Loki had spent so many years hiding in fear of Thanos that when the Mad Titan finally showed up it was almost disappointing how easy it was to kill him.
Well, Loki supposed, snapping a Tesseract portal shut and separating Thanos’s head from his body, his circumstances had changed. He wasn’t a lost, broken thing anymore. He had an infinity stone and his brother.
Still, maybe it could have been a little more of a challenge.
Thor walked over to the body and nudged the gauntlet with his boot, then bent down and pried the power stone out of its setting.
“Oh, that tingles,” Thor said, nearly dropping it.
Loki hid a smile. He’d studied the stones in the years he’d spent as Odin, and he knew that only beings of extraordinary strength could touch the power stone without being destroyed. This just confirmed what Loki knew already from centuries spent at his brother’s side. Maybe better for Thor not to know, though. His opinion of himself was high enough already.
Instead, Loki used his seidr to separate one of the fingers of the gauntlet from the rest of it, and spun the metal out like thread, shaping it into a ring. He floated it over to Thor.
“Put it in there,” Loki said.
Thor placed the stone in the open setting, and Loki spun a cage of metal around it, enclosing it.
“Slip your finger in,” Loki directed, and Thor did, and Loki tightened the ring until it fit him.
Thor flexed his hand and grinned. “One for each of us.”
“Don’t go shouting it. Everyone will want one.”
It was a relief for Thor to know about the Tesseract, finally. It was the second to last of the secrets Loki had been keeping from his brother, although in retrospect it needn’t have been a secret at all. Thor wasn’t angry about it, nor did he make any attempt to take it from Loki’s possession. All he’d said when Loki revealed it was, “Thank the Norns, I was afraid that thing was just floating around in space somewhere.”
Now only one of Loki’s secrets was left, and Loki felt much the lighter for it, though the last one he’d keep until he died again if he could help it.
It was his oldest one, and his most dearly guarded. He thought on it now as he smiled back at Thor, the sweet ache a familiar friend.
“Shall I send us on to Earth with the rest of them, then?” Loki said. He was already preparing to open another portal. They’d managed to get every single person on the ship off other than themselves before Thanos and his minions had boarded, which had been quite neatly done if he did say so himself.
“Actually,” Thor said. “How big a portal can you make?”
“Why? What do you have in mind?”
“I was just thinking it would be a shame to show up without a spaceship.”
The enduring image of the Asgardians’ arrival on Earth was a video taken with Tony Stark’s phone from a field in Norway. It showed the cloudy gray sky split open by a blue-edged hole full of alien constellations, and a small red and yellow spacecraft careening through it. If you zoomed in on the cockpit (because you could; Tony Stark’s personal phone was at the cutting edge of technology and had more megapixels than some telescopes), you could see two men, one with an eyepatch and close-cropped brown hair and a beard, the other with black curls that touched his shoulders, both of them whooping in excitement. They were clearly identifiable as Thor Odinson, King of Asgard, and his brother Loki.
The adoration on their faces when they looked at each other was plain to everyone who looked except for Thor and Loki themselves.
When Thor had pictured bringing his people to Earth, he hadn’t quite envisioned the bureaucracy it would entail.
“Humans live for such a short time, I can’t see why they waste so much of it on paperwork,” he grumbled, pushing a stack of the offending papers away and scrubbing at his face. It must be midnight.
“Incomprehensible,” Loki agreed. He was lying on the couch (it was a relatively comfortable one as far as human hotel furniture went; they’d seen a lot of hotel furniture since they got here), lazily drawing in the air with his finger, leaving glowing shapes hovering above him that he flicked around based on some inscrutable whim. A bird, a snake, a wolf, a tree.
If the couch were bigger and Thor could draw glowing pictures in the air, he’d slot himself in at Loki’s side and, since this was purely in the realm of wishful thinking, he’d draw the two of them holding hands. And then when Loki hit him he’d draw them kissing. And then when Loki tried to shove him off the couch he’d wrap his arms around him and bring him down with him, and kiss him for true.
It was a pleasant thought and it must have left him smiling a bit stupidly, because Loki raised an eyebrow at him and said, “What?”
“Nothing,” Thor said. He held up the pen. “It’s your turn to sign.”
