Everything returned to normal the next day, the "normal" that Loki had known before he was Astrid.

Well, except for his broken heart. He had cried all night last night, and he didn't think anything could squeeze another tear from him, his tear-well was so completely dried up. The wound gave him such an endless reserve of pain that not even time could probably heal the gash on his heart. Loki was afraid of seeing Thor; the sight of the man he loved but could never have might tear his already-crippled heart so much further apart that it was not unreasonable to fear its stopping to beat altogether. The only thing he could do was to avoid him. He knew there was little chance Thor would talk to him, for they had never exchanged a single word before the miscast spell, and what reason was there now for Thor to say anything?

At school, every sight of red induced his heart into a state of hyperactivity, every tap on his shoulder made him jump and any wisp of Thor's voice impelled him to run in the opposite direction. However, he hid these signs of anxiety like a champion, and attended his classes with the same indifferent air he had before.

Almost everything was fine in class, except that every once in a while, Loki saw in his peripheral vision that Thor would turn and stare at him. Loki had the unreasonable notion that perhaps his secret was found out, and for the rest of the class his imagination tripped wildly over all the possible feelings Thor might be having for him, none of which were favourable to Loki's conscience.

What if Thor hated him for it?

Loki would die if that was true. But Loki didn't want to know what was true lest the answer hurt, and so he decided that he would avoid Thor as much as he could.

However, such a plan only works if the second party was unaware of the first party's existence. For some strange reason that Loki only interpreted as some cruel trick of Fate, several times Thor walked towards Loki in class during class breaks. And though each time he was interrupted by a neighbor student, tackled by a close friend or distracted by a beautiful girl, each time Loki nearly hyperventilated as he cudgelled his brain to conjure up some plan of escape. When school ended, Loki thought he was saved, his heart beating fast with relief.

He was wrong.

As he exited the school, he heard - his ear was now so sensitive to the unique frequencies of Thor's voice he could pick it up anywhere, even from within the loudest of crowds - his name called by the school idol. His blood froze in fear and anxiety. Had he been found out? What was he going to do? Hopefully, he was far enough away from Thor to feign deafness, and Loki began to jog.

The voice, however, did not give up. "Loki!"

He ran faster, more than a little afraid now. He imagined a monstrous, red-eyed beast with salivating fangs chasing him, and his heartbeat quickened, releasing adrenaline into his blood. He could not face Thor. He could not.

"Loki!" The voice was, to his dismay, much closer now. Thor, after all, possessed more physical power. "Loki, wait!"

Loki stopped. The voice sounded so close he could no longer pretend that he didn't hear without being rude. He stood there, his back against the loudening footsteps, mustering up as much courage as he could, before he turned around to face his pursuer.

Thor was, not surprisingly, still breathing normally after the chase. Loki couldn't help noticing all the beautiful features on Thor's noble face without feeling his heart twisting up like the legs of a dying spider. Thor's passionate blue eyes, strong jaw, steady gaze, bronze skin of sweet, earthy scent that reminded Loki of forests and comfort, all of which he could never, ever have...why is Fate doing this to him...

"Loki, thanks for waiting," said Thor.

Loki just stood there, staring at him. He didn't speak, only because he didn't trust his voice.

"Um...is Astrid all right? Were you able to heal her?" Thor looked anxious, nervous, probably because he was worried for "Astrid", and Loki wished with all his might that Thor would show such concern for him, wished that at that moment he could disappear, for he couldn't hide his hurt that much longer.

"Y-yes." Loki grimaced. His voice was much too high.

For a while they stood there in silence, looking at each other. Loki wondered what was wrong and waited for Thor to speak. But Thor remained silently staring at Loki, and then his eyebrows ominously began to furrow. While Loki tried as much as he could to hold the eye contact, to show he had nothing to hide, the intensity of the cerulean irises soon became too much for his aching heart, and he averted his gaze.

Those eyes would never look at him with the love they had showed Astrid. Never...

Suddenly, Thor grabbed Loki's coat. Loki's eyes widened with shock as they followed the movement of Thor's deft fingers, which flew rapidly over the buttons and the zippers, trying to do what Loki couldn't at the moment tell. Because curiosity won over instinct for self-defense, Loki hardly tried to stop him from pushing the buttons through their respective holes and unzipping the zippers. It seemed as if Thor was trying to see something on Loki, trying to find something behind his collar...

Loki blanched. Oh, no. His scar.

If Thor continued to unbutton and unzip, his scar will inevitably show, and inevitably Thor will discover the terrible secret.

