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a deed without a name

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The letter is briefer than Loki would really like it to be, but he knows that the more he writes, the more it will sound like pleading.

 

He doesn’t know what else he could say that won’t give him away entirely anyway, and if the masters begin to suspect him, this will all be for naught. Questioning their judgement is not forbidden, not when the pursuit of truth and the sharing of knowledge are sacred to the Brotherhood, but he knows that he must tread carefully all the same, and maintaining some semblance of rationality is crucial.

 

With a sigh, he sets down his quill, and rereads it from the start.

  

 

Brothers,

 

I send the enclosed documents in the hope that, with your greater resources, you will be able to glean something more from them than I have here in the king’s service.

 

When they are examined, it will become immediately apparent that I have not done as instructed and have continued my investigation of the Asgardian high council without your leave. I would not have done so were I not certain, nor would I again request a delay of the current mission until the truth may be determined if I were not sure that it is in the best interest of not only Asgard, but of all the realms.

 

His evidence is sealed in a parcel on the desk next to him and ready to be delivered, the product of several months’ worth of disobeying orders after his last request had been denied. Focus on your mission, he had been told. Watch and report back on the king, and leave the council to others. It has been a longer assignment than he’s ever undertaken, near its third year already, and they had advised him to stay vigilant and not become distracted. The order could arrive at any time, and he must be ready.

 

But he knows now that stopping that order is of the utmost importance, and the command to keep to his task had not dissuaded him. Instead, he had lurked around corners and listened at open windows, hired orphaned children in the city, slipped into locked studies and vaults like a shadow. And now, he only wishes he had turned his attentions to the council sooner.

  

 

I have already discovered the following, shown in the documents provided:

 

Forseti keeps a number of foreign accounts, aside from those he has used to make loans to the crown over the years. Nidavellir and Svartalfheim are among the realms represented, along with Jotunheim.

 

Not inherently evil, of course, but considering the fact that his loans generally go toward funding the war with Jotunheim, its inclusion is suspicious.

 

 

Sigurd maintains a standing appointment at an infamous brothel in the city and has a fondness for married individuals in the court. He has paid off spurned lovers in the past to avoid scandal, and once fled the home of a nobleman nude on horseback after having been discovered with both of the nobleman’s daughters.

 

Nothing compared to some of the things Loki has seen, but certainly not innocent.

  

 

Hoenir appears to have few significant vices, but does as the rest of the council asks him nine times out of ten, regardless of his own opinion.

 

If he had bothered to form one in the first place, Loki does not add, though he could. It’s true that he’s less sure of the deliberateness of Hoenir’s involvement, but far and away his most objectionable quality is that he’s an idiot, and Loki doesn’t see why he shouldn’t be included with the rest.

 

 

Ord, it would seem, keeps his corruptions closer than his peers. He keeps a Jotunn lover…

 

(And writes awful letters of an intimate nature to her.)

 

 

… and I believe that the letter in this packet addressed to a solicitor in Fensalir is encoded, though I have been unable to decipher it. Beyond that, I have little proof of his complicity other than the instincts that your instruction has provided me, and that have been tried and tested many times.

 

The king’s adviser has been far more difficult to incriminate. For all appearances, Ord operates well within the limits of the law and has since the late King Odin had appointed him, but the very lack of rumors and scandals or even positive gossip regarding the man only adds to the deep misgivings Loki already has about him. Even the existence of his mistress isn’t so damning, despite the ongoing war between their realms, and despite whatever bias Loki may possess as a Jotunn himself.

 

 

There is also the fact that while the war continues, and the depletion of food stores and the treasury continues along with it, these four men have only seen their personal fortunes grow. Forseti’s in particular has nearly quadrupled in the decade since it began. Perhaps the information that will connect their movements to these gains and prove their war profiteering is here in the documents I am sending and can be uncovered by one of you at the Library in time.

 

Already Thor prepares to sue for peace while the council fight him at every step…

 

Loki frowns, and makes a small correction. He thought he had been more careful than that.

  

 

Already Thor the king prepares to sue for peace while the council fight him at every step. It is clear that he tires of seeing his people suffer, and has even expressed concern for the citizens of Jotunheim as well. Every day he makes greater strides in taking control back from the council and ruling for the good of the realm, rather than deferring to their judgements. I can only see Asgard benefit in this.

 

The king had presented his arguments for ending the war to Loki not long ago, sitting him down in a plush armchair in his study and pacing back and forth while rehearsing a well composed speech on the subject, his tone as earnest and convicted as Loki had ever heard it.

 

“I know the council will question me,” Thor had confided to Loki after he’d finished, “and I know they won’t make this simple. But I’ve forgotten why the fighting started in the first place. It’s time to put a stop to it, for all our sakes.”

 

He includes none of these details, however. He’s only the king’s valet, after all, and the Brotherhood knows nothing of the certain affection that Thor has developed for him… nor his own feelings on the matter. He means to keep it that way.

 

 

We serve the greater good, do we not? We seek peace and balance and truth regardless of borders and who sits upon which throne, do we not?

 

Not that Loki had ever bought into the Brotherhood’s ideals fully… He’d always looked after himself, first and foremost, but this sort of mission oriented language seems to please the masters. It should get their attention.

 

 

To remain upon the present course would only undermine our goals. If the king dies, so too does Asgard’s most fervent protector, and the realm would be left in the hands of the corrupt and self-serving. I know that some proof can and will be found, and I will continue to seek it out.

 

I will do my duty as instructed, and if Thor he must be killed, I will not stay my hand. However, I see only greater trials for my brothers and sisters in the future if he should come to harm too soon.

 

I will await further instruction.

 

Balance, as always, in all things.

 

LL

 

Not entirely satisfied, but unsure of what else he can do, Loki copies it onto a new roll of parchment to conceal his changes and burns the original.

 

The finished message is encoded, but he takes care to seal and hide it anyway. It and the bundle of evidence fit neatly into the false bottom of his wardrobe, next to a half dozen sharpened blades, a row of small vials filled with various poisons, and a length of wire that he’s made use of on occasion, though reluctantly (strangulation is usually such a messy, exhausting affair). Only after the wooden panel that conceals his true purpose is back in place does he open his curtains and shutters, letting the blessedly cool night air and pale moonlight wash over his small bedchamber.

 

It’s past midnight, but there’s some sort of ruckus going on in the yard below, stablehands drunkenly shouting at one another, and Loki leans out and glances across the stone wall of the keep toward the king’s chambers four windows away. His shutters are open, despite Loki’s urging to keep them closed and his majesty safe, but rarely does Thor listen to him when his own good is involved. He’s just as likely to still be working despite the hour, but on the off chance that he’s gone to sleep, Loki heads down the corridor and has a word with the guard at the top of the staircase about sending someone to take care of the disturbance outside.

 

The outer door of the king’s chambers isn’t locked, as Loki discovers after his knock goes unanswered. They’ve had that conversation before as well, and he makes a mental note to mention it—but then he sees Thor slumped over his writing desk, hand dangling over the edge, fingertips dripping red on the carpet below, and his heart leaps into his throat.

 

The question of who could have done this does not occur to him, nor any thought of his own safety and the three knives on his person at any given moment, nor the idea that the Brotherhood could have lost faith in his abilities and sent someone else to do the job for him. His only thought is no, resounding and overwhelming—

 

And then Thor lets out a snore, and Loki has to reach out for the wall to steady himself.

 

Perhaps he’s more willing to kill Thor than he’d known, he thinks, his heart beating wildly in his chest.

 

The king has knocked over his pot of deep red ink in his sleep, and Loki rolls his eyes as he sets to mopping it up. The writ that Thor had been working on is stained beyond repair, along with his tunic, but his face has been spared where it rests on his forearm, thankfully. There will be no strange red blotches for the people to remark upon when he holds court in the morning.

 

“Your majesty,” Loki whispers, prodding him gently, and receives only a grumble in response.

 

“Hmmnnn.”

 

“Thor,” he tries again, and this time, blue eyes blink open and find his.

 

Thor rouses slowly, and nearly smears ink into his eye before Loki can stop him, but together, they manage to get him cleaned up well enough and into bed. He’s still half asleep as Loki pulls his ruined tunic over his head and removes his boots, but once his head hits the pillow, he catches Loki’s wrist, his fingers calloused and strong but gentle.

 

“Stay,” he mumbles.

 

Loki closes his eyes and lets out a sigh. It is here that all his troubles lie, where his greatest trial originates.

 

That Thor had taken an interest in him early on had been amusing at the start, considering the fact that Loki had not actually set out to charm him (though he had considered it—seduction was a tool taught to all novices in the Brotherhood, and one that he had used with fine results in the past). But though he’d found the idea of taking the king up on his unspoken offers intriguing (he has eyes, after all, and Thor is nothing if not irritatingly handsome), he had played a bit coy, and found that as long as he maintained the impression that he was torn between his own interest and his duty as Thor’s manservant, as though he would have been amenable if not for the sake of propriety, Thor held out hope and stayed close, waiting patiently for Loki to someday change his mind. It had been nothing but useful for quite some time.

 

But then there had been no more occasional nighttime visitors to the king’s chambers (Loki had always made note of each, learned their names later on, and included them in his reports), and somewhere around the time that Loki had begun to think that Thor’s death would serve no one, he had also come to understand that it was no casual attraction that Thor held for him after all. As unlikely as it seemed, he had come to think that the king had actually managed to fall in love with him.

 

It hadn’t been long after this realization that the council had aroused Loki’s suspicions. Then, not a month ago, he had stopped in the middle of Ord’s study, rifling through the adviser’s papers by candlelight, suddenly struck by the notion that he wasn’t just trying to save Thor for the good of Asgard anymore, or for the sake of any of the ideals he had been brought up quoting back to his masters from childhood. That he might have fallen as well…

 

He hadn’t believed such a thing was even possible, and still hasn’t quite admitted it to himself, but now, as he takes in the line of Thor’s nose against his pillow, the way the lamplight catches in the dark golden scruff that lines his jaw, the ridiculous crease across his cheek where he’d fallen asleep upon it, he knows he won’t be able to deny it much longer.

 

“Not tonight,” he tells Thor quietly, regretfully, and brushes the dark blond hair from his face, but the king is already fast asleep again.

 

Thor is snoring by the time Loki steps into the corridor and locks the door behind him, and as he pauses and collects his thoughts, considering all that is left to be done, he says to himself, “Not yet.”

 

He has work to do first.

 

 

———

 

 

The sun hasn’t yet risen when Loki makes his way into the city the next morning, his packet of documents tucked under one arm. The guards at the castle gate nod him through as always, and by the time he reaches the largest market in Gladsheim, the stalls are filled with farmers and merchants unloading carts and readying their wares for the day.

 

“You’re early,” a hunchbacked old woman says to him as he sneaks up behind her without a sound. Anyone else would have found their throat slit before they ever noticed him drawing near, but somehow, Vor has never missed him, much to his frustration. He had asked her once if she wasn’t more than just a farmer’s wife bringing grain into the city every week, but she had only replied, “Of course. I’m a messenger, too.”

 

“I won’t make a habit of it,” he tells her. “I have something for the Library.”

 

“Imagine that.”

 

Loki forces a smile.

 

“Put it in the cart,” she says finally, huffing in exasperation. “You’re lucky I’m headed to Munarvagr tomorrow.”

 

“Vor, you understand that the Library is in Bravellir? In the opposite direction?”

 

Her wrinkled face creases even further as she says, “I’ve been handling these scholarly messages longer than you’ve been walking this earth and cheeking your elders. I know where your Library is. I have business in Munarvagr first, but your little letter will make it home by the end of the week.”

 

Loki has his doubts, but then again, the Brotherhood trusts her for a reason, so he tucks his parcel between two sacks of wheat and hands over more coin than she probably deserves.

 

“Pleasant journey,” he tells her, and ignores the bland look she gives him in return.

 

His most pressing task of the day complete, Loki checks in with one of his informants, a dirty faced little girl who lights up when Loki gives her a pastry from the royal kitchens along with her pay. She’s been watching Ord’s residence, and tells Loki that he’d left the city late yesterday afternoon on personal business… Perhaps some sort of obvious wrongdoing will follow him home, Loki hopes, but doubts it. He’s been more careful than that for years.

 

But his other duties await now, and Thor will wake soon, so Loki heads back to the keep.

 

 

———

 

 

Three requests for supplies from the front lines, a report from Heimdall, the commander of Asgard’s armies in Thor’s absence, and no fewer than seven nagging little notes from the council make up the bulk of the day’s correspondence, but there’s one small scroll half hidden in the pile, small enough to have been delivered by a raven and therefore urgent.

 

“Anything interesting?” Thor asks, seated at the head of his small, private dining table with his morning meal laid out in front of him.

 

It’s then that Loki sees his own name written next to the seal, which is slate grey and entirely unadorned.

 

He does not look at Thor. He mustn’t.

 

“Probably not,” he replies, his steady tone surprising himself. He moves to put it away, in a pocket—or out the window or straight into the fire back in his own room—but Thor speaks up before he can do anything at all.

 

“Go on, Loki. You don’t have to wait on me hand and foot. You can read it, as you well know.”

 

He would rather not. But denying its existence will solve nothing, nor drive back the cold dread that’s settled low in his gut and turns his stomach.

 

His fingers don’t shake as he breaks the seal and slowly unrolls it, and for one moment, the wild hope that it might say anything but what he fears takes hold of him. But then he sees the single X scratched upon the parchment, and he has to fight to keep his expression calm and unaffected.

 

“Well?”

 

“My—my father has taken ill,” Loki forces himself to lie.

 

Thor immediately jumps to his feet. “I’ll send a doctor. Your family is in the mountains, is that right?”

 

They’re in Bravellir, under the Brotherhood’s protection, and as far as Loki knows, his father is as well as can be. He hasn’t seen Farbauti or either of his brothers in twenty years. Not that Thor knows any of this… but for the first time, Loki is struggling to remember the false story he’d given him.

 

“They don’t think it’s serious. They just wanted me to know.”

 

“You must write your mother, though,” Thor insists.

 

Loki manages a nod, thinks absurdly that he’d never even met his mother… he wouldn’t know where to send the letter.

 

“Take the day, and tomorrow. As long as you like.”

 

Another nod—and then Thor’s hand is at his elbow, but Loki eases away as quickly as he can and excuses himself.

 

In his own room, he sits at the edge of the bed with his head in his hands, trying to even his breathing and find his balance.

 

Balance in all things, he tells himself, but the Brotherhood’s words offer him no comfort. It had been simple until now… taking a dozen lives to spare the thousands at their mercy had been easy for him over the years, just tasks assigned and completed, and balance restored. 

 

But this is Thor’s life, and for what? The council will run Asgard to ruin without him. His only heir is an orphaned six-year-old cousin named Balder who already spends his summers at Forseti’s home in the countryside, playing with his sons. He’ll do as he’s told and never question a thing.

 

If Thor dies, hope is lost. But Loki won’t make it a week if Thor lives to see another morning, and his father and brothers will starve, cut off as punishment for his disobedience. If there is any choice to be made, he doesn’t see how he could possibly be responsible for it.

 

And there is no balance here that he can find.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Loki takes one last look around his bedchamber and pulls the drawstring of his pack tight. It isn’t immediately obvious that some of his belongings are missing… not now, at least. Earlier, he’d thrown everything he owned onto the bed in a panic and started stuffing it all in a bag before it occurred to him that he didn’t even know where he planned to flee. Back to the Brotherhood, to Jotunheim, directly into Thor’s arms… he had no idea. But then he had stopped, understanding that there was no escaping this, and proceeded to shout himself hoarse into a pillow until he could find some control over his emotions and force himself to think rationally.

 

And now, hours later and calm once again, he reminds himself of the facts one more time.

 

Thor is his target. Thor is his job, and if Loki doesn’t take his life, that still won’t spare him. It will only delay his death momentarily. The Brotherhood will send someone else, someone who may not choose to make it quick or painless (as Loki would), and then Loki will be dragged out of whatever hiding place he manages to find and executed himself.

 

He has to do this. It’s why he’s here. It’s all he knows.

 

Besides, if he doesn’t, and if he and Thor somehow make it out of this alive, he’d be a fool to believe that he has any chance at a future with the king of Asgard. He’s a Jotunn with years of blood on his hands at worst, and the king’s manservant at best. It would be absurd to imagine any sort of lasting relationship between them, even if Thor managed to forgive him for lying all this time.

 

He will never allow himself to be put in this situation again, however, of that much he’s certain. Not now that he knows how easy it was for his heart to betray him. But perhaps a success here tonight will earn him his master rank when he returns to the Library… He could choose his targets himself then—and look to the council, finally. He doesn’t mean to leave them to their own devices for long.

 

But it’s time now, and with all the necessary preparations complete, Loki leaves his pack by the open window and leans out. It wouldn’t do to be seen entering and exiting the king’s chambers in the corridor this time of night, not when he turns up missing in the morning and the body is discovered, but there’s a convenient ledge that runs along the wall of the keep between his chamber and the king’s balcony that he could easily traverse.

 

Before he climbs out, he runs through the plan step by step one last time. Over the ledge, through the balcony doors (left open to keep the summer heat at bay—Loki refuses to think of how he’d warned Thor of this very danger so often before). Slit the king’s throat, back over the ledge to collect his things, and then out the rear castle gate. A horse is saddled and waiting for him just outside the castle walls, and he’ll be back in Bravellir within a matter of days. He’ll be lauded for a job well done, and in time, he’ll move on. Simple, he thinks, and takes a deep breath as he slips out.

 

Across the ledge, his feet sure and quick, and his fingertips skimming the stone wall for balance.

 

Over the railing, through the balcony doors. He doesn’t make a sound, not even when he carefully draws his dagger.

 

One more slow, quiet breath to steady himself.

 

Thor sleeps, barely visible behind the sheer curtains that line his bed, but the rise and fall of his broad chest is clear enough, as well as the way the moonlight shines on his bare skin.

 

There are hot tears beginning to slip down Loki’s cheeks, despite his best effort to hold them back. But he can ignore them, and he blinks them away.

 

He can do this. He must.

 

With his greater size and strength, Thor could easily subdue him, Loki knows, and when they had spent a week on the front lines last year, he had seen Thor wake from a dead sleep as alert and aware as could be when urgent news had come in the night. He must proceed with caution now. He could best Thor in a brawl, he’s sure (what with his speed and the element of surprise on his side), but he’s also sure that he would not come out of it unscathed, and it would likely draw undue attention and complicate his escape afterward.

 

But Thor’s throat is not as exposed as he would like either. He’s going to have to turn him somehow.

 

… That convenient (and so very inconvenient) attraction will come in useful one more time, he thinks, trying to detach himself from it with little success.

 

He steels himself and parts the curtains.

 

One knee eases into the mattress, slowly, delicately, and then the other, up and over, down again. When he’s confident of his balance, he lets his weight settle over Thor’s middle.

 

As predicted, Thor’s breathing changes, and his hands stir first, moving almost automatically to Loki’s thighs and landing there, warm through his breeches.

 

Loki pays no mind to the twist of his stomach at the soft roll of Thor’s hips beneath him as he turns onto his back more fully. He has his opening now, so he moves.

 

“Loki, finally—,” Thor begins to say, voice low and rough with sleep, but then he freezes as Loki presses the blade against his throat.

 

He should do it now, strike fast and get it over with… but Thor’s eyes grow wide and confused… and Loki hesitates. He’s done this so many times before, but he needs something, a push, anything

 

“Beg for mercy,” he whispers, desperate.

 

Thor will refuse like the warrior he is, the king with all his pride. His expression will harden, and this will be so much easier for it. It will work.

 

Instead, immediately, Thor replies, “I beg.”

 

He would, Loki thinks, closing his eyes and cursing him silently.

 

“But not for my life,” Thor continues before Loki can convince himself to strike. “It’s been yours since I first laid eyes on you, and you may do with it what you will.”

 

The sob that forces its way up from Loki’s chest echoes in the quiet room. He’s been fighting it back all this time, but he can’t stop it now. And then Thor reaches up, to overpower him or choke the life from him, Loki doesn’t care, and doesn’t try to stop it—but Thor just takes his face in his hands, and another sob leaves him shuddering.

 

“They will kill you if you do this, and I can’t bear the thought of it. I beg for your life. Please let me help you.”

 

He can’t help Loki. Nothing can now, but he knows that he could never have done this either way.

 

The knife hits the stone floor with a clatter.

 

“Thank the gods,” Thor mutters, and pulls him down into an embrace.

 

He’s just signed his own death warrant, but Loki allows himself a moment to marvel at the feeling of Thor’s arms around him, his scent, the brush of his beard against his skin. For all that he’d longed for this, he had never imagined just how overwhelming it would be, or knew how deeply he was capable of loving Thor. He should have given in ages ago.

 

“Forgive me,” he manages to say after a moment, his voice unsteady, and Thor holds him tighter… And then it all leaves him in a rush, and he begs for forgiveness over and over, shaking and weeping into Thor’s shoulder and wetting the pillow beneath them with his tears. He knows that he’ll have to explain himself just as soon as he’s able, but for now, Thor says nothing, apparently content to wait.

 

Eventually, after what feels like hours, it passes, and Loki finds himself calm and resigned once again.

 

He would like nothing better than to fall asleep here, sprawled over Thor and relishing his touch, the fingers gently kneading at the back of his neck, but what little time he has left needs to be spent preparing Thor for the threat that still lingers. So he pulls back reluctantly, scrubs at his face with one hand, and begins to search for the right thing to say, if it exists in the first place.

 

“Have I treated you so poorly as that?” Thor asks him before he can find it.

 

There is the barest hint of a grin at the corner of his mouth, somehow, for some reason.

 

Loki’s temper flares the moment it registers.

 

“This is nothing to joke about, Thor!” he snaps before he can stop himself. “I nearly killed you!”

 

All humor disappears from Thor’s face, and his grip on Loki’s upper arms tightens.

 

“You’ll have to forgive me the jest,” he says, his voice low and hurt. “I’m having trouble coming to terms with the fact that the man I trust and love more than anyone on this earth just tried to murder me in my bed.”

 

The flutter in Loki’s chest at that little admission is not entirely appropriate to the situation, and he decides that perhaps he can excuse Thor’s initial reaction after all. But there isn’t time to dwell on it, and Thor is still speaking.

 

“I will do my best to understand, Loki, but please… you must tell me why.”

 

He’s still straddling Thor, but this conversation would probably be better suited to an arrangement less intimate (and distracting), so he eases up and off, making his movements slow and obvious for Thor’s benefit, and resettles at the edge of the bed.

 

“There are dangerous people out there who want you dead,” he begins once Thor sits up as well.

 

“Who?”

 

“An order called the Brotherhood, though I don’t expect you to have heard of it. Assassins.”

 

Thor’s frown deepens. “And what, they hired you to kill me?” he asks. “They paid you?”

 

“No, they sent me,” Loki says, and explains further when Thor only stares at him. “I was raised in the Brotherhood. This is what I do, Thor.”

 

“You kill people.”

 

It isn’t a question, but Loki nods in answer anyway, and reminds himself that he has no right to be disappointed when Thor looks away, distaste clear on his face. He hadn’t given much thought to what Thor would think of his trade, but the stern, disapproving line of his mouth does not bode well.

 

Not that it really matters, Loki realizes then. He doesn’t have long anyway.

 

“So who hired this Brotherhood?”

 

Loki shakes his head and says, “That isn’t how it works. The order makes its own decisions, and money is of little importance to us.”

 

“Then the order is wealthy,” Thor says.

 

“Very,” Loki admits.

 

“Why kill me?”

 

It’s a question that Loki’s been asking as well for some time now. “I wish I knew,” he says. “We target the corrupt, mostly, and the Brotherhood believes you to be a tyrant. I tried to convince them to reconsider once I learned the truth, but they wouldn’t listen. They insisted upon your death despite all the strife it would cause.”

 

“No man with money doesn’t want more of it,” Thor says as though he’s thinking aloud. “Perhaps someone in your order could have been bought.”

 

Despite his automatic rejection of such an idea, Loki can’t help but wonder if it could be true. It would help explain the masters’ refusal to alter their course, at the very least.

 

“Who do you suppose would pay for your assassination?”

 

Thor appears to think on it for a moment, then says, “My enemies? The queen of Jotunheim perhaps?”

 

But the answer has already occurred to Loki.

 

“Your council,” he breathes. “Ord. You told them of your plans for peace last week, yes?”

 

Plenty of time for Ord to have sent a message to a contact in Bravellir and for the masters to issue the order, Loki thinks, though Thor shakes his head in disbelief.

 

“That can’t be,” he says.

 

“They seek to undermine you, Thor, and they’re profiting from the war, all of them. And if it ends? If you continue to exercise your authority instead of deferring to them?”

 

He just can’t imagine who among the Brotherhood would stoop so low, someone high enough to be so influential… but he doesn’t know how else to explain this, and he doesn’t know all of the masters either.

 

“Ord,” Thor fumes, his expression turning thunderous. “For all his talk of balance and stability…”

 

The hair at the back of Loki’s neck stands.

 

“What?”

 

“He had the gall to lecture me when I told him of my plans to end the war,” Thor says. “He said that surrender would upset the balance, that I must be patient. ‘Balance in all things,’ he said.”

 

Suddenly, the connections that Loki could not make before seem obvious. How Ord had been so effective in hiding his movements, at keeping attention away from himself, how he could have convinced the masters to flout all of their principles…

 

“The letter!” Loki realizes aloud, and jumps to his feet. It struck him so peculiarly from the start, and now he knows—Ord’s letter was encoded, but with a cipher used by the masters. One that Loki shouldn’t know, but that’s another matter and isn’t important right now. He’s got to take another look—

 

He’s sent it away.

 

He sent it and every bit of his evidence against the council straight to the masters. And if that packet makes it back to the Library, he’ll have no proof, and worse, they’ll know that he suspects Ord and the others.

 

They won’t just cut his family off now, he thinks, heart pounding. They’ll likely kill them outright. And whatever chance Thor might have had to gather those he trusts and flee will be gone the moment the Brotherhood receives those documents and his damned letter. They’ll act immediately.

 

What has he done?

 

“Loki, what is it?” Thor asks behind him, and touches his shoulder. It’s a sign of how frantic he truly is that he never even heard Thor climb out of bed.

 

“I’ve doomed us all,” he half whispers. “Ord is an assassin, a master, and I’ve as good as told him that I know.”

 

“… I admit that I don’t fully understand, but I’m sure we can put a stop to this.”

 

Loki shakes his head and lets out a hopeless little laugh at Thor’s determined tone.

 

“We can’t. They’ll come for us both, no matter how we hide or how we fight.”

 

“I refuse to accept that. There must be something we can do.”

 

The only thing that could possibly give them a chance would be to get those documents back before they’re delivered and go into hiding until they can prove the council’s guilt to the still reasonable masters, if there are any left… maybe approach one of them in private, Skadi perhaps… but if Thor still lives come morning, the Brotherhood will know that he’s failed. There isn’t time to retrieve his evidence, let alone make an appeal, not unless—

 

“Thor,” Loki starts, his mind racing. “Is there anyone that you trust implicitly? Absolutely?”

 

“Fandral. Why?”

 

Loki nods and says, “I’ll go and fetch him.”

 

“For what?”

 

“We’re going to kill you.”

 

 

———

 

 

There’s a faint hint of light on the horizon when Loki glances out the window hours later, and he immediately turns back to what he’s doing, swearing under his breath. They’re cutting this far too close for comfort.

 

“What’s wrong?” Thor asks, but Loki just shakes his head.

 

“Nothing,” he says over his shoulder, and measures out the smallest drop of aconite extract that he can manage. “Does Fandral often keep people waiting?”

 

“Not usually, no.”

 

Of course he would choose this instance to not be punctual—but then there’s the sound of the door in Thor’s study, and Fandral’s voice.

 

“Loki?” he calls, sounding hesitant but still drawing closer. “I must say that I was delighted at your proposition, but the king’s chambers? Really?”

 

Thor gives him a baffled look, and Loki shrugs as the bedchamber door is opened.

 

“Darling, I don’t think this is entirely—,” Fandral starts, then freezes when he sees Thor sitting at the edge of the bed. “… Your majesty.”

 

“Finally here,” Loki interjects, too impatient to even be amused by the chagrined expression on Fandral’s face. “How are your acting skills?”

 

“My—what’s going on?”

 

Loki holds up his small mixing bowl and says, “This is delicate work. Thor, would you explain?”

 

“Of course. You see, Fandral, Loki tried to kill me this evening—”

 

The bowl is nearly upended.

 

That’s where you begin?” Loki protests. “Really?”

 

Fandral’s gaze shifts uncertainly between them, looking utterly at a loss due to either the news or Loki’s irreverent tone with the king or Thor’s nonchalance at both, or perhaps a combination of all three.

 

“It’s true, though,” Thor insists.

 

“Yes, but there’s a fair bit of backstory you’re forgetting.”

 

With a put upon sigh, Thor rolls his eyes and begins again. “Fine. So Loki is a member of an ancient order of assassins and was sent to kill me. But he’s had a change of heart because…”

 

He trails off, looks at Loki in question… and after a moment, Loki decides there’s no point in pretending otherwise and huffs, “Because I love you, in spite of my better judgement.”