They’d been sharing a room for months, first on the Statesmen since cabins were in short supply, and then in the various places they’d been shuttled to on Earth (New York and Oslo and Wakanda and London and—). Loki had insisted on the latter, saying that he’d be damned if he’d let the humans split them up and that they were safer together. His fears were mostly founded. No one had forgotten the havoc he’d brought upon New York City. Everyone seemed to want him executed or imprisoned or worse. No one was quite willing to completely cross Thor, however, and so finally, after a month of tense meetings and mountain upon mountain of paperwork, they agreed upon Tønsberg, Norway as the site for New Asgard, upon the condition that Loki stay essentially under house arrest, with Thor as his legal guardian (Loki had refrained from stabbing the person who called Thor that, which Thor found commendable).
Roommates again, Thor thought with a sorrowful sort of glee. It was both everything he wanted and not nearly enough.
S.H.I.E.L.D. escorted them. Valkyrie had directed the builders to make Thor and Loki’s house up on a rise away from the bulk of the village for privacy. It was a snug little thing, a far cry from the opulence of the palace they’d grown up in, or even their summer lodgings in the forests of Asgard. Thor loved it already. It was theirs.
“I better not see your brother take one step out this door,” Nick Fury said to Thor.
“I wouldn’t dream of breaching the terms of our agreement,” Loki said smoothly. He was leaning on the doorway looking as insouciant as ever, arms crossed and one perfect brow arched. Does he know how well that posture shows off his miles of leg? Thor wondered.
Fury gave Loki an unimpressed look. “Yeah, I bet.” Then to Thor, “I mean it. Do not fuck this up.”
“Yes, yes,” Thor said. “Thank you for...ah...everything you’ve done.” He clapped Fury on the shoulder, already eager for the humans to be on their way.
“Everything they’ve done?” Loki said when S.H.I.E.L.D. finally started moving out and Thor joined him. “What exactly is it that they’ve done for us that we couldn’t have done ourselves?”
Thor grinned. “Absolutely nothing.”
Loki wasted no time fixing the house to his liking. With a combination of the Tesseract and pocket dimension theory, he made the house thrice as big on the inside as it looked from without. In addition to increasing the size of the kitchen and living area, he created a sitting room and a work room and a large underground training area for Thor.
“Barbaric to have a dwelling without a library, don’t you think?” Loki said, spinning another room out as Thor watched.
“Of course, most of my books exploded. I suppose I’ll just have to take some from that wizard.”
“Borrow them, you mean? I’m sure that he would be happy to—”
Loki snorted. “I chose my words exactly as I intended to, brother.”
Loki turned the entire side of the house that faced the sea into windows with one-way glass. The bathing chamber he enlarged by fivefold into something approximating the bath they’d shared for centuries, and added a pool big enough for both of them. Thor requested a shower tap as well, which Loki obliged. He couldn’t help but imagine lounging in the pool while watching his brother stand under the spray, water falling in rivulets down the sculpted planes of his body. It was a good addition.
Loki only realized his error in remodeling when Thor followed him upstairs. The house had been constructed with two bedrooms, and Loki had turned one of them into a rooftop deck, leaving—
“Just the one bedroom for both of us?” Thor said mildly.
Loki tried not to blush. He hadn’t even been thinking. They’d been sharing for so long—
“Good,” Thor said before Loki could stammer out an excuse. “I’ve been growing rather used to the sound of your snoring. Fond, even. Sometimes I even use the rhythm of it to count sheep as I—”
“Oh, shut up,” Loki growled. “I can make another bedroom.”
But Thor turned to him and clasped his neck, and this time when he spoke his voice was earnest. “Truly, brother. I do like you sleeping by my side. After everything that’s happened it’s… A comfort. I would like it if we were to stay together like this.”
Loki glanced over to the bed. There was only the one. He swallowed, and thought of waking up next to Thor every morning for the foreseeable future, and his pitiful little heart gave a stir that left him breathless with want.
“Very well,” Loki managed. “But I’m making that bed much bigger.”
There was much to do to get New Asgard up and running, and for a time Thor was rarely at their house during the day. That was fine, because Loki wasn’t either. He took a particular kind of pleasure in disregarding his confinement while adhering exactly to Fury’s admonishment to “not take one step out of the door,” and so when he left it was as a bird taking flight from the deck, or as a little snake coiled up in Thor’s pocket, or sometimes simply using the Tesseract and opening portals to wherever he wished to go from the privacy of his own living room.
