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A Milder March

Chapter Text

Space. The endless abyss. The great darkness. The Void. Whatever you wished to call it, depending on how poetic you were feeling at the moment (or how pretentious). Loki hated it. With a passion.

Far too intimately did he now know the feeling of being without breath, of a lack of air to breathe. The way darkness—true darkness—crept insidiously in, seeping in through the eyes to crawl in and make itself home in every crack and cranny of the mind, replacing every coherent thought with gibbering madness. The soul-shattering properties of silence. And the cold. It burrowed inside of him, wrapping itself around his bones so even now he could not shake it (if it wasn't simply his nature, that was). The chill was a part of him now, and the darkness, and the silence. The lack of breath. The Void was bound now to Loki's being. Forever.

Loki avoided the windows. He hated the windows. It was enough knowing they were surrounded by a neverending nothing, he did not have to see it. The mischief-maker insisted on a room without them, and Thor obliged, confused though his was. Loki wasn't sure whether to be grateful or exasperated that Thor didn't seem to realize why he so disliked the view. He settled on indifferent. He stayed toward the center of the ship, made every excuse he could think of to stay away from the windows. The one point where he was forced to compromise his staunch aversion to the windows was in the so-called Revengers' meeting place. A small lounge at the head of the ship, directly above the vessel's control room. With a full-wall window.

He was fairly sure they thought he was keeping his eyes on the door, not his back to the window. He preferred it that way.

Unfortunately, he couldn't avoid it forever. Couldn't always keep his back to the windows. Couldn't pretend he would never see the Void ever again. Such a thought was naive and idiotic and Loki was not in the business of being either. So he made up his mind to face his fear, and overcome it. Mind over matter, the mortals would say. His mind was his strongest asset—he would not fail.

 

That was quite naive.

 

Loki kept his gaze on the floor, hair falling over his face in a loose curtain to shield him from the black. He planted his feet, set his shoulders, and looked up. Loki fixed his eyes in the center of the window, and breathed. There were stars. There hadn't been stars when he was falling. Focus on the stars. Loki imagined a name for each star, trying to make out which were giants or dwarves, red or yellow or white or blue, with inhabited planets or empty systems. But the ship was moving rather quickly, and he scarcely had time to sight a star before it was gone from view. It reminded him of falling.

Very abruptly, Loki couldn't breathe. He crumbled to the floor, knees buckling under him as he eased to the ground. This was fine. He was fine. He couldn't look away from the dark. Black crept in on the edges of his vision, slowly blotting out the stars. He couldn't hear. There was no sound. It was cold. It was so, so, cold, and he was falling, and he was screaming but he could not hear himself. He held his hands in front of his face and could not see them. The Void was in his bones, and it had come to take him back. If he had ever left.

"Loki! Loki!"

Thor's face floated above him in the sea of black. "Loki, look at me. Listen to me. You have to breathe, brother. Take a breath."

Loki shook his head, frantic. He couldn't... he couldn't breathe, there was no air, this was only a hallucination, his collapsing, oxygen-starved mind grasping at straws in a feeble attempt at comfort. Thor's face faded away.

"LOKI!"

Hands were on his shoulders, hauling him up, spinning him around. Shaking him back and forth. "Loki, listen to me. Breathe. You have to breathe, brother!" The grip on his shoulders grew tight. It hurt, and Loki gasped, involuntarily. Air flooded into his lungs. "Good, good job. Good job, Loki. Take another breath, now." The trickster obeyed. Gradually, the world faded back into view. Thor crouched in front of him, a hand cupping his younger brother's neck, barely disguised terror and relief playing on his face. "Just breathe," Thor coaxed with a trembling half-smile. Concentrating on filling his lungs, Loki let Thor manhandle him, pulling him up and dumping him onto the couch, propping him against the armrest. A blanket was thrown over him, a pillow stuffed behind his back.

Loki took the glass of water Thor handed him, and sipped at it slowly between hiccuping breaths. Still in survival mode, his body was trying frantically to gulp in as much air as possible, until he grew light-headed.

He caught a glimpse of the window. His breathing speed back up again. Then, Thor stepped to block his view, reaching out to pry the empty glass from Loki's hands and set it on the floor. "Ssh," the thunderer soothed. "You're safe, brother. Take a deep breath, and let it out slow." The brothers sat together in the quiet as Loki's breathing evened out. When he no longer felt as though he was about to fall apart at the seams, the silvertongue cleared his throat.

"I apologize for—"

"Loki," Thor interrupted, "shut up." His one-eyed glare softened. "Don't apologize. You did nothing wrong."

Loki hummed, eyeing Thor dubiously. "Even so, you shouldn't have to play nursemaid to me."

"I don't mind," Thor smiled. Again, his face smoothed into solemnity. "You didn't tell me the Void bothered you." Loki began to open his mouth. "Don't say it's no big deal, it is very clearly not." He shut it again. Thor sighed, combing a hand up through his shorn hair. "I should have realized. I'm sorry, brother."

"You did nothing to apologize for," Loki murmured in return, loosely echoing Thor's earlier words. "It is my problem, not yours. I can handle it by myself."

"You can," Thor agreed, startling his brother, "but you don't have to. I'm here."

Unable to help the small smile that curled over his lips, a reminder of the conversation that took place in that very room, Loki ducked his head and allowed his hair to form a natural shield against his older brother's scrutiny. "Well then," he said lightly, rather at a loss for words. Thor laughed warmly, like he knew exactly what Loki was thinking.

Suddenly, there were arms around him. "Thor? What are doing?" Loki questioned cautiously, still trying to wipe the smile from his face.

Thor's reply was cheerful. "Giving you a hug."

Chapter Text

The ocean of Asgard was not a tame place. Not that any part of Asgard could conceivably be called tame, but the seas were the prime example—the deadly edge to Asgard's golden beauty. Get caught in the currents, and you would be pulled to the edge of the world, to plummet into the Void and death. The water was wild and freezing cold, not to mention liable to be stirred up into a fearsome frenzy at any moment if Thor got in a temper. Consequently, Loki never much considered the ocean. It was there, and that was all there was to it.

And then Thor got it into his head to go swimming. In Asgard's ocean.

"Absolutely not," Loki said flatly, not looking up from his book. "Are you out of your mind?"

"Please, brother," Thor wheedled, "we've hardly ever seen the ocean!"

Loki scoffed. "We see it every day, Thor, it's right outside. If you mean swim in it, go to Vanaheim. Or Alfheim! Some place with an ocean that isn't colder than a frost giant's corpse!"

"It's an adventure!" Thor pleaded, unmoved. "Come on, brother!" Out of the corner of his eye, Loki saw the thunderer's expression suddenly morph from cajoling to smug. "Or are you too afraid?" Instantly, Loki stiffened. He could feel his face growing red as Thor blathered on and on, an arrogant little smirk on his lips. "—frightened of a little water? A little chill? Are you truly so cowardly as all that? I suppose I could ask Sif in your place, if you truly are so opposed to a slight challenge for once in—"

"Enough!" Loki snapped, jumping to his feet. Slamming his book shut with a gesture, the trickster fixed Thor with him most lethal glare. "Lead on, then," he all but hissed through gritted teeth. Thor's sneer widened, and then dropped away, to be replaced by pure, childish glee. 

"It shall be fun, you'll see!" Thor said blithely, grabbing Loki by the wrist and dragging the silvertongue in his wake. Loki growled.

 

Thor chose a spot on Asgard's far side, a small cliff overlooking a sleek little cove and a mockery of a beach to one side—a multitude of pebbles in a thin stip hardly large enough to stand on without being hit by the tides. Waves slammed against the sheer wall of the cliff, crashing in snow-white sprays that reached all the way up to where they stood at the edge of the cliff. The smell of salt was strong in the air, almost unbearably so. Loki licked his lips and made a face when he tasted salt. Unpleasant.

Adrenaline-driven creature that he was, Thor was already stripping down as Loki stood in place, debating the merits of simply forgoing the whole thing in favor of the tome on transfiguration spells he'd recently acquired from Alfheim's Great Library. A lack of desire for humiliation won out. Loki grimaced and bent to remove his boots.

"Come on!" Thor roared, beaming. A crazed smile split his face, and then he turned and leapt off of the cliff with a whoop. Wrinkling his nose in distaste, Loki finished on the buckles of one boot and moved to the other. He could undress with magic, quite easily in fact, but he wished to delay the inevitable plunge as long as possible, and so he did it manually. It had been so long since he'd bothered with disrobing without seidr that Loki found himself fumbling at times, having to wrack his brain for the correct way to undo minute fastenings and remove complicated pieces of armor. Unlike Thor, who had tossed his armor into a loose pile and left it at that, the mischief-maker took care to arrange his armor neatly and stack his boots on top so nothing would blow away.

A hand shot up over the edge of the cliff. Loki's head jerked up, as another hand appeared, and then Thor dragged himself upward and propped his elbows up on the bare rock, soaking wet and grinning like a mad thing. Squiggly locks of wet hair clung to the side of his face and neck, one strand partially blocking his eye. "Hurry up!" Thor shouted over the roar of the surf. Straightening his arms and pushing off, the bedraggled prince plummeted with a delighted roar.

Loki cast one last longing look over his shoulder, in the direction of the place, and then jumped off of the cliff. Where Thor fell in a whirlwind of flailing limbs, Loki dove like a hawk, slipping into the water headfirst with nary a sound. The world quieted as he plunged under, and then the younger prince surfaced with a gasp and the noise of the surf buffeting his ears. "It's freezing!" Loki screeched, churning his arms and legs to stay above the surface. He spluttered as a wave hit him in the face, and went under again.

"It's fine!" Thor yelled as Loki coughed the water out of his lungs, and immediately was smacked with another faceful.

Loki answered in a garbled, livid shriek cut short as he swallowed a large gulp of the frigid water when yet another wave broke against his face. "It is not fine!" he finally managed to holler in return before being tugged back under. Thor knew that Loki hated the cold. Something about being chilled... the cold sunk into his bones and brought with it a primal sensation of loneliness and fear he couldn't ignore. Loki was always cold when he woke from a nightmare.

The waves were huge, the falls at the edge of the planet filled his ears, the water was like ice, and in the time it took to blink, Loki became very, very afraid. The water pulled him under.

It was dark. Dark, and quiet. Loki panicked and drew in a burning gulp of water, pulling the cold further inside of himself. He tried to swim, but in his fear he had forgotten which way was up and he was too disoriented to remember to look for bubbles or, better yet, turn himself into a fish. Black crept in on the edges of his vision.

Something was touching him, grabbing him, wrestling him away from the grip of the currents. Loki coughed desperately as he surfaced, spitting seawater and choking as he tried to draw in breath. Tears streamed down his face to mix with the ocean around him. Squeezing his eyes shut, Loki stopped struggling to stay afloat. "I have you," Thor's voice said. Loki kept his eyes closed as he was pulled ashore.

Thor dragged Loki up onto the pitiful excuse for a beach and pounded him on the back. After vomiting up seawater several times, Loki collapsed, naked and shivering and sobbing, on the slick, skittering floor of pebbles. "Ssh, shh," Thor soothed. A heavy hand rested on the back of his neck, another carding through soaking ebony locks. "It's alright, brother. You're safe. I have you."

The golden prince hauled Loki further up the coast, into the treeline, and propped him up against a huge old oak, nestled between the roots. What seemed like moments later, Thor returned, a bundle of garments in his arms. Briskly, he toweled Loki off with the trickster's cape and dressed him in his tunic and trousers. Thor wrapped Loki in his own scarlet cape, and stepped back to dress. Loki buried his nose in Thor's cape—it smelled like his brother—and watched as Thor hurriedly dried and dressed himself before returning to Loki's side.

Strong, tree-like arms curled around Loki's shaking form and held him close, and Thor's nose was buried in his dripping raven curls. Like a child, Loki leaned into his brother's hold and gripped Thor's cape tight in both hands. Hot tears slid slowly down his face, and as he dried and the wind began to pick up, the mischief-maker's teeth started to chatter. Only a very small part of him was gibbering about pride and pulling himself together—the rest of him was cold and lonely and frightened and relished being held and comforted by his big brother.

"I am so sorry, brother," Thor whispered, though Loki almost didn't pick it up over the sound of his teeth chattering. “So terribly, terribly, sorry.”

Eventually, Loki ran out of tears to cry. He let Thor help him up the cliff, and sat shivering on the rocks as Thor gathered up their armor and crammed it into their saddlebags. The elder prince tied a rope around the neck of Loki’s horse and tied the other end to the saddle of his own, and then turned back to rummage through the saddlebags. Thor found his prize and spun back around again, crouching down and grabbing Loki’s hand to wrap the slender, trembling fingers around a small flask. “Drink,” Thor pressed, and Loki obeyed. It was filled with spiced wine, kept warm through a rune carved into the flask. A small ember of warmth grew inside him as the prince drank.

Easing the flask from Loki’s hand once he’d drained it all, Thor helped his brother up into the saddle and sat down behind him. Loki’s mare trailed behind as Thor set off in a slow canter.

Even with the warm wine in his belly and Thor’s cape around him, the air rushing by quickly rebuilt the chill in his core. Loki closed his eyes and leaned back against Thor’s chest as his shivering resumed. The ride would be a few hours at minimum.

After an indeterminable amount of time—at least to Loki—the chill morphed into heat, and he trembled for another reason.

”Loki? Brother?” Thor whispered. Loki whimpered. The horse slowed to a stop, and a warm hand came to rest on his forehead. “Oh, little brother, you’re fevered!” Thor’s voice was heavy with guilt. Dizzy and tired, Loki kept his eyes closed as Thor babbled on, searching through the saddlebags—“there must a blanket somewhere, I would swear it,”—and then something soft and warm was being wrapped around him. Loki curled his fingers in the fabric and sighed, turning his head to nuzzle into his big brother’s chest. They resumed traveling, and the motion lulled Loki into slumber.

Loki was hardly conscious when Thor carried him into the palace, though he was aware enough to notice that Thor was avoiding the main hallways and taking shortcuts where he could, until they reached Loki’s room. His shivering eased slightly when Thor tucked him into bed and buried him under a mountain of blankets. A warm hand cupped his cheek, and Loki opened bleary eyes to stare at his older brother’s worried face. “Sleep,” Thor instructed. After a moment of hesitation, he bent down and pressed his lips to Loki’s forehead. Loki’s eyelashes fluttered and a well of warmth grew in his chest. He was asleep by the time Thor had shut the door.

 


 

Several centuries later

 

It wasn’t even a planet that they stopped to refuel on. A moon, around a third of the size of Midgard, orbiting an entirely uninhabitable planet of noxious gasses. It was almost entirely water, with only one true continent and a multitude of islands scattered willy-nilly. Run by a constitutional monarchy, though many of the islands were self-governing, the economy was unsurprising based on fishing. A welcome change from the string of sleazy planets they’d been forced to stop on.

The inhabitants of the moon, all rose-skinned and willowy-limbed, with large, finlike ears and gleaming obsidian eyes, were quite curious about their visitors. A gaggle of children followed at a distance as they browsed the market, giggling behind ruddy hands and daring each other to get closer and closer to the alien visitors. Loki and Val did most of the haggling—Thor and Bruce spent more time looking around at their surroundings, or more accurately, at the natives. They came in every shade from pale red to faded maroon, and seemed to bronze when tanned. They all moved with a fluid grace—like they were swimming instead of walking, Thor finally realized.

Chewing on his lip as he watched his younger brother charm a merchant into lowering his prices, Thor finally convinced himself that it would be alright if he turned his back for a minute. The instinct to watch for trouble, created after bartering on a long streak of squalid planets run by large crime syndicates, shrilled at the back of his mind as the thunderer wandered over to a stall hawking a wide variety of jewelry, made from a dazzling array of shells and stones in bright colors. Thor fingered a necklace of smooth, uniform azure beads, brushed with flecks of something golden that made them shimmer in the sunlight. The shade of blue was almost identical to the Valkyriors' traditional capes.

"What'cha looking at?" Bruce asked, wandering over. A huddle of children stood a few feet behind him, chattering excitedly. Bruce turned to give them a quick grin, and they all beamed. Thor lifted his hand in a wave.

"This," Thor told Bruce, handing over the necklace as one of the girls crept closer, something clutched tight in her left hand. She held it out to Thor with a shy smile, and he automatically grinned back as he took it. It was a flower, a bright, cheddar yellow in color, with five large petals that curled upwards in a small trumpet and then out around a magenta center.

"A gylicopi," she told him, playing with a fistful of her coppery hair. "It's a blessing-flower."

"Thank you," Thor said, sincerely. On a whim, he tucked the flower behind his ear. Blushing bright orange, she ran away with her friends.