 

Thor continues to stare, his eyes soft and warm, and Loki has to return to his bowl to avoid embarrassing himself.

 

“We’ve discovered that the council is to blame,” Thor continues while Loki gives it one last stir, “but now we have very little time to prove it before someone else comes for us both.”

 

“You really mean this,” Fandral says, disbelief clear in his voice. “This isn’t a jest?”

 

“I wish it were.”

 

Satisfied with his work, Loki transfers the mixture to a small vial and stoppers it, then throws a glance in Fandral’s direction to gauge his reaction. He appears to struggle with the information at first, but then Loki has to give him credit as his face goes grim and determined, and Thor as well for having chosen wisely.

 

“What can I do?” Fandral asks and rests a hand on the hilt of the rapier hanging at his belt. “Are we making a stand?”

 

“We are not,” Loki says. “We’re buying time, and in order to do that, you must convince the council and the royal doctor and the whole of Asgard that Thor is dead.”

 

Fandral pales.

 

“Pardon?”

 

“And myself as well,” Loki adds.

 

“Oh, that’s fine then.”

 

Smiling, Loki says, “Not to worry. I have just the thing.”

 

His little kit of powdered roots and extracts and pre-mixed tinctures is lying open on the table in front of him, and Loki selects a vial and holds it up for Fandral to see. “This is a sedative,” he says, “and will render Thor unconscious for several hours at a time. Hopefully. His size may impact the duration of its usefulness, but if you stay close to him, you can give him more as needed.”

 

“But the doctors will examine him,” Fandral counters. “It will be obvious that he isn’t dead.”

 

“Of course,” Loki replies, and holds up a second vial, the one he’s just filled. “This one will slow his heart and his breathing and leave his skin cold to the touch. Its effects only last for a short time, however, and too large a dose will certainly kill him, so we must administer it with the utmost care, and only when necessary.”

 

“That sounds like poison.”

 

“Well, it is. Technically. So is the sedative in large amounts. So is wine if one drinks enough of it.”

 

Fandral’s eyes narrow, and he looks to Thor. “You trust him?” he asks.

 

A fair question, Loki knows, though that does nothing to ease the apprehension that comes with the thought of it being answered. Thor hadn’t seemed too averse to the plan when he’d explained it earlier, but when asked so bluntly… He can’t expect too much of Thor after everythi—

 

“I do,” Thor says without hesitation.

 

… Right.

 

Loki finds something interesting to look at on the wall to his left, just for a moment—but then his gaze wanders toward the window, and the rising sun reminds him of their need for haste.

 

“If we’re all in agreement then?” he asks, and both of them nod (though in Fandral’s case, it comes after a pause). “Then let’s begin.”

 

Within minutes, Thor is arranged as comfortably as possible in his bed, redressed in a bloused tunic that will help mask the movement of his chest once the more potent solution wears off and his breathing returns to normal later. Fandral looks on from across the room, the doubt plain on his face, but Loki doesn’t have time to be worried about that. His concern is solely reserved for the man in front of him and his measurements as he carefully adds both sedative and special concoction to a cup of mead and hands it over.

 

“You’ll be here when I wake?” Thor asks him, pausing with it halfway to his lips, and Loki does not reply as often as you would like for me to be as he would like, though it’s a close thing.

 

“If all goes to plan, I’ll be the first thing you see when you open your eyes,” he says instead.

 

“And if it doesn’t?”

 

With a smile that’s half genuine, half forced to hide his uncertainty, Loki says, “Then I’ll be the second.”

 

Thor attempts a smile of his own, but then turns serious again, the worry plain in his eyes.

 

“You will be careful,” he says.

 

“No need to worry, Thor. This is what I do.”

 

“That doesn’t help.”

 

No, perhaps it doesn’t, Loki supposes. But it’s the truth (for once), and the best reassurance he can give Thor.

 

They don’t really have the time, but Loki can’t help but stop and take in the way the dawn paints the room in pinks and golds, and Thor’s face along with it. The crease between his eyebrows, the downward tilt of his plush mouth…

 

It isn’t a conscious decision, and so when Loki finds his lips against Thor’s, he isn’t sure if the quiet little sound he hears comes from Thor or himself. But he barely has the presence of mind to move the cup to the bedside table to keep it from spilling, and then everything else fades away, unimportant while Thor leans up and kisses him back, his beard rough and perfect against Loki’s skin, and lips soft and moving slowly, gently, exquisitely.

 

By the time they part, and Loki opens his eyes (when he’d closed them, he can’t recall), the light is noticeably brighter, but he doesn’t go far yet, and asks Thor, “Do you know how long I’ve been waiting for that?”

 

Thor grins. “Nearly as long as I have, I’d imagine,” he says.

 

A sigh draws Loki’s attention across the room then, and reminds him that they aren’t, in fact, alone, and there are pressing matters to attend to now.

 

“Don’t mind me,” Fandral says when Loki looks his way. “As you were.”

 

Though Loki would love to continue, it simply isn’t possible, so he just rolls his eyes and sits up straight once again while Thor reaches for his cup. With one last nod, he drains it, throat working as he swallows, and makes a face at what must be a very bitter aftertaste.

 

“How long does this take to—,” he begins, brow furrowed, but his eyelids droop and his face goes lax even as he speaks, and he slumps back into his pillow half a second later.

 

“Not long,” Loki answers, though Thor is already senseless, and bends down to leave a kiss at his temple. “Sleep well.

 

“As for you and I,” he continues, turning back to Fandral, “we have quite a lot to do. We’d best get started.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“What on earth are you doing?” Fandral asks.

 

“Devil’s in the details,” Loki replies.

 

Thor sleeps, his breathing already shallow and quiet while the diluted poison does its work, and Loki decides that, yes, this will save them some trouble in the day to come despite the additional time it’s taking. He just needs to work fast.

 

“Was that supposed to be an answer?”

 

It could have been if Fandral wasn’t so irritatingly pushy, Loki thinks, and pulls two little tubs of pigment from his kit.

 

“Some poisons will discolor the face of the victim,” he explains, and sets about mixing them with a bit of oil and honey, “cause them to choke on their tongues, that sort of thing.”

 

“And?”

 

And if Thor’s handsome face is disfigured in such a way, his mourners will be less likely to stare for too long and catch him breathing. It will also discourage a public viewing before the burial.”

 

The color goes on quickly, Loki using his fingertips to smear it over Thor’s skin, into his hairline and the creases beside his nose, over his eyelids. A little mottling with a darker shade and a piece of gauze helps make it more convincing, and when he’s done, Fandral takes a look and grimaces.

 

“Ghastly,” he says. “Though I’m sure that’s the point. You’ve seen these effects in person, I take it?”

 

Loki does not miss the accusatory note in his voice. “I have. And I’ve been the cause of them as well, as you are no doubt wondering.”

 

“I see. What are we to do about the burial then?”

 

“Convince them to entomb him in the temple right away. I’ll come and fetch him tonight, and we’ll be on our way with no one the wiser.”

 

“And what of you, Loki? You said you have to die, too.”

 

“My death will be far easier,” Loki says, and puts away all of his tools. There can’t be any sign left that might give them away, after all. “Upon discovering that your king and dearest friend and possibly lover—”

 

“That was one time,” Fandral interjects.

 

“Oh, trust me. I know. Anyway, upon discovering that Thor has been murdered, you immediately suspect his manservant to be the perpetrator, track me down, and slay me in a fit of rage.”

 

“Do I?”

 

Loki smiles and says, “Why yes. And if you’ll just rush down the corridor to my quarters in a frenzy, I’ll meet you there in a moment, and we can continue.”

 

The lost expression on Fandral’s face turns to outright confusion when Loki heads for the balcony, but hopefully he’ll catch on soon.

 

“Make it convincing!” Loki calls as he slips over the railing and makes his way across the ledge again. The guards on the wall below don’t notice him now in the daylight, and hadn’t when he had slipped down to make his preparations and retrieve Fandral earlier either. He’ll have to inform Thor once he comes back into power, and install more observant soldiers then.

 

His bedroom door bursts open the moment he climbs through the window, Fandral breathing hard and clutching the hilt of his sword.

 

“Very good,” Loki tells him, quite genuinely.

 

Fandral slams the door behind him for good measure, but before he can ask what exactly they’re doing here, he spots the man lying in the floor, unconscious and bound and dressed in Loki’s clothes.

 

“… What is this.”

 

Loki had gotten lucky with this one. Granted, it was precisely the wrong place and the wrong time for his little prop, and smuggling him up into the keep to stash in his chambers alone while Thor waited for him to return had been difficult, but really, he couldn’t have done much better. Even his dark hair is the right length.

 

“Just my size, don’t you think?” he asks Fandral. “Pity though. That’s my best tunic he’s wearing.”

 

Fandral has clearly caught on to his plan, and he can’t look away, even as he edges backward toward the door. “Loki, I don’t…”

 

“Oh, not to worry. He killed an innocent woman for the contents of her purse just last week. He’s no great loss, I assure you.”

 

He’d been too late to stop it, unfortunately, and too deeply embedded in a surveillance errand (watching Sigurd slip through the back door of a well known courtier’s home while his wife was away) to deliver an appropriate sentence just then. He’d made note of the man’s face, though, intending to track him down later, though he hadn’t expected ‘later’ to come so soon.

 

This does not appear to ease Fandral’s misgivings. “I cannot,” he says, finally meeting Loki’s eyes. “I won’t.”

 

After a moment of consideration, Loki says, “Alright. Fine.”

 

He then picks up a heavy, leaden candlestick on the desk and brings it down with all the force he can muster.

 

Fandral’s shocked, “Gods!” isn’t loud enough to mask the sickening thud of the metal meeting the man’s temple. Loki’s aim was a bit off though, so he swings again, making sure that the facial features are sufficiently marred this time. It takes three more blows before Loki’s satisfied with the result, and Fandral cringes further away with each, protesting the entire time.

 

“Enough!” he finally shouts, and Loki glares up at him from the floor.

 

“The first killed him anyway,” he says as evenly as he can. “Now answer me truly, Fandral. Do you want your king to live?”

 

“I…”

 

“Do you?”

 

Fandral nods reluctantly.

 

“So do I,” Loki tells him. “Desperately. But there may be harder trials to come, so if you want Thor to see the end of the week, you will not balk again. Is that clear?”

 

His frown and the tilt of his chin are defiant, but Fandral says, “Yes,” all the same, and once Loki begins to untie the ropes around the body’s arms and legs, he adds, “But I will leave it to you to tell Thor of this.”

 

Loki recalls the look of distaste on Thor’s face very clearly when he had admitted to his occupation earlier, and he doesn’t care to see it again. But there hadn’t been a choice here, and if their luck holds and they make it out of this someday, perhaps Loki will be able to put the blood behind him and start fresh.

 

“Fine,” he says, keeping his eyes on what he’s doing. “But the poison should be settled now. You need to fetch the guards.”

 

 

———

 

 

It’s warm in the morning sunlight on Thor’s balcony, and Loki feels a bit like a snake basking while he closes his eyes to better listen to the activity happening inside.

 

“Gods preserve us all,” someone says. A guard, judging by the metallic ring of his voice in his helm.

 

“The doctors,” Fandral urges, “where are the doctors?”

 

He’s doing marvelously, and Loki congratulates Thor once more on his choice of confidant, now that Fandral seems committed again. Loki could almost believe his grief is genuine, his voice wavering with emotion, and he can hear his restless pacing across the stone floor.

 

“Any moment, my lord,” the guard tells him. “Stig is bringing them now, but I fear it’s too late.”

 

Loki hears Fandral sob then—and feet in the study, several of them, along with panicked voices. The bedchamber door opens, and for a moment, all is silent… presumably as the new arrivals take in the gruesome sight of Thor limp in his bed, face mottled purple… and then they all start speaking at once.

 

“How can this be?”

 

“Who could have done this?”

 

“Gods in heaven!”

 

“Will you stop standing there and see to him?!” Fandral shouts over them.

 

Quiet once more, footsteps toward the bed. Everyone seems to hold their breath, aside from Fandral who continues to weep, and finally, the royal doctor mutters, “He’s gone.”

 

Loki breathes a sigh of relief outside. Thor had been disconcertingly cold to the touch when he had checked (while Fandral shouted for the guards in the corridor), his pulse impossible to find, but the first obstacle has been surmounted now, and just knowing that they’re past it is reassuring.

 

“Fandral,” says a new voice—Forseti’s, Loki realizes, “when did you discover his majesty this way?”

 

“Not—not long. Oh gods, no… Thor…”

 

“I understand that this is difficult for you—”

 

“What do you know of it?!” Fandral demands. “You understand nothing!”

 

Oh, very good, Loki thinks. Half the castle already suspects that Thor’s taste in lovers leans toward the male demographic, and the extremity of Fandral’s grief will be more believable if it isn’t just a friend that he’s lost. Fandral will have far more freedom to make demands now.

 

“Of course,” Forseti says after a moment, hesitant. “We only want to discover the cause of this, to find justice for his majesty.”

 

“I’ve done it for you.” Fandral’s tone is acid now, and he spits, “Loki, that vile rat… he did this. I swear it.”

 

“Loki? The valet? Guards, find him immediately. How do you know this, Fandral?”

 

“He’s in his quarters, dead by my hand. I only wish I could kill him again. I saw how he looked at Thor, that foul, lying, treacherous, greasy little…”

 

This is starting to sound a little personal, Loki thinks with a frown.

 

“… he didn’t even try to deny it. Dump the body in the streets for all I care, let the people tear him to bits, dispose of him as he deserves.”

 

No one seems to know how to respond to this statement for a long moment, until one of the doctors speaks up hesitantly.

 

“I’ll send for someone to wash and prepare his majesty’s body,” he offers, but Fandral protests at once.

 

“No!” he shouts. His voice has gone a little shrill, Loki notes, his panic starting to show, but Loki can’t blame him, and his own heart stutters a moment. He hadn’t even considered that anyone would be handling Thor between now and the burial, and his oversight leaves him fuming at himself. How Fandral handles this could either save them or ruin everything…

 

“Your pardon?”

 

“No,” Fandral repeats, less frantic and his false anguish back in place. “No one will touch him. I’ll see to it myself.”

 

The quiet stretches again, and Loki starts trying to think of ways to get them out of this—but then Forseti sighs and says, “Then we’ll leave you to it. We’ll collect his majesty later today.”

 

There’s soft muttering and shuffling steps as all of them make their way out, and as soon as the outer door closes, Loki hears the bar slide into place, and then Fandral is rushing out to the balcony.

 

“Loki!” he hisses, his eyes red from all the forced crying. “Loki, what now? What do we do?”

 

There isn’t much else to be done… Loki had hoped to be away by now and seeing to the preparations that still need to be made, but Thor will need to be dressed at the very least, and he isn’t sure Fandral could manage the king’s bulk on his own.

 

“I suppose we have to prepare him,” he says. “Come on.”

 

Loki is rummaging through Thor’s wardrobe when there’s a knock at the door, and he ducks inside while Fandral answers it. It’s only a servant with a large basin of water and a jar of sweet smelling oil, though, offering to help through her distraught sniffling, and Fandral sends her away with tearful thanks.

 

But once clothes are chosen (a deep red doublet with Thor’s lightning bolt motif sewn on the breast in vibrant blue and gold, a matching cape, and a pair of soft black leggings), Fandral starts working on his tunic, wrestling it over his head while Loki unlaces his breeches, noticing how his color is already returning, and his skin beneath his fingers is getting warmer by the minute.

 

“I would have preferred you awake for this,” Loki sighs to himself as he tugs the breeches off and leaves Thor bare. Fandral has averted his eyes out of respect, he sees, but it’s nothing Loki hasn’t seen a hundred times before… he’s dressed Thor and attended him in the bath for two years now, and that isn’t counting the small amount of spying he’d done early on when Thor had entertained the occasional lover in his bedchamber. (For the purposes of his mission only, of course. But then again, he knows exactly what Thor’s cock looks like erect, and it’s all too easy to imagine what he could do with it once they’re safely away…)

 

They can’t wash the paint from his face, and Loki doesn’t have the time to scrub the rest of him thoroughly (and is absurdly averse to the idea of Fandral doing it for him—he knows where Thor’s affections lie, but still), but he makes a halfhearted circuit of Thor’s limbs and chest with the scented oil, just so anyone who comes near enough to smell him will assume that he’d been seen to properly.

 

Thor is redressed several minutes later, though Loki had had to haul him into a seated position and hold him up, bracing himself with a shoulder to Thor’s chest while Fandral fought with his sleeves and cursed him all the while (“No one’s arms should be this heavy, Thor, for the love of—”). Loki can only imagine what Thor might think of all this when he finds out… But task complete, he gives Fandral the remaining sedative and poison in their vials and very careful instructions on when and how much to administer.

 

“You’ll want to give him the poison again the moment you hear the guards on the stairs. They’ll send a full detail in armor, so wait for the sound of it. Don’t dose him for just anyone in the corridor.”

 

“What will you do?” Fandral asks him.

 

“We’ll have to go on the run. There are supplies we’ll need, horses… I have to make sure we can survive on our own for some time.”

 

Fandral stares at him for a moment, considering, looks to Thor lying there with his dreadful face… and then fishes a key out of a pocket.

 

“Take this,” he says. “You can use my house as long as you need. My housekeeper is visiting her family this week, but I can tell her to stay longer if need be.”

 

Having a base of operations, even a temporary one, will be an enormous help, so Loki accepts it without a fuss and says, “Thank you, though we’ll need to leave no later than tomorrow. I have a messenger to track down.”

 

Nodding, Fandral steps back and looks about the room, as though he’s looking for something to do with himself and can’t quite decide what, but then he turns, suddenly, and says, “You know that Thor is like my brother. It was strange—we should never have done it, but I think he was desperate, pining after you instead. I was relieved when we decided to never try it again.”

 

Despite the gravity of the situation and the pressing need to get started, Loki finds himself smiling, and pats him on the shoulder.

 

“I told you already. I know,” he says. “I’ll be back after nightfall. Don’t let him wake, but be precise with your measurements.”

 

“Be careful. He’ll blame me if anything happens to you.”

 

With one last grin, Loki heads to the balcony, and starts the slow, careful climb to the ground while the city bells begin to toll, announcing the death of the king.

 

 

———

 

 

Loki recognizes many of the people assembled outside the temple as royal servants and cooks and chambermaids, and silently blesses the evening rain for making his shabby hooded cloak a reasonable thing to be wearing on what might have been a hot summer’s night without it. It keeps his face hidden for one, but a hood is standard issue for all members of the Brotherhood, and though it isn’t the nicely tailored one that he normally wears on assignments, the familiarity is comforting to him. He always feels so exposed working without one.

 

The crowd parts for him and his wooden cart as he drags it toward the back of the building, and he catches fragments of conversations around him, all centered around the news. Many faces are tearful, for Thor was so well loved by his people… and some of those also speak of how poor Sir Fandral has gone mad in his grief and threatens anyone who attempts to set foot in the temple with his sword drawn and eyes blazing, even the high priestess. (Loki smiles to himself at this, planning to congratulate him on a job well done once he’s inside.)

 

But some faces are twisted with anger, and he hears his own name spat in venomous tones more than once, how he’d betrayed the king’s trust and likely led him astray in some indecent manner. However, he also hears Jotunn along with the hate… which only confirms that someone in the council has ties to the Brotherhood. They’re the only ones who know of his origin.

 

And something unpleasant prickles at the back of his mind.

 

His death, slain by one of Asgard’s heroes as vengeance for its fallen king, would be celebrated with good reason, he knows, and even the Brotherhood will probably encourage it, thinking he’s actually killed Thor and died in the escape. But to let slip the fact that he’s Jotunn seems unnecessary… they could have gone with what might have seemed like the obvious lover spurned motivation, thanks to Fandral’s performance, but apparently they weren’t content to stop there.

 

But it’s worse than just unnecessary, Loki knows. This will surely reignite tensions between the realms, and all Thor’s efforts toward peace will be for naught. This has the same stench of the council’s doings on it, and he seethes, thinking of all the work they’ll have to do to set it right again when the time comes.

 

The back doors aren’t barred, and Loki takes a look around to make sure he isn’t observed before he shoves them open and hauls his cart inside.

 

“Who dare disturbs the king’s repose?!”

 

And there’s Fandral, already dashing toward him, reaching for his rapier. His face is haggard, absolutely exhausted (and with good reason—Loki himself has been awake for nearly two days straight at this point), so Loki doesn’t waste any time in throwing back his hood and saying, “It’s me.”

 

“Oh, thank the gods,” Fandral nearly cries. “Do you know how many nosy, disrespectful wretches I’ve had to chase away? Even the royal guard kept sneaking glances at him until I sent them off.”

 

“Perhaps the paint was too much…”

 

“I covered his face with a cloth before they carried him here to ‘spare them the sight.’ They still looked every chance they got, and now the council is talking about a viewing tomorrow anyway with a shroud over him. How long can we keep him drugged?”

“Not that long, not without causing lasting damage,” Loki says, and Fandral collapses onto a nearby bench, frustrated.

 

“Then what now? Another suitably shaped criminal to kill? Because I don’t know where you’re going to find—but what is that smell?”

 

He’s finally noticed the awful odor that’s followed Loki in, it seems, disgust plain on his face, so Loki pulls back the tarp on his cart and replies, “The answer to our problem.”

 

It’s a boar carcass, already begun to rot, and Fandral nearly gags.

 

“Inform the council that Thor’s flesh has started to break down from the poison, and they’ll change their minds and seal the vault as soon as they experience the smell for themselves,” Loki says. “Now let’s swap them and be done with this.”

 

Thor rests in a deep, narrow niche cut into the wall of the temple at chest height, and it takes all of Loki and Fandral’s combined strength to remove the marble shutter without dropping it on their toes, and to then haul Thor out of it without dropping him on his head. They manage, however, and after a good deal of sweating and grunting and swearing, the boar is shoved in and the shutter replaced, ready to be permanently sealed. Even in the short time that it takes to carefully arrange Thor on the cart and cover him, the alcove where Asgard’s kings are entombed has already begun to stink of rot. Loki is certain that, come morning, no one will even bother to take a look in Thor’s niche before sealing it.

 

“I don’t know whether to thank you or throttle you for this,” Fandral says, covering his nose and mouth with the collar of his tunic. “I was already looking forward to a long night on a hard bench, but now it’s going to be so much more pleasant.”

 

“Well, you’re welcome to try it now if you like, while you still can. We should be gone before midday, and after that, I can’t say with any certainty when you’ll see either of us again.”

 

“Right,” Fandral sighs. “You’ll look after him?”

 

Loki nods and says, “I’ll die for him if need be.”

 

There’s a pause, air heavy between them, and Fandral finally replies, “Please don’t. He’d be insufferable afterward.”

 

If it were only so simple as that, Loki thinks. “I’ll do my best. But keep your eyes and ears open for news, and stay in contact with those Thor can trust when the time comes. He’ll need you and everyone else you can find once this is over.”

 

“I will.”

 

With nothing more to be said, they exchange one last nod, and Loki starts toward the rear doors, pushing Thor along in front of him. Just as they close after him with a dull thud, he hears Fandral call out, “Good luck.”

 

 

———

 

 

No one looks at Loki twice on his way out of the city, aside from a guard at the gate who holds him up, asking what he’s got in the cart.

 

“Porter, drowned in a well,” Loki says in his best working class accent, and a quick flash of Thor’s discolored face is enough to have the man wincing and looking away.

 

“Big fella, eh,” he says.

 

“Gods be good, you’re telling me! I’m the one hauling the poor bastard, ain’t I?”

 

The guard sends him on his way with a muttered, poor bastards the both of you, and after what feels like hours of struggling through deep ruts and puddles on the muddy road, Loki, his stolen cart, and his royal cargo finally arrive at Fandral’s manor house. And not a moment too soon, either, because once Loki drags Thor inside, breathing hard, he lets out a quiet, grumbly sort of noise and begins to stir.

 

“Lo,” he rasps, clumsily reaching out with one hand before it drops back to the rug beneath him, and Loki supposes that he’s allowed to be delighted that Thor’s first thought upon waking is of him.

 

“Easy, easy. I’m here.”

 

Slowly, Thor blinks several times, eyes unfocused and distant while Loki leans in over him and takes his hand. The pulse is strong and steady in his wrist, and after a few moments, he catches Loki’s gaze, makes a valiant attempt at a smile, and slurs, “All went to plan, then?”

 

Loki simply has to kiss him, awful face paint or not.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Loki wakes all at once, instantly aware that it’s morning, that he should not have fallen asleep in the first place, and that someone has him by the shoulder. Someone is in the room, and he’s been caught off his guard—and what about Thor—

 

He reacts on instinct, throwing a punch and not realizing until the very moment it connects just who is shaking him awake.

 

“Oh, Thor—”

 

“Good gods!”

 

Thor stumbles away, holding his mouth with his eyes wide while Loki scrambles out of the armchair he’d dozed off in, spluttering his apologies. But Thor is smiling in bewilderment when he pulls his hand away, his lip bloodied, and he lets out a bark of laughter.

 

“Where did you learn to hit like that?” he asks, but when Loki can only offer an apologetic half smile of his own, Thor’s fades. “… Of course. Somehow I’d always thought of you as a more peaceful, bookish sort. You’re a fighter though, aren’t you.”

 

Loki suddenly sees that he only has more of this to look forward to, the slump of Thor’s shoulders and the resignation in his eyes. This is how it’s going to play out, he realizes. More and more of the Loki that Thor thinks he knows chipped away, little by little, leaving the truth of what he is behind. And this is just the start.

 

He only hopes there’s enough left for Thor to love by the end of it.

 

“I also have to ask,” Thor begins after a long moment, hesitating, and Loki steels himself for another uncomfortable revelation. “What on earth is on my face?”

 

The paint has crumbled, and there’s a patch missing entirely on one cheek, revealing red skin beneath where Thor’s been scratching at it, and between his confusion and the absurd little flakes stuck in his hair and beard, Loki finds himself smiling once again.

 

“Nothing that won’t wash off.”

 

Fandral’s bath isn’t nearly as lavish as Thor’s at the keep, but they make do, and once Thor’s face (and the rest of him) is clean, Loki takes a moment for himself as well, knowing they’re unlikely to have such a luxury on the road for quite some time. The clothes he’d found for the both of them are nondescript and of middling quality, and when he’s dressed, he checks on Thor, meaning to tease him with a comment about having to dress himself from now on. But before he can, he sees that, lower class garb or not, Thor looks to be no one if not the enormous, handsome, supposedly dead king of Asgard, even in his blue tunic and soft leather jerkin.

 

“Could you slouch?” he asks, knowing it’s pointless either way. They will have to work on his posture, especially in the saddle, but they need a more drastic change here.

 

“What, like this?”

 

“Thor,” Loki begins, cautious, “… your hair has got to go.”

 

His blue eyes flash with something surprisingly close to anger, and he huffs, “Absolutely not.”

 

Loki tries again.

 

“Or the beard? Both would be best, but you’re too recognizable, even to those who have never seen you in person.”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

 

Thor stares him down, gaze intent, but Loki has faced harder trials than this, and after far too much time wasted, Thor does indeed slouch, and Loki fetches the shears.

 

 

———

 

 

The city is far behind them, and the sun higher in the sky than Loki would like for as little progress as they’ve made, but so far, none of the dozens of travelers heading in the opposite direction have looked twice at them. There’s a steady stream of them heading toward Gladsheim and the impending royal funeral, as well as the coronation of Balder in the following days, but they all pay more attention to their own business and the road in front of them than they do Loki and Thor as they ride single file with their heads down.

 

Once the road splits around midday, they take the fork leading south toward Munarvagr and find it almost deserted, so Thor draws his horse up alongside Loki’s.

 

“How far do you suppose your messenger has made it by now?” he asks, and Loki is momentarily distracted by the light in his now closely cropped hair. The beard remains, but something about the uneven cut is getting under Loki’s skin in a way that makes him wish they had far more time, and far more privacy. The light bruise and split of his bottom lip where Loki had hit him only adds to the rough, rugged look, and he has to mentally shake himself before he answers.

 

“Oh, with the rate Vor travels, I don’t expect her to have turned east yet. We should catch her within a day or so if we make good time.”

 

“And she won’t tell the Brotherhood that you live?”

 

Loki shakes his head. “I don’t mean for her to know it. I’ll take the documents once she’s stopped for the night, and she won’t be any wiser until she arrives at the Library and has nothing to deliver. From me, at least.”

 

“The library?”

 

“Headquarters,” Loki replies. “It’s a front. The Brotherhood has been operating out of the Library in Bravellir for centuries.”

 

Thor suddenly turns in his saddle and says, “But I’ve been there! When I was a boy, before my mother died. I remember the books, shelves and shelves of them. I wanted to climb them all.”

 

“I’ve climbed the shelves myself, many times,” Loki says with a grin. “And every tower and temple in Bravellir, as a matter of fact. But it wouldn’t be a very convincing library if there were no books. There are miles of tunnels under it and room for an army, though there are very few of us these days. Secret entrances. The city doesn’t even realize we’re there.”

 

“Surely someone must supply the weapons, though. Someone who would have thought it odd for librarians to need so very many knives.”

 

“Nidavellir. The tunnels go right beneath the border, and they have no interest in Asgard’s doings or anyone else’s as long as there’s gold to be paid.”

