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Also Built on Ruins

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On their third day traveling to Earth, Thor gets called into a meeting with the Council of Wise Elders. He thinks they probably have a name that isn’t “Council of Wise Elders” – the All-Father Steering Committee or the Rainbow League of Decisionmakers or something. But Thor’s never really bothered to learn it, mainly because Odin never seemed to pay much heed to them.

Besides, thinks Thor as he walks into the meeting room, how wise could they be if they hadn’t realized Loki had been masquerading as Odin the past few years?

There are less of them than he remembers, and he feels more than a twinge of guilt about that. Not even all-seeing Heimdall has yet been able to count the number of the dead, so great has been their loss.

The surviving council members all have a familiar elderly wisdom about them, and they sit with their hands folded at the long glass and metal conference table. It’s unnerving to see them like this. In Asgard, Odin’s meetings always took place in hulking rooms of gold and stone, around carved and polished tables cut from the wood of great trees. Thor has gotten used enough to the shiny and artificial world beyond Asgard, but it’s different to see his people among it.

“Well?” he asks, taking his seat at the head of the table.

The councilors glance between themselves. Clearly no one wants to be the first to speak. Thor waits patiently. He’s learned that silences have a way of being filled.

Finally, the councilor at the opposite end of the table speaks.

“Your Majesty, we wish to talk to you about Loki.”

“Why?” asks Thor, with a familiar, sinking feeling. “Is this about the singing?”

He’d last seen Loki that morning, leading some of the children in a chorus of songs. Thor hadn’t stuck around to hear the whole thing – Loki had chased him out, claiming they weren’t ready for their debut – but he had heard the phrase, “Glorious Loki, beautiful Loki, savior of us all” done in a round. He had laughed when he heard it, and been thankful Loki had found something to occupy his time – something almost useful, even, as it meant someone was providing childcare.

“Not exactly, All-Father,” says a different councilor uneasily. “Though his influence over our children is concerning.”

“He likes art,” says Thor.

“It’s propaganda.”

“Agree to disagree,” says Thor, with as much charm as he can muster. It’s a considerable amount of charm, and, for a second, it has its desired effect, as the councilors look mollified, like ruffled birds settling back down into their nests.

He can already feel the headache forming behind his eyes – eye? That’s taking some getting used to, too. He has enough on his plate without having to pick a fight with Loki over his choir project.

“Even so, it’s not about what he’s doing now,” says one of the councilors, who seems a little more resistant to his charm than the average Asgardian. “It’s about what he’s done. About what we’re worried he’ll do.”

“I expect he’ll move on to operas next,” says Thor. “He’s already done plays, and now he’s got the choir.”

“We mean when he tries to take the throne again!” snaps the first councilor.

Thor gestures incredulously, encompassing in it the ship, the sorry state of his people, their doomed homeland.

“You really think he wants to rule this?”

“Here, Earth, wherever – do you really think your brother’s thirst for power has been slaked?”

“I think that’s a dramatic way of putting it.”

Thor’s aware he’s dissembling. Worse, he’s aware that this is exactly the kind of dissembling he’s always done when it comes to Loki. He wants to believe Loki is truly, really done this time. Done with the mind games, done with the plots, done with his baffling, burning ambition. But he knows what he’s wanted to believe has never had any bearing on what is true. Especially when it comes to Loki.

There are some patterns he and his brother have broken, and some patterns they’re locked in still, and even when Thor knows Loki is about to stab him in the back, he also knows Loki will show up at the eleventh hour to save him. Or, at least, he had gambled on that knowledge, and been rewarded for it.

“Perhaps,” says one of the councilors, with a faint nod of acknowledgement. “But, in the interest of being prepared, we believe we have a potential solution – at least as far as limiting Loki’s ambitions for Asgard is concerned.”

“Beyond decimating its people and burning it to the ground?” says Thor petulantly. “Oh, wait, that’s already happened.”

They ignore him. The first councilor clears his throat.

“We think you should marry him.”

There’s a long, long, very long, even longer moment. Thor looks at each councilor in turn, and each stares grimly back at him. He swivels around in his chair, but he can still see them, their reflections distorted and pale in the chrome of the wall. All their faces are turned to him.

He swivels back around.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “Did you just suggest I should marry Loki? Loki? My brother? Loki? Who is my brother?”

One of the councilors grimaces and nods.

“Yes, but – ”

Thor holds up a hand to cut her off and then swivels back around to face the wall. He puts his chin on his palm and his elbow on his knee.

He swivels around again.

“We’re not Olympians. You did catch the part where we’re brothers, right?”

“Adopted,” says one of the councilors, and Thor feels the weight of every time he’s said the same thrown back into his face. He winces.

“And it would be for political purposes,” says another councilor.

“Of course, for it to work, it would require an heir,” says a third.

“An heir?” says Thor meekly.

“Yes,” says a fourth, and Thor curses himself for not immediately moving to establish control over the All-Father Steering Committee. Clearly it’s given them too much time to plot against him.

“Under the laws of Asgardian inheritance, your consort is not part of the line of succession, and that would supersede Loki’s, ah, birthright claim upon the throne. Having an heir would only solidify that.”

“But that doesn’t explain the part where he has my heir!”

“He can shapeshift,” explains a councilor helpfully. She gestures downwards on her body. “So, he – ”

“I’m aware of what that means!” cries Thor, bright red. He rubs his face.

“I could marry Valkyrie,” he says hopefully, almost desperately, though, even as he says it, he’s aware he’d have better luck convincing Loki to marry him than he would convincing Valkyrie. “I could marry anyone with a womb, really! If we’re just worried about an heir!”

“But that doesn’t circumvent Loki’s unique claim to the throne.”

“Argh! All right!” Thor rises from the table and slams both fists down. Lightning crackles through his fingers. He didn't mean for it to, but it has a positive effect. The council goes very still.

“So you’re saying,” he says slowly, “that I should marry Loki, to force him out of his claim to the throne, and then have an heir with my brother to really limit him?”

“Yes,” says the council, in one, exasperated voice.

Saying it out loud, there’s a certain elegance to it. It solves his Loki problem, while giving Loki some of what he wants – recognition, power, legitimacy.

And there’s the added bonus of tricking the god of tricks himself.

Here, Loki, a throne, thinks Thor with no small satisfaction. Mblah! You’ve actually signed away your right to it!

Of course, there is the slight matter of having an heir with his brother.

“And if I die before there’s an heir?” he asks.

The councilors look between themselves once more, before the first one speaks.

“We’d be in just as bad, if not worse, position now if you died without an heir, your majesty. So I suggest that you not die.”

+

"We should what?” cries Loki.

Thor raises his hands in a pacifying gesture. They’re in Loki’s quarters, and he’s somehow managed to find the resources and time to dress them up in the style of his old rooms back in the palace. Thor would be impressed if he weren’t sure Loki somehow swindled his way into the fine hangings and art.

“No, look,” says Thor, trying to explain without showing his hand. “It’s brilliant. I don’t want to rule, but I’m good at it, and you really want to rule, but you’re terrible at it! If we get married, we both get to do it, and maybe we’ll be okay at it. Together.”

Loki stares at him. He holds a goblet of dark liquid in his hand, and he’s gone very still. His bright eyes are wide with shock and they shine in his thin face. Thor tries to picture waking up next to him in the morning – tries to picture being with him, and he feels his face and neck flush.

“But why would we need to be married to do that!?” demands Loki, apparently oblivious to Thor’s sudden embarrassment.

“Because! Because – this way you’ll actually have a legitimate right to rule!”

Loki’s eyes narrow. He places the goblet down.

“You’ve never been any good at lying, Thor. Especially not to me.”

Thor raises his forefinger and smiles.

“See? That’s why we should marry! We balance each other out!” He points at Loki and mouths, “You,” then at himself and mouths, “Me,” and then he gives two thumbs up. “You wanted to rule with me on Sakaar. Why should ruling our people together be any different?

Loki laughs curtly. “As they say on Midgard, you’re full of it, Thor. What aren’t you telling me?”

Thor hesitates, and it’s a damning mistake. Loki takes advantage to press his suit. His eyes soften. He touches Thor’s arm. Thor flinches slightly at his touch; it’s too soon after his thought about sleeping with Loki.

“No more lies, brother,” says Loki, in his low, hypnotic voice, the one that used to be able to convince Thor of anything, the one that once pricked his pride just enough to tip Thor’s temper and send him storming into Jotunheim. The one that even now makes Thor want to agree with anything Loki says.

“No more tricks, Thor. Tell me why you’re doing this.”

Thor swallows. He knows this honeyed voice. There are times when Loki’s honest, and there are times when he lies, and there are times when his honesty is itself a trick. Loki trots out his real vulnerability just to later punish whoever saw it.

