wash off your handcuffs

and know the hidden messages you hear

they aren't real

you've tricked your mind to feel

are we even now? we are unrelated

if blood is thicker than water

then you'll drown quicker than we intended

and you'll know where you can find us in the end

so we can begin again

-Circa Survive, On Letting Go

Loki Laufeyson awaited his fate in a guarded holding area. It really wasn't that bad. He was served six meals a day (more meals in Asgard, but smaller portions), but the anticipation was starting to wear at him slowly. He hadn't been spoken to by Thor's father, Odin, or even, he realized without much emotion, his righteous brother.

Oh, they had seen him, in all his defeated glory. Odin had looked contemptuous and Thor had refused to look at him after they reached Asgard. He had expected a reprimand of some sort to come from Thor. A tale of their days as children, or how he had brought shame to his father's house. Thor could be so dammed predictable...

The gag, unfortunately, had not come off, except briefly when he was fed.. Loki tried to adjust the gag with his cuffed hands. It was hot and sweaty and dug into his skin. It would probably leave scars, he thought bitterly, and failing to move the gag even slightly, rolled over on the small bed that sat in the corner of the room, so he faced the wall.

Sometimes, he would press his ear to the barred door and catch snatches of conversation between the guards. They were forbidden to speak, but in the later hours of the night he would hear them using hushed voices. He knew from this that a special council had been called to rule his case. Thor, from what he could tell, had wanted to be part of the council, but was blatantly turned down by Odin, on the grounds his judgment would be faulty and biased.

Thor was not too pleased by this, Loki gathered. He decided he was amused his brother cared enough, even after all this, to want a say in what they did with him.

Seventeen Days Later

Loki was beginning to wonder if his chosen sentience had been Slow Descent into Madness Due to Boredom. The days were beginning to grate on his nerves. With hours going by and nothing to occupy his time, he would catch himself staring blankly at the wall and imagining ways of majesticly escaping his captors and gaining supreme power.

After a rather elaborate daydream that included several solid gold horses, he decided there were better ways to spend his time.

When he was younger, he had occasionally sketched when there was nothing for him to do. He'd always fancied himself very good at it.

With his fingers, he began to scratch large murals into the dusty ground of his cell. He drew a chart of the nine realms in there respective places. He drew the Medusa's head, her hair a tangle of spitting snakes.

Loki stayed up late into the night, working on a drawing. A chariot of fire demons pulled the demon lord Surtur as he cracked a fiery whip. It covered half the room and Loki was beginning to feel his back and knees ache from kneeling over the drawing. He sat up to admire his efforts. Surtur was a god even older than Odin. He vary well could have been the oldest thing alive in the nine realms. Most of his time was spent the last of the nine realms, Muspelheim. It was a world engulfed in flames and devoid of life, save Surtur himself and his minions.

He'd never encountered Surtur in his existence, but he never expected too. His current power reviled Odin's, so most life that had any sense avoided Muspelheim and its fiery ruler.

Loki sat up. He decided it was an excellent rendition, and it was, but he would have felt the same even if it wasn't.

The moon was a huge silver beacon in the clouds, but he didn't feel tired. Spurred on by the success of his portrait of Surtur, he began a sketch of Narcissus. He drew a full body view of the man, stretched out on the bank of the pool where he had gazed at his reflection until he fell hopelessly in love with himself.

Loki enjoyed the way men looked. Women were fine, but broad shoulders and a toned chest were what he preferred...As he detailed the muscles on Narcissus midsection, he heard something outside his cell door. He stopped to listen. Someone was coming up the path to his cell...

The door was opened and two guards swept in. They grabbed Loki under neath his arms and pulled him to his feet. He tried to fall back, to wrench himself out of their grip, but was held tightly and marched out of the prison hold. They took him out of Asgard, through the forest and around the outskirts of the city. The guards did not loosen their grip, or pay attention to his silent protests. It felt like hours as they walked through the winding paths in the forest, the foliage thickening until the moon could no longer be seen in the sky.

The leaves began to clear. An opening came into view. Loki squinted his eyes in the darkness. It looked vaguely familiar...

Then, he knew. With everything he had he fought as six more pairs of hands caught him and half dragged half carried his struggling form out of the forest and into the clearing. A stone temple sat waiting, as the witches who had appeared forced him to the center of the stone floor. Loki remembered the tales he had heard as a child about the witches who lived in the stone temple, with their black magic and mystery.

His hands were bound to the floor and the robes on his midsection cut cleanly away. Loki's bare chest glowed pale in the moonlight. The witches retreated to far corners of the temple where they seemed to be waiting, their shadowy figures wrapped in cloaks and hoods.

From the darkness a seventh witch appeared. Taller then the rest, she lowered her hood and a river of silver white hair washed over his shoulders. She stared at him for a moment, then took a knife from under the folds of her cloak. As she stepped nearer to him, Loki saw her eyes were a pure white with no visible iris or pupil.

The knife slide down his back and he cried out, only to have the gag muffle all sound from him. The witch was touching his face, his shoulders his chest, inking ancient runes on his skin with his own blood. He watched with a sickened feeling as she painted symbols onto the stone floor with a dark crimson stain.

The witch raised four more arms out from under her cloak and began to dance. As her six arms motioned wildly, Loki felt his magic beginning to bind.

Two

Thor knew it wasn't unusual that these things went on for some time. A war against Midguard was no little case, obviously.

But, someone should still be able to tell him something. He was turned down for the council so he couldn't have a say in what was happening to a certain prisoner of war. Thor managed to threaten a guard well enough to get him to say that Loki had been moved to a high-security prison hold, but that was it. Odin was beside himself with fury and disappointment. Thor could tell. He had refused to visit Loki multiple times when Thor had suggested he go. Thor would have gone himself, but had been denied access every time he tried. He'd gone to his father in a fury, demanding to know why. Odin, with a tone of finality, told him the council had decided Loki was to dangerous to have visitors of any kind.

This had gone on long enough. Thor wanted answers. The council's decision would simply have to be changed, because he would not sit idly by and watch his brother treated like a rabid animal.

"Father," Thor approached Odin outside his chambers in the courtyard, "We must talk."

"My son," Odin gave a small smile. "I've been expecting you."

"You-have?"

" You are concerned for the prisoner-"

"I am concerned for my brother and your son! I have been waiting for news and none has reached me!"

Odin shook his head, "He is not your brother, Thor. You need to accept this."

"I will accept no such thing! How could you? "

Odin gave Thor a searching look and said, "You will not be pleased with what I am about to tell you, but remind yourself that I have decided you have the right to know."

Thor said nothing.

" Loki has needed a to learn a lesson, for his own good, for a long time. I blame myself for not giving him that lesson sooner, but now it is imperative that something be done." Odin hesitated slightly, " It is the decision of the council that Loki spend time on the moon of Roedin."

Thor gave an angry noise and made to interrupt, but Odin held up his hand.

"Let me finish! It was for his own good this decision was made and it was based on the history of trouble and strife he has caused. Would you have him continue on as he has been doing? Would it not do him more harm to let him continue, than to teach him the error of what he has done? What would you have me do?"

"..I...,"Thor hesitated, "I do not know," he said finally. "But, I would give a just punishment."

"And this is not?" Odin waited, but Thor was silent. "He will be put to work on Roedin. Hard work that he is not used to. You know Roedin is a moon rich in minerals and stones so he will be working in the mines."

Thor could imagine Loki doing a lot of things. Mining was not one of them. "When will he be sent to Roedin?"

"He was sent two months ago."

Thor felt his stomach drop to the ground. "WHAT? WHY WAS I NOT TOLD SOONER?" His voice echoed off the walls of the courtyard. Passers by looked around warily for the source of such a furious noise.

