loki says weakly, eyes wide, pained.

 

“You’re a fool to think that, after everything we’ve been through together,” Thor says. He smoothes fingers over Loki’s tangle of hair.

 

He lifts his hips slightly and can feel Loki prodding at his entrance. It’s wonderful pressure and he wants to push back, take Loki inside him.

 

Loki’s hips are twitching, his fingers flexing sporadic at Thor’s hip.

 

“And what if I do die?” Loki rushes out.

 

“I won’t let you die. Not again,” Thor breathes. Let me help you.

 

“Then what happens? After?”

 

Thor bares down, biting his tongue but keeping his eyes pinned to Loki’s. He wants Loki to see him. Loki’s control breaks finally and he snaps his hips upward, knocking the breath straight from Thor’s chest as their hips stack. It feels like Loki has filled him and it’s nearly too much.

 

Thor’s hips stutter and he rocks backward hard before lifting his weight on his knees, only to fall again. Loki is finally meeting him thrust for thrust.

 

“Then we have this, always,” Thor tells him. “We can have this every day.”

 

“To touch. To taste. To break—” Loki says, swearing when Thor squeezes around him. “What a lovely temptation.”

 

“Yes,” Thor breathes, falling forward to kiss his brother. “Yes.”

 

Thor spends the next two days in Loki’s lap, or on Loki’s face, or anything in between. When their stomachs roil, wanting food, they finally dress and get up to head to the kitchens. Thor leads them around the palace, telling Loki stories they both know. He lets them both relive the memories of their childhood, their stumbling years through adolescence, and beyond. But nothing after they reached maturity. Nothing after Thor held Mjolnir for the first time, and Loki found the feeling of jealousy so richly enticing to latch on beneath his breast.

 

Thor summons mighty storms to hover over Asgard’s farthest fields. They’re drier than most and can use the rain. But more than that, Thor uses it to scorch his skin with light.

 

Loki watches Thor bathe in lightning, feels the rumbling thunder settle deep in his bones to rattle and shake them apart.

 

He watches Thor for a day as Thor gathers what element he can to hold to his heart, his fist, his hammer.

 

Thor will not have the luxury of summoning weather when they go to where Thanos is. Loki remembers the place as a rock. His ship even more barren. Thanos will not dare grant his enemies the glimpse of nature.

 

Space is a cruelty.

 

Hela comes to them on the ninth day. Thor is glad they are walking the grounds when they’re summoned. Their skin is covered and it takes but a moment for them to summon their armor.

 

They wear their helmets for the first time in years. It’s a royal feeling in itself. Something carnal in both of them, to so embrace themselves.

 

Hela is a dark spot, robes still swirling shadow at her feet as they approach her before the Asbru.

 

“I have met Death and she is true to her name.” Thor’s gut sinks and Loki gawks.

 

Thor watches as Loki snaps, “What do you mean? The plan hasn’t failed, surely!”

 

“Hush. I merely mean she is what she is; a moment in time. Thanos is left alone. The needle only begs to be threaded.”

 

Loki gathers himself, sweat breaking along his brow. Thor can see a shiver rake his brother’s frame as he smoothes his hands over his chestplate; a show of nerves.

 

Loki is as anxious as Thor.

 

Thor grips his elbow, shifts Mjolnir’s light weight where he holds her at his side.

 

They will be fine.

 

Hela has graced them a shroud to step through, a portal of her own making so that Thanos will have no cause to suspect it is them come to seek him out.

 

Heimdall touches their shoulders as they pass, that they may have the protection of the son of nine mothers, nine sisters, strong at their backs.

 

Thanos’ hall is wide and open, staring out at stars and planets too foreign for Thor to name. It is a hall filled with light enough to reach each corner and somehow Thor had not expected that.

 

It is a spacious dome of a hall littered with grand things, and Thor knows he cannot name it as belonging to Thanos. At least, not entirely.

 

“The Mad Titan,” Loki whispers.

 

Thor looks to where Loki is facing.

 

Thanos is standing there, gazing out at the stars. He’s a titan indeed, large and indifferent to the two come to kill him.