Thor takes a deep breath, and he tells the truth anyway.

“The steering committee thinks we should wed, to preserve the royal line. Since you can... have an heir... And, er, to keep you out of the inheritance. But! I do think it would be a good idea for all the other reasons I mentioned.”

“The steering committee?” says Loki. His face is unnervingly blank.

“Of wise elders?” Thor gestures at his chin. “All the old men and women with the – you know.”

“Do you mean Father’s Security Council?

“Ah. Yes.”

Finally, Loki reacts. He flares into a tantrum.

“And you think I would be bad at ruling? I’m the only one of the two of us who actually has ruled Asgard! And it didn’t go badly I might add! It was a great era for the arts!”

Thor throws his hands up, equally indignant.

“You exiled Father! Thus causing his death and the release of Hela and the total destruction of our home!”

“But before that! Before that I was an excellent king! Besides,” adds Loki sulkily, “if I really wanted to be in power, a pesky thing like inheritance laws wouldn’t matter to me! I’d just kill you, and then I’d kill anyone who stood in my way!”

“I know,” says Thor. “You’ve tried it. And look where it got you. Here, on this ship, with me, still alive. Great plotting, brother.”

“I’ll be subtler next time,” says Loki. He crosses his arms over his chest and raises his chin haughtily. But, for all his petulance, Loki seems to be taking Thor’s proposal – and his reasons for it – surprisingly well. Thor is relieved, but, because he’s relieved, he’s also suspicious.

“I doubt it. Subtlety’s not really one of your strengths.”

“You’re one to talk!” snaps Loki.

“You’re right,” says Thor, because he knows this argument will lead only in increasingly bitter circles. “I’m not subtle either. But we have other strengths. Other, complementary strengths. Think how much good we could do if we only worked together for once.”

As he talks, he finds himself starting to convince even himself. When they work together, they work well together, and perhaps a shared kingship would force Loki’s hand into really considering the needs of the Asgardians. He wouldn't want Thor to show him up, after all.

Loki gives him a long, calculating look. Thor braces himself for the inevitable question about what marrying each other means physically. The Olympians marry their siblings all the time, he reminds himself.

“So you’re saying you need me,” says Loki, and it’s so beyond what Thor was expecting that he just stares at him.

“What?”

“So you’re saying you need me,” repeats Loki, a tone to his voice like he’s prompting Thor. “You need me to stay here and rule with you.”

“Er,” says Thor.

“So say it,” says Loki, and his voice is half goading little brother and half real need. “Say you need me.”

Thor looks at him. He thinks, for once, Loki isn’t acting. All he wants is to know Thor needs him. Which is absurd, because Thor always has.

“I need you,” he says.

For a second, victory gleams in Loki’s eyes. Then he purses his lips and sighs.

“Fine,” he says.

“Fine?” says Thor. He feels suddenly off-balance, like he’d gone to swing his hammer and found no enemy waiting. He’d expected Loki to put up more than a token resistance, to need more than just the obvious fact that Thor needs him.

“Fine,” repeats Loki, with a feline shrug. "You've made some very compelling points, and this will be an excellent way to show everyone I've really reformed this time."

He bats his eyelashes, and every word he says next sounds like a dagger being drawn. He stalks closer and closer until he's right up against Thor's chest, and he stabs his finger against it.

“As your doting bride.”

“Right,” says Thor with a sudden sense of foreboding. “Great. So we’re to be wed.”

+

“Congratulations! That's wonderful!” says Korg, when he hears the news.

“Are you out of your fucking mind?” says Valkyrie.

“Hulk best man!” says Hulk.

“Oooh,” says Thor. He knows just enough about Earth wedding customs from the one, excruciating conversation he had with Jane about marriage to know what a best man is, and he knows Hulk isn't his.

“You see,” he says, “the thing is, we don't have a best man at Asgardian weddings.”

Hulk shakes his head furiously and balls his massive hands into fists.

“Hulk! Best! Man!”

“No,” says Thor quickly. “No – it’s not, it’s not that I don’t want you to be my best man. I've just, I've already asked...”

Thor scans the room for a hero. Valkyrie meets his eyes and slowly shakes her head. But standing right next to her is…

“Korg!” cries Thor triumphantly. “The thing is, I've already asked Korg.”

“Oh! Wow! Thank you!” says Korg brightly. “Only, I can't accept. I'm ideologically opposed to monarchies of all kinds.”

“Even rightful ones?” says Thor.

Korg shakes his head sorrowfully. “That's just the thing, bruv. There's no such thing as a rightful monarchy.”

“He does have a point,” says Valkyrie, with a thoughtful look. “And the monarchy did directly lead to the destruction of Asgard.”

“Thank you, exactly,” says Korg, and he sounds honestly touched that Valkyrie agrees with him. He turns back to Thor. “If you’d just read one of my pamphlets, you'd see that – "

Thor cuts him off. "It’s not political! You'd be helping out a friend!"

"But if you can't stand up to your friends, who can you stand up to?" says Korg. "I really am happy for you though! I don't know if Loki will be able to replace your hammer, but he should still be able to pull you off."

"Sorry?" says Valkyrie.

Thor puts his head in his hands and groans.

"I'll explain later," he says. He looks up at Hulk, who's still glowering, and Thor realizes this isn't worth a fight. "Looks like you're best man, big guy."

Hulk cheers loudly, and it's a glad sight, in its own odd way, but all Thor can think is that Loki, long ago, would have been his first choice for best man, and everyone else he would have asked is dead.

He misses his friends. He wishes he had the time to grieve them.

+

Time passes oddly and artificially on the ship, but, without a better option, they keep to the Asgardan clock. The wedding is set for two days later.

Thor wants desperately to keep the ceremony simple. Loki, however, does not.

“Our people need something to cheer them up, brother,” says Loki, sweet and acidic, when they discuss it. “They’ve been through a traumatizing experience.”

Thor reluctantly agrees. His coronation had been a simple taking of his “throne.” The people could use a real celebration.

Beyond that single conversation, Thor sees very little of Loki. He hands over wedding preparations entirely. There are plenty of other, more important matters to occupy him: food for his people, for one, and fuel for the ship, for another. Keeping Loki neutralized is just one more check on the list.

There is at least a massive plant habitat on the ship, put there, Thor assumes, to help with air filtration and nutrition. It takes up a vast upper section of a freighter and is lit by an artificial sun. Thor stands in the strange dirt and golden, artificial light, and looks out over fields of grain and climbing vines, spilling with fruit. Everything looks a little ragged, and some of the trees have cracked in half and fallen over, but it feels like the first good thing he’s seen in a week. The air is cleaner in this part of the ship, and Thor breathes in deep the green of growing things. If he closes his eyes, he can pretend he’s somewhere else. He’ll have to figure out a way to let people use the space. Asgardians are used to the outdoors, to fresh air and running and the freedom of wild things. This will be all they’ll have access to until they make it to Earth.

Most of the plants are, Thor realizes during the tour, plants meant for luxury: grapes and sweet fruits and herbs. But there's enough there to that he's satisfied that, with careful planning and repairs to the watering system, it will be capable of sustaining them most of the remainder of the trip to Earth. He tours the habitat with some of the more agriculturally-inclined Asgardians, and one enthuses, "We may even be able to grow hops. Make real beer."

Thor promotes her to head of the plant habitat on the spot.

As for fuel, he has to go to Heimdall to solve that issue.

“There’s a planet three solar systems away,” says Heimdall, after a moment’s pause. “It has sufficient population and technology to let us refuel.”

“Are the people friendly?” asks Thor.

He’s seen too much death lately. He has no desire for a fight, only to get what he needs for his people’s survival. Maybe this was how Odin felt, when he finally gave up his conquests.

Heimdall shrugs impassively.

“I see, your majesty, but I do not always know.”

“Right,” says Thor. “Well, I’ll… set a course.”

“Very good.”

“And your count?” asks Thor, after a second’s hesitation. He’s not sure which he wants to think about less: his upcoming wedding, or Heimdall’s count.

“I will be finished soon,” says Heimdall gravely. “But let us speak of happier things. Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials.”

Thor winces. “Thanks,” he says.

Heimdall looks at him curiously, and the effect of his strange, golden eyes makes Thor want to turn away. Heimdall may claim he can’t see what’s in someone’s heart, but Thor’s never really believed him.

“I think it will be a good thing. It will strengthen the crown.” Heimdall pauses and studies Thor for a long moment. It only increases Thor’s vague fear that his true feelings are being laid bare. “And it will be good to see the princes support each other again.”

