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his scarlet ibis

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i. the first day

A month after Thor turns the young age of four, his parents bring home a little green bundle of squirming limbs and nasally cries. "What is it?" the boy asks, nose crinkled in distaste. The babe is shrieking and crying incessantly, and Thor wants it to shut up so he can return to playing with his toys.

"He," his mother corrects him. She sounds vaguely disapproving, but it's overpowered by the affection in her voice. She isn't looking at Thor, but at the bundle in her arms. She rocks the child gently, whispering words of comfort, eyes filled with a mother's love. The cries do not subside. "He is your new brother."

His name is Loki. Thor sounds the name out, but he can hardly hear himself over the baby. Anyway, he is sure that the name sounded strange being said out loud - what kind of a name is Loki?

"You're his big brother now, Thor," says his father, clamping a hand on his shoulder. He squeezes, but even he is not looking at his eldest son. "You must be there for him as he grows up."

Thor does not know why they are so fixated with the crying thing, but he passes it off as one of the many things he cannot understand yet at his age. So he simply nods, because it seems like that's the sort of response his father wants to hear, before toddling off back to his blocks. For the rest of the afternoon, Loki cries, and then through the night. Thor lies curled up in his bed, fingers jammed into his ears, thinking, Be quiet, be quiet, you-

 

ii. and the next

The next day, Thor wakes to his father jostling his shoulder. "Morning," he's greeted; there's a large box behind his father. "There's breakfast downstairs, go join your mother and your brother."

What brother? Thor almost blurts, and then remembers how many times he had been roused that night, unable to sleep soundly with the cries of a baby ringing throughout the house.

The boy thinks nothing of the box and just nods, still a little groggy, and goes downstairs. His mother and Loki are in the kitchen, the former cradling the latter in the crook of her arm. Loki is quiet, and for that, Thor is glad. "Come see," his mother whispers, smiling.

Thor walks over, and she bends down to let him see the babe. "Tiny," Thor says. He touches a small hand; it twitches.

"Of course, he is still a baby." His mother laughs.

Thor has never seen her this happy before.

 

iii. the crib

The box turned out to be a crib, which is now set up on the other side of Thor's room. Now he does not have as much space as he used to have, and when he wants to play with his blocks, he cannot build towers as wide.

The most frustrating part is that Loki is scarcely even in his crib. He spends most of his time in his mother's arms.

When he is in the crib, he is often sleeping. Thor puts a chair against the side and peers over the edge, studying the foreign creature that is apparently his new sibling. It is a new concept for him, to have a brother. He is not used to sharing his room, nor his parents' attention.

 

iv. every night

Loki cries-

-and cries and cries and cries-

 

v. another first

"Loki is very fragile, Thor. You mustn't pick him up unless your father or I is with you, and when you are handling him, you must remember to be careful."

Loki has bright green eyes and tufts of hair as black as coal. Compared to his own fair hair and light blue eyes, Thor wonders how on earth they are brothers. "Strange little thing, you are," he murmurs down to Loki, sleeping as usual in his crib. "First you declare yourself my brother, you take my room for practically your own, and then you refuse to let me get any sleep. You are unfair, Loki." He pouts when Loki fails to answer and clambers down from his stool.

Sometime later, as Thor is placing the last block of his grand block-palace, he hears a noise from the crib. He immediately calls for his mother, knowing that Loki must have awoken. She arrives and takes Loki away, Thor calling after him, "Look, mother, I built a palace!"

When she returns, Loki's diaper is freshly changed and he is wearing a shirt that apparently used to be Thor's, when he was a baby. But it is too big on Loki and it hangs off of him like an oversized sack.

His mother places the infant across from Thor, who carefully starts taking apart his tower, knowing he will get scolded if Loki might get hit with one of the blocks. As he is putting the bag of blocks back underneath his bed, he hears a cry of surprise from his mother; when he turns, Loki has managed to push himself up on all fours. His falters and wobbles and moves as if to start crawling forward, but his arms prove to be too weak. Loki's chest hits the soft carpet, his limbs giving out beneath him.

His mother's hands are there in an instant, and she's trying to assess the damage when Loki giggles.

It's this sound that Thor has never heard before, and it feels like there is something melting in his heart.

 

vi. and another

Loki speaks for the first time: "Thow."

He points at Thor and looks positively delighted with himself. "Mother!" Thor calls quickly. "Mother, he said his first word!"

"Thow," Loki says again, and this time it's accompanied with a giggle. Little fingers curl into Thor's shirt and he realizes that Loki is not just saying any word, he is saying his name.

"Good job, little brother," Thor, now five, crows. He presses a kiss to Loki's head, and he has never felt prouder.

Chapter Text

vii. the first bruise

There is a smudge on Loki's arm. The spot is not that big, but it is dark and ugly. Thinking that his brother merely swiped his arm across food, Thor reaches out and swipes at it, rather roughly. Loki instantly jerks away from him and starts wailing.

"Hush," Thor says desperately, scooting closer to him. "Quiet, little brother, you'll wake Mother and Father." He gathers Loki into his arms clumsily, and Loki fights against the embrace, still wailing very loudly.

"Hush, Loki!" Thor tries again, but it's too late; there is the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs. His father lifts Loki from his arms, while his mother demands, "What's happened?"

"There was something on his arm!" Thor cries, shooting up to his feet and pointing.

"Did you hurt him?"

"I did not! I thought it was a smudge and tried to wipe it away."

Loki is not wailing anymore, now just sniffling. He has his face buried into his father's chest and Thor glares, even though the toddler cannot see it.

"He must have hit it against something," sighs his mother to his father. "But the bruise is so big..."

"It's small and it doesn't look serious. I'll call the director, ask if perhaps he has a history of this." Odin turns to his older son then. "Did you see how he got it?"

"No," Thor mumbles. "I noticed it just now. I did not hurt him, I swear."

The tears have stopped. His father sets Loki down in front of Thor and turns to his wife. "Do you still have that number?" Their parents walk away to the study, after his mother leaves one last warning of, "Please, Thor, look after him."

Thor frowns at the toddler, but it doesn't stop Loki. The toddler pushes himself up to all fours and crawls into his big brother's lap, cooing, "Thow." He reaches up and unceremoniously sticks his hand into Thor's mouth.

"Stop that, Loki." Thor pushes the tiny hand away gently, but pulls his little brother closer. He is careful to avoid the bruise, not wanting to be scolded again.

Loki babbles something at him, and his eyes are bright and happy, as if Thor had never hurt him in the first place. He nuzzles into Thor's side, and Thor takes to stroking the smaller boy's dark hair until he hears soft snoring.

 

viii. that summer

Thor turns six, and Loki takes his first step. The last birthday present is being opened when Loki deigns to leave the safety of his father's legs and run for his older brother. His little legs carry him a grand total of two strides before he's falling, falling. Thor barely has enough time to reach out and catch him.

After that, everything passes like a blur: his parents fawn over Loki, encouraging him to try it again, again, Loki, you can do it, we are so proud.

Thor goes upstairs with his presents and a slice of birthday cake and stays in his room for the rest of the night.

Jealousy curdles in his stomach, and it is unpleasant.

 

ix. the wagon

To Thor, it is almost like Loki learned how to walk just so he could follow his older sibling around. Thor cannot go upstairs without Loki at the foot of the staircase, crying after him, babbling pleas to be taken with. Thor cannot eat dinner without Loki toddling up to the side of his seat at least once, tugging on his shirt, and presenting a block proudly. On Thor's first day of school, Loki bursts into tears and reaches chubby little arms after him.

Wherever Thor goes, Loki is no doubt following close behind.

When Loki turns two, he is gifted with a red wagon. He likes to clamber inside and point ambitiously to random spots in the room. And of course, who else is there but Thor to drag him around?

It is no fun at first, and Thor huffs when his parents are working together over some papers, leaving him with the task of entertaining Loki. He obeys whatever whim comes to his little brother, dragging him to that wall there, to this corner here.

"Pushy little boy," Thor grumbles when he finally lifts Loki out of the wagon. Loki thanks him by leaving a sloppy, open-mouthed kiss on his chin, and then clapping his hands on Thor's cheeks.

"Ow," Thor whines, but it's half-hearted. Loki seems to be pleased with himself.

 

x. he liked the moon

Loki likes to take Thor by his fingers and lead him to the window, pointing outside. "Moon," Loki would say, despite the blatant sun in the blue sky. And then: "Out."

Thor asks if he can take his brother outside, but his parents are quick to say no.

Loki's skin is very sensitive. That it why he bruises so easily. Too much sunlight can harm him. Do you want your little brother to get hurt, Thor?

In turn, Thor is quick to shake his head.

However, Loki does not seem to easily grasp the concept of no and constantly drags Thor to the window, asking in his clumsy tongue if they might go outside.

One night, Thor wakes to the incessant rattling of Loki's crib. The six-year-old sits up in bed to see Loki peering from the other side of his crib. The boy is whining for him, one hand reached out and opening and closing in a gesture to be let out.

So Thor does, even though he has been explicitly told never to do so. He stands on his stool (though he has grown quite a lot, he still needs a little bit more height to reach over completely) and lifts Loki out.

He takes the child to his bed and holds him in his lap, facing the window. Loki's arms move animatedly, as if reaching for the moon itself. "Moon," he says over and over again, and he would giggle and squirm in Thor's lap.

Thor shushes him occasionally, lest their parents wake up and rap him on the hand for letting Loki out.

He thinks they must have sat there for a while, until Loki eventually dozes off. The clock reads only fifteen minutes later when Thor finally returns Loki to his crib and crawls back into his own bed.

 

xi. tricks

Loki turns three and does not let up following his brother ardently around. Everyone finds it endearing, but Thor is mostly unamused. He loves his brother, yes, but Loki is almost a burden. Thor does not completely trust himself to keep Loki safe from harm, and he fears the day that Loki does get hurt and it's his fault.

So sometimes, when Loki is trying to tug him to go someplace, Thor drops to the floor, closes his eyes, and does not move. He would lie limp like this for a few moments. When he cracks an eye open to see if Loki has ambled off to bother someone else, all he sees is the green of Loki's eye.

"Thow?" Loki presses even closer; Thor squeezes his eyes shut again and thinks, No, go to Mother or Father instead, leave me alone, Loki.

Then he hears a sniffle, a small whimper. Thor opens his eye just a little bit and sees Loki with his lower lip trembling, looking on the verge of tears. Instantly, Thor sits up, eyes wide open, exclaiming, "No, don't cry, I'm awake, see?"

He gathers his little brother into his arms and hugs him and averts a crisis. Loki pouts at him, but it doesn't take long for it to dissolve into a smile. He pats his older brother's cheeks, and if three year olds could somehow chide, then Loki was doing so.