While Thor toiled at his kingly duties, Loki spent his time turning their house into something livable.
He filled their living areas with furniture and art that reminded him of home. Not the palace, which had sometimes been as much a tomb as a home, but Asgard itself, its mountains and valleys, its forests and streams. He found a couch the same shade as Frigga’s eyes. A table with a crackle inlay that looked like the sky from the Observatory at dusk.
Loki portaled into Strange’s stronghold and took books out from under his nose, flaunting his ability to sidestep the wizard’s wards. He ranged near and far over Earth, collecting things that pleased him: a horned skull from the desert; a carving of a flower from a market stall on a humid palm-lined avenue; blue ice from a glacier that he put into stasis on a small claw-footed stand; a painting from a museum (that particular acquisition made the mortal news cycle, although no one could figure out how a priceless work of art had simply disappeared from a highly secure vault).
And he did it all with an eye towards comfort. He made sure every surface was comfortable to sit on, their bedding voluminous, even the air pleasantly scented with pine and rose petals.
Every new acquisition was judged based on his brother’s reaction to it. A rug that Thor sank his feet into with a pleased sigh stayed. The wall hanging that he raised a skeptical eyebrow at didn’t.
It was as close to a nest as Loki had ever made, and he found it surprisingly satisfying.
Thor brought their first crops to ripening in a matter of weeks.
“This food is tasteless,” Loki complained, poking listlessly at his plate during dinner. The table was made from a fantastically whorled piece of driftwood he’d found in one of the fjords to the north and set with dishes he’d pocketed from some human emperor’s private collection. It was altogether too fine a setup for the slop they were eating. “I’d thought at first that perhaps we just weren’t being given fresh supplies, but these were harvested this morning. Is all mortal food so poor?”
“It’s all like this,” Thor said. “Although I find the coffee pleasant enough.”
“How did you stand it here for so long?” Loki said, thinking of the years Thor had spent here and wondering at his brother’s tolerance for mediocrity.
Thor shrugged. “The quality of the food mattered little. I had other things on my mind.”
The look that Thor was giving him was soft and sweet and sad and Loki understood immediately. Those were the years that Thor had thought him dead.
“I’m sorry,” Loki said, his already waning appetite suddenly gone completely.
Apologies weren’t a thing that had ever been easy between them. For the most part they were simply unnecessary—they’d go to bed angry and wake up having already forgiven the other for whatever transgression had occurred, the prospect of losing their brother’s company worse than the slight. It left them with so little practice that the needed apologies were harder.
Sorry didn’t even begin to cover the scope of the things Loki had done to Thor in the last decade. He didn’t know what else to say.
Thor’s hand covered his and squeezed until Loki looked up at him.
“I’ll only say this once,” Thor said. “You broke my heart. I survived it. Please don’t do it again, because I don’t know if I will next time.”
“Thor,” Loki said, his face twisting.
Thor pulled Loki towards him and Loki went, rising from his chair and then folding down into Thor’s lap, and Thor hugged his shaking shoulders, spreading his big warm hands across Loki’s back and rubbing it with long even strokes while Loki dribbled into his shirt.
“I’m sorry,” Loki said again, stuffy and wet.
“I know, brother. I know.”
That night they fell asleep facing each other, Loki’s hand curled into Thor’s palm on the pillow between their heads.
When Thor got in late one blustery afternoon a few days later, Loki was dozing in an armchair that faced out the windowed wall to the sea, the waves crashing far below them. There was a raven perched on the back of the chair and another one on his shoulder. Thor looked at them all for a moment, seeing the sharp lines of the birds’ movement in his brother—the clean angle of his nose and jaw, the simultaneous prominence and delicateness of his collarbone where his tunic had slipped down, the thin bones of his wrists. Even his hair was like the sweep of a raven’s wing.
Both beasts chirruped at Thor, which roused Loki from his nap. He looked feral and lost for a moment, then his face broke into an unguarded smile when he caught sight of Thor, though he quickly schooled his features into something less open.
Thor was seeing more flashes of sentiment like this lately, though he couldn’t let himself hope they meant what he wanted them to mean.
“New friends of yours?” Thor asked, nodding at the ravens.
“You jest, but you’re not entirely wrong,” Loki said. The one on his shoulder started running its beak through his hair and he smiled fondly and chucked it under the chin. “We fly together.”
