In the past eight years, Fury has managed to force the organization into accepting the Avengers in all their scratched and dented glory. Steve Rogers is the de facto leader of the team; Tony Stark is making a killing off the clean energy business; Barton and Romanov still do some special jobs for SHIELD but are usually restricted to wet works now that more and more people recognize their faces; Banner has himself well under control and is in some sort of strange relationship with both barton and Romanov. Thor has not come back once in the past eight years, since he has been ruling Asgard in Odin's stead, but now he has returned. Fury is looking forward to seeing how the demigod has matured.

"Mr Stark and Thor are here, sir," Agent Hill says. She has become an adept replacement for Coulson. Her no-nonsense approach to dealing with the Avengers is different from Coulson's dry acceptance of their foibles; she tries to make them more responsible for their actions. Romanov and Barton have no issues with Hill taking on Coulson's role, and Dr Banner is nice to everybody (until he's not). Captain Rogers is a little smitten, and complies with her very reasonable requests. Hill underplays it, but the others notice that she takes more effort to liaise with him and is much more patient with the captain than she is with, say, Stark.

Fury nods. "Invite them in, please."

They are now in an exclusive restaurant somewhere in San Diego where Stark is due to make an appearance at Comic-Con. Some fool artist decided to give that man an ego boost and made him a comic book character. Stark has been crowing about it ever since, except in the hearing of Steve Rogers, because a mint edition of 'Captain America Issue #1' brings the seller a neat quarter-million, even with the crap economy. Half a mil if Steve Rogers has signed it. Fury always uses that fact to shut Stark up, but that man sees no reason not to gloat about his newfound Geek Idol status to Fury. The last time they met, Stark brought his action figures. All twelve variations of them.

But today it is about Thor, and his new role as Asgardian ambassador to Earth. It is something that unsettles a few nations - because what are they supposed to do if Asgard, a realm of supernatural beings or superpowered aliens, decide to back America up against others? But Thor has pledged to assist only against intergalactic threats and/or in crises that endanger too many human lives and require the Avengers aid. It soothed some feathers, but the Avengers do not always have fans.

The tall demigod walks into the restaurant, head high and wearing a faint smile. "Director."

"Ambassador Thor. Please, sit." Fury gestures. "And you sit too."

"Hello Tony, how nice to see you. Say, have you been working on your tan? You look very handsome," Tony deadpans. "It's good to see you too, Fury."

The director of SHIELD ignores Tony Stark's ego-building comments on principle and focuses on the God of Thunder. "I'm glad you have returned. It's assuring to know that we are friends with Asgard."

"There has never been any doubt about that," says Thor. "Father has acceded to your leaders' requests and will accept one of your people as ambassador in Asgard. However, he wishes that I speak with him first."

"An interview, of course. We expected no less." Fury frowns. "You said 'he'. Will Asgard not accept a woman as an ambassador?"

Tony cuts in. "It's all very fascinating, but could we order before we perish of hunger?"

After a delicious steak dinner Thor brings up the reason why only men are considered for the role. "We have many warriors, and sometimes at feasts they may overindulge in ale or mead," he says. "I do not wish to have the virtue of any of your womenfolk put to shame, and cause strife between our realms. And given the discrepancy in our physical strengths..."

"Of course." Fury gets it. He passes a dossier of candidates to Thor and says, "These are the men we've shortlisted for the role. You may wish to speak with them this weeek."

Thor thanks him.

Tony interrupts again. "Traffic will be killer in a bit. Thor and I have to rush to get back to the hotel, we do have a Comic-Con appearance to make tomorrow. See you and your eye patch around."

Fury pins Tony with a glare, but Tony puts on his shades and flashes his most charismatic grin before pulling Thor away.

"I thought you said we were returning to the hotel," Thor remarks when the car turns down another avenue and parks in one of the few spots. They are early; the sun is barely setting.

"Not returning yet," says Tony, "because I came over to this bar the other day, I think you need a break, and this place is pretty neat."