"Looks like Val's cape," Bruce said when Thor turned back. After a moment of confusion, he held up the beads, and Thor nodded.

"Do you think we could get it?" Thor asked, "I don't want to waste funds... and I don't think she's the jewelry type."

Bruce winced in agreement. "Probably not. She might deck you if you tried to give it to her." Thor put the beads back on the display with a sigh, nodding to the seller as he turned away.

Together, they walked back towards where Loki had moved on to another stall, smiling brightly and laughing as he convinced a merchant who sold dried fruit to give him several bushels for an obscenely low price. Further down, Val was in another merchant's face, looking like she was about to climb over the table to throttle the man. Finishing the deal, Loki turned away, smiling when he caught sight of Thor. "I got a bunch of great deals," he said happily. "We should be set for food for another few weeks. I arranged for everything to be brought to the Statesman this evening." Suddenly, his eyebrows drew together. "You have a flower in your hair," he remarked, clearly confused.

Thor laughed. "One of the local kids gave it to me. She said it was a blessing flower."

"Their species is the Rikamyinun," Loki informed him.

"Let's go swimming," Bruce said.

"What?" Both brothers turned to him, startled by the non-sequitur.

"We can't leave till the evening, right?" Bruce gestured to Loki. "It's midday now, and we have nothing to do. Do you really want to wait on the ship all day?"

A thoughtful expression on his face, Loki nodded. "Why not?"

Thor bit back his instinctive refusal as he watched the silvertongue's face. "We haven't been swimming in centuries," Thor tried.

Loki shrugged. "High time then, isn't it?"

The king trailed behind as Bruce and Loki settled the situation with Val and the merchant, and then talked her into going for a swim. It wasn't difficult—Val was obviously eager to stay off of the Statesman for as long as possible. Loki gave Thor a smile as they headed for the beaches.

The last time they'd been swimming was around three centuries ago. Loki might not recall, but Thor did—quite vividly, at that. When Loki dipped under the wild swells yet again, Thor had swum for him, intent on pulling Loki the shallower waters. Only Loki hadn't surfaced again by the time Thor reached where he'd last seen his brother. He dove under, and searched, trying not to panic. It took him far too long to find Loki, limp and still, mouth slightly open, and in that moment Thor had been certain that Loki was dead, drowned, and it was his fault. Somehow, he managed to drag Loki back to shore and safety. The entire time, Thor was terrified out of his skull, but Loki seemed too frightened himself to notice Thor's fear. Loki became feverish on the ride back to the palace, and was hardly conscious when Thor finally got him to bed. For a week and a half after, Loki was stuck in his bed, searing with fever and fighting for breath after developing a lung infection. Thor had refused to leave Loki's side for the duration of his illness.

Loki had seemed so small, Thor recalled, when he dragged him out of the water. Weak as a kitten and shaking like a leaf, with ebony hair plastered close to his skull, tears flooding down his cheeks, Loki had hardly seemed more than a child. It had hit Thor with startling strength that Loki wasn't yet an adult. Not a child, yes, but not an adult, not like Thor was. Still young. And Thor, as the eldest, was supposed to keep him safe.

Thor snorted. He'd never kept Loki safe, not from anything. His protection was a joke.

At the shoreline, pale peach sand stretched as far as the eye could see, glittering in the sun. Where the aqua tide hit the sands, the ground was a dull, red-tinted orange. Scarlet birds wheeled overhead, sometimes dipping down and soaring up again with silver fish clamped in their hooked beaks. "Hurry up!" Val yelled back at him, yanking her breastplate over her head. Loki splashed her and ran, laughing, into the ocean as she shrieked bloody murder and sprinted after him. She tacked him into the waves and they both surfaced dripping wet and laughing. Plucking a bit of seaweed out of his hair, the mischief-maker turned to look back where Thor stood, frozen on the shore.

"The water's fine!" he shouted, and then yelped as Val shoved him back down again.

Loki and Val continued their wrestling in the water as Bruce slowly waded in, laughing at the both of them. Hesitantly, Thor unfastened his cape. Like the others, he removed only his armor, not taking off his regular clothing. He tucked the gylicopi flower in the pile he made of his armor before slowly approaching the ocean. Thor stood at the edge of the sea, and the tide crept up to brush over his toes, before whisking out again. The next wave to come ashore covered all of his feet. Thor curled his toes and burrowed them into the wet sand, watching as the sand smoothed again when he stepped aside, as if it had never been touched.

Thor's eyes alit on Loki and Val when he looked up from his feet. They were waist-deep in the water, both trying to splash the other while avoiding being hit themselves. Loki was winning, at least until Val ducked under the water. A startled expression flashed over his face, and then Val stood up, face triumphant, Loki's ankle clamped in one hand. His other foot hit her in the stomach, causing her to let go. Thor relaxed again when Loki surfaced, lunging and body-slamming the Valkyrie into the water.

"You coming in?" Bruce called, wading over. He had a shell in hand, and he waved it at Thor as he slogged through the water. "Check this out! I've never seen a shell shaped like this before!"

Grinning at his friend's enthusiasm, Thor took a few steps forward, into the ocean proper. The water was warm, the waves gentle and turquoise instead of harsh and almost black. Light danced on the seafloor, easily visible through the startlingly clear water. Overhead, a bird called to one of its friends. A group of Rikamyinun played in the water further down the beach, and colorful canoes and larger sailboats dotted the ocean. Thor allowed himself to relax. "Yeah," he said, "I'm coming in."

Chapter Text

Whatever else they might be, the woods were first and foremost one thing to Loki—an escape. When the rest of the world became too much, the forest outside the palace was his sanctuary. After centuries of exploration, he knew every tree and flower, every stone and den and dip in the earth, every path natural and man-made. The woods were his. Further, he knew the wilds of Asgard much more intimately than any other on Asgard ever could—he'd met no one else who shared his innate shapeshifting talents. He knew the woods not just as a man. As a mouse, a hare, a squirrel, a fox, a stag, a bear, a hawk, an owl, and a snake he knew them. If he didn't want to be found in the forest, there was no way for anyone to find him.

That day, Loki chose to venture out as a magpie. Thor had been unbearable during breakfast, and Loki was experienced enough to know exactly what was coming next—an 'invitation' on some hare-brained quest to go kill something big and ugly or otherwise endanger their lives, preferably with pretty girls watching. He would make a plan, Thor would laugh and charge in like an enraged bull, smashing everything in his way and making an utter mess. Sif would show off in increasingly dramatic ways trying to get Thor's attention, and Thor wouldn't notice, no matter how low her shirt or tight her breastplate. (Loki had a feeling Thor was utterly unaware that Sif was in actuality a female in anything beyond name) The Warriors Three would follow Thor's every whim, they would nearly die, Loki would save them all from their own stupidity, and then they would find a pub for Volstagg to gorge himself, Fandral and Thor to thoroughly embellish their adventures and flirt with everything in a skirt, and Sif to practically prostrate herself for Thor's attention as Hogun brooded in the corner.

Loki made his escape the minute his mother allowed him to leave the table.

Even with all the sounds of animals moving in the underbrush, birds calling and brooks babbling and wind rustling leaves, the forest was quiet in a way that the palace never was. There was just as much a sense of life as in the palace and the city beyond it, but it was a different sort. Much more orderly. Many held the opinion that the outdoors were messy and chaotic. Loki had to disagree. Untouched life could be wild and dangerous, most certainly, but there was order to it. Patterns and structures and a complete lack of complications. There was no morality in nature, no disputes about right and wrong or bids for glory or stifling expectations. The outdoors... it was as it was, and that was that. The day to day might be different, but the underlying currents of life and death and rebirth kept on anyway. There was no chaos in nature. And Loki thought he was quite enough of an expert on chaos to be able to judge such, if he did say so himself.

Almost never did Loki go to the woods as the same creature twice in a row. Every set of eyes saw things differently. Even a robin and a swallow saw the world in a different way. As well as Loki knew the forest, he also knew there was more for him to learn every time he entered, every time he took a different shape.

Lost in internal grumblings at Thor's bullish idiocy, it took longer than it typically would for Loki to realize something was off in the forest. He swooped to land on a tree branch and stood stock still, fluffing his feathers slightly as he listened to the noises of the forest. No birds were chirping. Nothing was moving about in the bushes or hopping through the trees. There was only one thing that could silence the forest so completely—something big was on the move.

Loki dove down from the tree, feathers receding to be replaced with russet fur as he fell. He landed lightly on the forest floor as a fox, and tipped his nose upwards to scent the air. In this form, it was even easier to tell that something was off. The scents of the forest were all wrong. Fear-scent was strong in the air, and... Loki sniffed again. He smelled... horses. And men. Asgardian men and their horses. With a thought, he shrank, and fur turned from red to black. Loki stood up on his hindquarters to get his bearings again in his new squirrel form, and then scrambled up the nearest tree. Camouflaged against the tree bark, Loki crouched, and took off in a running leap. From tree to tree he bounded, following snapped branches and disturbed earth as the scents grew stronger—sweat and steel and ale in equal measures, as most Asgardians smelled, and the scents of horses tangled in with men.

He heard them before he saw them, not that they were making an effort to be quiet. Once within earshot, it was easy to find the intruders. Five particularly burly Aesir men, surrounded by a pack of hunting dogs that confirmed Loki's guess about what exactly a group of Asgardians were doing in the forest. Many generations of warriors had stomped out any truly dangerous wildlife—if one wanted to fight dragons or manticores, they'd have to go to another realm. It was somewhat ironic, that a realm of warriors had no true dangers posed to it, natural or otherwise. Those who wished a fight had to go looking for it. Suffice to say, there was no purpose to head into the forest armed unless it was on a hunt.

Loki pouted slightly—a strange expression on a squirrel—as he listened to the group bellow a bawdy drinking song with abandon. Within him, the urge grew to do something nasty to the hunters who had utterly ruined his plans for a peaceful day alone in the woods. His ire only grew when the men stopped singing—and began discussing their plans for the hunt.

"My stag shall be displayed in the foyer! I do not doubt I will find a beauty."

"If you wish beauty," another man scoffed, clapping the first speaker on the back with a meaty hand, "look for a doe. Myself, I will fell the largest stag in all of Asgard—one with antlers the span of two men's armlengths and a temper worse than the crown prince!"

Idiots. Loki's lip curled. They weren't hunting out of need for food, they were hunting for sport. For glory. They wouldn't catch anything, to be certain, not with all the racket they were making, but they did do quite a fine job at ruining Loki's day. If he'd wanted to hang around a pack of brutes with more muscles than common sense, he would have stayed in the palace to be dragged on whatever quest Thor had come up with. Down below, the warriors had begun arguing about who's sword was the finest. Warriors. At least hunters had the sense to stay quiet and carry bows and arrows. Warriors, on the other hand, only wanted the thrill of shed blood and another story to tell. Even though they were bound to catch a grand total of absolutely nothing, Loki was certain that they'd be bragging about the hundreds of bears they battled to the death in a pub by the time the sun set on their 'adventure.'

Without warning, a plan struck Loki, full force. If he could smirk as a squirrel, he would. They wanted an adventure, did they not? He would give them one.

Some minutes later, the largest stag any of the men had ever seen jumped into their path. It was almost ridiculously muscled, midnight black with gleaming red eyes and two sharp fangs protruding from its mouth. It had great, branching antlers that were white as snow. They sparkled in the sunlight as it tipped its' head at the Asgardians, seemingly curious. Before any of them had time to draw their swords, it bounded off.

Internally, Loki laughed as the men raced after him on the horses, each one shouting about what a trophy he would make on their walls. Though his antlers were ridiculously huge, they never once hit a tree branch, while behind him again and again his pursuers were smashed in the face by tree branches growing conveniently at eye level. He led them through rivers their horses had to swim through whilst he trotted easily across, over mountains that shifted under their feet and through bramble thickets that left them looking like they developed the chickenpox with all the small cuts the thorns made. He ran them through itching-ivy and sneezing flowers and swarms of biting bugs while they cursed at him and pursued with all the more determination. Time after time, Loki let the men think they had him, only to race ahead again and drag them through a huge mud puddle or a narrow passage through the mountains their horses could hardly fit into.

When all five men were insensate with rage, only able to bellow and wave their swords in the air threateningly, with leaves tangled in beards and twigs caught in hair, covered in bug bites and thorns stuck where the sun didn't shine, wet and grimy and with nothing to show for their pursuits, it was nearly nightfall. Loki led them through one more winding passage, at the end of which he transformed back into a magpie and watched as they raced out, only to fume when their prize was nowhere in sight. Another hour of fruitless searching took place before they headed home, weary and defeated. So tired were they, not one noticed that none of the horses had a scratch on them, and the hunting dogs weren't even panting.

Loki flew back to the city ahead of the group. When they arrived, he watched from the shadows, as himself again, as they babbled about monster deer and made themselves seem as utter fools. Several were dragged home by their ears by angry housewives berating them for stupidity and engaging in too much drink. When the traffic on the streets returned to normal, all the men gone home to nurse their wounded pride with ale and women, Loki allowed himself to smile.

It had been a good day after all.

Chapter Text

If there is one thing every magician knows, it is this—magic requires focus. To lack focus when performing a spell is to fail the spell, at best. Every student of seidr learns first and foremost how to focus their thoughts and direct their magic correctly. Before any spells are ever performed, a child new to the art will practice calling their seidr, holding it, directing it to form patterns and shapes in the air until their control was perfect. Even at five hundred and seventy-two, Loki was far beyond tracing letters or drawing flowers with his seidr. It had taken him hardly a month to master control, and only that long because his mother insisted he wait to try any real spells. Loki was certain he could have been performing proper magic within a week.

Mother had just finished their magic lesson for the day, and left Loki in his room to practice, as long as he promised to be cautious. Of course he'd be careful. He wasn't Thor. Loki had read far too many stories of spells gone wrong, from books he technically wasn't supposed to be reading. Many of the most dangerous spells in grown-up spellbooks came with tales of what happened when a mage made a mistake in its performance. He most definitely wouldn't try any of those without the proper precautions.

When he was sure that Mother was gone, Loki scampered across his room and lunged under the bed. He wiggled back out with a spellbook in his grasp—a large, dusty old thing with worn leather and peeling binding, the letters on the cover worn smooth with time so Loki could just barely make out what they said. He plopped the book down on the floor and laid down on his stomach, holding his chin in one hand while he flipped the cover open with the other. Last night he'd taken the book from the library, making sure to grab the biggest one he could find. It was almost as thick as the length from his fingers to his elbow! Luckily he knew several spells to lighten things or he wouldn't have been able to carry it back to his room to study.

Kicking his feet lazily in the air, Loki perused the table of contents, looking for a spell that seemed interesting. He couldn't wait for when he knew enough magic to make his own spells, but for now he had to content himself with Mother's lessons and borrowed spellbooks. Fire spells—he knew those already. Mother had taught him. Light spells—those were eaaasy. Shapeshifting—he didn't need a spell for that! He could do it by himself, and had been since he was a baby. Loki was only one hundred and two when he had shapeshifted the first time, Mother had told him. He was much bigger now. Transfiguration—he was learning that. Levitation—as easy as breathing. Loki didn't need a spell for that either! Invisibility—Loki snorted. That was simply a different class of light spell. Still simple.

Of course, all the spells had pretentious names—Einrih's Enchanting Inferno, Oydis' Rejuvenating Heartflame, The Charm of Ethereal Incandescence. Loki wouldn't give any of his spells frivolous names, he would give them practical names. And he wouldn't put his name in them either. Thor would if he was interested in magic, but not Loki. His spells would be published by him, Prince Loki. It would be ridiculous and redundant to put his name in the title as well.

Just as Loki was beginning to despair of finding anything interesting to try, a spell caught his eye. He found the correct page with his seidr, and his entire face lit up. A scrying spell! He hadn't attempted one before. Mother said they were quite arduous and a mage must have tremendous focus to complete one successfully and see what they actually desired. And that didn't include visions of the future or past. Scrying spells couldn't do that, only those born with the knack could see into different times, and most of them couldn't control what the saw, or even whether they looked back or forward. The Time Stone was the only thing Loki had ever heard of that could be used to reliably see whatever time a wielder wished. Loki didn't have the knack for seeing in time, which was so unfair. Mother, Father, and Thor all did, though Thor ignored his power like the oaf he was.

Putting aside his spike of jealousy, Loki leaned forward and read the directions. The spell seemed simple enough—like Mother said, all he truly required was concentration. And a reflective surface.