Thor dropped to the floor by Loki’s feet and rested his head on the cushion of the armchair.
“Did you fly today?”
“For a bit. The sky was wonderful. There’s a storm coming and the air tastes so… Wild.”
“Mm, I know,” Thor said dreamily.
Loki laughed softly. “Yes, I suppose you do. Flying wasn’t the only thing I did though. Look over there.” He nudged Thor’s head towards a stack of boxes in the corner. “Do you remember that one summer when niskies got into the emergency seed stores and Mother decided that it would be best to have another seed library off-world in case of catastrophe?”
Thor’s eyes widened.
“You went to Knowhere.”
“I did,” Loki said, voice dripping in satisfaction.
Thor clutched at Loki’s knee.
“Are there golden apple seeds?”
Thor moaned in delight and Loki shoved at his shoulder, pleased with himself.
“How fast can you make them grow?” Loki said.
Loki had Thor turn part of their yard into a recreation of Frigga’s herb garden. When it was ready, Loki draped himself around Thor’s neck in snake form, and as Thor walked the plot Loki flicked his tongue into Thor’s ear whenever there was a plant he should harvest.
He sat at the driftwood table sorting everything. Ingredients for potions, for food. A pile of the sweet-smelling herbs that Frigga used to tuck between the linens, so that Loki could wrap them in gauze and do the same.
“Come here,” Loki said, and beckoned Thor to come kneel at his feet. He took his brother by the ears and leaned down to scent him deeply. “Hmm,” Loki said, and did it again.
“What are you doing?” Thor asked.
“The formulation for every person is different,” Loki said, “I’m trying to figure out yours.”
“Formulation for what?”
“It’s a surprise.”
Loki had seen Thor’s envious looks whenever he took his bird form. Thor hadn’t flown since Mjolnir was destroyed. Once a heart had tasted the freedom of the sky, it would never be satisfied on the ground again.
Loki dragged his mortar over and crushed some herbs in it, then leaned down to sniff Thor again. His brother’s scent was as familiar to him as his own, but he’d never tried to suss out the individual parts of it before. Loki often thought that no matter what illusion that anyone might cast, or whatever form Thor might take, that Loki would know him by his scent alone, by the heat it never failed to send curling into Loki’s belly.
“Hmm,” Loki said again for exaggerated effect, then ruffled all of Thor’s hair the wrong way and patted his shoulder twice. “You’re all done.”
Thor stood, amused. “When do I get this surprise gift?”
“Who said it was a gift?” Loki said archly, crumbling another herb into the mortar. He was going to have to pop over to Vanaheim for a keese feather. He looked up at Thor and couldn’t suppress a smile. “Tomorrow.”
Even though it was August, the morning was chilly. Thor stood next to his brother on their rooftop deck, Loki holding a little clay pot of ointment.
“Shirt off,” Loki said.
Thor’s skin pebbled, but Loki’s gaze flicking over his bare chest warmed him. Loki dipped his finger into the ointment and smeared a line of it on Thor’s forehead, then down his throat, and Thor swallowed against his touch. Then he was lifting Thor’s arms out to the sides and painting a line down each of them, and finally one straight down the center of his chest.
“Now what?” Thor said, a little more breathlessly than the situation called for.
“Now watch me,” Loki said. “And do what I do.”
He spread his arms wide and grinned, and again Thor saw the lines of the ravens in him. And then Thor blinked, and shook his head, for it was no fancy; the sharp peak of Loki’s nose became a beak, and his arms grew feathers, and in another heartbeat a large black raven fluttered up to the railing to caw at him.
“How am I supposed to do that?” Thor said. His stomach lurched and the world shifted and the next time he opened his mouth a harsh caw came out of it to echo Loki’s.
Loki voiced something back at him and Thor realized it wasn’t a harsh purposeless call at all.
Come, Loki said. With me. I’ll show you.
Thor fluttered up next to him, ungainly, and Loki cackled and flapped his wings.
Come, Loki said again and launched himself off the railing.
They flew for hours.
It was different from flying with Mjolnir. That had been about brute force as much as anything, how hard and how far Thor could hurl her, everything else be damned. As a bird, every minute shift of musculature or feathers produced results, every errant breeze affected the course. It was infuriating. It was exquisite. Thor never wanted it to end.
