"I'm here," Loki says.
His voice is quiet and steady: real sincerity, not its counterfeit counterpart. Thor cannot quite say how he knows the difference, but it is there -- the absence of forced earnestness where Loki doesn’t mean it, perhaps. Now Loki's eyes are shining, his gaze fixed on Thor's. His hand is still up, holding the bottle-stopper Thor thought he was only throwing at a shadow.
Thor thinks to ask Loki how he escaped Asgard's collapse. He thinks to laugh aside his own words, the honest longing in his voice when Loki's tangible presence felt impossible. Thor does neither of these things; instead he strides the length of the room, and sweeps his brother up into a hug.
For a moment Loki stays stiff, his hand awkwardly to the side, before both of his arms come up and cautiously wrap around Thor in turn, the bottle-stopper pressing into Thor's shoulder-blade. They used to hug, and to lean upon one another, in a time so long past it almost feels as though it belongs to someone else. Now when Thor thinks of touching Loki he thinks of dragging him bodily by the arm, or of clasping his shoulder only to be greeted with a knife to the gut. Loki does not have a knife now -- he still has the bottle-stopper in one hand, the other curling against Thor's back. Loki has awkward angles, and nothing about the two of them fits together comfortably. It is still one of the best things Thor has felt in ages. Thor bows his head, closing his remaining eye and breathing in the scents of leather and sweat and ash and blood clinging to Loki's hair. Underneath all these is something else, familiar and cold.
"The Tesseract?" Thor asks, still pressed into Loki's shoulder.
"Yes," Loki says. "I wasn't exactly going to stay there and die." He shifts but doesn't pull away. "A shame it isn't powerful enough to transport a whole ship. You do realize this ship is set up for a planetary pleasure cruise, not a long haul through deep space? How much food do you think we have here?"
"Enough for us to get somewhere," Thor returns. He pulls back to clasp Loki's shoulders. Loki looks deeply unimpressed, and worn down. The hollow wound where Thor's eye used to be aches fiercely. He gives Loki a grin. "But you're right."
Loki's eyebrows go up.
"I hadn't thought much further than our last stand, and defeating Hela," Thor elaborates. "You got our people out, and you're asking the right questions now." He tightens his hands on Loki's shoulders. Loki looks wary, but not puzzled, or offended, or like he's readying a sarcastic remark. Thor feels a welling-up of joy and affection, unlooked-for, emotions that have seemed like impossibilities for years now. "This is why I'm glad you're here, brother."
Loki's face does something complicated, his mouth twisting with the tamping-down of some emotion. "Don't strain yourself," he says. "Come on, show me the ship."
First there is the matter of mourning the dead: Hela destroyed Asgard's entire standing army, and every elite warrior save Heimdall, Thor, Loki, and their rogue Valkyrie. Thor stands before his people on the bridge of their ship, saying a handful of halting, careful words about the einherjar, about Fandral and Volstagg and Hogun, fighting to keep his voice from breaking.
He is grateful that some of Odin's lessons in kingship seem to have stuck with him, enough to stand on ceremony and look composed. He is more grateful that there are concrete problems to be solved, to keep them all busy. He finds those Asgardians who wish to learn combat, and sends them to Heimdall and the Valkyrie, or to Korg and his escaped revolutionaries, who also wish to be of use. Thor seeks out their healers, already busy with the wounded, and sends those who wish to learn other magics to Loki.
"What of Sif?" Thor asks Loki and Heimdall.
"She did not die on Asgard," Heimdall says, "nor was she among the people."
"I, ah, may have sent her away," Loki admits. "I found a number of heroic deeds in need of doing and tasked her with them. She certainly would have found out I wasn't Father if she'd stayed, and I couldn't very well declare her a traitor to the crown. Her friends would never have stood for that." He glances at Heimdall. "Everyone was a little relieved when I got rid of you, you know. That all-seeing magic is very off-putting. No offense."
"None taken," Heimdall says, very dryly.
"Heimdall," Thor cuts in, before Loki can do himself an injury, "could you see where Sif is now?"
"Of course." Heimdall gazes into the distance for a long moment. Loki looks in the same direction, an expression of affected thoughtfulness on his face, before he catches Thor looking at him and drops it.
"She is on Midgard," Heimdall says. "And since the Bifrost is gone, it is unlikely she will leave the planet before we arrive."
"Well," Thor says, breathing out in relief, "that is good news."
"You're welcome," Loki says, and looks very startled when Thor only laughs and claps him on the back before striding off. He is grateful that, whatever Loki's motivations, Sif at least was safe from Hela. She can help them rebuild on Earth.
The journey will take some time, however. Thor walks the length of the ship and considers where on Midgard there will be room for his people, and who he will have to approach for permission to stay there. Asgard has spent too much time taking, and Thor does not mean to continue doing so, if only he can find who to ask.
It does not take long for Thor to grow tired of his own circular thoughts, which cannot yet be turned to action.
He approaches the Valkyrie. "A moment of your time?"
She's sitting in one of the ship's wide observation windows, one leg tucked up on the windowsill and one dangling casually, her boot just brushing the floor. She takes a long moment to look away from the view to Thor. Thor likes that about her, that even after returning home she didn't pick up habits of reverence. It would be just as well if the rest of Asgard followed her example. "Yes, Majesty?" she says.
"Thor." Thor sits down on the window ledge opposite her, with his right side pressed against the window; he can still see her face, but not the immense stretch of space to his blind side. "If you would."
"I suppose." She quirks a smile, studying his face. "It's Brunnhilde, by the way, when I'm not Scrapper 142 or the last Valkyrie."
"Good to meet you, Brunnhilde," Thor says, holding out a hand. She considers it for a moment before leaning forward and clasping their forearms together, warrior to warrior. Thor sits back. "I have a favor to ask you."
"Sure," Brunnhilde says.
"I need to learn how to fight with this," Thor explains, indicating his eyepatch. "If this ship gets attacked I can't just rely on raw power; the lightning might fry everyone onboard. And to be honest I'm running into things all the damned time. I think combat training might get me used to it."
"Why me?" Brunnhilde asks. "I'm going to kick your arse like this, you know that. You could start easy."
"What, with Korg? I think he's happier teaching the children than being asked to really fight again. And if he actually injured me -- unlikely, of course -- it might cause an incident." Brunnhilde gives a wry eyebrow-quirk of acknowledgment. Thor goes on, "I suppose I could ask Loki instead, but --"
"You could beat him in two seconds, eyepatch or not," Brunnhilde says. "Fair enough."
"Actually I was going to say that Loki would distract me with illusions and then punch me in the face on my blind side," Thor says. "You might be my easier opponent."
"Ouch," Brunnhilde returns good-naturedly. "All right, then. Let's do this."
Their sparring sessions quickly develop an audience. Thor has no idea how, given that he'd cleared out a storage compartment nowhere near either the main deck or the living quarters, but by the second time he and Brunnhilde meet, a number of younger Asgardians crowd curiously in the doorway; by the fifth time, they've been joined by Korg, several of the other revolutionaries, and Loki.
Happily Thor is less incapacitated by his limited sight than he feared -- he would be no kind of warrior if he couldn't anticipate his opponent's moves or gain the upper hand in a pinch -- so he doesn't embarrass himself in front of their onlookers. Still, he and Brunnhilde are very evenly matched, and she has no hesitation about getting up under his guard and attacking his blind side. He goes down more than once, though no less than she does. Their audience gasps at the more exciting moments. Korg cheers them both.
"Not bad," Brunnhilde says, at the end of the match. "Same time tomorrow?"
Thor glances at their onlookers. "Of course."
Brunnhilde claps him on the back and leaves. When she goes, a number of the younger Asgardian women break off with her, asking her questions as they follow. Thor smiles to himself, pleased to see her settling in like this. And there is something in Thor that finds delight in sparring with her, aside from the obvious benefit of retraining his body: he couldn't be a Valkyrie, but facing off against one really is the next best thing.
"I'm impressed," Loki says, cutting through Thor's thoughts. He slips into the room as the rest of the audience drifts away. "I see you haven't lost your edge."
"Thank you," Thor says, a little puzzled. He has been too preoccupied with everything else to devote much attention to Loki, and Loki has made that easy: though Thor has heard his brother's name spoken on occasion, it's been in the context of people discussing their lessons with him, or exchanging experiences of Asgard's final battle. No one has made any complaints. And it seems to Thor now that he hasn’t been expecting any: several days past, he embraced his brother, and since then it feels as though years have unspooled, the fact of Loki at his side only natural. Probably foolish of him. "Do you want something?" Thor asks now.
Loki crosses his arms. "Do I need to want something?"
"I'd be surprised if you only stopped by to compliment me," Thor points out.
"I'm not here to compliment you," Loki protests. "You fell on your arse half a dozen times."
"Didn't you just say 'I'm impressed'?"