+

Thor has a bachelor’s party the night before the wedding. It is also Hulk’s idea, and Thor agrees only because he’d like to be drunk for a while. Valkyrie assembles a small forest of bottles from stashes she’s uncovered all over the ship.

“The Grandmaster knew how to have a good time,” she says, smiling benevolently over her hoard.

Thor, who has a pretty decent idea of what a Grandmaster party might look like and is under no delusions it would be “good,” just grabs a bottle and starts drinking. The liquor is rot-sweet, and it burns going down, but Thor drinks it all anyway. Valkyrie follows his lead.

“Is this how these things normally go?” she asks. “Bachelor parties?”

Thor shrugs. He grabs another bottle. This one is more bitter.

“Hulk’s in charge here,” he says. “Hulk?”

“Speech!” shouts Hulk. He grabs two of the largest bottles and clangs them together, then downs them.

“Speech!” he cries again, spewing liquid over the assembled party.

“Am I giving the speech?” asks Thor. Korg and Valkyrie both shrug at him. But Hulk shakes his head emphatically.

“No! Hulk give speech!” He pauses, and the look on his face is thoughtful. It’s an eerie, Banner-ish expression. Thor waits.

“Thor… good friend,” says Hulk gravely, finally. For emphasis, he pounds his fist against the wall after each word. Thor winces. At some point, he is going to have to figure out how to get Banner back, for the ship’s sake as much as Banner’s.

“Good! Friend!” repeats Hulk, with two more mighty bangs. He grabs another bottle and lifts it to Thor, then tilts his head back, drinking it.

“Thanks,” says Thor, once he realizes Hulk is done. “Uh. You as well, Hulk.”

Hulk nods, satisfied, and sits down. He looks expectantly at Valkyrie.

“Ooh. I’m supposed to give one, too?” she says. She frowns, thinking. “Well, you’re not a bad king. So far.”

“All kings are bad, technically,” says Korg. He smiles. “But you’re not a bad person, King New Dave. And that’s important.”

“Thank you. I’m feeling very supported,” says Thor dryly. “Does anyone else want to give a speech? Miek, maybe?”

Miek says something unintelligible, and Korg nods somberly.

“Well said,” he says, with deep feeling, and he lifts a bottle. “Shall we toast then?”

They all toast, and then they set to the hard work of getting through Valkyrie’s stash. At one point, Hulk suggests arm wrestling, and they all do that and drink and drink some more until Hulk has passed out in a great, rumbling heap, and Korg has wandered off with Miek.

It leaves just Thor and Valkyrie.

Thor settles on a the ground and looks out at the passing universe. Stars spray dizzyingly at every angle. His arm hurts from the arm-wrestling, and he shake it out discreetly. He can feel the drink, but not as much as he expected he would. Perhaps his new power-up has other benefits, though right now he truly would like nothing more than to be as dead to the world as Hulk.

He wonders what Loki’s doing. It’s a thought he's had often over the past few years, only to be immediately be followed by the dread realization that Loki was dead, that there would never be any healing or love between them again.

But Loki is alive: Loki, his brother, his oldest friend, his enemy, and now his betrothed.

And there still hasn’t been any healing between them. Not really.

Valkyrie settles down next to him and passes him a bottle.

“Where did you get this?” he asks, startled. He recognizes the bright, golden liquid inside immediately: Asgardian mead.

“Been saving it for a special occasion,” says Valkyrie. “We weren’t the only things from Asgard that made it to Sakaar.”

Thor takes a sip and tastes the familiar funky sweetness of mead. It tastes like feasting in Odin’s halls and golden light and the cold white mountains. It tastes like the home Thor will never see again. It makes his chest ache.

“Excited for tomorrow?” asks Valkyrie lightly. “Not getting cold feet?”

Thor snorts into the bottle.

“How am I supposed to feel?” he demands.

“Wasn’t it your idea?” says Valkyrie. She takes the mead back from him and takes a swig.

“It was the council’s idea,” says Thor. “I just agreed to it.”

Valkyrie takes one more swig before she passes the bottle back.

“Why?” she asks. “You’re king. No one can make you do anything you don’t want to.”

“Being king is all about doing things you don’t want to,” says Thor grimly.

“Only when you’re a good king,” says Valkyrie, with a faint smile.

They fall into a companionable silence, passing the mead back and forth, and watching the passing universe. At times, their view looks so much like an Asgardian night that Thor can almost imagine he’s back there, staring out at the constellations and stardust and sparkling dark colors of the sky from a castle window, that he’ll turn and find his friends waiting, ready for some new adventure.

But there’s only the ship behind him, with its hundreds of souls who need him.

“If I marry Loki, it might help protect my people,” says Thor heavily. He hates that Loki is still a contingency he has to plan around, a problem to be solved for. Was this how Loki felt, when he thought Thor was too reckless to be king? Or had that truly just been seething jealousy?

“And maybe it will be good for Loki," he adds. "It will remind him he has a place here.”

Valkyrie sets the bottle down and hums.

"Are you doing this for him, or are you doing it for you? Because if you're doing it for him, he'll only resent you for it."

Thor glances at her, but her eyes are far away, looking out into a past Thor can't imagine, does not want to imagine.

"I don't know," he says honestly.

Valkyrie laughs, short and clipped. “You told me back on Saakar you run towards your problems. Is this any different?”

Thor picks up the now empty bottle and looks at it, at it's familiar shape and design, an artifact now. Then he looks out at the brilliant, infinite universe.

“No,” he says, and that makes him a feel a little better, strangely.

+

He wakes up with a blinding headache and the taste of wet dog in his mouth, and he arrives to the staging room later than he should as a result, his face quickly washed and hair barely damped. The hangover makes his new, one-eyed vision even harder to compensate for, and he walks into the doorframe before stumbling inside.

Loki waits alone, petulant and tensed, and dressed in an outfit of white and gold.

Thor looks at him and suddenly feels under-dressed.

“I can see that you're taking this seriously,” says Loki tightly. He rises abruptly from his seat and casts an appraising look over Thor.

“This is all I have to wear,” says Thor, though it’s a weak protest. “And I said I didn’t want an extravagant wedding.”

“And I said I did, and then you handed over the planning to me.”

“You’re right,” says Thor. “I’m sorry.”

The expression on Loki’s face freezes.

“Did you just say you were sorry?”

“I did.” Thor grimaces. “It’s a word you might make use of one of these days.”

Loki’s face twitches into a sneer, but Thor can see the faint hint of embarrassment beneath it.

“Here,” says Loki, with an exasperated sigh. He approaches Thor and runs his hands over Thor’s shoulders. Thor watches as his clothes transform to complement Loki’s own. Loki keeps his hands on Thor’s shoulders for a breath longer than he needs to, and Thor finds himself wondering at that.

“And this,” says Loki softly. He raises his hand and runs his thumb along the under-edge of Thor’s eyepatch. His touch is cool, and a faint shiver passes up Thor’s back. “Shall I change this, too? I could make it seem as if you had two eyes again, brother.”

“Not to me,” says Thor. He catches Loki’s wrist in his hand, and they stand there for a second, looking at each other, Loki’s thumb still on Thor’s cheekbone. Thor feels odd and light-headed, a bit giddy over what they're about to do. It feels like the best trick they've ever played. It feels like lunacy. He bites back a hysterical laugh, but he feels his new power surge within him, raw and wild, and a current of electricity shoots out from his cheek and into Loki's hand. Loki hisses once in pain, and tries to pull away, but they're locked together, the current coursing through them both.

“No,” says Loki, wincing. “Not to you, but this wedding is all about appearances anyway, isn’t it?”

He tries again to pull his hand away, and this time he's successful. Static pops between them.

Thor says nothing. He touches his cheek where the current had passed from him and snagged Loki there. What had that been?

Loki flexes his hand. He eyes Thor warily.

“We’re going to be late to our wedding,” he says stiffly, and he turns and walks away.

Thor follows, still stunned.

+

The ceremony is beautiful and simple. There’s little, after all, to be extravagant with. But Loki has decorated well with what they have – mainly flowers – and the crowd looks cheerful and clean. Loki's children's choir sings in pure and lovely voices.

Heimdall officiates. Thor is surprised – both that Loki would arrange it so, and that Heimdall would agree. But Heimdall did more to save Asgard than either Thor or Loki, so perhaps the benefit was obvious to Heimdall and Loki both: having Heimdall officiate the marriage means the three most prominent Asgardians are showing a united front.

Thor is surprised by just how happy everyone seems. He’d thought the weirdness of the event might dampen spirits, but a royal wedding is a royal wedding, and Loki has found his way back into the people’s good graces after his last-minute appearance in the battle against Hela.

Or maybe everyone’s just so sick of getting dragged into Asgardian royal drama that they’re just happy it’s being kept in the family.