He and Loki banked and whirled around each other, soaring up into the clouds and back down, chasing their shadows over the water, over the land, over towns and villages. They caught thermals and coasted. Dive bombed each other for the fun of it. It was almost like fighting together, or dancing, or maybe a bit of both. Anticipating the other’s movement. The simple joy of wordless synchronicity.
Come! Loki called again, and Thor followed. The language of the ravens was simpler than Allspeak, though there was an odd kind of joy in that too. There were fewer ways to muddy your meaning. No lies.
They alighted high on a scarp looking down over the untamed fjords, the glittering ocean cupped in the jagged bowl of the mountains. Loki shimmered back into himself, and after a moment’s concentration Thor did as well.
Thor realized he was smiling wide enough to hurt his cheeks, and before Loki could do or say anything Thor wrapped him up in a bone-crushing hug.
“Thank you,” Thor rasped into Loki’s ear. His throat hurt from the wind.
Loki returned the hug, for a moment going almost boneless in Thor’s hold. Thor wanted to wrap him up and keep him forever, this new-old version of his brother. Wanted to bear him to the ground and love him until he promised never to leave again.
Loki stepped away and adjusted his clothes, hiding a smile behind his hand and his too-bright eyes behind the messy tumble of his hair.
“I packed lunch,” Loki said.
They ate with their feet dangling into the abyss and licked their fingers clean, and then traded gulps from a flagon of watered wine.
Loki noticed that Thor kept twisting the ring with the power stone on his left hand over and over again.
At Loki’s touch he stopped.
“What ails you, brother?” Loki said.
Thor looked down at the ring and then out at the water.
“In truth I don’t like having this,” Thor said. “Especially so...openly. And here, where three other stones are. But I don’t know what else to do about it.”
Loki took Thor’s hand and ran his fingers lightly over the ring. He could feel the power humming inside of it. How many other beings in the universe would kill to possess this? All of Thanos’s will had been bent towards this very thing, world after world breaking under his desire for it. And Thor only wanted to be rid of it. He was the only one who deserved to have it.
“The infinity stones should not exist,” Loki said. “So long as they do there will always be bloodshed.”
“Is it even possible to destroy one?” Thor said. He slipped Loki’s hand down to thread their fingers together and Loki’s breath caught for a fraction of a heartbeat.
“I think it would be possible. Maybe. Though I confess that I’ve grown rather fond of the portals I can create. They’re extremely convenient. Personally speaking.”
Thor laughed softly. “I knew that half the things in our house were pilfered.”
“Yes. Well. I shan’t apologize.” Loki was smiling too.
“My brother,” Thor said warmly. “Has a fundamental force of the universe in his pocket and uses it to aid in interior decorating.”
“We all need a hobby.”
Thor slung an arm around Loki and squeezed, and Loki leaned against his shoulder, and the thought rose, unbidden, that for the first time since before he fell he was happy.
Summer gave way to fall. Earth’s season was almost as good as Asgard’s had been, although nothing would ever be able to compare to the bite in the air during Asgard’s harvest festival, or the flavor of fruit grown in her ancient soil. At least there were golden apples now to be distilled into brandy; even lacking in terroir, golden apples were perhaps the universe’s perfect food.
In Thor’s opinion, anyway.
Thor got in one afternoon red-cheeked from the cold and found Loki on his knees in the living room as if he were on all fours, but his head and upper body seemingly vanished. The ground around him was littered with a random assortment of items, and he was muttering. As Thor watched, several objects flew out of the nothing where Loki’s shoulders should be; rolled up scrolls, two ornately worked daggers on a belt, an old dressing gown, a green velvet bag stuffed full and tied shut.
Thor picked up the bag and was opening it for a peek when Loki stood all in a rush, head and shoulders perfectly in place, and tried to snatch the bag from him.
Loki was breathless and disheveled, his hair a wild tumble and his chest heaving. Lovely. Thor had a flash of insight that this was how his brother might look in passion, and his knees went a bit weak.
Unable to resist seeing whatever had Loki so flustered, Thor opened the bag the rest of the way and withdrew the contents: two cloth dolls, one with blond hair and blue eyes and a red cape, and the other with black and green and green.
“Oh,” Thor said, both surprised and pleased. Their mother had made these for them when they were children, a tiny Thor for Loki and a tiny Loki for Thor. They had passed countless hours sending their little doubles into glorious battle against frost giants and orcs, or threatening to rip them to pieces when they were angry with each other. Or, at least in Thor’s case, holding his doll close at night when he wished he could be in his brother’s bed instead.