Loki jumped up and fetched a small bowl from the washroom, filling it with water and setting it on the floor in front of the book. He dropped to the floor, crossing his legs and looking over the spell again. Until he felt ready to complete the spell, Loki mouthed the instructions to himself. When he was assured of his preparedness, Loki lifted up his hands to cast, and frowned. He didn't know what he wished to scry! Huffing in frustration, Loki closed his eyes and wracked his brain for something he wished to scry for. The vault was his first idea, but it was protected by anti-scrying spells and he would be in much trouble if he was caught trying to scry on it without permission. He dismissed a string of other ideas before settling finally on scrying for a dragon. Loki had never seen a real one, just illustrations, and those weren't always reliable. 

Flicking his eyes back over the spell once more to quickly refresh his memory, Loki once again prepared to cast. This time, he didn't stop, instead calling his seidr, feeling it, preparing to shape it like a smith did metal. Hands glowing green and his eyes blazing with a hidden light, Loki began the spell by reciting the rune for clear sight, followed by memory, focus, and concentration. Hands glowing emerald green wove in the air as Loki spoke the words of the spell, keeping his eyes carefully fixed on the bowl of water in front of him. As he watched, the surface began to mist over, slowly turning to a cloudy white. A dragon, Loki chanted in his mind, I want to see a dragon. He almost squealed and lost the spell when a flash of scarlet appeared in the water. It swirled and almost vanished, but brightened again when Loki furrowed his eyebrows and thought nothing but dragon dragon dragon dragon dragon. He didn't let himself become excited, even when hues of orange, black, and gold joined the red, even when the smears of color began to morph into a four-legged shape, even when wings started to unfurl...

"Loki!" The door to his room banged open. Loki shrieked, half in surprise in half and rage, and scrambled as the bowl he was using to scry burst apart. A jet of water shot up to the ceiling as shards of porcelain were flung every which way across the room.

"Now look what you've done, you great idiot!" Loki yelled crossly, folding his arms and stamping his foot. "You ruined my spell!"

Thor snorted. "Seidr is a woman's art, Loki, and it's boring besides."

Glaring poisonously, Loki stomped across the room to shove at his brother's barrel-like chest. When Thor didn't even blink, Loki spun around so the older prince wouldn't see the tears gathering his eyes. "Well now everything is a mess," Loki growled when he could speak without crying, "and the fault belongs to you, so you will help me clean it."

Thor laughed, reaching out to ruffle Loki's ebony hair and ignoring his indignant squawk as he tried to duck away. "Can't you clean it up with your tricks?" Thor asked as Loki frantically smoothed his hair down again. "It is simply... what, a broken bowl and a bit of water? Or can your tricks not fix such a thing?"

"I can!" Loki huffed.

Raising an eyebrow, Thor nodded to the puddle on the floor. "Then do so."

Loki curled his hands into fists, ducking his head to hide the angry tears once again filling his eyes. "Very well," he said gruffly. He knelt by the puddle on the ground and evaporated the water with a heat spell, and then used a restoration spell on one of the shards of the bowl, to pull it back together. When he turned back to his big brother, Thor was beaming.

"Come now, brother," he enthused, "Adventure awaits!" He surged forward and grabbed Loki by the wrist, already explaining in great detail his next plot. Loki glanced longingly at the spellbook on the floor, and then shut the door behind him with a flick of his wrist.

Chapter Text

Really, the Norns hated him. Loki was positively sure of this. Why else would he get miserably sick in the height of summer, during Asgard's liveliest festival, with his mother away visiting relatives on Vanaheim? While the whole of Asgard was out in the streets, celebrating the summer solstice in a grand festival that lasted a full week, Loki was shivering in bed, wrapped in blankets and trying to tune out the noise from the city.

On a normal day, nothing could be heard from the streets. With all of Asgard out in full force, however, minstrels playing their liveliest tunes while merchants hawked their wares and warriors battled for sport as parades wove through the streets, the cacophony reached all the way up to Loki's bedroom, and he was far too tired to cast a spell to cancel out the noise. Per his father's orders, periodically a servant would duck in to check on him, before hurrying back out to the festival. None of them cared to be stuck inside looking after the weakling second prince while the Festival of Summer was going on right outside. The king of Asgard could not be absent from the festivities, certainly not to, what—care for his disappointment of a second son? A laugh.

With Mother gone from Asgard to celebrate with her family for the first time since the birth of her eldest child (the king could never pick up and leave with his family during one of Asgard's most important holidays, after all), Loki was on his own. Thor certainly wouldn't show up to weep over his fragile little brother's sickbed. He adored the solstice festival—both of them. Any festival, in truth. Any excuse to down ale by the barrels and get in fights and flirt with pretty girls without any responsibilities—of course Thor was all over it. Perhaps if Loki was still unwell at the cessation of the festival, Thor might bother to drop in. Perhaps.

His mother would come home, if he asked it. Loki knew that without a doubt. But he refused to ruin her trip for her. He knew she had missed her sisters terribly for centuries, and the visits they paid to Asgard certainly did not make up for returning to the place she grew up in. While the All-Mother had visited Vanaheim before, many times, never had she been able to beg off her responsibility to preside over the festival as Queen in order to celebrate on the world of her birth. Loki could not live with himself if he took that from her.

Loki snuffled despondently and pulled his blankets tighter around himself. His throat was raw and painful, but the thought of trying to get out of bed to get a glass of water seemed like far too much work. All he could do was lie there, taking shallow breaths and trying to rest through a pressure headache that made sleep seem like a distant fantasy.

"Loki?"

Loki peeled open his eyes with a pitiful moan he couldn't quite help as the light from the windows stabbed directly into his pounding head. It sounded like Thor, but it couldn't be. How embarrassing, to long so for comfort that he would imagine his brother's voice. Loki shut his eyes again.

"Loki, are you well?" A hand nestled in his hair, and Loki's eyes flew open with a yelp that turned into a coughing fit.

"Thor?" he croaked when he could finally speak again. "What are you... doing here?"

"I couldn't find you at the festival," Thor said, lowering his voice when he noticed Loki wince at the volume. "I thought you may be hiding in your room, but I see you have good reason for that. You're burning up, brother."

"Tell me something I don't know," Loki mumbled, licking his dry and cracking lips as he spoke.

"How long have you been ill?" Thor asked. His hand moved from the crown of Loki's head to the back of his neck, where he gently worked at the tense muscles.

"Since yesterday morn."

Thor's face fell. "I am sorry, brother, that I did not realize. I am here now."

Loki ruthlessly snuffed the warm glow inside of him that had nothing to do with his fever. "Go back to the festival," he said, hoping Thor would blame the roughness in his voice on his sore throat.

“I would rather be here with you,” Thor said staunchly. “There will be many festivals, but I only have one Loki.”

"I have no need of your fussing,” Loki tried.

"Hmm," Thor raised an eyebrow. "If you have no need, why don't you get up and walk about the room without aid." Loki stayed quiet, glowering. "There is no shame in illness," Thor continued quietly. He leaned down and pressed a soft kiss to Loki's heated brow. "Let me care for you, little brother." Loki couldn't bring himself to speak, so he nodded instead. When he looked up, a relieved smile spread over his elder brother's face. "Now then. What bothers you?"

A moment passed where Loki eyed his brother with suspicion, and then he sighed. He was too tired to fight. "My head," he admitted. "My throat, my chest," he reached up to rub his sternum as he spoke, "and... ahh... uhhh—hhhshew," Loki sneezed, and then sniffed as the slight flush on his cheeks deepened.

Softly, Thor laughed. "I see. Furthermore, I believe I know just the thing to help you feel better."

"Nothing will make me feel better," Loki predicted hopelessly. He coughed again, and reached up to rub his throat with a whine.

"We shall just have to see about that." Thor put a finger under Loki's chin and tilted his head up. "Rest, brother. I will return." With that, he stood and walked away. Loki closed his eyes before Thor got to the door.

Somehow, with his brother gone, Loki felt worse than he had before Thor had been there at all. He turned his face into the mound of pillows piled behind him, and burrowed as deep into his blankets as he could go, but still he was cold. Loki sneezed three times in rapid succession, and then tried to sleep. But he couldn't find rest, and when Thor didn't return after ten minutes, a though hit Loki. Thor hadn't meant to come back at all—he was only making his excuses to mask his escape to the festival. Loki couldn't bring himself to blame his brother, even as stinging tears welled in his eyes. He furrowed his brow as hard as he could and blinked rapidly, but the tears escaped down his face all the same. Trying to draw in a deep breath to calm himself only started a painful coughing fit.

That was how Thor found him—eyes squeezed shut to block out the light from the windows, tears streaking down his face, thrown about in bed by the force of his own coughing. "Oh, Loki," Thor murmured, kissing the crown of his baby brother's head. Loki's eyes flew open, coughing harshly when he tried to speak. Shushing him gently, Thor cupped Loki's cheeks and carefully used his thumbs to wipe away the tears Loki hadn't realized he was still shedding. "It's okay, brother. I will not leave you."

Loki couldn't help a little sob at that, though he desperately hoped Thor didn't realize why. "S-sorry," he forced out when he could manage to speak, even though the words burned like fire coming up.

"Don't speak," Thor chided. "Here, sit up." He swung an arm around Loki's shoulders and helped the silvertongue sit up fully, and pulled the cover's back from Loki's body to help him swing his legs over the side of the bed. "Come with me," Thor said, standing up and pulling Loki with him into an upright position, and holding onto him as he swayed in place.

Loki groaned aloud, sagging heavily into his brother's side. His legs trembled underneath him, hardly managing to take his weight, and his head swam. Colored spots danced on the fringes of his vision as he adjusted to standing, his heart pounding in his ears. He gripped Thor's tunic—oh, Thor had changed from armor into soft clothes, when did that happen?—tight in one hand for balance. Thor held onto him securely, guiding him to take a step forward, followed by another, and then another. Concentrating on keeping vertical as he was, Loki didn't realize their destination until Thor let go of him, leaving him to stand in place and try to force his muddled head to recognize their location. Thor was crouched on the ground, trailing his hand through water. Water. Bath. They were in the washroom, and Thor had drawn him a bath.

Thor chuckled softly when he stood again, brushing off his knees and turning to face his little brother. "Lift your arms," he ordered. Loki complied.

"I can do it myself," he muttered sourly as Thor tugged his tunic over his head and let it fall to the floor.

"I am sure you could." Thor kissed his cheek. "Step up, now." Loki stared at himself in the mirror as Thor fussed around him, helping him out of his clothes. Pale, thin, with deep purple bags under his eyes and a rosy flush painted across his cheeks, raven hair wild and disordered and trembling slightly all over. Pitiful, Loki decided as he looked away.

When Loki was fully undressed, Thor assisted him up the steps and into the bathtub. Loki sank down into the slightly steaming water with a satisfied sigh. He leaned back against the wall and squinted through the vapor, drawing in a deep breath that didn't hurt for the first time since the night before the last. "Oh," Loki said softly.

Watching him settle into the bath, Thor smirked. "I said I knew just the thing, did I not?"

In spite of himself, Loki smiled back. He took another deep breath, just for the joy of drawing in a breath that wasn't painful. This time, he noticed a scent in the air. Concentrating on it until he figured it out, Loki jerked his head toward his big brother, surprised, when he realized what it was. Herbal, with a hint of wisteria. It would likely smell stronger if his sinuses weren't completely blocked. "You... know my favorite oils?" Loki asked.

Thor looked surprised. "Of course I do—you're my brother! Why would I not?" Loki shook his head in lieu of a verbal response, and relaxed further in the water. "There is soap there, and for your hair," Thor pointed to a bar of soap and a vial at the edge of the tub. "I do not wish you to stay in for too long, so your fever does not rise. You wash your body, and I will clean your hair."

Without protest, Loki grabbed for the bar of soap and built up a lather in his hands with it. Beside him, Thor kneeled at the edge of the bath and tipped some of the hair soap into the palm of his hand. The thunderer scrubbed both hands together and then set them on Loki's head. With eyes closed, Loki lackadaisically washed his arms. The feeling of Thor's fingers in his hair, kneading gently at his scalp in small circles, all but soothed him into sleep, and combined with the fog in his head it was difficult to remember to clean himself. A large hand gripped his chin with paradoxical tenderness, tipping his face up toward the ceiling. Warm water poured over his head, rinsing out the suds in careful rivulets of water.

Loki groaned. A hand was trying to pry something from his fingers. He held on tighter in protest.

"Ssh," Thor's voice said. "Go back to sleep, brother. Let me have the soap." This time, when the hand tried to take away the... soap, Loki relinquished it easily. "Go to sleep," Thor said again. Warm and comforted and safe, Loki did.

Chapter Text

"We need to have a celebration," Loki declared the moment he walked into the room.

Thor looked up from the document he was reading over—a supply missive, to be exact. "Are you crazy?" he demanded. "Why? With what?" He thrust the missive at Loki's face in punctuation of his words, and waited for him to read it.

"I know, I know," Loki said, handing the papers back after a quick scan. "Do you know what day it is tomorrow?"

"Um." Thor didn't know why it mattered. "No?"

In the corner of the little lounge the Revengers claimed, Val snorted. "Really? You don't?"

"A holiday of some sort?" Bruce guessed.

Loki snapped his fingers and pointed at Bruce. "See? He doesn't even know our customs and he gets it!"

"Thank you, I think?" Bruce laughed.

The makeshift curtains over the large bay window fluttered in Loki's wake as he paced in front of them. "Think, Thor. What day is it tomorrow?"

Thor had no idea. He'd lost track of the days somewhere within the first week of traveling. They could have been traveling for a decade, for all he knew. Did Bruce look older? He didn't look older, did he? He would look older if a decade had passed. He looked older than he had when Thor met him, and that was almost a decade ago. It hadn't been a decade then. How long had it been?

"Are you even listening to me?" Loki was abruptly right in Thor's face. He snapped his fingers repeatedly in front of Thor's remaining eye. "Pay. Attention."

"You're snappy today," Thor grumbled. Bruce covered his mouth to muffle a laugh. Val didn't try.

Loki threw his hands up in the air. "The anniversary of Bor's defeat of the Svartalfar, Thor! Which, obviously he didn't actually defeat them—"

"Wait, what?" Val sat bolt upright, nearly dropping the bottle clenched in her fist. "What?!"

Loki continued over her, "but it's still a day we celebrated in Asgard. We've been traveling for three months now," oh, so definitely not a decade then. That wasn't that long, actually. Thor thought it felt longer, "and we need to give the people some sort of reward for making it this far, to keep up morale, and what better way to do it than to celebrate an already established holiday?"

"What do you mean the dark elves weren't really defeated?!" Val shouted. Loki turned to her, eyes wide in surprise.

"Oh, I guess you were on Sakaar when they attacked—"

"WHAT?!"

"—you can ask Heimdall later, I don't know the whole story and I think Thor is biased—"

"What? How would I be biased?"

"Anyway, holiday. Tomorrow. We need to celebrate it." Loki turned from his pacing to face them head on, his cape swishing dramatically behind him in a way that was equally likely intentional or unplanned. "Any ideas?"

"Loki," Thor said calmly. "Just tell us what you want to do already, and we'll think about if it's possible."

He flushed slightly, but didn't deny that he already had a plan. "A feast," Loki said. "We need to hold a feast."

"With what?" Val said dryly, seemingly having decided to put the momentary shock behind her.

"It's a good idea, but we just don't have the supplies for it," Thor told him. He felt terrible dashing Loki's idea, but they simply couldn't spare enough to scrape up a feast. "There's plenty of alcohol on this ship, we could pass some around with the rations?" Thor suggested, standing up from his seat on the lounge to walk to Loki's side. Setting a hand on his little brother's shoulder, Thor tried to smile encouragingly. But Loki didn't look disappointed. He looked... sheepish? Thor frowned. "Brother?"

"I think I can conjure something," Loki admitted. He held up a hand when Thor opened his mouth, clearly anticipating his brother's outrage. "It's not something that's easy to do, and if I did it every day I would quickly be drained dry of seidr, and then what if there was an emergency? It's better for us to buy what we can... but this once, I think I can do something a bit more special."

Thor forced himself to calm from the initial anger. He wasn't holding information back to hurt Asgard, the king reminded himself. He's just private. "Okay," Thor said aloud. "What do you need to do it?"

The expression on Loki's face was pure relief. "I just need to know how much to conjure. Do you have the papers for the census somewhere around here?"

"In there," Val pointed to a box in the corner of the room when Thor froze, deer-in-the-headlights. "Keep track of where you put things, majesty."

"Thor never does," Loki said mildly as he peered into the box. "He depends on me for that." Thow frowned, but couldn't actually find reason to protest. "Got it!" The mischief-maker's face was pure triumph as he waved a fistful of papers in the air. "Let's see..."

The room went quiet as Loki skimmed the documents, muttering to himself as he resumed pacing back and forth.

"What are you gonna... conjure?" Bruce asked awkwardly.

"Hmm?" Loki didn't look up.