Thor likes the attention, the fact that Loki seems to worry so much about him. It's a nice change from him having to worry about Loki so much.

But one time, he gets no reaction at all. He lies on the carpet, eyebrows twitching downards in a frown, and he opens his eyes. He expects Loki to have run off for the first time, but no, his younger brother is right there next to him, lying down with his eyes closed.

For a heart stopping moment, Thor thinks: oh, something must have happened, he must have fallen while I wasn't looking - then Loki slowly opens an eye, like he is the one playing dead.

Thor bursts out laughing, both from the hilarity he finds in the situation and the relief that blooms in his chest. He scoots closer to Loki, lifts his shirt up, and blows a raspberry into his tummy. Loki giggles and tugs on his hair; Thor tickles him on mercilessly. "You little trickster," he would later laugh, kissing Loki on the cheek affectionately. "Don't ever scare me like that again."

Loki plays with his fingers.

 

xii. the wagon, arc two

When Loki turns four, their parents buy him another wagon, this one with a convenient roof. Thor pulls him around their yard enthusiastically. "Dragon!" Loki would occasionally exclaim, or sometimes, "Monster!" (There was never a night that Thor did not read him a bedtime story.)

"Oh no!" Thor would cry out.

"Oh no!" Loki would echo, pounding his little fists on the floor of his wagon. "Go, Thor!"

And Thor would acquiesce, dodging whatever fiend Loki had conjured up. The air comes alive with the sound of two brothers laughing together.

A week later, Thor gives Loki one of his toy swords, and as he drags the wagon along, Loki waves the wooden sword around and protect them from the dark faeries and malevolent goblins.

Thor's arms are often sore.

When he carries Loki back inside, his little brother stares at him with eyes wide and says, "So brave, Thor."

Thor, eight years old now, teases, "You're the one who fought away the vicious monsters!"

But inside, he would swell with pride and soak in every bit of Loki's obvious awe.

 

xiii. the other kids

That same autumn, a mother and a daughter move into the house next to theirs. The daughter is Thor's age, and after the family has settled in, other kids start turning up. Thor watches them play on the sidewalk and thinks that it's a strange sight, three boys and a girl.

Loki tugs him away to his bucket of blocks (which Thor passed down to him).

Later that day, those four kids ring the doorbell and ask if they would want to play together.

 

xix. a note, an observation

The other kids initially did not like Loki, as Thor had.

 

xx. the difference

They never came to.

Chapter Text

xxi. first impressions

"Does he ever talk?"

The girl's name is Sif. The three boys are Hogun (the oldest), Fandral, and Volstagg (the youngest).

Thor glances back to see if his brother has something wrong, but Loki is still in his wagon, doing something with a bunch of flowers and grass blades that he has plucked from the ground. From where they sit in the sandbox, he can hear the boy humming. Loki hasn't said a word since they came out, which is strange. He is very talkative at home. "I don't know," Thor says slowly. "He talks a lot more at home."

Sif casts him a dubious look.

"Hey, Loki!" Thor calls, waving to him. When he has his brother's attention, he asks for the third time, "Do you want to play with us?"

Loki stares at him for a moment, then shakes his head and ducks back down to his flowers.

Thor turns back to his new friends with a helpless shrug. He sees Sif's eyes linger on Loki for a few more seconds, before she moves on, too. "Who wants to build a sandcastle?"

 

xxii. later

"Why didn't you play with us?" Thor tries not to sound too disappointed as he pulls Loki back to their own side of the fence.

"I don't like the sun," Loki answers, sticking his tongue out. He pushes himself up to his knees in the wagon. Wobbles, nearly falls - then hands Thor one of the flowers he plucked. It's a daisy and it has two missing petals, but Thor thinks it's wonderful. "It feels like it's burning off my skin and it hurts."

Thor rolls his eyes at the exaggeration. He stops the wagon by the balcony steps, and Loki stretches his arms out for Thor. Making sure not the crush the daisy, Thor picks him up under the armpits, ignoring the exclamation of "Tho-or, that tickles!" and carrying him back inside.

 

xxiii. winter

The first time Loki falls ill, Thor thinks he is dying. He is eleven and Loki is seven.

His brother is a small, frail figure in bed, nearly as pale as the white sheets and pillows that threaten to drown him. His eyes are half-lidded, his nose is slightly red, and his hair seems to have lost its usual shine.

Thor kneels at the side of Loki's bed - which replaced the crib about a year ago - and shuffles in as close as he can, until his nose hits the edge and he's almost touching Loki's hand. Loki makes a strange noise of complaint and tries to wave him off.

Determined not to waste his last precious moments with his brother, Thor takes his hand and whispers into it: "I'm really sorry for all the times I was mean to you, Loki."

"Everything feels really hot," Loki whines, twisting away. When Thor moves to take it again, the younger whines, "No, no, you feel too hot, go away." He kicks the sheets off the bed.

"But Loki," Thor protests. Does his brother not want to spend his last few moments with him? He clambers onto the bed despite Loki's insistent pushing, looking down with wide, earnest blue eyes at his brother. "Can't I say goodbye?"

"For what?" Loki nearly cries. "Out, out! This is my bed. You have your own, you dummy. Leave me alone."

At that moment, their mother walks in with a bowl of hot water and a wash cloth. Thor immediately scrambles off the bed. "Thor, let your brother be," she chides, setting the bowl on the bedside drawer. She sits on the edge of the bed where Thor was, picking up the dropped blanket. "Are you feeling any better, sweetheart?" she says to Loki.

"Please don't let him die, Mother!" Thor tugs at her skirts.

Loki's eyes fly wide open, to the point where they start to resemble plates. "I'm dying?" he wails, and tears start to prickle at the corner of his eyes.

"I'm sorry I was ever mean to you, Loki." Thor takes it as invitation to get back on the bed, wrapping his arms around his flailing brother. His apologies are drowned out by Loki's angry exclamations.

Frigga is unsure of what to do for a moment, torn between feeling amused or worried. Eventually, she pulls her boys apart. "Loki's not dying," she tells Thor gently, but sternly, "and Loki, please don't call your brother that name."

"Dummy," Loki repeats sourly, sticking his tongue out.

"Fine," Thor harrumphs. "See who'll pull you around on your wagon, then."

Frigga proceeds to dampen the wash cloth and putting it on Loki's head.

"I'll pull myself," Loki is saying, indignant.

"That's impossible!" Thor retorts. "You can't do it without me."

"Can too!"

"Can not!"

Frigga admonishes Thor, tells him not to strain his brother. Thor complies grudgingly and slinks back to his own bed as his mother carries the bowl and the wash cloth out of the room. "Go to sleep, boys," she tells them, "and no more fighting."

The night falls silent with the petulant bickering of two brothers.

 

xxiv. almost immediately afterwards

Thor wakes up with a sneeze.

A day later, he is confined to his bed just like Loki. "See," Loki pipes up smugly from the other side of the room. "Look who's dying now."

"You're still dying too, Loki," Thor reminds him. But he might have sounded meaner than he intended, because Loki falls silent.

That night, Thor slips out of bed and moves to Loki's. "Hey, Loki," he whispers, poking his little brother's arm. "Are you still awake?"

Fifteen seconds later: "I am now."

Thor tries not to grin as Loki automatically makes room for him. They settle into the bed with minimal trouble; they have to press very close together to make sure neither of them fall off, but Thor doesn't mind. Loki lies facing away from him, so Thor contents himself with wrapping an arm around his brother's waist and clinging to him that way.

Loki twists around in his arms, and in the darkness, Thor can see the bright greens of his eyes, wide and fearful. "Are we really going to die?" he hears his brother whisper. Loki sounds more than a little anxious.

"No!" Thor shakes his head almost violently and pulls Loki even closer. "I was just kidding, Loki. We won't die from a silly flu."

Loki burrows even further into his chest with a small whimper; Thor knows he should feel guilty, but he likes this too much, the way Loki holds onto him so tightly.

 

xxv. the wagon, arc three

Thor catches Loki in the front yard. It's rather warm for a winter day, and the snow has mostly all melted away. Loki is trying to somehow pull the wagon himself.

Finally, Thor hears him give up with a frustrated sigh, the handle falling on the ground with a crack. That's when Thor decides to come out, pulling his gloves on his hands and zippering up his jacket. He picks up the handle and starts pulling without so much as a word.

"I thought you weren't going to pull me around any more," Loki mumbles later, holding Thor's hand as they walk back inside.

"I lied," Thor says, and leaves it at that.

 

xxvi. a choice

By the end of the winter season, Loki has gotten sick for a total of three times. On the third time, he turns to his older brother and says, "You don't have to stay inside with me."

Thor looks up from his homework. The chair he's sitting on is small and he has already almost fallen off twice, but he'll persevere. "Why shouldn't I?"

"Well," Loki says, playing idly with the sheets, "your friends are outside and I know you want to play with them."

"But then you'll be lonely!"

"And you're bored."

"How can you tell?"

"You're doing your homework."

Thor sticks his tongue out. "I'm fine here."

Loki sighs, wrapping his arms around one of his many pillows and snuggling into it. (Thor would have liked to replace it with himself, but he did not want to get sick again.) "No, really," Thor hears him say, "you can go, brother."

Thor stares at him long and hard. "You mean it?"

"I mean it," Loki affirms, and Thor practically drops ihis books to the floor. He leans over the edge of the bed, meaning to kiss Loki's head - only for his younger brother to turn at the last second. Thor's lips land on Loki's instead.

He jerks back away in surprise. "Sorry," he says, sheepishly; his face feels hot.

"It's not my fault if you get sick again," Loki harrumphs. Seeming to find nothing wrong with what just transpired, he rolls over to his other side.

Thor leaves a few seconds later. The sensation is fresh on his lips, and he will not be forgetting it any time soon.

 

xxvii. an accident

(Loki cries easily. He flinches at every little bump and his eyes would brim with tears at the littlest blunder.)

Once, Thor took him out to the community playground, the one situated just a few blocks away. He ran with Loki's hand in his, eager to arrive before the other children took up all the swings.

He did not expect Loki's hand to suddenly slip from his. Skidding to a stop, Thor looked back to see his brother fallen on the sidewalk.

"Loki!" He immediately rushed over. "Are you okay? Did you bruise?"

There is a scrape on Loki's knee and a bruise on the side of his thigh, but if Loki stood, both could be covered by his capris. "We're going to go home," Thor told him slowly, "but you can't show Mother or Father. I promise I'll fix it, okay?"