He’d thought his little Loki doll lost to the ages. He actually specifically remembered hunting around his room for it the evening before he was to be sent off to his warrior trials and being unable to find it. Loki must have taken it.
“I never knew you to be one for sentiment, brother,” Thor said.
“I’m not,” Loki said. He stuck his hand out, his cheeks even redder than before. “Just give them back.”
Thor took the doll that looked like himself and made it kiss the Loki doll with a big exaggerated smack, grinning. Loki covered his face with his hands and groaned.
“Seriously,” Thor said. “I can’t believe you kept these.”
“Well, they were just going to be thrown out, weren’t they?”
Thor turned the Loki doll over. Their mother had embroidered little snakes along the hem of the cape. He ran his fingers over the threadwork, and found his throat unexpectedly choked up. He brought the doll to his face, hoping against hope for a whiff of her perfume, but it only smelled of dust and age. Loki gently took the dolls from him and tucked them back in the bag.
“How big are your pockets, anyway?” Thor said gruffly, scrubbing at his face.
“Extensive,” Loki said with a small sad smile. “I was actually looking for something of hers in there. I wanted it for… Well. It’s been almost five years.”
Thor scrubbed at his face again and blew out a long breath. An old guilt reared its head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I wanted… You should have been there. They wouldn’t let me get you from your...your…”
“Cell,” Loki finished for him. “Well, it wasn’t exactly like you’d been knocking down the door before.”
Loki turned away, quiet, and started gathering the things he’d tossed out of his pocket dimension. Only the slight hitch in his shoulders betrayed that he was crying. Thor pulled him into a rough embrace and let his own tears fall freely.
“You hug me and get snot in my hair and expect me to forgive you?” Loki said, but there was no heat in his voice, and he held Thor as tightly as Thor held him.
“It’s a very good hug,” Thor said, rocking them.
Loki huffed out a surprised tearful laugh. “It is.” Then, whispered wetly into Thor’s neck, “I miss her.”
“So do I.”
Loki raced back to the house as a swallow, barely ahead of Thor, and was sitting in the armchair reading casually when Thor came stomping in.
“Brother,” Thor said.
Loki could barely keep a straight face.
“Yes?” Loki said archly, turning a page.
Thor came over and plucked a feather out of Loki’s hair, then shut his book in his face and pointed at the title. It was upside down.
Loki gave into his mirth and grinned. Thor glared.
“I was down at the docks with Valkyrie all day,” Thor said, “unloading fish. And so I found it extremely interesting when I went back into town after my long day of fish hauling—with Valkyrie—to hear that Valkyrie had been going round town all day saying “yes” to anybody who begged for a moment of her time and agreeing to everything from being the coach of a new wrestling team to changing New Asgard’s flag to a pair of soiled undershorts.”
“Was she furious?” Loki said, still grinning.
Thor’s face finally cracked and he grinned back. “Incandescent.”
“Did her eye do the thing?”
“Her whole face did this warrrrgh—” Thor pulled a contorted grimace and clawed at the air and Loki nearly fell out of his chair laughing.
The first night it snowed, Thor lay on his side in bed facing the windowed wall and watching the fat flakes swirl down against the black. Loki ran cold for obvious reasons and always kept their bed piled high with soft blankets, so Thor, who ran hot no matter the outside temperature, never wore more than undershorts to sleep in. Tonight was no exception. Loki was curled on his side facing the other way, breathing deeply in sleep.
Then Loki stirred and rose and padded over to the bathroom. Thor closed his eye against the light, and kept it closed when Loki came back out. Loki must have thought he was asleep, because he got back into bed as light as a dream, scarcely disturbing the blankets. Then, to Thor’s great surprise, Loki spooned up behind him, still lightly, with the softest points of contact—his lips between Thor’s shoulder blades, his pelvis against Thor’s backside, his cool hand on Thor’s bare waist. When Thor didn’t move, Loki grew bolder. He slid his hand more firmly around Thor, pressed a lingering kiss to his back, and held him for a moment, before sighing and withdrawing and rolling away.