"If you were told of the decision, would you have let him go?"Odin looked tired and his face more lined than usual, " The council did not believe so and I do not believe so. You would not have respected our choice."

"Well, we'll never know now, will we?" Thor spat through gritted teeth. He didn't stay to hear his father's reply. Furiously, he stormed from the courtyard to his chambers. He did not come out for meals, or when he heard Sif knock cautiously at his door and tell him she would be their to talk if he needed to. Did his friends know? How could they have kept something like this from him?

As he paced his room he decided that as soon as was possible, he would make arrangements to see Loki, whether his father wished it or not.

Three

Thor arrived on the surface of the Roedin in a torrent of mid-day workers and supervisors. The planet reminded him more of earth than Asgard or Odinhime. Thor managed to find someone who looked like they were in charge. The man tucked a pencil behind his ear and furrowed his face in thought when Thor asked about a worker sent from Asgard. He directed Thor to another man who sent him down to see someone else until he burst into a small office. A beady-eyed gentleman listened patiently as Thor listed what he wanted.

"Well, let me see. I think I remember the man your talking about...," he searched through a mound of papers on his already overflowing desk. "Yes, ok, yes, here we are."

Thor waited.

"Ahhh...he was here."

"Was?"

"It seems he was transferred to Draymein about six weeks ago."

Thor closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He tried to slow his breathing and unclench his fists. They didn't unclench. "That isn't possible. My father, the council, made it clear that this was not a normal prisoner you were receiving. He was to remain on Roedin to serve his sentence," Thor said through gritted teeth, "Why were these orders not kept?"

"Uh-we, I mean, I, don't recall any special orders being given. We were told to treat him with an iron fist and we did! If we felt it was necessary to send him to Draymein, then we were told not to hesitate!"

"Why was it necessary! Wasn't he working?"

"No... According to this, he refused point blank to do any work and made rude remarks to the supervisors. So, we did what we would do with any other man who refuses! Send him off to Draymein and when he comes back he's a whole new man." The man seemed to feel this information settled the matter and turned his back to Thor.

Thor stood, trying to process everything he'd been told. Loki wasn't serving a sentience of hard labor on Roedin he was...well, what exactly was happening on Draymein?

Roedin, Draymein and Thaxis, he knew, were the three largest moons that circled 88888 and were all somewhat dependent on each other. Thaxis was highly advanced, their technology far superior to Roedin and especially Draymein. They refused to share any of their technical advances with their sister moons, instead offering protection for Roedin, and in exchange received a twenty percent commission on any money earned from the sale of precious stones or rare minerals the people of Roedin mined from their planet. Draymein came into the picture when headstrong civilians on Roedin decided they didn't to work in the mines anymore, or started riots and uprisings against Thaxis. Thaxis employed Draymein as a prison for anyone who caused this sort of trouble. Thor knew the methods on Draymein were effective. It was run by trolls.

Thor felt urgency creeping up on him. He needed to get to Loki as soon as he could. There was no time to tell his father or the council. There decision seemed to have been voided, anyway.

Dust and shifting dunes greeted him on the hazy surface of Draymein. All life remained below ground, living in the hollowed out center of the planet. An armored troll drew his knife as Thor entered below ground into a dimly lit passageway.

"I hail from Asgard! I must speak to the prison warden! It's urgent!" The troll slowly sheathed his knife and led Thor deeper into the stone tunnels. Touches lit the tunnels, casting dark shadows across the floors. Everything carried a dim red luminance from the lack of light. Thor put a hand to the tunnel wall to keep himself from running into anything. Two more trolls appeared in the hallway. They let him pass with their eyes following him into the the head troll in charge, the chief troll's office. Tension hung between them, unspoken and waiting as Thor and the chief, who was by far the largest troll with more ornamental than practical armor exchanged wary greetings. The look in the chief's eye was challenging. Thor didn't have time for the stare down and hastily explained the events that had brought him there. The chief nodded but did not speak until Thor had finished. When he did speak he did so with a condescending almost scolding tone that a person might use with a disobedient child.

"So, you let the young prince of Asgard drift until he found us. We understood that he was to be kept until we were through with him".

Thor was feeling uneasy. "Nothing of the sort was to happen. There seems to be a great misunderstanding. You would do best to return the prisoner to me."

The chief cocked his head. "That was not part of our agreement with Asgard...but if you wish to, ahh, visit the little prince I can take you to see him. He's been so entertaining." The chief couldn't hold back his sneer.

On a normal occasion, Thor would have introduced the troll's face to his hammer by now, but with miles and miles of tunnel he needed to get to Loki as quickly as he could. If it meant humoring a troll, so be it. The chief stood up and taking a long staff in his hand motioned for two of the trolls to follow them as they made there way through the nest of passageways. Voices, screaming and crying for mercy met Thor's ears as they started to pass by the cells of other prisoners. Thor quickened his pace. At last, they reached a secluded cell in the back. The chief waved aside the guards stationed outside the lone cell and produced a key to open the door. He stepped back to let Thor inside.

In the corner of the cell, the shell of a young man lay curled up into himself on the stone floor . He wore only a thin pair of pants. Long scars, old and new, stretched themselves like a spiders web across his thin back. Thor dropped to his knees and tried to turn Loki over. His brother immediately tried to wrench himself from Thor's grip.

"Don't touch me!" He snarled, but with a voice raw and shaking. Matted black hair fell over his face as Thor sat him up. Delicate and pale, his body was small enough, it might have been a child's. As Loki's eyes focused on Thor the fear on his face was washed over with unbelieving. He looked very far away. Gently, Thor picked Loki up off the floor and faced the chief .

"I'm taking him." It wasn't a question. The chief's sneer had faded into a look of hate, but the truth was, he could do nothing. A whole army of trolls couldn't stop the god of thunder at this moment. Thor began to walk out of the cell, and the chief suddenly made a move. He struck Loki across the face with his staff, then turned and ran as fast as he could. Thor roared in anger and made to follow, until he saw Loki had been knocked unconscious by the blow. Another day, he thought, as he made his way uphill toward the surface of Draymein. Loki was what mattered right now. And there was going to be a lot of explaining certain people needed to do when he returned to Asgard.

Four

Thor went through Asgard as quickly as he could without jostling Loki. His breathing was steady, but shallow. He needed a healer. Thor made for the courtyard, to preoccupied with what had happened to notice the unusual absence of life around him. A faint rumbling was growing overhead and Thor cast a glance back across his shoulder-

THWACK.

Thor was hit hard across the face. Very hard. He stumbled and tried to regain balance. He was hit again and forced to fall to his knees so not to drop his brother. The face of an angry women appeared in his line vision once the world stopped spinning. Thor made to set Loki down and fight off the six armed attack-Thor shook his head and looked again. The womens mane of silver hair whipped through the air as she started to motion towards Thor with six arms. Several of the arms didn't appear to be made of flesh, but a silver metal.

Thor tried to get up to defend himself , but his limbs felt weighted to the ground as if an invisible hand was slowly pressing him down into the ground. His vision blurred as the women did a sort of dance, faster and faster until he felt the the world below him give way. Color and sound ran together into a soup of motion until Thor felt a solid something come up beneath him, and Loki was hurled from his arms.

The familiar, but unexpected sound of traffic brought Thor back into consciousness. In the darkness colored lights reflected off the cars flashing by him. He staggered to his feet in a vacant ally beside a busy street. It was a cool night on earth, and the sounds of the city felt like a surreal dream.

He thought of Loki. Sharply he scanned the alley for him. Beside a trash can, his brothers pale form had been thrown from his arms when they arrived. Scooping him up, Thor made his way jerkily along the city sidewalk. The faces of shifty eyed men, teenagers partying, strangers he didn't know, rushed past taking no notice. Frantically, Thor stared at the neon lights of shops and restaurants. His brother could be dying. He needed someone. Anyone.