Loki did not want to get to scolded, or maybe Thor was holding his wrist a little too tightly - either way, he nodded, wiped his tears away roughly, and let himself be pulled back to his feet.

(When Loki cries, his cheeks would flush pink and his eyes would seem even bigger. Thor is the one who offers comfort and Loki the one who accepts it, running into his big brother's arms and letting Thor wipe his tears away.)

 

xxviii. a confession

Thor likes it when Loki cries.

 

xxix. the other other kid

On the night of Loki's eighth birthday, they spy a moving van pulling into the driveway of the empty house next to their. "Neighbors!" Thor cheers.

"I hope they have nice kids," Loki whispers, eyes wide with wonder.

You don't need them, you have me, Thor wants to say.

The family has one son named Balder, whom they come to know the next day. Balder has dark hair and blue eyes; he's five years younger than Thor and just one younger than Loki.

He smiles at Loki, and Loki smiles back.

Thor decides quickly that he doesn't like him. His hair looks stupid, his laugh sounds weird, and what kind of a name is Balder, anyway?

So when Balder smiles at him too, Thor forces himself to smile back, his hand tightening ever so slightly on Loki's shoulder.

Chapter Text

xxx. a relentment

Loki turns nine, and after much convincing, his parents decide he is ready for public school. When he learns this, he smiles so wide his cheeks hurt and makes a habit of frequently asking his mother when they will be shopping for school supplies.

One night, he tells his older brother, "We can walk to the bus together!"

Thor's eyes don't leave the screen of his phone, a device he received on his thirteenth birthday. "We won't be," he says, sounding distracted. "I think my bus comes earlier than yours, Loki."

"What?" Devastated, Loki scrambles out of his bed and crawls over to Thor's. "What do you mean, brother?" He stops at the edge and reaches to tug once, twice, on Thor's night shirt. "Thor," he whines when he fails to get a reply.

"I'll be in seventh grade, and you'd only be in fourth." Thor makes it sound like a bad thing, and Loki fears that it is. "It's late, go to bed."

"But you're awake too," Loki protests; Thor stops answering. Sulking, Loki crawls back to his own bed, burrowing himself under the covers.

 

xxxi. the wagon, arc four

Loki stares mournfully at his red wagon, perched next to the trash can on the side walk and together waiting for the garbage truck to arrive. From this distance, he can see the different scratches, cracks, and stains, can remember the memories that went with each of them.

"What's wrong?" Balder asks from next to him.

Realizing he was distracted, Loki turns back to his friend. "Am I fat, Balder?" he asks off-handedly. They sit under the cool shade of Balder's front porch with paper and crayons and glasses of lemonade.

"You're not fat." Balder frowns, reaching across the table for a green crayon. "You're like a twig."

"Then how come I don't fit in my wagon any more?" Loki laments. "And my big brother won't carry me around any more, says I'm too heavy." He huffs, coloring in a zebra a little more forcefully than necessary. "But he's wider than me, so at least if I'm fat, then he must be even fatter, yes?"

"I think you're just growing up, Loki," offers Balder as comfortingly as he can. "I don't fit all my baby clothes any more, but that doesn't mean I'm fat." He glances up, hoping to have appeased the older boy. "You don't need that wagon anyway, you can walk just fine, can't you?"

Before Loki can answer, they hear the sound of a door opening, then a chorus of laughter. Loki immediately twists in his seat, and even though he is not facing him, Balder can see his eyes lighting up. "Thor," Loki calls, confirming Balder's assumption. "Look what Balder and I made!" He holds up his paper, which depicts a tall stick figure holding the hand of a smaller one. "D'you want to color with us?"

Balder doesn't hear Thor's response (nor is he interested), but he can guess what it is with the way Loki's shoulders slump, and he turns back around. "He doesn't want to color with us?" Balder questions, knowing that Loki will just sit there, staring into space until someone asked what was the matter. This he has learned in the course of a year.

"No," Loki says; he sounds dejected. "He's with Sif and Hogun and Fandral and Volstagg, but we don't need them."

Balder nudges his foot in an attempt to get him to smile, for he thought Loki was not meant to look sad.

 

xxxii. something overheard

"You know, I thought you had a sister at first," Volstagg is saying.

"I don't blame you," someone quips, and it sounds like either Thor or Fandral.

For some reason, this makes Loki's chest hurt a little, and he slinks back to the kitchen, clutching his drawing to his chest. It can't have been Thor, because his big brother loves him and wouldn't-

 

xxxiii. autumn

Thor's bus is scheduled to arrive ten minutes before Loki's, and therefore he should have been up earlier; on the first day of the new school year, that is not the case. When the elder brother wakes up, he spies Loki running about their room frantically.

"I can't find my pencils," the boy moans in despair. "Where did I put them?"

Thor yawns, not quite awake yet and still trying to rub the sleep from his eyes. "I saw you put them into your backpack last night." He watches with some amusement as Loki flitters about the room, much like a small ruffled animal. Like a bunny, he thinks on a whim, and snickers at the endearing thought.

"Thor!" Loki wails. "It's not funny!"

"I told you, they're already in your backpack." Thor deigns to get up from the warm comfort of his bed, ruffling Loki's hair on his way to the bathroom. His brother scowls after him, combing his dark hair back down.

By the time he comes back out, Loki has seemed to stop panicking, although he appears anxious. He's sitting on the edge of his bed, legs swinging rhythmically.

"Find 'em?" Thor asks, and Loki nods, head tilted to the floor. At first, Thor thinks it's because he's wearing nothing but a towel around his waist, but then he realizes that Loki is genuinely nervous.

"I thought you were excited to start school," he says over his shoulder. He pulls together a decent outfit, one that would give teachers a good impression of him.

"I thought we would be riding the bus together," Loki replies glumly. "Who'll I sit with?"

Thor studies himself in the mirror. He runs a hand through his hair and thinks absent-mindedly, Should get a haircut. "How about...uh, what's his name? Balder? He's your friend, right?" He doesn't like Balder, but if the kid made Loki feel better, then Thor could tolerate them sitting together.

Loki says nothing else, and Thor frowns. "You're going to be fine, Loki," he tries again, in a softer voice this time. "If anyone's mean to you, just tell me who they are and I'll take care of them."

"I can take care of myself," Loki says with a sniff, but he winds his arms around Thor's shoulders in a hug, the first they have shared in some time. Thor chuckles lightly and returns the embrace.

"Boys!" they hear their mother call. "Are you finished? We need to take pictures!"

Wordlessly, Thor takes Loki's hand and they walk out together.

 

xxxix. tuesday

"I don't have any study halls this week, so we can't do it then," Sif is saying. "And since Fandral can't stay after school, we were thinking of going over to his house on Saturday, around three? The faster we get this project done, the better."

The bus rumbles away, leaving the road cleared. She and Thor cross together. "That could work," Thor says, making a note to ask his parents later. "I'll bring the papers."

"And I'm bringing the camera." Sif has jogged up to her front door and unlocked it. "See you tomorrow!"

Thor waves, and she disappears inside. Shouldering his backpack, he continues up the path to his own house. On the way, he sees Loki sitting on the porch, a book in his lap.

When his little brother finally notices him, Loki casts the book aside and runs to him, a smile brightening his face. He jumps, and Thor catches him with a yelp, staggering under the weight of his brother and his backpack.

"Hi, Thor," Loki says cheerfully, smiling down at him. "Guess what? My teacher gave us chocolates today. Everyone ate theirs, but I saved mine just for you!"

Thor sets him back down to his feet, smiling back - albeit a little wearily - at his brother. After a moment of silence, he teases, "Well, where's my chocolate?"

"Oh!" Loki cheeks fluster as he fishes around his pockets, then pulls out a Hershey kiss, wrapped in its iconic silver wrapper. "Here you go," he says with a proud beam, pressing it into Thor's palm.

"Wow, thank you, Loki." Thor ruffles his hair, pocketing the chocolate. "Hmm, how should I thank you?"

"Up!" Loki holds out his arms, and Thor acquiesces with a chuckle, hoisting him up again.

It is a good day.

 

xl. wednesday

Thor enters his shared room to a post-tornado aftermath. The lamp has been knocked off the desk, there are books and papers strewn everywhere, the beds have been stripped bare - and in the center is this mass of sheets and pillows.

"Oh my god," Thor utters without thinking.

There's rustling, and then Loki's head appears from the reds and blues of the sheets. "Look, Thor, I made a fort!"

Thor picks up one of the papers, and realizes in horror that it's a page of his script - the one that he needs for the project. "Where did you put the rest of them?" he demands, snatching up all the other ones he could find.

"What do you-"

"Help me find them!"

Loki scrambles out obediently and helps gather the papers. In the end, Thor is missing two of the pages. He would reprint them, but Hogun has his flash drive, which has the script.

"Just get it from him tomorrow," his mother calms him. "When are you planning to do your project?"

"Saturday."

"There. You have plenty of time."

On the way back to his room, he shoots Loki a glare, taking some satisfaction in the way Loki shrinks away from him.

 

xli. thursday

"Can we go to the playground, brother?" Loki squirms on the couch, knocking off several pillows in the process. They land on Thor, who pushes them aside with some irritation. He's trying to play a game.

"Hold on," he says, distractedly.

Loki sighs, gathering the pillows back up. "You said that ten minutes ago," he mumbles. Thor ignores him, and Loki thinks it's because of what happened the day before. "I'm sorry for messing up your papers, Thor," he whispers into the pillow.

Thor either doesn't hear him or is still ignoring him; tears prickle at Loki's eyes but he blinks them away. Only babies cried.

Later, they eat dinner. When she finishes, Thor disappears into their room and doesn't look like he wants to be disturbed. Loki resigns to doing his homework in the dining room.

 

xlii. friday

Thor comes home, and his mother is waiting for him with her hands on her hips and a stern expression on her face. "What did you do to your brother?" she asks in a dangerously calm voice.

Kicking his shoes off by the front door, Thor gives a passive shrug. "Nothing."

"He hasn't come out of your room since he came home."

Then Thor stomps to their room because his mother tells him to, and he needs to make sure Loki doesn't hole himself up for the rest of the night; Thor needs somewhere to sleep. "Loki!" he calls, knocking on the door.

There's no reply.

He jiggles the doorknob. It's locked. "Don't lock the door. This is our room, stupid!"

His mother hits him over the head at the same time the latch clicks unlocked. "Go," his mother orders, "apologize."

Thor sighs and trudges inside. His mother shuts the door behind him, but he's certain she's waiting outside, listening to make sure he did what he was told. He drops his backpack at the foot of his bed and looks across the room. Loki is curled up into a pitiful ball under the sheets.