The bar that he is talking of is home to friendly wait staff and an amazing selection of drinks that Thor learns is called whiskey. They call out to Tony when he comes in; he must have made friends with them.

"I was a great tipper," Tony confides, and he grins broadly at a woman with bright blue hair and an amazing collection of body piercings. "Milly, love, where on the list did I stop yesterday?"

"I'd continue bringing the next few, Tony, if I hadn't seen you driving. I'm not serving you with more than one."

Tony smiled winningly. "My friend is the one drinking, Milly, so bring them on."

"If I see you taking a second drink-"

"I promise. I won't."

Thor appreciates the drinks, and he savors each shot that Milly brings and introduces. Tony talks about how he is going to use the profits from the action figures to help with the New York rebuilding and also running school programs for the poorer neighborhoods. Thor is listening, and he wonders why Stark has brought him along to this convention that the inventor has mentioned.

"Oh, and I've got the toy company to make likenesses of all of us Avengers. They're doing the great unveiling tomorrow," says Tony. "Which is why I asked you to come along. Natasha and Clint flat-out refused, they say something about top-secret but I think they're just out somewhere on a date or perhaps having sex, Bruce doesn't enjoy crowds and Steve is gonna meet us there with his new girl that he says isn't his new girl."

Thor shakes his head at Tony's exuberance. "What do I need to do?"

"Nothing. Stand tall, look good. Maybe dress in your armor or something, the fangirls and fanboys go crazy for that stuff." Tony tips his head back in his second drink and then, before blue-haired Milly can come over and berate him, he signals for the bill. "Come on. Let's get back to the hotel. We're having a long day tomorrow."

"So why did we come here to drink?"

Tony stares at Thor. "I have stage fright sometimes too. And this isn't my usual tie-and-suit crowd of tech geeks and army bosses. Those, I can handle. These are gonna be fans - you have no clue how scary they can be."

Maybe it's a combination of fatigue and the multiple shots of different whiskeys, but Thor wakes up in the middle of the night with a terrible thirst. As he goes to the bathroom and gets himself a drink, he hears the bell of the door chiming politely.

Wincing with sleep, he goes and opens it. And drops the tumbler of water he is holding.

"You've soaked the carpet." The visitor sighs, and then steps into the room, making himself very much at home. "Nice place you've got here."

Thor is still staring. "Loki?"

Loki turns. "Hello, Thor."

The God of Thunder is stunned and shocked, but somehow his body manages to react. He shuts the door and then half-runs to the slender male, wanting to hold him but fearing to do so. Loki seems to read his mind - he always manages to read his expression, at least - and reaches out a hand, brushing golden hair from Thor's forehead.

"You've become haggard, Thor," he scolds gently.

But Thor feels anything but rebuked. He leans into the touch and then gives into his emotions, catching Loki up in his arms and hugging him tightly. But Loki is pushing on Thor's biceps and then he slides away from the Asgardian prince.

Thor finds his voice. "How can- Loki. Loki you're... you're dead. I saw you die. In my arms, I felt your life passing in my arms."

"So I'm dead," Loki says calmly, as though he is discussing the weather. He strolls over to the window and look out over the city. "Does it mean you don't want me here?"

"I would want you here however you are," says Thor, and in his shell-shocked state of mind it makes sense that he goes over to Loki, dead Loki, and swivels him around and kisses him with all the passion he has been locking up for the past eight Midgardian years. With hands made clumsy by sleep and alcohol he pulls Loki's scarf off and then his suit jacket, his shirt, before reaching down to undo Loki's belt.