As he turned a corner he noticed a small shop across the street. A neon hand held an eye in its palm as the words Psychic and Medium flashed in the store window. What stopped him was the purple neon symbol of Kha. On Asgard the geometric sign was used by those who, as well as communication with the dead, could heal spiritually. How it happened to be on mid-guard he couldn't fathom, but as Loki groaned and began to stir feebly, Thor's made up his mind. Cars honked and slammed there braked as he made a beeline across the street. Throwing open the glass door he entered into a small waiting room, lit solely by several candelabras hanging from the ceiling . As he crossed a faded oriental rug, a young man sat behind a large desk, immersed in reading.

"Um, this it's closed. There's a sign on the door, it does say 'closed'." The man didn't bother to look up from his thick book. He did look up, however, when Thor put Loki's body down on the wood desk in front of him and demanded, "I need to see the healer. My brother could be dieing."

"Were-maybe,well," the mans resolve faltered at the steely tone in Thor's voice. He cleared his throat. "Just a space of time-ALICIA! THIS MAN NEEDS YOU!"

"Did you just call me by that name in front of a custom-oh!" A young women poked here head around the corner. Her mouth hung open slightly at the sight of a muscular, bearded man with blood on his face and his companion, a half-naked man with more blood caked on him.

"Do you want the hospital? Because-"

Thor cut across. "You know healing?"

"Yes, but-"

"Than heal him!"

"I can do my best! Bring him over here," she motioned Thor down a short hallway and into a side room. The young man followed. She locked the door after him and said, "Put your friend on the table." Thor gently placed Loki at the center of a round wooden table. The girl swept her short blonde hair out of her eyes and placed two fingers at Loki's throat. She placed a hand over his face and closed her eyes. When she opened them she stared at Thor as though she had never seen anything like him.

"It's him. I know it is! I felt an intense spiritual tension about a half hour ago. It kept getting stronger until you came here. I thought my head was gonna implode!" She positively beamed at the thought. "I know what to do!" She turned to the man beside her. "Franz, I'm gonna need you so be ready. And you-," she turned to Thor, "need to wait outside. Trust me, please! I know your different and so is he, but I can't have interference while I work. Complete concentration!" she finished and pushed Thor out of the room. The door locked again.

Thor sat outside the room with baited breath. Alicia, or whoever she was, yelled commands to which Thor heard no reply given. Shouts and a stream of inhuman uttering, whether by Loki or the healer, continued for a long hour. Then room behind the door grew silent. Finally, the door opened and the girl ushered him in. Spatters of blood and what looked like dried herbs were splayed across the table and floor. Loki's eyes were still closed, but his breathing was steady and stronger than it had been. Some of his deeper wounds had closed and new skin was starting to grow over. Loki had been cleaned of any dried blood and dirt, although an ugly welt had risen on his forehead were he had been dealt a blow by the chief troll.. "I tried to bring it down, but it doesn't want to budge," the healer said following his gaze to Loki's forehead, "Which makes me think it's cursed or something...He needs to sleep now, though."

Thor took his eyes from Loki's sleeping form. "I don't know what I can do for you that would make up for this act. You saved my brothers life and I am deeply in your debt," he said seriously.

The girl looked slightly embarrassed, but gave Thor a genuine smile. "I'm just glade I could help you. He was pretty close to gone." She suddenly quirked her eyebrows, "which makes me want to ask-oh, how can I put this delicately-," she motioned violently at Loki, then at Thor, then made a face, "What the fuck is this?"

Five

Loki was moved, at Arkum's ("Just call me Arkum, only idiots call me Alicia.") suggestion, to a bedroom on the second floor of the shop. It was dusty and sparsely furnished, but did have a good sized bathroom across the hall. Once Thor was satisfied that Loki was comfortable in the bed, did he follow Arkum down the rickety stairs back to the first floor. Arkum explained there was a basement, but it wasn't suitable for life.

"My room is on the ground floor here. I'll show you. You've already seen the front." She waved at the waiting room in the front of the shop. Behind the large desk there were the stairs that led to the upstairs bed and bath and the hallway Arkum had taken Thor down when he first arrived. The first door , the room in which Loki had been healed, was now considerably cleaner than it had been. A second door, further down the hall, Arkum opened briefly for Thor to see. Books lined much of the open wall space and a small bed was cramped in the corner. A lone dog bed sat next to the bed and a squishy armchair rested in the opposite corner. Back in the hall, a tiny bathroom was the last door down. The hallway turned sharply for a moment and ended with a kitchen around the corner.

"Well, this is it... I'm guessing you don't have anywhere else to go, so you will be staying?"

"Why do you think so?"

"Maybe we had better sit down," they took seats opposite each other at the kitchen table. Thor barley fit on the small chair. Arkum chuckled as Thor attempted to balance himself. "Well, I am a healer as you call it, and a psychic medium. I'm also telepathic, to a degree." She watched Thor closely for a reaction. When she did not get one she said, "That alone would make me wonder about you! Most people tell me I'm full of shit or stare at me like an alien...and speaking of aliens I should probably let you know that I'm aware your not from this earth." She shifted in her chair. "I'm able to read minds, or at lest see what the person I'm connected to has seen and felt. Like a movie,but not that you watch those. I wasn't trying to invade your brothers privacy-but his spiritual pressure was so strong that when I connected with him I got bits and pieces of his past before I could block him out."

"So...you know what has taken place between us? Why he is in such a condition and how we came to be here? Do you jest, mortal?" Thor smiled with amusement. It was difficult for him to take the small girl seriously as a skilled conjurer. An apprentice healer, maybe...

"OK, thunderpants, I'm not just a regular 'mortal', I'm fairly gifted and I have trained with some of the best sorcerers here on little earth. I don't think you know how far gone your brother really was."

Thor's smile faded. "That is very true...I apologize for my ignorance, my friend. I am still in debt to you greatly for that."

"He was almost dead. That doesn't heal overnight, so I hope you didn't have any big plans for him. He needs rest and healing before he's back to his mischievous self, once again."

Thor cocked his head, "Just how much do you know of my brother?"

"A fair bit more than you!" She waggled a finger at Thor. "It got pretty intense."

"Well, that is Loki for you." Thor shook his head.

"No, I don't quite mean that...does your brother deal with telepathy at all? Has he ever contacted the dead?"

"Not to my knowledge. I know of his abilities and that is not one of them, I am sure."

Arkum sat back in her chair. "Than I have some problematic news for you," she then leaned forward excitedly, "when I was in your brothers mind, I had a hard time connecting with his mind because of so many other energies inside of him. So many spirits, and very strong. I was almost overwhelmed, I didn't expect to find them there!"

Thor said, rather skeptically, "So...my brother is a telepath?"

"No! That's the thing! We mediums can usually sense each other, our minds are on another level. But, he isn't one and never has been. So, I am clueless to how these spirits, these souls, are connected to him. They seemed to be a part of him, but at the same time a separate entity all their own."

"I do not have answer for you. I wish I had one. Many things have happened of late that were not supposed to. I sense there are greater forces that have been at work then I am aware of." They sat in silence a moment. "These souls," Inquired Thor after the moment passed, "they should not impair my brothers recovery?"

She shrugged."Not physically, I shouldn't think, they didn't have a negative energy. Only time will tell..."

Thor stood up. "I wish to be with my brother. He may need me," he said decidedly. "I thank you, for your time and knowledge." He left the room. Arkum heard him on the stairs to the second floor and smiled to herself.