Whatever the reason, there are cheers as Loki and Thor walk side by side down the aisle together. Thor's stomach churns with nervousness. It's nothing like his first, botched coronation when he had been sure of his own right, confident nothing could stop him. And it's nothing like his second, just days before, when he had approached his throne with weariness and acceptance. He feels on edge. For all he made some peace with the idea of binding himself to Loki last night, being faced with the actual, imminent prospect still unnerves him. Maybe they can still stop it, he thinks, a little hysterical. It seems obvious they've both talked themselves into this only to show the other they would not back down.

But they keep walking together down the aisle, and they only stop when they reach Heimdall. He surveys them both, his golden eyes unreadable. Thor glances sideways at Loki, but Loki’s expression is just as neutral.

“Marriage is like kingship,” intones Heimdall. His gaze lingers on Loki as he speaks. “It means you have promised to put another’s well-being before your own. So you are making a great and solemn promise today, in front of each other and all your people.”

There’s a weighty pause as Thor and Loki take this in. Heimdall gives a tiny nod, and then pulls out a long, thin piece of white cord. Loki and Thor both offer an arm: Thor his right and Loki his left.

“Do you swear, then, to cast aside all selfish thoughts and to put the other’s health and happiness before your own?”

When haven’t I? thinks Thor, but he bows his head and nods.

“I swear it.”

“I swear it,” says Loki, mild and pleasant.

Heimdall wraps the cord once around their arms, binding them loosely together.

“Do you swear to honor and protect the other? To seek with him eternal life in Valhalla’s hall?”

“I swear it,” they both say.

Heimdall wraps the cord twice around their arms, and they are bound a little tighter.

“Do you swear to join with him as one family? To forgive him when he has wronged you? To love him through all trials? To be loyal and faithful until the end of your lives?”

“I swear it,” says Thor, but he trips over the words, and they come out stumbling. It’s not quite the traditional script. Loki must have changed it.

“I swear it,” echoes Loki, his voice even and clear.

“Then you are wed,” says Heimdall simply. He wraps the cord around their arms for a third time, and they are bound.

Thor stands there, useless, and Loki grabs his hand with a small, annoyed noise. Thor starts, remembering that they are not done, that Loki is right. They have a responsibility to put on a good show. He raises their clasped hands above their heads, showing the cord wrapped around their arms. The crowd cheers. Hulk yells loudly.

And then the choir begins to sing again.

“Now the sons of Asgard have been wed, so joyously we'll go to the marriage bed! Valhalla smile upon this pair and provide us with a blue-pink heir.”

Thor stares at Loki in horror, and Loki smirks.

“Problem?” he asks.

Why?” demands Thor.

Loki looks innocent. “You don't think they're good? They've been practicing non-stop.”

The thing is they're not bad. Their voices are good, and Loki's lyrics are at least catchy. But they're also horrifying.

“You are not going to deflower me!” whisper-shouts Thor, as he catches the next line.

Loki shrugs. “I just didn't want to assume anything,” he says.

The choir leads the procession to Thor’s quarters. They’ll have to decide, he realizes suddenly, what to do with Loki’s own. Frigga had her own rooms, but Asgard had the space for it. He’s fretting about this, he knows, only because he doesn’t want to think about what’s going to happen next.

Loki smiles the whole way, but, slowly, the smile starts to look fixed and mask-like. Beyond his obvious amusement at Thor's discomfort, Loki's real feelings are unreadable. Finally, they’re left at the doorstep, and, as is traditional, they step over the threshold together.

They’re still holding each other’s hands, Thor realizes.

The door closes behind them, and they hear one last, loud cheer. Then, slowly, the singing and the cheering fade as his people move away. There will be feasting and dancing all through the night. Thor wants desperately to be out there, and not alone in a room with his brother and the expectation that they’ll sleep together.

There are flowers covering Thor’s bed.

Hastily, Thor lets go of Loki’s hand and steps away from him. The cord is pulled off, and it falls to the floor. Thor ignores it. He pours himself a glass of amber liquid. He can feel Loki’s birdlike gaze upon him.

“So this is what you wanted,” says Loki, with unexpected savagery. Thor looks up. Loki’s smile is gone, and there’s only a familiar anger in its place. “And now you get to have it. I’m sure Father would be pleased as well. You know, he only ever ‘adopted’ me in the hopes he could eventually use me to unite Asgard and Jotunheim. I’m sure he had something like this in mind. Of course, no one’s ever bothered to ask me what I want.”

Thor stares back at him in surprise. He hadn’t known what to expect once they crossed the threshold together, but it hadn’t been a tantrum.

“Enough of the self-pity, Loki,” he snaps. “I thought we’d moved beyond that.”

“My self-pity?” says Loki with a high, incredulous laugh. “You’re the one who’s been moping the last few days over something that was your idea! Why propose, Thor, if you’re just going to act like I tried to murder you again!?”

“I didn’t think it through!” says Thor.

“You never do, do you?”

“Neither do you! And you agreed to marry me! I even told you why I was asking! It was practical, Loki!”

“Do you desire me?” demands Loki.

Thor’s mouth goes dry. It’s not what he expected Loki to say next, and it’s not a question he’s prepared to answer. It’s a question he’s spent a great deal of time avoiding thinking about the last couple days.

“What?”

“Do you desire me?” repeats Loki. His whole face burns in its intensity.

“You’re my brother,” says Thor evasively. He takes several steps away from Loki, and his back hits the wall.

“Adopted,” says Loki softly, and he steps right up to Thor. Unless Thor wants to push him aside and tumble out into the throngs of his celebrating subjects and shame the throne, there’s nowhere for him to go.

“I don’t have to look like myself, you know,” says Loki. “In fact, it will probably be easier if I don’t. Especially if you’re trying to get an heir out of me.”

There’s a flash of light, and, suddenly, a woman stands in front of Thor. The woman looks like Loki, or, more accurately, Loki looks like a woman. Loki moves against him in a fluid moment, and Thor feels and his body responds to the warmth and pressure. But if he is going to have Loki, he doesn’t want to have him like this.

“I don’t – ” he says, strangled. He shoves Loki away and takes a step to the side, catching his breath.

Loki looks at him, his pale eyes glittering.

“Maybe you’d prefer this,” says Loki, and with another flash, Jane appears, her eyes as dark and deep as Thor remembers.

“Thor,” coos Loki, in Jane’s voice, and he touches Thor’s face with Jane’s hand. Thor stands rooted to the spot. “Oooh, baby, smite me with your hammer.”

“This isn’t funny!” snarls Thor, but, even knowing it’s Loki, he can’t bring himself to shove away someone who looks so much like Jane.

“Oh, I think it’s very funny,” says Jane-Loki. Their features twist in a smirk, and they drag Thor’s face down to kiss him.

It's a hard, ugly kiss. Thor struggles against it. He doesn’t want this creature that is neither Jane nor his brother. But Loki is insistent, and Thor relents. He calls the bluff. He kisses back and grabs Jane-Loki by the waist and drags them roughly to him.

In this body, Loki is small and easy to manhandle. Thor turns and presses them against the wall, trapping them there. Loki moans, the noise exactly like Jane used to make.

Lightning courses out of Thor and into Loki. His body jerks, and Thor nearly curses and drops him, suddenly worried he’s hurt him. There’s a flash of light, and Loki is just Loki again, his face flushed, and his eyes dark. He kisses Thor hungrily. Thor kisses back, grateful to have his brother back in his brother’s form. Loki’s body is slim and angular, and his hands and mouth feel like they’re everywhere.

He can feel the press of Loki’s erection against his leg, and the shock of that brings him back, reminds him of just what he’s doing. He hadn’t meant to go this far.

“That’s enough,” he says quietly.

He pulls away, releasing Loki. Loki slumps against the wall, uncharacteristically – satisfyingly, thinks some possessive, animal part of Thor – wordless. He doesn’t pay any attention to that thought now, but, instead, turns to leave the room. He’s at the door before Loki finally does manage to speak.

“Thor?” His voice is rough.

Thor pauses, but then turns to face him. Loki has straightened up, but he’s still at the wall, keeping the whole distance of the room between him and Thor. Thor raises his eyebrows at him.

“Why did you and Jane part?”

“You died,” says Thor simply. “And I knew it wouldn’t be long, to me, before she died, too. I didn’t want to do that again.”

Something like pity flickers across Loki’s face.

“So you’ve learned,” he says, “what a mistake it is to love something mortal?”

Once, not long ago, Thor would have struck Loki for that, but, now, he only feels a heavy sadness.

“If that’s true, then it’s a mistake to love anything at all,” he says.

Loki doesn’t say anything. He turns paler.