"Yes, well." Loki scowls and uncrosses his arms. "Not that she isn't also impressive, of course, but why did you choose the Valkyrie?"
"Instead of you, you mean?" Loki scowls harder, which is Thor's answer. "Because," Thor says, "I already know how you fight. You wouldn't have as many chances to surprise me, and I'm not terribly interested in fighting shadow versions of you and never landing a hit while you sneak up behind me."
"Ah yes," Loki says, venom creeping into his voice. "I've become predictable."
An ache is rising behind Thor's eyepatch. "I didn't mean it like that," he says. "You have surprised me. You didn't stay on Sakaar, and you helped evacuate our people, and you came back." Thor stumbles on these last words: the scowl has slipped from Loki's face and left behind something rawer than Thor was expecting. He didn't expect anything of Loki, but Loki is standing before him now, returned from beyond all hope, and still here.
Loki holds his gaze without saying anything, and Thor swallows, unwilling to look away even though the moment between them has transmuted into something strange. Thor feels as though he is suddenly only a breath from calling small lightnings to skitter along his knuckles.
He seizes at the feeling gratefully. "There is something you can do."
"Besides sneak up on you?" Loki asks, but without bitterness.
Thor ignores this. "I don't really know how to channel my power. I asked Brunnhilde to practice with me because I want to rely on something besides the lightning, but I’d like to be able to use it without worrying about injuring anyone else."
"And you think I can ...?" Loki trails off questioningly.
"I don't know." Thor shifts with discomfort, back on uncertain ground. "When you first began learning magic, you must have started small. Any tips you could pass along?"
Loki huffs a laugh, an edge of derision to it, though he looks thoughtful. "Given the amount of raw power you were working with back there, I'd say you already have fairly good control of it."
"Not really," Thor says. He remembers the absolute clarity he'd felt during the battle against Hela and her army. Everything had been very bright and precise: with a thought he'd channeled the lightning through his body to strike each enemy down. But there is a difference between battle-focus, which Thor knows of old, and this, the way he can feel the roil of power just under his skin at the most inopportune times. "Control in a fight isn't the same as understanding how to control it all the time," he settles for explaining.
Loki considers this for a moment. "All right." He pushes away from the wall, coming to stand in front of Thor. He holds out a hand. "Start small. Give me one current, your palm to mine."
Thor hesitates. It's not that he is afraid of hurting Loki -- if he summons enough lightning to do Loki serious injury they'll have much bigger problems -- nor is it really that he's afraid of looking foolish in front of his brother, that ship having sailed long ago. It's that he has no idea why Loki would offer this. He really was only looking for advice, not a partner to practice on.
"Come on," Loki says, with a bite of impatience.
Thor reaches for the power, carefully. He tries to do what he's always done, summon it like drawing something from a well, easy as breathing. But at the other end there is nothing, a jolt of loss where Mjolnir should have been in his hand, a much worse emptiness than the physical wound where his eye used to be. All that happens is a pop, the shift of pressure in the room, without lightning. "Damn," Thor mutters.
"You don't have your hammer," Loki says calmly.
"I know," Thor snaps. "And that didn't seem to matter when I was fighting Hela, but --"
"You used your whole body as the hammer," Loki says, the tilt of a smile starting on his face. "Unfortunately you're going to have to be more focused than that now."
"So ... my hand is the hammer?"
Loki considers. "If you want to think of it like that, I suppose. But -- here." He shifts into a fighting stance, his hand still out towards Thor. "You're still directing energy, like you do in combat, but instead of the weapon being external, you're making it."
"Like your knives." Thor nods, shifting his weight, centering himself. "All right."
He reaches for the power again, draws it out, calls it to his fingertips instead of the place Mjolnir used to be. It isn't an emptiness; he is the vessel. Small lightnings arc across his knuckles. Thor breathes in, breathes out, gathers the scattered forkings into a single current, and sends it sizzling across the space between his hand and Loki's.
Loki yelps as the lightning zaps him. It dies against his fingertips. Loki shakes his hand out. "There you have it."
"May I try again?" Thor asks.
Loki gives him a startled look. "Yes," he says. "Of course."
So Thor does it again, drawing the power up, holding it in the palm of his hand, tossing it to Loki's. On the second try Loki still jumps a little, but makes no undignified noise. On the third try, when Loki catches the lightning he holds it for a moment, a crackling tangle of power against the palm of his hand, before he makes a fist and it dies away.
Thor tears his gaze from Loki’s hand in time to see the look of fixed concentration on his face. "I didn't know you could take it like that," Thor says, his mouth strangely dry.
Loki laughs, a shaky shocked sound. "Nor did I." He meets Thor's eyes. "I think you have that small bit of power under control. Try it again, a little stronger."
"All right," Thor says, the you asked for it implied in his tone, and summons another surge of power, larger, but still easy to hold now he has the feel for it. When he tosses it to Loki it flies between them with a crack, not the full force of thunder but an echo of it, and when it reaches Loki's hand it races up his arm, wreathing him in light before it dies away.
For a moment Loki stands frozen, looking surprised. A thin noise escapes him, though Thor cannot tell whether it's pain or only shock. Then Loki shakes his arm out, and says, in a voice that wavers a little, "Still good, but that's definitely enough for today."
"You're not --?"
"I'm fine, Thor," Loki says, fast but not too sharp. "Have a good evening."
"And you also?" Thor calls after him, baffled, watching his brother nearly run out the door. What a peculiar reaction. But Loki didn't seem hurt or angry. Thor shakes his head and puts the matter aside.
Rather than following Loki, he goes out into the corridor and finds the nearest outer-hull window. There he sits, his back to the vastness of space and stars, and carefully he strings lines of lighting between his hands, and rolls the power back and forth along his fingertips.
The following day Thor stops by Loki's room with an offering of food, He has done his best not to worry about Loki's strange behavior, but even with Loki's reassurances, it seems only courteous to check on his brother. Loki is sprawled out on his bed, scrolling through a display in neon pink and yellow that might be the ship's instruction manual. He doesn't look any worse for their experiment.
Thor knocks on the doorframe. "Might I come in?" Loki looks up and gestures to him, so Thor comes inside. "They've finished curing the venison. I brought you some, in case you wanted it. Now or later. It'll keep."
"Yes," Loki says slowly, sitting up, "I do understand the concept of curing meat. Why are you here, Thor?"
"I wanted to see if you were well," Thor says. "You left in such a hurry yesterday, I feared I'd injured you."
"Well, you didn't," Loki says.
Thor waits, but no more seems forthcoming, so he nods. "Here's the venison. I'll see you later?"
"Wait." Loki says. He takes the offered meat, setting it on a shelf by his bed, and gives Thor a long, considering look. "You really have changed. Time was, you would have pressed me for an answer until you were satisfied."
"Time was, I could probably be led to any answer you wanted," Thor returns. "I'd rather let you keep your peace."
"Fair enough." Loki clasps his hands together and stares down at them. "Horribly, I think I like you this way."
This startles a laugh from Thor. He feels another welling of affection and joy, as strong as when he'd first realized Loki was truly aboard the ship. He wants to hug Loki again, or at the very least to sit down by his side and knock their shoulders together, try to sling an arm around his brother until Loki grows annoyed and elbows him too hard. He wants the easy physicality they left behind years ago, and which was probably a lie for years before that.
"I haven't decided if I like you this way," he says honestly. "I'm not entirely sure what this way is for you."
Loki glances back up at Thor. "That makes two of us."
It sounds enough like an invitation that Thor comes the rest of the way into the room and sits down next to Loki on the bed. Loki shifts to give him space, and makes no protest.
"Here's the thing," Thor says, feeling his way carefully through the words. "I don't know if it's possible to clear the air between us. I've been an insufferable ass most of my life, and I assumed you'd be by my side without asking what you wanted, and I wasn't there for you when things fell apart. You've tried to destroy several civilizations, neglected your duties as ruler when you had them, and exiled Father, which set in motion basically everything that's happened to us since." He glances sidelong at Loki. Loki is listening to this with a slightly furrowed brow, but looks neither offended or as though he's about to interrupt. Thor takes a breath. "But you've come through. You helped me on Svartalfheim, before you faked your own death and betrayed me. You helped me on Sakaar, before you decided that the better play was to betray me. You came back to Asgard and helped me save our people, and now ..."
"You're waiting for me to betray you," Loki finishes, and sighs. "Are you going to believe me if I say I won't?"
"I'd like to," Thor says. "Would you believe you?"
"Probably not." Loki gives Thor the rueful flash of a smile. "I have become predictable."
"Please don't make me think about that yet," Loki says, lightly, still smiling. "I'm still not done savoring you saying you've been an insufferable ass most of your life."