"What do you think, Franz?" She aimed the question at a black Saluiki breed dog which had padded into the kitchen, "Should we tell him? Maybe he should be cautioned? Forewarned, perhaps?" The dog gave her a reproachful look as it flopped down on the kitchen floor. "Ok, so sue me!" Arkum laughed, "I won't spill the beans on the queer demigod! You won't hear he has the hots for thunderpants from me!"

six

For the next two days, Loki slept soundly. Thor would sit in the chair for hours watching him for any signs of waking. When Arkum convinced him to come downstairs and eat, he did so hurriedly and retreated back up the stairs. Arkum followed and sat on the corner of Loki's bed.

"His body is probably going to wake him up soon, for food or something."

Arkum was half right. Loki awake later that night, although it wasn't his stomach that roused him.

Thor was jolted awake by screaming. Loki writhed in the bed, pleading with someone who wasn't there . In an instant, Thor was by his side shaking him awake. Loki's thin arms were covered in cold sweat and his breaths came in heaves.

"Loki! LOKI!," Thor's voice roused him from his nightmare. He lay still for a moment. Then he began to cry as Thor had never seen him cry. Loki curled himself into a ball as sobs burst forth. He cried without holding back, openly, like a child. Thor could do nothing until, finally, the wailing quieted and Loki fell back into a deep sleep. Thor hadn't been the one with the waterworks, but he felt drained all the same from seeing his brother in so much agony. He fell asleep next to Loki as the sun was just beginning to peek across the edge of the city.

At noon, Thor awoke and headed downstairs. He wandered into the kitchen, searching for Arkum. The dark-haired young man from several days ago was at the table reading. Thor noticed it was the same thick book he had been reading the first day they'd met. The cover carried the title, The English Language and Culture: Intermediate Level. The man sensed someone watching him and glanced up. "Hello. I have some clothing for your body. Arkum said would need different ones to wear. I hope these are alright," He took a bag overflowing with clothing out from under the table and handed it to Thor.

"Will this fit?" Thor pulled out a small, green t-shirt and looked at it skeptically.

"Some of them are for Loki. Like that one. He seems fond of green," Arkum entered the kitchen holding two shopping bags full of food. She set them on the counter and started to unpack and stock things as Thor continued to pull clothing from the bag. "Um..."

Arkum glanced up, "Oh, yes those are yours, too," she chuckled at the pack of underwear in bright red that Thor was holding, "Loki's are black. And a bit smaller."

Once everything had been put away, they sat around the kitchen eating. Franz, who was actually quite handy in the kitchen, made up a chicken stir fry. After Thor demolished his third helping he sat back, satisfied. "You are truly a master of your art!" He said to Franz, who bowed his head respectively and opened his mouth to reply.

"Shhh! Do you hear that?" Arkum shushed them. They listened. A piercing cry was growing steadily louder.

"LOKI!" Thor ran up the stairs with Arkum and Franz close behind. Loki was tossing and turning in his sleep, muttering and shrieking as though delirious.

"Wake him up!" commanded Arkum, but Thor was already trying to wake his brother. At last, Loki sat up and put his head in his hands. He let out a shuddering breath, then looked up trying to focus his eyes. Dark circles lay under his eyes, even though he had slept for days.

"...Thor" Loki stared at him for a moment. "Where am I?" his voice shook slightly.

"Your safe. You are being healed," Thor laid a hand on Loki's shoulder. "Brother, I have missed you."

Loki's face twisted into a sneer. He shrugged Thor's hand off the best he could, being as weak as he was, and turned away from him to face the wall. He did not look back.

Arkum broke the tense silence. "I just need to, you know, check you over?" She cautiously approached Loki. "I healed you a few days ago when you were brought in...you seem to be recovering,"she finished. Loki acted as though he had not heard her at all. Arkum slowly stretched out a finger until she was touching the back of Loki's neck. She took it as a good sign he did not shake it off. She extended the palm of her hand on his bare back and closed her eyes.

"Well, your heart is a lot stronger. That's a good sign," She opened her eyes and moved away from the bed. "I'm going to give you some medicine. You need to take it, it'll really speed things up. Alrighty then!" she said when she got no response, "I'll be downstairs. You call if you need anything." She turned and went out, followed at the heels by Franz.

Thor hesitated, then followed as well.

"He's doing a lot better," Arkum blandly said when were back in the kitchen. She faced Thor. "But a lot of it is going to depend on him! He's also going to need to be fed..and dressed...and bathed...do I hear any volunteers?" She raised a hand to her ear jokingly.

"I can take care of my brother. He is my responsibility."

Arkum looked a little taken back. "Oh...really? I mean, Franz and I could do it if you don't, he is our patient."

"No. I would like to do it. He will need attention at all hours, I will see that he gets it."

"You really love him, don't you." It was a statement, not a question.

Thor looked past Arkum, out the window above the kitchen sink. The sun beat down relentlessly on the streets and cars. Several trees with their leaves being thrashed back and forth by the wind, were growing up towards the sky, towards the cruel sun.

"Yes," said Thor. Inwardly, he continued 'because he is everything to me'.

Seven

Loki's recovery continued to progress over the next several days. He no longer resembled a skeleton, but a young man, although am impaired one. Unable to walk longer than a few steps he blatantly refused any help offered by Thor and especially Arkum, who he seemed to consider second class. He would tolerate her daily check-ups on his health, but any gesture of friendliness or attempts at conversation outside of his well-being, were regarded as personal insults.

"Arkum! That's my name, fell free to use it!," she said angrily after Loki reffed to her as 'mortal' for the umpteenth time that day.

"Are you quite finished?" Loki wiggled his arm out of her grasp and tried to move himself down from the circular table Arkum had been healing him on. She threw up her arms in disgust and looked at Thor who had been watching. He sighed, "Brother, we've have been over this before. She is the reason your alive and you owe at least your respect!"

"No thanks to you!" Loki spat.

Thor raised his eyebrows. He hadn't expected a response. Usually, he got dirty looks and curses. Especially at meal times. At first Loki had refused to eat anything, or sit at the same table with Arkum and Franz, who he had called 'she-devil' and 'black demon'. Thor felt badly about practically demolishing the kitchen, but he'd gotten Loki to eat eventually. Thor carried Loki downstairs for healing and meals. He would feel Loki stiffen as he picked him up, his expression becoming stoney and set. This was progress, though.

"To me? I was the one who brought you out of that god-forsaken place!"

"Ahh, yes, it was you dear brother, who dragged me from the bowls of that hellish place, right where you sent me in the first place. What happened? Get cold feet?" Loki spoke lividly his eyes piercing into Thor's,. His voice dripped with sarcasm.

"I had nothing to do with that and you know it!" Thor knew Loki was playing him, but he couldn't keep the anger from his voice. He couldn't count the number of times over the past few days he had apologized and recounted everything that had led him to find Loki.

Loki said scathingly, "Did you enjoy it? My helplessness? The fact I could do nothing to defend myself while those savage brutes humiliated me?

"LOKI-"

"DID YOU? TELL ME!" Loki wasn't taunting. His chest heaved with emotion as he yelled at Thor, searching for an answer. Thor couldn't remember Loki ever losing control as he did now

"I PLEADED, I BEGGED FOR MY LIFE AND THEY LAUGHED AT ME, THOR! THEY NEVER LET ME IN PEACE THEY WERE ALWAYS ON ME LIKE HUNGREY WOLVES! THEY-THEY-" he was overcome, face flushed, choking on his words.

Arkum, who had been standing in the corner trying to disappear, rushed forward suddenly, "Settle down!Loki!" Loki was convulsing, shaking, curling himself into a ball. "Get him still!" Arkum yelled, "Franz, get in here!" With Franz and Thor on either side, Loki's arms were pinned to his sides. "He's regressing, somethings wrong!" Arkum placed her hands on either side of Loki's head, her fingertips at his temples and back of his head. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. As soon as her eyes closed she let out a scream, her head rolling back and body contorting, though her hands stayed on Loki like they were a part of him. Franz's face was dead white as he watched his mistress writhe. Her cries mixed with Loki's as her eyelids flickered. Thor saw her eyes had rolled back in her head leaving only white.