He does not object when Loki does it himself, and then Loki toes off his shoes and pulls off socks, before tugging the pants off in a fluid motion. Loki studies Thor, and then touches Thor's face, scratching his fingers over Thor's bearded chin. Loki is as enigmatic as he used to be, his face betraying no emotion despite the small smile, and he pushes Thor to lie onto the bed. Clever fingers undo the drawstrings of Thor's pants, his only garment, and Loki pulls it off the demigod. He then crawls up the bed and straddles Thor, still eerily serene and placid, before skimming his slender and chilly frame over Thor's broad muscles and he slides down between Thor's legs. Thor wants to hold Loki close, but gasps when Loki takes him in his mouth.

"Cold," he breathes out in shock, and when he looks down between his thighs Loki is kissing his manhood, his quick tongue lapping at it and awakening Thor's lust. But Thor, even in his rising ardor, recognizes the inherent wrongness of this scenario, and tries to stop Loki. Yet Loki never slows in his ministrations; fingers stroke Thor's length and caress the velvety globes below, seeking erogenous spots learned from their trysts eight years ago, a lifetime ago. Thor's hand finds itself entangling in dark tresses and Loki moans as he hollows his cheeks; he doubles his efforts. Thor groans and throws his head back, fighting for self-control and losing. He feels himself tightening, growing heavy, and he warns Loki thickly and yet too late - his hips thrust helplessly into Loki's mouth even as the younger demigod drinks him in.

"Loki, Loki my love, I love you," Thor exclaims breathily.

Loki slithers up and kisses Thor, his tongue warm and tasting of Thor's seed, and murmurs, "I know."

"Don't go away," Thor pleads, large hands holding on to slim hips and his legs wrap around Loki. "Stay. Stay here."

The dark-haired sorcerer kisses Thor in response, deeper and hungrier, and perhaps Thor has missed Loki so much that he cannot wait but to pin Loki down and cover him with delirious kisses, nipping and sucking on white skin that is just a shade too cold.

"Thor," Loki whispers thickly, "will you still have me?"

"I will have you, I will have you for as long as I can have you," Thor replies, eyes wet with tears as he breathes in Loki's scent. His whiskery chin leaves pale streaks of color along Loki's skin, but the color fades fast, and Thor ignores the strangeness of the situation. "I will have you, Loki, I will have you forever if you stay with me."

Loki's eyes glitter with some unnamed emotion as he spreads his legs for Thor. "Take me then."

Despite Loki's invitation Thor still spends some time preparing the younger male, until Loki nipped at Thor's shoulder in annoyance and impatience. The blond demigod could barely restrain himself as he enters Loki; it is like coming home, he thinks, but the thought flits away when Loki suddenly rolls his hips and arches his back. Thor groans for the move and then his own hips start shifting, and it is a rhythm they find once again as their bodies start sliding against each other.

Thor repeats Loki's name mindlessly, endlessly as he pours himself into Loki, thrusting and thrusting into the wet slickness of a lover he thought was gone forever, and then his vision whites out for a moment before he comes, tight and hot, and he hears Loki cry out his name before they fall together into soft kisses and gentle sleep.

When Thor wakes he is alone, dressed in his pants. The tumbler of water he poured for himself last night is on the nightstand beside the bed; there is no sign of there ever having been a visitor, let alone Loki.

The God of Thunder bolts upright and runs to the door when the doorbell chimes. He flings it open and blurts, "Loki?"

"Uh, no," says Tony, adjusting the sunglasses already perched on his nose. "You have to get dressed in ten minutes. The limo will be here and I want this convention appearance over and done with." He turns to go, but hesitates. "You... wanna talk?"

"No." Thor shakes his head and smiles vaguely. "I will meet you at the great hall downstairs."

"The lobby, right. See ya." When Tony walks off Thor shuts the door and leans his brow against it.

Was last night a fevered dream?

The convention is huge.

Thor sees why Tony wanted him to be here, because there are hundreds of people coming up to them asking for their autographs, and many are dressed in outlandish fashions. Some of the maidens are far too immodest, he thinks, even though Tony seems appreciative and spends much time posing for their instant images.