 

The frustration is plain on Thor’s face as he processes this. “And yet they wouldn’t sell Father a single sword when I was commanding at the front. Do you know if they’re aiding Jotunheim?”

 

Smiling, Loki nods and says, “Unfortunately for you. I couldn’t have said without giving myself away.”

 

“Oh naturally,” Thor grumbles, then changes tack. “So you grew up in Bravellir then? Your accent doesn’t sound it.”

 

The sky has just begun to cloud over once again, Loki sees when he looks up and sighs to himself. He’d much rather discuss the war effort than his personal history, but it’s going to have to happen sometime, he supposes.

 

“I did. And my accent is as bland and unidentifiable as possible by design. The masters who taught me Asgardian ensured that.”

 

“Taught you?”

 

“Yes. And five other languages besides.”

 

Thor looks at him curiously. “You aren’t Asgardian,” he realizes aloud, sounding lost.

 

“No.”

 

“… Do I truly know you at all? Is Loki even your name?”

 

It takes all of Loki’s considerable talent to keep his face as neutral as possible while his heart plummets. But he does so, and after a long moment of reluctant consideration, he decides that he would rather have it all out now than to prolong the misery, even if he damns himself in the process.

 

So he takes a deep breath, reins his horse in to a halt, and answers.

 

“My father and brothers are in Bravellir and supported by the Brotherhood, but I haven’t seen them since I was taken as a child. They’re poor, lowborn. I never knew my mother. I killed my first target at thirteen, and there have been dozens since then. Some of them I seduced first. I’ve been stabbed and half strangled and have fallen from rooftops, beaten bloody by the masters for insubordination and other initiates and novices for the hell of it, but repaid them many times over. I might have made master by killing you.”

 

Speechless, Thor stares with his brow furrowed and lips parted. But he says nothing, so Loki continues.

 

“I have lied and cheated and threatened and saved innocent people from thieves and murderers and lechers all in the same breath. I’ve also watched while those same innocent people suffered and did nothing, because the time wasn’t right. And I’ve already killed for you, though you may hate me for it.”

 

“Loki—”

 

“And no, that isn’t my name. I chose it for this assignment. But it’s Loki that you fell in love with, and so even if you never want to see me again when this is over, I’ll keep it. I’ve given up everything else already anyway.”

 

There’s a bird chirping somewhere off in the distance, and insects buzzing in the grass on either side of the road. Thor’s horse snorts and tosses her head, but he ignores it, too intent on looking directly into Loki’s soul while the two of them sit in silence. Or that’s how it feels, at least.

 

“What was it?” he finally asks, voice low. “Your name?”

 

“Loptr.”

 

“That sounds Jotunn.”

 

Loki nods. “It is.”

 

Inexplicably, Thor huffs out a tired sounding laugh.

 

“And you’re Jotunn,” he sighs, and chuckles again. “I can’t imagine what my father would have said. He never cared for my tastes as it was… threatened to bring me home from the war and make me balance the ledgers instead of leading the army. But he’s likely to come crawling out of his grave over my taking up with a lowborn Jotunn assassin.

 

“I confess, this is a great deal to take in, and you and I are going to speak more on what I would like done in my name from now on. But though you’re a liar, I don’t believe that you could completely conceal who you are from me, not while you love me. So whoever you are—Loptr, Loki—I know you enough.”

 

More than anything, Loki finds that he’d like to lean across the gap between them and plaster himself to Thor’s chest. Weeping is a close second, but he’s done enough of that lately. If he could find the right words, he would tell Thor that he means to become worthy of his regard and his trust and his love, but he knows that until this is behind them and Thor is restored to the throne, it’s likely that he isn’t finished being unworthy.

 

Instead, he meets Thor’s gaze and nods, then spurs his horse on.

 

 

———

 

 

The rain begins late in the evening, and by the time they reach the next village, the sky has opened up, soaking them to the bone and turning the road to mud. As much as Loki knows that they need to keep moving, he calls a halt in front of a little inn just off the main thoroughfare, and the two of them hurry inside out of the downpour.

 

There’s an empty table toward the back, where the torchlight is dim, and once they’ve eaten and begun to dry out a bit, Loki reevaluates the timeline.

 

Surely Vor won’t reach Munarvagr until the day after tomorrow at the earliest, and that would still leave two more days for her to reach Bravellir from there. The two of them ride faster and stop less often than she would with her little cart and old draft horse anyway, and she’s only got a day’s head start on them…

 

And Thor is looking at him over the table with the same warmth and affection he’s grown used to over the last year and more, the same subtle, hungry look in his eyes. Only now, Loki can do something about that.

 

They can afford a little delay, he decides.

 

“I’ll be right back,” he tells Thor, and heads toward the counter.

 

 

———

 

 

There’s one room left, under the eaves, too small and ceiling nearly too low for either of them, but the one bed is just large enough for two, and Thor stands beside it now, looking down with an unreadable expression on his face while Loki sets the latch and eases in behind him silently.

 

“Loki, are you—,” Thor starts, turning, but Loki doesn’t give him the opportunity to say more before he leans in and catches his lips. It only takes a moment for Thor to get over his surprise before he responds in kind, and he lets out a nearly pained sound into Loki’s mouth as he takes his face in his hands.

 

He might have been content to stand here and let Thor hold him and kiss him into oblivion for the rest of the night, listening to the rain pound against the shutters, but then he reaches out to steady himself against Thor’s chest, and the feel of him, warm and solid beneath the leather, has Loki immediately tugging at his clothes with a fair bit of desperation. The jerkin goes, and the tunic, and the two of them crash back together the moment it hits the floor, Loki eagerly touching every bit of skin he can get his hands on while Thor’s find their way up the back of his shirt. They pause at a raised scar beneath his shoulder blade, just for a moment, and Loki holds his breath, but then Thor only lifts the tunic over his head and ducks to mouth at his throat.

 

The press of Thor’s skin against his own is long overdue and thrilling, but Loki’s impatience is getting the better of him, along with the hard line of Thor’s arousal against his hip. So with some reluctance, he pulls away, but only far enough to tip Thor backward onto the bed with a shove.

 

“I trust you can take care of those on your own,” he says, nodding toward Thor’s breeches and boots and starting in on his own.

 

“I could even help you with yours if you like,” Thor replies, a bit breathless.

 

Tempting, but Loki’s in too much of a hurry for that.

 

“Next time, perhaps.”

 

He’s bare before Thor gets there himself, and he uses the opportunity to fish another little vial from his pack—oil this time—and by then, Thor is looking him over more ravenously than he’s ever seen before, propped up on one arm with his eyes dark and other hand loosely fisted around his cock.

 

The bed frame creaks loud enough to be heard over the rain when Loki joins him on it, straddling his hips and humming in pleasure first at the drag of his erection across Thor’s stomach, and then at Thor’s grasping hands pulling him down close and roving up his thighs and over his ass.

 

“We should have done this at home,” Thor says, voice soft and deep in his ear while Loki pries the stopper out of the vial. “You deserve a feather bed and silk sheets, not a straw mattress in some leaky rented room.”

 

Loki’s had worse, though he does not say so. It would almost certainly ruin the mood.

 

“I would have you in a pile of hay in a musty barn,” he says instead. “I couldn’t care less where you fuck me as long as you do it.”

 

It has the desired effect, and Thor swears in a rather unkingly manner before he starts back in at Loki’s neck with his lips and teeth and tongue. And with his fingers sufficiently slicked, Loki reaches back to hastily ease the way just enough to be getting on with. It’s been some time since he’d last done this, but the burn is going to be so very worth it, he knows.

 

Thor’s fingers brush his own while he works another in, rough, calloused pads slipping around the rim, and Loki suddenly decides that’s really all the preparation he needs. He can feel Thor’s cock nudging the inside of his thigh, and between that and the press of his fingers, he finds that he can’t get Thor in him fast enough.

 

“Oh,” Thor half sighs not half a moment later, once Loki gets ahold of his shoulders and begins to sink down onto his cock, and if Loki were capable of doing anything more than panting and relishing the slow, steady stretch and the nearly too tight grip at his thighs, he’d likely say the same.

 

He hardly gives himself a chance to breathe once Thor is buried to the hilt, and then he’s moving again, up and back down, a little easier this time… and again, and again, over and over until Thor breathes his name and leans up to kiss him. It’s clumsy, more an open mouthed brush of lip and tongue than anything, but with the soft, breathy, “Loki, Loki—ah,” that Thor is muttering against his mouth, it’s difficult to imagine anything better.

 

“Loki, my love,” Thor says then, and wraps a hand around his cock, thumbing away the bead of slick at the tip, and Loki reevaluates.

 

It doesn’t take long for Loki to come undone, clutching at Thor’s back and shoulders and gasping for breath, and Thor strokes him through it and whispers encouragement all the while… how lovely he is, how wonderful he feels, how long Thor has waited for this. It’s nothing he hasn’t heard from lovers before, but coming from Thor, after everything, it’s enough to leave him shaken to his very core.

 

Thor’s breath comes faster and harsher in his ear after Loki spills between them, and it’s all Loki can do to keep moving, rising and falling and making it as good as he possibly can while his legs feel as though they’ll give out at any moment. But then Thor tenses and groans his name one last time, and Loki can feel the pulse of his cock deep inside as he comes.

 

The fact that Loki doesn’t know how many more opportunities they’ll have like this one makes it difficult for him to finally pull away. But he does, eventually, reluctantly, and after they clean themselves up, Thor makes himself comfortable against the pillows, leaving an inviting space up against his side with his arm outstretched that Loki takes him up on at once.

 

He could get very used to this, he thinks, settling in next to Thor with a sigh.

 

But in the morning, they’ll have to head out early, earlier than they managed today, and they should catch up to Vor before nightfall if they make haste. And from there, it’s on to Bravellir to find out just how many of the masters have taken up with Ord, paid off and in contempt of the ideals they’d sworn to uphold. He’ll have to leave Thor behind well before he reaches the Library, though. Until he knows who can be trusted, it would be far too dangerous to bring him anywhere near the city, or allow him to be seen by any of the order.

 

Munarvagr might do, he thinks, closing his eyes while Thor absently runs a broad hand over his chest, leaves a soft little kiss on his shoulder. It’s far enough from both the capitol and Bravellir, and as long as he keeps his head down, no one should notice him for a little while at least. Once Loki has secured some help, he could return to him, briefly… though on second thought, until the corrupt members of the Brotherhood are rooted out and taken care of, it would be far safer if the two of them have no contact whatsoever.

 

(And he hopes that he gets to be the one to handle Thor’s council. The Brotherhood will likely want Ord brought in alive, but Loki’s hand could slip so easily, after all…)

 

… So this is likely their last night together for some time, he realizes, heart sinking. Once Thor’s throne is restored to him, they may have time, but Loki will still be tied to the order, still expected to do as he’s told. They’d never let him leave, not with all that he knows, after all. He’ll have to tell them that Thor was kept in the dark this whole time as well, just to protect him. And they could meet covertly, perhaps, but would Thor want to see him, knowing what he still does?

 

Loki hopes so, desperately.

 

Thor finds another scar then, between his ribs, and feels it out with gentle fingers before asking, “What was this?”

 

“I’m not sure,” Loki tells him. “I fell from a rooftop, caught something on the way down. A sign, or the edge of a shutter, perhaps.”

 

“And the one on your back?”

 

Which one, Loki could ask, but he’s sure Thor means the one he had noticed earlier.

 

“A knife,” he answers instead, and does not elaborate.

 

Neither of them speak for a little while, and while the shutters rattle with the wind and a clap of thunder, Thor continues his exploration, his touch light over Loki’s skin, until he finally stills.

 

“Who was it you killed for me?” he asks quietly.

 

Loki swallows, thinks for a moment on how to reply.

 

“A thief and a murderer.”

 

“Why?”

 

“It was yesterday. He was my height, similar build. I had to appear dead so that we might escape, and so it had to be done.”

 

The pause while Thor takes this in is an anxious one, and Loki waits, trying not to tense in his arms.

 

“I’ll not argue that with you now,” Thor finally says. “You must have done as you thought was best, and neither of us can change it. But please, Loki, no more.”

 

Unlikely at best, Loki knows, and he hesitates before speaking.

 

“I’ll do my utmost to avoid it,” he offers, but Thor catches his cheek and turns his face toward him.

 

“I mean it,” he insists, eyes stern and serious. “No more killing, and certainly not for my sake. Promise me.”

 

He can’t. But he can’t risk losing this, losing Thor so soon either, so he lies.

 

“I promise.”

 

Thor kisses him again, and it shouldn’t leave Loki’s gut churning, but it does all the same.

 

“I do love you,” Thor tells him when they part. “And we don’t have to wait until this is over to start fresh. We can right now.”

 

It isn’t easy, but in the end, Loki’s years of practice serve as well as they ever have, and he fakes a smile.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

They only leave early in comparison to the previous day, and only just, because Loki wakes with Thor still asleep but half hard and hot against his backside, and he can’t resist the temptation to slip down the bed and suck him until he stirs with a groan and comes down Loki’s throat. And then, of course, Thor insists upon returning the favor, and Loki allows him to drag it out nearly to the point of torture, because the sight of Asgard’s king between his knees with his lips stretched wide around Loki’s cock is far too good to not appreciate properly.

 

(He also finds it far simpler to ignore the lingering unease and guilt over his false promise with three of Thor’s fingers angled just so and nudging his prostate with maddening accuracy.)

 

But leave they do, and despite Loki’s desire for haste, the going is slow and difficult, thanks to the mess the road has become after the previous evening’s storm. It only becomes worse when the rain begins again that afternoon, and with nowhere to seek shelter for miles yet, they’re forced to stop for the night at a small farm less than a day’s ride from Munarvagr. But Vor will no doubt tarry in the city, making her deliveries and selling her more legitimate wares, so Loki accepts the delay along with the warm, dry stable loft the elderly farmer offers them. 

 

He also wholeheartedly accepts the tumble in the hay, the both of them laughing when Thor reminds him, “Well, you said you would have me in a barn,” but the laughter stops once he’s spread out on one of their cloaks, legs wrapped around Thor’s waist and nearly sobbing as Thor fucks into him with slow, devastating intent.

 

Their third day on the road is by far the warmest, and once the sun comes out at midday, the air grows thick and stifling with the humidity. The long days in the saddle are beginning to wear on Loki (especially considering how the two of them have spent their long nights), and when they stop for a brief meal next to the river, moving slow and lazy in the heat, he doesn’t make a fuss about taking a little extra time.

 

It’s only a little less scorching under the shade of an enormous oak on the bank, but the breeze helps make it bearable, along with the view. Thor sits across from him, long legs stretched over the grass, leaning on his elbows with the sunlight filtering through the leaves in his hair, and Loki watches a bead of sweat slip down his temple and disappear into his beard, thinking of how lovely it would be to lean over and lick another from his throat.

 

“What shall we do first once we make it back home?” Thor asks him then, the corners of his eyes crinkled in a grin.

 

Excellent question, and one that Loki wishes he had a better answer for. Kiss you goodbye would only hasten the conversation he means to put off for a good long while yet, after all.

 

“Feather bed,” he says, smiling back as best he can. “And several uninterrupted hours.”

 

“Tempting, tempting… though I thought you and I might share a bath first, a proper one. Wash the grime of the road away and all our troubles with it.”

 

“And then the feather bed.”

 

Thor catches his bottom lip between his teeth and grins all the wider… and then climbs to his feet and starts digging through their bags.

 

“We could always get a head start now,” he says, and produces a bar of expensive, perfumed soap stolen from Fandral’s home just before he begins to strip.

 

“Thor,” Loki begins, half exasperated and half unspeakably aroused, but he doesn’t get any further before Thor tosses his breeches directly in his face and climbs down the bank into the water.

 

“Much better,” he calls back. “We both smell awful and you know it, so stop rolling your eyes at me and get in.”

 

They really don’t have the time for it, Loki knows, and they’ve wasted far too much already… but only if he wants to catch Vor before Munarvagr. They should still meet her with plenty of time before she gets to Bravellir, even if they take their time here. But if that happens tonight or tomorrow, as it should, then the two of them may only have one or two more nights together before he has to continue on alone.

 

So Loki sighs, takes a look at the road behind them in either direction, and starts unlacing his tunic.

 

The river is deep and its banks high, and Thor stands in waist deep water not far from the edge, looking up at Loki while he lathers his chest and arms, eyes half-lidded and lazy. Loki sighs again.

 

To his surprise, Thor does no more than hand over the soap once he climbs in, though he does watch him quite appreciatively, and for a little while, the two of them scrub themselves in companionable silence, letting the suds float away downstream. In the daylight, Loki knows all of his many scars are on display, but Thor says nothing of them, thankfully, so he goes on about his business as usual.

 

Thor does speak up when Loki reaches back to give the crease of his ass a bit of attention, though, raising an eyebrow and saying, “Take special care, there.”

 

Loki raises an eyebrow right back—and splashes him.

 

… And then he really shouldn’t be shocked when Thor seizes him by the shoulders and shoves him under. He only takes a moment to regain his bearings however, and while he’s still beneath the surface, he hooks an arm behind one of Thor’s knees and drags him down along with him. The next several minutes are filled with splashing and laughing and shouting and Thor swearing each time Loki wriggles out of one hold or another, but finally, Thor pins him against the riverbank and kisses him soundly.

 

There’s really no incentive in getting free this time, so Loki stays where he is.

 

The soap had nearly floated away during all the ruckus, but Loki spots it from the corner of his eye, hung up against a fallen branch just within arm’s reach, and makes a clumsy grab for it while Thor’s tongue drags over his bottom lip. He gets a handful of leaves as well, but those are tossed aside, and the groan that Thor lets out when Loki gets a soap-slicked hand on his cock is the best thing he’s heard all day. The feel of him, hot and heavy and slipping through his fist, the rasp of his beard against Loki’s wet skin, the hand sliding up his chest and pausing to tease one nipple and then the other… it’s all nearly enough to make Loki beg for mercy himself, but then Thor presses in with his hips, and they each wind up with a hand wrapped around both their cocks together, fingers intertwined and moving as one.

 

And if anyone is passing by on the road above, they apparently know how to mind their own business, because Loki is sure that his bitten off cry as he comes all over their hands and bellies can be heard half a mile in all directions. He couldn’t care less if someone comes to investigate, however, because Thor follows him immediately after, and that’s really all that matters as far as he’s concerned.

 

 

———

 

 

After they clean themselves up (again), they sprawl out on a blanket to dry in the sun, swapping kisses and idle conversation, Thor asking curious questions about Loki’s upbringing and Loki trying his best to be truthful without causing unnecessary (and belated) concern. Thor handles it well, even some of the less savory parts, and by the time they dress and pack up, Loki begins to think that his earlier fears might have been unfounded.

 

“But surely none of that was your fault,” Thor says to him after a retelling of his first kill. “You were only a child. What choice did you have?”

 

What was meant to be a half hour stop becomes half the afternoon instead, so when they do finally return to the road, Loki pushes the pace a bit harder, and the apprehension that had all but disappeared while he was distracted quickly returns.

 

There’s no sign of Vor before the city, but then Loki hadn’t expected there to be. But her cart is not at the market or left outside any of the inns in Munarvagr, and with the setting sun casting long shadows across the main road through town, his worry doubles.

 

Frustrated, Loki leads them through the gate on the far side of the city just as night falls. He’s determined to ride on until they catch up to her, straight through without a stop if they must, but not a minute outside the gate, he spots a familiar draft horse staked and grazing next to a covered cart several yards off the road.

 

“Finally,” he sighs.

 

Vor is nowhere in sight, but that’s precisely what he wants, after all. He leaves Thor and his own horse hidden in a stand of trees just outside the city wall and sneaks down to the cart, his relief nearly palpable as he climbs up and begins to dig among the sacks of grain and baskets of sickly looking vegetables.

 

His packet of documents isn’t where he’d left it, but then again, neither of the bags of wheat he’d tucked it between are here either. Probably sold or traded, he’s sure, and his parcel has just been moved elsewhere.

 

But he doesn’t see it.

 

… Which is ridiculous, of course, and he tries to ignore the hammering of his heart as he looks under everything once again, lifting baskets and peering into all the corners and making sure to check for a compartment beneath the seat.

 

But there are no letters or correspondence of any kind anywhere to be found.

 

His rising panic is now impossible to ignore.

 

Vor can’t have already been to Bravellir and made it back here, even if she’d told him wrong. There simply wasn’t time for that. She might have the packet on her person, however, and he seizes upon that thought. That must be it. That has to be it.

 

An absent glance up in the middle of his frantic thinking reveals a hunchbacked old woman making her way down the hill from the city. Vor, with a basket in her arms and her eyes on her feet and the rocky path beneath them. His plan had been to fetch his documents and be on his way without her ever knowing it, but now, he doesn’t see what choice he has. Swiftly but silently, he climbs down, hides himself behind the cart, and waits for her to approach.

 

As soon as she’s close enough for Loki to hear her wheezing breath, however, she pauses… and then says conversationally, “You’re supposed to be dead.”

 

Of course. He’d never been able to sneak up on her before, and he swears to himself as he stands and squares his shoulders.

 

“Don’t sound so disappointed,” he replies, trying to keep his tone even.

 

“Honesty is the best policy, as they say. What do you want, boy?”

 

Loki smiles, holds out his hands as if to show that he has nothing to hide. “I just thought I’d take that parcel from you, save you a trip to Bravellir.”

 

“And why would you do that?”

 

He doesn’t bother pretending that it’s to do her any sort of favor and says, “With the king dead, I’d rather deliver it myself when I return home.”

 

Vor gives him a frown.

 

“It’s a little late for that. You should have held onto it if you wanted to have your grand homecoming.”

 

Late for—

 

“What do you mean?” Loki asks, unable to keep all of the anxiety from his voice. “What does that mean?”

 

“A rider passed me early this morning on the road, one of yours. She was kind enough to take everything I had bound for the Library. She’s nearly there by now, I imagine.”

 

It hits him like a punch to the gut, and it’s only by the slimmest margin that he manages not to react accordingly. Just this morning… and they’d wasted all that time rolling in the hay and splashing in the river like idiotic, lovestruck teens.

 

This changes everything. This will ruin them. It’s over now. Even if one of the masters he’d hoped could be trusted receives the packet, there’s no guarantee that it will be safe, no guarantee that they would believe him or understand from the letter alone.

 

And Vor… she knows he’s alive now and probably suspects him. She’s always suspected him of something or other anyway, even when he’d had nothing to hide from her. But he could deal with her easily, right this moment. The knife hidden in his leather bracer could be in his hand in half an instant.

 

But from the trees, he can feel Thor’s eyes on him.

 

… He doesn’t have a choice, though. He’s never had any choice, and if he lets her go—

 

But he doesn’t know who else is expecting her.

 

“Well, then,” he says, as casually as possible, “I suppose I’ll see you in Bravellir in a few days, won’t I?”

 

Vor huffs. “Certainly not. I’m going home early for a change. I won’t waste a trip to deliver nothing.”

 

“Home? Where might that be?”

 

“As if I’d tell you.”

 

For all his ability to think quickly under pressure, he doesn’t have any idea how to salvage this. But if Vor isn’t going to Bravellir anytime soon, that leaves a little time before anyone knows that he’s survived. There’s nothing he can do to stop those documents being delivered, and for now, he doesn’t see what else there is that he can do.

 

“Pleasant journey, then,” he tells her, and doesn’t wait for her to reply before he forces himself to put one foot in front of the other all the way back up the path toward the city gate. He looks toward the trees as he passes without turning his head, hoping that Thor will stay hidden until Vor has moved on. There’s no way to signal him, after all, and if Thor steps out now, short hair or no, it will only complicate things that much further.

 

Once Loki is back inside the gate and out of Vor’s sight, he ducks into an alley and waits. His mind is racing, but absolutely nothing of any use occurs to him. It’s only a frantic litany of what can we do what can we do, over and over, and one laughable attempt to calm himself and find his balance that leads absolutely nowhere.

 

But almost half an hour later, Thor rides into the city with his head bowed and shoulders rounded, slumped in his saddle and leading Loki’s horse behind him. The sight of him is an enormous relief, along with the way he hardly reacts when Loki calls out to get his attention and veers into the alley as though he’d been headed that way all along.

 

 

———

 

 

It’s late, but the tavern they’ve stopped in is still rowdy, full of drunken idiots singing and brawling, but it’s just meaningless background noise to Loki. They’ve been sitting at a table in the back of the room for at least two hours now, but he hasn’t even finished his first horn of ale, and it doesn’t seem that Thor is very interested in his either.

 

“Suppose we snuck into the Library to retrieve it,” Thor suddenly says, sitting up straight and breaking the silence between them, and Loki huffs in exasperation. He’d hoped they were done with this.

 

Thor had thrown what ifs and do you thinks at him, one after the other since the moment he had explained the situation. Could they do without the documents, he’d asked first, and Loki had scoffed and replied, “Only if you never want to retake your throne. You’ll need evidence of their wrongdoing, and it’s all out of our reach now.”

 

Each suggestion had prompted a sharper and sharper response from him, until Thor had finally given up and gone back to nursing his ale, fuming. Let him be angry though, Loki had thought. It wouldn’t make any difference in the end. He was already furious enough with himself for allowing so many delays.

 

Now, with only resignation and bitterness on his mind, this new idea leaves him rolling his eyes and leaning back in his chair with a glare.

 

“Suppose we did,” he says, not bothering to temper the acid in his voice. “Suppose I took you right into the thick of it, a building full of trained killers armed to the teeth, all of them expecting you to be dead and ready to correct my mistake.”

 

“Loki—”

 

“Or suppose I went on my own and just casually asked, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m going to need that very incriminating pile of paperwork back if you please.’ Suppose they decided that if I could have faked my own death, I could have faked yours as well.”

 

“Fine, fine—”

 

“It isn’t fine!” Loki hisses across the table. “Nothing is fine! This was nearly impossible from the start, but now what am I supposed to do? They’ll know that I know, they’ll know that I’m alive and suspect you are as well, and then we’re back where we started. There’s nowhere we can run that they won’t find us.”

 

“I refuse to give up, Loki!” Thor practically shouts at him, his voice carrying through the room and over the din.

 

Several heads turn at once.

 

If they make it out of this somehow, Loki thinks, seething, he’s going to follow through on that last mission after all.

 

But before he can berate Thor for calling attention to them, or wave off the onlookers, or punch him in the face again, he sees a hooded figure slip out the door across the room.

 

“Shit,” he breathes.

 

He’s on his feet in a flash, ignoring Thor’s startled exclamation and the protests of those he shoves out of his way.

 

Out the front door, footsteps rushing away down the alley to his left, and he follows.

 

A flash of white hood turning the corner ahead of him.

 

He rounds the corner seconds later. No one is there—

 

Movement up and to the right, on the roof. A stack of crates next to the wall that he can climb, so he does. The assassin is two buildings away by the time he makes it up. Someone is following him on the ground below, but he can’t worry about that now.

 

Over the roof tiles, careful but sure in his footing. Over the gap between roofs, not looking down or away from his target. He’s fast, but Loki is faster.

 

There’s a wider leap ahead of them when Loki catches up, wide enough to make the man pause, and Loki takes advantage, putting on one last burst of speed. His pursuer is gaining as well, his boots splashing through the remaining puddles in the street.

 

Loki makes his move. Both of them hit the ground, but Loki has a much gentler landing than his victim, alighting on his feet and dropping into a crouch while the other assassin lands flat on his back, the wind audibly knocked out of him.

 

“Loki—good gods!”

 

Thor stops in his tracks when Loki looks up at him, eyes wide and breathing hard from his chase.

 

The assassin lets out a pained whimper.

 

“He’s fine,” Loki says, and then knocks him out with a swift uppercut. “… Mostly. Now hurry and help me move him.”

 

 

———

 

 

“I don’t like this,” Thor says for the dozenth time, but Loki ignores him.

 

His captive is still mostly senseless and bound to a chair in an empty storehouse, groaning with each breath. Loki had pulled his hood back immediately, but the young man’s crooked nose, dark hair, and patchy beard were only vaguely familiar to him, and not enough to recall more than a rank and a name, Ulf.

 

“Please, Loki. What are we doing here?”

 

Loki finally sighs, “Asking some questions, I suppose,” and then slaps Ulf awake.

 

He comes to with a jolt, but his instincts kick in almost immediately, and he scans the room around him, tests his bonds… Loki can almost see him thinking, but then he eventually makes eye contact and frowns.

 

“You,” he mutters.

 

Smiling, Loki says, “Yes, me. Where were you off to in such a hurry, brother?”

 

“You’re no brother of mine,” he spits.

 

Loki gives him a pout. “That’s unkind. But perhaps you simply don’t have all the facts. We may have a little trouble at home to sort out, you see.”

 

Ulf’s laugh in response then is disconcerting.

 

“I do see, though it seems you don’t, Loptr.”

 

Loki turns to Thor, gives him a grin, and then gives Ulf the back of his hand with a loud crack.

 

“Do speak plainly,” he suggests. “I’ve had a trying week.”

 

He pays Thor’s disapproving glare no mind.

 

“The trouble is your own,” Ulf replies, voice gruff and blood in his teeth. “You should have stayed dead. They were going to kill you quickly before you turned traitor, something painless and honorable, but now? I shudder to think.”