"What is is? Whats wrong?" Thor looked to Franz, but he only shook his head, unable to take his eyes from Arkum.

They broke apart. Franz caught Arkum as she fell to the floor and Thor stopped Loki from rolling off the table. He clutched at his face and passed out. Thor pulled Loki's hands from his face and stared.

"Arkum..ARKUM!" Arkum looked over at her name called, holding her own head in her hands. When she saw Loki, she did a double take and crawled quickly across the floor to Thor.

"Oh my god..." for the first time since they'd met she was speechless. On Loki's forehead, where he had been struck and the troublesome welt had formed, a sea green gem had surfaced. It seemed to come up from under Loki's skin, a smooth oval no longer than an inch and a half. As Thor looked closer, the jewel seemed to gain a third dimension, revealing...Thor squinted. Planes and mountain ranges with an opaque swirling mist, all miniature, stretched endlessly inside the small green oval.

"This..oh, my god, it's obvious, I can believe it though, this makes no sense" Arkum babbled.

Thor grabbed her arm. "What. Is. It."

She looked up, dazed. "Right under my nose...the sixth Infinity Gem. The Soul Gem. He's been carrying it this whole time."

Eight

As Thor carried Loki upstairs (after Arkum's assurance he would be alright) , she talked non-stop.

"...I know about this because I was an apprentice for a long time with Doctor Strange and he told me about this, about how much trouble they had caused and the Infinity War, he would know about it he's been around for so long and he knows everyone on earth who's anybody, he knows Professor X, and Reed Richards I'm pretty sure and Tony Stark-"

"Stark? The iron suit? I know him," Thor paused in tucking the blankets around Loki's sleeping form.

"Who doesn't? He's a little big for his britches if you ask me-"

"This gem," said Thor a bit louder, "What is it? How did it come to be here?"

"Well, there are six gems altogether. Mind, Space, Time, Reality, Power and Soul. Mind you, this is general information, and most of it is hearsay ," She appeared to be enjoying schooling Thor, "When combined they form the Infinity Gauntlet. Whoever wears the gauntlet has infinite power. Your basically god with it. But, you have to have all six gems for it to work."

"So, these gems, on their own one would be worthless?"

"No, not exactly. You wouldn't be god, but any power you did have would be tripled and you would be that much closer to having all six."

"And it's on my brothers forehead-" Thor started to connect the dots, "the chief troll-"

"-must have had one and wanted to get rid of it. More likely he had to get rid of it."

"I can't see a troll willingly giving up a weapon such as this,"Thor agreed, "Why would he though? How would he come have it?"

"When the gems were scattered, they were scattered randomly. It could have simply resurfaced on-where did you say-"

"Draymein."

"Right. So let's assume it did," she thought for a moment, "You said a lady sent you here. A witch, you called her. You said she had silver hair-BUT, YOU COULD HAVE MENTIONED SHE HAD SIX ARMS!GOOD GOD, MAN!"

Thor laughed in spite of himself, "It did not seem important at the time. I apologize!"

"Well, I saw in Loki's memories, who she was. Just now, when we were connected,I saw more of what happened to him. Again, I did not mean to!" Arkum threw up her arms, "This gem has been messing with me! I'll have to apologize to Loki for digging in his past, but I couldn't help it! Anyway, the women who did this is called Spiral. She's part cyborg, which is how she comes to have those handy extra limbs. Understand, everything on her planet serves one ruler, Mojo and Mojo created Spiral to serve him. She has the ability to travel through dimensions, which is how I'm guessing she ended up in these 'nine-realms' as you call them. Spiral is an accomplished sorceress. Doctor Strange told me she gave the X-men quite a bit of trouble once-er," she paused at Thor's confused look, "anyways, she wouldn't be doing this unless Mojo wanted her to."

"These servants this Mojo creates, are they loyal?"

"Mostly. Spiral is fiercely loyal."

"Then, perhaps, someone has threatened her master," Thor furrowed his brow in thought. "I can think of a few in the nine-realms with the power to do so." Arkum nodded, "I never thought of that...yes, that does seem more likely. I can't see Mojo attempting anything like this, he's more of an annoyance than a real threat to anyone." She rubbed her temples with her fingers. "Look, lets pick up on this another time. I have to rest. That really took it out of me." Arkum bid Thor goodnight and headed downstairs.

Thor settled into his chair, but didn't sleep fall asleep until much later.

Nine

Thor awoke the next morning to the sound of Loki's frustrated curses. He leaned forward in the bed clutching his head in his hands. As Thor approached him, he noticed Loki's usually silky hair had a dull, greasy look to it. He didn't want to mention it, but not bathing in a few months had left Loki with a particular smell.

"You need a bath," declared Thor, seating himself on the corner of the bed.

"Good morning to you, to," snapped Loki. He massaged the area of his forehead around the gem. Some of the redness and irritation that had been present the night before was gone. Now, the gem blended seamlessly with Loki's pale skin as though it had always been there. Its icy green brought out the color of Loki's eyes, Thor noticed.

"What?" Loki noticed Thor's intense gaze. "Aren't you going to tell me what this thing is?"

"Maybe...I'll make a deal with you. I'll tell you everything you wish to know...if you agree to take a bath. You can't deny that you need one."

Loki mouthed wordlessly. "Well-...I-don't.."

"Really, brother, you have looked better," Thor knew how vain Loki was about his appearance.

"Fine," said Loki shortly. "I suppose I don't have much of a choice." He moved himself out of the bed. "But, I do not require your assistance! I am not a child!" As he attempted a shaky step, he lost his balance and pitched forward. Thor caught him before he hit the floor and supported him across the room. When they were inside the bathroom across the hall, Thor let go of Loki near the wall so he could lean on it for support. The bathroom contained a toilet, a sink and a spacious shower with frosted glass doors.

As Thor began stripping off his clothes Loki pointedly averted his eyes, but made no move to face away from Thor and take off his own clothes.

"Do you require assistance to remove your garments?" Thor chuckled at him. He had gotten as far as removing his shirt and belt and was about to unbutton his pants, Loki noticed as he glanced back at Thor to reply, but seeing him as he was, turned away and snorted weakly. He closed his eyes and tried to think of anything other than the extremely handsome man in front of him who was currently undressing. Loki was pretty sure he'd had a dream like this...maybe that was all it was, he thought desperately. It was almost too much, being with Thor like this. Another part of him liked it all to much. That was what scared him.

Loki was vaguely aware of Thor helping him slip out of his clothes and leading him to the shower. He was still unable to stand on his own, so Thor sat him down gently on the floor of the shower and positioned himself so he was sitting behind him. The warm water started to run down Loki's face and chest and he felt himself relax. It felt so good. He enjoyed the feeling of the water across his skin, dripping down his back and tracing the tops of his feet.

Thor tipped Loki's head forward and began to wash his hair. His hands worked through Loki's raven black hair, slowly messaging his scalp until Loki thought his body might melt into pudding. A voice in the back of Loki's mind whispered vehemently, 'what do you think your doing? Are you really enjoying this, you pathetic whelp?Do you really think you deserve-', but the voice was cut short as Thor took a washcloth and began washing down Loki's back in small circles, slowly running the washcloth back up his back to clean his shoulders and neck, taking care not to be too rough.

Loki felt Thor stop washing. Strong hands turned him around so he sat facing...he opened his eyes. Thor was deep in concentration washing Loki down his front. Loki gazed at his brothers face, the water trickling in little streams down the side of his face. Water was hitting his broad shoulders and muscular chest, sliding down his hard stomach. Loki watched Thor as he washed up his chest and shoulders. When Thor reached Loki's collarbone he glanced up and for a moment there eyes met. Loki shifted his gaze to the shower wall behind Thor, mentally trying to calm the heart pounding loudly inside his chest.