He scans the crowd, trying to find the captain. When he does notice Steve Rogers he waves his hand and the captain smiles back, but he is swarmed by a group of middle-aged men and women no less delighted at seeing him as are those surrounding Tony Stark. Thor has put his name to paper for someof them but he is not in armor, so most do not recognize him as Thor.

Then he spies a familiar gold horned helm at the far end of the huge hall. Loki? Thor pushes his way through the crowd, ignoring Tony's calls behind and apologizing distractedly to a few whom he accidentally pushed a little too hard.

The horns weave through the crowd and Thor fights against the current of people, and just as he thinks he's lost sight of it he turns a corner and there it is. A tall, slender figure, his back facing Thor with its familiar green cape, the golden helm proud and arrogant.

"Loki!" Thor exclaims as he goes over and turns the sorcerer around to look at him - but it's not Loki looking back.

The young man in the costume raises his eyebrows. "Hey, good call. They're gonna use him as the main baddie in the new comic book, you know? The one about the Avengers and all." He is young, too young, and his round face nothing like Loki's angular features, and his eyes are a disappointing blue-gray. "Dude. You should totally dress as Thor, man. You got the height and check out those muscles! You're like, Thor concentrate. Betcha if I can find you a Thor costume, you and I are gonna be the center of attraction for the entire convention, eh?"

"You're nothing like Loki," says Thor, and he walks away.

"Hey, that was rude of ya, dude!" shouts the young man, but Thor pays him no mind. He meanders back to the booth where Tony says they will be setting up tables for them to talk about the new toys made in their likenesses.

The rest of the day passes in a blur.

For the next few weeks Thor commutes between Asgard and Midgard, and he is kept so busy that he has no time to talk to his parents or friends, and even less time to think about Loki.

After the Midgardian ambassador has been installed in the Aesir court, Thor chooses to reside on Earth. It is more convenient for him there, and he has no wish to speak with his father. He does not know what to say, and given that Loki is... Loki is back in his life, in his strange, illusory way, Thor does not want to raise suspicion.

Or maybe he's just imagining Loki is back. Yet, when Thor is on Asgard, no hallucinations of his lover-brother come to him. There is no God of Mischief that saunters across gleaming tiles, no slender Liesmith lying in wait in the baths, no Silvertongue spread invitingly across his sleeping furs.

Thor keeps his secrets. He has learned how to be patient, and to hold his tongue.

He thinks Loki will find this funny, because when Loki was around on Asgard, he never managed to teach Thor these lessons.

Whenever Thor comes to Earth he stays with Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, and neither of them really minds. Pepper is very busy with work and often comes home much later after sundown; Tony spends most of his time in his workshop. Sometimes Bruce Banner stays with them too, especially if he is in Malibu with Tony, and when Thor is around the doctor spends his free time talking to Thor, learning about Asgard and the other realms.

Tonight Thor is alone. Pepper and Tony have to attend some feast in town, and Bruce is over in New Mexico with Natasha and Clint. Thor does not say much about the arrangement; they seem to be finding an equilibrium there, and Thor has nothing against consensual relationships.

Thor sits out on the edge of the cliff, looking over the darkness over the ocean and listening to the distant waves lapping at the shore. It is peaceful and calm; Thor feels his burdens slipping off his shoulders as he allows the cool night breeze to sweep over his features.

"I hope I am not intruding."

Thor does not dare to look behind. He holds his breath and bites the inside of his cheek; it hurts. It is not a dream.

Loki comes over and settle himself next to Thor, curling up with his head of dark hair nuzzled against Thor's shoulder. His skin, pale as ever, was almost moon-white. Dead white, Thor tells himself. Dead. White like bone. And his fingers reach up to thread through ebon tresses, silky against his sand-roughened skin, and his heart aches with desire and sorrow.

"You seem pensive. Penny for your thoughts, as the Midgardians say," says Loki, tilting his face to look directly into Thor's eyes.

"I was wondering if you are real or merely a figment of my longing," Thor responds softly.