“We’ve lost a lot recently, Loki,” says Thor, and then he turns and leaves the room entirely. If his people see him, perhaps they’ll see how flushed he is and be glad for it.

+

The next afternoon, the ship announces they’ve reached the planet that might have fuel. Thor prepares to go down alone.

“You’re being stupid,” Valkyrie tells him. She’s one of the very few people actually up and walking and able to argue after the long celebration party. “You’re the king.”

“And I’m not going to make someone else do something I won’t,” snaps Thor.

“You’re making hundreds of people do something you won’t,” argues Valkyrie. “E.G.: stay on the fucking ship while someone else risks their life.”

“I need you to protect them,” says Thor. “And keep the Hulk in check if anything happens.’

Once, he would have had dozens of people he could have relied on to both come with him and protect his people.

“He has a point,” says Loki, gliding into the room. He looks completely unruffled, as placid as a summer lake, as if nothing had transpired between them the night before.

Nothing had, Thor reminds himself. He hadn’t let it get that far. His face burns red.

Valkyrie glowers at Loki, and, after one, wary look, Loki ignores her. He turns to Thor and smiles grandly. He ignores Thor's blush.

“I’ll go with you, brother," he says, and if there's a bit too much emphasis on the word 'brother,' Thor suspects that's only in his head. "I’m a much better negotiator than you are. And I know you can afford to lose me.”

“That’s not true,” says Thor, alarmed.

“Isn’t it?” says Valkyrie.

+

Thor ends up agreeing only because he’d much rather have Loki on the ground with him than plotting against him while Thor is off the ship. He’s wary now. He knows he’s gone too far with Loki, has treated Loki like a tool and discarded him, and that a slighted Loki is the most dangerous Loki of all.

They're not hailed when they break through the gritty, brown atmosphere of the planet, and the ship sets down a few miles outside a major city. Loki and Thor find a bike-like device on board that will take them in the rest of the way. It’s an absurd little contraption, but Loki knows exactly how to use it.

They’re both quiet on the ride in, and Thor is careful not to touch Loki more than he has to. The world is dusty and barren, and the city rises ahead of them, locked in a gleaming, blue bubble. It’s a clean city of sharp white and silver shapes. It has a precise, ordered look to it, as if it were the product of a single, rigidly-minded architect. Thor can see green inside the bubble, and the sky looks cleaner there.

“It looks nice,” says Loki lightly.

“You’re not going to strand me down here, are you?” asks Thor.

“No,” says Loki, after too long a pause. “Though I did think about it. You'd deserve it.”

“Romantic,” mutters Thor.

“It’s your fault for not planning a better honeymoon,” sniffs Loki.

Thor laughs, surprised by Loki’s humor. Perhaps Loki isn’t as mortally offended as he thought, and he’s pleased to catch the corner of Loki's answering smile. It reminds Thor of the old days of their brotherhood, when Loki could reduce Thor to tears of laughter, and Loki would smile, soft and satisfied, as if Thor’s easy laugh were the greatest prize of all.

But they're not just brothers any more. Though maybe they haven't been just brothers in a long time.

They’re interrupted before Thor can find a good comeback. A hundred yards from the city’s edge is a small hut, and from it springs a thin, metal man holding a long, metal rod.

“You there,” snaps the metal man. “State your business!”

“Oh, good," says Loki dryly. "They’re friendly."

“At least they’re not trying to eat us,” replies Thor out of the corner of his mouth. He gets off the bike, trying to show that he's cooperating, then smiles brightly and waves at the guard cheerfully. “Hello! We’re just passing through this solar system. We’ve stopped here to refuel.”

“Where is your documentation?” demands the guard. He brandishes his metal rod threateningly.

“What?” says Thor. His smile freezes.

The guard whirrs warningly and then speaks in a different pitch. Thor gets the sense it’s not speaking to him and Loki.

“We have two no docs, entrance to second quadrant. Vessel unknown.”

“We’re here on legitimate business!” protests Thor.

The guard ignores him.

“You will be taken in for questioning. Do not resist.”

Lightning crackles up Thor’s arm, before Thor can stop himself.

“Brother,” murmurs Loki. “Think for once.”

Thor takes a deep breath. Loki is right. He can’t storm his way into an unknown city, especially not if they’re asking for something and have nothing to give in return. The lightning crackles up his arms still, but there's less of it. He tries to center himself, draw the power back in.

The guard whirrs again and scans Thor.

“Threat detected,” it says, and it stabs its metal rod into Thor’s side.

He hears a shout, and isn't sure if it's his or Loki's. Pain and darkness imprison him.

+

“Thor, Thor!”

Thor feels a sharp, sudden pain in his arm and jerks into sudden, awful wakefulness. He springs to his feet, fists at the ready.

Loki looks up at him. He’s on his heels, his dagger drawn, and there’s blood on the blade. Thor looks at his arm.

“You stabbed me?” he says, indignant.

“You wouldn’t wake up,” says Loki sourly. He wipes his dagger and sheathes it, then stands. “You know, for the god of thunder, you’re awfully susceptible to electrocution.

Thor glowers at him. “For the god of mischief, you’re awfully susceptible to getting caught.”

Loki lifts his head haughtily.

“How was I to know you were going to walk straight into a taser?”

Thor rubs his arm and sneers at him. He looks the cell over. It’s modest. There are two hard-looking metal benches, just wide enough for someone Loki’s size to sleep on, and one wall is just bars. He looks out into a sterile white hallway. There are three more cells, two across and one next to their own, but none look inhabited. Thor wonders if this city has little crime, or if they deal with their criminals swiftly.

Down the hall, he can see a light and hear the movement of passing figures.

“Has anyone been by? What have you seen?”

“There are few people here,” says Loki. “And all I saw were at a distance. It seems they use their robots to handle most of the work. I expect our interrogation will be conducted by one.”

Something about his tone makes Thor look twice at him. Loki is holding himself more stiffly than usual.

“Are you hurt?” demands Thor. “Did they hurt you?”

Loki grimaces at him.

“It’s kind of you to show concern. But I’m fine.”

Thor lets out a slow breath. It’s not worth arguing with Loki about.

“If you say so,” he says. He studies the bars. They don’t look particularly strong. There’s something to the place that gives off a general sense of disuse and decay. Maybe there really is little crime here.

“I do say so.” Loki follows the line of Thor’s gaze with his own. “And for your information, while you were sleeping, I was figuring out how to get out of here and steal the fuel.”

“We’re not going to steal!”

“Oh? Do you have any money to pay with, Thor? Your sense of honor, as always, is as inspiring as it is misplaced.”

“We’re not going to steal,” repeats Thor more firmly. “That’s why Asgard fell.”

Loki pauses, and the look he gives Thor is long and considering. Thor flushes. He’s not used to Loki looking at him like that, like he’s managed to surprise him and Loki isn’t sure how he feels about it.

“Very well,” says Loki. “So what shall we do, your majesty?”

“We can fight our way out,” says Thor. “And then we’ll…” He’s not really sure what the next part is. They have nothing to pay with, and little to barter with but themselves. It doesn’t seem like that will impress a people who have constructed their own perfect caste of technological slaves.

“You can’t fight your way through every problem,” says Loki.

“I’m open to suggestions!”

“You just rejected mine! Without even really listening to it!”

“Fine,” snaps Thor. “What is it?”

Loki smiles, sudden and chilling. “We do get help. That gets us out.”

“You hate get help,” says Thor, his skepticism quick on the heels of his delight.

“Not when you’re the one who needs help,” says Loki. He flickers, and suddenly a much larger version of him stands beside Thor. “Honestly, I don’t know why I never thought of this.”

“I don’t agree to this!”

“You don’t need to agree to do it,” says Loki primly. “That’s the beauty of get help.”

“And what do we do once we’re out?”

Loki raises his eyebrows.

“You serve our people in your way, brother, and I serve them in mine. You can try to barter for the fuel, but I intend on retrieving it and bringing it back. And I’ll do whatever’s necessary to do it.”

“No,” says Thor. “I appreciate it. But, no, Loki. We’re not stealing and we’re not killing anyone.” He pauses and adds, holding out his hand, “At least no one who doesn’t deserve it.”

“Always a simple distinction for you,” mutters Loki. But he leans down and shakes Thor’s hand. It’s an odd sensation, looking up at Loki. Thor’s used to being on the same level. “But I won’t kill anyone if you don’t.”

“You’re getting soft,” says Thor with a smile. “And once we get out?”

Loki rolls his eyes, but there’s a smile at the edge of his mouth.

“We find whoever’s in charge here, and we convince them to give us the fuel. Nicely.”