"Are you crying?" Thor says with another sigh, poking the lump. "Only babies cry, Loki. Are you a baby?" He's purposely trying to get a reaction; it fails.

So he rolls Loki over. His brother's eyes are squeezed shut, too tightly to look like he's sleeping. Thor says his name again, but Loki doesn't open his eyes. "I'm not mad at you any more, okay?" He cards his fingers through Loki's hair. He's forgotten how soft it feels. "I'll even go to the playground with you tomorrow, if you want."

That does the trick. Loki opens his eyes slowly, green eyes doubtful. "It'll be cold."

"You weren't thinking about that yesterday," Thor says pointedly. "Anyway, the guy on the radio said that tomorrow will be the warmest day of the week. We'll have a picnic."

"A picnic?" Loki's eyes widen. "Really?"

"Yeah, but you're packing, because I never know what you like."

"It'll be the best day ever!" Loki sounds too happy to care.

 

xliii. later that night

Thor wakes up at the feel of a smaller body crawling into bed with him. "Loki," he says sluggishly at the thin arms that come around his waist.

"I'm sorry I lost your papers," Loki says into his back, and it tickles, but Thor likes the added warmth too much to push him away. He shifts so he's facing Loki and they sleep like this, curled towards each other.

 

xliv. saturday

Thor wakes up late, because there's no school and it's a relief to be able to sleep in. He makes his way downstairs and, quickly noting his brother's absence, questions, "Where's Loki?"

"Balder invited him to eat breakfast," his father answers. "Your mother's at work, and I have to attend a meeting. I've already told Loki to stay with Balder until you get him - he said something about you two going on a picnic?"

Thor nods, taking a seat at the table and grabbing a slice of bread. "Yeah, we're going later."

"Don't stay out too late because it's going to get colder. And take care of your brother." His father is putting his coat on.

"I know," Thor says.

"And no parties!" his father adds, but it's more of a joke.

"No promises," Thor calls after him, rolling his eyes, but he's smiling. He waves goodbye to his father and goes about preparing his breakfast.

 

xlv. at three

The doorbell rings, and Thor shuts off his game. He grabs his backpack on the way to the door. Sif's there and asking if he's ready, because her mom's driving them to Fandral's.

"Got the script?"

"Yep." Thor pats his backpack with a grin.

They leave.

 

xlvi. at four

"Thanks for helping me with my homework, Loki," Balder says gratefully. "Now I won't fail that quiz on Monday."

"No problem!" Loki smiles, nudging his shoulder.

"Are you sure you don't wanna stay longer? I thought your brother was going to come get you."

"Balder, if I stay at your house any longer, then I might as well stay here," Loki says sheepishly. "Besides, Thor and I are going on a picnic, and I have to pack our stuff."

"Oh!" Balder follows him to the door. "So he's not mad at you any more?"

Loki opens the door, pausing a step outside. "Nope!"

Glad that Loki won't be sulking any more, Balder grins. "That's good. I hope you have fun."

"I will!" Loki waves and takes off for his house. "Thank you for letting me come over, Balder!"

His friend shouts a "You're welcome!" in return.

 

xlvii. at five

Loki steps out, zipping up his jacket with one hand and carrying the basket with his other. His parents aren't home yet and neither is Thor, but he's sure that the former are still at work and the latter is probably still doing his project. He hasn't forgotten, he tells himself firmly, and sets out for the playground.

 

xlviii. at six

Loki sits at the bench, kicking his legs back and forth absently. The last of the children left about fifteen minutes ago, and now he sits alone in the playground. The bench is cold, but he keeps his basket clutched tightly in his lap, not wanting the food inside to get cold. It wouldn't be any good if it were cold.

Thor hasn't arrived yet. But that's okay, because he probably just finished his project and is coming back from his friend's house.

He'll be here any moment, Loki thinks, smiling. It's a little cold, but that's okay, too. He's tough, and he can deal with it.

It's been a while since he last spent time with his brother.

 

xliv. at eight

A boy runs like the devil himself is nipping at his heels, feet pounding against the sidewalk and arms pumping at his sides. If anyone were close enough, they would hear the frantic whispering under his breath.

He arrives at his destination: a playground. It's nearly deserted; there's someone lying on one of the benches, a basket next to a dark head.

"Loki," the boy calls, running to him despite his labored breathing, "is that you?"

There is no reply, but he rolls the figure over, and yes, that is his little brother, whose skin is cool and limbs are pliant and eyes are shut peacefully.

"Please, please, wake up." Thor shakes him, strokes his cheek. "We have to go home, Loki."

"Brother?" Loki's sleepy voice is a heavenly sound.

Thor exhales in relief, trying to pull Loki to a sitting position. It's dark. Their parents aren't home yet, but they will be. "We have to go."

"Your sandwich got cold." Then: "I'm sorry, brother." Loki lapses into silence, and Thor realizes his eyes have slipped shut again.

Hooking an arm under his brother's knees, Thor resorts to lifting him and beginning to walk.

It's dark. Their parents aren't home yet, but they will be.

It's also cold. But Thor pushes those things out of mind; he must get his brother home.

The basket sits back at the desolate bench, a reminder of something forgotten.

Chapter Text

xlv. the aftermath

Thor has never been so scared before, he thinks. Loki is an unmoving figure in his bed, covered by four thick blankets, a comforter, and a pile of pillows. Thor sneaks a peek every now and then, hoping to see a sign of movement, of life, but each time he is disappointed.

But Loki looks almost...angelic this way, surrounded by all the white. His hands are clasped on his chest; it looks too final, so Thor shifts them into a position that makes it look like Loki is sleeping.

Yes, that's it. His little brother is sleeping.

Thor's hands tremble at his side as he paces heavily back and forth the length of their room. He tries to forget the way Loki's skin felt so cold. He thinks he might have seen some hints of blue on Loki's lips, too, but he convinces himself that it's because of the odd lighting.

How long had Loki been out, anyway? Surely not too long, right? Loki was - is, Thor amends, he's still here, so that's an is - smart. Once he realized Thor was not coming, he would have gone home. He would not have stayed out there long enough to get something like hypotherm-

"Thor?"

The quiet, raspy syllable comes from somewhere on the bed. In an instant, Thor is at the bedside, pushing pillows away to get a clear view of his brother.

Loki's hand knocks into his. Thor notes, with a surge of relief, that it does not feel so cold any more.

"Loki," he utters, a little breathlessly, and he is hit with a sudden speechlessness. What could he say? "How long," he begins, and has to swallow and start again lest his voice crack, "how long were you out there?"

The greens of Loki's eyes disappear as he closes them once more, and Thor starts, fearing Loki will drift again. But Loki does not. His little brother does not.

"Where's Mama?" The boy's voice is barely audible.

"They're- They're not home yet. Loki, please answer me." Thor clasps a small hand between his, feels the bones beneath the skin, marvels at how frail they feel.

Loki shifts, and he opens his eyes again. They are wet. "Thirsty," he says, voice small and young and pleading. "Can I- Brother, please, can I have water?"

"Answer me first," says Thor firmly. He has to know; he has to think of an explanation to offer; he has fears that need to be proven false-

The first tear escapes Loki's eye, rolling down a pale cheek. "Thor-"

"Answer me."

"I don't know." The hand that Thor is holding slips away, and then he is holding nothing.

"Why were you out there in the first place?" Thor asks, and this time his voice is not as patient. Guilt tugs at the edges of his conscience, but it isn't strong enough to stop him from reaching out and grabbing Loki's arm, asking, demanding.

"I was waiting for you," Loki cries out, more tears coming now. He struggles vainly against Thor's hold, pleading to be let go, for Thor to stop, that hurts, I can't feel my arm, words some times punctuated by sobs. "That's all you care about, isn't it," he says, cheeks red and eyes just as, puffy from crying. "You don't care about me, not any more, you don't want to get in trouble."

"That's not-"

"That's the only reason you came for me," Loki continues, voice cracking, "because you didn't want Mother or Father to be angry. You don't care that I nearly died-"

"That's not true," Thor says firmly, never relinquishing his grip. "And second, you didn't almost die, so quit overreacting."

"Yes I did," Loki sniffs angrily. "But you wouldn't know, would you, because you-"

"Because I wasn't there?" Thor cuts in. "Is that what you were going to say? I wouldn't know because I wasn't there?" His eyes flash, and he could feel it, this ugly feeling boiling in the pit of his stomach, anger and spite and hurt. How dare Loki think he did not care for him, how dare Loki think that he did not go door to door to door to door asking if anyone saw his little brother, because he did, he worried, he panicked, he cared. "Well then," he hisses, "why don't I leave you outside again?" It is an easy task to haul Loki out of bed. "This time I'll watch, I'll even time it, and we'll see if you really did come close to d-"

"No!" Loki shrieks, so loudly that Thor fears the neighbors heard. His brother continues with a litany of no's and please's and I'm sorry's, but doesn't stop struggling, digging his nails into Thor's forearm, kicking at him.

Thor lets go of his arm, and Loki tumbles from the bed with a thump. As soon as he hits the floor, the boy crawls backwards frantically until his back hits their dresser and he stays there, arms up in front of himself. Thor takes a step, and he hears, uttered between sobs and hiccups: "Please don't hurt me, Thor."

Thor recoils as if he was struck, even though the only other person with him is sitting there, defenseless.

There's a glaring bruise across Loki's arm.

Abruptly, Thor drops to his knees. The feelings in his stomach cease their churning, and it seems like the anger, having done its job, leaves his body in an exhale. "Loki?" says Thor, carefully. It elicits a flinch from his younger brother; so he adds, almost desperately, "I won't hurt you, Loki, I promise."

It all seems to crash down on him then, what he said and what he did. The bruise is the shape of a hand. A brute's hand. One that, if he were to hold Loki's arm again, would match his perfectly.

Disgust swells in his chest, and it's towards himself.

He leaves Loki alone, because that's all he can think of doing. There's nothing stronger than the urge to reach out and envelope his brother into his arms, soothe him - but then he remembers how hard he gripped, the words he said, and represses that urge. He does not trust himself to be able to make this all better.

So he tucks a blanket around Loki's shoulders (and even then he is careful to touch him as minimally as possible). Then Thor leaves and waits in the living room until their parents finally come home. They rouse him from where he is "asleep" on the couch, and when he shuffles into his room, Loki is lying in his own bed, facing the wall.

"How did the picnic go?" his mother inquires softly, so as to not disturb her youngest son.

"Well," Thor says tersely. His eyes flicker to Loki, but he can tell by the slow, steady rise and fall of his shoulders that he's asleep. Come morning, if Loki will decide to spare their parents a different story (the truth), then Thor will accept that. For now, he likes to imagine that the night went as it should have: he and Loki went on a picnic, they played together, and afterwards they ate the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that Loki had meticulously prepared.