Loki slides closer, his body pressed into Thor's broad frame. "Yes."

"That's not an answer."

"That's the only one I have."

Loki peers at Thor from beneath dark lashes, and then he climbs over Thor's lap and loops his lean arms over Thor's shoulders. Tonight Loki is again all in black, making his pale skin even more starkly white, and the light is in his green eyes. His thin long-sleeved tee shirt opens with a v at the neck, low, displaying Loki's clavicles and a glittering green necklace; his jeans-clad legs wrap about Thor's waits. Thor runs a thick finger over the necklace, taking in the gleam of emeralds and the glint of gold, and pulled Loki tight to his chest.

Thor holds this Loki close, listening to soft waves crashing onto hard sand below, and steeled his heart. "Loki," he begins, "you're dead."

"I am."

"And yet you are here," Thor goes on.

Loki shrugs. "I am here also, yes."

"How can this be?"

Loki tilts his head and starts testing his teeth over Thor's neck and at the soft patch under Thor's right ear. His lips brush Thor's earlobe, and his teeth worry the flesh for a moment, before Loki asks, "What did I tell you before I died?"

"You are finally free," Thor states dully, and his hands tighten on this apparition.

Loki chuckles and shuffles closer to Thor. "I am free, Thor. At last." He pulls away slightly and regards Thor, green eyes dark with desire. "I am free to choose and be chosen. Will you still have me?"

"But you're not alive," Thor says again. "I don't understand-"

"You don't have to understand, Thor, you just have to take what is offered," says Loki harshly, and he starts pulling at Thor's tee shirt and tugs it over his head. The shirt is tossed carelessly to the side and they kiss, leisurely, as if they have all the time in the world, and then Loki starts deepening the kiss, his tongue delving into Thor's beer-sweetened mouth. The hunger and lust is evident to Thor and he is responding, Valhalla help him, responding to a shade that has died and yet is here grinding down on his hips with a breathtaking desire.

"Loki," he gasps out when he pulls away. His large hands slides up under Loki's tee, roaming over skin that is both cold and burning, and he watches Loki's eyes flutter shut while Thor familiarizes himself with smooth skin. The God of Thunder rips Loki's shirt off and twists them over, pinning Loki to the sand-and-grass. In the light from Stark's house, Loki looks almost as though he is alive, golden and fair; Thor ignores the cool skin that does not blush, and kisses to pretend that he doesn't see how Loki is not breathing.

They made love on the edge of a cliff in the darkness of the Malibu night. Thor makes no efforts to trap Loki against himself as he climaxes, and as his mind turns hazy with sleep he kisses Loki and says, "I will still have you. I will always want to have you."

Thor wakes up in the pre-dawn chill, and again he is clothed and there is no Loki.

This time, Thor buries his face in his hands and allows himself to grieve.

"I'm worried about Thor," Pepper tells Tony.


"He's looking more and more haunted ever since he came to Earth to take on the role of ambassador. Something's bugging him." Pepper twirls her spaghetti thoughtfully. "And he has been locked in his room a lot. When I checked with Jarvis, he told me that Thor has been reading up extensively on Norse mythology." Tony makes no acknowledgment. Pepper adds, "About Loki. Again."

Tony grimaces and puts down his baguette. "He saw his father kill his brother-lover-person. I don't blame him if he still has nightmares about that." Tony looks pensive for a moment. "Even after so many years."

"But he's really... I don't know how to put it, but he's really really," Pepper argues. She ceases that line of questioning when Thor emerges from his bedroom on the second level, three doors down from Tony's. "Hi Thor."

"Lady Pepper," says Thor politely. "Stark."

They have a tensely quiet lunch. Tony studies his guest over the thirty minutes and notes the dark circles, the faraway gaze, and a strange mark below Thor's right ear, like a scar but not quite. Adding the fact that Thor is too introspective and restrained, and that indicates something needs solving for the demigod. Tony isn't certain he can do that. He doesn't get Thor, the way he gets Loki.