"The food, I mean. What food are you gonna make? For the feast?" the Midgardian clarified.

"We," Loki said absently.

"Um."

"What are we going to make." Loki lifted his head, and his eyebrows furrowed. "Did I not mention that? The more complicated something is, the harder it is to conjure, so I'm going to create the raw ingredients. Then you are going to help me put it together."

"Nope!" the Valkyrie stood up and lunged for the door in one fluid motion, only to smack into a crackling emerald shield when she tried to duck out the door. What followed was a long and creative string of cursing directed towards Loki. Thor made note of several phrases she must have picked up on Sakaar, for later reference. "and I. Don't. Cook!" she finished her rant, breathing hard and glaring poisonously at the trickster.

Bruce spoke up from his spot on the floor by the window, "it could be fun."

"Then you do it!" Val didn't seem to be getting any less murderous. Loki smiled. Thor had a bad feeling about this.

 


 

An hour later, the four of them, along with Heimdall, who Bruce had conscripted, stood in the kitchens. "Aren't there people who take care of the meals," Val tried, staring resignedly at Loki.

"This is going to be a surprise," Loki said, determined. Bruce seemed to be the only one who had any sort of optimism about the endeavor, aside from Loki himself. Thor hoped it would work out, but mostly for his brother's sake. Loki was obviously staking a lot on this endeavor, and, selfish though it might be, Thor was more worried about Loki beating himself up if they didn't succeed rather than the morale of the people in general. "Everyone quiet!" Loki said, ignoring the fact that aside from the humming of the ship, the room was silent. He closed his eyes, and lifted his hands, which began to glow emerald green.

They watched as Loki's brow furrowed and the light in his hands grew brighter, though nothing else appeared to change. Thor wished he could tell what his brother was doing. For so many years, Thor had assumed what Loki did was easy, because he didn't see the work that went into it. Still, Thor knew he didn't truly understand the scope of Loki's knowledge and talent. So he watched intently. Tried to understand, to see. Just because Loki's strength was different, Thor now knew, didn't mean his strength was less. Far from it.

Above the kitchen island, a green glow formed, spreading out to blanket the surface in a viridian haze. Within that glow, darker spots of green began to appear. The glow brightened, until Thor had to look away. There was a flash, and when Thor looked back, the island was covered in food. Raw vegetables tumbled every which way, surrounding... three whole, dead boars.

"You can conjure animals?" Thor asked, amazed. When he turned to Loki, his brother ducked his head.

"Not live ones. I can't bring a new living being into existence. Animating inanimate objects is a bit different. But creating true life... that isn't something seidr can do."

"Well it's impressive anyway," Thor said, clapping Loki on the back. "What do you need us to do?" He motioned to the others. Bruce was staring at the island with an awed look on his face, and Val was clearly disgruntled. Heimdall's expression, as always, was unreadable.

"I thought we'd do something simple," Loki told them. "Roast boar, with fried vegetables. Something... obtainable. Thor, you and Valkyrie can carve the boar and roast it, and the rest of us will work on the vegetables." Loki flicked his wrist, and everything that wasn't the boars rose off of the island and floated to the counters. Loki, Bruce, and Heimdall followed.

"You do know how to carve boar, right?" Thor ventured. The Valkyrie nodded. Picking a knife up off of the table, Thor grinned at her. "Then let's get carving."

 

 

Three hours later, the five of them stood, defeated, in the kitchen. Smoke rose from the ovens, choking the whole room with a black haze. Loki darted from oven to oven, yanking them open and looking ready to pull his hair out. "I said roast, not burn to a crisp! Do you not know how to roast boar?" The last bit was directed at Thor and Valkyrie, and only slightly hysterical.

"Sorry," Thor mumbled, looking at the floor. Apparently roasting was a little different when using an oven rather than over a fire.

"Did you fill the pan with water?" Silence. Thor blinked.

"Were we... supposed to?"

Loki's only answer was a long, defeated groan. He slumped to the floor and covered his face with his hands. A bubble of guilt surged in Thor's chest.

"I'm sorry," he said again.

"No," the silvertongue answered through his hands, "it's my fault. I should have made sure you knew what you were doing."

"The vegetables are fine, aren't they?" Val supplied, also looking slightly guilty.

"But they're not the main course." Loki removed his hands from his face, and stared blankly up at them from his place on the floor. "This was a stupid idea anyway," he muttered.

"Why don't we just have a karaoke night?" Bruce suggested.

Chapter Text

Thor was the only one who actually knew what karaoke was outside of Bruce, due to the time he'd lived on Earth. He explained it quickly, desperately trying to cheer Loki up again.

"Sounds fun," Val said. Obviously, she thought it sounded anything but. At least she made an effort to not sound totally repulsed.

"Sure," Loki said. He still hadn't gotten up off of the floor. "Why not."

"Great!" Bruce's grin was painfully large.

Thor desperately hoped it wouldn't be as much of a disaster as Loki's feast idea had become.

 

 

The ship's bridge, the same room that Thor's unofficial coronation had been held in, that had since been used as the cafeteria, was utterly transformed. Steel walls had been traded for glimmering gold, and scuffed floors gleamed bright, appearing as snowy marble shot through with veins of gold and ebony. Golden-tan sandstone pillars rose at intervals around the edge of the room, following the walls up to meet in the center of the suddenly much higher and domed ceiling. Between each pillar, rich, brightly colored tapestries shimmered in the torchlight, and intricate murals graced the ceiling. Painted scenes moved and changed depending on where you stood—if you walked the whole room, they'd tell a story. The constant humming of the ship couldn't be heard at all for the first time since Thor had set foot on the ship.

"Loki, this is incredible," Thor beamed. "It feels exactly like the palace did!"

Loki smiled at him, but the expression looked weak. "That's what I was going for."

Thor trailed a hand over the tapestries on the walls, marveling when it felt solid under his hand. He fingered one of the leaves on the flowering vines that twined around the pillars—that too felt real, delicate and slightly cool under the thunder's touch. "Are you sure you can hold all this, Loki? How did you make it solid?"

Flapping a hand at his brother, Loki turned away and stared at something in the middle-distance. "The plants are real—I accelerated the growth of some of the plants in the greenhouse, and... adjusted them a bit. The tapestries... I had a few in my dimensional pocket. I restored and hung those, and used them to create tactile illusions. Except for those few, the texture is all in your mind." He glanced at Thor like he was waiting for a rebuke, and Thor felt one ready on his tongue—why haven't you been helping more in the greenhouse, why didn't you tell me you could do this—but he bit the words back and smiled instead.

"Thank you, brother. Everyone will love it." Thor tried not to feel guilty at the barely hidden relief on Loki's face. He knew full well that Loki was doing the best he could. Swiftly, Thor changed the topic. "Why did you leave the window?" Thor asked, motioning toward the large bay window that looked out on a field of stars. He regretted it the moment the words left his mouth—that was not a better topic. Loki hated open space, was terrified of it, though he refused to admit it. Leaving the window there was a curious decision.

"A reminder," Loki said, just when Thor thought that Loki had chosen not to answer. His voice was soft, thoughtful. "A reminder of the reality. This ballroom," he motioned around them to the masterpiece of magic his seidr had created, "won't last forever. It would be cruel to pretend like nothing had happened. This will go away, and the true state of affairs will only hurt worse if they are allowed, for a time, to forget. This way, they can enjoy it... but the inevitable let down will not be as painful."

Thor swallowed, hard. Loki wasn't just thinking about the people, Thor could tell. To be fair, neither was he. "If you want to talk..." Thor offered lamely, trailing off when Loki shook his head and held up a hand to silence him.

"I am fine. And the ballroom is ready for tomorrow morning. Let us go to bed."

 

 

Thor woke up early to see the people's reactions. To watch their faces when they walked into a room that had been utterly transformed from a cafeteria into a ballroom, overnight. There were gasps of surprise and even tears, and the room quickly began to fill up as more and more Aesir (and gladiators) left only to return with others, eager to show them the spectacle. Children darted underfoot, laughing and shouting and pointing to the ceiling, watching the adult's faces change when they realized the murals were animated. Loki truly had outdone himself. If he had only left it there, the people would have been elated. But the day was only beginning.

As if on queue, the torches guttering in the elegant wall scones dimmed to embers, and the soft notes of a lute rang out through the room, entrancing the inhabitants into silence. Thor, with the rest of them, turned to face the window to the stars. On the small platform at the foot of the window stood five shimmering gold figures, each giving off a soft glow and holding instruments just as bright and ethereal as they were. No faces could be seen through the glow, but their forms were clearly defined. Otherworldly. As one, they began to play a tune for a traditional Asgardian dance. A cheer went up as the torches sputtered back to full life, and the dancing began.

Weaving his way carefully through the crowd, giving polite greetings where he was recognized before moving swiftly on, Thor searched the room for his brother. He spotted Banner and Val before he saw Loki, lingering on the edge of the dancing. Val held a mug of something and looked quite happy indeed, while Bruce was staring at the dancers with wide-eyed wonder. Thor continued his search.

He found Loki, as he might have expected, in the darkest corner of the room, watching the festivities with a pensive look on his face.

"This is truly magical, brother," Thor whispered to him. Loki's expression didn't change as he glanced over at his elder brother.

"You told me last night."

"Not just that. Loki," Thor gestured to their people, filling the room with laughter and life, dancing and talking and utterly forgetting their troubles. "You gave them joy. You did what I never could—you gave them hope again. You gave them home again. You were right," Loki's lips twitched at that, just slightly, "this was a good idea. A great idea."

"It was Bruce—" Loki started.

"No," Thor said over him. "It was yours. This, all this... it was all you. From start to finish. You, brother," Thor seized Loki by the shoulders and spun his brother to face him, "are astounding." Even in the low light at the edges of the room, the thunderer could see his little brother's blush. It only grew brighter when Thor leaned in to kiss his temple. "I'm proud of you, Loki."

"Yes, well," Loki jerked out of Thor's hold and turned his back to his brother, "it was no hardship." Thor stood quietly and let his little brother collect himself. When Loki turned around, Thor beamed at him, and held out a hand.

"Come on, brother. Let's go dancing."

Chapter Text

"Thor?" Loki called, just loud enough to be heard over the hydraulic hiss of the door sliding shut behind him. "Brother? Are you up yet?"

The room was as dark as when Loki had left that morning. Blankets were strewn across the floor, spilling off of the temporary cots that Banner and the Valkyrie used. The covers on Loki's half of the bed were thrown back... but Thor was still a lump under the covers. "Thor?" Loki tried again, stepping closer to the bed. His heartbeat quickened when Thor moaned. "That, what's wrong? Are you ill?" He pulled the blankets back from his brother's body, and forced Thor to flip over on his back. Sweat glinted on his older brother's forehead, and his remaining eye was squeezed tightly shut. The thunderer groaned again and tried to turn back over, but Loki stopped him, trying not to panic. "Thor. Tell me what's wrong."

"Hurts," Thor mumbled, screwing up his face like a child.

"Where does it hurt?" Loki asked, forcibly keeping the panic out of his voice. "Brother, tell me where it hurts."

"Head."

"Oh." Loki's heart was still thrumming in his ears, but he relaxed a bit at Thor's monosyllabic response. "Okay. Okay." He'd read about this. As a child new to warrior training, Loki had been terrified by the thought of battle, afraid of the injuries he or his brother may be dealt. The fear manifested itself in fanatic research on the topic of battle injures. One of the first things he'd researched was the loss of eyes, spurred on by Odin's injury that he saw evidenced daily. Sometimes after the loss of an eye, the trauma could cause severe headaches—migraines. Loki had suffered them growing up, as it appeared Thor was now. "I'm here, Thor. I'm here."

The first thing Loki did was to encase the room in a bubble of silence. No noise could get in or out, and even the constant humming of the ship vanished. From the way Thor's pained expression slackened just a hair, Loki concluded that it had helped him. He sent a duplicate to inform the Valkyrie that Thor wouldn't be joining them in running the affairs of the ship that day, and sat down on the bed at Thor's side. Loki pulled a blanket from his dimensional pocket—a large, fluffy thing, made from the hide of one of Thor's myriad kills, though he couldn't recall the exact creature it was made from at the moment. Bundling Thor up in it and leaning him back against the headboard, with a pile of pillows to cushion his skull, took only a thought and a slight bit of seidr.

Loki reached up and smoothed the wrinkles out of Thor's brow with his fingers, magic all but dripping from his hand as he numbed as much of the pain as was wise. Healing an injury with a spell was one thing—and quite simple. Loki was proficient, after many years of healing Thor and his idiot companions after their foolhardy ventures. Healing illness or other, more internal pains, like a headache, was different. There were spells to do it, but they were extremely finicky and much more likely to do harm than good, especially when it came to the mind. Loki was one of the greatest mages in the nine, but he refused to risk turning his older brother into a drooling husk with the slightest mistake. Practice was the only way to be sure he wouldn't make a mistake, after all, and he'd never practiced, since practicing such spells could result in disaster. Numbing the pain, on the other hand, was much less dangerous, as long as you didn't numb too much. That could be just as dangerous as a botched headache-cure spell.

Thor relaxed almost fully as Loki dulled the pain in his head, giving the mischief-maker a grateful smile. Loki smacked his hands away when he tried to unwrap the blanket from around himself. "The pain is numbed, not gone," he scolded in a low voice, "the effects are still there, even if you can't feel the pain as intensely as before. I won't have you trying to be up and running around like normal only to faint or hurl all over the floors."

"Thank you, brother—"

Loki put a finger over Thor's lips and fixed him with a stern glare. "I'm not done yet. Stay still." Pulling his legs up onto the bed, Loki persistently prodded at Thor until his brother moved over enough for Loki to sit beside him. He pushed Thor's back to make him lean forward, and wrapped his arms around his big brother from behind. Two fingers were set on each of Thor's temples, and Loki massaged small circles into his brother's skin. Carefully, so as not to damage Thor, Loki pushed a trickle of magic for relaxation and calm into the king's skin, with the goal of gradually putting his brother to sleep. "Just relax."

Thor quickly began to droop, head dipping down occasionally as he edged closer and closer to sleep. "Open your eyes," Loki ordered his brother. When Thor lifted his head up, a mug of tea floated in front of him, steaming softly. Loki was grateful that he'd learned how to make tea with magic centuries ago. It really could be quite useful. The tea he gave Thor was both a natural pain reliever and sleep aid. He continued to rub Thor's temples while the thunderer sipped at the tea. Halfway through the mug, it slipped from Thor's grasp. Loki caught it with his seidr and lowered it to the side table, while lowering his sleeping brother back down onto the bed.

A small emerald flame appeared on the tip of Loki's finger as he pulled up the edge of the fur he'd covered Thor in to expose the underside. It smelled foul, but he burned runes for comfort, rest, and healing into the hide before draping it back over his older brother. After burning a small rune in the side of the mug to keep it's contents warm, along with another to ensure it refilled itself every time it was emptied, Loki slipped off the edge of the bed. He stood for a moment, watching Thor's peaceful expression. Though he wished to stay and watch over his brother, he had duties to the people of Asgard, especially with Thor out of commission. Laying a final bit of magic to alert him if Thor drifted near wakefulness, Loki swept out of the room.

Chapter Text

"You won't explain why you dragged me here?" Loki groused, looking very disgruntled indeed.

Thor shot a grin at his little brother. "Don't you love Vanaheim?"

"Yes," Loki admitted, "but I don't trust your idea of 'fun.'"

"You will enjoy it!" Thor enthused, grabbing Loki around the shoulders to pull him close. Loki made a small oof noise and tried to pull away, but Thor held him tightly. "It shall be another adventure!"

Loki hummed, still looking suspicious. "I've never been to this part of Vanaheim," he said finally, and Thor deflated in relief.

"You have now."

Scoffing loudly, Loki still followed, to which Thor was grateful. He knew it would be difficult to convince his stick-in-the-mud brother to come with him—so his solution was to avoid any explanation as long as possible. There would be less time for Loki to attempt to run, that way. 

"I've never been to this part of Vanaheim," Loki repeated, a slight edge to his voice, "because it is famously sleazy and a den of thieves and slavers."

Thor didn't pause—he lengthened his strides, in fact. "That just begets more of an adventure," Thor informed Loki.

"No, no, no, whyever we're here it is a terrible idea and we should leave, right now." Loki quickened his pace until he was shoulder to shoulder with the thunderer. "Should I list all the reasons why we need to go, right now? For one, you at least at very recognizable as prince of Asgard with that hammer of yours—do you know how many criminals would love to kidnap the princes of Asgard for ransom? You are practically begging them to rob us, coming here in these clothes. Is that what you want? To fight off pickpockets and thieves? Please tell me that is not actually why you have brought us here, of all the idiotic things—"

Thor put a hand over his little brother's mouth to silence him, stalwartly ignoring Loki's protests. "Come along, brother," he said cheerfully. Loki's fretting, as always, was quite unnecessary. No one would dare to attempt a robbery or kidnapping of the princes of Asgard, or at least Thor. Loki alone Thor could see being targeted, but his brother would not go without his protection that day. All knew the full might of Asgard, and the princes themselves, would bear down on any who tried to wrong them. Especially with Mjolnir at his side.