 

“Why would they kill me for completing the highest profile, the most critical assignment issued in years? I would have come home a hero.”

 

Thor clears his throat, but Loki shrugs him off. It’s not like he could have actually gone through with it, after all.

 

“You were already on your way, Loptr. You were one of the best of us. But then you started asking questions, disobeying orders… Skadi thought you had been compromised.”

 

Loki scoffs, trying to hide his alarm. If any of the masters could be trusted, he had thought it would be Skadi…

 

“How would you know?” he accuses. “You’re just a novice, not a master.”

 

“I’ve been assisting Skadi since you left, running his errands, reading his messages. I doubted it as well. But he gave the order himself. You were to be taken the moment you returned, successful or not.”

 

Ulf gives Thor an appraising look then, and adds, “You must be very, very good to have brought him so low, your majesty.”

 

The force of Loki’s blow is enough to send him and the chair toppling backward to the floor, but he doesn’t leave Ulf there for long, and hauls him back upright and leans in close to his bloodied face.

 

“Your king should be spoken to with a bit more respect,” he says, low and dangerous, and draws his fist back again, but Thor interrupts with a hand at his elbow.

 

“Stop it,” he insists. “Why would he tell us all this if it were true? Why give it all up so easily?”

 

Ulf chuckles again and says, “And you didn’t even have to torture me. Why would I lie, when the truth is awful enough on its own? Now you’re going to ask if I’m concerned about what the Brotherhood will do to me for talking.”

 

Loki grits his teeth, knowing exactly what Ulf is getting at… and breaks one of his fingers for the taunt. This is going to be difficult.

 

“That wasn’t necessary,” Thor chides him while Ulf chokes and stops laughing. “Loki, enough of this. Let him go, let his owners deal with him.”

 

That isn’t an option, and Thor is the only one in the room who doesn’t know it.

 

“You turned on us for this idiot?” Ulf whispers to him, and Loki pretends he hasn’t heard.

 

Instead, he sighs, “Fine,” and stands up straight again. Thor is surely going to hate him for this, but he knows that it was going to happen sooner or later anyway. It’s not like he has a choice.

 

And once Thor lets go of his arm and turns away, Loki steps behind Ulf, takes his head in his hands, and twists.

 

Thor hears the sickening crunch and spins on his heel, the alarm plain on his face.

 

“What did you—,” he starts, outraged and clenching his fists in anger. “Why?! Why would you… You promised me, Loki!”

 

“It had to be done,” Loki says. Ulf’s chin drops to his chest when he lets go of it, his eyes still open and face slack.

 

“You keep saying so, and yet…”

 

“And yet here we are, alive to shout at each other in spite of it all!” Loki fires back. “What do you think would have happened if I’d let him go? We would be even worse off than we are now, and I don’t know how to tell you this gently, darling, but we are dead.”

 

“Well, we’ll never know now, will we?” Thor shouts. “And until we are permanently in our graves, you can leave off with all your defeated whining. I tire of it.”

 

Loki tips the chair over and Ulf’s limp body along with it, hardly hearing the thud of it against the ground over the blood rushing in his ears, ignoring the way Thor flinches. “You’ll have to forgive me,” he seethes. “I’ve been so busy trying to save your life with absolutely no help from you that I’ve become a bit depressed.”

 

It takes a moment for Thor to process this, but once he does, he gives Loki a nod and sets his jaw.

 

“Then I will burden you with looking after it no longer,” he says. “Do as you will.”

 

And without another word, he turns and leaves.

 

Loki stands there, breathing harshly through his teeth, and lets him go.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Shortly before the sunrise, Loki gives up on trying to sleep, and he drags himself out of bed. He only had it for two days, but he’s already grown accustomed enough to having Thor crowded up against him and snoring to miss it… or to having Thor at all, for that matter.

 

Thor’s horse and his belongings were gone once Loki had finished disposing of Ulf’s body and returned to the tavern. The stablehand had told him nothing of any use, saying he hadn’t paid attention to which direction ‘that big bloke’ had gone, and for a moment, Loki had considered pressing him harder… but in the end, he was too tired and too numb to bother. Instead, he’d gone and rented a room, then stared at the ceiling all night, wondering what he should do with the little time left to him.

 

But he knows now that he’d only ever had the one choice, and that regardless of what Thor thinks of him, he knows where his heart lies. He also knows that whatever happens, he won’t make it easy for Ord or Skadi or anyone else, assassin or otherwise, to take Asgard down once they’re finished with him.

 

So Loki rides hard for Bravellir while the sky begins to grow light, hoping against hope that Thor is on his way to Alfheim or Midgard or anywhere else he can stay safe and anonymous, but sincerely doubting it. He can’t imagine that Thor would run now.

 

He also wonders how exactly he’s going to make it out of this alive himself.

 

 

———

 

 

When the city appears on the horizon late in the afternoon, after a grueling ride and a stop for a fresh horse, Loki leaves the road and cuts across several pastures and farm fields instead. And when he’s near enough to make out the Library’s steeple towering over everything else in the city, he dismounts behind an old shed, digs through his pack, and swaps his nondescript, sweaty tunic out for one a little more familiar. 

 

The gatekeeper at the northern entrance of the city hardly looks at Loki when he enters on foot, leading his horse with his white hood pulled down over his eyes. Bravellir isn’t exactly teeming with hooded ‘scholars’ anymore these days, and hasn’t been for years, but there are enough of the order left, and the city has a long enough memory that the sight of him isn’t unusual.

 

He passes two separate hidden entrances before he stops and leaves his horse with one of the stables he knows isn’t affiliated with the Brotherhood, and then another as he continues in the opposite direction of the Library itself. He could use any of them and still stand the same chance of success (very, very slim), but he has other business to attend to first… though he finds the idea of rapping upon the door in front of him far more intimidating than walking into almost certain death now that he’s here.

 

Once, several years ago, Loki had crouched on a rooftop across the street for an hour, watching the little cottage he stands in front of now, waiting for a glimpse of anyone inside. It’s as close as he’s ever come to it. Back then, he’d finally seen a tall, thin man with red hair through one of the open windows, and he’d immediately turned tail and run back to the dormitories. But now, not half a minute after he works up the courage to knock, the door opens, and the same man stares at him from just inches away. Loki doesn’t have the option to flee this time.

 

“What is it?” his father sighs, sounding resigned and nearly bored at the sight of him.

 

Loki tries his best to swallow around the lump in his throat.

 

“Farbauti?” he asks.

 

His father nods.

 

Loki swallows again.

 

“Listen to me,” he starts, trying to put as much urgency in his voice as possible, “it isn’t safe for you or your family here anymore. You need to leave.”

 

Frowning, Farbauti opens the door wider and leans against the frame.

 

“I beg your pardon, but who are you?”

 

“Someone who knows what he’s talking about,” Loki says. “I don’t care how long the Brotherhood’s been looking after you, or how comfortable you are here, you have to go. Take what you need and run. Back to Jotunheim if you have to, but don’t even wait until tomorrow.”

 

He isn’t getting through, judging by the disbelief on his father’s face, but he doesn’t have time to stand here and argue it all day.

 

“If you don’t, you and Helblindi and Byleistr and both their wives and each of your three grandchildren will die,” he insists, looking him straight in the eye, and he sees the moment the veiled threat slots into place for Farbauti.

 

“But the order—”

 

“The order does not care about you.”

 

“But my son, Loptr… he’s one of you.”

 

They haven’t told him yet. Of course not… and Loki is forced to make a split second decision.

 

“Your son is dead,” he says.

 

Farbauti has to catch himself against the frame of the door, and it takes all of Loki’s willpower not to reach out and steady him. Instead, he pulls the purse from his belt, heavy with gold, and holds it out.

 

“Please. For your own sake, run.”

 

At first, he’s sure that Farbauti will slam the door in his face, the coin be damned, but then he continues to stare, and stare, and stare… and then some of the anger and the grief begin to fade from his eyes, and finally he takes the purse, asking quietly, “What’s your name?”

 

“… Loki.”

 

Nothing more is said by either of them for a good long moment, and slowly, it occurs to Loki that Farbauti knows. He’s figured it out, and for the first time since he was six years old, Loki is face to face with his father, looking him in the eyes, and the both of them know it.

 

He should say something, anything, but he can’t imagine what. 

 

“Thank you, Loki,” Farbauti says, so quietly that Loki almost misses it. He reaches up, hesitant, as though he’s going to rest a hand on Loki’s shoulder, but he thinks better of it at the last minute and steps back inside.

 

It’s probably for the best, Loki thinks with his heart pounding. He doesn’t know if he could have handled that.

 

“Be careful,” he begs, and with one last nod and a long, searching look, Farbauti closes the door.

 

Loki stands on the step for longer than is really necessary, trying to calm his nerves.

 

But it’s time now, so he takes a deep breath, and heads for the Library.

 

 

———

 

 

Its steeple is visible from anywhere in the city, but he doesn’t look up to find his bearings. He doesn’t need to. Instead, he keeps his head down as he walks, taking in the sounds around him and watching from beneath his hood as he’d been taught since childhood. The courtyard around the temple is lively and hot when he passes, swarming with mourners who couldn’t make the trip to Gladsheim to pay homage to their murdered king, all of them baking in the sun, and Loki almost feels guilty about picking a few pockets as he slips through the crowd… but then he’d just given away all of his money, and if by some miracle he survives the night, he’ll need at least a little to see him safely away from the city.

 

Thor would be appalled, he thinks to himself—and immediately regrets it. It’s a bit too difficult to think of Thor just now.

 

He almost feels the building loom up ahead of him before he sees it. Where the rest of Bravellir is built in red sandstone, the Library is all white, the limestone standing out brightly against the backdrop of the city, tall and soaring like an old temple with enormous bronze doors set into its eastern face. Loki avoids these, and makes his way around the southern side, two buildings over, up a narrow alley, down a few shallow steps, until he finds a little door that nearly blends in with the wall, designed so that the eyes of the general public slide right over it, and they walk on by without ever knowing it’s there.

 

The latch is likewise hidden behind a false brick in the wall beside it, and only the correct combination of turns and stops will release the mechanism and unlock the door. It hasn’t been changed since Loki last used it, and after a quick glance around to make sure he’s unobserved, he slips inside and shuts it behind him.

 

It locks with a clack that echoes down the long, dark corridor in front of him… and he’s never found the sound of it so disquieting until today.

 

But the hallway is empty, thankfully, and cooler, and he keeps moving, ignoring the tickle of sweat sliding under his collar.

 

It’s clear when he arrives beneath the Library itself; the grates that appear in the ceiling above let in the light and the sounds of patrons browsing at the reading tables, quietly asking for directions to one section or another, never knowing the librarians are more than they seem. And soon, he arrives at another door with yet another lock, also still accessible to him, and he holds his breath as he opens it just a crack and listens.

 

Whispered conversation above, a few voices he recognizes, water dripping somewhere further off, footsteps in a corridor below… but no one immediately on the other side.

 

So far, so good.

 

Lamps burn on the walls of the outer chamber, and Loki allows his eyes to adjust before he shuts the second door behind him. It’s definitely empty, he sees with relief, and he hurries past several entrances to passageways, across to another adjoining room where all of the delivered parcels and documents are sorted—

 

“Oh, my apologies, brother!”

 

—and nearly bites through his tongue when an initiate bumps directly into him just inside.

 

She’s young, seven perhaps, and not known to him. He can only hope that he hasn’t been described to her as well, but she hardly makes eye contact as she scoops up the papers she’d dropped.

 

He may as well try, then…

 

“Tell me, has there been a parcel delivered from Gladsheim? Just in the last day or so?”

 

She keeps her eyes on the ground as she answers. Clearly this one is very new to the order.

 

“Yes, one,” she says. “From Lop… Lo—I… forgive me. I’m still learning to read.”

 

Of course they would have her sorting letters then, Loki thinks, recalling being thrown headfirst into whatever task he was struggling with the most (in some cases quite literally, like when he’d been taught to swim), and rather often. Immersion has long been a favored teaching method of the Brotherhood.

 

“Loptr, perhaps?”

 

She repeats it quietly to herself, as if to memorize the pronunciation, and gives him a nod.

 

“And where might I find it? Do you have it here, little sister?”

 

“No, it’s been taken to Master Skadi,” she says.

 

He hasn’t forgotten Ulf’s taunting information, but in spite of it, Loki still desperately hopes that he’d gotten it wrong, that Skadi can still be trusted. It doesn’t do anything to ease the unpleasant lurch of his gut now, however.

 

The little initiate excuses herself then and hurries up the stairs leading toward the main level of the actual library, and once she’s gone, Loki quickly weighs his options. Skadi’s study is two floors below, and there are three routes he might easily take to get there. One is most certainly guarded, since that particular corridor also leads to the armory and vaults, so he rejects it right away. Of the other two… it’s early evening now, so the western staircase may be busier as the public facing librarians begin to head down for the night, but either way he goes, he’ll be forced down one staircase and passage with no other exit in order to reach the study.

 

There isn’t anything he can do about that, though, so he takes a moment to check his weapons (three small throwing knives within easy reach, one larger in his bracer, a dagger at his belt), picks up a similarly sized packet of documents as a decoy, and slips down the corridor toward the rear stairs.

 

Empty, quiet. Almost too quiet, he thinks, but the order is shrinking all the time. It’s been two years since he was last here. Things have almost certainly changed even more.

 

The floor below is more active, and he can hear people speaking at the other end of the hallway, but in the opposite direction. He hurries, keeping his steps light on the stone floor. Around the corner, someone walking ahead of him—but he’s gone and on the lower stairs before they can catch a glimpse of him.

 

This staircase is narrow, the walls and ceiling tight on all sides. This is his only escape route, and he’s all too aware of it. Skadi’s study is ahead, though, and he has to stay focused. There’s another master in his study on this level… Loki can hear him, but his door is shut, and he takes special care to move silently as he passes by it.

 

Three more doors… and three more empty rooms.

 

He pauses outside Skadi’s open door to listen. Nothing. No pages turning, no scratch of quill upon parchment. Not a sound. It’s empty as well, he sees once he ducks inside.

 

And there, on the desk, is his parcel. Unopened, seal still whole.

 

Loki could almost cry, but he doesn’t waste any time congratulating himself on this stroke of good fortune. He swaps out the packets right away and stuffs his own into his tunic, making sure it’s secure. It’s a bit bulky, but not impossible to deal with. He hardly dares to hope, but it seems as though he may actually pull this off.

 

Heart racing, he rushes back down the corridor, still careful of his footsteps. The other rooms are still empty, the other master’s door is still shut, and the stairs—

 

“Loptr?!”

 

Skadi steps down from the lowest stair, expression nearly comical in his surprise, and Loki would swear that he can feel the tilt of the world as it turns on its head.

 

“We thought—! Look at you!”

 

Skadi grins now from ear to ear, apparently delighted to see him, and Loki can’t tell if it’s just his imagination and the power of suggestion, but something about that smile makes him uneasy.

 

“Not dead yet,” he says, and offers up a pathetically weak little chuckle, but Skadi just steps forward and clasps his shoulder, hard. He’s a big man, not as tall as Thor perhaps, but nearly, and his hand almost spans all the way across Loki’s collar bone.

 

This also makes him uneasy.

 

“Not yet!” Skadi laughs. “I should have known you were better than that. What took you so long to come home?”

 

Loki can’t hesitate for long (his life depends upon it after all), and he quickly casts about for some sort of answer. “It was a difficult escape,” he says, in utter honesty after a moment. “I had to smuggle a dead pig at one point. And sleep in a barn.”

 

He receives another laugh and a clap on the back for this, but then Skadi takes him by the shoulder once again, and the firmness of his grip is now beyond what Loki could excuse as simple enthusiasm to see him still alive.

 

“You’ve always been good, but you have outdone yourself this time, Loptr,” Skadi sighs. “I’ll have to make a recommendation for promotion to the other masters right away, but first, a drink!”

 

“Oh, I really… I just need a long rest, I think,” Loki says, but his subtle attempt to ease himself out of Skadi’s hold only makes him squeeze all the tighter.

 

“Nonsense. I have a cask of Jotunn ice wine downstairs somewhere. Come along, and we’ll have some.”

 

It’s then that Loki hears the faint sound of footsteps on the stairs. Two sets… and the scrape of two blades being drawn.

 

Skadi stares at him, still smiling, waiting for his answer, but Loki can see the sweat at his temple now, and the wild look in his eyes. Loki smiles back, and finds it easier than expected. After all, the idea that a master could be so nervous at the thought of facing him is a strange comfort.

 

The knife at his wrist is in his hand in a flash, and buried in the side of Skadi’s neck in another.

 

He hardly notices the flare of pain in his side as Skadi falls to the ground, choking and gurgling, and draws his dagger as he runs for the stairs.

 

There are two of his brothers waiting, short swords in hand. Loki knows their faces well. The one on the left, Aric, slashes out, and Loki jumps back, looking for an opening. On the right, Halvor follows immediately with a strike of his own and a shout that echoes in the tight staircase. Loki doesn’t get out of the way fast enough, and the edge of the blade bites into his sleeve and his upper arm like a brand.

 

Halvor sees this, and encouraged, he lunges again. But Loki is ready. Halvor catches his dagger straight across the belly and roars in pain. He doesn’t fall, only clutches his abdomen and brings his blade down again.

 

Loki blocks it, but not the punch that Aric throws. Reeling, he stumbles back down several steps, the metallic taste of blood on his tongue.

 

There are more footsteps above, running now.

 

Halvor misses Loki’s feint to the left, slowed by his pain and his anger. This time, he does fall, taking Loki’s dagger with him where it’s lodged between his ribs. The short sword he drops will do fine, however.

 

Aric hisses, “Bastard!” at him, dives.

 

It isn’t enough. He joins Halvor on the steps below, run through. They won’t be following him, either of them, and Loki races up the stairs, panting. There are more of his brothers and sisters at the far end of the corridor, sprinting his way, weapons drawn.

 

The blood soaking his tunic is impossible to ignore now, hot and and wet and leaving the fabric clinging to his skin, and the way he’s struggling to draw a proper breath. But he can’t stop, so he ducks to the right, up another set of stairs. Their boots pound the stone behind him.

 

Three more white hoods block his way.

 

Behind him, then, in the opposite direction as fast as his legs will carry him. The packet thuds against his side with every step. The opposite side feels as though he’s being stabbed again, over and over. They’re gaining on him, somehow.

 

Two doors at the end, one leads up, the other down. He takes the first.

 

Startled exclamations when he bursts into the Library itself, patrons jumping out of their seats. Some of the order maintain their cover, looking shocked. The rest leap over tables and railings toward him, reaching for their hidden weapons. He knocks chairs over behind him, shelves, scattering books and blocking the path where he can.

 

The front doors are barred before he can reach them. He pauses half an instant, turning. It’s enough to catch a thrown knife high in the back of his leg. He nearly loses his footing, but holds on. He can’t hold back a cry, though.

 

They’re calling after him, closer every moment.

 

There’s another set of stairs through a door to the left. It leads to the roof, he knows, but he has no other option. He hobbles toward them as best he can, stares up at the dozens of steps.

 

The knife has got to go first, he knows.

 

His shout echoes up the staircase when he pulls it out, the pain bringing a wave of nausea along with it. He flings it at the nearest pursuer behind him, takes a moment to watch Evald, one of his few friends, or so he’d thought, drop.

 

He’s starting to feel lightheaded by the third landing, wheezing with every shallow breath, his feet feeling heavier and heavier, but they thunder up after him still. He has to stop on the seventh, but he makes use of his throwing knives while he does so. Two more fall, but the third he only grazes. There are nine of them now.

 

The sun is deep red and sinking behind the city by the time he makes it to the roof.

 

“There’s nowhere to go!” someone shouts after him, but he ignores it.

 

There’s a building to the left. If he got enough of a running start, maybe he could make it… He’s jumped farther before, but never while injured this badly. He’s never been injured this badly either, he thinks. 

 

At the last moment, he spots the archer on a nearby roof to the right, and has just enough time to twist out of the way. The arrow barely skims the edge of his hood as it passes, but he loses his balance and drops to one knee. It’s all he can do to stand back up, his side and his arm and his thigh all burning like fire. He won’t be running any more, he knows. He can’t.

 

“It’s over, Loptr.”

 

Dagmar, he thinks, recognizing her voice, but he doesn’t turn just yet. If anyone else could have made master before the age of thirty besides himself, it would probably be her. She’d knocked him flat dozens of times in the sparring room during training, and he stands no chance against her now in his weakened state, even if she would face him alone.

 

The people of Bravellir go on about their business in the street far below, and Loki watches them a moment, dizzy from the blood loss. A little family crossing the road, children holding onto their mother’s hands… a handful of teenage boys in a spitting contest… a farmer leading his ox drawn cart toward the gate, the back of it filled with hay…

 

“Give up,” Dagmar insists. “Don’t drag this out any longer.”

 

This is really going to hurt, Loki thinks to himself.

 

He slowly turns to face her then, takes in the fury in her eyes and the twist of her mouth. There’s no regret there, no reluctance as he might have thought there would be, and of the rest of them behind her, all known and familiar, not one of his brothers or sisters looks as though they won’t enjoy what’s coming immensely.

 

Resigned, he steps backward off the ledge.

 

For a moment, with the air rushing past him, he forgets how much pain he’s in, and breathes a sigh of relief.

 

Until he hits the cart, and it immediately triples.

 

“Gods be damned!” the farmer yelps, though Loki can hardly hear it over the screaming in his own head. He hopes that isn’t actually audible to everyone else. It would be terribly embarrassing. But he hasn’t landed as squarely as he would have liked, and the back of his thigh, just where the knife had struck him, had slammed against the wooden edge of the cart. He doesn’t think his leg is broken, incredibly, but that doesn’t really matter when it hurts this much.

 

He has to move though, despite the pain, despite feeling as though he could just pass out here and have a nice, long rest. It would likely become permanent, after all, and he’s got to get these documents away from Bravellir before he can finally die in peace. Focus is difficult to find, however, and once he drags himself up to a seated position in the hay, the Library swims in front of him. There are definitely people at the edge of the roof, looking down before they blur out of view again, and that archer is still on top of the next building over.

 

There isn’t a moment to waste, but his legs collapse beneath him when he manages to climb over the side of the cart, and he hits his hands and knees there in the street.

 

“Boy, did you jump?!” the farmer asks him, reaching out—just as an arrow pierces his gnarled old hand, and he pulls back, the blood draining from his face.

 

So much for looking after the innocent, Loki thinks, seething.

 

More people are running toward them now, however, and if he doesn’t get out of the way, someone else is going to get hurt because of him. He can’t allow that to happen, no matter how injured he is, and so he hauls himself back up to his feet, holding on tight to the cart beside him and gasping for air while his vision fades in and out.

 

He can do this. He must. He doesn’t have a choice.

 

“I’ve never had a choice,” he mutters to himself, and starts to limp forward, toward cover and the city gate.

 

He very nearly makes it, too.

 

And then, he’s tackled from behind, just in front of the gate, and he finally blacks out.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Loptr is six years old, not at all concerned about being led away from his father by the hand. He’ll see him soon, he’s sure, and can’t imagine what there is for Farbauti to be so sad about. This woman in the white hood is very nice, after all, and has promised him a hot dinner, as much as he can eat. Perhaps he’ll save some and bring it home with him to share. (But Helblindi only gets a little—he’d pushed Loptr down yesterday, and he hasn’t forgotten it.)

 

He doesn’t look back once.

 

 

Eleven now. He hasn’t given up on getting to see his family again someday, though he’s beginning to wonder if he really needs to. The order looks after their own, he’s found.

 

… Except for Sven. He’d ambushed Loptr two days ago in the lower western passage and knocked out one of his teeth (already loose, but still, it’s the principle of the thing), so he doesn’t feel at all bad about dislocating Sven’s shoulder when he twists his arm up behind his back, or knocking out three of Sven’s teeth (permanent ones) against the stone floor.

 

Sven doesn’t bother him after that.

 

 

Loptr’s seventeenth birthday comes and goes with no fanfare. It’s the way of things here, he knows, but there is one person who remembers it.

 

Sigyn slips into his room that night. They’d already kissed last year, up on a rooftop looking out over Bravellir at sunset, and Loptr still can’t figure out why she’d made such a fuss about it. He doesn’t turn her away though, this time or any of the many times that follow it.

 

 

Loptr nearly dies at nineteen, and not just from a disastrous fall from the temple roof in Fensalir on an assignment. A few months later, Sigyn almost kills him after discovering him on his knees for one of the other boys in a quiet corner back at the Library.

 

He still doesn’t understand the problem. His argument that he’s been fucking and getting fucked by several other people (Brotherhood and otherwise) for years now does not go over well either.

 

But it only takes two months of silence before Sigyn slips into his room again, and things return to normal.

 

 

Five years later, and all of Loptr’s hard work has led him to Gladsheim, taking on the most prestigious assignment he could possibly dream of. They’ve said it could take time, years even, but if this goes well, he could be the youngest master in a century.

 

His meeting with the king’s adviser goes well (of course it does—he’d trained for this), and Ord seems impressed with his demeanor and bearing. The last valet had suffered a tragic accident, such a shame, but Loki (as he’s to be called now) reassures Ord that this won’t scare him off. After all, it was the order that orchestrated that little accident in the first place. Not that this adviser knows that.

 

Ord smiles, and says that perhaps Loki should meet the king right away.

 

Thor is in the practice yard, sweat drenched and filthy, a massive war hammer hefted over one equally massive shoulder. Loki appreciates the view, and thinks that at least this assignment will be aesthetically pleasing.

 

And then Thor gives him a scandalously obvious once-over right there in front of the entire yard, bottom lip between his teeth, and a cocky little grin. “He’ll do,” he says before Ord can so much as introduce Loki, much less list his qualifications, and turns back to his reluctant, battered sparring partner.

 

Loki decides that not only will this job be easy on the eyes, it’s going to be even easier to finish it when the time comes to actually kill the asshole.

 

 

———

 

 

Everything hurts.

 

The pain is all that Loki knows when he begins to wake… and that he would rather not.

 

Back to sleep then, before he wakes entirely and has to face it.

 

There’s a large, warm hand on his cheek. Gentle. It nearly makes up for the sudden, agonizing burn in his side.

 

Loki opens his eyes just long enough to catch a flash of dark blond hair and beard, and then he passes out again.

 

 

———

 

 

Last year, midwinter. He’s accompanied the king to the front, near the Jotunn border, in order for Thor to assess the current conditions and hopefully boost morale in the Asgardian camps.

 

The men love Thor, practically worship him thanks to the years he’d spent commanding and serving alongside them before his father had died, before he’d had to return home to rule. Something about knowing your crown prince is in the saddle beside you as you rush into battle, part of the vanguard instead of watching from the rear, inspires an incredible amount of loyalty, it seems. And Thor loves them, loves the thrill of riding to war, proving his worth over and over again. Loki can tell he’s missed it, but he hadn’t been content to let the council rule in his stead either.

 

And so when the news comes that the Jotunn force has advanced in the night, Thor is out of bed and his tent in a heartbeat, telling Loki to send for his armor and his horse. Loki considers trying to talk him out of it, suddenly concerned for his safety, before he realizes how absurd the thought is. There could be a raven in the morning with his orders to make sure Thor doesn’t come home, after all. It makes no difference if the king dies in battle tonight.

 

Still, Loki watches from the camp despite being unable to see much more than the firelight from their torches and the snow coming down in thick, wet flakes, and he finds that putting on an anxious face for the benefit of those around him isn’t so difficult. And when Heimdall rides back with Thor slumped over his horse’s neck, dazed and bloodied, he springs into action, calling for a doctor and helping him down.

 

“I’m alright,” Thor insists, taking him by the shoulder, but his breastplate is nearly caved in, pierced straight through in one spot, and he loses his balance when he tries to take a step forward. Loki reaches out to hold him up and is not reassured at all.

 

But then Thor sends the doctor away, and then his squire, and then Heimdall, and Loki is the only one left to help him out of his armor and ease him onto the bed.

 

“That was foolish,” Loki tells him, and Thor raises an eyebrow at his chiding tone.

 

“Which part?”

 

“Refusing the doctor. Not retreating once you were knocked from your horse. Riding out in the first place. Am I missing anything?”

 

Thor smiles at him, though it turns into a pained hiss when Loki begins cleaning out the wound in the center of his chest where a Jotunn spear had pierced the plate and leather and his skin. “I’m sure there’s something,” he grates out. “There’s always something.”

 

“Undoubtedly.”

 

It grows quiet while Loki works, aside from the crackle of the braziers and the noise of men returning from the skirmish outside the tent. Thor is already starting to bruise in a wide swath around the wound, but it isn’t deep. The impact did more damage than the cut itself, but his breathing is normal—aside from the sharp inhale when Loki runs his fingertips over the discolored skin.

 

Which can’t have hurt that badly, he knows, and he glances up to Thor’s face.

 

The arrogant, overt passes and suggestive glances had quickly stopped once the two of them had gotten to know one another (as much as Loki had allowed it, at least), along with any and all amorous attentions paid to anyone else. It hasn’t escaped Loki’s notice, and now, while he threads a needle and moves a lamp closer, it’s also impossible to miss the way Thor watches him with soft, warm eyes. That’s been happening more and more lately, but something is different here, something intense in his gaze… something more.