"I'm glad to hear that." His mother's tone is reflective of something like pride. "Now, you should go to bed before it gets too late."

But Thor stays up for the longest of times, watching Loki's back, wondering when his little brother will get up, slip out of bed, and sneak across the room to crawl into his. Like he always has.

Loki does not.

 

xlvi. a memory

Once, Thor's friends deigned to let Loki in on their games. "Fine then," Fandral finally relents. "Here, Sif, pass me the crown, would you?"

Loki stood by his brother's side, wringing his hands as he watched Fandral accept the kitschy plastic crown. Fandral instructed him to wear it, and Loki gladly complied, eager to please some potential friends.

"It suits you," Sif said.

"Better than it did Sif," Fandral jibed and subsequently earned himself an elbow to the ribs.

"Can't we play now?" Volstagg raised his toy sword high into the air. "I feel like slaying dragons!"

They had dragged a chair to the middle of the yard, and Loki was told to sit upon it. Many questions were on the tip of his tongue - who will I fight? Can I have a weapon too? What are we fighting for? - but the others immediately launched into their little fantasy, and there was no time for inquiry.

So Loki watched, not quite understanding the game but smiling nonetheless, because he feared they would not want to play with him after all. The boy with dark hair (Hogun, Loki thought his name was) stalked around the chair with fingers curled into mock claws, giving a few roars now and then. A few minutes later, Thor and the others charged him, and some great battle seemed to commence.

They all looked rather silly, running around in their makeshift costumes. Loki observed quietly from his chair, occasionally reaching up to steady his crown. Yes, they all looked silly, maybe except Thor. His brother looked the least ridiculous, as he only had a red sheet tied around his neck and a toy sword in hand.

"Guys?" Loki spoke up. Thor "struck" Hogun on his head, and their dragon crumpled to his knees with one last great roar.

Loki straightened, wondering if this was where he would finally come in - but then Hogun went still, and the dragon was slayed.

"We win!" Thor cried, and Sif thrust her shield into the air victoriously.

Fandral was the one to approach Loki. "We have come to save you, princess!" he declared, got down on a knee, and put a hand out for Loki's.

The youngest boy blinked down at the open palm. Loki's expression morphed into one of bewilderment, then hurt - then anger. He stood up so fast he almost knocked the chair over, and he yanked the crown from his head. "I'm not a princess!" he howled, and threw the crown to the ground and stomped on it. With a crack, the flimsy thing split in half.

"Hey!" Fandral cried out.

Loki could feel his cheeks growing hot and tears prickling at his eyes. He felt embarrassed and tricked. "You're all- You're all jerks!" He ran then, jumping over the small fence that separated their house from Sif's.

He didn't make it all the way to his room before Thor had caught up with him, wrapping his stupidly large arms around his younger brother, preventing any escape. "Calm down, Loki!"

"I'm not a girl!" Loki landed a particularly harsh claw at one of Thor's arm. "I hate your friends, I hate you!"

At that, Thor's arms suddenly gave away, and Loki scrambled for his room. He slammed the door shut behind him and launched himself onto his bed, burrowing under the sheets and wanting nothing more than to dissolve into them, to disappear.

A few seconds later, the bed dipped under a second weight, and Loki found himself being joined under his comforter by his brother.

"Please don't be mad at me, Loki," Thor pleaded softly. "I didn't know you'd get upset. And I wanted to save you."

"I don't have to be a princess for you to save me," Loki sniffled, swiping a hand across his nose. "I hate you."

"Don't say that." Thor buried his face into his neck, and Loki squirmed.

"Stop it, that tickles."

"Not until you take back what you said."

"I won't! Not now, not ever."

"I guess I'll never let go of you, then." To prove it, Thor tightened his hold even further-

 

xlvii. and the present

Loki doesn't know why the memory resurfaces. He watches Thor and his friends from the staircase, all sitting together in the living with books and notes opened in front of them.

It's almost as if he forgot why he disliked them so much, and the memory served to remind him. But it's frustrating, because it also reminds him about all the silly, affectionate things that Thor used to do to make him feel better-

And what had those become now? Dragging his little brother around and threatening to let him freeze outside?

Loki crawls back up to the topmost step, not wanting to be seen. He hasn't talked to Thor since the previous night. Not that he doesn't want to - no, every fiber of his being wants to accept Thor's apologies and hug his brother and make everything okay again - but then he remembers Last Night, and an irrational fear grips him.

He slinks back to their room to do homework.

That night, both of their parents are home for dinner. "So, how did your picnic go, any way?" their father asks them, smiling.

Out of the corner of his eye, Loki sees Thor tense, and they both know that all he needs to say is the truth and-

"I had lots of fun," Loki says, surprising them both. It's easy to feign a smile. "We ate, played together, and then when the stars came out Thor taught me the constellations." He pulls the long sleeve of his shirt even further down. It is the first bruise Thor has ever given him. It won't be the last.

"It's nice to see you boys getting along so well," their mother sighs.

(Loki ate alone. He pushed himself on the swings. He could already name all the constellations.)

 

xlviii. getting too old

About two days later, Loki comes home and Thor's bed is in the hallway, blocking the way to their room. "What's going on, Father?" he asks, peering around for his older brother.

He finds out that his father's study is being cleaned out, so Thor can have his own room. "You boys are getting too old to be sharing rooms," his mother comments, wiping the sweat from her brow. She's just helped move Thor's bed into the new space. "It'll be nice, to have your own," she tells Loki, and she's smiling like it's a good thing. Loki isn't sure whether it is.

Thor's new room is ready by the end of the day. That night, Loki stays awake for some time, staring at the vacant space across him. The room feels empty.

 

xlix. thunderstorms

On the third night sleeping by himself, Loki jolts awake at the loud boom of thunder. His room goes white at the crack of lightning, and Loki is out of bed and his room in record time.

He stumbles to his brother's new room, finding inside that Thor is already asleep. "Brother," he whispers, slipping inside and clicking the door shut as quietly as possible. It's the first word he has said to his brother since That Night.

Thor doesn't respond.

Thunder rumbles again, and Loki is tugging at the edge of Thor's blanket. There's rustling as Thor finally wakes, head lifting from the pillow. He makes a sound of acknowledgement, voice laced with drowsiness. His eyes widen at the sight of Loki. "Is everything okay?"

Loki feels guilty then, guilty for ignoring his brother all this time and thinking all those nasty thoughts about him, because Thor's eyes are genuinely concerned.

"Can I sleep here?" Loki fidgets with a button on his pajama, not meeting his gaze. His voice wavers.

"Yeah, yeah." Thor makes room for him, and Loki means to get in carefully, but at another strike of lightning, he all but dives into the bed. He doesn't think of how tight Thor's hand had been around his arm, just remembers how safe he feels in his brother's arms.

"It's just thunder." Thor's arms come around him nonetheless, and Loki finds himself being pressed into his big brother's chest, warm and secure. He gladly allows it. "Hush, don't cry, Loki."

"Not crying," Loki says thickly and buries his face into Thor's nightshirt.

 

l. the morning

Loki wakes, and sunlight is streaming through half-drawn blinds. He's just in time to see Thor exiting the room, most likely heading for the bathroom.

He smiles, finding that it's easier to do so now that his shoulders aren't so heavy with burden.

 

li. that previous night

"I'm sorry I was ignoring you, Thor." These were the hushed words spoken into the darkness of a room.

Thor looked down at him. "What?"

"I'm sorry I never talked to you and that I always avoided you." Loki drew idle patterns with his finger on Thor's chest. "I was being childish."

"No-" Thor began, shaking his head. "You have nothing to apologize for, Loki. I forgot about our picnic and let you stay out there for hours. I'm the one who hit you and- Do you still have that bruise? God, Loki, I'm so, so sorry. You didn't have to lie to Mother and Father, I deserved whatever punishment-"

"But I forgive you. It's okay, Thor. I shouldn't have gone without you, anyway."

"I won't ever hurt you again." Thor rested his chin atop Loki's head, closing his eyes. "I won't ever yell at you again, either." And he said, ironically: "I promise."

 

lii. the morning, arc two

Thor wakes, and Loki's back is flush against his front. He blinks, wondering why everything is so warm.

It feels nice, holding Loki like this.

And then he shoots straight up in bed, the sheets pooling around his waist. He barely remembers to be quiet so as to not disturb Loki, scrambling out of the bed with shame creeping up his throat.

Thor leaves the room in haste, mind fresh with fragments of a dream induced by a warm body pressed up against him all night.

Chapter Text

liii. small comforts

The weather doesn't let up for the rest of the week, and subsequently, Thor finds himself with an armful of his brother each night. Eventually Loki stops asking, just slips inside quietly; Thor listens for the soft creak of his door opening as a signal to move over and offer a space in his bed. Sometimes, he would catch a glimpse of Loki's knuckles, white from clutching the sheets so tightly. Thor would smooth his hands over the top of Loki's and tell him, "It's okay, the thunder can't get us."

Sometimes Loki would whisper, "Thank you, brother."

Thor, squandering guilt and shame now a week old, would merely shake his head, hold him closer, and that would say more than what he ever could.

 

liv. the computer

Thor's fourteenth birthday rounds the corner. Their father happens to buy a new computer and passes down his old one to Thor. It's placed in Thor's room, situated on a desk meant for studying but rarely used for that purpose, anyway.

Loki accompanies him on his first trek across the great world wide web (not that he hasn't used it before in school, but it's new for Loki). His little brother makes a noise of delight whenever their search of cows or milkshakes or birds return with over a hundred thousand image results.

There's only a single chair, and so Loki takes to clambering onto Thor's lap to look at the screen. Thor perseveres through these instances, wondering what's so interesting about looking things up on Google, all the while trying very hard to ignore the entity in his lap. Even though they are too old for such a position, Loki seems to be uncaring.

Then there are times when he deigns to just lie on his bed, because he doesn't like the warmth that floods his chest whenever Loki is that close to him.

 

lv. a correction

He doesn't like that he likes it.

 

lvi. summer

The air is arid and unbearable, and Thor is lying across the couch with an arm thrown over his forehead, internally cursing the air conditioner for sucking at being an air conditioner. Their parents are out working. Loki is somewhere, maybe in his room again, still marveling over the computer, even though they've had it for a year now.

"Loki!" Thor shouts, running a hand through his sweat dampened hair. "Get out of my room!"

He hears feet running down the stairs, and then Loki appears before him, looking even worse in the weather conditions and vaguely stern. Also, shirtless. "Don't yell at me," he says, and then scurries off.