"Don't forget reckless and impulsive," Thor says comfortably. Loki breathes a laugh, and Thor gives into his earlier urge to affection, leaning his shoulder into Loki's. After a fractional hesitation Loki presses back, a familiar weight against Thor's side. Tension uncoils from Thor's shoulders, the abrupt release of something Thor hadn't realized he was holding onto. "Even if you do," he says. "Betray me, I mean. It was nice to have this again first."
Loki makes a noncommittal noise.
"Maybe 'again' isn't the right word," Thor acknowledges. "But this is nice."
"All right, yes," Loki snaps, "now please stop talking about it."
Thor laughs and slings an arm over Loki's shoulders, half tease, half affection. He fully expects Loki's elbow in retaliation, and is utterly unprepared when Loki instead turns into the embrace, settling against Thor with his head tucked into Thor's shoulder. He hasn't done this since they were both boys, still too young to be trusted with anything sharper than wooden practice blades, and Thor is, for the first time in quite some while, surprised by Loki.
Possibly that is the point.
"What," Thor murmurs, settling his encircling arm more comfortably around Loki, "no knives?"
"I'm trying out something new," Loki says, a little muffled against Thor's collar. He raises his head. "If you continue talking about it, I'll reconsider."
"All right," Thor says, smiling, "I'm shutting up now."
They sit like that for a time, in silence that holds a peace too new to be quite comfortable. Their breathing falls into matching rhythms; Thor does not try to move his arm, nor does Loki endeavor to untangle himself. Thor is baffled, and wary, and a little proud of Loki's attempt to find new unpredictability not only in the grand gestures but in the small ones. He has no idea what's going to happen between them, but that thought holds no dread.
Loki finds Thor standing on the observation deck, taking a moment of quiet to gaze out at the slow movement of stars as their spaceship makes its way towards Midgard. Out of the corner of his eye Thor sees Loki step up level to him, and for a time they are silent, looking out the window together.
"Is it really a good idea to go to Earth?" Loki asks. "Why Midgard, anyway? Why not, I don't know, Vanaheim?"
"They know us on Vanaheim," Thor says. He searches for the words. "I mean, they do know us on Earth as well, but mortals don't remember us the way the Vanir do. Vanaheim would allow us to carry on as Odin did, and I want to do something different now."
"Fair enough." Loki tilts a look at Thor. "Let me rephrase. Is it a good idea to bring me back to Earth?"
"It will all work out," Thor says, smiling. There is perhaps more confidence in his voice than he feels, but Loki did help save his people. If he is recognized, Thor can explain that, and do his best to make the mortals understand.
Perhaps Loki can read some of this in his face. "Why, exactly," he says, "is everyone doing so much weapons training if we're coming peacefully?"
Thor blinks. "We will want to make ourselves useful, Loki."
"You may want to rethink that," Loki says, his eyebrows going up. "If I recall, Midgard tends not to look kindly on spaceships full of aliens arriving on their doorstep, whether or not we insist that our violence and weapons are the useful kind."
"Perhaps," Thor says, frowning, "but I have been an Avenger. The mortals appreciated that. That is the sort of use I'm talking about."
"All right." Loki looks back out the window. "I'll think on it. There must be some way for you to explain our presence, and present yourself well, instead of just assuming that it will all work out."
"That's why I'm glad to have you here," Thor says, and watches the brief tilt of a smile at the corner of Loki's mouth. He feels more concerned at the end of this conversation rather than less, though he does not say so. All of Loki's points are good. Thor wonders, not for the first time, if he has made the right choice, and whether he is fit to rule.
But he doesn't say so aloud. It is one thing to give Loki his vulnerability in personal affairs which concern them both; it is another entirely to confess his fears regarding his kingship. No matter how considered and helpful Loki is being now, Thor is unwilling to trust Loki with his own uncertainty.
Thor dreams of Asgard in a wreck of flames. He knows he's seen it before, an echo of an actual event, a stone dropped into the pond of history with ripples spreading out in all directions around it.
Hela is not there. She was not in any of the other dreams, either. Thor stands on the fragmenting Bifrost, the heat of flames on his face, his hands empty. He feels a step on the bridge behind him, making the whole length of the Bifrost judder beneath his feet, and when he turns from the inferno it is still not Hela, but Loki.
He stands with the people of Asgard at his back, but all of them are at odd angles, standing like puppets with green lights in their eyes. Loki alone of them looks alive, but he has a svartalf sword sprouting from his chest, and Thor realizes with a jolt that it is only the great fire behind them that brings Loki's skin to living color.
"I came back, brother," Loki says. "I brought a ship for us."
"No," Thor says, though he's unsure what he's protesting. He can see the ship now, looming out of the darkness of space, and it too is wreathed in ghostly green light: a ship of the dead.
Beneath their feet, a long shivering crack runs up the length of the Bifrost. "It was never the same after you broke it," Loki observes, and gives Thor a terrible smile. "You can't possibly think this is going to end well."
The Bifrost breaks, and Thor falls with a jolt of adrenaline and horror that sends him flailing upright in bed.
His room is dim. The ship's engine hums reassuringly around him. Outside his windows, there is space, and stars. Thor breathes deeply, getting the racing of his heart under control. It is done, Asgard burned, and his people lived. It's done, Asgard is gone, his people lived. Thor presses the heels of his hands to his eyes, gently, taking care not to dig into the sensitive right socket. They lived. Loki lived too, as he has always done. Thor has no more need of mourning.
In the blackness, with his eye closed, he can still see Asgard burning.
"Your brother is being really, really weird," Brunnhilde informs him.
"Well, your Hulk is being weird," Thor retorts.
Brunnhilde glances over her shoulder. Hulk is currently loping the length of the observation deck, yelling at intervals, while several Asgardian children cling to his back, shrieking with glee. Brunnhilde turns back to Thor with raised eyebrows.
"All right, that's perfectly normal for him," Thor says. "What has Loki done?"
"He's staring at you a lot," she says.
"He ... always does that?" Thor says, baffled.
"Huh. Okay." Brunnhilde ponders this. "He'll do something useful, like show someone how to do a spell, or help with the food preparation, and as soon as he's done he'll look over at you."
"And ...?" Thor prompts.
"Look, back on Sakaar I saw him cozying up to the Grandmaster," Brunnhilde says. "He's slippery. He might not be very good at it, but if he sees a better opportunity than this he's going to take it. He's being helpful so you see him being helpful and let your guard down."
"That is very likely," Thor agrees. "But don't worry, I'm not going to let my guard down, and in the meantime he is still helping."
"Fine," Brunnhilde says. She turns away, pauses, turns back. "You know, I understand why you're happy to have him around anyway. And he did fight with us, I'll give him that. But please keep an eye on him, because I don't want anything to do with this mess."
"I'll keep an eye on him," Thor promises. He can't resist winking the one he has left, and has to duck when Brunnhilde takes a laughingly exasperated swing at him in retaliation.
But Brunnhilde is right, both about Loki and about how Loki is not her responsibility. It would be pure foolishness to think that Loki's return and his behavior aboard ship so far imply a definite end to his mischief. Thor has too many other duties to attend, and cannot look out for his brother every moment, no matter how much he might want to keep Loki in his sight. But there is someone who can.
"Heimdall, a word?" Thor says.
Heimdall claps a young woman on the shoulder and gets up from where he was seated with a group of teenaged Asgardians, teaching them to sharpen their swords. "What is it?"
Thor goes out into the corridor with him. "The Valkyrie is concerned about Loki," he explains. "Rightly so, probably. I take it you have been watching him?"
"As often as I can," Heimdall says. "It was good to see him again, but I have not forgotten the rest of his mischief." He studies Thor's face. "At the moment, though, I have nothing to report. He has only veiled himself from my sight a handful of times on this ship."
"More than once?" Thor asks, with a spike of concern.
"I wouldn't worry," Heimdall tells him. "I do not look at moments of intimacy, but I don't begrudge him that precaution."
"Moments of intimacy?" Thor repeats. "Loki? With whom --?" Heimdall waits in patient silence, and for a moment Thor thinks Heimdall is respecting the privacy of some nameless maid before he realizes that this would be relevant information for any schemes Loki might be hatching; then of course the only conclusion is that Loki is taking his pleasure alone. Thor blushes. "Ah. Yes, of course."
"Be assured I am otherwise watching him," Heimdall says. "You'll know if I find anything suspicious."
"Thank you," Thor says.
Heimdall returns to the young Asgardians, and Thor wanders off down the corridor, taking no note of his direction. That conversation should have been reassuring -- if Loki is not sneaking about or making suspicious preparations, the worst he can be doing is formulating plans without substance -- but instead Thor feels off-balance. It's the sheer banality of the information, the sort of thing Thor would have been unsurprised to learn about Loki as a teenager: Loki is paranoid enough of Heimdall's sight to secret himself away by magic before bringing himself off.
It really is unfortunate that Thor has this information and can do nothing with it. He'd love to tease Loki about it, but either Loki would take offense, when Thor has no wish to shatter their tentative companionship with ill-placed words, or more likely Loki would find some way to turn the tables on him, and make Thor feel uncomfortable for knowing what he knows.