Thor laid awake for an hour afterwards, wanting to roll over and return the favor, knowing that Loki would only get defensive and closed off. Wanting to do so much more than hold him. It was growing harder and harder for Thor to stop himself from such things, to keep his touches casual and brotherly, or even to remember why he needed to in the first place.
He rolled, still feigning sleep, close enough to get his nose into Loki’s hair where it was spread out behind him on the pillow, and finally fell asleep for true with his brother’s scent in his nose.
“I look like an idiot,” Thor said morosely, poking and prodding at his shaggy hair in the mirror. It was curling down around his ears now.
“I could speed up its growth,” Loki said. He was sitting on the ledge in the bathing pool, his arms spread out on the floor behind him. He ran his eyes up and down his brother’s bare backside, but stopped when he saw Thor looking at him in the mirror. He wet his face with water instead and began soaping himself, putting his back to Thor. When he turned around, blinking water out of his eyes, he thought he saw Thor’s gaze flit guiltily away. It made Loki itch, like his skin was too tight, his heart too big for his chest, and he scrubbed himself harder.
“Perhaps an inch,” Thor said, joining him in the water. “I fear as it is now I only look like I’ve forgotten to go to the barber.”
“Can’t have you looking scruffy tonight, can we?” Loki said. “Why I aid your vanity I’ll never know.” He flicked water at Thor’s nose and Thor caught his wrist, laughing.
“A peacock calling a peacock vain.”
Loki flicked water at him with his other hand, his wrist still trapped in Thor’s big warm hand, and Thor, laughing, tugged him close enough that their chests brushed and the color rose in Loki’s cheeks—but only for an instant, because Thor scooped up a handful of water and poured the whole thing on Loki’s head.
Loki squawked and shoved Thor under completely and sat on him for good measure, until Thor tumbled him off, and they both rose, dripping and mirthful. One wet lock straggled down between Thor’s eyebrows. Before Loki knew what he was doing he brushed it tenderly aside; abruptly, he turned away and climbed out of the pool without looking back.
“Let’s get you dressed,” Loki said, and willed his pulse to slow.
It was New Asgard’s Yule festival tonight. There would be merriment and bonfires until midnight and possibly beyond, as long as there were people awake and sober enough to tend to them. Thor usually let Loki dress him for things like this, claiming fashion ignorance, and Loki was usually happy to oblige. The opportunity to get Thor looking his best was too tempting to pass up; Thor’s best was so indecently better than everyone else’s that it beggared belief.
Loki dressed Thor all in burgundy and silver tonight. Then he had Thor sit on the bed and he stroked his hair, murmuring words of encouragement to every follicle until they roused from their normal placid pace. Thor shivered. His hair was down to his nape now. He let Loki comb it back from his face and set a crown of holly upon his brow. He looked every inch the King. Though the old bitterness twisted in Loki, there was something sweet in it now, too. A desire to drop to his knees before Thor. To adore him as he should be adored.
Loki felt Thor’s hands on his waist and fought down his own shiver.
“Come with me,” Thor said.
“It’s too cold to be a snake, even if I was in your pocket.”
“Then something else. Please.”
“Thor, you’ll be back in a few hours.”
“It’s Yule. Please.”
“Please,” Thor said again.
The village square had been turned into a fairground, full of fire and laughter and good cheer. Loki spent the evening as a ferret, tiny enough to curl up in the palm of Thor’s hand, though he spent most of the time slithering up Thor’s sleeve, peeking his head out when he wanted to see. Thor spent the evening murmuring ridiculous asides to him and scritching the base of his skull, which Loki found hideously satisfying.
When he grew tired of being around people, he gnawed at Thor’s elbow until Thor began trying to extricate himself from the festivities.
“I need a drink now,” Loki said when Thor finally brought them home. Thor grabbed a bottle of golden apple brandy and two glasses, and they went up to the roof to finish the evening off.
Loki dragged two reclining chairs next to each other, and summoned the blankets from the bedroom with a crook of his finger.
They nestled down next to each other, starting out sipping from their glasses, then abandoning them in favor of passing the bottle back and forth.
“These are strange constellations, are they not?” Thor said, gesturing vaguely at the glittering sky.
“I can’t even bring myself to learn them,” Loki said. “Out of spite for anything human, mostly.” His nose was cold. He longed to turn six inches to his right and bury it in his brother’s warmth.
“Mm,” Loki agreed.