Thor laughs, and he’s surprised by how at ease he feels. He’s captured on an alien planet – again. But at least this time, Loki is on his side.

“All right, Loki. Then let’s begin.”

Loki’s smile has a little too much glee in it, but he puts his arm around Thor’s back, and Thor closes his eyes and goes limp against him.

“My brother!” shouts Loki, and there is real pain in his voice, raw enough that Thor almost opens his eyes.

“My brother!” screams Loki again, and Thor hears him shake the bars of the cell with his free arm. “He’s not breathing! Someone get help! Please!

Thor hears clanking and then a whirr.

“Silence, prisoner!” says the guard.

Thor gets thrown into the bars, which means he gets thrown through the bars. Loki’s surprisingly strong, and the bars break with a shriek of metal. He slams into the guard, who whirrs, panicked.

“Alert! Alert! Prisoners escaping!”

Thor slams the thing’s head onto the ground. It beeps piteously and struggles, and then its lights go out and it goes still.

“I thought we said no killing,” says Loki. He shrinks down to his normal size and steps carefully through the hole left by Thor’s body.

“I don’t think it’s alive,” protests Thor. He checks the thing over and nods, assured. It’s all metal.

They hear a sound behind them – the soft step of a human, and both look up at once. Loki has his daggers out, and Thor a lightning bolt in his hand.

A pale, fleshy man stands terrified in front of them. He’s dressed in a fine, light clothing of bright colors that reminds Thor of a mating bird. He holds up his hands. They’re soft hands.

“Could you please stop?” he asks, in a breathless, panicked voice. “I’ve never heard anyone scream like that before. I just wanted to see…”

He starts edging away from them, towards a button covered console.

Thor shoots his lightning bolt at the console. It sparks brightly and buzzes, lets off a terrible smelling smoke, and then all the lights go out.

“We don’t want to hurt you,” says Thor. He glances at Loki, who sighs once, and then sheathes his daggers. “We just want to talk to someone in charge. We don’t want to hurt anyone.”

The man hesitates. He glances between them. Thor feels a heavy, dull kind of sadness. He doesn’t want to scare or intimidate anyone into giving him what his people need. He just wants to sit down and talk with someone reasonable.

“Really,” he insists. “We don’t want to hurt anyone. We just need help. Can you take us to your leader?”

Finally, the man breathes out deeply and nods.

“I’ll take you to the Magistrate,” he says meekly.

The man leads them out of the prison. From the outside, it’s a small building, staffed entirely by metal men. One moves to question Thor and Loki, but the man they’re with flashes a badge in front of what passes for the metal man’s eye, and from then on, all the metal men ignore them.

Thor can see that Loki observed correctly: there are few real men and women here. Those they see are all idle. They sit in colorful clothes at tables outside graceful buildings, talking over drinks, or they sun themselves on benches like happy lizards. They read and gambol and eat. A few stop to stare curiously at Thor and Loki, so clearly from elsewhere, and their guide hunches down, clearly embarrassed to be doing something that looks so similar to work.

It's a strange contrast to the barren wasteland they saw outside, where nothing seemed to grow and nothing lived.

“This isn’t a bad set up,” says Loki as they walk. “They never have to do a thing in their lives if they don’t want to.”

Thor grunts. It sounds too much like the luxury they were raised in. He can't see it now without wondering who has paid for it, without knowing it cannot be perfect as it seems. There's always rot beneath the surface. He knows that now.

+

The Magistrate has four faces: one human and the rest metal. Thor and Loki's guide instructs them to sit at a long table, like two schoolboys about to be scolded, and then he scrapes a single bow to the Magistrate and leaves hastily.The four faces whirl around like a perversion of a children’s toy, and it makes Thor slightly nauseated to watch. They finally settle on one of the metal faces. It’s eyes are red.

“What is it you want?” demands the face. It’s voice is peevish and living, even if its expression is not.

“We need to refuel our ship,” says Thor. “We came to this planet to ask for aid. But your guards were, er, overeager in performing their duties.”

“They performed their duties exactly as they are expected to,” snaps a second metal face. To Thor’s surprise, this voice is different than the first.

“Then perhaps their duties should be re-thought,” says Loki smoothly. “Had we not removed ourselves from your jail, you would be missing out on a great trade.”

“A great trade?” says the human face, eyes glittering. “So you want to trade. What do you have to offer?

“Nothing,” says Thor, incredulous at Loki’s lie. The next words hurt to say. “Our homeland has been destroyed. We have nothing.”

“You attack one of my Servants? You treat one of my Enlightened as a Servant? And then you come and lie to me?” booms the Magistrate in all four voices.

“We can pay,” says Loki quietly.

Thor twists around in his seat to stare.

“With what?” he demands, low-voiced.

Loki doesn’t look at Thor. He passes his hand over the table and suddenly a heaped pile of gold and gemstones appear before them.

“Would this suffice?” asks Loki. “We do need a tremendous amount of fuel.”

Thor can see the sudden shift that greed brings to the Magistrate’s human face.

“It may suffice. Now, how much fuel do you require?”

+

An hour later, they leave the city, loaded down with fuel, and with a small army of metal men to help them carry it. The metal men move quickly, so Thor and Loki use the bike once more. Thor sits with his arms at his side.

“Where did you get all that gold?” he asks.

“Sakaar,” says Loki evasively. It’s hard to tell what he’s thinking without seeing his expression. Though, Thor admits to himself, even when can he see Loki’s expression, that’s just as often a lie, too.

“The Grandmaster gave it to you?” asks Thor with a sudden, hot surge of jealousy.

“No,” snaps Loki. “I won it. When I bet on you.”

“You bet on me?”

“Of course I did. Why do you think I fell out of favor with the Grandmaster so quickly?”

“I thought that was a ruse,” says Thor, stunned.

“It was a truth I used as a ruse,” says Loki with a sniff. He looks sidelong at Thor. “Not that you’ve ever done that.”

+

They’ve just gotten in sight of the ship when Thor realizes something’s wrong. He can’t pinpoint it to an exact sense – he doesn’t hear anything or see anything – he just knows, suddenly, that they’re in danger. He throws his arms around Loki and yanks him to the side. Loki yelps, and they both go tumbling off the bike and into the dirt. He watches as a circular saw-blade goes whizzing off, exactly where Thor’s neck had been only a second before.

“I guess they changed their mind,” hisses Loki.

He scrambles out from beneath Thor and turns, his daggers out. The metal men have put the fuel down, and their arms are suddenly a buzzing nightmare of saws and blades.

“They just wanted to know where the ship was,” says Thor, and his anger lights him up. He sends a crackling bolt into the center of the metal men and watches with satisfaction as half a dozen go flying.

“Get back to the ship,” says Thor. “I can handle this.”

“Are you mad?” says Loki, and he ducks another whirring blade. “They’ll think I killed you!”

Thor has to admit he has a point. He sends another bolt, but his aim is off – damn his one eye. He’s still not quite used to the difference in depth perception. He misses, leaves a scorched trail in the ground. He at least has the satisfaction of watching one of the metal men trip into it.

“Careful of the fuel, brother,” says Loki.

Thor realizes he’s right, and the metal men seem to realize it, too. They start to regroup, towards the fuel tanks. If Thor misses and hits the tanks, he’ll lose what they came for.

He goes charging in. With an exasperated "Thor!”, Loki follows.

The fight isn’t as easy as Thor expects it to be. These metal men are harder to destroy than the one outside their cell. Loki’s knives barely scratch them, and whatever injury he’s lying about makes him move slowly. And at close quarters, Thor’s aim is even worse than at a distance.

He's of the mind to demand Loki go back and get help. Hulk is really who they need right now, but then he hears a very living cry of shock and pain. He turns swiftly, panicked, and Loki meets his eyes. His face is bloodless.

A blade has been shoved through his chest.

Loki collapses to the ground, open-eyed, mouth slack.

Thor screams. He’s lost too much recently to lose Loki, too. To lose Loki again.

His vision goes white.

+

When he comes to, the earth around him is shattered and smoking. The metal men all lie smoldering, but the fuel tanks are untouched. Thor doesn’t care though. He sinks to the ground, numb. Lightning still sparks up his arms and chest, but he doesn’t notice. He’s numb. He doesn’t look at Loki’s body.

He has to get back to the ship, he tells himself. And then he can get Hulk, and have him carry the fuel back. They’ll refuel. They’ll move on. Without Loki.

Get up, he tells himself. Get up. It’s just one more loss. Get up.

He stays on his knees. His body won’t respond to his commands.

From the corner of his eye, he sees movement. He doesn’t react. Whatever it is, it can do its best to kill Thor.

“Now that was impressive,” says Loki cheerfully. “That worked even better than expected.”