The worst part is, now Thor is thinking about it. Not in any great detail, but the gestures of it: Loki casting the illusion of an empty room, barring the door, settling himself upon the bed -- and that is quite enough of that, Thor decides, before he starts mentally undressing Loki.
Heimdall told him a useful fact. No need to make it weird.
"Thor, do you have a moment?" Loki asks.
Thor startles. He's writing up everything he remembers the Avengers explaining to him about Midgardian governmental structures. Loki's sudden appearance is only surprising because he was engrossed in his work. "Uh, yes," Thor says. "What is it?"
"I realize the Valkyrie is your preferred partner," Loki says, "but would you do the courtesy of sparring with me?" Thor frowns, and Loki adds swiftly, "If you're going to practice fighting without depth perception you can't just rely on what you've learned from one opponent. And you do need to practice controlling your lightning."
"Are you sure?" Thor asks. "Last time --"
"I wasn't expecting it, that's all," Loki says. "I'm not bothered by a little shock, Thor."
"A little shock," Thor repeats, indignantly.
"Yes," says Loki, "which, obviously, is why you need to keep practicing. I hardly want to lose my edge either, and there is no way I'm going to ask the Valkyrie to spar with me, so you're it."
"Two years pretending to be Father didn't make you lose your edge," Thor points out, nettled. Maybe it's the jab about his lightning; possibly it's that Loki hasn't voluntarily asked for a courtesy match with Thor since the time when, as teenagers, Thor had almost finished grinding Loki into the dust before Loki escaped with magic, which ended with Thor shouting at Loki about cheating and Loki swearing to never indulge Thor's stupidity again. Ah, yes. Probably that.
But "Thank you," Loki says mildly, ignoring Thor's tone. "Will you indulge me?"
Thor sighs, pushing his notes away. "Fine. Weapons or barehanded?"
"I already know you can punch me," Loki says, very dry. "Let's start with weapons, shall we, and save your lightning for later."
"All right," Thor says.
They stop first at the weapons storage. Thor considers and discards a handaxe and a maul before taking a pair of knives: he and Loki learned hand-to-hand from their mother at the same time, but Thor soon neglected it for heavier weaponry, and he thinks returning to knives would be both a nice gesture and possibly a challenge. These chosen, he finds an empty room of the right size, though not the same one Thor and Brunnhilde have been using: Thor has no wish for an audience.
Thor shuts the door and turns to see that Loki has conjured his knives. Thor grins and settles himself into a fighting stance.
Loki attacks him in a sudden flurry, up under Thor's guard before Thor can register it; if he's telegraphing any movements he's doing so on the side Thor can't see, and Thor manages to get in two good blocks before Loki sweeps around and knocks Thor's feet out from under him. Thor lands with a thud and stares up at the ceiling in surprise.
"The Valkyrie was going easy on you," Loki says. He offers Thor a hand.
Wincing, Thor takes it, and allows Loki to pull him to his feet. "She was not," he says. "She was using it as a training exercise, not a competition."
"This is a training exercise," Loki counters, his eyes very wide. "I'm training you to not get coddled and die."
"Again," Thor says.
This time when Loki comes for him he's ready for it, and meets him blow for blow. Loki's much faster, and better practiced with his knives, but Thor has sheer strength on his side, and years of watching Loki's tells. It's still difficult with only one eye. Loki knows it, too, and favors his left side, trying to stay in Thor's blind spot; Thor refuses to be goaded, hooking his knife up under Loki's arm and twisting him back so that Thor can see him. A grin flashes across Loki's face before he ducks away and turns for his next hit. But for all that Thor can keep up -- and he can tell Loki isn't holding back -- he never comes close to getting under Loki's guard the way Loki did in that first attack.
After a few minutes Thor says, a little breathless, "Pause?" and breaks away when Loki does.
They're both breathing hard, standing on opposite sides of the room. "It's all right to be frustrated," Loki says.
"I'm not frustrated," Thor returns. "You're better with knives than I am."
This brings Loki up short. "Oh."
"You said you wanted to get some practice in," Thor can't resist adding. "I thought I should start with something I wasn't very good at, so you'd have a fighting chance for a while."
"And you had to ruin it," Loki sighs.
"I thought you hated sincerity," Thor says, throwing him a grin, and after a moment Loki returns it, the slow spreading of a smile. Thor feels a burst of affection, but asks only, "Mind if I try a different weapon?"
Loki ducks his head, gesturing rueful assent.
The weapons storage is just down the corridor, so Thor goes quickly, replacing the knives and selecting instead a two-handed greatsword, something with heft and reach which still won't remind him too much of Mjolnir. He slings it across his back and returns to the room where he left Loki.
"Of course you chose that," Loki says by way of greeting, eyeing the sword.
"If it's not too much of a challenge," Thor says, with poorly-feigned concern.
"Oh no, don't worry about me," Loki says, the knives reappearing in his hands, and this time when Thor feels relief and joy he recognizes what they're in response to. There had been a time when Thor would tease or mock Loki and Loki would give as good as he got; there had been a time after when Loki's responses were perfunctory, or muted, or more vicious than Thor's jibe warranted; there had been a time when Thor spoke carefully, with kindness and reason, because the only response Loki had left was the knife. This is -- something old, and familiar: a version of Loki that Thor had long since accepted would be forever out of reach.
With pure delight, Thor hits his brother with a sword.
Fighting two-handed is much easier; they're far more evenly matched. Loki dodges and feints and does manage to come into Thor's blind side several times, but Thor has the right momentum to follow him, and to bring his full weight to bear down on the sword. Loki is the first to be knocked off his feet.
"Fine," he says breathlessly, when Thor offers him a hand, "you are still impressive."
"If you keep complimenting me I'll be suspicious that you went easy," Thor says.
Something in Loki's face shifts, the sudden flash of unhappiness, before Loki says, "Would you like to go again?"
"Yes," Thor says, rather than asking Loki if anything is amiss. Loki will say, if he desires to. He settles back into a fighting stance.
This time, when Loki hooks a knife under Thor's sword and swings around with the momentum of it, he says, a little breathless and far too casual, "So when is it going to be enough?"
"Sorry?" Puzzled, Thor knocks Loki's knives away. He adjusts so he can see both of Loki's hands, and meets Loki's next strike.
"When is it going to be enough, Thor," Loki repeats, a blow Thor blocks punctuating the words. "What will gain your trust? I came back --" a hit "-- I saved our people --" he ducks and comes around Thor's blind side, has to bend nearly backwards to avoid Thor following with the greatsword "-- with your help, of course," he adds, and turns his knife to stab Thor before Thor knocks it aside. "I followed your mad plan to destroy Asgard, I returned here --" Thor gets the blade of his sword under the hilt of one of Loki's knives and flips it away, and Loki ducks again. "I haven't been making any trouble --"
Thor sends the other knife flying. New ones appear in Loki's hands, but he stills. "Well played, brother."
"What do you want, Loki?" Thor asks.
Loki blinks. "I don't know."
"Not the throne," Thor says, more gently than he means to. "Not Father's love. Not to hurt me."
"No," Loki says, and swallows.
"It is enough," Thor tells him. "You came back. You've stayed."
Loki blinks several times, rapidly. His mouth curves into an unhappy line before he masters it. "Do you really think that's enough?" he asks. "It doesn't feel like enough."
This is something Thor recognizes, the terrible uncertainty of not knowing oneself after the foundations are shaken. Loki has been here before, but that cannot make it any easier a second time. And now that Asgard is gone Thor can feel the uncertainty rising to meet him too. He wants Loki by his side when it comes; the least he can do is try to help Loki through this.
"Loki," he says, "why did you come back?"
A faint puzzled frown crosses Loki's face. "You ... knew what I was going to do. You bested me. And then you honestly thought I was going to just stay on that trash heap of a planet --" He stops abruptly, as though he has reached the end of his thought and dislikes it too much to say aloud.
"So you came back to prove me wrong?" Thor hazards. That is very like Loki, and he does his best to smother his smile at the thought.
But: "No," Loki says, with a bite of impatience. "It wasn't that, it was --" He stops again, swallows, doesn't meet Thor's eyes. Loki is good at calculated displays of emotion, vulnerability not least, but this is something else. Loki is off-balance with himself, and it seems he cannot feign anything. He takes a breath. "I used to wring so much hurt and anger from you, and that time, you gave me nothing."
"Oh," Thor says. It's no kind of response, but Loki's confession demands something more than silence. He watches Loki's face while he stares at the ground, clearly attempting and failing not to scowl nervously. The thing Loki cannot countenance is Thor's indifference; Thor feels the realization like a hook inside his chest, part sympathy, part the beginning of horror. "Loki," he says. "I didn't stop caring --"
"You left," Loki snaps. "You left me in that hangar and you went to face our sister alone." His voice cracks on the last word, and he looks up to stare at Thor, intent and accusing. "You tried to go get yourself killed without me."