Thor hears clanging from the kitchen. He groans and puts an arm over his face again. It's too hot for this. "Put a shirt on!"

A few minutes later, something cold nudges his hand. Loki is holding out a glass of water to him, filled to the brim with multiple floating ice cubes and looking absolutely delicious.

Thor slurs something like, "You're the best brother ever," before accepting it.

"Do you feel like you're going to die?" Loki sits on his leg (Thor is already tall enough to take up the whole length of the couch) without managing to spill his own glass. "I feel like I'm going to die."

"You look like you're going to die," Thor says, observing Loki's flaming red cheeks and matted down hair. "Jeez, Loki, you look awful."

Loki nods listlessly. "Is the AC on?" he asks, and at Thor's affirmation, releases distressed whine. "We're going to die."

Thor is usually the one who can put up with warmer conditions while Loki seems resistant to the cold. But today is just a little too warm, and Thor feels like he's melting. With a grunt, he tries to pull his legs out from under Loki. "Get off, fatass."

"I'm going to drown you with my water," Loki tells him, unmoving. Not that Thor isn't already doing that to himself, trying to drink while lying down and spilling water everywhere.

"You couldn't even pin me down long enough to try that."

"Yeah?" Loki retorts. "I'm doing pretty okay right now, I think." But he does move, and Thor sighs with relief, thinking his legs will finally be freed. Instead, Loki drapes himself over Thor, holding his glass over their heads. "Drowning you," he says at Thor's indignant squawk, "remember?"

Thor pushes him away and forgets that he has a glass of water in his hand, too.

It ends up like this: he and Loki sprawled on the couch with two glasses on the floor and water everywhere (or maybe some of it is sweat. Thor doesn't want to think about it).

"Look what you did," Loki says, like it's Thor's fault. Like Thor is the one cuddling up to his brother like a leech- No, not cuddle, that's not the right word - oh, but who would want to cuddle when it's this hot, anyway?

"I'm telling Mother that you wet the couch," Thor says, muffled against Loki's collarbone.

"I'm telling her that you made me wet the couch."

"Get off." Thor grunts. "And put on a shirt, for Chrissakes."

Loki rolls off the couch ungracefully and ambles back to wherever he came from, mumbling, "I do what I want" over his shoulder.

Thor snorts and curls over on his other side. He'd like to move from the growing spot of dampness on the cushion, but he'll wait for his problem to go away first.

 

lvii. drifting, slowly

Thor enters high school, and it is nothing like the movies make it out to be. Everyone is actually rather nice, and most of the teachers are decent. The cliques in the cafeteria aren't blaringly obvious or anything, it's just kind of a free-for-all, grabbing whatever table is empty so that you aren't the poor sucker who doesn't have a place to sit. No one gets stuffed in lockers (at least, none that Thor has seen). Every month, a "classroom meeting" is held, apparently to encourage students to stand out against bullying. Thor doesn't know why it's necessary. He doesn't see it happen.

("Maybe because everyone likes you," Loki says under his breath, because he has heard his fair share of jeers, threats, insults; Thor turns down his music and asks obliviously, "Did you say something?" to which Loki shakes his head. Nowadays, Thor is deaf to a lot of things.)

He tries out for soccer because Sif is, but it turns out that he isn't very nimble on his feet. So instead, he tries out for football, because next to tripping people, he also liked tackling people. Then he reads in some brochure that colleges like kids who do extracurricular-whatevers; he joins swimming, too. He keeps it, because he's actually pretty good at that, too.

As if those two activities aren't enough to keep him busy, his friends are always there like pets who have been starved of attention. They are over far too much for Loki's liking, and their parents are foolish enough to believe that they're working on something school related.

Thor sometimes offers to go to the playground with him, as if he believes Loki still hasn't outgrown it, but Loki remembers That Night and does not wish to ever set a foot upon that place again. When Thor only looks confused and a little hurt, Loki wonders if he is the only one who recalls.

Sometimes they eat dinner without Thor, because he's at swim practice or he has a game or he's with his friends. In these times, Loki tries very hard to ignore the empty chair beside him.

Sometimes Thor snaps at him for no reason, whether by interrupting Loki's sentence with an aggravated "Shut up" or by slamming his door in Loki's face.

Sometimes Loki hates Thor for doing these things, to the point where he considers revealing what really happened on That Night. But doubt stops him: would his parents care for something that happened that long ago? And after the doubt, fear would start edging in: he has not forgotten how strong Thor can be, the pretty bruises that his brother can decorate his skin with.

Sometimes there are thunderstorms and lightning strikes a hello through the wide window in his room, and Loki runs for Thor's room like he used to. Except now Thor's room is almost always locked. Loki, not wanting to go back to his room, sometimes shuffles down to the living room and sleeps on the couch, or sometimes curls up against the wall next to Thor's door.

One time, he wakes up in his brother's bed instead of the floor. Thor himself is already awake and half dressed for school, and when Loki asks what happened, Thor tells him, "I don't know, you were curled up like a cat outside my door. So I carried you in."

Loki thinks he should feel happy, but instead, mortification and guilt settle in. Thor sounded tired, maybe borderline annoyed.

He mumbles a thank you and leaves.  Since then, he makes sure to slink back to his room before he's discovered in the morning. He doesn't ever want Thor to sound like that again, at least, not when he's speaking to Loki.

Because Loki knows: they aren't as close as they used to be. He feels Thor drifting (or maybe it's him, Loki himself, who's drifting).

And it is an awful feeling.

 

lviii. stars

But there are moments - rare ones that Loki likes the most. They're the ones where Thor's door is unlocked and Loki's presence is a welcomed one, and the conversation between them is easy; when Loki feels like a brother again.

Thor's first girlfriend is, admittedly, no one special. Her name is Stephanie-something and she's the one who asks him out because she's dared to. They last about a week, when Thor catches her making out with someone else in some alcove.

"Well," Loki says when Thor tells him, nose crinkling, "you shouldn't have said yes in the first place. But your relationship was doomed from the start, so."

"What makes you such an expert?" drawls Thor. He sighs and stares up at the ceiling. He misses the stupid glow-in-the-dark stars that Loki put up in their old room. "Hey, do you still have those stars?"

"What stars? Oh, those." Loki leans back in the office chair. He's eleven and has traded in his baby fat for lanky, awkward limbs. His hair is dark and scraggly as ever, and the strands brush against his shoulders. "They stopped glowing, so I took them down."

Thor hums in acknowledgement, losing interest in the subject. His brother needed a haircut. "Hey, c'mere." He pats the bed.

Loki spares him a questioning glance, but there have only been rare instances in which he did not trust his brother. Obediently, he abandons his chair and crawls over next to Thor.

When he's close enough, Thor reaches out and tugs on a strand of his hair. Loki slaps his hand away, of course, but Thor just shakes his head. "Grow it out any longer and you'll look like a girl."

Loki puts his hands on his head, affronted.

"I'm going to cut it," Thor declares and rises to find a pair of scissors.

"No!" Loki howls madly, and Thor hopes that didn't wake their parents up. He clutches his head protectively. "Keep your giant, boorish hands away from my hair!"

"Just a trim," Thor says, reaching to hook an arm around Loki's midsection and bring him closer. He uses his legs to keep Loki in place. "No girls are going to like you if you look like one of them, Loki."

His brother finally stops struggling, going limp between his thighs and just sitting there. "You're going to cut it crooked," he mumbles sulkily.

"Trust me," Thor says, and makes the first cut.

 

lix. the verdict

"Too short," Loki complains.

Thor stands in the doorway, arms crossed and studying his brother through the mirror as Loki runs his fingers experimentally through his hair. "Suits you," Thor comments.

It didn't work, says a small voice in the back of his mind. You still find him just as desirable as before.

 

lx. the others

After Stephanie, there are others, of course. Maybe there have been eight or nine by the end of his freshman year, but Thor isn't sure. None last for more than a month.

You know why, sing-songs that same small voice in his head, it's because they're aren't L-

 

lxi. the very, very, very first time

Earlier, there was a party. Thor doesn't remember whose house it was at, nor does he care, but he does remember that it was a senior, and the only reason he got to come was because Sif was pretty good friends with them.

There might have been something in the punch.

As he gets dropped off and barely makes it to the front door without falling flat on his face, he thinks there might have been something in the punch.

He trudges up the stairs, and his vision swims. The nearest door is ajar, to Thor's gratefulness, so he sort of stumbles through and barely remembers to shut the door quietly behind him. He crawls into the bed and there realizes that he isn't alone.

"Thor?" he hears, and the voice is soft and sluggish.

Thor puts out an arm to push the offender away, but his hand lands on the soft, warm skin of a neck. He inhales sharply, mind clearly suddenly but not enough to realize who the body belonged to.

He just remembers dreams, the ones that plagued him for the past year and half. He recalls dreaming of pinning a smaller body against his, but doing so gently, for it felt like they were fragile.

Except now he isn't dreaming; this is reality. His fingers trail downwards, tracing the outlines of a collarbone, then down a flat chest (ah, so it isn't a girl), to a slender waist.

Thor rolls them over so he is on top. Legs open to accomodate him, or maybe he pushed them apart - he's not sure. In the next moment, his hips are grinding against another's and the friction is delicious.

"Thor," he hears again, and it's more of a restrained whimper. Hands clutch at the collar of his shirt, but they do not do anything to push him away or draw him nearer.

He runs his hands appreciatively down long legs, then back up again. He rocks his hips forward, arousal straining in his jeans. Driven by the want for more, he begins rutting in earnest, each thrust eliciting a sweet cry from the body beneath him.

Pleasure mounts quickly, and it isn't long before he gives one last snap of his hips, the coil in his belly finally coming undone, and he finds sweet, sweet release-

 

lxii. inner demons

(It's your brother you sick sick sick bastard you should be ashamed of yourself Loki is your brother-)

 

lxiii. back to sobriety

Thor wakes with a damp spot in the front of his jeans and a pounding headache.

Vaguely, he hears his door opening, and he scrambles to cover himself with a sheet.

It's Loki, half-hiding from behind the door. "Are you okay, Thor?" he inquires so softly, Thor almost doesn't hear him.

"Huh? Yeah, I'm awake- Ow." Thor collapses back down to the pillows. "Where's- Where's Mother and Father?"

"Out."

At least he can take comfort in that. "Do you know where we keep the painkillers?" he asks with a wince. He is never, ever going to trust a punch bowl again.

"Yeah, um... I'll be right back. I'll get you some."

"Wait, Loki." Thor stops him before he can leave, turning to his younger brother. "What - ow, goddammit - happened last night?" Aside from the dream being the reason why his jeans are ruined, of course.