Got Loki. The past tense. It still bothers Tony sometimes that he failed.

"You have something to tell us." Tony sips his Coke and leans back in his chair. "So tell us."

Thor eats his serving of pasta before he asks his question. "I believe I have imposed for far too long. Lady Pepper, will you find me a house here nearby where I may carry out my duties? I will be staying here on a somewhat permanent basis."

"Sure. If Tony doesn't mind footing the bill," says Pepper with a glance at her boyfriend-maybe-fiance-if-he-wasn't-teasing-about-the-proposal.

Tony finishes his own plate of spaghetti. "You don't need to move out, Thor. I like having you around."

"I wish some privacy as well, Stark, but I thank you for your offer and your kindness." Thor inclines his head. "Besides, there are documents that are not cleared for you, and I do not think Director Fury will like you to become involved."

"That might have hurt my feelings if I actually liked the guy," Tony says dryly. He raises his glass. "How about staying with the Captain? Steve is cleared at the highest levels at SHIELD, I think, and even if he's not he's way more principled than I am in not snooping through other people's work." He frowns and adds, "unless I've already corrupted him."

"I can arrange for both Thor and Captain Rogers to share a house," says Pepper quickly before Tony starts on his rants or rhapsodies about Steve Rogers again. "I'll also get the usual housekeeping services. It's the company retreat off Grayfox Drive-"

"-Pepper that's MY retreat-"

"-meant for VIPs from out-of-state or overseas guests, so it isn't too large nor too cramped for you two." Pepper smiles brightly. "I'll make sure the rent is within government budget as well."

After he pulls off his Midgardian attire, Thor slides into the swimming pool with something akin to pleasure. It has been hot, and to enjoy the cool water in the privacy of his residence is a wonderful thing. The captain is still unpacking, apparently, so Thor takes the chance to savor the solitude.

As he starts diving under the water - he has not had the chance to do this in water this clear for decades, not since he last visited Alfheim - he wonders if he should return to Asgard. Much as he loathes admitting it, his father did what he had to. Odin has not spoken with Thor about Loki's death; he had fallen into sleep immediately after the battle, the strain of fighting a Jotunn-faerie trained in Asgardian magic more tedious than expected and the sorrow of killing Loki more heartbreaking than he let on, and when he woke he gave Thor the role of ambassador to Midgard and liaison to its heroes.

One of which appears to be standing at the pool edge, Thor thinks, and resurfaces to greet Steve.

But it is Loki who is looking at him, Loki in full daylight casting a shadow on the water.

"Hello Thor," he says, and Thor is momentarily speechless.

Loki doesn't take offence. He sits down right at the edge and dangles his bare feet in the water. "I like your new place. It's cozy."


"I am where you are," Loki replies easily, a smile gracing his elegant features.

Thor feels his throat constrict. In daylight it is all too real, all too real and Loki is here with him, Loki's feet playing with the clean blue water, and the sun shining on skin that is still too white and eyes that are vividly green.

"Loki. Loki don't go away, don't move from that spot." Thor begins swimming over to Loki, but suddenly he realizes he can't see anything, it is all darkness-

"Thor, Thor, breathe, breathe come on-"

The Asgardian demigod sputters and coughs. Fluid is cleared from his lungs and then he rolls over onto his back, blinking up at Steve who looks distinctly worried. Standing above Thor and the captain is Agent Hill, who is definitely not looking at the lower half of Thor's body, which is entirely naked.

Thor rolls up into a sitting position and takes the towel that Steve stuffs at him. "Where is he?"

"Where is who?"

"Loki! Where is Loki?" Thor nearly shouts. "He was here. He was sitting right here, by Hvergelmir!"

Steve exchanges a confused look with Hill. He says, "I don't know what you're talking about. I heard you say you were going for a swim, then Maria was at the door asking whether we need help setting up and I led her here, and you were face down in water and not moving, Thor. I thought you had drowned or something."