Thor reached behind Loki and turned off the flow of water. He wrapped a wet arm around Loki's middle and helped him up. He noticed Loki's expression was set and stoney.

"That wasn't that bad, now, was it?" Thor asked as he wrapped Loki in a fluffy towel. Loki said nothing. Thor dried and dressed himself, then helped Loki into his own clothes. He carried him back across the hallway to their room. He sat Loki down in the cool sheets and turned to leave.

"Thank you."

Thor looked back. Loki was looking right at him, right into his eyes. Thor smiled and nodded, unsure how to reply, and unsure of what exactly he was feeling. He quietly closed the door to their room and went downstairs.

Ten

When Arkum had finished her daily meditation she headed to the kitchen for the second best time of the day, snack time. She'd heard Thor come down the stairs after his INCREDIBLY long shower. He sat at the table, his head resting on his hands.

"Did you enjoy your shower? I was about to go up and check you were OK. That water was on for a long time!"

"My brother needed a bathing." Thor didn't raise his head.

"I see were out of Pop-Tarts again-what? Loki let you give him a shower?" Arkum stopped dead in her hunt for snacks. "I almost don't believe you."

Thor shrugged, "He seemed to tolerate it fairly well."

"I'll bet he did! You probably made his day," Arkum said before she could stop herself.

"What do you mean?"

"We need to talk... and I need you to be honest with me," Arkum hesitated, "How much do you love Loki?"

"My brother is-"

"Ah! Stop right there!" she held up a hand in protest, "He isn't your brother! You need to stop referring to him as so, unless you really feel like a brother to him. Think carefully!"

Thor thought about it. He felt loyalty, devotion, caring, tenderness-. Arkum watched him mentally tick off his feelings. "Well? How do you really feel?"

"I-I'm not sure of myself."

"Would you kiss him?"

Thor's gut reaction was yes and he stopped himself from saying so just in time, but Arkum caught him and looked triumphant.

"Ah-Ha! You would!"

"My br- Loki is an attractive young man and I'm sure many others feel the same way about him."

"But he doesn't fancy any of them," Arkum looked hard at Thor, "I saw a lot about him that you don't know. Did you know he likes men? He didn't admit it to himself at first. And he feels your ego is still to big, he thinks getting drunk is about the most idiotic thing someone can do to themselves and he feels a lot for you, Thor. Your no stranger to his dreams. I wouldn't share this with you if I didn't think it could help him. He needs you."

"He could have told me this himself!"

"No, I'm not sure he could have," Arkum located a box of Cheese Nips and turned to leave, "he seems to think you'll leave him with a broken heart. Loki doesn't believe anyone can really love him for who he is. I think that's why he has so much trouble."

Loki woke later in the night. The voices in his head were hard to tune out and they refused to shut up. As he struggled to turn over in the bed he realized he was not alone.

"Thor! What are you doing?" he hissed. Thor rolled over and said sleepily, "The chair is to small for me."

"You never did tell me about my problem! How am I supposed to rest with these people in my head! I have visions, Thor, of lives I have not lived. They whisper to me and-"

Loki, I'm sorry I called you my brother."

There was a silence in the dark.

"...you are?..." Thor could tell he'd caught Loki off guard with this statement.

"Yes. I knew you were not, but I insisted on using that name anyway, even though you didn't like it. I apologize."

"Your apology is...accepted," Loki said stiffly. Thor rolled over and fell back to sleep. After a moment, Loki did the same.

Eleven

The next day at the breakfast table, Arkum nearly dropped a pan full of scrambled eggs when Loki thanked her shortly, although not altogether unkindly, for the food. She shot Thor a loaded look.

After breakfast, Arkum pulled Thor to the side.

"What happened? Did you guys scrump it out or something?"

"Sorry?"

"You know, scrump it out, skank the dirty, journey where no man has gone before," She rolled her eyes, "have relations?"

"Nothing has taken place between us."

Arkum sighed dramatically, "It pains me to know there are two hearts aching desperately for each other under my roof." She returned to the table and began clearing dishes. Loki, who hadn't taken notice of Arkum and Thor's short absence from the table, spoke up.

"So..what has been going on with me, may I ask?" Arkum sat back down and with Thor's help filling in bits, explained his predicament. Loki nodded, frowning, speaking only when Arkum had finished. He had gained new respect for her, Thor observed, since their minds met for the second time and the soul gem surfaced.

"Can it be removed, perhaps by your magic since mine has left me for the time being?"

"Your magic is gone?" It was the first Thor had heard of it, "Is this why it has taken you so long to heal?" (thor you tard)

"Yes...it was sealed by the Spiral witch several months ago," Loki said darkly, "I have not had my abilities with me since."

It was Thor's turn to shoot Arkum a look.

"I didn't tell you everything I knew!" She said angrily, when all Loki's questions had been answers as best they could, and he had gone to rest before his healing. "I thought he should tell you things as he wants to tell them!"

Thor raised his eyebrows at her.

"Well, tell you most everything himself," She admitted.

Arkum had agreed to try and bring Loki's magic back, although she cautioned it might be beyond her level of skill. When he had finished his mid mourning rest, she led them into the summoning room (as she called it) and called to Franz for him to come. Thor watched a lean black dog pad into the room and shift like it was made of clay into a young, black haired man. Loki also watched with interest.

"You say your not a skilled witch, yet you have a familiar under your command."

"Franz was a gift from my mentor, who taught him to shift and take on a human form. I've been trying to teach him to act like a real human, though. He's been practicing his English and it's very good, but I do catch him barking when he's in his human form, and that sort of spoils his disguise," She rolled up her sleeves, "Let's get cracking!"

Blood was drawn from Loki's arm and painted around the table in foreign runes. It reminded Thor of something he'd been meaning to ask since he'd first arrived here.

On the front of your shop is the Asgardian symbol of Kha. It was what brought me here to seek help in the first place. How could you possibly know of it? ."

Arkum smiled sheepishly as she marked Loki with runes in his own blood, "I didn't know it was from Asgard, actually. I remembered Doctor Strange had it copied down in some of his books on magic and I figured it must be important if my mentor had taken the time to learn it. I also just liked the way it looked."

"But, no one here on mid-guard knows what it means."

"Usually, when people see something they don't understand they take one of two approaches. One, they are impressed someone knows more than they do about something obscure, or, Two, people don't care enough to find out what it really means, and since they don't understand they dismiss it as non-sense. Franz, hand me the jar labeled 'Shark Teeth', would you?"

For the following three hours Thor sat in the small room as it grew considerably hotter and louder. The door had been shut and Arkum's small voice was unusually loud and dark. Chants and counter curses flew over the table were Loki was laying. Sweat ran down Arkum's forehead as she and Loki entered a simultaneous trance around the four hour mark. Her mouth formed unspoken words as Loki let out a piercing cry. Blue sparks flew around him, emitted by his own skin and twitched on him for a second before sinking back down into his flesh. Arkum let go of Loki and stumbled before grasping onto the table for support. Loki sat up on the table, an air of energy around him. He had felt a rush like an electric current pulse through his body growing stronger until it had overtaken him completely. He felt better than he had in weeks. He flexed his long fingers, then demonstrated his reformed power by blowing all the jars in the room off the shelves, then putting them back in there places like they'd never left.

Arkum, although she was leaning on the table for support and panting, seemed immensely pleased with herself. It was no small thing to undue a binding, especially one that had been put in place by six arms and alien magic. She made a mental note to write her mentor about it, once things had calmed down.