Loki is silent for a few seconds. "You came home drunk," he finally replies.

And his little brother has never lied to him before, so Thor nods and believes him. But what's that on his ne- His head throbs again. Thor groans, rolling over and burying his face into a pillow.

At least he had a pleasant dream.

Chapter Text

lxiv. the-morning-after

Today, the morning is quiet. Loki is usually the one who attempts small talk, babbling to anyone who cared to listen, but that morning there is nothing save for a quiet sizzling, the sound of an egg being cracked into a pan. For this, Thor is grateful, sitting at the dining table with his head cradled in his hands. He wonders if hangovers will always be this bad.

He doesn't realize how hungry he is until Loki slides a plate of bacon and scrambled egg in front of him, steaming and smelling absolutely delectable. He digs in, and the food helps with the pounding in his head. Somewhat.

"Cold?" he comments through a mouthful of food. Loki isn't facing him, but Thor doesn't need a full frontal view to see that he's wearing a long sleeved shirt. Summer is ending and autumn is gradually taking its place, but it isn't that bad - not yet. Besides, Loki has always been the more resilient one towards the cold.

Loki's dark head bobs in a quick nod, and he mumbles something like "Yeah." He puts the spatula down on the edge of the sink and pauses in front of the stove. Heat emanates from the sleek black surface; he's forgotten to turn it off, but the warmth is vaguely comforting.

"Loki," Thor says, this time without as much food crammed in his mouth. "Loki," he repeats, brow creasing worriedly when his sibling fails to react. "Turn off the-"

Before he can finish, Loki's hand shoots out to click the dial back to 0.

This strange behavior isn't helping Thor's headache at all, but he knows he can't just ignore it. "Loki, what's going on?" he asks, but his younger brother thanks him for his concern by fleeing upstairs.

Thor doesn't have the willpower to drag himself to his feet and go after Loki, so he doesn't.

 

lxv. being fair

The following day, Thor comes home late from swim practice and finds an extra pair of shoes by the front door. "Who's over?" he asks their mother in the kitchen, running a hand through his damp hair.

"Balder," their mother replies. The smell of cooking eggs wafts throughout the kitchen, and it reminds Thor of the day before. (Except maybe it smelled a little better with Loki's - not that he would tell their mother that.) "He and Loki are working on a project."

Thor bristles at the thought of that boy in their house. He has half the mind to go up there and interrupt them, but Loki has always been gracious about not interrupting his makeout sessions with the various girlfriends he's brought home. So Thor decides not to, after all, and confines himself to the living room, watching some nameless show.

About an hour later, their mother announces dinner finished and calls the boys down. She asks Balder if he would like to stay, but he declines, claiming that some relatives are visiting and he's eating with them. Thor watches the disgustingly polite display, and then tries not to make a face when Balder smiles at Loki, and Loki smiles back, looking genuinely happy. It's almost like the time they first met each other, and Thor finally turns away. The sight is dredging up less-than-desirable feelings.

He hears the front door close and lets out a breath he didn't know he was holding. "Thor," their mother calls, "are you coming?" and he rises from the couch, stomach grumbling.

Loki still sits next to him, and Thor remembers when they were younger, when he would nudge Loki's foot and Loki would nudge back and they would end up giggling and snorting over their food.

Tonight, their mother comments, "Balder is such a nice boy."

Loki shrugs, picking up his utensils. "I guess."

And Thor hates it, the way his brother looks on the verge of smiling, cheeks close to tinting pink. Knowing thathe wasn't the reason makes it worse; Thor's appetite goes sour and he spends the rest of the night playing with the food on his plate.

 

lxvi. marks

But Loki hasn't had a full conversation with him since yesterday now, and Thor is certain that his little brother his taken to avoiding him. The initial response is hurt - did I do something wrong why won't you just tell me I'll try to fix it - then anger - what have I ever done to you why are you so prone to being like this why why why - and finally, resignation: Maybe I should just apologize.

No, Thor still isn't clear about what exactly he has done to Loki. But he remembers an instance years ago and decides that he will not be complacent. Not again.

"Hey, Loki," he calls softly, coming up the stairs. Their parents have retired to their room and Thor has finally grown tired of the TV. (Nothing good anymore except some re-runs, anyway.)

Light is visible from underneath Loki's door, so Thor assumes he's still awake. He gives a faint knock on the door as a warning and then enters as quietly as he can. "Are you still up?"

Yes, Loki is, and he is standing in front of the mirror, one hand pulling his shirt up and revealing a waist marked by a gray...something.

Loki whirls around, yanking his shirt back down with wide eyes and a stammer of, "Th-Thor-"

Thor is across the room in four strides, one hand on Loki's wrist to still his hand and another bunching up the edge of his shirt, yanking it back up again, revealing the bruise tarnishing the pale, pure skin.

Anger flares inside of him, and he practically snarls, "What is this?" He gets it, Loki bruises easily, but why the hell would he, his little brother, have one on his waist - and one in the shape of a hand, nonetheless?

"Brother, please." Loki's free hand comes down on his forearm, squeezing, trying to get him to let go.

"What happened?" Thor tries to keep his voice down, for the door is still open and their parents could still overhear, but it's becoming harder and harder to control himself. The pieces start coming together; he reaches for the collar of Loki's shirt and, despite his brother's cry of protest, pulls that down, too.

There's another bruise there, already somewhat faded but intact enough for Thor to realize that it is a hickey. His little brother has a hickey.

"Who did this to you?" he demands roughly. Loki's eyes, struck with terror and bewilderment, lock with his.

Thor shakes him once, twice, growls again, "Who did this to you?" And in Loki's silence, a thought occurs to Thor: "Was it Balder? Is that what you were doing with him earlier? Your project? I don't know about you, Loki, but I've never had a project like that before." He's livid at this point, but also hurt and betrayed, because how dare Loki do that with someone like Balder, how dare he think he belonged to anyone else but Thor-

"Thor," Loki utters weakly. His hand has moved from his brother's arm to his chest, trying in vain to push the older away. "Please, stop, that hurts."

But everything did, right? Loki with such sensitive skin, to be coddled and protected because God forbid that his poor little brother should come into any harm. And if he did? Well, who else would there be to blame but Thor, his older brother, the one who's supposed to take care of him; who, if he failed in doing so, would be punished.

But this is too satisfying, having his brother helpless like this. He thinks he might have felt a twinge of this (sadistic? No, no-) pleasure before, but never has it been so prominent. Loki's wrist is like a twig in Thor's grip, could be broken with an easy motion.

"I'll tell Mother and Father," he threatens, words fueled by hate and anger and bitterness. "Jesus, Loki, you're twelve, what were you thinking?"

"It was you!" Loki cries out, and the exclamation startle Thor so much that he loosens his hold. Loki snatches his arm away, takes a step back.

The haze clears. A little. Not enough to stop Thor from wanting to reach out, to grab, to hurt- "What did you say?"

"It was you," Loki repeats. His eyes flicker to the door, as if expecting their parents to have awakened, but they are alone. His gaze moves somewhere else, flits to random spots in his room, but not at Thor. Never at Thor. "And yeah, I know I'm twelve," he says. His voice trembles, but he won't stop, no, this has been on his mind for far too long: "So what were you thinking?"

Thor goes rigid, and Loki's breath hitches. All confidence leaves his system in one exhale. Now I've done it, he thinks. He's going to get even madder and hurt me-

"Liar," Thor says breathlessly. He takes a step towards Loki. His fingers clench and unclench, itching to do something. "Don't you fucking dare say that."

"You came home drunk." Loki forces these words to roll off his tongue. "I- I was asleep, and you came in, and then you started... You..." He trails off, cheeks flared red, unable to continue. "Th-Then afterwards you...just left and when I went to check on you, you were asleep in your room. And in the morning, you said nothing about it, nothing at all, and I was confused, maybe you didn't remember, maybe you hated me now, I didn't know, so I didn't say anything about it-"

"That's impossible." But even as Thor says this, he believes it less and less. "It was a dream."

"If it was, I wouldn't have the bruises, would I," Loki whispers, and finds himself leaning heavily against the wall, feeling faint. His heart pounds harshly in his ribcage and he wants the ground to open up and swallow him whole.

Finally, finally, Thor speaks again. Loki waits for it, the denouncement, but it does not come.

Thor is suddenly close to him, effectively trapping Loki between his body and the wall.

"You don't utter a word about this to Mother or Father," he murmurs, "do you understand? If you do, so help me..."

Thor doesn't need to finish the threat. Loki shakes his head wildly, ignoring the tears threatening to escape the corners of his eyes (because crying is for babies). "No," he agrees, voice raspy, "of course I won't."

Thor steps away, and Loki breathes a small sigh of relief. "Good." He finally garners enough courage to look up at Thor; cold blue eyes stare at him in return. "You won't ever bring it up again, either."

"Never," Loki accedes, all promises.

Thor leaves him alone for the rest of the night, and would continue to do so for the rest of the week.

Loki crawls into his bed and uses his hands for a makeshift pillow beneath his head, if only to stop them from trembling.

 

lxvii. what had really happened

The project was simpler than they thought, and they were finished within the hour that Balder came over. But Loki didn't want his friend to leave - Thor wasn't home yet, and it would have been boring around the house - and said that Balder could stay a little while longer, if he wanted. To his gratefulness, Balder agreed.

They made idle chatter, Loki hanging upside down from the edge of the bed and Balder splaying himself on the floor. Balder was the type of friend that Loki felt completely comfortable around. He never had doubts about telling him something, because he never had to worry about Balder judging him.

So he had no qualms about asking, "Why do you think people kiss each other?"

Balder shifted to his side, blue eyes watching Loki curiously. They reminded him of Thor's, except softer. Something like that. "Um, I don't know," he said, nose crinkling at the strange question. "To show that they love them?"

"Have you ever kissed anyone?"

"Just my parents, but I don't think you're talking about that kind of kissing. So, no." Balder paused. "Why?"

It struck a distant memory. "Just thinking," he replied. "Would you ever kiss someone?"

"Someone told me that you kissed someone if you loved them. So I would, I guess. If I really liked them." Balder was blushing at this point. "Really, why are you asking all these weird questions, Loki?"

Loki thought of two things: an accidental kiss, and then another, sloppier, between a drunk and the one trapped beneath him.

If kisses were supposed to be for people you loved, then all those times meant that Thor just loved him, right?

Loki touches his side semi-consciously.

"I told you, I was just thinking," he said, rolling over. He changed the topic swiftly, satisfied with the answers he had received. "Here, do you want to play some games?"

Chapter Text

lxviii. mistakes

"Never," he'd said.