"Loki --" Thor begins, and stops himself before he can speak without thinking. It really may be impossible to clear the air between them, but it's becoming rapidly apparent that they cannot keep going like this, easy with one another until they hit upon some snag and Loki becomes all sharp desperate edges again. "Let's not do it like this."
Loki blinks. "What?"
"Put your knives away," Thor says. "Let's have it out, you and me, but let's do it properly."
"Properly being ... without knives," Loki says, with deep skepticism.
"Yes." Thor tries a smile, for all he feels very little like smiling. "Give me five minutes to convince the Valkyrie to part with some of her liquor. I'll meet you in my room."
"That's your idea of doing this properly?" Loki demands.
"I hope so," Thor says, goes, not waiting to see whether Loki opens his mouth to respond.
It takes considerably longer than five minutes to convince Brunnhilde to part with any of her alcohol -- "You're going to waste it on Loki?" is the main thrust of her protest -- but eventually Thor persuades her to donate two bottles, and returns to his room. He's a little surprised to find Loki waiting for him, but there his brother is: sitting at the glass table near the window, fidgeting before he jolts upright as Thor comes into the room.
"I see you meant it," Loki says, eyeing the bottles in Thor's hands. "What exactly is in those?"
"I have no idea." Thor sets the bottles down, one in front of Loki, one in front of the other chair, and fetches two tumblers from the cabinet at the end of the room. He sits and pours a glass for Loki, one for himself. The fumes from the alcohol aren't strong enough to make his eyes water, which is definitely a good sign. He raises his glass to Loki.
Loki sighs, clinks their tumblers together, and takes a sip. His eyebrows go up. "Not bad."
Thor tries his. The liquor has a pleasant, smoky taste, and burns on the way down: something to savor rather than knock back, which is probably why Brunnhilde was willing to part with it. "So," he says. "Shall I go first?"
"Given that I have no idea what you're trying to do," Loki says, "I think that might be wise."
"All right." Thor takes another drink. He feels unaccountably nervous. "I told you, I want to have it out. Anything you aren't saying to me -- secrets, recriminations, whatever you have. And I'll do the same for you."
"This is going to get very messy," Loki observes. He raises his glass to Thor, an ironic toast. "I see why you wanted to do it over drinks."
"Exactly," Thor says. He has to fight the momentary urge to laugh with relief. He more than half expected Loki to refuse point-blank, to get up and leave. The earlier drawn sharpness is gone from Loki's face, and he looks merely thoughtful, but Thor does not trust that this means the conversation will go well. Nevertheless -- "Shall I start?"
"By all means," Loki murmurs.
"All right." Thor stares down into his glass. The light from a lamp glints off the amber liquid inside, shivering with the hum of the ship's engine. Now that it comes to it, he isn't sure what to say. He has no wish to say outright that he would still love Loki whatever Loki chose to do; he doubts it would be a reassurance, and he doubts it would be entirely true, when Loki's return transmuted Thor's warring resignation and hope into joy. Perhaps, rather than love, what Thor has to offer is understanding. He takes a deep breath and begins. "I know I was arrogant and reckless when I was young --"
"Mm," Thor says, willing to concede to recklessness, "still arrogant?"
"Yes." A smile curls Loki's mouth as he says it. He takes another drink. "Go on."
"Well, I wanted to start with Jotunheim." Thor watches Loki's face, but aside from a blink that may be surprise, Loki's expression reveals nothing. Thor says, "I'm aware you were goading me, but that doesn't excuse my warmongering."
"You were trying to figure out how the frost giants came to Asgard," Loki points out, very mildly.
"Yes, and if I'd thought about it for more than a second I might have realized you had something to do with it," Thor says. "That's not the point. Of course you were able to play me when I was looking for something to fight."
Loki runs a finger around the rim of his glass, looking at it rather than Thor. "I do appreciate your willingness to take responsibility for your own foolishness," he says, "but I think it's worth pointing out that, given the way we were raised, it's not as though you were given a different model of leadership to follow."
"No," Thor counters, "Father may have told us of the battles of old against Jotunheim, but he didn't say the frost giants were our enemies still --"
"Even if something isn't said outright, the implication may still be there," Loki interrupts, meeting Thor's eyes again.
Thor frowns and takes a drink. "I only meant that my desire to make war with Jotunheim can't have helped when you discovered your origins. You needn't make excuses for it."
"I'm not," Loki says, leaning back in his chair. "But we're years past this now. Do you honestly plan to list all our grievances?"
"No," Thor says, with a huff of horrified laughter, "that sounds awful. I don't -- I don't keep them like a list."
"Don't you," Loki murmurs. "What are you trying to do here, Thor?"
"I told you," Thor says, feeling a spike of frustration aimed mostly at himself, "anything you've been hoarding that you'd like said. It doesn't have to be a grievance, or an apology, just -- anything, Loki."
Loki gazes at Thor for a long moment, intent, as though trying to divine Thor's true purpose. Thor wishes him luck; he is not entirely sure what he's attempting to do, either, only knows that it has to happen somehow and he would rather it happen over drinks than weaponry.
"All right," Loki says finally. He knocks back the rest of his glass and pours himself another. "Here's the worst thing about your exile to Midgard. Odin sent you away for just a handful of days, and when you returned you were more thoughtful, less prone to warmongering -- I'd tried to talk sense into you for years, and apparently all you needed was a weekend away."
"Not away from you," Thor says. Despite himself, affection bleeds into the words.
Loki laughs. "Who is the liar now?" But he studies Thor's face, and then nods once, a sharp, graceless motion. "All right. Apology accepted."
"Good." Thor clears his throat. Both of them look away, and Thor takes another sip of his drink. He feels a little warmer, but it hasn't gone to his head yet, so he reaches across the table and tops up his glass. "Your turn."
"I thought that was my turn," Loki says.
"Well, go again," Thor tells him. "I can't think of anything."
"So really, you brought me here and plied me with drinks so you could learn everything I might want to say to you," Loki says. "This could be very dangerous, brother." But he says it smiling, and it warms Thor as much as the liquor does. He wants, suddenly, to touch Loki again, to gather Loki into his arms and inhale his physical presence. Some of it must show on his face, because Loki's expression changes, the fondly mocking smile slipping.
Thor looks away again, returns to his drink.
"Thor," Loki says, in a timbre more careful than his usual. "I didn't mean to make you grieve for me." There is such sincerity in his face: a liar's face, mobile and capable of terrible earnestness, with fragments of truth showing through at unexpected moments. Thor has become much better at telling the difference, but he wonders which he is seeing now.
He swallows a sudden lump in his throat. "That's what you've decided to apologize for? Not for Father?"
Loki's mouth twists. "For the ... strength of my reaction when I first discovered Father's lies, possibly," he concedes. "Though you have to admit, even with that I'm not Odin's worst mistake."
"You must have loved that," Thor says. "Discovering that our sister had done worse than either of us ever managed."
"No," Loki says quietly. "Not really."
"Yeah." Thor knocks back the rest of his drink -- savoring it be damned -- and pours himself another. Loki watches him, his eyebrows climbing. All at once, Thor feels on the edge of something terrible. "I know it was the only way," he says, "but she was our sister."
"She would have slaughtered everyone in her path for the joy of it," Loki points out, gently enough that Thor grimaces. "I got bored of that."
"You hated it," Thor says, seizing at this gratefully. "Remember New York? You had this look on your face while the Chitauri attacked, all 'oh no, what have I done!'"
"Then I stabbed you," Loki says, with fond reminiscence.
"You hissed 'sentiment' first," Thor reminds him. "While crying. Do you ever calm down?"
"Doubtful." Loki finishes his drink. Thor pours him another. Loki's eyes are sparkling with amusement. "You know, brother, this may have been a good idea after all."
"All my ideas are good," Thor tells him. The liquor is going to his head a little now, making everything feel lighter. He still has a hundred fears lodged in the back of his throat, about Hela, about Asgard, about Ragnarok, about his kingship, and they are all his burdens. But he did something right: Loki is here, sitting with him in this room on this spaceship that holds their people, come to a place where they can both laugh about the foolish injuries they have done each other. Loki is looking at him with such naked affection.
"My turn again?" Thor asks. Loki ducks his head in concession, so Thor says, in a rush, before he can think better of it, "I want to touch you all the time."
"What?" Loki says, on a laugh that is more confusion than amusement.
"Possibly it started with the fear you were still an illusion," Thor says. Warmth is rising to his face, but he ignores it. "I think I'm still trying to convince myself that you're here? I don't know."
"Thank you for not giving into the urge to throw things at my head," Loki says. His voice is light but there is something in his eyes Thor doesn't recognize, half surprise, half something more calculating.