Thor scrambles to his feet. Loki is strolling towards him, all sign of injury gone. His corpse still lies on the ground.

“I didn’t think you’d fall for it again,” says Loki, raising an eyebrow. He waves his hand, and the corpse disappears. “Though I’m glad you did.”

Thor doesn’t say anything. Loki’s eyebrow flattens out into a look of concern.

“Are you all right?” he asks.

Thor still says nothing. He walks back to the ship.

+

“Now that you’ve lost Mjolnir, you need to relearn how to control your powers,” says Heimdall, once they’ve boarded.

“Thor smashed!” says Hulk.

“I’m glad you’re all right at least,” says Valkyrie, “but – ”

“Enough!” roars Thor, and lightning flashes from his hands.

Everyone goes silent. Thor knows Heimdall, at least, is right. He’s more powerful than ever before, but he’s struggling for control, and Loki’s “death” sent him too far past the edge of reason. He could have hit the fuel tanks. He doesn’t know how he maintained the control not to. And then where would they be?

“Hulk, Valkyrie, see to the refueling. I’m going to my quarters,” he barks. He refuses to look at any of them, especially Loki, who has stood silent and watchful this whole time. “Do not disturb me.”

+

Sometime later, he hears the door open, and someone stand at the threshold.

“What are you doing here, Loki?” says Thor. His back is turned to the door, and his head in his hands, but he can tell, somehow, who it is. Perhaps Loki is just the only person it could be. “I asked not to be disturbed.”

“You weren’t at the Security Council meeting,” says Loki. His voice is light, wary. “I assumed you would want a report on what was discussed.”

“It’s no matter. I’m sure you enjoyed having full run of it. How did the refueling go?”

“Fine. Heimdall believes we have enough to make it to Earth. Which… We should talk about that.”

“If you want to leave,” snarls Thor, and he twists around to glare at Loki, who steps back, alarm obvious in his face, “then you can leave!”

“I don’t want to leave,” says Loki, and he almost manages to sound contrite. “I know you don’t believe me. But I don’t want to leave.”

He goes silent, and the confession hangs in the room between them. Thor says nothing. He’s still breathing hard, still on the edge of weeping.

“Were you ever even injured?”

Loki shakes his head. “I thought I would lay the groundwork." He pauses, and Thor can see him start to form a question, but when he speaks, Thor doesn’t think it’s what Loki intended to ask.

“Why are you crying?” he asks instead.

Thor wipes at his eye and scowls. He hates to cry, hates to be seen crying, hates, most of all, to be seen crying by Loki.

“You died,” says Thor. “Again. You, and father, and mother, and… Fandral and Hogun and Volstagg and…”

It doesn’t seem worth explaining the immensity of his grief. Loki, he thinks angrily, should know.

Loki continues to stand in the doorway, unusually hesitant.

"What?" snaps Thor. "Why do you just stand there?

"Are you going to throw something at me?" asks Loki, with a wary look.

Thor laughs harshly. He wants to, he realizes. But he won't. "Why?" he demands. "Are you too much of a coward to face me even now?"

Loki's face shuts down into a scowl. "You're the one crying," he says, like a child.

“In my own room! You walked in on me!”

Loki sneers. “It’s not the first time I’ve walked in on you, brother,” he says.

Thor glares at him. His tears are hot on his face, but his anger, at least, has made him stop crying.

“Meaning?”

Loki shrugs, the very picture of innocence if it weren’t for the single, damning fact he’s Loki. He steps into the room, and the door closes behind with a soft click. He looks up at the ceiling, avoiding the single, narrow beam of Thor’s gaze. He seems to find something calming in the ceiling, because his shoulders go down. His scowl falls away.

“I came to say I'm sorry," he says, and his mouth twists into an expression of disgust. "So I didn’t really die. Either time. Any time. I don’t really know how many times it’s been now. But… “

“But what?” demands Thor.

He stands and moves angrily towards Loki, but stops himself halfway there. He’s not sure what he wants to do with him – if he wants to hug him or strangle him.

Loki laughs softly.

“I did it because I knew if you were upset, we could get out of there. I just didn’t think it would affect you quite this badly.”

“It’s not just you!” bellows Thor. “It’s everything! But you – you didn’t think I would grieve you, Loki? You have no idea how deeply I’ve grieved you.”

Finally, Loki looks at him. His eyes are soft and deep with aching. It’s a look Thor has seen before, usually right before Loki stabbed him with something. But it’s also a look he would catch, sometimes, when Loki didn’t realize Thor could see him.

Thor’s never known what to do with that look. It takes some of the fury from him.

“I did mean what I said, you know,” says Loki quietly. “I wasn’t there for Father. I didn’t almost die for his approval. And I did almost die. It wasn’t all a trick.”

“You did it for Mother,” says Thor, just as quietly. He feels them fumbling towards something, and he panics, backs away mentally from the ledge, just as he has since the idea of marrying Loki was first raised to him. “To avenge her.”

Loki walks to him. He puts his hand on Thor’s shoulder, and Thor sinks back down onto the bed, exhausted from his rage and grief.

“You’re not stupid, Thor. Not that stupid at least.”

“That’s a change of tune from you,” says Thor with a rough laugh.

“Well,” says Loki. He sits down next to Thor. “I lie sometimes.”

“I hadn’t noticed.”

Loki laughs quietly. Lightly – with two fingers – he touches the back of Thor’s hand. Thor hesitates, then turns his hand over. Loki lays his palm on top of his.

“But only sometimes. That’s the key word.”

Thor looks at their two hands together.

Change comes slowly to Asgardians, he thinks. Their lifespans are long. How many centuries did Thor spend, adventuring through the Nine Realms with his friends, assuming always Loki would be behind him, to cause mischief, but to get him out of trouble as well? How many centuries did Loki’s resentment grow?

And now, in the blink of Odin’s eye, they have lost their parents and their home and too many misconceptions about their past and their selves to even start to count. It’s no wonder Thor feels so adrift, his only constant his inconstant brother.

“What are we doing?” he asks.

“I was hoping you knew the answer to that.” Loki laughs cruelly, but it’s a cruelty directed towards himself. “But, you know, at least we’re family now. We have that.”

“We were always family,” said Thor. He lifts his head to face Loki, and adds fiercely, “Always.”

Loki looks away from him. His mouth is a tight, thin line. Thor realizes Loki wants to believe him, but that he believes Thor is just saying it to make Loki feel better.

“It’s true,” he says. “That’s just the truth. It’s not a trick.”

“We were a good team back there,” says Loki lightly, ignoring Thor’s words. He glances at Thor. “I’ll try not to pretend to die next time.”

“Never again,” insists Thor. “Never. Promise me.”

Loki hesitates. His face flickers through an expression of pained sympathy.

“Only, it was useful,” says Loki, his mouth turned down in a grimace. “Do you really think it’s wise to take it off the table? At least until you get more control of your powers?”

“And when it stops working?” demands Thor.

“Will it?” says Loki, his voice is light, but his expression is intent. “Will that be when you realize I’m expendable?”

“You’re not,” says Thor. Loki scoffs.

“You’re not,” says Thor again. “But…”

He knows Loki won’t be able to keep the promise, even if he were to make it. It’s against his nature.

“But?” says Loki, and he looks braced for a blow.

“But I won’t make you promise anything,” says Thor heavily. “I wouldn’t trust you anyway.”

Loki flinches, and Thor grabs his arm instinctively, stopping him before he can move away.

“It’s not that I don’t love you,” says Thor wildly. The conversation has skidded out of his control. “But how can I trust you? I couldn’t trust you as my brother. How can I trust you as my…”

“Your husband,” says Loki bitterly.

“Yes,” says Thor. He takes a deep breath. “My husband. It’s going to take time. We both have things we need to apologize for.”

Loki’s eyebrows pitch incredibly.

“What exactly do you have to apologize for?”

Thor hesitates. He senses a trap, and he moves carefully.

“I haven’t always been kind to you, Loki.”

Loki laughs, sharp and disdainful.

“You’re my brother, Thor. Of course you haven’t always been kind to me. I wasn’t always kind to you. Even as children.”

“So what do you want me to apologize for?” says Thor, tired. “What do you want, Loki?”

Loki doesn’t answer. He jerks his face away and glares angrily out at the stars. It feels as if their childhood spreads between them, a ruined land neither can traverse. They’ve both been lied to. They’ve both hurt each other in ways Thor once would have not thought possible. Where can their relationship go from here? What could make it worse? What can he say to Loki that Loki won’t disbelieve, or twist into an edge on which to cut himself?

Perhaps nothing, thinks Thor. But Loki is here, and that means, at least, that they have the chance to rebuild.

He squeezes Loki’s arm.