 

He is gripping his palm tight and Loki flinches. When Thanos turns he is not smiling. He opens his palm and Thor sees a red glow reach Thanos’ wide chin.

 

The power gem.

 

“Dearest Loki, you brought me Thor. I had thought you’d forgotten.”

 

Loki levels glowing hands at Thanos’ head. Thor feels storm tickling up his spine.

 

“Your Mistress is dead,” Loki spits.

 

Thanos frowns and Thor can see red seep into the titan’s eyes.

 

He shoves Loki out of the way as a red javelin of light shoots through the air, straight through where Loki had been standing.

 

Thor surges upward and throws Mjolnir as hard as he can. It clips off Thanos’ elbow to embed in the hull. Thor calls her back and then he’s standing, feeling lightning crackle beneath his skin. But he waits.

 

Thanos waits until Loki is standing once more.

 

“Is Hela not to your liking, then? She brought Death down in a moment, I’m told. Such weakness is nothing in the face of ancient right.”

 

“Hela is but a woman cursed to a realm cold and dark. I’m told you sired her yourself. Does that not mean she has blood to weep. You certainly did enough of that while I had you here, chained to that rock—”

 

Thor sends a steady stream of lightning to hit Thanos in the chest. But it merely whirls around him, bathing him in an electric glow before it’s gone altogether. He smiles again but it’s full of teeth.

 

Loki meets Thor’s eyes and Thor knows they will have to follow Loki’s plan after all. He knows it can work. He knows they can live through it. He has to believe that.

 

Thor lets storm swallow him whole as he concentrates all that he’d stored up rain down on Thanos. It’s enough of a distraction for Loki to shroud himself from sight. Enough for Loki to get near enough to Thanos to withdraw a gem or two.

 

When Loki drops his shroud, Thor sees him pressing the soul gem to Thanos’ thick neck. Almost immediately Thor’s torrent ceases. He drops to his knees, exhausted.

 

But Loki’s eyes have rolled back in his skull and he is falling just as Thanos is.

 

When Thor stumbles over to them, he checks Thanos first. The giant is dead.

 

There are tears that fall to dapple Loki’s chestplate as he bends forward to listen for a heartbeat.

 

There is only silence.

 

Thor weeps, whispering for Heimdall to retrieve them and retrieve them the gatekeeper does.

 

Eir tells him Loki is not dead, merely gone. That his brother is a smart boy and will find his way back.

 

Thor has known the healer since he was a small boy. She’s held them both as babes, handed Thor to Frigga as soon as his nose was clear to breath air and suck in lungfuls of air to cry.

 

He wishes Loki would cry now. He wishes his brother would speak, would move, open his eyes.

 

But Loki is breathing and it is enough.

 

It is months before Thor can summon the strength to see his friends again. Months before he has the courage to leave Loki’s side through his recovery.

 

He has to keep calling it that.

 

Loki’s fingers twitch three months after Thanos was robbed of his soul, and Thor sleeps for three hours from relief alone.

 

He visits his friends and tells them not to worry. He visits Jane to say goodbye.

 

Thor has no plans for returning to their realm in the near future. Not unless Loki is well once more, or there is dire trouble indeed.

 

He knows Midgard will be safe in the hands of the Avengers. He trusts them.

 

And so he focuses on caring for his brother.

 

When Thor is running a washcloth down Loki’s chest, his nightly bath as Thor calls them, two of his fingers on his right hand curl. Thor is elated.

 

Eir says it will not be long.

 

It’s two years before Loki wakes up.

 

Thor is there, hovering above him when he does.

 

Loki’s vision clears to see Thor’s bright blue eyes shining with tears, and his first thought is that he failed to die. Again. He’s caused Thor yet more heartache simply for not dying.

 

But then Thor is sobbing into the curve of his neck, shaking with relieved gasps and whispered words, calling Loki’s name and oh, Loki, love, my brother, you’re fine, you’re going to be alright and he thinks it’s not such a bad thing, to be alive.

 

Maybe he did one thing right.