"You're welcome," Thor says. He takes another drink, for something to do with his hands, and to steady himself. "Anyway, that's all. I know it's absurd, but I can't get through a conversation with you without, um, wanting --"
"Thor," Loki says, low. He gets to his feet. "Stop before you hurt something trying to explain yourself." He comes around the table to stand before Thor, and places his hands on Thor's shoulders, squeezing hard enough for Thor to feel the solidity of his grip. "I'm right here, brother."
Thor opens his mouth to reply. Before he can, Loki leans down and kisses him.
The kiss is strangely matter-of-fact, given with the same firmness with which Loki held Thor's shoulders; except this is Loki's mouth on his, tasting of the Valkyrie's liquor. Loki begins to pull back before Thor has time to do anything more than sit there in surprise, but when Loki's lips part from his, Thor reacts without thinking.
He reaches up, one hand curling around the nape of Loki's neck, the other around Loki's waist, and pulls Loki down to him again. Loki makes a noise of surprise but doesn't resist. When Thor kisses him Loki's mouth opens to his at once; he settles into Thor's lap, a thigh on each side of Thor's hips, precarious but for Thor's arm around his waist. After all their careful awkward hugs, this alignment at last is without fumbling. Thor tangles his hand in Loki's hair, feels Loki's fingers come up to run through the bristles at the back of his head. He can't seem to stop kissing Loki, a long, drowning kiss, each one melting into the next, the taste of Loki on his tongue intoxicating.
Then Thor comes to his senses.
He jolts backwards from the kiss, barely remembering that he has to keep holding Loki's waist to spare his brother an undignified fall. "Loki --"
"Yes?" Loki's eyes are dark, his mouth red from kissing, studied amusement on his face.
"Not funny," Thor gasps.
"I thought it was my turn to do what I wanted," Loki returns. He climbs from Thor's lap and stands, shaking his leather tunic into order. "I do appreciate you indulging me."
Thor stares at him. He can't seem to think straight. He cannot tell if Loki is mocking him or making light of something serious; he has no idea whether Loki kissed him as some bizarre reassurance, or on a whim, or for reasons unfathomable. "Was -- was that your attempt to be unpredictable?" he manages.
Loki smirks. "It does appear to have worked."
"Well, yes!" Thor says. "Who would possibly think, 'oh, I know what Thor will never see coming: kissing! Because he's my brother!'"
"Adopted," Loki says, gently, smiling. "As I recall, you kissed me back."
Thor opens his mouth, closes it. He can't deny it. He can't explain it. It's been a while since I've kissed anyone is only an insult to them both. I want to touch you however I can is both true and suddenly mortifying. "I don't know why," he says finally.
"Tell me when you do," Loki suggests. He turns to the table, picking up the half-full liquor bottle in front of his seat. "Good talk, brother. I feel so much better." He saunters out. Thor stares after him, but makes no protest.
"What the hell was that," Thor says to the empty room.
Thor stays up for half of the spaceship’s arbitrary night, jotting down plans for funding the new Asgardian home with Midgardian currency, writing notes for the speeches he will no doubt have to give to explain their situation. It's better than dwelling on what Loki could have been thinking, or worse, how Loki's mouth felt. But eventually Thor is too tired for the work to be sustainable, so he sets his papers aside and slumps down on his bed, with the end of the bottle of the Valkyrie's liquor, and allows himself a moment of baffled panic.
Possibly Loki really did want to do something unexpected, and kissed Thor on a whim. Possibly he was even doing so from a place of kindness, though it is equally likely that he was mocking Thor's admission of his desire for proximity. Perhaps Loki was testing him, pushing at Thor to find his breaking point; if that is the case, Thor has no idea what the best reaction would be. He does know the worst reaction: if he becomes awkward around Loki, or begins avoiding him, that is as good as an admission that he only wants Loki around if his brother is being actively helpful, and that it's laughably easy to push Thor away.
Well, it isn't that easy to push him away. Besides, while this might be one of the weirdest things Loki has ever done, it is certainly not the worst. Thor can live with it.
Thor closes his eye, and is immediately overwhelmed with the sense-memory of Loki's tongue in his mouth. He groans and sits back up, and takes another swig from the bottle. Damn his brother, anyway.
Eventually the rest of the liquor is demolished, and Thor feels pleasantly numb enough to roll over and sleep without remembering the weight of Loki in his arms and the brush of Loki's hair against his collar.
"So how did it go?" Brunnhilde asks, when she runs into Thor in the corridor outside his room the next morning. She gives him a once-over. Thor squints back at her, hoping he doesn't look terrible. The hangover isn't a bad one. But a slow smile starts on Brunnhilde's face. "You drank the whole bottle?"
"Yes," Thor says. "It was very good. Thank you."
"Uh huh." She takes his arm. "Come on, Majesty, let's get you some breakfast. I bet anyone would look like that after drinks with Loki."
"You have no idea," Thor mumbles, and goes with her gratefully.
By the time he's eaten -- a pleasant communal meal with a sizable number of Asgardians on the same sleep schedule -- Thor feels mostly revived. He also feels more clear-headed than he did last night, and much less worried. He still has no idea why Loki kissed him, but he is less nervous about that uncertainty now; it will take more than that to throw him off-balance.
He goes to find his brother. If he still wants to touch Loki, at least Thor is capable of doing so in an appropriate way. He knocks on Loki's door.
Loki answers it wearing only trousers and a light shirt, his hair sleep-tousled. "Good morning, Thor."
Thor just stares at him for a moment. Loki has to be doing this on purpose. Then he wants to shake himself -- doing what, exactly, besides being half-dressed and just-woken? "Morning," Thor says. "I, ah. Cut our sparring session short yesterday. Would you like to go again?"
Loki looks momentarily nonplussed. "All right."
"Good," Thor says. "Good. I'll meet you there."
He goes to retrieve yesterday's greatsword, irritated with himself. It isn't just that Loki managed to so thoroughly surprise Thor by kissing him, but that now Thor is the one making it weird. Loki, soft and sleepy, is not supposed to feel like a provocation.
When Loki meets him in their sparring room, Thor is relieved to see that his brother looks alert and is dressed in his normal fashion, protective layers of leather and his hair neatly slicked back. "Hi," Loki says. "What's going on?"
"I wanted to finish sparring with you," Thor says; it comes out intensely casual.
Loki looks as though he is considering saying several things. In the end, though, all he says is, "All right, then," and conjures his knives.
All of Thor's practice must be paying off, because this time, when Loki comes at him, he's less aware of his blind spot as a weakness, knowing how to turn and compensate. Then again, it may not all be the practice: Thor has never known so exactly where Loki's body is in relation to his. He follows Loki's movements as they happen, getting in several good hits. Loki nearly comes under his guard, his expression focused and his eyes glittering, before Thor turns, swinging, and Loki is forced to dodge backwards. The feeling of lightning is growing under Thor's skin in tense crackling energy.
"Come on, brother," Loki says, a little breathless. "I can tell when you're holding back."
Rather than dignify this with a response, Thor comes in again, low; Loki whirls to catch the blade with the hilts of both his knives, and for a moment they are frozen like that, their faces an inch apart. The tension in Thor surges over into the tangible, electricity racing up the length of his blade and wreathing both of them in a blue-white glow.
The greatsword is not meant for this, and it shatters in a burst of light.
Thor and Loki stumble back from it, breaking apart. Loki looks up at Thor, shock in his face. "What --?"
"I didn't mean to," Thor says. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." Loki is still staring at him. "Maybe keep the weapons practice and the lightning practice separate, Thor."
"I'll do my best." Lightning is still sparking between his fingers. Thor tries to breathe evenly. "I, um. Can we practice that again, then? Throwing the lightning to you?"
Loki opens and closes his mouth several times. "I -- you might want to get that under control first."
"Come on," Thor says. He feels almost angry, not really at Loki, but at himself for having so little control over his emotions and, apparently, his power. "Yesterday you were telling me you weren't bothered by a little shock."
"Fine," Loki snaps, and holds out a hand.
It's ridiculously easy, with the lightning already summoned, to pull it from a dozen jumping points of electricity into one crackling ball. Thor tosses it to Loki, gently, release and relief running through him the moment he lets it go.
Loki catches it. It runs up his arm, the braches of a strange bright tree leaving afterimages for a moment after it dies away. This time Loki doesn't shake his arm out. Instead he stands there, barely breathing, trembling so faintly that Thor at first thinks he must be imagining it. But no: Loki's eyes are as fathomlessly dark as they were the night before in Thor's room, his lips slightly parted, and all at once understanding clicks into place.
Thor hadn't hurt Loki, that first day they practiced summoning his lightning. That's not why Loki ran.
He stares at Loki, too startled to hide the sudden realization, and Loki looks back at him in horror. This whole situation is entirely different than Thor thought. Loki isn't being unpredictable for the sake of it. Loki wants him. "Loki --"
"I should," Loki says, stumblingly. "Go. Now. Goodbye."