 

And suddenly, Loki understands.

 

It nearly steals his own breath.

 

No one’s ever looked at him like this. None of the dozens of lovers, none of the targets he’d lured in with sweet words and sweeter touches, not even Sigyn, for all her misplaced possessiveness. And for just a moment, Loki wonders what it might be like to kiss someone who could look at him this way.

 

When he realizes that he might wind up doing just that if he doesn’t stop staring soon, he clears his throat and starts stitching the wound closed with careful concentration.

 

But he can still feel Thor’s eyes on him.

 

 

———

 

 

When Loki finally wakes, it’s with soft sunlight filtering through the curtains directly into his eyes. But when he tries to lift his hand to block it, his upper arm practically screams, and he remembers all at once. He’s not at the Library, but he already knew that. Just as he’d already known that the warm body curled up beside him, though several inches away, belongs to Thor.

 

The knowledge settles low and warm in his gut, despite not knowing where they stand. For now, it’s enough that he’s here.

 

Beyond that… he doesn’t quite know what happened or where he is. His side is stitched and bandaged though, and the slash across his arm. He imagines his leg has received the same attention, but it hurts too much to move it or to reach down and feel, so he doesn’t.

 

The room is cozy, with neat little curtains on the window and a swag of greenery over the door, exposed rafters and the underside of the thatched roof overhead. There are clean, soft linens on the bed, which is wide enough to accommodate them both with room to spare, and the little bottles of scent and rosewater on the chest of drawers against the opposite wall suggest a woman’s presence, and one who takes pride in her little cottage.

 

“Where on earth,” Loki mutters to himself, barely a whisper. Perhaps he should investigate a little further. His attempt to sit up goes poorly, though, and only leaves him whimpering as quietly as he can and sinking back into the pillows. But it also wakes Thor, who sits up straight right away and leans over to have a look at him.

 

“Be still, love,” he says with a frown, and Loki tries to not be too obvious in his relief at the little endearment, even if it’s said with more ire than he’s used to hearing from Thor. “You’ll pull out your stitches. Let me see.”

 

Loki is naked beneath the blanket, it turns out, aside from the bandages wrapped around his middle and his arm and his thigh, but Thor is all business as he prods around each of Loki’s wounds with careful but sure fingers, his experience no doubt earned in battle over the years.

 

“This one’s bleeding again,” he sighs, and starts in on the dressing at Loki’s ribs.

 

“Where are we?”

 

Thor doesn’t look up as he works. “This is my friend Volstagg’s home, though he isn’t here. I suppose he and his wife went to Gladsheim for the funeral. But we’re in a wood, far from the closest village and miles from Bravellir. I thought we might be safe here for a little while.”

 

Volstagg, injured in battle years ago and given leave to retire by King Odin, Loki knows. Wife Gunnhilde, one child born early last year.

 

“So you broke in?” he asks, trying for scandalized.

 

Thor only gives him a glare, then reaches across him for a fresh bandage on the bedside table.

 

“That was incredibly foolish, you know,” he huffs, changing the subject, and Loki can’t help but smile at the reversal.

 

“Which part?”

 

The look on Thor’s face says that he remembers as well as Loki does, but he isn’t nearly as amused by it.

 

“I’m serious, Loki. If I ever see you jump off of a building again, I swear by all the gods… What were you thinking?”

 

Loki wonders if telling him that it hadn’t been the first time, or even the fifth time, would help, but it’s unlikely. Instead, he keeps his mouth shut, thinking that it was probably a rhetorical question anyway.

 

“If I hadn’t been there, you would have died. They were shooting at you. Did you even notice?”

 

He has a dim recollection of it, yes, so he nods. But he doesn’t remember making it out of the city, or even out of sight, so if Thor had dragged him to safety—

 

“They saw you,” he breathes, trying to sit up again before he can think better of it, but Thor just pushes him back to the bed with a firm hand on his chest. Loki is far too weak to resist much.

 

“Be still, I said. They may not have realized who I was. I had my head covered.”

 

A man as tall and broad as the king turning up at the last moment to save him would be too much of a coincidence for the Brotherhood to ignore. No, he’s sure that they know, or at least suspect it, and there will probably be a midnight reopening of Thor’s tomb once the news reaches Ord. If they don’t know now, they will soon.

 

“Where are the documents?” he asks, changing tack while Thor starts rebinding his wound. “They were in my shirt.”

 

“I assumed that’s what that packet was. It’s in the next room, a bit stained but whole from what I could tell. Is that what you risked your life for?”

 

Loki gives him a helpless shrug and says, “We needed it back.”

 

With a sigh, Thor pulls the blanket back over Loki and climbs out of bed. In the sunlight, Loki can see the bloodstains on the sleeves of his tunic—his own, from when Thor had carried him out of Bravellir, he assumes.

 

If he hadn’t been there, this would have been for nothing. Loki would have bled out in the street and his body would have been searched, and then Thor would have been hunted for the rest of his days, of which there would not be many. But now, even if the Brotherhood knows that Thor lives, at least the two of them have what they need to put him back on the throne when the time comes, and Loki alive to protect him.

 

“Thor, forgive me,” Loki begins, not knowing what else he means to say, but fully intending to keep speaking until he’s made things right between them, but he doesn’t get any further before Thor holds up a hand to stop him.

 

“Don’t,” he insists. “I shouldn’t have left.”

 

“But I shouldn’t have made a promise I couldn’t keep.”

 

Thor shakes his head, and takes a long moment to weigh his words before he finally says, “I’m beginning to think that I should not have asked it of you in the first place.”

 

Loki doesn’t know what he could possibly say in response, so he says nothing, and eventually Thor continues.

 

“I am so very tired of bloodshed… I had hoped to put an end to it by ending the war even before all this came about, and the thought of more killing to get ourselves out of it turns my stomach. But I arrived just in time to see you fall, and the others on the roof with their swords drawn, the way they shot into the crowd with no regard for the innocent people around you… They’re willing to do anything to get what they want, aren’t they?”

 

“Yes,” Loki says. Even more so than he’d known.

 

“Then it seems we must also do things we would prefer not to, as much as I hate it,” Thor sighs after a moment, and puts his hands on his hips. “I may not like your methods, but I’m starting to see the necessity of them. Some of them, at least. Will you forgive me for thinking poorly of you before?”

 

Loki nods, slowly, and says, “Of course.”

 

“You are not the man I thought you were,” Thor tells him then. “But I won’t try to force you into that mold any longer. I love you as you are, Loki.”

 

It takes a bit of time for Loki to find his words in the face of such an enormous and unexpected wave of relief, but he does.

 

“Then I’ll strive to be worthy of it,” he says, and Thor gives him a small smile.

 

“You already are. Now rest. We still have a long road ahead of us.”

 

 

———

 

 

The next day, Thor brings him the packet of documents when he insists upon it, threatening to get out of bed and fetch it himself and to hell with his stitches. It’s definitely intact, which is another relief, but once Loki deciphers Ord’s letter, it becomes clear that his fears were well founded, and that none of the order can be trusted anymore.

 

Geir, my brother, Ord had written. The solicitor in Fensalir is a ruse, of course, but Master Geir is a name that Loki only knows very vaguely.

 

 

I have already sent word to Master Skadi. The king insists upon surrender. The order will be given within days. If Loptr is successful, you will need to move the same week.

 

Loptr grows more suspicious of the council and more loyal to Thor by the day. He does not know of my involvement. It could be that his silence may be bought, but it will be safer to eliminate him. He will return to Bravellir when his task is complete. Tell … … … … the southern road, handle him there and then. Others have been advised the same. If Loptr makes it to the Library, they … … … there.

 

Dagmar will arrange the shipment of goods to Jotunheim. Sven is waiting in Gladsheim. Ivar, Ulf, and Evald will accompany Master Vidar to Nidavellir next month. The rest of the masters have agreed to move forward.

 

There is more, including the whereabouts of several of Loki’s brothers and sisters throughout the realm and outside it, more of them than he could have dreamed would be involved in this. The only thing he can’t make out or guess is the name of whoever was to ‘handle him’ on his way south to Bravellir, and he has a large bloodstain on the parchment (his own) to thank for that.

 

It isn’t critical, though. What matters is that Ord has all of them in his pocket, and probably has for years. Loki is on his own.

 

He nearly crumples the letter in his fist, but then he realizes that they’ll still need it for proof, so he tosses it onto the table beside the bed with a furious huff instead.

 

 

———

 

 

Two weeks later, Loki is up and hobbling about the cottage, following Thor around and telling him how to cook something besides camp fare, how to wash their clothing and the linens, how to walk and speak so as not to give himself away when he ventures into the village for supplies… and also that he won’t break if Thor wants to bend him over the table, though Thor doesn’t listen to much of it, and certainly not that last part.

 

“You’re injured,” he insists every time, and then finds something to do out in the woods where Loki can’t follow just yet.

 

Too bad.

 

They’ve spent hours discussing their next steps, however, and coming up with a plan of action that they can put into practice just as soon as Loki is healed completely. His wounds have closed now, but it still hurts to breathe deeply, and when he’d suggested a little sparring match in the grass outside yesterday, Thor had glared at him and gone back to dressing the hares he’d trapped for their dinner.

 

Aside from Thor’s constant mothering, they’ve returned to the comfortable rhythm they’d been developing before they had briefly parted ways in Munarvagr, and Thor is all soft, warm looks again (except when Loki disobeys his orders to rest and heal), sweet little kisses at random times, and arms wrapped around Loki while they sleep in Volstagg and Gunnhilde’s borrowed bed.

 

And despite Loki’s slow simmering anger and desire to make the Brotherhood pay for what they’ve done, he knows that they won’t have this much time to themselves again for quite awhile once he’s back in fighting form, so he finds that, in some ways, he doesn’t mind the break very much at all.

 

“Hold still,” Thor tells him now, paying Loki’s protests no mind while he examines the shiny red scar developing just below the curve of his ribs. He’s caught Loki fresh from bathing and still undressed, and is apparently intent on making sure that his wounds are healing properly.

 

“Still no infection, I’ve already checked,” Loki says. “It seems you make a passable doctor.”

 

“You flatter me,” Thor says, rolling his eyes, and then drops to his knees.

 

Loki raises an eyebrow at him, but his little smirk is ignored, as well as his perfectly accessible cock right there in Thor’s face.

 

“Turn around, love,” he says, tapping Loki’s thigh. “Let me check your leg.”

 

With a sigh, Loki does as he’s told. From what he could see, it’s fine, too, though the whole back of his thigh is still faintly mottled yellow and green from his less than perfect landing. But Thor’s hands are more than welcome on him all the same—as well as the whiskery kiss he leaves just to the side of the new scar once he’s finished. Loki can’t hold back a smile at it, and then it only spreads wider across his face when Thor drops his forehead to the small of his back and lets out a heavy sigh.

 

“I’ve already told you this,” he says, breath and beard tickling, “but don’t ever put yourself in danger like that again or—”

 

“Or you’ll kill me. Yes, I know.”

 

Thor’s hands find his hips, and Loki gets a little squeeze in response… and another kiss, just above his tailbone… and then Thor’s grip tightens, and his next inhale is sharp. 

 

“How are you feeling?” he breathes against Loki’s skin, low and quiet, and there’s no mistaking the want in his voice.

 

“Better than ever,” Loki lies. But oh, he is well enough for this.

 

Whatever he expected to happen next (being turned around and sucked to completion perhaps, or maybe Thor standing and moving them toward the bed in the next room), it certainly wasn’t Thor’s hands spreading his cheeks apart and the flat of his tongue following immediately afterwards.

 

“Oh, shit,” Loki hisses, nearly losing his footing.

 

Thor hums in agreement and continues.

 

It takes no time at all before Loki is blindingly hard, and he has to reach out and brace himself against the wall to stay upright, and in order to arch his back and press into Thor for more. That tongue is going to drive him mad… light and teasing at first, then harder, hot and slick and so very good, Thor echoing the little noises that Loki can’t hold back like he’s enjoying it just as much. He probably is, knowing him and the way he’s made Loki feel practically worshipped each time they’ve been together.

 

He gets another encouraging hum from Thor when he reaches for his cock, too desperate to hold off any longer, and he knows that this won’t take long at all. His arm is still stiff and sore from Halvor’s blade, but not enough to keep him from jerking himself at an almost frantic pace. And it seems that Thor has the same idea, since one of his hands disappears a moment later. Loki can hear the shift in his breathing when he starts to stroke himself as well, and only wishes he could see more than the top of Thor’s head and his own ass when he looks over his shoulder.

 

It doesn’t really matter, though. He’s too close now, too caught up in the rasp of Thor’s beard on his skin, his tongue sliding and pressing—and slipping in—

 

Loki swears and comes, holding onto the wall like a lifeline while Thor’s grip on his ass grows nearly tight enough to hurt, but that only intensifies it. And once he’s panting, slumped against the wall, Thor lets him go and spills himself with Loki’s name on his talented tongue.

 

“Are you alright?” Thor asks after a moment, still breathy, and reaches out to clasp his non-injured thigh.

 

“Mmmnn,” is all that Loki can manage in reply, but that will have to do.

 

“Let’s not wait that long again.”

 

“Your fault,” Loki mumbles, and Thor pinches him.

 

“I’m not the one who jumped off a building.”

 

Once the evidence of their little tryst is tidied up, and Loki is dressed and sprawled bonelessly in the enormous armchair in the front room, Thor says something about making supper (and ignores Loki’s called, “But you just ate, Thor!”). But the moment he disappears into the pantry, Loki hears voices outside—too late, because the door is opening.

 

A man who can only be Volstagg stands in the doorway with a trunk hefted over one shoulder, and a woman holding a small child behind him, and Loki breathes a sigh of relief. For a moment, he was sure they’d been found ou—

 

“Who the devil are you?!” Volstagg bellows, and before Loki can so much as open his mouth, he drops the trunk, snatches up a dining chair, and charges straight at him.

 

Thor turns up just in time, jumping in front of Volstagg with his hands raised, but clearly he’s forgotten that he’s supposed to be dead and has cut his hair, because Volstagg only switches targets and swings his chair at Thor instead. It’s a near thing, and Loki wonders for half an instant if they’re really gone through all this just for Thor to be killed by a dining chair to the skull by one of his closest friends, but Thor ducks and catches hold of the chair in the backswing, shouting, “Volstagg! It’s me!”

 

Everyone is silent for a moment, aside from the baby who chatters away happily in her mother’s arms, and then Volstagg takes two steps backward and collapses into the floor.

 

As far as reunions go, Loki thinks, it could have been worse.

 

 

———

 

 

Volstagg recovers quickly, though Thor takes longer to recover from the bear hug he’s given once he does, and after a long explanation, drawn out with constant questions and comments all throughout (“Ah! I knew something was strange about Fandral’s behavior!”), Gunnhilde sighs and stands and says that all this talking shouldn’t be done on an empty stomach. Thor insists upon helping (and apologizes for having raided her stores for the last two weeks), so while the two of them sort out a meal, Loki’s left alone with Volstagg, who continues to stare at him as though he’s sizing him up, even while he bounces his daughter on his knee. But thankfully, Gunnhilde is a much faster and much better cook than Thor, so he doesn’t have to bear Volstagg’s scrutiny on his own for long. And once the enormous meal is on the table, the conversation resumes right where it left off.

 

“So what now?” Volstagg asks between bites. “Are you going after Ord and the council? Do you need me to fight?”

 

“Not yet,” Thor replies. “To either. Ord may not know that we know of his involvement since Loki’s letter wasn’t yet opened. If he did, he’d surely take measures to protect himself, so we don’t want him to suspect it until we’re ready.”

 

“Which will take what, exactly?”

 

“Time. Men to help take Gladsheim. And before that…”

 

Thor trails off, looking as though he doesn’t quite know how to phrase his next words, so Loki steps in for him and says, “And before that, I’m going to hunt down each and every assassin I can find to ensure that Ord’s supporters won’t be there to answer his call.”

 

“By yourself?” Volstagg asks, disbelieving.

 

“There’s no one better suited to the task. I know how they fight and where they hide. And if Thor is to regain his throne by exposing the council and their misdeeds, his own hands must remain clean.”

 

It had been a point of contention between the two of them each time they’d discussed it, and even though Thor had seen the reasoning behind allowing Loki to do his dirty work for him, it’s clear that he still resents the idea. The look on his face now says as much without him uttering a word. And while Loki had been encouraged by his willingness to step up and do what needed to be done, the thought of bringing Thor anywhere near any member of the order is enough to have him breaking out in a cold sweat.

 

“But Thor will need help,” Loki adds. “Protection, people who can go stir up support amongst the troops and anyone else faithful, but do it discreetly. I won’t be there at all times to keep watch, so we’ll need someone vigilant, someone who could face a trained killer.”

 

“Other than myself,” Thor interjects, looking a bit peeved.

 

“Yes, other than yourself, darling,” Loki says, and takes care not to smile when Thor’s frown deepens.

 

“Anyway,” Thor grouses, “if you would send word to Sif and Hogun, Volstagg, and find out if they’re willing to help?”

 

Volstagg waves a hand and says, “Of course they are. You’re welcome to use my home as a base of operations as well.”

 

Gunnhilde nods in agreement, but Thor shakes his head. “No, we couldn’t possibly put your family in danger. We’ll find somewhere else.”

 

“Several somewhere elses,” Loki says. “We’ll all need to keep moving.”

 

“Well, our door is open to you whenever you need it. When do you plan to get started?”

 

That’s a question that Loki doesn’t have an answer for, and when he hesitates, Thor replies for him.

 

“Not until Loki has healed. Perhaps a few weeks more.”

 

“Or less,” Loki insists. “They’ll find us if we stay too long.”

 

“Either way,” Volstagg says, standing, “you aren’t leaving tonight, and I believe dessert is in order.”

 

 

———

 

 

In the end, they stay with Volstagg and Gunnhilde (and Gudrun, who takes to Loki almost immediately and insists upon being held whenever possible, much to his bewilderment) for two more weeks, at which point Loki is ready to sneak out of his and Thor’s little makeshift bed in the floor of the front room in the middle of the night and get started on his own. But the waiting has been for the best, he knows, and it’s taken this long just for Volstagg to carefully contact Sif and Hogun and for them to arrive.

 

Thor is delighted to see his old friends, and they’re even more delighted to see him alive. And then, after three long days of careful instruction on the methods and habits of the Brotherhood, what to expect from them and how to spot them, what sort of ciphers they use and the development of a new one, just for their little resistance movement, Loki does in fact sneak out in the middle of the night in his old tunic and hood, the holes mended and the whole thing dyed nearly black to hide the stubborn bloodstains he couldn’t wash out. But Thor sees him off, and kisses him long and deeply under the trees just outside the cottage.

 

“Be careful,” both of them say at once when they part, and Loki huffs out a little laugh. Thor isn’t smiling though, and the forlorn look on his face suddenly has Loki feeling much less eager to be gone.

 

“I’ll find you soon,” he promises. “I’ll go west to the mountains first, since there weren’t many leads that direction, and then I’ll head back to you before I try southward.”

 

Thor doesn’t say anything else. And after one last, too brief brush of lips, he pulls Loki’s hood up for him and gives him a nod.

 

“Soon,” Loki repeats, and climbs into his saddle.

 

 

Chapter Text

‘Soon’ comes later than anticipated. It takes a month for Loki to make it to the little inn just south of Gladsheim where they’re holed up. Hogun is away, carefully approaching a few contacts he believes would be loyal to the true king, and Thor and Sif are posing as a merchant and his wife.

 

They have four men on standby already, waiting at home for the call when the time comes.

 

Loki has crossed two names off his list, and he also has a new bump in his nose thanks to a poorly healed break. (Thor says that he finds it ‘roguish and attractive,’ but wishes he hadn’t broken it in the first place.)

 

Sif gladly accepts the second room that Loki rents for himself, saying that his majesty snores and hogs the covers and that Loki is welcome to him. He only stays two nights and sleeps lightly if at all (when they aren’t otherwise occupied), and then he’s off once again.

 

 

———

 

 

Four months later, there are five fewer assassins that Loki has to worry about. They’re learning to expect him, it seems, and one, an initiate named Ivar, had started begging for mercy the moment Loki cornered him. The last one had been a master, but he fell with no more fanfare than any of the others.

 

He finds the time to see Thor every few weeks, and every time he does, it’s a little harder to leave. Once, he slips out while Thor sleeps, hoping that will make it easier to bear, but the scathing message he finds in one of his many hidden letter drops afterwards convinces him to allow Thor to see him off the next time.

 

 

———

 

 

A year goes by this way before Loki even realizes it.

 

They’ve established a constantly moving base of operations now, run by a handful of Asgardian soldiers (who do not consider themselves deserters—they’re serving their king, after all) a former seneschal, and an engineer. Thor travels separately and more frequently than they do (with Sif or Hogun or both to keep an eye on him), but Loki finds the added security a relief any time he can meet up with him while there’s a larger guard about.

 

Especially after one exceptionally quiet and careful novice tracks them down in Frysvellir when Thor and Hogun are on their own… or so she had thought. The assassin never gets close enough to Thor to do him any harm, but the fact that she’d found them in the first place leaves Loki on edge for weeks, even after he catches her off her guard outside a tavern, questions her hard, and disposes of her afterward. There’s no one else who knows, she swears, but he knows better than to trust her, and he insists upon moving them immediately.

 

Her name hadn’t been mentioned in Ord’s letter, but that doesn’t really matter. She isn’t the first he kills who hadn’t been identified in it, and she won’t be the last.

 

 

———

 

 

By the time Loki catches up with Dagmar, the order is in shambles. The Library is abandoned (to the bewilderment of the people of Bravellir), and Loki estimates that there aren’t more than ten assassins left that still mean him harm. The rest have fled for good or are dead, and he sees to it that any children he finds are sent home or found new families.

 

(His own family is in Jotunheim again, he’s learned, but he hasn’t dared to contact them.)

 

Loki himself is leaner and harder than he’s ever been before, usually bruised in some capacity in multiple locations, but his aim has never been truer, his feet quieter, his blade surer. He’s mended and replaced his hood twice now, but he always dyes the new ones black. He has an image to maintain now after all, and the fear he sees in the eyes of the assassins he hunts when they catch sight of him all in black (if they see him at all) never gets old.

 

He’s bested several masters by now, but Dagmar is his hardest won victory. She eases in behind him in an alley in Munarvagr without a sound, and he’s only saved by the fact that she chose a garrote instead of a knife. It could have been over in seconds if she had simply slipped a blade between his ribs, but instead, the wire catches a fold of his hood on its way over his head, and the half second delay is all he needs to get a hand between it and his throat before she pulls it taut.

 

The fight is messy and drawn out and nearly lost more than once, but it finally ends in Dagmar cursing him with her last breath, her own garrote around her throat and his knee in her back. Loki walks away with a deep cut across his palm from the bite of the wire, a massive bruise around his throat, and what he suspects to be at least two broken ribs, but he walks away all the same.

 

 

———

 

 

One month later, Loki finds a note from Sif in a letter drop. He doesn’t read more than assassin in the night, his majesty injured, and Glitnir before he’s back on his horse, and for the whole of the three day ride, he does nothing but imagine the worst despite Sif’s written reassurances that Thor will be fine and that his attacker had died at her hand.

 

When he arrives, Thor begins their conversation with it was my fault so don’t you dare take it out on Sif, but Loki doesn’t really pay attention to anything he says. Later, Sif will tell him how the assassin crept into their room at an inn, how she was knocked from a second floor window in the fight, how she hobbled back up the stairs on a broken ankle as fast as she could and found Thor and the assassin struggling over a knife in the dark and buried her own in his back, how she was too late to keep him from slashing Thor across the face. Loki will question her for an hour at least and learn that it had been Sven (yellow hair, missing his front teeth), and then brood for the rest of the day over the fact that he hadn’t be able to kill Sven himself.

 

For now, however, Loki is too distracted by the bandages wrapped around Thor’s head and over his eye and the fact that it had been damaged so badly that the doctor had had to remove it

 

“Loki, please breathe,” Thor sighs at him in exasperation.

 

He only stays for a few days before another lead comes up, and then he only leaves with the greatest reluctance. And if he’s a little less gentle with the next assassin he finds, well. Could anyone really blame him? He doesn’t think so.

 

 

———

 

 

Fensalir isn’t much to look at the dead of winter, or any other time of year for that matter, and Loki is sick to death of it. It’s been more than a year and a half since they began this, and more than five months since he’d left Thor in Glitnir, bloodied and bandaged and missing his right eye. But as soon as he’s finished with his business here, there’s nothing left to stop him riding hard for wherever it is that Thor and his faithful have temporarily camped.

 

And when he sees that his local letter drop isn’t empty, he smiles to himself. Now he’ll know just where to go.

 

Ingrid, My Love is written on the outside of the letter, another random name to cover their tracks, though Loki has warned Thor about adding my love to every single message he sends. It’s encoded, as always, but Loki has always been a quick study, and after this long he doesn’t even need a scrap of parchment to decipher it on.

 

 

 

I have sent five copies of this to five different letter drops, and if I do not hear from you in the next week, I will do it again. Please don’t make me. My hand is cramping.

 

Loki grins and leans back under the awning of the tavern he’s huddled up next to, trying to keep his letter out of the falling snow.

 

 

 

We are in Barri now, in an abandoned mine just east of the village. If you are nearby, as I hope you are, you may find the entrance with the directions I have included on the following page.

 

Sif and I rejoined the others yesterday, and all seems to be well here in camp. I must tell you that Hogun missed his last check in, but he has been traveling farther north lately, seeking out an audience with the Jotunn general, so we are not concerned as of yet. The last retinue at the border is now awaiting our call.

 

Our forces do not outnumber the royal guard in Gladsheim by any reach of the imagination, but Fandral has rejoined us after the trouble he had at home, and he is confident that the majority of them will turn when the time comes for us to retake the city.

 

But what I must also tell you is how much I miss you and how much I hate every day that passes without you with me. This has gone on quite long enough. I need you at my side and in my arms, and when this is finished, I will forbid you from ever leaving me for this long again.

 

And Loki wouldn’t dream of complaining if he did, honestly.

 

 

 

And since I know you will only berate me when I see you again if I don’t include a report, I haven’t run into anything in at least four weeks. I am still a poor judge of distance, but my eye, or lack thereof, no longer troubles me. You may stop worrying anytime you like, love.

 

Loki is unlikely to stop worrying anytime at all, but Thor should know this by now.

 

 

 

Come to me soon, if you can.

 

Thor

 

If all goes as Loki hopes, he can indeed. It’s been difficult, but after all this time, there’s only one assassin left that he really cares about.

 

Ord’s time will be up soon enough, however. He still heads the council, running Asgard to ruin while little King Balder speaks with his voice, and Loki had managed to confirm that Thor’s tomb had, in fact, been opened shortly after the incident at the Library. Ord knows that Thor lives, but there hasn’t been any indication that he knows that his own cover has been compromised. He hasn’t amassed any sort of protection for himself or gone into hiding, and not one of the assassins Loki has questioned has ever so much as mentioned his name in passing, much less given him up. And since Loki has taken to eliminating all of them that he can, not just those named in Ord’s letter, he hopes that the adviser’s suspicions won’t be aroused until it’s too late.

 

And then, when Thor’s rallied forces are ready, they’ll march on Gladsheim. Loki means to be within the walls and inside the keep when that happens, where he can put his blade through Ord’s heart right after he hears the call to arms.

 

Thor’s message goes up quickly in the brazier just outside the first guard post Loki passes, and several minutes later, he’s stationed outside an entirely different letter drop, as he has been for nearly three weeks now. … So perhaps there are two assassins left that he cares about, if he counts whoever it is that will come to collect a certain solicitor’s last message.

 

Loki had finally paid the intended recipient of Ord’s letter a visit those weeks ago, and though he had not gotten much useful information out of Master Geir, he had seen him leave a letter in a hidden panel across town before their confrontation. The trouble was, it was locked with a mechanism that Loki couldn’t quite puzzle out how to open.

 

So he continues to watch and wait… until now.

 

There’s someone in a hood approaching, turning down the little blind alley. Not so peculiar, thanks to the snow, but this person moves with a fluid grace that most members of the order share and that the common folk of Fensalir do not possess.

 

He leaves his hiding spot when the panel springs open, and just as the assassin reaches for the letter inside, Loki slams them into the wall, his dagger drawn and shoved beneath their chin.

 

“Loptr!”

 

The voice is feminine, the shape beneath the cloak slim and familiar against him, and Loki presses a little harder with his blade.

 

“Sigyn,” he says, keeping his tone light and conversational. “Imagine running into you here!”

 

“Please, Loptr. Please, I’m leaving. I’m trying to run.”

 

He glances over at the open compartment and the letter inside and replies, “Really? It looks as though you’re retrieving letters to me.”

 

“You can have it,” she gasps. “I just thought there might be something useful… Geir used to handle some of my assignments. Take it, but please, just let me go.”

 

“I would run, too, if I were you. But why should I let you?”

 

Sigyn doesn’t struggle, not with the edge of his dagger so close to breaking her skin, but he can tell how hard she’s fighting to stay still by the tremble in her voice. “Not just from you. From all of this. I don’t want any part of it… I never have. I just want to go home.”