Twelve

When Thor went upstairs that night, he walked in on Loki sitting on the corner of the bed and levitation various objects around the room. Thor noticed he had managed to duplicate the pillows on the bed so a pile of identical pillows lay next to the originals.

"It's like being reborn," said Loki quietly, "how I have missed it-think fast, Thor!"

He shot the duplicated pillows at Thor with a wave of his hand. Thor, who hadn't been expecting a fluffy offense, took the pillows full in the face. Loki smirked and crossed the room to where Thor stood.

"Careful! I'm heavily armed!" Thor brandished the pillows like dangerous weapons.

"Oooh! I'll try not to cut myself on that sharp retort!" But Loki's face turned serious as he leaned closer to Thor. "I want to know why you rescued me. Why you took such in interest."

Thor dropped the pillows, "Do you really want to know?"

"I'm waiting, Thor"

He could have lied, made up a bogus reason why, but Thor wanted Loki to know how he honestly felt. "Because I can't let you go, Loki. Your always with me like a fever I can't control. I've felt this way for a long time and my only regret is that I did not realize it sooner." Thor wasn't sure what possessed him to do so, but he leaned in towards Loki and kissed the speechless man on the mouth. At first, he got no reaction and was about to pull away, when Loki kissed back intensely. Thor wrapped his arms around Loki's middle, pulling him closer, while Loki snaked his arms around Thor's neck.

The kiss deepened. Loki slipped one of his hands up Thor's shirt and gave his nipple a playful pinch. Thor smiled and pulling out of their kiss, grabbed Loki's arm and took it out of his shirt. He took both of Loki's wrists in one hand and pushed him down onto the bed.

"Careful, big brother, I can play rough too," Loki said breathlessly, daring Thor to go on. He took one of his arms back from Thor and reached over to turned off the lamp beside the bed. In the darkness he crawled onto Thor's lap and continued to kiss him, running his hands over Thor's broad chest. Thor slid his hands down Loki's back to his rear and began to feel him up.

They were enjoying themselves thoroughly, when Loki pulled back. "Dam!," he whispered, clutching his head and wincing, "Those souls won't leave me a moment to myself. This idiotic thing hurts night and day!" The Soul Gem had been a part of Loki long enough so that Thor hardly noticed it. Loki let go of his head and laid down next to Thor on the bed where they resumed their kissing. This continued until Thor decided to ease himself on top of Loki. He heard Loki give a sharp intake of breath and felt his cool body underneath his own, much warmer, body.

Thor placed a small kiss on Loki's jaw. When Loki did nothing to stop him, he kissed down his neck and on to his chest, where he slowly kissed his collarbone. Loki groaned and pushed the larger man off of him.

In the dark, Thor saw Loki put and hand back to his forehead and massage his temples and the area around the Soul Gem, which gleamed slightly in the dark.

"You need to stop," he said breathlessly, " I ...can't deal with this right now..."

Thor moved away from him. There was a silence in the dark.

Then Loki's delicate hands were sliding themselves down Thor's chest, tracing each muscle, his touch as light as a moths wings. He brought his hands back up and wrapped them around Thor's middle as he brought himself closer so that they lay in the center of the bed, Loki embracing Thor tightly.

" Another day, I promise" said Loki softly.

Thor lay awake for a long time, holding the younger man in his arms. Even after Loki had fallen asleep and he felt himself drifting toward sleep, he didn't let go.

Thirteen

In the early hours of the morning, Thor was awakened by a thud from downstairs. He listened, and hearing nothing else, wrapped his arm back around Loki's sleeping form and nuzzled his nose into the back of his neck. Just as Thor was about to fall back asleep, he heard someone come up the stairs. Arkum appeared in the doorway.

"You need to come downstairs." She wasn't smiling or joking. Her lips were a thin line and her face was pale. "Now. Come on."

Thor knew something wasn't right. He roused Loki and they made there way downstairs after Arkum. She led them into the kitchen, where Thor and Loki both exclaimed-

"YOU!"

Spiral stood, seven feet tall, in the center of the kitchen. In the second of her left three arms she held a long flat sword. Franz was laying in the corner of the kitchen. A thin trickle of blood was dripping from his mouth. Thor felt his blood boil at the sight of the women and he could feel the anger radiating off Loki, but his brother spoke in a controlled, cool voice,

"What do you want?"

"You are to come with me," Spiral spoke in a strong, icy voice. Her blank, white eyes doing a good job of concealing whatever it was she was feeling.

"That's not going to happen," said Thor

Spiral turned to him, " If he does not come with me, he will be taken anyway. Surtur will be here any minute and you can not stop him."

Thor advanced on the women, but Loki put out his arm to stop him. "Why have you brought Surtur here? What have you to gain by this?"

"The life of my creator and the safety of my home world."

"Explain!"

She hesitated. "I was on an errand for my owner, Mojo. He had directed me to come here, into these nine worlds. My ability to travel between dimensions makes me invaluable to him. I was foolish enough to be caught by Surtur. He made me tell him what I was. He said I could not have come into his hands at a better time. I was ordered to obey or he would do everything in his power to bring harm to everything I know, including Mojo's life. My planet is not one of war and we would be unable to defend ourselves adequately. I had no choice but to aid him in his search for the sixth Infinity Gem. He had heard a rumor it was on Asgard or one of the planets near it.

"Draymein," spoke up Arkum. "It was on Draymein. They must have been looking for a chance to get rid of it before Surtur found it. When Thor decided to take Loki, they must have seen there chance to be rid of it."

Spiral nodded slowly. "I have no personal Vendetta against you, Thor of Asgard, but Loki Laufryson must be handed over to me."

"Then you will have to get through me!," said Thor, gripping his hammer. Arkum nodded her head.

"FOOLS!" A deep voice rumbled through the house, "Give me the prisoner or I will lay this earth flat!"

"He is here!" Spiral said. "You should have gone with me!" She turned on the spot and disappeared. Thor and Loki left, while Arkum stayed to see what could be done for Franz. As Thor left the house a thick ash smoke filled his lungs. Up and down the street hung a haze of smoke and embers. A powerful heat radiated from Surtur who stood taller and more immense than anything Thor had ever seen. He seemed to be entirely composed of flames, but held a humanoid shape with horns curving from his head and long tail trailing behind his red skin. He laughed and it shook the birds from their perches on the buildings.

"Thor, son of Odin, will you not give up this traitor? Has he not caused enough damage?"

"He's going nowhere, Surtur! He shall not leave Midguard but of his own accord."

"So be it, Thor, on your head that you were fool enough to cause your death and the death of your brother, because you did not stand down." He made a ferocious swing with his sword. Thor and Loki separated to fight, each using their strengths. Thor dogged Surtur's sword and landed a blow to his midsection, but it did little except make Surtur more furious. Loki used his magic, however, with more dynamic results. As he cast a spell, he felt the power of the Soul Gem kick in and his attack doubled in size, so a wave of ice darts hit Surtur in the side of the head catching him off balance. Thor darkened the skies to call on the lightning.

"Loki! Wait to attack and together we may be able to fall him!" Thor caught up with Loki who was weaving a second spell through the air while dogging another blow from Surtur. It barley missed, and Loki felt his left arm burning with the heat.

"That's not going to be enough!," he called back. Suddenly, he had an idea. "Thor! Thor, do you trust me?"

"What?" Thor swung his hammer and it collided with Surtur's arm sending a hail of sparks down to the ground.

"Give me your power and I can take him down!"

"Loki-"

"You need to trust me, please! It's the only way I can think of to stop this!" As he spoke, Spiral appeared from nowhere and seemed to have had a change of heart as she began aiding the two in their attacks. She was a force to recon with as she simultaneously cast spells and slashed at Surtur's fiery form with her sword. It was a help, but it still wasn't enough.

"Spiral, we need a distraction!" Loki called. She nodded once, and jumped straight for Surtur's face.