Thor doesn't stop him. This is the second time in as many days that he's been left alone in an empty room, feeling as though there is wreckage around him. At least this time the wreckage is real: the greatsword is in a thousand glittering shards on the floor. That's something tangible to deal with.
It takes him some time, wandering the ship and asking each person he finds, but after inquiring, “Do you know where I might find a broom?” in half a dozen rooms, Thor runs into Korg.
"Oh, sure," Korg says. "Let me show you the janitor's closet."
The closet in question contains several brooms, and Korg insists on accompanying Thor back to the sparring room. "Wow," he says, upon seeing the mess. "What happened?"
"I put too much of my lightning into the sword," Thor explains. "It ... kind of exploded."
"That's too bad," Korg says. They begin sweeping up. "I can see why that hammer you lost had to be made of a special metal. You might want to find another one before you try something like this again."
"That would probably be best," Thor agrees.
"Hey," Korg says, peering at Thor, "are you okay?"
Thor flashes him a startled smile. "Yes. Yeah, I'm fine."
But after they've finished sweeping up the remains of the greatsword, and Korg has gone on his way, Thor runs out of distractions and is left in turmoil. The problem isn't really that Loki desires him; Thor is used to Loki desiring inconvenient things, and dealing with the consequences of Loki acting on those desires. This one might be more personally awkward than most, but Thor would at least know where to start.
The problem is that Thor can no longer trust his own body not to do something absurd in Loki’s proximity. The problem is that the desire is mutual.
He wants to blame Loki, or call it a trick, but it seems unfair to set that squarely upon Loki. If all it took was one kiss for Thor to conflate the affection and longing and love he has for his brother with erotic desire, that is hardly Loki's fault. Everything he has felt for Loki, for years, has been complicated and often terrible, but this is ... this is weird.
"Fuck," Thor whispers to himself, and goes back to Loki's room.
There is enough time, between Thor knocking and Loki answering the door, for Thor to second-guess himself three times and nearly decide that Loki is somewhere else on the ship. Then the door opens, and Loki looks out at him, and winces. "Thor."
"This is weird," Thor says. "Can I come in?"
"Did you bring more of the Valkyrie's liquor stash?" Loki asks.
"No," Thor says. "I probably should have."
"You should have," Loki agrees. "I don't want you to give an earnest speech, and if you do, I want to be extremely drunk first."
"No speech, then," Thor says.
Loki makes a noise of disbelief, but he does hold the door open enough for Thor to come in. He shuts it behind them and then turns, putting some space between them, and looks at Thor expectantly. "All right. Give me your definitely-not-a-speech."
Thor honestly doesn't have one. He came here impulsively, unwilling to leave either of them alone with their thoughts for too long, and now he searches for something to say. "This is weird," he says again. "Everything about our family is weird. I know you aren't my blood, but that doesn't mean you aren't my brother, and I know where that should leave us, but --"
He stops. This isn't coming out right. Loki looks puzzled, as though this wasn't at all what he was expecting, though Thor has no idea what Loki could possibly have been expecting instead. Here they are, at the end of so much history together, and still Thor has so little idea of how to get them to speak to the same purpose.
"If this isn't --" Thor says, and takes a steadying breath. "If it isn't a jest, brother, I would have you."
Loki stares at him. "Excuse me?"
"I mean," Thor says, fumbling, "of course it could be, I wasn't expecting you to kiss me, I really did think you were only having a bit of fun to mess me about but then we were sparring and you definitely --"
"Thor," Loki says. He's still staring at Thor in rising surprise. "Would you believe me if I said I did not plan that, and I have no idea what I'm doing?"
"Yes," Thor says at once. "Yes, I believe that, it's pretty much the only thing that makes sense."
"Right," Loki says. "Good. You would have me?"
Heat rushes to Thor's face. "I, um. Yes? If you want."
"I assume that's a line that works on Earth girls," Loki says, with narrow-eyed consideration.
"I've never tried it before," Thor tells him. "Loki, do you want this or not?"
Loki hesitates. "I ... am not entirely sure," he says. Thor tries to keep his expression neutral, but Loki must see something there, because he adds swiftly, "I'm not saying no, Thor, I -- hear me out. I'm Jotun but not of Jotunheim, of Asgard but not Asgardian, your brother who is not your brother, my adoptive father's child only in death. I have no idea what I am now, and you ask me, do I want this? You do realize what it is you're asking? If I do this, the thing I'm choosing to be is your consort, and I can't be certain of that."
"Oh," says Thor, in some surprise. "I don't want a consort, Loki, I want my brother."
Loki laughs, a sharp sound without much mirth. "Is it really that easy?"
"Yes," Thor says. "You make everything far more complicated than it needs to be." He steps into Loki's space; when Loki doesn't move away, he grasps Loki's upper arms in his hands, looking seriously into Loki's face. "Do you want this?"
"You are impossible," Loki says, and kisses him.
This time Thor feels no moment of shock, or of hesitation. He pulls Loki close, Loki's mouth opening to his, the line of Loki's body pressed against him, solid, real, still here, his terrible absurd brother whom he loves. Loki runs his fingernails through the short hair on Thor's scalp, and Thor shivers happily. Soft noises escape Loki, and Thor wonders whether Loki even realizes he's making them, such enticing half-surprised sounds that Thor gathers Loki closer, hands creeping down to Loki's thighs. He grasps Loki's legs and sweeps him up; Loki goes with the movement without breaking the kiss. For a moment they kiss with Loki's legs wrapped around Thor's waist and Thor holding him there before Thor walks them to Loki's bed, gently spilling his brother down upon it.
"You're ridiculous," Loki tells him, gazing up at Thor, his hair a dark tangle haloed around his head.
"You're still dressed," Thor counters.
"You expect me to be that easy?" Loki demands, and props himself up on his elbows. There is sharp mirth in his face. "You have to earn it, my king."
Thor's knees go weak. "Be serious, Loki," he manages, but Loki keeps smirking expectantly at him, so Thor kneels before the bed and draws Loki to him, tilting his head up to kiss Loki from this new angle. "What do you wish of me?"
"No, Thor," Loki says, with gently mocking censure. "For days now you've been demanding answers. You figure this out for yourself." His eyes glitter with amusement. "My other partners have."
"You're trying to make me jealous," Thor says, halfway between mirth and accusation. Loki widens his eyes with affected innocence, and Thor feels such a swell of affection for him.
"Perhaps an accounting of the others would improve your performance," Loki suggests, "given that you'd happily turn anything into a competition. Maybe I should start with someone you've met? The Grand --"
"No," Thor interrupts, in sheer laughing horror. He's almost sure Loki is making it up, but the part of him that isn't sure never, ever wants to picture it. "That's disgusting, Loki."
"So prove you're better," Loki purrs.
Thor looks at his brother's smirk and can't resist the challenge. He draws up the lightning simmering just beneath the surface of his skin; it crackles out along his hands, a thready lattice of electricity racing across Loki's shoulders and down his arms. Loki jolts, shock on his face, amusement transformed in an instant into arousal.
The power of it runs through Thor in a surge of delight, his own body responding in kind. "Like that?" he murmurs.
"Fuck," Loki gasps. "That's cheating, Thor, that's --"
Thor does it again, the current a little stronger this time, and Loki's words die in a moan, his head falling back.
"Know what I think?" Thor asks. He can't quite keep his voice steady, but Loki already looks even more wrecked than Thor sounds. "I think if I kept doing this for long enough, you could come without me touching you."
Loki's head snaps back up. "Don't you dare."
Thor laughs, leaning forward to capture Loki's mouth in another kiss. "I won't," he says, cupping a hand around the back of Loki's neck, the other running down Loki's side. Loki is wearing too many cursed layers. "Didn't I say I want to touch you all the time?"
"You did," Loki agrees, tugging at Thor's hair and kissing him again, lightly, the flicker of his tongue against Thor's lip as Loki pulls away. There is such fondness in his face that Thor reflexively distrusts it, but if it's a lie, it's a very good one. "It still comes as rather a surprise that this is what you meant."
"Does it?" Thor murmurs. He rubs his thumb along the pulse point beneath Loki's jaw. Loki shivers. They both know well enough that Thor has touched Loki like this forever, that Thor might as well be saying brother aloud now, with all the affection he has.
"No," Loki says. "No, the surprise is that it took you so long."
"Maybe if you hadn't kept trying to stab me --" Thor suggests, but breaks off when Loki hooks both legs behind Thor's back and drags him forward into a kiss, his hands in Thor's hair twisting to the point of pain. It certainly doesn't hurt as much as being stabbed, and Thor discovers that there seems to be a direct line of sensation between his cock and Loki's hands pulling his hair. He surges up, not breaking the kiss, pushing Loki backwards onto the bed and moving up over him. Loki tolerates this for a moment and then tenses, all the warning Thor gets before Loki is rolling them, flipping Thor onto his back. As Thor lands amid the sheets his clothes scatter, a tug against his skin before they are gone and Thor is lying naked under Loki.