It was lucky that Thor managed to find their destination before Loki resorted to some of his tricks in order to free himself. Thor did not fancy being stabbed that day.

Loki shot Thor a dirty look as his brother let go of his face, and rubbed a hand over his mouth where Thor's grip had been. "What is this place, Thor?"

Thor ignored him—his little brother was quite smart, Loki would figure it out—in order to inspect the area. Their destination was a large market square, long fallen into disuse, though there were signs of it having been grand, once. Many men, and even a handful of women, milled about, decked in heavy armor colored brightly and with a different animal painted on each. The crowd was about evenly Vanir and Aesir, as far as Thor could tell, though there were a few Alfar as well. Along one side of the square, a row of slipshod skimmers rested, all of them connected in an unkempt tangle of chains to the leg of an old desk. Behind the rickety desk sat an older Vanir man, a pile of coin to one side and a sheaf of papers to the other. Thor marched over to him.

"Two slots in your next race," Thor declared, slapping a palmful of gold coins down on the table from the bag attached to his belt. Loki squawked indignantly and grabbed the coin back.

"Absolutely not, you blithering madman," the trickster spat in Thor's face, eyes blown wide. "You cannot—surely you must jesting—it's not possible—Thor!" he stammered. "No, no, I said we are leaving, we are leaving, why have we not left yet, come ON—"

"Stop worrying," Thor scoffed, cuffing Loki lightly on the back of the head as a distraction and chastisement both while he took back his coin. At this rate, Loki will never learn to stop fretting so, Thor grumbled to himself. "What is there for you to be so fussed about?" He moved his hand to cup Loki's neck and gave him a soft smile. "It will be well, brother." This is for your own good, Thor added silently. Loki was too timid for anyone, much less a prince of Asgard. He needed to learn to let go a little. And Thor would be there to protect him—what did Loki have to worry about?

Thor passed the coin to the man, who swiftly swept it into the pile and pushed them two slips of paper. "Pick an armor from the sets or provide your own, but don't use the same color or mascot as any other in the race. Any damage to the skiffs comes out of your pocket. Show the tickets to the referee before the race," The man droned, but his eyes were sharp as he passed Thor a paper and a set of keys. "Sign here, and pick your skiffs." Thor signed and moved over to the skiffs while Loki stood in place, gaping. Thor was unlocking his chosen skiff when Loki scrambled over to hiss in his ear.

"You have gone mad. Utterly mad. You didn't even look at what you signed! Thor, Thor stop it, listen to me!"

Thor paused and turned to his brother, his heart twinging slightly at the note of true terror in Loki's finishing words. Part of him wanted to leave with Loki, just to get the frightened, pleading look off of his little brother's face. The rest of him knew he couldn't coddle Loki if his brother was ever to be a true warrior. "Loki," Thor said quietly as he stood up from where he had crouched on the ground, and pulled Loki up with him. "Brother. There is nothing to worry for. We will be fine. I swear it. Let us have fun now, brother—just you and I."

Loki's eyes watered slightly, and his expression softened, as Thor knew it would. He beamed at his little brother and tossed him the keys. "Pick a skiff."

 


 

An hour later, both princes were seated on skiffs in a lineup of twelve, waiting before the starting line. Thor was dressed in bright scarlet, with a dragon emblazoned boldly on his back. Loki was in emerald, with a snake coiled on the back of his own armor, looking ready to strike at any moment. Loki had done well copying the style of the other armors with his seidr, though the armors they wore were both more pristine and more detailed than any others'. The dark silhouettes etched on the backs of their armor looked ready to burst to life at any moment. The armor was much bulkier than Thor was useful, but not heavier, which the thunderer attributed to Loki's influence. It consisted of a chestpiece, thick vambraces, and poleyns and greaves for the legs. A couple of the racers also wore helms, though most chose to opt out. Other racers that Thor could see were clad in armor representing—respectively—a phoenix, a stag, a lion, a hydra, an eagle, a bilgesnipe, and—oddly—a shrew, in colors of orange and storm gray and navy and chartreuse and olive and wine red. He and Loki were separated with two other competitors between them, but even at that distance Thor could see the panic Loki must be feeling in the way his fingers curled around the handles of the skiff. Thor tried to smile at him, but Loki didn't see.

Thor shook his head and turned his attention back to the referee, who was moving slowly down the line to check each ticket. They finished with the racer to Thor's left—a silvery haired Alfar male with intense violet eyes, hair pulled back in braids and an intricate black tattoo on one cheekbone, armored in brilliant marigold emblazoned with the silhouette of a phoenix—and turned to him, holding out a hand for Thor's ticket. The prince passed it over, studying his opponent carefully. Something told him that this elf would be a true challenge during the race. When the elf caught his eye, Thor gave him a wild, blood-hungry smile. He sniffed, raised one silver eyebrow, and deliberated turned to face ahead. Thor's smile grew. The referee handed him his ticket back and moved down the row, towards Loki.

Thor was long since ready to start by the time the horn was blown to signal the start of the race. He pushed the skimmer as fast as it could go past the starting line, banking sharply to closely shave the edge of the first turn—behind the Aesir man wearing the olive-green bilgesnipe armor, and the phoenix-bearing elf. The path was marked by red ribbons, as they set off through one of Vanaheims many forests, on a track barely wide enough for two skiffs side by side. Thor felt a manic grin spread over his face. He whooped excitedly and chanced a quick look over his shoulder, but didn't see Loki.

Turning back around, Thor turned his skiff just in time to avoid crashing into a tree that would have obliterated his skiff. Laughing as he weaved his skiff through the twisting path, Thor quickly gained on the phoenix-elf. Though the bilgesnipe-man started out in first place, he was quickly passed by the elf, and then Thor himself. The thunderer was just getting into a rhythm, slowly but surely creeping up on the heels of the Alfar man, when the trail changed and they plunged down into a cave. Roaring his frustration, Thor fumbled to find the button that would spark the lights on the skiff, which, judging by the glow up ahead, his competition had found with ease. Upon successfully activating the lights, Thor did not yelp when he had to swerve sharply to avoid a stalagmite. During the cave portion of the race, Thor dropped back quite a bit, rather than being within a meter of the elf and his skiff.

When they finally left the cave, a huge smirk spread over Thor's face. There was a long stretch of open plains, and the finish line at the end. This would be fun.

The thunderer shot past the elf with a triumphant bellow, only refraining from turning around to taunt him because he didn't wish to lose any ground. The long grasses around them flattened in their wakes, the only noises in Thor's ears the roar the engines and the rush of the air passing by. His heart thumped wildly in his chest, and his hair was beginning to come loose from the tail he had tied it back in. Thor growled when the elf passed him again, and rammed his skiff into the side of the elf's skiff, sending him spinning to the side. This time, Thor did turn around to show him a gesture his mother would ground him for a millennia for using, before speeding the rest of the way to the finish line. The elf crossed a minute after him, breathing hard and face livid. He gave Thor a cool nod and stalked off to wait, muttering something in the language of elves that likely wasn't flattering.

Two more racers crossed before Loki did, and Thor tried not to let his disappointment show on his face as he hauled Loki off of his skiff. From the slightly tearful look Loki gave him, Thor thought he didn't quite succeed.

"I assume you won?" Loki said after clearing his throat. He ran a hand over his hair, and it smoothed back down in it's wake, from the windswept curls it had been.

Thor ruffled Loki's hair again, and ignored his little brother's squawk. "Of course I did!" Thor slapped the silvertongue on the back. "Let us collect our winnings!"

"And go home?" Loki asked. Thor looked at him again, and really took in the state of his baby brother. Dirty, windswept, wild-eyed and teary and trembling just a bit. He internalized a sigh in order to give Loki a smile.

"And go home," Thor agreed.

Chapter Text

"It's Thor's birthday today," Loki said after he appeared from the shadows to drag Bruce into an empty storage closet.

"Give a guy some warning, would you," Bruce gasped, putting a hand over his racing heart. Luckily, the Other Guy wasn't trying to break out—somewhere along the way he'd decided he liked Loki and that was that.

"Sorry," Loki said, entirely unapologetic. "I need your help."

"With what?" Bruce asked cautiously. Though he was sure Loki didn't mean to do anything illicit, there were still possibilities in there that might not be fun. Like releasing the Other Guy for a spar or something, oh, please don't be what he wants. Thor might enjoy it, but Bruce would not.

"Baking a cake," Loki said in a rush, so fast that Bruce almost couldn't tell what he had said.

"Why do you need my help?" Bruce questioned, genuinely curious. He didn't know for sure, but Loki seemed to at least be competent in the kitchen from what he had seen. "Can't you do it yourself?"

Loki shook his head, looking aggrieved. "I have to act normal around Thor so he doesn't suspect anything, and he'll know something's off if I don't do any of my usual duties or he realizes it's only a double and not my real self. I need someone else to help so I can duck out whenever I need. You probably won't have to do much, but... just in case? Please, Bruce?"

With a sigh, Bruce nodded. It was very hard, he'd discovered, to say no to those pleading green eyes. And could it really be so hard?

 

In a flash (literally) a pile of ingredients was sitting on the kitchen counter. Some of them were familiar to Bruce, like the eggs—only they were purple and speckled with red. Other things were entirely unidentifiable, like a twisted orange sort-of rootlike thing. Loki passed him a bowl filled with a grainy white power—sugar, just sugar, Bruce realized when he tasted it. Space had sugar?—and a container of a buttery-yellow colored liquid. "Add the milk gradually to the sugar and stir," Loki ordered. Bruce blinked at him. "I didn't say you were going to do nothing, did I? Oh, and here," he pushed over another container, this full of some red liquid, "add a bit of that for flavor, just enough to taste mind you."

Bruce got to work, stirring the milk, sugar, and what he thought was a kind of fruit juice together. It quickly thickened and became a nightmare to stir, at which point the Other Guy got interested, namely to make fun of Bruce for his weakness, as much as was possible when very few words could pass between them. He got the feeling that the Other Guy was amused by his struggle to stir what was obviously becoming some sort of icing, though. Bruce mentally stuck out his tongue and refused the Other Guy's gleeful offer to come out and stir himself. 

On the other side of the room, Loki was combining several different ingredients that he assumed were flour, butter, and the like. Cake-stuff. Only the space version, whatever the space version was. He swept by once or twice to taste the icing that Bruce was making. The first time, he got a thoughtful look on his face and added a little bit each of two different spices to the mix. The second time, he looked wholly satisfied and left Bruce alone with a nod. "Can I be done stirring?" the scientist asked finally. "My arm hurts." Loki walked over and looked at the frosting, swiping a finger along the edge of the mixture.

"You can stop now," Loki nodded, wiping the frosting off with a towel he pulled from thin air. "Can you watch the cake," Loki gestured to the oven, "while I'm off for a little bit?"

"Sure," Bruce said gamely.

Standing next to an oven waiting for it to be done was rather boring, turns out. Well, he knew it would be boring, actually. There was no 'turns out.' It was just boring. The Other Guy agreed. He wanted to go do something else.

Loki returned just in time to take the cake out of the oven (Bruce was certain there was magic involved in that) and proceeded to ice it. The interesting part, however, was when he started to decorate it—magical was always more interesting than mundane methods, at least to Bruce, who hadn't seen any magic at all before Loki and was still a slightly little-kid enthralled. Loki tinted the icing stormy gray at the edges, and then gradually lightened it until it was a frosty blue in the center. He added piping of startlingly realistic icing branching up the edges, and then stepped back to inspect it critically.

"It isn't traditional," Loki explained when he caught Bruce's eye. "Cakes on birthdays, not on Asgard. We do not celebrate every birthday every year, either. It would become quite tedious, quite swiftly. We did have cake as a food item in general, but they were decorated similar to your Midgardian wedding cakes, with fruit and flowers and such. I'm not sure if Thor will like it."

"I'm sure he'll love it," Bruce said sincerely. "Thor will love anything, as long as it comes from you."

Loki hummed, turning his face away, but the brief glimpse Bruce got of his expression looked pleased.

 

As Bruce thought, Thor loved it.

 

Chapter Text

Thor found him, finally, in the greenhouse. He didn't expect to find Loki there, but that's where Heimdall had told him to search, and sure enough, that's where Loki was. On his knees between rows of plants, Loki had his hands deep in a planter full of soil, eyes screwed shut and breathing deep. Thor stood in the doorway without entering, knowing well the look Loki got when he was using his seidr and concentrating hard, and the consequences of distracting or startling him while he was doing a spell. Putting a hand on the frame of the door and leaning his shoulder against it, Thor watched as a bunch of spouts snaked up from the previously empty-seeming planter. Stalks lengthened, leaves unfurled, buds formed to burst into bloom and then shrink back down, only for a bunch of fruit to form on the now fully-grown plants. Loki pulled his hands from the soil, dusted them off, and leaned back with a satisfied look on his face.

"Good job," Thor praised. Loki's face spasmed and he twitched slightly, then turned to his brother with a smile. Thor pretended not to notice that he had startled the trickster.

"It's no hardship," Loki said, eyeing Thor warily. Like he was waiting for a rebuke. Thor wished he knew how to convince his little brother that he wasn't going to turn on him at any moment, for the smallest of reasons.

"Still. Thank you," Thor said mildly. "How do you do it?" he added, allowing himself to express his curiosity. When they were younger, Thor had never asked Loki about his seidr, even when he was truly interested. Feared any interest in Loki's 'womanly' pursuits would taint him by association. How he wished he could take all that back. The look of pure surprise, then suspicion, and then barely hidden hope hurt Thor's heart.

"It's fairly easy... I just accelerate the plant's growth. Much simpler than trying to change how it grows." Loki explained.

"What else can you do with plants?" Thor asked, trying to prompt Loki into speaking more about his seidr. Instead, his brother shrugged.

"Quite a bit. Is... there anything you wish me to do?" Loki still seemed hesitant. Thor thought that their relationship had gotten better. Why did Loki seem so fearful? Was it because they were talking about his seidr? They hadn't spoken of it much since... ever, really.

Shaking his head, Thor smiled at his brother, hoping his grin didn't look half as false as it felt. "No. I was just... curious."

"Curious," Loki echoed, sounding doubtful.

Thor nodded like he was a Midgardian bobblehead. "Yes."

With a disdainful snort, Loki turned away, pretending to be absorbed in another of the plants. "Stop pretending. You've never been interested in my seidr."

"I have!" Thor insisted. "I just... pretended I wasn't."

Loki bent down to finger the leaves of one of the plants. "Really."

"Really!"

Loki hummed. "Well, I have to finish in here." It was a clear dismissal, but Thor didn't move.

"Can I help?" Thor asked.

"Well," Loki hesitated, and Thor stifled his instinct to hold his breath like an eager child. "There's nothing you can do with seidr, but... you could water the plants?"

The thunderer's grin was rather over-large for being allowed to water plants, but he beamed anyway. "I will."

They worked side-by-side in silence for the rest of the afternoon. It was... nice.

Chapter Text

The Statesman was grimy. Once it had been kept in prime condition, evidenced by the way it was dripping in luxury, but it had been left unused for years. Thor had asked Loki if he knew what it had been used for—Loki's exact words were, "like a Midgardian cruise ship, except you don't want to know." Thor got the picture enough to shut up and try very hard not to think about it (and order a thorough cleaning of the whole ship). The children were kept on the bridge as blankets were washed by the tons, and the entire remaining population of Asgard plus a smattering of former gladiators and a Midgardian gamma scientist all slept in the room that had served only a few hours earlier as an impromptu throne room. Thor awoke early the next morning (rather, Loki woke him), and began delegating citizens to clean out the rooms of any illicit substances. Groups were organized to wash bedsheets, and others to dust and mop, and still others to catalog what would need replacing.

Loki took charge of a ship-wide inventory without being asked, and Thor was pathetically grateful. He wasn't sure he'd have even thought to do it. Somewhere, the now crown prince managed to dredge up a map of the ship and ambushed Thor with it. "We need to decide how to distribute lodgings," Loki said quickly. Like he was afraid of being spoken over or shut out. "And which rooms to use for storage, for common rooms, I was thinking we could use the bridge as a cafeteria, there's a kitchen here..."