"Do you want me to apologize for marrying you without thinking it through? Did you want me to want to marry you?"

Loki’s jaw tightens, and he swallows hard. His eyes flicker, panicked, towards Thor, then towards the door. Thor watches the flex of his brother’s mouth and throat, and he longs to touch his hair, to comfort him.

"Oh," he says, and two realizations hit him at once, with all the force of a thunderclap: Loki wants him, and he wants Loki.

He touches Loki's cheek with two knuckles of his hand and feels Loki tremble, but Loki doesn't flinch, doesn't move away. He stays locked in his rigid panic.

“Whatever lies we were told," says Thor, "how I felt about you was never a lie. I’ve never lied to you about that.”

He hasn’t lied to Loki, he knows now, but he has been lying to himself.

“So you really think we should have parted ways? On Sakaar?” Loki’s voice is loaded with bitterness.

“It was a truth,” says Thor carefully. He keeps touching Loki's cheek. “That I used as a ruse. I do think maybe that would have been better. But… it’s not what I wanted you to do. I wanted you to stay. But I knew you’d do the opposite of whatever I asked.”

Loki lets out a sharp, pained laugh. It's more like the sound of a man being struck than an actual laugh. His face is angry and distraught in turns.

“Look at me, brother,” says Thor quietly. He cups Loki’s cheek and turns his face so Loki must look at him.

“I don’t want your pity,” spits Loki. “I know this is just political for – ”

Thor kisses him. He tries to put into it all the many turns of his feelings for Loki, all the anger and love and exasperation and fondness, his grief and his need.

For the first time in his life, he’s found an effective way to make Loki shut up that doesn’t involve a muzzle.

Loki kisses back, desperate and hard. He grabs onto Thor’s shoulder and drags him close. Thor shifts so that he straddles Loki’s lap and shoves him down onto the bed. He pauses for a second like that – with Loki on his back, his eyes lidded and his mouth open. He looks like a sacrifice, like he’s there for Thor’s taking.

Thor grips his jaw and runs his thumb along Loki’s lower lip. Loki’s breath catches. His lamp-like eyes stare up at Thor.

“Is this what you want?” asks Thor. His voice is low and rough even to his own ears. “This isn’t a trick?”

Loki’s face colors, furious, and his eyes narrow into a scowl.

“I take it back,” he hisses. “You are stupid.”

He grabs Thor by the back of his head and drags him down for another desperate kiss. Thor keeps his hand on Loki’s jaw and slows the kiss down, forces Loki to take it at his pace. It’s a deep, controlled kiss, and Thor thrills at the feel of Loki’s mouth on his, at the breathy, hitching noise Loki makes in his need and exasperation.

Thor lets go and leans back. Loki lies flushed beneath him, and Thor strips him quickly. Loki’s skin is cool but it warms at Thor’s touch. Everything about Loki’s body is surprisingly responsive. He moans loudly when Thor finally gets him completely naked. Thor leans down and presses a kiss to his collarbone, follows it swiftly with a bite. Loki curses.

“Are you sure you’re not acting now, brother?” asks Thor. Lightning plays at his fingers. He skims his hands down Loki’s sides.

“No!” cries Loki loudly. His whole body nearly twists off the bed. “Thor.”

He scrabbles at Thor’s hair but finds no purchase. With a growl, he grabs Thor’s neck instead and forces him down for a hard, biting kiss. Thor laughs joyfully into his mouth, and they kiss again.

+

“Wow,” says Thor, rolling onto his back. “That was a lot better than trying to kill each other.”

“I don’t know,” says Loki, sitting up. He looks pleased as a cat, and his hair is a black, curling halo. Thor watches him with a sense of rightness. This is where they both belong. “I’ve always considered trying to kill each other a kind of foreplay, really.”

Thor laughs sleepily, and he pulls Loki closer to him, against his chest. They’re quiet for a moment, basking in simple physical joy. It’s nice, to not have to use words for once.

But slowly the day’s events return to Thor. He groans into Loki’s shoulder.

“Hm?” says Loki.

“I was a terrible king today,” he says quietly, and all his mistakes lay out before him – too quick to rush in, too quick to put himself in danger, too quick to believe Loki.

“Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” says Loki, and, oddly, he doesn’t sound like he’s saying it to mock Thor. Thor feels the bed shift as Loki turns to face him.

“You weren’t all bad. You did what you needed to do. But you’re going to make mistakes. You’re always going to be too reckless for your own good. That’s why I’m here.”

Thor lets Loki’s words sink in. It’s a little bitter to let Loki call him reckless – Loki, who once threw himself off the Bifrost rather than deal with the consequences of his actions. But their recklessness runs in different directions. Maybe they can balance each other out. It will be a clumsy partnership, but a better one than anything they had before, as long as they’re honest with each other.

“So you’re really staying?” says Thor, and it’s the first time he’s allowed himself to voice the possibility that Loki might not.

“I am,” says Loki. “I’d promise, but I know you wouldn’t believe me.”

“I believe you,” says Thor quietly. He cups Loki’s face and kisses his cheek. “I do.”

He believes himself when he says it, too.

+

There’s a knock at the door late that night. Thor jerks awake, and Loki is only a split-second behind him. Thor’s disoriented at first, and then he sees the pale curve of Loki’s shoulder and the cut of his collarbone and remembers where he is.

Loki’s daggers are out.

“Expecting anyone?” he asks quietly, his eyes as bright as a cat’s.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” says Thor, and he climbs out of bed and dresses hurriedly. He is sure it’s nothing – or at least only someone who needs some manageable assistance, but he is strangely comforted by the knowledge that Loki is at his back.

He answers the door to Heimdall. Heimdall’s expression is grave.

“I’ve finished the count,” he says. He hands Thor a sheath of paper. It’s folded and heavy, and when Thor unfolds it, he sees that it’s dense with Heimdall’s writing.

“Oh,” say Thor. “Thank you,” His throat is suddenly tight.

Heimdall nods. He doesn’t even look past Thor’s shoulder, though Thor is sure he knows Loki is there.

“I’ll leave you two to decide what to do with it,” says Heimdall, confirming Thor’s suspicion. He bows once and leaves.

“What is that?” says Loki. He swings his legs over the bed and starts to stand. He’s fully dressed, and his face is narrow, suspicious.

Thor turns to him, holding the sheath of paper with both hands. He feels clumsy and small.

“Everyone we’ve lost,” he says slowly. “Heimdall’s written up their names.”

+

It takes them a day to organize the funeral. Loki does most of the work. Thor doesn’t know if it’s a penance for him, or merely his love of putting on a show. He doesn’t ask. He’s letting this new relationship unfold carefully between them, and perhaps it doesn’t matter if Loki is feeding his guilt or his vanity so long as the work gets done.

It is easier between them, though. Thor feels steadier, as if the ground beneath his feet had firmed up. He needs that steadiness at the funeral. The greatness of their loss is almost too much to bear, now that he can count it and name it, now that it has a specific weight and depth.

He stands with Loki, facing the stars. Behind them, in weary rows, stand the remnants of Asgard. The room is silent except for the odd, heavy sound of hundreds breathing. Once, a small child makes a high, curious noise, and is quickly hushed.

Thor clears his throat. He still feels awkward up here, undeserving. But he knows what he must do. He begins.

“Odin All-Father,” he says. Loki makes a small gesture, and a small, orange flame appears beyond the glass of the ship, in the black vacuum of space.

“Fandral,” says Thor next, and another flame appears. “Volstagg. Hogun.”

Two more flames join the others. Thor steps back, and the first Asgardian steps forward, and says the names of her own dead in a clear but quavering voice. She is an orphan now, too. For each name, Loki calls another flame. Another Asgardian steps forward and speaks, and then another, and another. Thor watches the faces of his people, some determined, some grieving, some still numb. It’s been less than a week since they lost everything.

Finally, everyone has spoken, and a sea of small flames flicker in an unfelt wind.

“Frigga,” says Loki, soft enough that only Thor hears it, and a final flame winks into being.

“May they sing your names in the halls of Valhalla,” says Thor. His voice fills the room. “Ride well into glory.”

Loki gestures outward, his palm turned upward. As one, the flames drift away, into eternity. Everyone watches in silence as the flames grow smaller, until they look like distant stars, until they look like nothing at all.

Thor keeps staring into that permanent night, long after the flames have faded from view. He knows he should turn and say something to his people, but his eye is wet, and he doesn’t trust himself to speak without breaking. Then, he feels someone gently touch his shoulder.

It's Loki. His face is even paler than usual, and his eyes are wet, too. But his mouth is firm. Without a word, Thor reaches to him. They take each other’s hand, and, together, they turn to face their people as one.