 

Loki has a vague recollection of her constant crying when they were children, begging to go back to her grandmother, and a clearer memory of her suggesting the two of them run away together several years later. He hadn’t been too dissatisfied with his circumstances then, and had dismissed her out of hand. Run away on your own, he’d told her, rolling his eyes.

 

But it’s enough for him to loosen his grip on her and pull the dagger away.

 

“They said you were hunting us down, but I didn’t want to believe it,” she says, her relief obvious as she turns to face him. She’s just as freckled as she’d always been, with those brown eyes and the little dimple in her chin, and a strong wave of nostalgia washes over him at the sight. “What on earth happened to you?”

 

“Plenty. Hand me that letter, then.”

 

She does so without a fuss, then rubs at her throat. “I can’t say that I disapprove, but how do you sleep at night, knowing they’re all looking for you?”

 

There’s no name on the envelope, and the seal is plain, but he can investigate further later on.

 

“Oh, quite soundly. I know how few of them are left,” he says, slipping it into his jacket. “Who have you been in contact with recently? Where are you coming from?”

 

Sigyn frowns, the really? obvious on her face without her saying it, and answers, “Dagmar was the last person I heard from. She told me to wait in Gladsheim for instructions, but then I never heard anything else. It’s been months.”

 

“There’s a reason for that,” Loki tells her, and Sigyn gapes when she understands.

 

“Even Dagmar? She used to lay you flat in seconds. She did all of us.”

 

Used to.”

 

Sigyn stares a moment, as though she’s reevaluating him. “You never could have bested her before,” she says.

 

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Loki now has something to fight for, but he keeps that to himself.

 

“Things change, Sigyn.”

 

With a nod, she replies, “People as well,” and then hesitantly reaches for his hand, her fingers icy around his. “Come with me. We can leave together, leave all this behind us. Just you and me and no one to tell us what to do for once in our lives.”

 

Loki considers his response carefully before he finally says, “I haven’t finished here,” squeezing her hand for good measure before he pulls his own away, but Sigyn just shakes her head.

 

“You wouldn’t have anyway. I should have known,” she sighs. “Especially now that you have someone waiting for you.”

 

… Damn.

 

“You think so?” he hedges.

 

“I know so. I do now, at least. They said you’d taken up with King Thor, that this was all for him, revenge for trying to have you kill him. But I don’t think they knew just how far in you really are.”

 

He says nothing, keeps his face as blank as possible, but another shake of her head and a huff make it clear that no matter what he does or doesn’t say, she understands more than he would like. She’ll keep it to herself, though, that much he knows, and not because he intends to silence her… Because he’s going to let her go.

 

“I hope he’s worth it, Loptr,” Sigyn says.

 

“It’s Loki now. But keep your head down, and get rid of the hood. I’m not the only one out there who kills assassins on sight.”

 

“I’ll make note of it.”

 

Without another word, Sigyn presses her cold lips to his cheek and slips by, lowering her hood as she turns the corner and disappears.

 

 

———

 

 

The letter proves useless—instructions for two assassins already dead and gone regarding a possible lead on Loki himself, and so a few days and a few dozen miles later, Loki spends all of an afternoon trying to find this abandoned mine Thor had described, growing ever more impatient but simultaneously impressed with whoever had found it and suggested it as a temporary base. But find it he does, and after the guard stationed just inside the main tunnel points him in the right direction, he makes his way through a maze of branching tunnels until he arrives at the door of Thor’s makeshift quarters.

 

“What is it?” Thor calls from inside when he knocks, and Loki can’t help but let out a sigh at the sound of his voice before he answers.

 

“Urgent news, my king.”

 

There’s silence for a moment—and then sudden footsteps, and before Loki can even step back from the door, it’s flung open, and Thor is there.

 

“Not that urgent,” Loki says with a grin.

 

The bandages have been replaced with an eyepatch of dark, soft leather, and though Loki aches to see it and the scar that trails down Thor’s forehead and cheek, he can’t say that the overall effect is an unpleasant one. At the very least, Thor is just as tall and broad and handsome and kingly as he’s always been.

 

“I beg to differ. I can’t imagine anything more urgent.”

 

Just a few moments is all it takes before Loki is pulled inside and the door is shut behind him, and then Thor has him wrapped in his arms, and everything is that much righter with the world. Loki breathes deep and sighs again.

 

“I was due to meet with a messenger from Heimdall in just a little while,” Thor mumbles into the side of his neck, far too soon, leaving Loki sighing for an entirely different reason and pulling away. Such are the inconveniences of having a king for a lover, he supposes.

 

“Then I’ll not keep you from it,” he says, but before he can step back, Thor takes his face in his hands and looks at him rather intensely.

 

“Oh yes, you will.”

 

The kiss is long overdue and more than a little on the desperate side, but Loki makes no complaints, and as soon as they part for air, Thor moves away altogether and pulls his tunic over his head.

 

“You’re going to keep me quite a long time,” he insists. And really, who is Loki to argue with the king?

 

Thor’s bed is small, but they’ve made do with less many times before, and once their clothing is in a heap in the floor, Thor sprawls himself across it on his back, naked but for his eyepatch. The sight of him is so very welcome after all these long months, but before Loki can join him and appreciate it more closely, meaning to straddle him and get straight to business, Thor shakes his head.

 

“No, it’s been too long, and I need you.”

 

He then spreads his legs like an invitation, one that Loki is not about to decline.

 

A vial of oil is hurriedly located, and Loki has hardly pressed two slick fingers into Thor, biting his lip when he thinks of how much better that tight heat is going to feel around his cock instead, when Thor gives his hair a gentle tug and says, “Don’t draw it out. Just get up here.”

 

And so he does, but not without one long swipe of his tongue up the length of Thor’s cock first, just to hear him swear. Thor hauls him down for another kiss as soon as he’s in range, his hands trailing up Loki’s back, fingers digging in just below his shoulder blades, and with Thor’s cock pressing up hard against his stomach, Loki begins to see the need for haste himself.

 

Thor takes him with a low, quiet gasp, much like the one Loki lets out once he’s buried to the hilt. There’s no doubt that Thor had been right; it’s been far too long since they’ve had this, too many sleepless nights and hard miles, but they’re so close to the end, and now that his own work is all but finished, Loki intends to stay by Thor’s side from this moment until it’s all over. He can’t say with any certainty what will happen even if they do succeed in putting Thor back on the throne, but if this long ordeal has taught him anything, it’s that Thor’s capacity to love him should never be doubted. He’ll find his place, he has no doubt of it, though at the moment he’s rather hoping it’s right here, easing slowly out and back into Thor’s tight heat, relishing the arms wrapped around him and the soft hitching breath in his ear.

 

“Ah—just there,” Thor pants soon, an urgent edge creeping into his voice, and Loki is more than happy to oblige him, making sure to angle his following thrusts accordingly. It doesn’t take long before Thor’s brows draw together and his remaining eye slides shut.

 

If it feels anywhere near as good for him as it does for Loki, neither of them will last much longer… but that’s alright. They’ll have more time later, when they can take their time and take each other apart little by little instead.

 

Thor’s cock jerks in his hand as soon as Loki leans back just far enough to reach for it, pulsing out a bead of slick, but when he smears it over the head with the pad of his thumb, Thor grows impossibly tighter around him, and it’s all Loki can do to keep from coming on the spot. He can’t hold back a noise that is entirely too loud, he knows, but he also can’t bring himself to really care. Everyone in this small mobile company knows about them by now anyway, after all, but it doesn’t matter when Thor comes wet and hot between them several strokes later, groaning Loki’s name for anybody in the corridor to hear.

 

Between that and the way he rocks into Loki, meeting every thrust with his legs wrapped tightly around his waist, Loki begins to lose the already weak grasp on his control, his own orgasm hitting like a punch once he buries his face in Thor’s shoulder and gives into it.

 

He’s still breathing hard, still slightly lightheaded when he pries himself loose from Thor’s grip—“I’m just moving over here, let go,”—and relocates to the mattress beside him, and Thor doesn’t make more than a perfunctory effort to tidy up the mess on his stomach and chest before he drags a blanket over them both and gathers Loki up in his arms once again.

 

“How long do I have you this time, love?” Thor asks him once his heart rate has slowed a bit, and Loki remembers that he still hasn’t given him the latest update.


“How long would you like me?” he replies.

 

“Quite longer than you can stay, undoubtedly.”

 

“You might be surprised. I had urgent news after all, your majesty, only you didn’t give me the opportunity to deliver it.”

 

“Oh?”

 

Loki turns on his side to face him, their noses brushing, and says, “The order is finished. I’m all yours now,” and Thor stares back at him, his blue eye widening.

 

“All of them?” he asks, stunned.

 

“All of them that matter.”

 

It takes Thor a moment to process this, and though they’re well past whatever qualms he may have had about Loki’s chosen method of weakening the Brotherhood’s grip on the realms, Loki still feels a pang of unease when Thor rolls onto his back and stares up at the roughly hewn stone ceiling to consider this information. But if he disapproves in any way, he says nothing of it, and asks instead, “Then what will you do now?”

 

“Well, I have reason to believe your personal guard is understaffed,” Loki says, trying for a grin. “You could do with someone keeping a closer eye on you, ideally from your own bed. I specifically requested they keep you in once piece, and look what happened.”

 

It works, and Thor huffs out a laugh. “It wasn’t a very large piece that went missing, though.”

 

“Does the patch bother you at all?”

 

Thor shakes his head, and resettles facing him once more. “It did at first. The cord rubbed a bit, but I’ve grown used to it,” he says, then hesitates for a moment before continuing. “Does it bother you at all?”

 

He’s done his best to hide it, but Thor’s insecurity is still plain enough for Loki to see, and he won’t stand for that for another instant.

 

“No,” he says resolutely, and truthfully. “It does not.”

 

But Thor doesn’t quite look convinced.

 

“Not the patch, perhaps,” he starts, “but this?”

 

He reaches up, slips it over his brow and off, and for the first time, Loki sees the full extent of the damage Sven’s blade had done. With his eye gone, all that remains is a scarred and sunken eyelid, previously sewn shut to protect the empty socket and now healed. It is not the loveliest sight Loki has ever beheld, but he’s seen his fair share of serious wounds, and many far less appealing than this.

 

“What do you think?” Thor asks, the apprehension a little clearer in his tone, and Loki realizes he’s taken too long in answering.

 

“What I think,” he says, lifting a hand to Thor’s face and gently tracing the line of the scar with a fingertip, “is that I sometimes lie awake at night, wishing I had been the one to kill Sven for this. But you are as irritatingly handsome now as you were the day we met, if not more so.”

 

The relief is obvious on Thor’s face, and he gives Loki a half smile and says, “Irritatingly?”

 

“Yes. It was of great irritation to me.”

 

Once Loki leans in and leaves the softest kiss he can just below Thor’s eyebrow, his grin widens.

 

“And now?”

 

“It’s still irritating.”

 

With a laugh, Thor draws him in close and tells him in a low voice, “Perhaps I could make that up to you,” but before he gets much further than a slight tickle of beard against Loki’s chin, a sharp knock at the door interrupts.

 

“Your majesty! There’s been a messenger!”

 

Sif’s voice, and urgent by the sound of it.

 

“Come in,” Thor tells her before Loki can stop him, but when she bursts in, she takes absolutely no notice of either their nakedness or Loki’s aggravated muttering while he fishes his tunic out of the floor while trying to stay beneath the blanket.

 

“Hogun has sent word,” she says in a rush. “The Jotunn general doesn’t have the queen’s approval, but he agrees to the plan all the same. He’s only giving us three months to rally our forces, and then he’ll stand down at our signal.”

 

Loki forgets about his clothes and sits straight up, his mind racing. This is it, this is the last little push they’ve been waiting for, but they had been aiming at least another year out for the final march on Gladsheim, and even then, even with Jotunheim drawing back from the front temporarily to free up the troops encamped there, they still weren’t certain about their chances.

 

“Do we have anywhere near the resources for that?” he asks. “Could we even move those we have to Gladsheim in three months?”

 

“We must,” Thor insists, climbing out of bed and pulling on his breeches (and Loki notes the shine of oil and his own come on the back of Thor’s thigh while he does, thankful that Sif has pointedly found something else to look at). “We may never have another opportunity. Sif, get the news to Heimdall, tell him when to expect us. Volstagg as well, and he can muster those in wait in the south. We’ll also need eyes and ears in Gladsheim, and a way for those still on duty elsewhere to move slowly and inconspicuously.”

 

Sif  nods and leaves without another word, and as soon as the door is closed after her, Loki finds his feet as well, knowing there are many more sleepless nights and hard days ahead. At least these will be spent with Thor, where he can keep a closer watch on him.

 

“It seems I’ll have to make it up to you later,” Thor tells him, pulling him close for that last kiss they hadn’t gotten around to.

 

“I’ll hold you to it,” Loki says, and means it. But for now, they’ve got work to do.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The order comes first thing in the morning. The entire company is moving, immediately, and all are to prepare for a long march southward. Anders has only been at the Jotunn border for a few weeks now, and only been a soldier for half a year, but he’s fairly certain that this is not a foreseen or even reasonable course of action. The war has been going on for years, and nothing new has happened here at the front in months. Why on earth would they be leaving now?

 

But none of the captains seem surprised in the least, and probably a third of the enlisted men accept the news with a grim sort of resignation, as if they had been waiting for it for some time now. If any of them know more about the situation than Anders, none of them let on. The command comes from Heimdall himself, however, and so, with more than a little confusion, all five hundred men from his camp and the ones nearby pack up and move out.

 

When they arrive in a little valley two days outside of Gladsheim and find another two hundred soldiers waiting, restless and edgy, as though on the cusp of a fight they aren’t sure they’ll win, Anders grows even more alarmed. Still, no one will explain any further than sharpen your blade and be at the ready. He sleeps that night, but only in brief intervals, and never deeply enough to do him any good.

 

The next morning, a tent is set up across the stream from his own, large enough to be fit for a general of Heimdall’s standing. No one that he speaks to knows who it could be for, because Heimdall is already stationed on the other side of camp. A new wave of anticipation spreads throughout the men, and then finally, at midday, a shout goes up at the far perimeter.

 

“The king! It’s the king!” they’re calling.

 

Anders is as loyal a subject as anyone, but he doesn’t know why anybody in their right mind would be so excited to see a seven-year-old with a crown too large for his head. If it had been King Thor, that he could understand, but Thor is long dead. What on earth Balder is doing here is beyond him, though… Then again, he doesn’t even know why he’s here himself.

 

But half an hour later, the new arrivals ride past Anders’s tent, and he’s momentarily stricken dumb.

 

He’d only seen King Thor once several years ago at a tournament, and though he seems thinner now, his hair shorter and his right eye covered with a patch, and he’s supposed to have been murdered, there’s no doubt that it’s him, in the flesh, living and breathing. For further proof, his well known companions ride behind him and ahead of a smaller retinue of soldiers, Volstagg and Hogun and Fandral and Lady Sif… though the fellow with the dark hood pulled low over his eyes seems out of place at Thor’s right hand (and frankly a bit unsettling).

 

Anders can admit to having had a small case of hero worship regarding the king as a young boy, and also to having wept a little at the news of his assassination. And now, he feels a bit like crying again, but tears of joy instead.

 

That afternoon, the king addresses his men from a low outcrop of rock on the valley floor. He apologizes for his absence and the subterfuge, but informs them all that it was necessary. The high council had arranged the attempt on his life, the same high council that now rules Asgard, and he’s only made it this long thanks to loyal friends and the widespread belief that the assassination was successful. The notion of Asgard’s leaders being capable of such treachery sets Anders’s blood boiling, and he isn’t the only one judging from the furious mutterings around him.

 

But Thor goes on to say that all of them are assembled here now as an invading force, and will march toward Gladsheim first thing in the morning in order to retake it. He wastes no breath trying to convince them that this will be an easy task, or that the odds are even in their favor, and gives any who would rather go back to their posts his leave to do so without consequence. They will be fighting fellow Asgardians, after all, and while he believes that a portion of the city guard will take up arms for his cause, setting right the wrongs that have been done is going to be an unpleasant, painful task, regardless of how many remain loyal to him.

 

Hardly anyone accepts this allowance, however. The sight of their rightful king, scarred and worn from nearly two years on the run probably plays a large part in this, and while Anders does his best not to think harshly of the handful of men who make quiet exits, he knows that he wouldn’t have joined them even if he were marching into certain death.

 

He’s kept busy the rest of the evening with preparations for battle, but well after nightfall, he finally returns to his tent, caught between the dread of the battle to come and the thrill of riding out with his king, putting his sword to use for the good of the realm for what he feels is the first time. It’s no wonder that sleep is difficult to find yet again, and in the quiet hours before dawn, he gives up and settles on the ground outside to check his armor over by the light of the campfire.

 

… And also to keep an eye on what has turned out to be the king’s tent on the other side of the stream, where a lamp is suddenly lit, throwing flickering shadows on the canvas. And while Anders watches, a silhouette appears—very clearly King Thor, with his broad shoulders and tall frame, stepping in front of the light. Dressing, it seems.

 

Anders doesn’t feel as though he’s spying on him. It’s out in the open for anyone to see, after all. And it’s just his shadow.

 

He’s speaking to someone, judging by the way he gestures, though Anders hadn’t seen anyone enter the tent recently. Perhaps there was a guard stationed in there with him. And yes, there’s another man’s shadow now, slighter of frame though nearly as tall as Thor. … Also dressing. Which could be easily explained. Anders doesn’t sleep fully clothed, either… though perhaps he might if he were guarding the king in his own tent.

 

But then he remembers the rumor he’d heard earlier over the evening meal, after Thor’s speech, that the man in black who rode in with the king wasn’t just a guard or an adviser, but his personal assassin. Anders had found it a bit surprising, considering the general impression he had had of King Thor’s methods before his exile, but these are dangerous times, after all. There have been attempts on his life.

 

And perhaps this is true, but Anders doesn’t think that’s all this man is to the king. Because after they’re both dressed, Thor pulls him close and kisses him (and Anders does begin to feel as though he’s spying), and when they part, the man pulls a hood up over his head and slips out of the tent. Yes, it’s definitely the man in black, Anders sees as he makes his way over to where his horse is picketed beneath a nearby tree—and Anders startles when he turns and looks his way, feeling thoroughly caught out.

 

But the man says nothing, and doesn’t even really seem to see Anders there. He only saddles his horse, secures his pack, and rides off into the dark.

 

Anders resolves to mind his own business going forward, and goes back to inspecting his mail with his heart pounding in his chest. He’s got a battle to survive in a few days, anyway. What the king does with his free time is no matter to him.

 

 

———

 

 

The gate in the outer wall of the city is drawn shut just after Loki passes through it, the setting sun at his back throwing his and his horse’s shadow long across the road ahead of him. If all goes well tomorrow, this will be the last time he rides into Gladsheim a wanted man, but for now, he wears his most unassuming clothes, a wool cap, and a scarf pulled up under his nose to obscure his face. Spring is on its way, but the evening air is chilly enough to merit the addition, and no one looks at him twice.

 

He finds an inn just this side of the inner castle wall where it looms closest to the keep for easy access come morning, and though he knows that he should get at least a brief rest in, he also knows that any attempt would be useless at this point. Instead, he lays all of his blades out across the bed (a handful of throwing knives and his favorite dagger) and sharpens them by candlelight, going back and forth between thinking his next steps through and trying to keep from replaying the last few hours he’d had with Thor the day before over and over in his mind.

 

He’s still feeling the effects of the latter, but despite the pleasant ache whenever he shifts his seat just so, he tries to focus more on the conversation they’d had after Thor had fucked him into the rickety little cot in his tent, whispering all manner of sweet and filthy things in his ear and mouthing at the back of his neck and his shoulders—which really isn’t working so well. He ignores the little bloom of heat low in his belly though. It’s a distraction he won’t be able to afford come morning.

 

Anyway—their conversation.

 

Loki doesn’t worry about the fact that Thor had made a face when he had mentioned ‘handling’ the council members ahead of the actual incursion on Gladsheim while they’d gone over the plan one last time. He hadn’t expressly forbidden Loki from killing them, after all… It will be simplest, and really, Thor should understand that by now. Loki can’t dwell upon whatever remaining reluctance Thor has left, not with this much at stake. If the council is still alive after this fight, and if the coup is successful, Asgard’s nobility will demand a trial. And though Loki knows that they have all the evidence they need to convict them properly, he’d rather be safe than sorry in this case.

 

(Also, he’s not sure that Thor would be able to pardon him for murdering the council after the fact if the trial went poorly.)

 

The timing will be tricky tomorrow, but as long as Thor and his men keep to the plan, they should have a chance. It’s all going to hinge on the response of the royal guard in the city and in the keep, whether or not they abandon their posts to fight for Thor once they see him, but there’s not much they can do about that now. If they’d had time to recruit a few more of them, he might feel better about their odds, but Fandral had seemed confident enough in the matter. They’ll just have to trust to hope at this point as far as that’s concerned. But once the council is sorted, even if they aren’t successful in retaking the city, the instability should leave Gladsheim vulnerable to future attempts.

 

If there are enough men left to regroup, that is.

 

But if something should happen to Thor in the fight…

 

Loki drops his whetstone and huffs out an aggravated sigh. Tomorrow morning. He just needs to focus on tomorrow morning. He can only do what he can do, and if he fails, if Ord gets away, it could jeopardize the whole thing, even if the battle is won.

 

One of his throwing knives still looks a little duller than the others, he decides. So he takes a long, steadying breath, the old calming, balancing exercises playing in the back of his mind once again, and goes back to his sharpening.

 

 

———

 

 

The keep is still and quiet around Loki one moment, muffled conversations in the halls and the sound of birdsong filtering in through open windows, but then one of the watchers on the highest tower must spot the first light of dawn glinting on several hundred spear tips just outside the city walls, because things change very rapidly. The royal guard is put on alert, waiting for further orders, the castle staff rush through the corridors, closing shutters and barring doors, and the council is summoned for an emergency meeting, just as Loki had hoped.

 

He waits in the rafters high above the council chambers now, breathing slowly and silently, his eyes on the door. Sigurd is directly below him in his chair, Forseti opposite the table from Sigurd, and Hoenir is standing at the window, looking out a crack in the shutters anxiously. None of them know that Loki is there, too busy arguing with one another, trying to decide what to do about the invading force just sitting there waiting outside the archers’ range.

 

So far, so good, and according to plan. Show yourselves at dawn, but don’t raise the banners—let them sweat, he’d told Thor. Confused, the council would meet before taking any action, putting them all within Loki’s reach at once, and it would be a quick, in-and-out operation before he gave the signal and joined the fight himself.

 

And here they all are, apart from one. But there’s time yet. Ord will show himself soon, and then this will all end in a matter of seconds.

 

“Where is Ord?” Sigurd asks below, standing and beginning to pace, and Forseti is only marginally calmer when he answers.

 

“I passed him in the corridor. He said he’d be in shortly.”

 

“Shortly? There’s an army on our doorstep! We don’t have a clue who they are or what they want, and he’s gone to use the chamber pot?”

 

Loki hates the idea of agreeing with Sigurd about anything, but it’s a valid question, he has to admit.

 

But then, without warning, the bells suddenly begin to toll, and Loki nearly loses his footing. It’s an alarm, he knows, but how could it be? The council hasn’t yet called for it—

 

“To your posts!” is shouted outside, and then, “To arms! Defend the keep!” in the corridor, and the sound of clanking armor and running feet, the clamor growing louder every second.

 

“What the hell?” Loki hisses under his breath—but the answer comes a moment later, when a servant girl rushes into the chambers.

 

“It’s the king!” she cries.

 

All three councilmen gape at her, and Hoenir asks, bewildered, “Balder? What about him?”

 

“No, King Thor! He’s alive! He marches on the city!”

 

Loki’s heart plummets into his stomach. What is Thor thinking? He was supposed to wait—and now Forseti is standing, heading for the door—

 

Forced into action, Loki swears to himself, flings a knife, and drops from his perch.

 

Forseti falls with the knife lodged in his chest the moment before Loki lands on Sigurd, burying another blade in the back of his neck. Sigurd crumples beneath him and does not move again.

 

Two down.

 

The blood drains from Hoenir’s face the moment Loki turns in his direction, and he tries to run, shoving the servant out of the way. But he isn’t fast enough, and another knife catches him in the back just before he reaches the door. Loki watches him trip and fall—

 

And meets Ord’s eyes where he stands just beyond the doorway, in the corridor, mid-stride, gaping in shock.

 

Something of the cold burning fury Loki feels at the sight of him, the utter delight at the thought of ending him, must show on his face, because in an instant, Ord’s expression changes. His horror was well faked, to be sure, but it rapidly fades to something calm and calculating, and it’s clear that he now understands the situation. That Loki knows what he is, that he isn’t just here for Ord the councilman and adviser to the king. He’s here for Ord the master assassin.

 

Fine by him. Ord will be dead in a moment, and Loki would rather he died knowing exactly why.

 

Loki draws his dagger—

 

And Ord turns tail and flees.

 

It’s so unexpected that it leaves Loki frozen for half a moment, but then he gets over his shock and sprints for the door, leaping over Hoenir’s body on the way. He’s so incensed that he nearly runs straight into the handful of guards that rush him the instant he bursts into the corridor, and loses his balance dodging a sword. It almost ends right there as Loki hits the ground and lets out a shout of rage while Ord disappears around the corner, but he remembers himself just in time to roll out of the way of another blow. Sparks fly as the blade crashes against the stone floor just inches from his face, and Loki slashes at an ankle within his reach, sending its owner to the ground with a shout while he scrambles to his feet.

 

He’s got to get through, get around that corner and after Ord, and heart racing, he quickly takes in the six guards left standing—and swinging, so he dodges, more successfully this time, parries another blow and twists out of the way, follows it up with a strike of his own into a vulnerable joint in one of the guards’ armor.

 

But even as he ducks and stabs and dispatches one more guard, he knows that he’ll never get away in time to catch Ord. He’s probably outside the keep already, well on his way with some sort of contingency plan in place… Loki can see the months dragging out ahead of him on his trail and the constant worry, wondering when someone else will come for Thor…

 

“You aren’t getting out of here alive,” one of the guards spits at him just before he swings his sword—too wide, though, and too sloppy, and Loki catches his arm with ease. “You piece of—”

 

“Oh, shut up,” Loki tells him scathingly, and shoves his dagger through the eye slit of his helmet, wrenches the sword out of his hand, and turns to face the last three.

 

They hesitate, shifting their stances, but Loki has neither the time nor the patience to wait for them now. He lashes out first, and though the weight of the broadsword is awkward in his hand, he’s infuriated enough that whatever finesse he lacks with the unfamiliar weapon he makes up for in sheer unbridled rage. All his years of training haven’t been forgotten, though, and by the time all the guards are either dead or incapacitated at his feet, he’s begun to feel as comfortable with the sword as he is the dagger in his other hand that he’s using to parry.

 

It’s just too bad Ord isn’t here to try it out on, he thinks.

 

He knows it’s too late, but it doesn’t stop him from rushing down the corridor anyway, taking the fastest route through several passages, out one window and over a balcony and through another. He passes several guards on the way, but they only have time to gape at him before he’s gone, and none give chase, unsure of who he is or what he’s doing. But just as he’s lining up a high jump to the stable yard below (probably too high for him to land without damaging something, but he’s in too great a hurry to wait any longer), he catches sight of a figure on horseback, riding hard down an alley just outside the castle wall.

 

It’s Ord. There’s no mistaking him. And if Loki takes this leap, climbs the outer wall, and races over the rooftops without one misstep, without losing a single instant, he may be able to get close enough to take him down with a thrown knife. Just maybe.

 

A shout goes up then, loud enough to be heard over the rest of the racket in the yard, and for the first time, Loki takes notice of the chaos that’s broken out below.

 

“To the king! To the king! Open the gate!”

 

There, to his right, riding down the wide thoroughfare to the castle gate, resplendent in armor with his whole host and more than half the city watch behind him, is Thor. It seems that those on the outer wall have chosen to join his forces, though there are a few outliers in skirmishes back at the main gate Loki had come through the night before. But despite the call to arms, no one moves to open the inner gate to the keep itself but one soldier, and he’s quickly restrained by those around him. The hesitation is clear on many faces, however, and it seems the royal guard now have the same choice before them: which king do they serve?

 

High above, Loki is forced to make his own decision. Follow Ord, or join the fight.

 

Ord gains more ground every moment while he weighs his options, his already minuscule chance rapidly slipping away—and then in the yard, the soldier breaks free and launches himself at his shield brothers, crying, “For King Thor!” He is entirely outnumbered, and Loki knows that if he’s killed, the odds of anyone else daring to take a stand for Thor will fall drastically. And without the aid of the royal guard, Thor’s forces may never get through the gate.

 

So Loki slips his stolen sword into his belt, gives Ord one last parting glare, and drops ten feet to a battlement below and to the right, alighting on his feet without a sound. An archer standing at the edge, watching the proceedings below openmouthed, never hears his approach, and is unconscious and relieved of his bow in moments.