Thor approved every one of Loki's suggestions, and even picked out a room for use of the 'King and his Council' only, whatever that was now. Hela killed nearly everyone of high rank except Heimdall and a few especially paranoid generals. Loki's face twitched at Thor's choice—a room directly above the bridge—and then flatly denied it and whisked off before Thor could ask him anything else.

The Valkyrie turned up in the middle of the morning, a bottle in each hand and obviously several bottles of alcohol past mere 'drunk'. She demanded, swaying on her feet, to be made part of the cleanup, and Thor assigned her to the gathering-substances group. She was bound to keep most of what she discovered, but Thor also had a feeling she'd be great at finding and secret stashes and the less there were laying around, the better. He also didn't think she was sober enough to do a good job cleaning or inspecting the ship.

Banner tentatively offered to use what knowledge he had of human medicine to heal whatever injuries the citizenry had collected. Thor told him to find Loki and get a room set aside as a healer's, and he would send any injured to him. The man turned a little green at the suggestion, but he nodded and went to find Loki anyway. I really hope I didn't just accidentally cause the murder of my brother.

About the time Thor was trying to figure out how to coordinate lunch, a nervous young man—perhaps a century younger than Loki—approached him.

"Your Majesty? We finished cleaning out the ship."

"Good job," Thor said with a smile.

"We don't know what to do with some of the... items," the boy said tactfully.

Thor frowned. "Show me?"

Eyes bugging out, the boy gulped, ducked his head, and motioned for the king to follow him, setting off at a quick clip.

 

"Oh," Thor said eloquently, staring at the stockpile his people had created. "Did you... get it all?"

"We think so," someone ventured.

Thor's first instinct was to burn it all, or throw it out the airlock. "Put it in a crate," he said after a long pause. "Store it somewhere... out of the way. Maybe we can... trade some of it. Later."

"We'll need more than one crate," someone else mumbled. Thor thought he wasn't supposed to hear.

"Just," Thor gestured like it meant something and fled. Swiftly.

 

"What happened?" the Valkyrie asked him later. "You look like you walked in on a couple and you can't get it out of your head."

Thor blushed, furiously. "Most people would say, 'like you've seen a ghost,'" he muttered.

"So you did walk in on someone?" she continued casually.

Thor's blush deepened. "No! It's just... there were. Items. Discovered."

"Of the fluffy, pink, and flesh-toned variety?" she nodded sagely. Thor chocked on his next breath. "I lived on Sakaar, Majesty. You ain't seen nothing."

 

"Can you erase memories," Thor begged his brother.

Loki blinked several times, and then shook his head. "What?"

"Can. You. Erase. Memories. Specific ones." 

Confused as he clearly was, Loki didn't miss a beat. "Sure. I can also scoop out your brain with a spoon. It'll probably have the same result." Sighing then, Loki rubbed a hand across his forehead. "Mind magic is dangerous, Thor. Don't you know this? It's possible to perform spells on the brain, but the mind is such a delicate organ that the slightest misstep could leave someone a drooling husk or even stop their heart. It's not worth the risk, especially not to... erase a memory? Why?"

"Don't ask," the thunderer pleaded. "Just don't ask."

 

At the end of the day, they collapsed in the new 'council room.' Someone brought alcohol, though Thor didn't know who for sure, he was certain it was the Valkyrie. "Did we finish?" Thor asked blearily.

"We need..." Loki yawned, "to do a census. Tomorrow. So we can divide up the living quarters."

"That's for tomorrow," the Valkyrie retorted. "Shut up."

"And replace the broken parts, if we can."

"Shut up!" This time it was both Thor and Valkyrie in chorus.

"I want to sleep for the next two years," Banner moaned.

"Me too."

"Then sleep," Heimdall rumbled from the corner. "Those jobs will keep till the morning."

And so the Revengers slept. Tomorrow, they would continue to build their new home.

Chapter Text

"What are you doing?" Loki asked distractedly when he felt his brother's fingers in his hair. He didn't look up from his book.

"Go back to your book," Thor ordered. The order was extremely unusual, but Loki obeyed without a second thought. He tilted his head when Thor tugged it insistently to one side or the other, but otherwise didn't react. When Thor finished, he grabbed Loki by the arm and tugged him to the mirror, ignoring his little brother's grumble at being made to left his book. In the mirror, Loki's hair had been done up in a bunch of small, messy braids. He snorted and fingered the end of one of the braids.

"You aren't very good at braiding," the younger prince critiqued.

"And you can do better?" Thor challenged.

Loki jerked his head in a sharp nod. "I can." He pulled Thor down to sit on the floor with him, pushing on his big brother's back to make the older boy lean forward so he could better reach with his shorter arms. "Where did you learn to braid?" Loki asked as he busied his hands, gathering up small handfuls of sunny blond hair.

"Sif taught me," Thor said.

"Sif?" Loki echoed incredulously. "Doesn't she avoid everything a proper lady is supposed to know like it's a rampaging bilgesnipe?"

"She explained that braiding your hair keeps it out of your way during a fight, so I wished to practice."

Rolling his eyes, Loki finished his braid and tied it off with a conjured leather cord. "That's how you braid." 

"How do you know how to braid?" Thor questioned his younger brother.

"Mother," Loki responded promptly.

"Oh." A pause. "How did you make it so clean?" Thor wondered aloud as he played with his own braid.

Loki conjured a skein of yarn and held it up to his older brother. "I could demonstrate?"

With a fond smile, Thor took the skein. "Show me."

And that was the start of it.

For weeks afterward, Thor ambushed Loki all over the palace, practicing braiding back his little brother's raven hair. When he got tired of fending off his determined older brother, Loki dragged Thor to their mother, and she taught both of her boys several more complicated braids that they tried out on her.

"Tis unfair," Thor complained once. "My hair is longer than yours—you've more to practice with!"

Loki got a look on his face, and Thor regretted his words instantly and fervently. "I think you might be mistaken," he said lightly. "My hair is longer."

"What?" Thor reached up a hand to his head, and growled when he found his scalp completely smooth. "Change it back!"

 

 

 

The brothers flopped side by side in the meadow, both breathing hard. "Good match," Thor wheezed. "You almost had me, I swear."

Loki harrumphed and flipped over, lying facedown in the grass. "Stop lying," he complained, voice muffled. "I'll never be a true warrior."

"You will!" Thor encouraged. "You need only more practice, perhaps if you dedicate yourself more..."

"No," Loki snarled, immediately picking up on what Thor was implying. "I won't quit learning seidr."

Sitting up, Thor scooted to the side, looking around frantically like he could find something to pacify his brother with. "Stay still," he blurted impulsively, and darted to his feet.

"What?" Loki started to push up off the ground, but Thor put a foot on his back until he settled down. Groaning in defeat, Loki lowered his head back down and ignored the sensation of the grass prickling lightly at his skin. A few minutes later, he attempted to lift up his head when he felt Thor's fingers in his hair.

"Stay still," Thor repeated. Loki grumbled but lay still, relaxing slightly as Thor continued to play with his hair.

"What are you doing?" Loki asked. The thunderer smacked his hand down when he attempted to reach up and feel his hair.

"You'll see when I am finished," Thor declared imperiously, an impish smile curving his lips. He weaved locks of glossy raven hair into a thick braid that started at the nape of Loki's neck and progressively got thinner. "Pins," Thor commanded, holding Loki's hair back with one hand and reaching down with the other. Grudging though it was, Loki smacked a handful of hairpins down into Thor's hand and waited obediently as his brother pinned his hair in place. "Done!" Thor said proudly, helping Loki sit up. "Make a mirror, brother!"

Loki rolled his eyes fondly and trailed a hand through the air, leaving a shimmering surface in it's wake. "Oh," he said softly. With a bit of magic, he changed the view to the back of his head. "Oh."

A braid started low on the left side of his head, curving around and up and gradually getting thinner until it ended just behind his ear. And it was filled with wildflowers. Small buds and large blossoms, pearly white and carrot orange and ocean teal and berry red, brilliant magenta and sky blue and grape and lemon and baby pink, ruffled petals, smooth petals, curling petals, climbing petals—Thor had covered his hair in a forest of color, all nestled between glossy ebony locks.

"Wow," Loki whispered. Thor beamed at him, his whole being practically glowing. Loki caught his brother's eye, and a smirk formed on his face. "Now let me do you."

No one commented when the brothers galavanted through the palace that day, giggling and hair stuffed with flowers.

 

 

 

Everyone else had gone to bed. Loki slumped against Thor's side, eyes half-closed and breathing deeply. The golden-yellow curtain that blocked the bay window fluttered slightly, caused by the air circulation in the ship. The ever-present humming of the engines was like a lullaby after months of travel. The silvertongue hummed and turned his nose further into Thor's shoulder. His eyes at last fell all the way shut.

"What'ryoudoin," he mumbled when he felt Thor's hand card through his hair.

"Shush," Thor ordered. "Sleep."

"Hmm." Loki dozed off quickly, head dipping forward so his chin was tucked to his chest. He was aware enough to move when Thor demanded it, but otherwise drifted in a state of almost-sleep.

"Hair tie," Thor commanded. Loki pressed one into his hand without even thinking about it. Thor smiled as he tied off Loki's hair. "Good night, brother."

"Night," Loki echoed back. The strong arms were lifting him and carrying him through the halls, and the motion was so relaxing and his big brother's arms were so safe that the trickster fell asleep within moments. In the morning, he felt his hair and laughed, reaching up to undo the braid Thor had put his hair in. The thunderer pulled his hand away, grousing about how long he had worked. Loki knew full well it took him only a few minutes.

He kept it for the rest of the day.

Chapter Text

In hindsight, Thor really should have at least recognized the possibility. Loki loved animals after all, and why would that change? It just felt like Loki was so different sometimes... but why would he expect his little brother to be a completely different person, to lose all of his interests? So yes, Thor should have thought of it. But he didn't—not until he caught Loki in an out of the way storage room with two cats perched in his lap and another draped around his shoulders.

"Loki," Thor said warningly, trying not to laugh as the tail of a cat drifted across his little brother's face, giving his brother a fuzzy orange mustache. "Why are there cats."

"They belong to the citizens!" Loki tried, but he had that same guilty look on his face that he always had when Frigga caught him trying to sneak a frog or a bird into his rooms as a child.

"Loki," Thor said, but this time it was an exasperated moan. "Where did you get them?"

"Places," Loki said evasively. The face of yet another cat poked out from behind a box. It blinked at Thor. The cat lying on Loki's shoulders yawned, unconcerned, and started kneading Loki's collar with it's paws. "They didn't have homes!" he added defensively. "I made sure!"

"And you couldn't find them homes?" Thor said patiently. He really had to leave soon before he started laughing at his baby brother, who would absolutely resent it but was absolutely adorable anyway. How Frigga had managed to put her foot down whenever Loki brought home something new, Thor had no idea. "Homes with other people? On the planets they came from?"

Loki shook his head, a tragic expression crossing his face, and Thor had to bite his cheek not to double over in a cackling fit. "People can't tell them apart from Flerkens, so they don't want them. Idiots."

"Did you bring any Flerkens on the ship?" Alarmed as he was, the desire to laugh finally diminished. Somewhat.

"No," Loki looked sour. "I didn't." He gave Thor a look that said it all—but I wanted to.

"Thank you," the thunderer said dryly. "Can you find homes for the rest, now? Not with people on the ship."

Almost unconsciously, Loki curled an arm around the cats in his lap. "All of them gone at the next stop, Loki," Thor told him, gentle. "We can't afford to be taking care of pets right now. You know that."

Loki's expression grew mutinous. Then it broke, and he ducked his head. "I know," he mumbled.

Thor crouched down, setting a hand on Loki's elbow when he couldn't figure out how to cup his neck without disturbing the cat. "Thank you, brother."

 

 

Loki was acting weird. Loki acting weird was not a good thing, Bruce thought. But he was. They were loading up the ship before setting off, and Loki was skulking around in a decidedly suspicious way. He also kept glancing at Thor every few steps, and staying carefully out of his brother's sightline. Whatever was in the box he was holding to his chest, Bruce thought he'd better check it out. Just in case. He followed at a distance, trying not to look suspicious while aware that he probably looked just as shady as Loki did.

He followed the Asgardian through the halls of the ship, to a quiet corner in the bottom of the ship. Bruce walked slowly to keep his steps quiet on the echoing metal floors, ignoring the Other Guy's rumbling requests for 'smash' steadily growing in volume. Then he heard Loki's voice, and he paused.

"Yes, yes, I know," he was saying, voice hushed and hurried. "You're hungry. But you have to be quiet or Thor will find you! I'll come back with food soon."

Bruce ducked into a divot in the walls and watched as Loki hurried past. He waited until he was sure the trickster was gone to emerge again and look for the room Loki had been in. Luckily, the door was still sliding shut. The scientist walked over, opened the door, and stepped inside. He hit the lights on the wall as the door shut, and they came alive with a soft buzzing noise. Something squeaked.

"Ah!" Bruce jumped, and only years of practice kept the Other Guy from bursting out. He was agitated in the back of Bruce's mind, pacing (figuratively) impatiently. At least he hadn't started roaring to be let out. Yet.

From behind a stack of crates, a head poked out. It was some kind of... lizard? Ube purple in color, with almost-black eyes and shiny, pebbly scales. It tilted it's head at him and rapidly stuck out a raspberry pink tongue. 

Bruce couldn't help himself—he laughed. "You're what Loki was being so shady about, smuggling on the ship?" Kneeling on the ground, he held out a hand to the little creature, despite the scientist part of him thinking about alien diseases. He hadn't gotten sick yet, anyway. It would probably be fine.

The lizard gave him a suspicious look that nearly made him laugh again, and then it's whole face brightened and it scampered over. It headbutted his hand, and to his surprise, made a happy squeaking sound before climbing straight into his lap. Bruce petted it with one hand while trying to covertly examine it—alien wildlife!—when someone cleared their throat. Bruce looked up, and Loki was in the doorway looking very, very threatening.

"What are you doing," Loki said in a near growl. The Other Guy's returning grumble in the back of his head was almost as loud.

"What is it?" Bruce asked instead of answering. It made a squeaky purring sound when he stroked its head.

"A rikitican—in the native language, it essentially means rock-skinned cat." Loki sounded marginally friendlier, so he took it as a win.

"Well she's very friendly," Bruce said with a smile. Loki blinked at him. "What? I checked!"

"Hmm." Loki crouched to the ground and held out a handful of... something. The lizard promptly deserted him for the food. "She likes you," Loki said as he watched it eat.

A few minutes of awkward silence passed. "Why did you bring her on the ship?" Bruce asked.

"They're domesticated—they don't survive well in the wild, on their own. And she's pregnant and doesn't have a home—I checked. So..." Bruce didn't think Loki was aware that he was blushing. It was actually sort of endearing. "Don't tell Thor?"

 

 

 

She caught him sneaking through the corridors with an armful of Flerken. "WHAT THE—" she shrilled, before he smacked a hand over her mouth and dragged her into a nearby room.

"What are you doing down here?" Loki hissed after removing his hand from her face.

Brunnhilde gave him a dirty glare. "What are you doing with a Flerken?"

"He's promised not to eat anyone," Loki said quickly. "He just needs a ride." She stared at him expressionlessly, and he hastened to explain himself. "Honestly. I wouldn't put the remnants of Asgard in danger, no matter what you might have heard of me. He was taken from his home by an exotic animal smuggling ring. They muzzled him before he knew what was happening. He just needs a ship to go to his home on—the planet isn't far."

"How are you gonna feed him?" She asked dryly.

"Flerkens can survive for three hundred years without food or water with no adverse effects," Loki informed her, businesslike.

With a sigh, she shrugged his grip and stepped away. "When Thor finds out, I didn't know about this. Got it?"

Chapter Text

"Time for a break," Banner announced as he walked into the room.

Loki looked up from the mess of papers spread across the floor in front of him, expression hazy. "What?"

Thor lifted his eye from his own papers, similarly dazed. In the corner, Val continued sharpening her sword like nothing had been said.

"When was the last time you slept, Loki," Bruce said patiently.

Loki blinked three times in quick succession. "Sometime," he answered after a moment of thought.

"Thor?"

Thor looked down. "Last night."

"For longer than two hours," Val added from the corner.

...he didn't actually know.

"You two are going to sleep," Bruce told them. He swept up all of Loki's papers, ignoring his belated attempt to snatch them back, and then divested Thor of his own before he'd even processed what was happening. "You're no good to anyone dead on your feet." Loki opened his mouth, a protest clearly on his lips. Holding up a sheet of paper, Bruce stabbed his finger rapidly into five different points on the sheet. "There are at least five times you've made mistakes in your calculations, here. This math says we can reach almost twice the distance we actually can before fuel runs out. If we went by this, we'd be stranded in space without fuel and three days from the nearest planet." Loki's mouth snapped shut.