Loki, kneeling over Thor's thighs, is still dressed.
"Hey," Thor protests, tugging at the leather of Loki's tunic, "come on."
"In a moment, Thor," Loki murmurs. "Let me enjoy this."
Thor stills, rather startled. The look Loki is giving him is smiling and proprietary: coming from another source Thor might have bridled at it, but as it is, he flushes with embarrassed pleasure. "Loki," he says anyway, a halfhearted objection.
"Quiet," Loki tells him. "Lie there and be gorgeous."
Thor is suddenly, acutely aware that he is quite obviously hard, that if Loki were to look away from his face he'd see it, that if Loki leans any closer he will certainly feel it. Thor lies there, and gives Loki a scowl of protest while his brother laughs at him. But there is also genuine admiration in Loki's face, and for that Thor will happily endure this particular indignity.
"I can't recall the last time you actually did as I said," Loki observes. "I expect that in exchange you'll want to fuck me."
A wave of lust rolls through Thor, and he can't quite stop the twitch of his hips. Loki laughs, knowingly, and before Thor can think it through he says, "Whichever way you like, brother."
Loki stares at him. Thor gazes back, his heart pounding too hard. Loki is just as fine a warrior as he, and it would be the worst hypocrisy to assume that Loki should without question be the one taken. Not a consort but a brother, Thor had said, and he means it, no matter that this takes him into unknown territory. He sees Loki read this in his face, watches the way Loki's expression slides through disbelief into something like approval, but sharper.
"If you mean that," Loki says, "then please, Thor, do stay on your back."
"Loki," Thor says, "I mean it."
Loki leans down and kisses him. Thor feels Loki's clothes vanishing, a whisper against his skin before the only thing there is Loki, warm and solid against him. Loki is hard against Thor's belly, Thor's cock pressing into the crease of Loki's thigh. Thor curses, his hips jerking, and Loki makes a noise of shocked delight, not quite laughter. He kisses Thor again and again while Thor grasps at Loki's hair and his back, finding the rhythm in the roll of their hips.
When Loki breaks the kiss, it's to murmur something breathlessly, the syllables of a spell untranslatable to Thor's untrained ears. Slickness spills inside Thor, an alien sensation of warmth accompanied by a wave of arousal. Thor's whole body goes liquid, his legs falling open. "Where did you learn that?" he pants.
Loki kisses along his jawline. "Thor, you don't actually want to know the answer."
That is probably true, but Thor has already lost the thread. Loki shifts his weight, his hand on Thor's hip moving down until Loki is sliding a finger inside him. It goes so easily, Thor opening up as sweetly as a maid; he is suddenly, acutely aware of how Loki might fill him, and he wants it with such abrupt urgency he feels dizzy. He squeezes his eye shut and gasps, and when Loki stills, Thor manages, "You're not hurting me, Loki, fuck, keep going."
"Of course you were going to be insatiable," Loki says, the exasperation in his voice not disguising the affection. One finger becomes three, a wonderful fullness, before Loki curls his fingers and Thor gives an incoherent yell at the jolt of pleasure that sends through him. Loki does it again; Thor scrabbles at Loki's back and pets the side of his face and says, "That's enough, that's -- Loki, I'm not delicate, sometime before we get to Midgard would be good --"
"One day," Loki says, distractedly, "I'll keep going like that until you ask nicely."
"I'll ask nicely now," Thor pants, "Loki, please --"
Loki looks at Thor, naked shock on his face. "All right," he says, low, "give me a moment." Loki moves over him, his fingers still inside Thor all the while, his gaze never leaving Thor's; another word in the spell-language Thor doesn't recognize, and Thor's head falls back as he pants through another wave of euphoric warmth. Loki grasps Thor's hips and slides into him, with a careful deliberation that makes Thor feel every inch of it; by the time Loki is fully seated in him, Thor is shaking, pliant and a little dazed and feeling as though if Loki doesn't move he will go mad.
"Loki --" Thor tries. His voice cracks.
"Yes," Loki whispers. He rolls his hips, and Thor lifts his, encouraging; Loki curses, but keeps moving at the same pace.
"Stop treating me like something delicate." Thor takes Loki's face in his hands. "This feels wonderful, brother, now take me."
Loki shudders. "Did it occur to you," he says breathlessly, "that I might be trying to last more than a minute?"
"I believe in you," Thor tells him. "Take me."
"Damn you," Loki says. But he gets Thor's knees up near his shoulders, and snaps his hips hard, once, again, again. Thor moans and grasps at Loki's back to feel the muscles and the motion of it. He can tell when Loki forgets to be careful, his movements less controlled, his hands tightening on Thor's shoulders. Thor moves with him, feeling filled, and still slightly dazed, and overjoyed.
"Could do this for hours," he tells Loki, a little slurred.
"Of course you could," Loki pants. "You're amazing at everything."
Thor is too far gone with pleasure to tell whether Loki is being sarcastic; he grins and spreads his legs wider. Loki makes a thin, desperate noise, sliding a little deeper, and the new angle makes Thor shake. Whatever magic Loki did still has his body pliant and loose, but under it Thor feels a roil of tension. Lightning begins skittering across his skin.
"Thor," Loki says in a tone of warning, though he doesn't stop moving.
"Mmhm?" Thor holds onto Loki's hips; electricity crackles across his fingers.
Loki yelps, his rhythm faltering. He looks down at Thor, his eyes wild, and when he moves again it is with desperation. He folds Thor nearly in half and pounds into him, finally, as hard as Thor wanted. Thor laughs and rides it out, lightning still running over them both, while Loki curses and claws at him. Thor can hardly breathe for joy. He distantly hears himself shouting his brother's name.
Without slowing, Loki reaches between them and fists Thor's cock in his hand. Thor chokes on Loki's name, his back bowing. Loki strokes Thor in time with the snap of his hips, and Thor feels all the pleasure in his body suddenly focusing. He reaches up and seizes at the wall, so that the crack of lightning hits the wood paneling instead of his brother when he spills over Loki's hand.
"Oh fuck," Loki gasps, seizing Thor's hips, and thrusts into him several times more before Thor feels him come; Thor shivers in sympathetic delight.
Loki slumps down atop Thor. "Fuck," he repeats, muffled against Thor's shoulder.
Thor laughs breathlessly, and holds Loki close.
At length Loki slips free of him and rolls sideways, but doesn't move away from Thor's encircling arms. Thor suspects that Loki is just as reluctant to move as he is; he feels filthy, but wonderfully, lassitude in all his limbs and his mind content. He kisses the back of Loki's neck. "How are you, brother?"
Loki is silent for a long moment. "Surprised," he says finally. "Things don't usually work out this well for me."
"See?" Thor murmurs. He curls up closer behind Loki, enjoying the rise and fall of Loki's breath, the way he can feel it inside his own chest. "This is exactly why I want you by my side. It works out much better for both of us."
"I still think bringing me to Midgard is a terrible idea," Loki says, but Thor can hear the smile in his voice.
Immediately Thor feels tension building inside him again, all the fears pressing at the back of his throat. He stares at the dark tangle of Loki's hair, and feels Loki relaxed and breathing against him, and thinks: if I have trusted Loki with all this, why stop now? "Is it?" he whispers.
Loki turns in Thor's arms, looking surprised. "What?"
"Is it a terrible idea?" Thor asks. "I still don't know whether bringing about Ragnarok was truly the only way to destroy Hela. Did I let Asgard burn for nothing? Could I have gotten through to her? Or defeated her otherwise? Could I have saved more of our people? I've been second-guessing everything, Loki."
Loki studies Thor closely. "I ... don't know whether my opinion will comfort you or worry you further," he says, "but I think you did the right thing, letting it burn."
Thor nods. "And going to Earth?"
"Are you going to ask my opinion on everything?" Loki wants to know.
"Yes," Thor says, discovering as he says it that it's true. "Your stint as King of Asgard left something to be desired, true, but I have no practical experience. I know Heimdall will help, but there's only so much uncertainty I wish to show him." He searches Loki's face, but sees only that Loki is listening, wearing the faintest of concerned frowns, without calculation. "I want you by my side," Thor says. "Please stay. Neither of us are much good at this alone, but I think the only way we can make this work is together."
Loki looks stunned. "I -- Thor -- But I'm not your consort, you said?"
"No," Thor says. "You're my brother."
"And you want me to help you rule," Loki breathes. "You do know you're going to regret this."
"Possibly," Thor says. "But I hear you're Asgard's savior as well as the god of mischief. I think I'm willing to take that chance."
"Fool," Loki tells him, but he says it with joy in his face. He draws Thor back into his arms and kisses him, and kisses him, as their ship sails through the darkness toward Earth.