 

The loyal soldier before the gate finds himself far less outnumbered in only moments more, his opponents falling with arrows in their throats as fast as Loki can draw and loose them. And when the would-be attackers halt in their tracks and turn to look up at Loki, gaping, he shouts down at them, “For King Thor!”

 

Encouraged, the soldier echoes it again, raising his sword high.

 

This time, dozens more take up the cry, and seconds later, half the yard falls upon the other. A small band of men head for the gate, toward the lever that will open it, but they meet a fair bit of resistance there, those loyal to Balder determined to keep it shut. Loki picks off as many as he can until his arrows are spent, but by the time he climbs down to join them on foot, his sword and dagger drawn once again, they’ve broken through, and the gate finally opens with a shout of victory from both inside and outside the wall.

 

With the archers fighting amongst themselves up on the battlements, too distracted to fire on the invading force, the only thing left for Loki to do is cut a path through to the king. Thor is among the first through the gate, the banners flying on either side of him, and Loki means to keep close, make sure no one finds an opening to him. But even half the yard away in the thick of the fighting, Loki can see the men fall as they approach him, the shine of Thor’s armor in the sunlight, the grim determination on his handsome face, and hear him shouting orders and letting out growling battle cries with every swing of his hammer from high atop his horse…

 

Distracted, Loki ducks too late, and catches a fist high on his left cheek. It reminds him that he’s in the middle of something here, though, and he doesn’t make the same mistake again. (He also decides that perhaps he’s been giving Thor too little credit.) But as the king’s men pour into the yard, climbing up to the battlements and driving those left of the keep’s defense back into corners, Loki begins to see that this battle will not last long. They’ve already won it, and now it’s just a matter of convincing the holdouts.

 

His estimation proves to be correct, and less than five minutes later, the yard no longer rings with the clash of blades and shields and armor. It’s over, so Loki slips away, keeping a low profile while he ends the suffering of a few fallen soldiers on his way back into the keep. Thor is quite capable of handling himself, and with Sif, Hogun, Fandral, and Volstagg at his side, Loki is sure that his efforts will be most useful elsewhere while they wrap things up outside.

 

He passes a group of servants huddled up just inside the entry hall, makeshift weapons in their hands and frightened looks upon their faces. Though he knows several of them quite well from his time serving the king, no one recognizes him now, even when he approaches with his hands held up to show them he means no harm.

 

“It’s nearly finished,” he tells them, “and King Thor has returned. If you saved any of his banners, now would be the time to fetch them.”

 

“But he’s dead!” one of them pipes up, Astrid, Loki remembers. A chambermaid.

 

“Have a look outside and see for yourself. But don’t take too long. His chambers will need to be seen to at once.”

 

Astrid doesn’t seem fully convinced, but there is a little glimmer of hope in her eyes when Loki leaves them. He can hear the clatter of her broom handle hitting the floor as he rounds the corner, but he has more important things to attend to now.

 

He doesn’t stop again until he reaches Ord’s study. It’s jarringly quiet inside, with only vague echoes of the noise out in the yard filtering in, and with the shutters closed, it takes Loki’s eyes several moments to adjust to the dark. But once they do, it proves useless.

 

The hearth is still hot and full of ashes, little unreadable bits of charred parchment scattered throughout them, and Ord’s desk is half empty. The documents that remain appear to be legitimate business and one of those bland letters to his Jotunn mistress… but nothing that would give him any clue about where Ord might have fled.

 

Thor’s misstep this morning didn’t give Ord much of a head start, but it seems that it was enough. Loki does his best not to think on it too hard just yet. He and Thor will have a long talk later, that much is certain, but for now, he still has one lead to follow.

 

Darling Angrboda, Ord’s love letter begins. If memory serves, she lives at Ord’s home in the city. And if luck serves, she’ll still be there.

 

 

———

 

 

When Loki leaves the keep, he’s forced to make his way around a massive crowd of soldiers and servants and common folk alike, all gathered in the courtyard and stable yard and crammed in through the castle gate. Climbing the wall is easier than squeezing through the teeming masses, so he does, but before he climbs back down the other side, he pauses and turns to take in the scene they’ve all come to witness.

 

Thor stands on the steps of the keep, just outside the entry hall, bloodied but shoulders squared and back straight, and while Loki watches, little King Balder is led out of the massive front doors by the high priestess to meet him, a crown slipping low over his brow and a pout on his face. Thor drops to one knee before him, gently takes his hands, and they talk for a moment, probably quietly enough that not even the guards on the lowest steps can hear if Loki knows Thor at all. And then, with some reluctance, Balder nods, takes his crown off, and hands it over.

 

It seems that the servants did save a few of the dead king’s banners after all, because by the time the priestess places the crown on Thor’s head and he climbs to his feet, his lightning bolt is flying from the highest tower once again.

 

Loki waits until the crowd begins to cheer, and the bells begin to toll, and then he slips down into the city alone.

 

 

Chapter Text


The bells are still ringing, and the people of Gladsheim who aren’t already amassed in front of the keep seem to be on their way there by the time Loki reaches Ord’s manor home in the city. He’s never been inside before, but the layout of the courtyard and the location of every window and door are already familiar to him after the months of watching he’d done while still in Thor’s service.

 

He’s lucky enough to find an open window within easy reach on the second floor, though not lucky enough for Ord to be in the house. It looks as though the adviser hasn’t even stopped by to pack anything, judging by the unruffled state of his bedroom and what appears to be his study. Not surprising, though. Loki had only anticipated the one meeting here anyway.

 

Angrboda stands by a window downstairs, looking out anxiously at the commotion in the street. She doesn’t hear Loki on the steps, nor as he eases up behind her, but he’s here for information, not to eliminate her. So with a good ten feet still between them, he clears his throat and says, “Pardon my intrusion,” and Angrboda startles badly enough that she knocks a vase off the windowsill.

 

“Who are you?!” she demands in a heavy accent, spinning around to face him while the vase shatters on the floor. “How did you get in here?!”

 

“Loki, just a servant of the king. And you’ve left a window open upstairs, did you know?”

 

She doesn’t care much for this reply, and immediately draws a small knife from her belt.

 

“Komdu tafarlaust héðan!” she hisses, “ásgarðadrulludeli!”

 

Get out, he knows, and then an inventive Jotunn insult he hasn’t heard before and the suggestion that he himself is Asgardian. Well, he might as well disabuse her of the notion.

 

“First of all,” he tells her in perfect Jotunn, watching as her eyes narrow at the sound of it, “I’m not Asgardian. Secondly, you can put that away, or I will put it away for you.”

 

She only glares at him, so with a sigh, he holds his hands out and steps closer, slowly.

 

“Tell me where Ord has gone, and I won’t make this any more difficult for either of us.”

 

“Rot in hell.”

 

Before he can say anything else, she launches herself at him, knife slashing out straight for his face. But Loki is faster, and half a moment later, the knife is on the floor, and Angrboda is struggling in his arms. It’s quite useless, though, especially as the sedative begins to kick in, and within a few seconds, she’s slumped against him, unconscious. He wonders if she even felt the pinprick at the back of her neck while he’d disarmed her.

 

“Difficult it is,” he says with another disappointed sigh.


———


Getting Angrboda back to the keep is difficult as well, thanks to the crowds still lingering around the castle wall and gate, but Loki prevails after longer than he’d like. A ‘borrowed’ horse and the sight of his captive lying limp over its neck in front of him assist in clearing a path, and once he rides into the stable yard, a guard hurries over and helps him haul her down without so much as a questioning glance. This one must have seen him riding in with Thor at the camp; Loki is sure he doesn’t give off that sort of authoritative air on his own.

 

“Are we taking her to the doctors?” the young man asks.

 

“A cell,” Loki replies. “She’ll wake up with a headache, but she’s unharmed. What’s your name?”

 

“Anders, sir.”

 

“You’re dressed for colder climes, Anders. You were at the border before this?”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“Do you speak any Jotunn?”

 

When Anders shakes his head, Loki says, “Probably for the best. She may be a bit nasty when she comes around.”

 

Between the two of them, they get Angrboda to her new accommodations in one of the nicer cells (since Loki is feeling generous) without much more trouble, and before Loki leaves, he pauses and thanks Anders for his assistance.

 

“I’m hoping she’ll ask for me at some point,” he adds, “and I’d like to be told right away if she does. My name is Loki. You can send word to the king, and it will reach me.”

 

Anders stutters out one last y-yes, sir, and then Loki takes his leave. He has one last order of business left for the day, and that happens to be a conversation with Asgard’s newly reinstated king. One that is likely to be unpleasant.

 

… Which is easier said than done, he realizes once he reaches the throne room. Or more precisely, the long corridor outside the throne room, which is packed with petitioners and well-wishers and servants and ministers, all waiting their turn for an audience with Thor. But it’s a familiar face that guards the side entrance, luckily for Loki, and as soon as he approaches, Fandral gives him a skeptical look and asks, “Now, where on earth have you been?”

 

“Business as usual,” Loki says with a grin. “You know how it is.”

 

Fandral responds with one of his own and says, “I do indeed, darling, and you may spare me the details. He’s been asking after you.”

 

The line of petitioners continues inside as well, Loki sees once Fandral lets him in, all of them queued up behind a little old woman who stands at the bottom of the steps before the dais, going on at length about her living conditions while Thor listens patiently. He looks so right and perfect there on his throne, wearing his crown, all his attention on his subjects despite the fact that he still wears his blood-spattered armor. There’s an untouched plate of food on the floor next to him, though, beside his hammer where it leans against the side of the throne, and Loki wonders just how much longer he plans to keep this up. He almost feels guilty about the talking-to he’s going to give Thor for not sticking to the plan…

 

“There you are,” Volstagg whispers when Loki steps up next to him along the wall. “Perhaps you can convince him to leave off for the evening. He hasn’t rested or eaten, and more importantly, I haven’t either.”

 

“Shall I interrupt and scold him like his nanny in front of the entire court?”

 

Volstagg gives him a shrug. “If that’s what it takes. He listens to you, even when he doesn’t his oldest friends.”

 

“I hear your plight, my lady,” Thor tells the old woman then, and gestures for Volstagg. “I hope that this small gift will ease your suffering, along with my word that I will strive to put right the wrongs that have been done to our people while I was away.”

 

“Working me like a dog,” Volstagg grumbles under his breath, and fishes two gold coins from the coffer at his feet. He manages to drop several more in the process, and while he fumbles, trying to pick them up, Thor turns and finally notices Loki there at his side.

 

The small smile he gives Loki is nearly enough to make him forget why he was angry in the first place. Nearly.

 

“I beg your indulgence,” Thor calls out to the hall while Volstagg gives the woman her coin. “but it has been a long day for us all, and as you may imagine, I have rather missed my own bed these many months.”

 

The scattered laughter is louder than the protests, and Thor continues.

 

“I will hear the rest of you in the morning, when I may be of more use than I am now. Gods be with you and keep you.”


———


Loki reluctantly allows Thor to pull him to his tiptoes for a searing kiss the moment they’re alone in the small council chamber just off the throne room, but even that isn’t enough to distract him from the very real problem on their hands or the fact that it was Thor who caused it in the first place.

 

(It’s a near thing, Loki can admit to himself with Thor’s teeth worrying at his bottom lip. But not quite.)

 

“Where were you?” Thor breathes into his mouth, hardly pausing before kissing him again, and Loki finally forces himself to pull away.

 

“Cleaning up a mess,” he replies while he straightens out his tunic. “As well as I could, at least.”

 

The coolness of his tone gets Thor’s attention right away, and his expression turns wary. “What does that mean?”

 

“What it means, your majesty, is that this isn’t over,” Loki practically spits. He hadn’t intended to let his temper get the better of him here, but something about saying the words aloud makes the situation that much more real, and he suddenly finds it difficult to keep the venom out of his voice as he continues, pacing across the room. “That despite months of planning and preparation and caution, when the time finally came to have an end to this, when everything else went perfectly, Ord still fucking got away.”

 

Thor gapes. “How?” he asks, completely baffled, completely unaware that it’s him Loki is so furious with.

 

“Why don’t you tell me? It’s your fault.”

 

My fault? How in the world is this my fault?”

 

Loki slams his fist into the table. For fuck’s sake , can Thor not see, has he already forgotten—“The plan!” he grates out. “You were supposed to wait! You were to wait, distract them, give me the opening I needed to handle the council, but no. Instead, you just marched in—”

 

“Oh, I saw how you handled the rest of the council,” Thor interjects, sounding angry himself now. “Found them sprawled over the floor of their meeting chamber, your knives left in their backs. You handled them just fine.”

 

“You knew I would kill them! You knew it was the best option we had! What, did you think you would spare their lives, let someone else capture them by attacking early? Was that your aim here?”

 

The outrage on Thor’s face is tinged with just enough hurt to stop Loki’s next words on his tongue. It isn’t enough to check his anger entirely, but the sudden wave of exhaustion that nearly bowls him over will do for now.

 

Without another word, just a frustrated huff, Loki turns around and storms out.


———


The keep is a flurry of activity, even with most of the people of Gladsheim pouring out of the castle gate and headed back to their homes. Balder’s banners are being taken down and replacements hastily sewn, the dead and wounded attended to in the halls, and in the royal suite, the servants have already changed the linens, dragged out a chest full of Thor’s things that hadn’t been disposed of after his supposed death, and drawn a bath.

 

“That will be all,” Loki says while they gape at him in the doorway of the bath chamber.

 

“But… this is the king’s—,” one of the younger girls starts, but Loki just gestures toward the study, and then a glare sends them scurrying.

 

Fuck the king, he thinks to himself, knowing he’s being childish but not caring, and undresses.

 

He does not get to enjoy the quiet or his bath for nearly long enough though, because not fifteen minutes later, he hears the latch of the outer door. He doesn’t bother to sit up straight or open his eyes, still feeling rather bitter.

 

“Do you really think that I would sabotage everything just to keep you from killing a handful of awful men?”

 

Thor doesn’t sound angry at all now, just tired and disappointed, and Loki sighs. He doesn’t. Not really. He’d known it the moment he’d walked away from Thor earlier… but he doesn’t answer or even look up either.

 

“One of the men on the wall fired on us. I heard no order given on their side, and we were out of range anyway. But then the rest followed, and some fool opened the gate to send out a sortie, and then I had no choice but to move. I am sorry.”

 

Thor’s footsteps are quiet on the stone floor as he approaches, no clank of armor now, but there is a rather tempting smell that approaches with him, and Loki’s stomach grumbles beneath the water. When had he last eaten anyway?

 

“What can we do about Ord?” Thor asks, and Loki finally answers.

 

“I have his lover here. Hopefully someone can get her to talk. She may know where he would go.”

 

“Is that where you went after the fighting?”

 

“Mmm.”

 

“Isn’t this supposed to be my bath?”

 

“I’m keeping it warm for you.”

 

Water suddenly splashes in Loki’s face, and he sits up with a sputter and finally opens his eyes.

 

Thor is leaning over him, a plate of food in one hand, and a frown on his face. “I am sorry,” he repeats, and Loki feels the last little fraction of the anger he’s been stubbornly clinging to evaporate.

 

“Don’t,” Loki sighs. “It wasn’t your fault, as you said. I’ve been a drulludeli, I suppose.”

 

“Loki, my Jotunn is a bit rusty, but I’m not sure you understand what you’ve just called yourself.”

 

“Never mind. I don’t think that, and I shouldn’t have shouted at you. Will you forgive me?”

 

The corner of Thor’s mouth turns up, and he says, “For shouting, yes. For usurping the royal bath? That’s treason.”

 

“Shut up and give me that plate.”

 

While Loki eats, Thor starts pulling at his clothes, and he nearly knocks Loki’s dinner right out of his hands as he climbs in across from him. The bath isn’t quite large enough for both of them, and it takes a fair bit of arranging and sloshing and one accidental kick that is far too close to certain delicate regions for Loki’s comfort before they’re still again. But then the companionable silence stretches between them until Thor is clean and the water’s grown cold, and he finally speaks up.

 

“Do you remember that day we spent outside Munarvagr at the river? Right after we left Gladsheim?”

 

“And the time we spent in the river,” Loki answers, scrubbing at the grime under his fingernails.

 

Thor grins. “Yes. But before that, I asked you what we would do when we finally made it back here.”

 

It’s been nearly two years at this point, but Loki recalls every bit of those first few days they’d spent on the road on their own, including the answer they had arrived at.

 

“Bath, then feather bed and several hours to ourselves,” he replies. “It seems we’re off to a good start.”

 

“I’ve already told the guards I am not to be disturbed for any reason until morning.”

 

Loki raises an eyebrow and says, “Cocky. We were still fighting when you came in.”

 

“Shall I tell them differently?”

 

With a grin, Loki climbs to his feet, splashing water everywhere. “I said you were cocky, not that you were wrong. Come along then, your majesty. I’ll be your reward for a coup well done.”

 

“Or perhaps I’m yours, love,” Thor replies.

 

It’s the first time that Loki has ever sprawled himself across the royal bed, the first time he’s ever felt anything so soft and so comfortable, and if it weren’t for the sight of Thor standing there beside the bed, bare and hard and still dripping wet, he’s sure he could fall asleep in about two seconds and not wake again for days. But Thor is standing there with a jar of oil in one hand and the other giving him a roll over gesture, and Loki decides he can sleep all he wants later on.

 

Thor’s hands on his ass and back are not unexpected, nor the dip of the bed as he kneels between Loki’s spread legs, and Loki relishes it all. But then something cool drips across his shoulders and down his spine, and those warm, calloused hands follow, firm and insistent but careful of his bruises. His shoulders are thoroughly worked over first, and his neck, then down his back and over his ribs, and when Thor finds a tight little knot in his lower back, Loki can’t hold in a quiet little groan.

 

“Are you alright?” Thor asks, pausing, and Loki nods.

 

“I am, though you’re welcome to take your attentions a bit lower anytime you like.”

 

He glances over his shoulder then, but Thor just smiles at him and leans back into it.

 

Nearly half an hour later, Loki’s thighs and calves and feet have all been given the same treatment, along with his arms and hands. And despite feeling as though he’s slowly melting into the sheets by the time Thor starts kneading at his ass, it’s quite enough to have him hard again and absently rutting against the bed every so often, especially when Thor begins to nudge at his hole with the pad of his thumb.

 

“Finally,” Loki breathes into the linens, and spreads his legs wider.

 

Thor hums somewhere behind him, sounding amused, and slips a finger in… then back out, and in… and then another finger, and a third, over and over, fucking Loki with his hand until he’s shifted up to his knees with his ass in the air, angling back for more and panting into the sheets.

 

“Come on,” Loki gasps after what feels like hours. “Come on and fuck me properly.”

 

Another hum, still amused, and Loki does not care for the sound of it. But Thor eases his fingers out, wipes them on the sheet, and says, “Turn over,” so he doesn’t complain just yet, or waste any time in doing as he’s told.

 

As soon as he’s on his back, Thor bends down over him and catches his lips, kisses him long and deep and slow, taking his time while Loki starts to go a bit lightheaded from it and his ever more desperate arousal. But then Thor finally pulls away and reaches for the oil again—and starts in on his shoulders and collarbone.

 

“Are you serious?” Loki asks through gritted teeth.

 

“Patience,” Thor replies, still looking warm and fond while he cups and kneads at Loki’s chest. Loki is sure his own expression is turning regicidal. “You’ve earned your right to relax and enjoy yourself, and if you tense up again, I’ll have to start over.”

 

His fingers slide over a nipple then, but with the jolt of pleasure Loki feels, it might as well have been his cock. It happens again, though, and Loki changes his mind. He’d much rather it were his cock.

 

He means to tell Thor so, but before he can, Thor says, “You’ve done so well, my love,” his remaining eye warm and soft, and Loki suddenly feels caught off balance.

 

“I can do even better if you’ll just fuck me,” he replies with an attempt at a grin. He receives another in return, but it seems he hasn’t convinced Thor yet.

 

“Oh, I’m sure you can. But I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how incredible you’ve been. You’ve saved my life more times than I know, you took on the entire order alone and succeeded… you practically hand delivered the throne to me.”

 

“That wasn’t all me,” Loki protests, feeling some of the urgency of his need begin to slip away.

 

“Perhaps not. Not entirely,” Thor allows. His fingers find the dips between Loki’s ribs, finally moving on from his chest, but he doesn’t look away from Loki’s face while he continues. “You were the one constant throughout it all, though. The reason we’re here now. You’ve made so many sacrifices, and I can’t begin to imagine the sense of betrayal you must have felt… All of this while putting yourself in terrible danger for my sake over and over.”

 

Loki frowns, even as Thor’s nails rake down his sides and draw another little shock of pleasure in their wake. “What else could I have done?” he asks around a gasp. “What choice did I have? I had to. I lo—”

 

“You love me, yes. I know it well. But even though you may not have felt it, you’ve always had a choice, Loki. You chose to love me despite the consequences, and you cannot know how truly grateful I am for it. Had the assassin who took my eye been more successful, or if I had been waylaid and killed on the way to Munarvagr… even if you had told me how you felt that night and then struck me down anyway, I still would have died grateful for your love.”

 

The lump in Loki’s throat would make it impossible for him to speak, even if he knew what to say. As it is, he can barely manage a low and breathless groan when Thor finally slips a hand down his stomach and wraps it around his cock. As much as he’d wanted it there just a few moments ago, it’s nothing in comparison to how overwhelming it feels now.

 

“We aren’t finished yet, it’s true,” Thor says, even while he strokes Loki from root to tip, slow and steady, fingers still sliding with ease, “and for that I truly am sorry. But I couldn’t waste this opportunity to thank you for all you’ve done, and for your love and for my life.”

 

It’s all Loki can do to grasp at the linens and breathe hard through his open mouth while Thor reaches lower and gently palms at his sack, nudges at the space behind, then starts again. The physical aspect is quite enough on its own, but Thor is apparently intent on taking him apart in every way that he can.

 

And when he finally drags Loki down the bed and into his lap, and presses into him in one long, slow push, there’s no stopping the ragged half sob that Loki finds himself letting out. It’s altogether too much, but thankfully, Thor takes pity on him, keeping his mouth shut while he concentrates on easing out and back in, slowly enough to drive Loki mad, steadily enough to bring him right up to the edge in no time at all and keep him there.

 

It goes on like this for days perhaps; Loki doesn’t know. Time passes in a blur of soft touches and sighs and sweat, but eventually, Thor’s grip on his hips and his ass and his thighs and anywhere else he can get his hands grows firmer, his breath harsher, and despite the lovely sight he makes above Loki, kneeling between his legs, Loki needs him closer. He needs him closer than it’s possible to have him, to be fair, but he makes do with dragging him down by the shoulders for a clumsy kiss, not content until his fingers are in Thor’s hair, and Thor’s strong arms are wrapped around him.

 

Loki comes undone this way not long after. The press of Thor inside him and around him is more than enough, and the way Thor groans into his mouth must mean he’s noticed as well. He follows with Loki’s name on his lips like a plea and barely pauses a moment to catch his breath before he’s kissing Loki again.

 

Later, after they’ve dozed off wrapped up in one another and woken up desperate for each other again, Loki climbs out of bed to clean himself up and can’t help but start thinking of what his next steps should be. He hasn’t given up on Angrboda yet, but if she proves as unhelpful as she’d been to begin with, he’ll need to have a contingency plan in place. With the order in shambles, Ord’s most obvious resources are gone, but who knows what other allies he may have outside of the Brotherhood?

 

He’s still ruminating on this when he settles back in at Thor’s side, but all it takes is a heavy arm draped over his shoulders, the press of Thor’s familiar shape at his back, and a grumbled, “Stop thinking and sleep, love,” in his ear to convince him to leave it for now.

 

Tomorrow then, he decides, and closes his eyes.



Chapter Text

 

The morning light is grey and gloomy when Loki wakes, but he’s still in the king’s bed with Thor snoring at his back, so as far as he’s concerned, it’s the loveliest morning he’s ever seen.

 

Sooner than he would like, Sif knocks at the door with breakfast enough for two (and mentions that Thor had best find a new valet soon, because she has more important things to see to), and he reluctantly prods Thor awake. As much as he deserves his sleep, he has quite a lot of work ahead of him in the coming weeks, and Loki would like to see some semblance of stability around here before he heads out after Ord. (Just as soon as he figures out where to start.)

 

“What’s on the agenda for today?” Thor asks while he eats and while Loki rummages through the king’s (sadly lacking) wardrobe, trying to find something nice enough for Thor to wear to court. None of his old things fit anymore; Thor may still be broad shouldered and solidly built, but he’s leaner now after nearly two years of hard living and no royal kitchen to provide him three meals a day. But perhaps it won’t be so awful for the nobility to see him in worn leather and a roughspun tunic… let them see their king as he is these days, give them some idea of what he’s been through.

 

“Don’t ask me. I’m not your valet,” Loki answers without looking up.

 

“No? Then why are you picking out my clothes?”

 

Thor is grinning at him over the rim of his cup when he throws a withering glare over his shoulder. Old habits die hard, it seems… but Thor’s been dressing himself since they left Gladsheim, and even if Loki chooses his clothing for him now and again, he can continue to dress himself now that they’re back.

 

“I don’t know how you expect me to know what’s going on with your nobles,” Loki sighs, and starts carefully picking the seams out of the little badge on one of Thor’s old doublets. “But a more detailed explanation of the last two years will be called for, among other things, which you already know. And I imagine Kjell will bring up our current lack of a high council just so he can recommend himself to it. He’s always wanted a seat.”

 

Thor hums in agreement and says, “I’m not inclined to give him one, however. Volstagg has already agreed to take over Forseti’s position, but I still need to give the rest some thought.”

 

The lightning bolt motif stands out sharply against the leather when Loki holds it up to the jerkin he’s laid out for Thor, exactly what he wants, so he sits down on the edge of the bed and begins sewing it in place.

 

“But we also need to decide on a title for you,” Thor continues.

 

Loki gives him a frown, and then goes back to his stitches.

 

“What? You aren’t my valet, as you’ve said, and haven’t been for ages. And I can’t very well call you my personal assassin, can I? There must be some position of power you’d like to occupy.”

 

“Royal bed warmer,” Loki replies with a smirk.

 

“Oh, well, that’s already known.”

 

“Yes, because you don’t know the meaning of discretion. You’ll have to stop shouting my name down the corridor now that we’re back. But as far as positions are concerned, I rather like that one with you just here, and me laying back like so with my legs—”

 

“I was thinking adviser,” Thor interrupts, expression quite serious, and Loki abandons his suggestive demonstration and sits up straight again.

 

“No.”

 

“You don’t think so?”

 

No, he does not.

 

“Never fear,” Loki starts after a moment’s hesitation, “I will continue to offer my advice, solicited or otherwise, but you should choose someone your nobles will approve of. Someone they know and trust. And who is Asgardian.”

 

Thor nods and sighs, “I was afraid you might say that. I did have someone else in mind, though. Who are you thinking of?”

 

With a shrug, Loki ties off his thread and says, “I haven’t considered it much. But since you’ve asked me, Heimdall is even-tempered and well respected. And open to a bit of treason when the occasion calls for it.”

 

“Let’s hope it never does again,” Thor says. “We’re in agreement, then. I’ll have to look into who will take his place at the front, but I mean to start negotiations with Jotunheim right away, so there shouldn’t be much of a war left to fight.

 

“I would give you any title you wanted, though,” he continues, standing up and making his way over to the bed, and Loki leans into his touch when Thor reaches out to cup his cheek. “And land, status, income… anything you wished of me. I’d put you on the throne at my side if I could, love.”

 

“I know it, though I don’t see that going over well. You’re welcome to ask me about the position again after Ord has been dealt with, but it’s best that I continue as I am for now, not officially authorized or acknowledged by the crown.”

 

Nodding, Thor bends down to kiss him. “As you will. But will you come to court today? I’ll feel better knowing you’re there, even if you just lurk in the shadows looking mysterious and attractive.”

 

Loki holds out the jerkin, Thor’s lightning bolt affixed, and gives him a grin. “If you insist, your majesty,” he says.



———



The back wall of the throne room is not particularly shadowed, but judging from the looks he receives from the few people who notice him leaning against it with his hood up, he must look rather mysterious anyway. Hardly anyone takes note of him, though; all their eyes are on the dais as they pile into the room and the king as he takes his place on the throne.

 

Thor’s ass has hardly touched his seat when Kjell steps forward and immediately starts speaking.

 

“Your majesty, I think it prudent to begin with a most important matter, that of your—”

 

“My council, yes, I know,” Thor interrupts, meeting Loki’s eyes across room. He keeps his expression neutral, tactful as ever, but Loki isn’t held to the same standard, is he? Thor does not react to his told you so smirk, unfortunately.

 

“As you are no doubt aware, sire, Sigurd, Hoenir, and Forseti were found murdered yesterday evening in the aftermath of—of your return to power. Ord, your most trusted adviser, is missing. Surely the crown deems it of the utmost importance to fill these vacancies as soon as possible? … And to seek out justice for these crimes, of course.”

 

“Of course,” Thor repeats, his tone suggesting that Kjell’s slip was not lost on him. “But you will find that justice has already been served. I hope I may be forgiven for not explaining in detail yesterday, but the council was complicit in the attempt on my life that forced me into hiding, among other numerous crimes. They’ve paid for their treason with their lives, and Ord will follow soon enough.”