"Stop, Thor," he suddenly cried, gripping one of Thor's wrists with both of his hands because it was so thick. "Stop, please," he implored, terrified. "What are you doing -"

Too late. The collar ripped apart with the force Loki added, and the green fabric fell open to reveal the long, ugly brown scab. Loki closed his eyes, convinced that a murderous punch would be the least of what Thor would to him. But Loki would let him; he deserved it. His chest felt numb with terror, and he quivered from the prospect of having his heart broken mercilessly, and forever.

A long silence followed. Then, to his ineffable surprise, a soft finger trailed across the scar. Because it was so unexpected and gentle, he winced in shock.

A soft voice whispered, "Loki...you were Astrid? All along?" It sounded strangely calm, not at all the volcanic explosions Loki had been expecting.

He opened his eyes, and he gasped a little. Thor's eyes were enormous, brimming with what seemed to be - Loki couldn't believe...was this a dream? - cautious, but undeniable, hope. The quivering edges of Thor's lips indicated suppressed excitement. Loki, on the other hand, couldn't help but stare in mute shock.

"Are you? Please answer me," Thor asked desperately, still very soft, very cautious.

Loki bit his lips. He nodded, holding back tears.

"Did you mean it when you said you loved me?" asked Thor, looking a little more than hopeful now.

Loki waited for a moment to make sure he didn't read Thor's expression wrong. The slight curve at the corner of the lips and the raised eyebrows couldn't possibly mean anger, so he answered, softly too, "Yes, Thor. I do." What was going to happen?

Thor smiled. He genuinely smiled, and it was the brightest, happiest, most up-lifting expression any being in the universe could possibly wear, and Loki fancied he saw rays of light emitting from the golden locks on Thor's head. The lips curved delightfully wide, and his eyes beamed, twinkling and radiating more passion and love than Loki had yet seen Thor give to Astrid. Thor's happiness, so strongly expressed, was nearly tangible, and Loki nearly smiled too, hardly able to believe and understand what was happening. He inhaled sharply as Thor traced a gentle finger around his eyelids and down his cheeks.

"Loki...you...you truly mean it?" Thor breathed.

Loki nodded.

Then Thor pulled Loki into an enormous hug, something Loki had believed he would never experience again. As the arms tightly encircled Loki's thin body, glowing with warmth, Thor whispered into Loki's hair, "I've waited so long, so long for this. I never thought I could hold you in my arms like this. Everyday, for eight years, I've been thinking about you, never missing a single hour without seeing you in my thoughts..."

"Eight years?" asked Loki, surprised. "What do you mean?"

Thor pulled them apart to look at Loki's face again. "Don't you remember? That day in the forest? Eight years ago?"

Loki tried hard to recall, and caught only a vague wisp of an image of a bear, green trees, and a blonde boy he remembered thinking quite amiable. Thor seemed saddened by Loki's lapse in memory, but nevertheless took the time to reveal the eight-year-old secret of how he came to love Loki. As Loki listened, the shrapnel in his heart disappeared, and it mended itself with hope and joy, touched that his simple actions as a boy had left such a positive, indelible mark on the heart of another.

"But how did you realize I was Astrid?" asked Loki.

"Because," said Thor, "your eyes are swollen. And Astrid was crying so hard yesterday...why was she crying so hard?"

"Oh," answer Loki, embarrassed. "That was because I couldn't bear the fact that you'd never know who I really was. I thought that you'd never love the true me," he added softly.

Thor chuckled, tenderly. "And now it's your turn to tell me how you came to be Astrid," said Thor. By this time, they were walking side by side, with Thor holding Loki's hand - he had insisted, and Loki was not against it, towards Loki's home.

Loki told him all about the day before school began, how it had been Thor who had pushed him over, how he had been furious about it, how he managed to trick the school records to cover his secret. Thor listened with an incredulous expression that was mixed with happiness and relief. When Loki finished, Thor burst out laughing.

"I remember pushing you over," said Thor sheepishly after his bouts of laughter died down.

"Do you? Why did you do that? What if I had been casting a dangerous spell?" asked Loki, feigning irritation.

"Yes, I realized that after I committed the deed," answer Thor apologetically, "but I had only wanted to get your attention. I mean, you never looked at me, and I was rather impulsive at the moment. But boy, am I glad I did it!"


The End!

I hope you enjoyed this journey. It's only my second Thorki story (please take a look at my first one - Bittersweet Fate - it's got the same fluffy elements, if you liked this story), though I've been an obsessed Thorki fan for much longer than this account shows XD.

I was a little surprised and disappointed in myself when some of you reviewers predicted how Thor would "realize" the truth...gotta work on my plot-twisting skills...

Anyways, THANK YOU ALL so much for reading to the end! And especially to you, reviewers! It's your enthusiasm that drove this story forward.

Dukas