"There was no one here," Hill repeats. "I can pull security tapes if you want, but the alarms never rang. There wasn't anyone."

Thor stares at them both before he stumbles against the stone wall and leans into it, borrowing its solidity. "He was... he was here."

Hill looks genuinely worried. "Thor. If you need, I can always recommend a psychiatrist - I mean, a doctor, a healer, to help you with... with whatever issues you have about losing your brother."

"He's not my brother," Thor snaps, glaring balefully at the agent. Then he stalks back into his room.

"You almost drowned."

"By Valhalla..." Thor spins around to see Loki emerging from the shadows. This Loki is differently dressed than the one he saw outside by the pool. "I can't - I cannot do this. This is... is this madness? Have I..."

"Have you gone mad?" Loki grins and shrugs before he pulls away his belt. "Perhaps."

Thor swallows as Loki begins to disrobe, writhing in a manner that is almost obscene as he discards item after item of clothing. "No," Thor manages to say, his voice thick and strange. "I have to leave. I cannot do this again."

"But you want to, don't you?" asks Loki, head tilted almost quizzically while his hands slide down this insides of his thighs. "You want me. You said so."

"Not when you are dead," Thor whispers.

To his fascination and shock, Loki begins to play with his own erection and Thor feels himself hardening in anticipation. The dark-haired male somehow leans back and makes his actions even more enticing and lewd at the same time. "I offer myself, Thor. Will you not have me?"

"Loki, this is-" Thor covers his mouth. He wants to, so badly, and everything in his body is singing out to be joined with Loki on that bed. "Loki, what's going on?"

Loki's response is to lick his fingers and slide them into himself, slowly, showing Thor exactly what he can be doing and yet isn't.

Thor shuts his eyes and curses under his breath, and then he prowls across the room and gives in to the white-skinned temptation.

Nick Fury senses it but he says nothing as he watches Thor and Steve Rogers spar in the ring. The Asgardian ambassador and prince is moving sluggishly, barely dodging, and it is his incredible stamina and resilience that has allowed him to still be standing while Captain America is pummeling him with serious intent.


"Romanov. What's the general verdict?"

"His vital signs are weakening. They say that the energy signature that he usually gives off is slackening, and the same goes to his weapon the last time he allowed them to run tests on it." Natasha Romanov stares avidly at the two blond superhumans that are boxing - bare-handed - inside the ring. "Bruce thinks something is draining Thor of his strength."

Fury regards his best spy. "What can drain a demigod of his powers?"

"Another demigod?" Natasha suggests.

"According to your reports Loki has perished. Which other demigod has it in for Thor?" Fury paces away from the viewing pane and sits in a large chair.

Natasha follows but does not sit. She keeps her eyes on the fight inside though. "I think we need to interview Thor again. He needs to know what is happening to him."

"That'll be a fun interview," Fury says with no emotion showing in his voice. He sighs and allows, for a moment, his mask to slip. "We can't afford this, Romanov."

"No sir."

"Can you do it?" He doesn't have to explain what he needs her to do. She is that good.

"I'll try, sir." Then Natasha jogs over to the window again and Fury follows. Usually she can predict in advance the moves of her opponents extremely well, which makes her the perfect assassin and spy, and in this case he sees what she noticed earlier. Neither SHIELD agent misses the subtle flicker of Thor's attention to a corner of the gym, nor do they flinch when Steve Roger's well-placed right hook floors Thor.

Fury sighs again and the mask is back up. "Take care of it."

"Yes sir."

Thor lays awake in bed, Loki sitting on his hips, but neither are undressed.

Loki leans down and rests on Thor's broad chest. He runs his quick hands through Thor's golden hair, untangling the few knots that trouble Thor. "Something's bothering you."

"You are," Thor replies gravely.

"Because I am dead and only you can see me and feel me and love me the way I asked you to?" The Liesmith flicks his tongue over his lower lip.