 

The hall erupts into a small storm of furious whispers, as anticipated, and it finally takes Volstagg shouting for order from the lowest step of the dais before the din quiets enough for Kjell to step up as though he’s going to speak again. Thor beats him to it, however.

 

“Even as king, I am not above the law, as my nobles will no doubt remind me. But we have collected a large packet of documents to substantiate this claim for those who wish to question my judgement.”

 

Sif carries it now, standing below the throne and next to Volstagg. Half the packet is still stained brown with Loki’s blood, and the whole thing is a bit battered after being carted around on the road for nearly two years, but Sif has looked after it well, and the set of her jaw now says that she intends to keep it that way.

 

“As for the vacancies, I am already considering worthy replacements and will make my choices known once the positions are accepted. In the meantime, Kjell, you may wait patiently, and I will hear the next petitioner.”

 

Sufficiently chastised, Kjell takes his leave, and the morning passes in much the same manner that Loki imagines the previous evening had, with common folk and nobles alike lined up out the door waiting their turn. No one says anything of much interest, aside from one of Odin’s former councillors who introduces a lovely young woman as his granddaughter, and goes on to suggest that Thor will no doubt be looking for a bride soon now that he’s back in power. Thor maintains his pleasant smile and does not look in Loki’s direction once as he thanks them for the reminder, but says that his first priority is stability for the realm.

 

“Perhaps I’ll give more thought to a royal wedding when we have peace,” he adds, and Loki smiles to himself. He’ll have to ask if that was meant to be a proposal when they’re alone, though Thor may not appreciate his teasing.

 

(And if he truly is considering it, they’ll have to have another conversation about just how much flouting of tradition the king of Asgard will be allowed to get away with. Loki doesn’t think his royal leeway will extend quite that far, and he does not look forward to telling Thor so.)

 

Late in the afternoon, Thor finally calls for a recess so that his attendants may rest and promises to continue the following day. Loki can hear Volstagg’s relieved sigh all the way in the back of the room, though he doesn’t have much room to judge. His own stomach has been grumbling for a good long while, and he’s been giving Thor stern looks for twice as long, trying to get him to at least pause the proceedings and take a moment for himself.

 

“Supper in half an hour,” Thor tells him in the side corridor once everyone else has started to shuffle out through the main entrance hall, but Loki doesn’t follow him up the stairs just yet. Spending the night in a cold cell with your lover on the run and your future uncertain is bound to have an effect on a person, he’s sure, and he’d like to see if it’s made Angrboda any more talkative before he gets too comfortable back in the king’s bed.

 

“I’m going to pay our prisoner a visit first, I think,” he says, gesturing toward the opposite passage.

 

“Shall I come with you?”

 

His authoritative presence could be useful… but Loki thinks a more personal approach is called for at the moment. “No, go on up. I won’t be long.”

 

With a nod, Thor says, “I’ll insist upon it, love. I was hoping we could discuss council appointments this evening.”

 

“Oh my. How rousing. I’m simply overcome with excitement.”

 

“I’m sure. I would wink at you, but I’m afraid it’s just a blink these days.”

 

If Loki rolled his eyes any more forcefully, he’s sure he would sprain something.

 

“Afterward, though,” Thor calls down, continuing up the stairs backwards, and sticks his tongue out in an exceptionally obscene manner before he grins and disappears around the corner.

 

Loki is still shaking his head (in order to keep from imagining what he has to look forward to later) when he reaches the next corridor down. There’s a serving girl coming from the other direction, her head down and shoulders tense, and as he steps aside to give her ample room to pass, thinking about what he might do to repay that sort of filthy gesture (a similar display from the back of the room when Thor is on his throne in front of everyone and can’t do a thing about it comes to mind), there’s a sudden, sharp sting at the side of his throat.

 

His first thought is that it’s still too early in the year for any sort of bee or wasp—

 

And then the lurch of nausea hits him, along with the realization.

 

“No,” he mumbles, tongue already turning to lead. His arms won’t cooperate, and he misses the wall entirely when he tries to reach out and brace himself. The floor rises up to meet him, though he barely even feels the unforgiving stone when he lands hard. His dagger slips out of his hand when he draws it, clattering beneath him while he tries in vain to climb to his feet again.

 

“Imagine running into you here,” someone says above him, sounding miles away and farther every moment.

 

Thor is alone right now, and Loki can’t move. Thor is alone , and they’re here, in the keep—

 

He looks up, but the world is spinning out of focus. The last thing he sees is a blur of a face… brown eyes, freckles, dimpled chin…

 

And then nothing at all.



———



Supper is growing colder by the minute, but if Loki is having any luck with Ord’s mistress, then Thor can’t complain. He knows that this mess wasn’t his fault, but still… anything that will help them out of it is worth a little delay.

 

An hour later, Thor is feeling decidedly less patient, so he pulls his boots back on and heads downstairs. He isn’t sure what he can do, but perhaps Loki has just lost track of the time.

 

The last gleam of golden sunlight is just barely peeking through the high windows in the entrance hall as he makes his way through, however, and he pauses a moment, distracted, taking it in. It seems so surreal to be back after everything, so surreal to sit on his father’s throne again and bear the weight of his crown... But he’s wanted nothing else for nearly two years now—other than soft curls in his face while he sleeps and the warmth of scarred skin under his hands. He would have treasured a life on the run if it had been with Loki, he knows this, but he never could have been content knowing that Asgard suffered and the ability to aid his people was out of reach.

 

But now, he has everything.

 

Well. Almost. When Ord is taken care of, and peace is in sight, then he’ll truly have all that he has ever hoped for. And if the gods are looking out for either of them, then Loki is currently being given so much information that tracking Ord down will be the easiest task they’ve ever undertaken.

 

The guard outside Angrboda’s cell snaps to attention the second he catches sight of Thor coming down the corridor, barking out a your majesty like it’s his first day on the job and he’s determined to get everything right. Perhaps it is.

 

“Is Loki still in with her?” he asks, and though he notes that the young man has gone distinctly pink around the ears, he quickly forgets it when he hears his answer.

 

“Your majesty, forgive me, but I haven’t seen Loki at all today.”

 

They did take other prisoners yesterday, Thor knows, soldiers who refused to renounce Balder for some godsforsaken reason or another, but he can’t see why Loki would bother to question any of them. He meant Angrboda, Thor is sure of that.

 

Perhaps he got sidetracked, received a messenger with new information… But as Thor excuses himself and turns back the way he came, he can’t help but think of the fact that Ord is still free…

 

What if he hadn’t fled at all, as they assumed he would?

 

A cold panic sets Thor’s gut churning, and he takes the stairs two at a time. He knows that Loki is more than capable of looking after himself, but anyone can be caught at unawares—

 

A scrape of metal on stone catches his attention, stopping him in his tracks.

 

There’s a dagger in the floor, and he’s kicked it by accident. Golden pommel, scales so delicately carved into the handle that it looks as though it’s been wrapped in snakeskin. Thor had had it made for Loki almost a year ago, after the little resistance movement had secured its own blacksmith.

 

No.

 

It feels as though his feet barely touch the stairs on his way back down them, and the guard nearly drops his keys in his haste to open the door of Angrboda’s cell once he gets a good look at Thor’s face. Thor can’t bring himself to care.

 

“Where is he,” he demands, voice shaking in his fury as he storms in.

 

Angrboda sits on her little cot, eyes wide, and stares at him in surprise.

 

They don’t have the time for this.

 

“Hvar er hann?!” he practically roars, but it only leaves her cowering, crawling back against the wall.

 

“Ég veit ekki, ég veit ekki,” she says over and over. I don’t know , if he understands her frightened mumbling correctly, and when he takes another step forward, she flinches back away from him.

 

He stops, takes a breath. Loki is in trouble, and this isn’t going to help him. This isn’t how Thor does things, either, but he can almost hear each second passing like a warning bell in his head, and even while he finds his calm and drops to one knee, his panic continues to grow.

 

“Please,” he tries again, quietly this time. “Please, I need to know where Ord is.”

 

She shakes her head and says again in Asgardian, “I do not know.”

 

“But you’re the only one who can help me. I don’t know if you know what Ord really is or if you’ve even helped him, but he is going to drive the realms to ruin.”

 

“I know he is not who I thought he was. But I do not know where he would go.”

 

Thor takes another deep breath. “You must know something, anything. If we don’t stop him, he will kill the man I love. He’s Jotunn, like you. And then Ord will keep our realms at each other’s throats so that he can profit from our suffering. I want peace. I want our people to thrive, but if you don’t help me, Ord will take that from all of us.”

 

He can see the hesitation in her eyes. She’s thinking, thank the gods, but she starts to shake her head again, so he makes one last plea. “Hjálpaðu mér,” he says, not completely confident in his pronunciation, but with all the desperation he can get across.

 

“I do not know,” Angrboda says one more time, and Thor only just stops himself from slamming his fist into the floor—but she hasn’t finished. “He could be anywhere. But there is an inn on the edge of the city near the north gate where he would stay often… I used to think there was another woman. I doubt he is there now, but I know of nothing else.”

 

“Then it will have to be enough,” Thor says, climbing back to his feet. “Thank you.”

 

It must be enough. Thor doesn’t know how he’ll survive this if it isn’t.

 

He sends the first servant he sees upstairs after Sif and Hogun and Fandral, and doesn’t bother to wait for them before he heads to the stables himself. If they take more than five minutes to meet him there, he’ll go alone. It’s time for Ord to pay, and if he must exact that payment on his own, then so be it.



———



Loki’s head is splitting. His mouth feels like it’s been stuffed with wool, everything hurts, and when he tries to sit up straighter, the vertigo nearly makes him sick.

 

He isn’t dead, though. Why?

 

And what of Thor?

 

“Don’t move,” Sigyn says from where she leans against a table next to him. “If you tip that chair over, I won’t pick you up again. You’ve always been heavier than you look.”

 

Good , Loki thinks to himself spitefully. He hopes that she wore herself out smuggling his dead weight out of the keep. Because they aren’t there, of that much he’s sure. It’s an inn… something on the edge of Gladsheim if he guesses correctly. They all have the same nondescript, flea-bitten look to them here on the outskirts, and he can see a sliver of what must be the city wall through a crack in the window, glowing with torchlight. It’s dark out, and there are lamps lit on either side of the room… but he can’t estimate the time beyond that.

 

“Where’s Thor?” he grates out. It feels like he has a throat full of gravel. “What have you done to him?”

 

“I imagine he’s at home, Loki.”

 

The voice comes from behind him, pleasant and unassuming, instantly recognizable and loathed above all else, and its owner steps in front of the chair he’s bound to and gives Loki a long, appraising look.

 

“You do prefer Loki now, correct?” Ord asks, and continues when Loki just glares at him. “Why on earth would Thor be here?”

 

“If you’re trying to draw him out, if you think he’ll come and rescue me—”

 

“Oh, would he? That might have been useful to know ahead of time, Sigyn. You said Loki here was over the moon for him, not that it was mutual. How nice to love and be loved in return.”

 

Sigyn shrugs and says, “I wouldn’t know, master.”

 

It’s likely meant to be a barb aimed straight at Loki, but he does not feel anything resembling shame at this. While he may have felt a bit more regretful three months ago in Fensalir, at this moment, he’d like nothing better than to get her close enough to at least head butt or kick or even bite if he has to. They’ve tied his hands, but not his feet and legs… though with the sedative still working through him, it’s enough, even with the small amount of wiggle room left between his wrists.

 

… Maybe it isn’t so small, though.

 

“That’s a pity,” Ord says. “But no, Loki, his majesty does not know you’re here, and he will not be coming to trade his life for yours or any such nonsense. This matter is between you and me now, and he isn’t my concern any longer.”

 

He drops a chair across from Loki and sits down, posture casual but elegant, and gives him a moment to respond. Loki does not take him up on it, and concentrates on the rope digging into the base of his thumb instead. If he can just slip it a little further…

 

Ord gives him a patient look and says, “I only need to ask you a few housekeeping questions, and then I’ll kill you. I will not be changing my mind on that, but perhaps if you cooperate, I can negotiate Thor’s fate with the queen of Jotunheim once she wins the war. He may be able to live his life in relative comfort as a political prisoner instead of being executed.”

 

With Ord and Sigyn’s eyes on him and nothing else to distract him, he can’t continue this way without them noticing what he’s up to. Thankfully, Ord has just given him something ridiculous to argue against and draw their attention away from his hands.

 

“Thor will end the war, regardless of what happens to me,” he says, disguising a stronger tug while he shifts in his seat. “He’s wanted peace from the start, and so does the queen.”

 

“Queen Nál won’t for long, however. She’ll likely march into Asgard properly after Sigyn and I deliver your body to her doorstep and inform her that Asgard was responsible for your death.”

 

Loki can’t hold back an incredulous laugh. “I’m sure she loves all her subjects,” he says, “but the sight of one dead Jotunn she’s never even met before won’t be enough to provoke her into that.”

 

The smile that Ord gives him does nothing but make him uneasy, and he feels his own grin fade from his face.

 

“Ah. That answers the first of my questions,” Ord replies. “Thank you. I didn’t think that you knew, but then again, I didn’t think you knew about me either, and we see how that turned out.”

 

Loki doesn’t even bother trying to make sense of this statement.

 

“I can’t blame you for never having discovered it for yourself,” Ord says. “Only a handful of people were aware in the first place, and they’re all in Jotunheim now. But I’ll get straight to the point. Years and years ago, young Queen Nál secretly married a lowborn widower with two small children of his own, and she managed to keep this to herself all the way through a pregnancy and the birth of an heir, a little prince. Subtlety and discretion are in your blood, it seems.”

 

At first, he doesn’t understand—and then suddenly he does.

 

But it can’t be. It’s too absurd.

 

“Ah, there it is,” Ord says, his grin widening. “Of course, her council of elders did eventually discover what she’d done and did not approve. The marriage was annulled, and your father was forced to flee with you and your half brothers, eventually falling into destitution while the queen herself never knew what had become of you. She remarried with some reluctance later on, a nobly-born man, and her two children have no idea that there’s someone else ahead of them in the line of succession.

 

“And then, several years later, little Loptr was caught stealing food in a market in the far north of Jotunheim by a member of the Brotherhood, and with his family starving and no other choice, Farbauti handed him over in exchange for the order’s assistance. All relocated to Bravellir, and the rest you already know.”

 

Ord pauses a moment here, enjoying the way Loki fights to keep his emotions from his face.

 

“So you see, Loki, I do believe that your mother will react rather strongly after all. Especially when I produce a written order to eliminate you signed by King Thor himself after his discovery of your lineage.”

 

It can’t be possible. Loki can’t accept this, can’t believe it.

 

But then why would Ord lie to him?

 

“No one who knows Thor would believe it of him,” Loki says after a moment, realizing that it’s the only thing he’s sure of here. That, and the fact that he’s just scraped a good deal of skin off his hand, but it’s now free. He holds the rope taut with the other so as not to give himself away.

 

“You’re right, but Nál does not know Thor. Not well enough to question it. And it’s her opinion that counts here, isn’t it, your highness?”

 

He can’t even decide how the sound of that hollow title truly makes him feel.

 

“Now, I do have a few more questions for you before we finish here, so if you would, please do your best to be truthful.”

 

But before Ord can ask him anything, he sees Sigyn shift her weight from one foot to the other from the corner of his eye. It’s as good an opening as he’s going to get.

 

Loki makes his move. But he may as well be moving underwater, still groggy and weak from the sedative, and he knows that this is not going to go the way he had hoped it would the moment he lunges for her.

 

His chokehold on her is secure, and all that he can manage. It might have even been good enough if they had been alone and she hadn’t been otherwise armed. But she is, and in her panic, all it takes is one more sharp little jab of her coated needle to drop him almost instantly.

 

He does feel the impact against the floor this time, however.

 

“Oh, look what you’ve done now, both of you,” Ord says as though scolding naughty children, and slowly climbs to his feet. But despite Loki’s best efforts, he loses track of him after that when a sudden convulsion takes hold of him, the pain in his chest incredible and altogether unbearable. He can’t even cry out, can’t breathe, can’t see—

 

There’s no way of knowing how long it lasts, but then it’s gone as suddenly as it arrived, and Loki gasps for air on the floor, whimpering in pain with every exhale. He knows that he has not been given a sedative this time. He’s seen this before.

 

“Ah, this will take some time,” Ord notes, standing over him now.

 

He’s right, Loki knows, and it’s all he can do to roll onto his side and glare up at him.

 

“Such a shame, but I did warn her about mistakes,” Ord continues, and as his head begins to clear, Loki finally notices Sigyn on the floor at his side, eyes blank and mouth slack, and the knife in her heart.

 

“She intercepted your little packet of evidence, did you know? If she had opened it, she would have saved us a great deal of trouble. If she had spotted you on the road, as was her original assignment, she would have killed you and saved us an even greater deal of trouble. Instead she stopped to chat with her grandmother—you remember Vor, don’t you?—took those documents, and never once bothered to check what a supposedly dead assassin on an incredibly high profile assignment would be sending back to the Library.”

 

With a shake of his head, Ord drops back into his chair and sighs.

 

“And now she’s killed you prematurely. We have several minutes left, however, so tell me what I’d like to know, and I’ll make this quick for you. Otherwise, I’m afraid this will be incredibly unpleasant.”

 

There’s nothing in Loki’s stomach to purge, but he suddenly heaves against the floor all the same, producing nothing but bile. Distantly, he thinks of breakfast with Thor, and the dinner he never got around to. It seems like years ago now.

 

“Firstly, how did you manage to pull the troops from the Jotunn border? Did you arrange it with Jotunheim? Is there a sympathizer I need to handle? Finish vomiting, please, before you try and answer.”

 

Loki breathes through his nose as best he can, feeling each inhale grow shallower and shallower. Another convulsion steals several more minutes from him—agony—and then another moment of respite follows.

 

… He hopes that Thor will be able to get through this, that he won’t do anything foolish and get himself killed when he finds out.

 

“Take your time,” Ord says, still pleasant. “I’ll wait. Just don’t take too much time.”

 

He has maybe… three or four more convulsions left, if he remembers correctly and is a good judge of his own resilience. This was always Sigyn’s favorite concoction—

 

Blinding pain again, but Loki forces himself to think through it this time, because he’s just remembered where Sigyn has always hidden the tools of her trade: in a leather pouch, on a belt, tied around her waist. The pouch sitting in the small of her back, invisible under her clothing… soft suede against soft skin, and the row of tiny glass vials inside, deadly. But more importantly, the second row of vials above it.

 

Antidotes.

 

He only wishes he were capable of crawling the very short distance to her body, or that Ord would just fall over dead of his own accord. Or both, and then Loki might be able to save himself.

 

The pain subsides once more, but he can hardly breathe in its wake, much less move.

 

“I really don’t know how much longer you can do this, little prince,” Ord tuts.

 

Loki means to answer him, something scathing and sarcastic, as he’d always assumed his last words would be, but the door bursts open before he can.

 

And at this point, he doesn’t even question the sight of Thor in the doorway, his one eye blazing. There have been too many impossible things happening this evening for him to bother.

 

Ord’s feet leave the ground when Thor seizes him by the throat. On the floor, Loki has a very good view of this. And perhaps he would have gotten to see Thor choke the life from him that way, but Sif is seconds behind him and hovering over Loki in a flash, her eyes wide and worried.

 

“He’s dying— Thor!”

 

Thor immediately drops Ord in a heap, shouting for Fandral and Hogun to deal with him. But just as he hits his knees at Loki’s side, another wave of pain steals Loki’s breath and very nearly all of his strength. It lasts longer than any before it, and while Loki struggles to keep conscious, he begins to realize that if he just gives up and goes to sleep, it will stop. All he has to do is stop fighting it...

 

But it passes before he can, and Thor is there, holding him when he’s capable of recognizing it again.

 

“Antidote,” he tries to say, but it’s barely a whisper, and when he tries to take another breath to say it again, he simply can’t. His voice has been stolen, along with his breath.

 

He can point, though.

 

There’s one critical, tense moment of silence when Thor and Sif notice his hand, his pathetic little wave in Sigyn’s direction, and then they both spring into action.

 

Loki is not religious, has never been, but if he thinks thank the gods to himself, that’s his business. He may be meeting them soon after all.

 

Sif rolls Sigyn’s body over while Thor shouts orders at her and pleads with Loki, “Under her tunic! Hurry! Loki, please. Please, I need you. Sif, for the love of all the gods—”

 

His sight is going blurry about the edges, their voices muffled and distant…

 

Loki must lose a bit of time, because suddenly the pouch is in Sif’s hands, held up where he can see it while Thor shakes him. “Which one?” she demands. “Point!”

 

Loki can hardly make out what he’s seeing anymore, but Sigyn had always kept them in the top row… lovely Sigyn, too clingy… not like Thor…

 

“Loki, please, love! Which one?”

 

Right. Focus.

 

He looks up and to the right as deliberately as he can, even while his vision fades altogether, but Thor and Sif understand, and just as Loki begins to feel another convulsion coming on, the last, Thor upends a vial between his lips.

 

It tastes terrible, and then the pain comes again, and Loki finally gives in.



———



When Loki comes to, he’s still at the inn. It’s still dark out, and he can see Fandral and Hogun sitting on either side of a (tightly) bound and gagged Ord across the room. Thor is still on his knees in the floor at Loki’s side, and Sif on the other—

 

She catches his eyes when he looks up at her. “Welcome back,” she says, grinning in relief.

 

He doesn’t seem to have the strength to speak, so he gives her a groggy blink instead, and looks back to Thor. For a long, perfect moment, Thor stares back, lips parted in surprise and eye welling up. But then, he gives Loki’s hand a squeeze and climbs to his feet.

 

He says nothing, only crosses the room in an instant.

 

Ord is on the ground, bleeding heavily in another. Thor doesn’t stop there, either.

 

Hogun and Fandral have to duck out of his way, because he drags Ord back up to a seated position and hits him again, and again, and again, until Ord can’t hold himself up anymore, and Thor resorts to slamming him against the floor instead.

 

Everyone watches, stunned to silence, until Hogun finally says, “You will kill him.”

 

“Good,” Thor replies and continues.

 

For a moment, Loki is content to let him. But as his vision starts to clear, along with his head, he notices Thor’s split knuckles, the blood splattered on his face, the cold satisfaction in his eye… He’s seen Thor in the heat of battle, but never like this, and he sees that he has a choice to make.

 

When he opens his mouth, all that comes out is a croak, and Thor doesn’t even hear it. Sif tries to stop him from sitting up, but he pushes himself up on clumsy, weak arms anyway. He can’t let Thor do this, can’t let him become this.

 

“Stop,” he whispers, and then “Thor, stop ,” louder yet.

 

Thor turns to him, stares at him long and hard… and then he nods, lets Ord fall to the floor, and stands.

 

“Take Ord back to the keep, let a doctor look at him. I want him to live and suffer a bit longer, I think,” Thor orders after several deep breaths, then turns back to Loki. “Sif, help me get Loki up, please. We’re going home.”

 

Loki means to stand and walk out himself, but sweet oblivion suddenly sounds far better as he sits up too quickly, and then he knows nothing more.



———



Nearly a year later, the wind is icy and harsh on the banks of the Ifing, the river that serves as the border between Asgard and Jotunheim. Loki tolerates it well enough, better than many of the king’s retainer, but regardless of the weather, their purpose here today is all important and takes priority over everyone’s comfort.

 

The large crowd amassed on the other side of the river seems to be of the same opinion, though the people of Jotunheim seemed to be dressed rather more practically. Movement catches Loki’s eye as he looks them over, studying faces as well as he can at this distance, and he sees Angrboda there on the bank, her hand raised in greeting.

 

He raises his own, and she retreats back into the crowd.

 

Loki should go as well. It’s nearly time.

 

As he makes his way through the camp, winding between tents and still burning campfires, he wonders if he really needs to be present for this… He holds no title as far as Asgard is concerned, still just the unofficial royal bed warmer as he tells Thor often, and his inclusion at Thor’s side, dressed in the finest clothes Thor could force upon him, only serves to make him look more like a courtesan than anything else. He passes his and Thor’s tent, wondering if he shouldn’t just go in and wait there instead, but then again, he knows that under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t be bothered by looking like Thor’s kept boy in the slightest.

 

Today is different, however.

 

Only knowing that Thor will be looking for him makes him continue on, trudging through the snow until he reaches the Asgardian delegation waiting at their end of the new bridge that joins the realms. Sif and Fandral and Hogun and Volstagg are all present, Heimdall as well, out of uniform now in his new capacity as Thor’s adviser.

 

Thor himself looks more regal and infuriatingly attractive than ever with his fur trimmed cloak and winged crown and better fitting eyepatch, his hair starting to brush his collar these days while he grows it back out.

 

The concern on his face is attractive as well, though perhaps it wouldn’t be there now if Loki had ever been able to explain why this congress has him so on edge… He knows that he should have told Thor right away what Ord had revealed that night in Gladsheim, but he hasn’t yet verified it himself, and until he can, he hasn’t been able to justify bringing it up. Why bother if it turns out to only be a fiction after all? Why complicate matters?

 

(The fact that he could have visited his father in Jotunheim at any point and asked him is one that he chooses to ignore—and it isn’t strictly correct either because he’s been very busy these last few months.)

 

If he had mentioned it, Thor might have gone about this whole thing differently, and Loki wouldn’t want that. Not when Thor’s been working toward peace for so long, not when this has been foremost on his mind for years.

 

Everyone is in place now, however, and it’s too late to say anything, confirmed or otherwise, because Thor takes his first steps across the bridge, and Loki’s place is to his right and half a step behind, and he has to keep up.

 

When he sees the queen and her retinue approaching, his stomach gives an almighty lurch. Even at this distance, he can see that Queen Nál is tall and slender, and apart from the silver streaks through it, her hair is as black as his own.

 

And when Thor and Nál come together in the middle of the bridge, and Loki is standing not ten feet from her, he knows there’s no denying it anymore. The circlet across her brow is thin and golden, with two small horns protruding in the front, and below it, the line of her nose and her proud, high cheekbones and forehead are all too familiar. Loki sees them every time he catches sight of his own reflection.

 

To further confirm his suspicions, it seems that Nál has taken notice of him as well. Her expression is guarded, but he can see the sharp interest in her green eyes.

 

There is business to attend to, however, and while she and Thor exchange solemn promises and commitments to lasting peace between their people, Loki does his best not to stare or react too obviously at the sound of her voice.

 

It’s over before he realizes it, and then it’s time for handshakes and polite words all around. Naturally, Thor turns to Loki first to introduce him instead of, say Heimdall, or literally anyone else at all, when Loki hasn’t had the chance to prepare himself for this. He would .

 

“Queen Nál, may I present Loki,” Thor says in Jotunn (his accent greatly improved thanks to Loki’s recent assistance), gently guiding Loki forward with a hand in the small of his back—and then less gently when Loki finds himself resisting for half a moment.

 

Nál says nothing for a moment but continues to smile… until she apparently realizes that there is no title to follow his name, and says, “Just Loki?”

 

“Just Loki,” Loki tells her, unable to keep from smiling back.

 

“Somehow I don’t believe that’s true. If nothing else, you’re certainly a tall, handsome young man.”

 

Thor’s eyebrows threaten to disappear into his hairline entirely, and while Loki can objectively admit that it’s a very strange thing for the queen of Jotunheim to have led with, knowing what he does about what she must be thinking makes it impossible for him to react with anything but unbridled relief and the strong urge to cry.

 

“I believe I have my mother to thank for that, your majesty” he replies, voice a bit shaky, and Thor takes notice of that as well, the confusion as plain on his face as the delight on Nál’s.

 

She takes one of Loki’s hands and one of Thor’s then, and squeezes them tightly. “Please, none of that. My friends call me Laufey. And I believe that the three of us are going to get along marvelously.”



———



Later on tonight, in the quiet of their tent, Thor will mention that the queen was not at all what he expected, and will give Loki a gentle ribbing for the warm welcome he received in particular.

 

And so Loki will finally explain, and a flabbergasted Thor will give him a lecture regarding communication between romantic partners, and then the two of them will forget everything else in favor of marveling at the opportunities available to them now. Marriages between men are not common, they know, but surely if they’re both royalty, Thor doesn’t see how anyone could say a word against it or stop them, and will tell Loki of his new intention to go speak with Queen Nál regarding the hand of her eldest son.

 

If, of course, Thor will note with undisguised astonishment, Loki decides that he wouldn’t rather be king of Jotunheim instead when the time comes. (Loki already knows the answer to that question is a resounding absolutely not .)

 

But now, while the sun sets and the feasts continue, Loki simply enjoys the wine and the songs and the general feeling of contentment that peace has left throughout both camps… as well as Thor’s hand on his thigh beneath the table, and the mischief in his smile as it creeps a little higher.

 

He knows that he has important choices ahead of him, but for the moment, he begins with the decision to stand and excuse himself early, pausing briefly to press his lips to Thor’s. He makes it quick, though not particularly chaste, knowing that this little unsatisfying taste and the look he throws at Asgard’s king over his shoulder on the way back to their tent will convince him to follow.

 

It’s an excellent place to start, he thinks. Judging by the look in Thor’s eye, and the way he hastily announces that he’s retiring for the evening, he agrees.