"Thor, give me your hammer!" Thor handed it to Loki and as he did, he felt his power go with the hammer and into Loki. The Soul Gem glowed a brighter green with the added power as Loki held the hammer to the sky. It grew even darker as the clouds formed a tunnel down to earth around them. Loki felt everything he had going into the forming attack. He called on all the power he had and shot a bolt of bright blue down from the heavens at Surtur. Part lightning, magic and energy from the Soul Gem, it was too much for even Surtur.

He vanished with a low roar, leaving behind a singed smell. Spiral let out a war cry as the sky began to clear, but Thor ran to Loki who was kneeling on the ground.

"Loki-"

"I'll be fine, Thor, I'm just tired from battle," He struggled to his feet, but Thor could still detect a certain swagger in his step as they headed back toward Arkum's shop. She ran outside to greet them, Throwing her arms around first Thor and then Loki and even made a funny spasm in Spiral's direction.

"You guys frigging kicked ass!"

Fourteen

"He should be alright in a few days," Spiral looked slightly embarrassed as she stood over Franz, who other than the bump on his head, was still the same. Arkum had insisted he use her bed and she would sleep in the dog bed for once. She sat at his side on the bed, handing him dog treats which he gladly accepted, although he was in his human form.

Spiral had agreed to remove the Soul Gem from Loki's forehead the next day. Thor had made the suggestion of Spiral casting it into a vacant dimension, so to avoid the same thing happening twice. She agreed, and Arkum, who had forgiven her, sat her up with a sleeping bag in the kitchen. It was agreed to be to late in the day to go back to Asgard and straighten things out with Odin. Spiral had admitted to placing certain council members under her spell so they would send Loki far away from Asgard. She made an apology to Loki, which he stiffly accepted.

As Thor and Loki climbed the stairs to their room, Loki remembered his promise.

"You were quite, eh, gallant out there today," said Loki

"Was that a compliment? From you?" Thor cocked his head and smiled, "You were the one with the moves."

"How nice of you to say so, big brother," He climbed into the bed and Thor climbed in after him

Thor reached over to shut off the light. Loki stopped him.

"Don't you want that on, for now?"

"Loki, wha-" but Loki had ducked his head under the covers and kissed Thor on his neck. He popped his head back over the covers and kissed Thor lightly on the lips. Thor kissed back, brushing his tongue along Loki's lip when they pulled away. Loki smirked and moved on top of the covers as Thor followed. Thor sat with his back against the wall as Loki made a show of positioning himself on Thor's lap. He moved forward, then deciding he was too close,and grinned as he slide himself slowly back, and then forward again.

"I just can't seem to get comfortable," he sighed dramatically. Thor took Loki and sat him firmly down on his lap so Loki's legs were wrapped around either side of him. He put his hand underneath Loki's shirt and pulled it off over his head, so he was face to face with Loki's pale, smooth chest. He kissed him directly in the center of his chest, then laid a kiss on each of Loki's pink nipples. He dragged his tongue across each of them, then bit and pulled gently. Loki tried to stifle a gasp and wrapped his arms tightly across Thor's neck and put his head down to kiss him again. Thor let his hands roam freely over Loki's body as they kissed, settling on his firm backside. As Loki pulled out of the kiss he bit Thor's lip hard. Thor responded by giving Loki a hard smack on the ass, so he let out a little noise. He helped Thor off with his shirt and hungrily ran his hands over his brothers husky chest.

Thor pushed Loki off of him and crawled toward him on the bed. He took Loki's face in his hand and ran his tongue along his jaw and down his neck. Loki's hair was mussed and fell over his face. Thor guessed his hair didn't look much better the way Loki had been pulling at it as they kissed.

Loki made a growl low in his throat and reached up to bite Thor's ear. Thor responded by brushing his tongue along Loki's lips as he pulled away from their kiss.

"Your really such a devil," murmured Loki

"I thought that was your role,"chuckled Thor as he slipped off his remaining clothes and started to unbutton Loki's pants. Loki stared openly at every curve and swoop along his partners muscular body as he undressed him. He let out a small gasp as his underwear was pulled down with his pants and the cool night air rushed over him. Now it was Thor's turn to stare with wide eyes at his partners body. Loki felt himself blushing at Thor's expression. He made to grab the bedsheets and cover himself, but Thor caught his hand.

"Loki...don't. Your perfect to me."

Loki closed his eyes and turned away. He looked back at Thor with all the pain and longing he had felt for years. Under the suffering there was the hope someone cared enough to love him for what he was. Loki realized Thor had been doing just that.

"I love you." The words were out before Loki realized he had said them.

"Prove it," Thor cocked his eyebrows at Loki.

"Is that a challenge, brother? I am the one burdened with the vast intellect. I would undoubtedly win," Loki let his hand trace down Thor's hard stomach slowly until it reached...

"I won't blame you for being scared," chuckled Thor as Loki reached the most sensitive part of him, "I am very well endowed."

"Don't flatter yourself," Loki said smugly as he grabbed Thor in his hand and squeezed. They fell back on the bed together, kissing with ferocity as Loki continued to grope Thor. Thor moved on top and grinded his body against Loki's in a wanton fashion.

"Don't stop," gasped Loki. But Thor suddenly turned his body and moved off of him. Loki crawled toward him and Thor let Loki push him over so Loki could climb on top. Thor had never felt so aroused in his life and couldn't stop looking at Loki's flawless body. He ran his hands down Loki's chest and stomach as he sat on top of him.

He didn't care there were people downstairs. He didn't care if they heard every gasp and moan they made together. He just knew he wanted Loki more than he had ever wanted anyone.

"How do you want it?"

Loki looked at Thor's face when he heard the husky note in his voice. He turned his head and shrugged. He'd never actually...

"Loki? Is this your first time with someone?" Thor sounded curious.

"...possibly.." It wasn't that other people didn't find him attractive; he'd had his share of solicitors, women as well as other men, who wanted him to share a bed with them. He had turned them all down. Not that he didn't like the idea of it...he was just picky.

"I don't want you to be careful, I want you on me hard," commanded the young man. He backed up into Thor so he was in front of him and they both faced the same direction. Thor didn't need to be told twice and bent Loki over to give him just what he asked for.

Arkum lay awake downstairs, trying to block out the noises and cries coming from the upstairs.

She gave up when she heard someone moan loudly (she could hazard a guess it was Loki) for the umpteenth time. She half sleepwalked into the kitchen for a bowl of something to take her mind off what was happening upstairs. Spiral lay wide awake in the kitchen, listening with interest.

"Are they fighting?"

"No...," Arkum considered how to break what was happening upstairs to the alien. "They just...like each other a lot." A violent thump brought several cobwebs down from the ceiling. "I mean a lot." It seemed like forever until the more intense noise subsided. Arkum finished her Captain Crunch and wandered back to bed.

Thor lay on top of Loki, both of them panting heavily, as they attempted to untangle themselves from each other. Loki was the more vocal lover of the two, but Thor was simply more aroused by every little noise of pleasure he made, so it had worked out well.

"I notice you need some practice with consistency, but your technique wasn't too bad," said Loki mildly after they had cleaned themselves up. "Well, have to work on that."

"Oh? I thought you would have been more ambitious"

"Well, I didn't want to overwhelm your senses the first time, being the talented lover that I am,"

Loki sniffed.

"Thank you very much"

"Oh, your very welcome."

Thor grinned and turned out the light. After a few minutes, as he felt himself slipping towards deep sleep, he heard Loki say very quietly, "Thor?"

"Yes?"

"You know when I said I loved you?"

"Yes, Loki?"

"I meant it."

(Author's Note: On the morning after, Arkum insisted the next time Thor and Loki came to earth to visit her, they used the room downstairs. They agreed.)