Thor reaches forward and holds Loki by the hip. "Are you truly real, Loki?"

"I'm as real as the one who breathed his last in your arms," Loki says serenely. Then he flashes a small smirk. "And as real as the one who has let you plow into him for the past few nights."

"There is no record of you in their cameras, yet I know I saw you in the gym." Thor sits up and traps Loki against himself. "What do you want from me?"

"I want nothing from you, Thor. I don't need to take anything from you any more." Loki licks a wet stripe from Thor's collarbone to his jaw. "I am free. No obligations, no debts to anyone or anything, remember? I traded everything for that."

Thor holds Loki away from him, and stares into green eyes with their blown-wide pupils. "So what are you?"

"I am Loki," says the younger male, and his expression softens. "Just Loki."

"I don't understand."

"Does my presence trouble you this much? Would you prefer that I am gone from your life?"

"No!" Thor's growl is immediate and he kisses Loki, hard and hot and desperate, as if afraid that Loki will fade right before his eyes. "No, by all the realms I will not have you leave me again. Three times you have done so, and I do not think I have heart enough left to remain myself if I should lose you yet again."

Loki nuzzles the God of Thunder and runs his clever fingers under the hem of Thor's shirt. "What will you have me do then, Thor?"

"Do what you will, Loki, just don't leave me alone again. Stay, all the time. I do not wish to wake alone, or walk alone, or dine alone, or sleep alone. I want you with me all the time."

"I am always with you, Thor." Loki's lips tickles Thor's ear. "You just didn't realize it. But I know it's hard for you to comprehend, silly oaf that you are and silly oaf that I adore, and I see that your friends are beginning to doubt your sanity. But I am not certain that the truth is something you wish to bear."

Thor turns his head and his mouth brushes Loki's lips. "If you are always with me, I will bear all the burdens there are to bear."

Loki smiles in the dark, and there is no more talk.

The morning after that hushed conversation Thor is awakened by Steve Rogers knocking on his door.

"Come in," Thor calls out, feeling a pang of sorrow that Loki has broken his promise and is not there with him.

"Thor, you're gonna want to see this," Steve says when he pokes his head into the room, and doesn't wait for Thor to follow. Nevertheless the demigod wastes no time trailing after the captain and then his breath is taken from him. He gapes as he stares, and then he reaches out to touch, and it's real.

"It's... I'm not dreaming this."

"No, you're not." Steve looks over at Thor. "This is all real. At least, so he says, and what he says so far has me convinced."

Thor reaches down and the boy, dark-haired, green-eyed and so very much like him when he was a child, looks up at him without fear. Thor sees it: an old soul in a child's body. An old soul that recognizes Thor, and is far too mischievous to be anyone but.

"Hello, Thor. I did tell you there will be a long, long wait." The boy smiles, and Thor knows.

"I have all the time in the world," says Thor, half in a whisper, and then he begins to weep with unbridled, unashamed joy. Steve goes to his housemate and hugs him by the shoulders, murmuring words of comfort that Thor does not hear over his own deafening tears.

When Thor finally calms down enough to bend down to smooth raven locks from the boy's brow, the child says, "I will visit no more in this form, Thor. It is too strange for me to regard you the way I do in a child's body, and I am too vulnerable yet at this age."

"You are fully human now?" Thor asks.

The boy wrinkles his nose in distaste. "Sadly, it appears so, but some semblance of my powers remain. It will take time." Then he grins at the tall Asgardian prince, wicked and innocent, and adds, "But you have all the time in the world, right?"

Steve clears his throat. "I think it's time he returns to his parents who are waiting in the kitchen."


"-and have patience, Thor," admonishes the child in too familiar a tone and too young a voice. He shrugs and says, "I can still see you when I sleep."

Thor makes himself smile. "I will see you again?"

"You will, in our dreams perhaps, and definitely in a few more years," says the boy, and continues as an afterthought, "After all, I am your heart and your love, am I not?"