“Do you remember,” Thor said after a moment, “that Yule when mother threw the masquerade ball? And that one lord’s daughter kept trying to drag you outside to ‘show you the constellations’ as though you hadn’t had them memorized since you were eight? I kept trying to tell you she was flirting with you, and you wouldn’t believe me, and you ended up pouring punch in her hair to get her to leave you alone.”
Loki snorted. “She wasn’t flirting with me. Or at least not truly. She was trying to butter me up for patronage, and when I wasn’t as accommodating as she wished, she tried to use me to get to you.”
“No,” Thor said with mock affront.
“Yes,” Loki said in the same tone of voice, and jabbed Thor in the side.
They drank in companionable silence for several moments.
“Brother,” Thor said finally, and his tone was different from before, more serious. “I haven’t yet said thank you. For… being here. Staying. When you didn’t have to. When it would be easier not to. I’ve been a terrible king, and every day I regret the choices I’ve had to make, but… knowing that you’re here with me, despite it all, despite everything we’ve been and done, I just… thank you.”
Loki blinked his suddenly gritty eyes up at the stars and cleared his throat. “Been practicing that speech, have you?”
Thor laughed ruefully. “Yes.”
Loki turned his head to look at him and found Thor’s gaze already on him, gentle, intent. Open.
Loki realized that despite this display of vulnerability, that he had no desire to wound Thor as he once might have. That his urge to attack and gnaw and worry at his brother had been gently worn away over these last months until there was no trace of it left. That his own defenses had been silently falling the entire time as well, one by one, until there was only one last thing left between them, his final secret, the one that had seemed so impossible for his entire life.
Until now. Now it seemed as easy as breathing.
“Brother,” Loki whispered. “I’m here. I’m right here.”
He was already opening his arms as Thor was moving into them, falling over Loki to bury his face in Loki’s neck while Loki clutched at him, a tangle of limbs and blankets.
“I love you beyond reason,” Thor rasped against his skin.
Loki couldn’t speak above a whisper. “How far beyond reason does your love lie?”
He pushed Thor up far enough to look at his face, both of them breathing too hard, the blanket over Thor’s shoulders falling around them like a curtain.
“Does it lie here?”
Loki cupped his brother’s neck the way that Thor so often did to him.
He ran his other hand down Thor’s chest, palm spread wide, and felt the frantic drum of his heartbeat.
Loki drew Thor down and kissed him.
Despite the surety Loki had felt a moment ago, a sudden doubt seized him—that he’d read everything wrong, that this would be the final heartbreak that did Thor in.
But Thor kissed him back, tasting of apples and starlight, and when they broke apart he was smiling to rival the sun.
“Beyond that,” Thor said.
Loki had been working ceaselessly to improve the house the entire time they’d lived there, but it wasn’t until Thor had his brother in his lap in bed, every inch of their naked skin pressed together, that—for the first time—Thor truly felt home.
The weeks bled by in a sweat-damp haze as they caught up on all their years of deprivation. As the days grew longer and their explorations grew more thorough, Thor found, to his great delight, that Loki got sleepy-mouthed and affectionate after sex. Loki discovered, to his surprise and no small amount of embarrassment, that he was capable of far more climaxes in a far smaller amount of time than he had ever thought possible. He also discovered how to make his brother gasp in a particular way that made him blush to even think about. It made him feel more powerful than a throne ever had.
Thor began unloading more and more of his duties onto other people.
Loki began looking at the sky and seeing possibilities. Thor noticed.
“Take me flying,” Thor said.
Two ravens soared across the fjords of Norway. They flew so closely together that their wingtips brushed, taking turns floating above each other, dipping and weaving. One winged up high and the other followed, and they locked claws and plummeted nearly to the sea before breaking apart and letting out joyous cries.
If you spoke the language of ravens, you would have blushed to hear what they were saying.
Thor and Loki tumbled together onto the rooftop deck of their house in a flurry of feathers and rose in each other’s arms.
“Come away with me,” Loki said between kisses. “Not forever. Not even for long.” He tilted his head to encourage Thor to kiss his neck. “We’ll take the Commodore, go flying for real. There’s a whole universe waiting for us.”
Thor paused in his attentions and they stood clinging together, cheek to cheek, looking at their own reflections in the glass door leading to their bedroom. Their house. Loki turned his head to look at the real Thor—his home. No matter how far he traveled.
“I thought you’d never ask,” Thor said.