Bruce turned to Thor, but he had already raised his hands in surrender. "We'll take a break."

"You're going to sleep," Bruce commanded. "And you're not going to get up until breakfast tomorrow, got it?"

Even if he wasn't also the Hulk, the Midgardian scientist could be terrifying when he wanted to. Both brothers nodded mutely.

Val sheathed her sword and stood, placing a hand on Loki's shoulder and guiding him forward. "Come on highness. Time for bed."

A bit of guilt swelled in Thor's chest as he trailed behind the two of them, Bruce behind him. Loki kept stumbling and having to be steadied by the Valkyrie. And he hadn't noticed how badly Loki needed rest. By the nine, his little brother could hardly stand up straight.

Thor blinked. He blinked again, and Bruce was opening the door to their rooms. "Wha—" how had they gotten there so fast? It felt like they'd teleported. He glanced at Loki—eyes closed, slumped heavily on Val, chin tucked to his chest—apparently not. Huh.

In another blink, Thor was sitting on the bed and Bruce was helping him pull off his boots. On the other side of the bed, Val was detaching Loki's cape and wresting his jerkin over his head. Almost before he knew it, he was dressed in only his trousers, and Loki had been shoved into his own sleepclothes and was already curled up in a ball on the bed. Thor laid down at Bruce's prompting and pulled the covers over himself and Loki. Banner shifted Loki into a more comfortable position, and Val switched off the lights.

"Sweet dreams, highnesses. Don't get up till tomorrow. I will tie you two down if I have to."

"Sleep well," Bruce added. The light from the hallway vanished.

Somehow without his noticing, Loki had inserted himself under Thor's arm and cuddled up against his chest. The trickster yawned and nuzzled Thor. "They're bossy," he mumbled.

"Hmm." Thor smiled, dropping a kiss to the top of Loki's head. "Well you need to sleep."

Loki pulled back, narrowing his eyes. He was clearly trying his hardest to glare, but the wild disorder of his hair and the circles under his eyes made it seem like he was only squinting sleepily. "I won't if you don't."

Thor pulled Loki back again. "I'll go to sleep. Now hush."

Loki's breathing took a few minutes to finally even out—Thor thought he'd been trying to stay awake to make sure that he himself went to sleep, but was too tired to stay awake that long. The thunderer let a fond, sappy smile curve his lips, and he kissed the crown of Loki's head again. "Sweet dreams, little brother," he whispered into soft raven hair, and then he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

"Are you sure this is how you play it?" Val asked skeptically, squinting at Bruce.

"There are a lot of rules!" he protested. "I might not be remembering them all exactly, but this is how you play it."

"How can you play it correctly if you don't know all the rules?" Loki asked, honestly curious.

"I think this is how it goes," Thor supplied. "We played it a few times on Midgard."

"Though never with this detailed a board," Bruce remarked. "Or pieces. Or currency."

Loki ducked his head to conceal the pleasured flush forming on his face. "It wasn't difficult."

"Still looks good," Val said. "Can I buy that?"

"No," Thor and Bruce said together.

"There's a house on that space," Thor went on to explain, a hint of pride to his voice. "Bruce owns it. You have to pay him."

"That's dumb. Why?"

"Trespassing charges?" Loki suggested. With a bit of magic, he made his game piece—a silver cat—come to life. It hissed at Thor's dog, which barked back after another dash of seidr.

"It's just how the game works," Bruce said helplessly. "I don't know."

"Trespassing charges," Loki affirmed. He turned and raised his eyebrows at Val. "Pay up, then."

"I want to buy it," she grumbled as she forked over a few bills to Bruce. "Can I buy it from you."

Instantly, Bruce replied, "not selling."

Thor frowned. "Where did my piece go?" Smirking, Loki pointed to the other side of the board. A scruffy little silver dog was standing at the base of a miniature tree, barking up at the silver cat hissing in its branches. "Loki! Turn it back!"

Loki batted his eyelashes. "Or you could just call it."

Thor tipped his head back, giving the ceiling a defeated stare. The trickster's smirk grew. "Here, boy," Thor said very unenthusiastically.

"Girl," Loki corrected mildly. When Thor looked back, there was now a pink bow tied on one of the dog's ears.

"Here, girl," Thor said without commenting on the change.

"You have to mean it," Loki told him, barely holding back hysterical giggles. "Call her like you actually want to come to you."

The noise Thor made was not words, but it clearly expressed deep, existential frustration and resignation. "Fiiiiine." Thor shook his head, and a creepily wide smile appeared on his face. "Here, girl! Come here, girl! Who's a good girl? Who's a good girl!" The piece obediently stopped barking and trotted over.

Val blinked. She rubbed her eyes. "Please never do that again. Loki, turn the pieces back. Now." Mutely, Loki obeyed. His cat tumbled out of the tree, Thor's dog froze mid-bark—the bow didn't disappear—and something tiny and silver hit the game board with a clink. Val picked it up to find her pegasus in a completely different position than what it had been when Loki conjured it. "How did I not notice that."

"None of you are actually trying," Bruce sighed, dragging a hand down over his face.

Loki spoke over Thor's affronted "I am!" "I've had enough of finances as of late."

"And I don't actually care," Valkyrie said bluntly.

"Fine." Bruce shook his head. "I guess we can play something else."

Loki nodded his head, and skimmed his eyes swiftly over the board. Little shops in rows, framed by sidewalks where the pieces moved about, tiny trees and flowers and even a small pond with moving water. The jail even resembled Asgard's dungeons. He had the experience—might as well use it. With a gesture, the buildings all melted away and a flat gray expanse was left, ready to be shaped into a new game.

"Aw," Thor protested. "I liked the board you made."

Though he was very slightly flattered inside, outwardly Loki only shrugged. "I can make another."

"Do we have to play another game?" Val groaned from where she had flopped facedown on the floor. "I'm tired."

"Me too," Loki agreed. Thor wrapped an arm around him, and Loki ignored the hand ruffling his hair with dignity.

"What about a blanket fort?" Bruce suggested.

Loki had a feeling he was kidding, but his eyes lit up anyway. He exchanged a glance with Thor. "You're on."

"What, no!" the scientist protested. "What do you mean you're on? This isn't a competition!"

"That's what you think," Thor yelled as he yanked a cushion off the couch and tossed it to Loki. Loki laughed.

Chapter Text

It was, unusually, Thor who woke up first that morning. He groaned, long and drawn out, and flipped over to bury his head in the pillow. Next to him, Loki coughed.

Thor growled. He swung an arm to push away the little brother curled up at his back—and then Loki whimpered. Thor's eye opened. He twisted to face Loki and propped himself up on his elbow. "Loki?" No answer. "Brother? What's wrong, are you having a bad dream..." he trailed off as his hand curled around the back of Loki's neck, and his frown deepened. Lifting his hand, he pressed it first to Loki's brow and then each of his cheeks in turn. "Oh, brother." He debated the merits of waking Loki and decided to let him sleep. Thor sat up and craned his neck to see one of the mattresses on the floor. "Bruce. Psst. Banner."

"Wha—" the scientist slurred as Thor shushed him.

"Can you take a look at Loki? I think he's sick."

A pause. "Hang on a second." The covers whumphed back and Bruce dragged himself to his feet.  He ambled over to Loki's side of the bed and half-crawled on to it in order to reach the trickster. Bruce felt Loki's brow with the front and back of his hand, and then probed lightly under his jawline with both hands. He squeezed Loki's arm, and timed something under his breath, and then put two fingers on Loki's wrist to feel his pulse. "He's got a fever, and his lymph nodes are swollen. His pulse is fast and he's dehydrated. I don't know how he's feeling since I can't ask him for symptoms—but I'd say you're right. He's sick."

Thor sighed, reaching over to brush a bit of Loki's hair off of his forehead. "What do I do?"

"Let him sleep as long as he can," Bruce told him. "Make sure he drinks water, use a wet cloth to keep his fever down, get him as comfortable as possible—that's really all you can do until we get to a planet where they can check him out. Want me and Val to clear out?"

Chewing on his lip, Thor nodded slowly. "I think it would be better if it was just us."

"Alright. I'll come back later to check on him?"

Thor offered him a smile. "Thanks, Bruce."

The Midgardian smiled back. "No problem, Thor."

 

 

Loki woke a little over an hour later, in a shuffling of covers and fluttering of eyelashes. "Thor," he croaked, and dissolved into a coughing fit.

"Ssh, shh," Thor said instantly. "I'm right here, I've got you. It's okay." He helped Loki sit and rubbed his back until the fit passed.

The silvertongue's forehead creased slightly as he stared at his brother with half-glazed eyes. "Thor?" he repeated, sounding lost.

"You're sick," Thor supplied. "It's okay, Loki. I have you. I'm not going anywhere." The furrow in his brow eased, but only slightly. "Here," Thor said, remembering what Bruce had told him. He lifted a cup from the bedside table and brought it to Loki's lips, helping his little brother drink half the glass before he pulled it away again. "Is that better?"

Loki nodded mutely, casting a slight longing glance at the water. His eyes seemed clearer, though. He shook his head slightly and then lifted his eyes to inspect the room. "Where are Bruce and Val? What time is it?" His voice was still rough, but not quite as bad as before, and Thor couldn't help a relieved smile.

"It's about nine galactic hours. Bruce and Val are busy." He reached out to lay a hand on Loki's forehead, then slid that hand down to brush over Loki's cheek. "What do you need, Loki?"

"Nothing. Go be the king," Loki said immediately.

Thor shook his head. "Not when you're sick. Let me help?" His last words were less of a question and more of a plea. Loki dropped his head so Thor couldn't see his face, and was still for a long moment. He nodded. "Thank you, Loki."

He bundled his little brother in a pile of blankets and propped him up against a mound of pillows. Dipping a washcloth in a bowl of water he had at the ready, Thor wrung it out and pressed it against Loki's heated face. He ignored the small sound Loki made at the contact, dragging the cloth down the side of Loki's face and over the column of his neck before doing the same on the other side. "Feels good?"

Loki nodded mutely, eyes closed. "Thank you," he added after a long moment.

Even though Loki’s eyes were closed, Thor smiled at him. "Of course."

The cloth dried out and was re-wetted a few more times before Loki's fever went down enough to satisfy his older brother. With that done, Thor squirmed under the covers and curled up next to Loki, pulling his baby brother to lean against his chest, head laying on his shoulder. Loki giggled.

"What's so funny?" Thor asked good-naturedly when the giggling didn't stop.

"I... don't know," Loki said. He turned his nose into Thor's shoulder. "I'm so tired."

"Go to sleep," Thor soothed. Putting his hands on the base of Loki's neck, Thor kneaded at the muscles there, in firm but gentle circles. The giggles quickly tapered off, and Loki was soon snoozing in his big brother's arms.

 

 

Bruce came to check on them two hours later, while Loki was still sleeping. "How is he?" the scientist asked quietly once the door had shut.

"Okay," Thor replied in an equally soft tone. "He's been a little loopy, and he has a cough. But I think his fever's gone down a bit."

"That's good. I'll bring you guys some lunch, I just wanted to check on him first."

Thor smiled at his baby brother curled up against him, and placed a light kiss on the top of Loki's head. "Thanks."

 

 

It was actually Val who returned with lunch, looking slightly grumpy at being made to fetch and carry—but the hint of worry in her eyes when she looked at Loki had Thor thinking that she had asked to be the one to bring lunch for them, to check on Loki. "How's Lacky?" she questioned as she dumped the tray she carried on the side table with a complete lack of grace.

Thor cataloged the food as he answered—five sandwiches, probably for him, a bowl of broth for Loki, and two glasses of water. "He's alright. Hang on," Thor shook Loki lightly by the shoulder, running a hand through tangled raven hair as he waited for Loki to wake.

The mischief-maker peeled his eyes open with a soft groan. He reached up a hand to rub his throat and made a face. "Ouch." Thor fought to keep from startling and Val's expression twisted—Loki sounded awful. His voice was gravely and grating, and lower than Thor's voice when he was angry—which he could admit was indeed an achievement. "Val?"

"Hey," she said after a slight delay. "How're ya feeling?"

"Bad," Loki croaked. He followed his words with a series of harsh coughs. "My throat hurts."

"Here, then," Thor told him, picking up the bowl of broth and handing it to Loki, along with a spoon. "Try this, brother." Loki sipped at the brother, making a face when he swallowed. But his pained expression eased as he ate it. "better?" Thor asked hopefully.

"Yeah," Loki nodded. His eyes started to flutter closed. Thor looked at Val and nodded towards the door. She took the hint and left. Once they were alone, Thor plied Loki with the glass of water, making him finish it before he was allowed to lie down again. "Can I sleep now?" Loki mumbled sleepily.

Thor smiled at him. "You can sleep."

 

 

Loki didn't wake again until mid-evening, after Thor had left for a few minutes to speak to Heimdall. He returned only to find Loki curled up in the bed, hunching his shoulders defensively like a hedgehog baring its quills against the shivers that wracked his body. He blinked at Thor with wide green eyes, looking very small buried in a bundle of blankets. Where he wasn't paler than a ghost, his face burned bright with fever. Thor's heart sank even further when he got close enough to realize Loki's teeth were chattering. "Brother-dear," Thor sing-songed, sitting down on the bed to pull Loki close, "it's okay. I'm here."

"Cold," Loki coughed forlornly.

Thor hummed in quiet acknowledgment, starting to rock Loki back and forth. "I know you feel cold." Loki coughed harshly and whined through his teeth, pressing his face into Thor's neck. The rasp to his breathing made Thor's throat hurt in sympathy. Desperately, and not for the first time in recent years, Thor wished he had seidr like Loki did. He wished that he could ease all of Loki's hurts and ills the way both Loki and their mother had always done for him, or at the very least send him into a restful sleep where he wouldn't feel the aches and pains that plagued him. Desperately, he tried to think of something Loki did for him when he was ill that he could do without seidr—and his face broke into a grin when he thought of something. He kissed Loki's brow and tucked him back under the covers, ignoring the twinge in his heart when Loki, sleepy and feverish and in pain, made a sad noise and tried to hold on to his shirt. Disentangling Loki's fingers from the material of his tunic, Thor stood to go. "I'll be back soon," he said, and left quickly before Loki's pleading eyes could make him turn back.

Ten minutes later, Thor slipped back into the room with a steaming mug in hand. "Here," he said, putting a hand behind Loki's head to support him, and lifting the cup to his lips. "This should help your throat feel better."

A look of profound relief came over Loki's face as he sipped at the warm, spiced cider that Thor had brought for him. When the cup was finished, Thor crawled back into the bed and picked up the washcloth that had been left on the bedside table. Dipping it in the waiting bowl of water, he started to dab at the sweat beading on Loki's face. The mischief-maker started coughing again, but it didn't sound nearly as harsh. "Go to sleep," Thor whispered. Loki did.

Chapter Text

Everyone in Asgard knew the importance of a good weapon. The weight, the balance, the grip—only the dwarves of Nidevllier make finer weapons that that of Asgard's smiths, and even young boys just beginning training knew how to judge a good weapon from a faulty one. Weapons were named more often than not, and kept in peak condition with almost obsessive maintenance. Warriors of Asgard are notoriously picky about what weapons they'll pick up—many have been known to die in battle because the weapon they wield isn't their own—and many refuse to even look at other weapons once they've claimed a favorite. Thor didn't even touch a single blade for several hundred years after he was gifted Mjolnir, until Odin threatened to take it when his proficiency with other weaponry waned to almost the skill level of an untrained child.

As picky as Asgard was about their weapons, very few made their own. The smiths of Asgard were often too busy (and valuable to Asgard) to go to battle and make weapons for themselves. Loki was quite abnormal in that regard. Few knew his knives weren't sourced from Nidevllier—even though all knew about his tenuous relationship with the king of the dwarves.

In the back of a crowded smithy, the only light stemming from the golden forges. Every figure bent over the forges was cast in stark relief, made almost unrecognizable by the sharp shadows cast on sweat-covered faces. Loki swiped a rag across his brow, lightheaded from all the water he'd lost spending the day in the sweltering heat. He'd been in the forge working since before dawn, and finally was almost done. He conjured a glass of water and drank heavily from it. When he banished it, it was just as full as it had been when conjured—a highly useful working. Swiping the cloth back over his brow, Loki turned his face back toward his work. A set of nine blades gleamed in front of him, each one unique and finely wrought. A hunting knife, a skinning knife, a woodcarving knife, thee different types of throwing knives, and different daggers for close wielding—one needle-sharp and thin, one sturdy enough to go toe-to-toe with a sword, and one serrated—enough for every possible use.

Satisfied with his work, Loki traced his finger over the flat of a blade, still slightly warm to the touch. The next part was his favorite, and what took the most thought. He heated a needle-thin, metal etching tool in the forge and, with a spell to protect his fingers from burning as he gripped it, proceeded to etch runes into each blade. Runes for strength and durability, to prevent rusting or wear, for true aim and perfect balance—the pattern he carved was long practiced and he had it to an art, along with a few extra blades on each rune depending on the specific purpose. He arrayed the runes in a perfect line, so small they could almost be missed by the naked eye at first glance. Once the runes were all carved, he put each blade back into the merry golden flames and then plunged them into water. The steam rising from the abrupt cooling of the blades condensed on his face to mix with the layer of sweat. A drop slipped down his nose, and absently he wiped it away.

He pulled a set of towels from his dimensional pocket, wrapped each blade in one to protect them, and then vanished them again. Finished with work in the forges, he wiped down his workstation with a rag used for that purpose, and slipped out the back door.

Though he was walking through the streets of Asgard without any glamoured disguise, Loki felt quite confident that no one would realize it was their second prince that was parading through Asgard sweaty and disheveled. One hand attempted to smooth down the creases in his tunic while the other pulled free the leather cord that had been holding back his hair. He could have teleported back to the palace, but the fresh air was refreshing after so long in the cramped and sweltering forges that he preferred to walk.

When he arrived back in his rooms, Loki changed out of the jerkin, tunic, and trousers he had been wearing, exchanging them for a still more casual not sweat-soaked set. He wouldn't bother with formal armor until dinner that night. Once he was changed, he stepped into his workroom and swept an arm over his desk to shove all the papers and knickknacks on it aside. Pulling one of the newly finished blades from the ether, Loki set it down on his work desk and unwrapped it. He took a seat and leaned over the blade. With a gesture, he threw open the curtains to let more light into the room so he could inspect it better. As he'd expected, the blade was sharp but rough—it needed to be sanded down. A gritty sheet specifically for the purpose was procured, and in rhythmic motions Loki started to buff out all the scuff marks and small imperfections on the blade. He used a touch of seidr to ease the process, but he still preferred to do it by hand. It felt different that way. More of an accomplishment.

Smoothing the blade down took a little over an hour. Loki huffed in satisfaction at his work, and conjured a glass of wine as a small reward for his work. He drained the glass without creating any more—self-replenishing alcohol was a very, very bad idea every mage who'd ever tried a spell for it could attest. Thor convinced him to give it a try once when he had first learned the spell, during a feast. Thor and his cronies struggled through hangovers for the rest of the week (that Loki refused to cure for them). Afterwards, Thor even kept his vow of temperance for a day shy of two weeks. Loki hadn't needed to suffer the effects to realize it was an exceedingly poor idea.

He banished the glass only to replace it with a jar of the polish he used on all his blades, along with a smaller dagger he'd made a few decades ago, a long, coiling strip of black leather, and two small blocks of wood about four centimeters thick, each, and at least thrice as long. Most who made their own blades had to use glue to craft the handle, but Loki cheated a bit. He fused the wood to the unsharpened part of the blade that he set apart for the handle until it was all one piece, but still quite crude. The little dagger he had, which happened to be enchanted for wood carving, was quickly set to work. The handle he carved with quick and practiced strokes, and the knife automatically smoothed and polished with each stroke. He was left with a trim, slightly curved handle that perfectly followed the contours of his grip. Steady hands wrapped the blade in the leather strip, and another spell fused it in place.

The silvertongue smiled down at his work. Now it was time for the details. He used a soft, cloth rag to rub the polish all over the knife until it gleamed—it worked for leather and wood as well as metal, which was quite convenient and one of the many reasons Loki used it. Personalizing the blade had always been fun, and he moved on to the step with great eagerness. The runes, once simply embossed in the blade, were inlaid with gold, which had the added benefit of strengthening the magic. The leather he turned from coal black to a true jet, and added scale-like patterns in greens and golds until it looked like a snake had coiled itself around the handle, complete with small emeralds for eyes, illusionary so they couldn't interfere with his grip. For the final bit, Loki cleared his mind and pulled out a spellbook. Runes could do only so much—they had much less specificity and could not be customized, unlike spells. He laid charm after charm after charm on the blade, from spells to make sure the grip never grew sweaty, to spells that would blister the hand of anyone who touched it with the intent to take or use it outside of Loki himself—and alert him to the attempt.

Loki stepped back and studied his knew throwing knife. It vanished in a slight green shimmer, into his dimensional pocket. He turned and left the room—it was nearly time for dinner. He could do the rest on the morrow.

Chapter Text

It started, as most things did, with a pillow fight. Loki maintained that Val started it, everyone else said that he did. Whatever the cause, a peaceful evening of trying to play a Midgardian card game based on Bruce and Thor's recollections quickly turned into a madhouse. Loki had conjured a large amount of ammo and preferred to go for sneak attacks, while Thor and Val duked it out as if they were in an epic swordfight. Thor lasted almost a minute before he was on the ground, at which point Loki swooped in to distract Val long enough for him to get up—only for Loki to wallop him full in the face with a pillow and run. Bruce mostly observed and laughed at them.

After almost fifteen minutes of vigorous pillow fighting, the scrape melted into a pile of exhausted Asgardians splayed out across a pillow-covered floor.

"We could make a pillow fort?" Bruce suggested very cautiously. "I mean," he gestured to the wealth of building supplies around them. "One fort, that is. Not a competition. No competitions."

Loki opened one eye, so he could aim to throw a pillow. "Spoilsport."

In short order, the common room was transformed from a common room into a room-sized pillow fort. Having a mage made creating a pillow fort much easier than it had been when Bruce had tried, a few times, as a kid. He never got very far with only three blankets and the back of the sofa, but the effort was fun. Now, it was dramatically more successful. Huge blankets hung down from the ceiling, stretching to the edges of the room to create a circus-tent like shape, all sustained with Loki's seidr. Pillows carpeted the floor, turning it slightly treacherous in their lack of stability. More blankets hung down from the ceiling to create small partitions, essentially sectioning off different rooms. In the center of the mass of fluffy things was an illusory fire, surrounded by the mother of all blanket nests. Loki was all but glowing with pride as the other Revengers settled into the blanket nest, around the roaring fire that wasn't really burning but gave off actual heat. Bruce reached forward toward the flames, only for Loki to smack his hand away.

"Don't touch it, it'll burn you," Loki scolded.

"But it isn't burning the blankets," Bruce said, though by then he'd really learned to roll with all the strange things Loki's magic could do.

Loki rolled his eyes. "No, it's not burning, but it is hot. A pan might not be burning after you take it out of the oven, but you still know better than to touch it. Or, you should."

"Then why is this whole room not on fire?"

"It's only hot to living beings," Loki explained as if that were a perfectly normal, reasonable thing. "Blankets and pillows aren't alive, therefore they aren't burning."

Bruce blinked a couple of times. "Well. Okay then." 

"Loki is good at fire magic," Thor explained. "It was one of the first things he mastered. Fitting, since his name means fire."

A thoughtful expression crossed over Loki's face, followed by a bit of sorrow. "Mother said it was fate, that I would follow my namesake. Both in magic and being."

"Show them what you can do," Thor suggested before the moment grew too gloomy. "Your fire magic has always been impressive."

Loki lit up at the praise—and the fire lit up with him, doubling in brightness until Bruce had to close his eyes and look away. The next second, the heat went away. When he turned back to the fire, Bruce frowned. It looked the same, but it was... he reached out a hand to test and drew back in surprise. The fire was cold. "That'd be useful on a hot night, camping," he said, studying the leaping and dancing of the flames. "How do you do that?"

Shrugging, Loki pursed his lips. "It's hard to explain if you don't have seidr. It's like a transfiguration, say, an apple into an orange, but instead it's hot into cold. The fire behaves the same—if I let it, it could burn things up the same as a fire made with heat. But the energy it gives off is different. It's—oh, I know. Like transforming light into energy. It's the same power, but in a different form. Of course, that's not quite it, but... you get the gist, aye?"

Bruce blinked twice in mild surprise. "Sometimes I forget you guys are vikings and then you say 'aye,'" he mumbled to himself. Then, louder, "yeah, I think I do. Sort of. But enough. What else can you do?"

The smell of smoke—which Bruce hadn't realized was absent, suddenly permeated the air. The smoke smell lingered for only a few seconds, before it transformed into a different fragrance—a smell Bruce didn't recognize, but it was decidedly floral all the same. It danced through several different smells, then—baking bread, fresh fruit, pine needles, cinnamon and cloves.

"Show them the best part," Thor urged eagerly. He could still pull off the puppy-look with one eye—if anything, the missing eye enhanced the effect.

Though he gave a dramatic sigh at the request, Loki's lips twitched slightly. "Fine," he drawled. "Just don't blame me if your heads explode of sheer awe." Thor was almost bouncing in place like a little kid, so the almost-threat didn't worry Bruce all that much, even though he also didn't doubt that he would be impressed. The flames leapt up, and then died down, leapt up and died down. They soared almost to the ceiling in a brilliant orange jet before falling back down, low to the ground in a soft glow like dying embers. As the fire flared, the light in the room died until the only source was the little fire, casting warm light and sharp shadows on all of their faces. Thor's eye reflected an almost unholy glee as from those embers, a little lick of flame spiraled up.  It bounced around the edges of the fire, popped upwards, and then landed down on the embers again—in the shape of a little fox.

The tiny fire-fox twitched its ears and lashed its tail, prancing sideways a little bit. It crouched low to the ground and then sprang upward, sparks trailing from its paws as it raced off in pursuit of an ever-small rabbit that had formed from the fire. Thor two went on a merry chase around the edges of the fire for a few minutes, before the rabbit stopped, the fox crashed into it—and upwards from there soared a phoenix. It circled over their heads, shedding sparks like water and leaving a blaze of heat behind where it passed. When it opened its beak to screech, smoke billowed from its mouth. "Wow," Bruce said softly.

When he glanced beside him at the Valkyrie, her eyes were shining. "Yeah," she repeated. "Wow."

"Do a story," Thor demanded, and Bruce almost choked on a laugh he barely managed to keep back.

"Fine," Loki rolled his eyes, but he was still beaming. The fire settled back to normal in front of them, the phoenix diving back down to join the blaze from which it sprang. "What story should I tell, then?"

An idea flashed into Bruce's head, and he snickered. All of the Asgardians turned to look at him, confused by his sudden laughter. "Hey Loki," he said as mildly as he could manage given the laughter bubbling up inside of him, "there's this story on earth about Thor losing his hammer... is there any truth to that?" As he spoke, Loki's expression turned from intrigued to wicked delight, and Thor abruptly paled, the smile falling off of his face. Val glanced between the two of them, and a smirk started to grow on her face. 

"Now this," she declared, "I need to hear."

"No you don't," Thor said quickly, already looking resigned to his fate.

"Weren't you the one to want a story?" Loki asked far-too innocently. "And this one features you, too." He turned his face back towards the fire, amber light dancing over his face. "It started when Thor made a drunken bet, as was his wont at the time—" In the fire, the flames morphed to form an incredibly detailed tavern scene—there were even fireplaces with fires in them, and torches, all made out of fire. Bruce relaxed as the story when on, ending with Val wheezing on the floor, unable to speak and Thor blushing like a tomato after Loki magicked a wedding dress onto him. Eventually, they settled enough for Loki to tell another tale, and another, and the real world slowly melted away until all that was left was a pillow fort, fire, and friendship. Bruce fell asleep with the light of the fire, carefully dimmed, still dancing behind his eyelids, and was content.

Chapter Text

"Uggh."

Loki looked up from his book with a frown. "Brother?" he asked uncertainly. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," Thor said. He'd covered his face with a hand, thumb at one temple and forefinger at the other. What little Loki could see of his face looked drawn, and his jaw was stiff.

"You don't have a headache again, do you?" Loki asked, slowly lowering his book. "If you do, then—"

"No, no, I'm fine."

"That didn't sound fine, though," Loki retorted. "Come on. Thor. Tell me what's wrong. I won't stop till you tell me."

"Fine," Thor grumbled, lifting his face and dropping his hand. "Just... don't laugh, okay?"

"Okay," Loki echoed, as patiently as he was able. "Now. What's wrong."

Thor crossed the room to join Loki on the couch, instead of pacing by the wall as he had been for the last half-hour. "Am I—" he started, and then paused. Cleared his throat, licked his lips, shook his head. "Am I doing an okay job?" he asked, all in a rush.

"A good job at what?" Loki replied. "I can't tell you if you're doing a good job unless you tell me what you want to know." After a thoughtful pause, he added, "and don't expect me to sugarcoat it. If you're messing up I'm going to tell you."

Thor at last cracked a smile, if a tired one. "I know. Why do you think I asked you?"

"Val doesn't sugarcoat either?" Loki pointed out.

Yes," Thor said, nodding slightly, "but I value your opinion more. That, and I don't think she had much experience in anything but fighting. And drinking. And slave trading, but—well. You know."

"I think so," Loki said, amused and slightly flattered. "Out with it, already."

Thor inhaled and exhaled, one short, decisive breath. "Am I a good king? And... tell me the truth. Please."

Loki blinked several times, startled. "That's what's been bothering you?" he marveled, slowly. "Huh."

"Lokiiiii," Thor whined, "please."

Flapping a hand at his brother, Loki turned his head to conceal a smirk. "I would ask if you remembered your first almost-coronation but I have no doubts you do, that time was..." he trailed off, coughed awkwardly, and began again. "Well, tell me, what did you think of kingship back then, on that day. What did you think was going to happen after you got the crown."

Thor was blushing furiously when he turned back. "Loki, you know this," he mumbled.

"No," Loki said, "I really don't. Humor me a minute, brother."

Sighing heavily, Thor acquiesced. "Fine. I thought that it would be a grand, fun adventure. That no one could tell me what to do and I would go adventuring and throw parties and build statues and leave all the boring stuff to coucillors," his face twisted, "and you. Loki, I'm sorry, I'm such a bad brother and a terrible king, I'm not suited for this, I'm going to mess everything up, you should—"

"Oh, good heavens, no," Loki said, alarmed. "Thor, no. And you're getting ahead of yourself, that was not the point I was trying to make. Calm down. Now, tell me how you feel about kingship now."

"It's hard," Thor responded instantly. "It's hard, and terrifying, and... I'm responsible for so many people and I have no idea what I'm going to do or how to keep them safe and I can't, oh, Loki, I'm going to ruin Asgard—again—"

"Thor!" Loki snapped. "Calm. Down." He waited in silence while his older brother got ahold of himself again. "Brother, listen. Did you hear the difference? You understand your responsibilities, you're not trying to shirk them—even if you are trying to foist them off on me—oh, hush, that was a joke. You comprehend the gravity, that's worlds better than how you once were."

"Better doesn't mean good," Thor muttered, sullen.

Sighing in aggravation, Loki reached up and dragged a hand down his face. "Thor. You're doing a good job, you idiot, do I really have to spell it out for you?"

"You really think so?" Instead of being insulted or incensed, Thor's voice was earnest. Pleading.

"Yes," Loki sighed. "Yes, you idiot, I do."

Thor sagged as if a huge weight had been lifted off of him, practically melting into the couch. Even so, a sort of tension still thrummed through his whole form, and his eye was dark with contemplation. "And you're not just saying that."

"No, Thor." After studying his brother for a moment, he sighed, and leaned forward. Loki buried his face in Thor's chest.

"What are you doing?" Thor asked cautiously.

"Don't question it," Loki said, muffled, "or I'll leave. Understand?"

"Understood," Thor said. He'd stiffened when Loki leaned against him, but quickly relaxed again, and this time almost fully. One arm wrapped around his back while another hand came to rest lightly on his hair. Loki didn't move, kept his breathing even and deep. He closed his eyes and waited. A minute later, Thor's hand on his head started to card through his hair, starting at the roots and stroking all the way down to the curling ends before repeating the motion, and the hand on his back tugged him every-so-slightly closer. 

Loki stayed as still as he could manage for at least ten minutes. "Thor," he mumbled finally, face squished up against his older brother's broad chest. "My legs are falling asleep."

"Oh." Thor relaxed his hold, and Loki leaned back. He rubbed at his face with a grimace, swinging his legs down over the side of the couch and flexing his feet to try and get some feeling back into them. "Sorry," Thor said.

Loki turned his head to smirk at him. "Thor, I let you use me as a teddy bear. This is a natural consequence, and it's not like you hurt me." He waited for the slight guilt in Thor's expression to ease, and then smiled at him. "Feeling better now?"

"Yeah," Thor said. "Thanks, brother."

Loki scoffed. "Don't get sappy on me now, Thor—I've already given you my daily allotment of sincerity. Try again tomorrow." He breezed out of the room to the sound of Thor's chuckle behind him, and smiled.