It wasn't the terrifying look in his brother's eyes that drove him to comply, nor was it the prospect of their parents finding out. It wasn't that Loki feared what Thor would do if he refused. It wasn't that he felt the same way, disgusted, regretful, that he also wanted to put it behind them, to forget.

He waited for something to happen - for his brother to grab him, to-

-do what?

What do you want him to do, Loki?

"Never," Loki said, because he didn't like these feelings churning with him, hated that something like disappointment had settled, heavy in his stomach.

 

lxix. mistakes

It takes thirteen days - not that Loki is counting.

On the fourteenth, he comes home to Thor sitting on the front porch steps of their house. "...Do you want to come over?" Balder asks slowly as they stop by the driveway, and Loki considers. Balder seems to always know what to say.

"Not today," Loki says, decisively. Because he will not be a coward. "I have chores to do."

He hasn't told Balder anything, but he knows that his friend has glimpsed what lies beneath his long sleeves. And though Balder never speaks up, Loki thinks that he has already pieced some things together.

"Are you sure?" his friend insists, baby blue eyes shining in genuine concern.

"I'm sure." Loki smiles. "Thanks anyway, Balder."

Balder gives a curt nod before departing, although hesitantly. Loki waits until he is out of sight before moving forward.

Thor hasn't moved, bent over something in his hand. When Loki's close enough, he realizes that he's listening to some music - probably why he hadn't noticed his arrival.

Thor doesn't look up when Loki walks past him. Loki puts a hand on the doorknob, and then he hears: "It's locked."

He glances back at his brother. "...Why?"

"We're locked out." Thor finally pulls out one of his earbuds and leans back on his elbows, still not looking at him. "Mom and Dad aren't home, and I left my keys in my room." He pauses. "Do you have yours?"

Loki thinks of his own keys, sitting on the table - in his room. He has only gotten them recently and still isn't in the habit of carrying them with him. "No," he admits meekly, hesitant to incite Thor's quick temper.

Thor sighs. "Yeah, I didn't think you would," he says in a way that makes Loki feel bad. "Mom and Dad aren't coming home for an hour." He stops abruptly.

For a few minutes, Loki just stands there, fingers fidgeting with the straps of his backpack - until Thor looks back and says, "What are you doing?"

Loki shoots him a puzzled look.

"Aren't you going to Balder's house, or whatever?" Thor turns away again, and Loki thinks he saw irritation flash across his features.

"No," he answers, but how is Thor supposed to hear him, anyway. He drops his backpack by the door and furtively sits on the other side of the step.

He tries to read for a few minutes, but eventually gives up when his fingers threaten to go numb in the chilly air. He's only wearing a light jacket; he hadn't anticipated staying out in the cold for this long.

Some time later, Thor finally takes note of the way his brother is desperately trying to pull the sleeves of his jacket over his hand for warmth. Loki hears another sigh, and then out of peripheral vision, he sees Thor get up to move closer.

"Why didn't you wear a heavier jacket?" he grunts, wrapping an arm around him roughly.

Loki tenses. He wonders if it's a test. "I didn't expect to be locked out when I got home." In the end, the need for warmth wins out of paranoia, and he lets himself be pulled in.

"Fair enough."

Thor has put his earbud back in and resumed listening to music, and it's so loud that Loki can hear some of the lyrics. His brother is a warm and solid weight behind him, a shield from the cold. They haven't been this close in...a long time. Loki misses it.

"I really miss you, Thor." He knows that his brother can't hear him through his music, but Loki whispers these words nonetheless. He doesn't look up, lest Thor be able to read his lips. He sighs, leans in to the warmth emanating from his brother. "I really miss you."

Together, they wait.

 

lxx. mistakes

(That Night never comes up again, because Loki had promised so.

Slowly, gradually, he and Thor fall back to a state of normalcy - except it's not quite, for every touch and glance that Thor sends his way is careful and guarded.

But Thor also doesn't yell at or hurt him anymore, and Loki's skin stays unblemished for weeks. He doesn't need to wear illogical long-sleeved shirts anymore. There are the occasional moments when Thor asks him for help on his history homework, or sometimes it's English, and Loki would stay even after the homework has been tucked away in Thor's backpack. He would sprawl himself on Thor's bed with a book, reading as his brother finished something up on the computer. And when Thor would nudge his ankle in a request for room, and Loki would make space for him. These are the times that Loki likes best; the weight of the past falls heavy around them, but neither of them say anything. This way, Loki can pretend that they never happened.

He remembers an older brother, a golden figure in the sunlight, helping him walk, pulling him along in his wagon, stubbornly refusing to leave his side when he was sick. Then Loki curls on his side and his arms brush someone else's skin and he thinks, Oh, he has never left.)

 

lxxi. mistakes

First day of high school: Loki is in several advanced classes. Upperclassmen, when the teacher says his name for roll call, ask, "Odinson? You're Thor's brother?"

"You look nothing like him," they say, surely not intending to offend, but it stings a little, anyway.

He has seventh period lunch, which is awful, because it's so late in the day and by then, Loki is starving. When he first walks into the cafeteria, he is overwhelmed by the amount of students. None of them are paying attention to him, but he feels watched nonetheless. He picks out an empty booth near the back, drops off his backpack, and goes to line up.

He says hi to a few friends on the way - Amora, Steve, Natasha, Darcy - and contemplates asking if he could sit with them. But they already looked settled down, the seats are all taken, and he decides that he doesn't want to accidentally kick someone out of their chair.

When he returns, his backpack is on the floor, and there are other older students sitting in his seat. "Excuse me," he says, but they don't seem to hear.

With a sigh, he picks his backpack up and goes to the library.

There, he runs into his brother, sitting in one of the tables and hunched over some math paper. "What are you doing here?" Thor asks, almost accusing, as he eyes Loki's tray.

Loki shifts, uncertain. "Eating lunch."

"There's no food allowed."

"The librarian said I could."

The old lady looked at him and smiled, almost understandingly, sadly, and nodded for him to go ahead. She had a large scar down the side of her left cheek; Loki thought that maybe she had that when she was in high school. Maybe she resigned to eating in the library, too. Maybe she knew how he felt.

Or maybe she simply pitied him.

Thor reaches over and pulls his backpack off a chair. "Sit here, then. Don't want the guys taking your lunch money."

Loki's eyes widen as he takes a seat. "They...They do that?"

"No." Thor's lips split into a smile, and he goes back to his paper. "They'll probably just stuff you in a locker. I think you'd fit."

Loki makes a startled noise.

"I'm just kidding," says Thor, still smiling to himself. "I'd kill anyone who laid a finger on you."

 

lxxii. mistakes

The next day, the same kids take his seat again - so again, Loki takes to the library, and again, his brother is there. "No, seriously, is someone picking on you?" Thor asks.

"No." Loki sits. "I'd just rather sit here."

Thor stares at him, unimpressed, but says nothing more on the matter.

 

lxxiii. mistakes

"Who are they," Thor says on the sixth day. "I'll deal with them."

"There's no one," Loki insists. And then, more hesitantly: "I like sitting here. I like sitting with you."

 

lxxiv.

On bus rides, Thor sits with his friends, and Loki is content to sit with a quiet boy named Bruce. He can hear his brother, even though he's up front and Thor is all the way in the back. Thor seems to turn into a different person altogether when he's with his friends: bright, charismatic, friendly. With Loki, he's more somber, more reserved. Loki isn't sure whether this is a good thing or not.

About a month into the school year, Loki spies a moving van in front of the curb. He asks Thor if Sif is moving (and tries not to sound too hopeful), but his brother says no. The next time Loki sees Balder, he asks him, "Are new people moving in?" He wishes.

Balder looks ashamed, averting his gaze to the ground. "I was going to tell you, but we don't see each other as much anymore..."

"Tell me what, Balder?"

"My dad got a new job in another state, so...we're moving."

Loki nearly shrieks in dismay, and he doesn't care if he is now fifteen and past the point of temper tantrums. "You're moving why didn't you tell me I thought I was your best friend you traitor-" They're both sitting in the grass and Loki very nearly leaps at him.

Balder hugs him abruptly, as if to stifle his loud demands. "Stop, Loki," he nearly begs. "I was going to tell you, I swear! But my mom's been trying to convince my dad to let us stay here, and he's pretty close to agreeing- I didn't want to make you upset for no reason."

"Will you be here for Christmas?" Loki mumbles. "We were going to have a big dinner, and I had an idea for your present-"

"Of course I'll be here for Christmas." Balder releases him. "My mom's a lawyer - if she can convince an entire court, then she can convince my dad."

"She better," Loki says, trying to be threatening, but he's too focused on the thought of losing his best friend.

"Anyway, if I did move away-"

"Which you won't."

"Right. If I did move away, I'd talk to you every day, you know, or at least try to. We would still be best friends."

"I don't want you to go," Loki says, suddenly feeling very small and alone. He plucks at a grass and thinks of all the tiny micro-organisms all around them, going on with their micro-organic lives, oblivious to his dilemma.

Did such tiny things worry about friends?

Sometimes he wished he was one of them.

 

lxxv.

On December twenty-third, the house to their right is empty.

"Balder?" Loki knocks loudly at the front door, rings the doorbell, peeks through the small window of the garage. There is no car inside, and no one comes to the door.

Distressed, Loki wades through ankle-deep snow back home and asks his mother, "Did Balder move?"

His mother looks puzzled. "Yes, they moved out this afternoon. I thought you knew."

"I was at school!" Loki cries out. "How was I supposed to know? How was I supposed to say goodbye? "

He storms up to his room. Thor is brushing his teeth in the bathroom. "Why are you so upset?" he asks, putting the toothbrush down.

Loki ignores him and stomps into his room, slamming his door shut behind him. He buries himself under pillows and blankets and listens to the sound of water running, his own heavy breathing, feeling his eyes sting-

Thor comes in a few minutes later and lies down next to him. "I thought you knew," Loki hears him say.

He pushes the cover away to look at Thor. "Get out."

"I knew he was a dick," Thor says, ignoring him.

"Get out," Loki seethes. "Don't talk about him like that."

"He was your best friend, wasn't he? Bastard didn't even say goodbye."

"Shut up!"

"You bought him a Christmas present too, didn't you? I bet if he knew, he would have just-"

"Stop," Loki says one last time, weakly. "Stop it, just stop." He hasn't cried in a long time (crying is for babies) and he will not break that record tonight. He pulls the blanket back up over his head, refusing to hear Thor any longer.

"I wouldn't do that to you." Thor's arms are around him, suddenly, holding a little too tight. For a few seconds, they stay like that, Loki terrified to move, until Thor continues softly: "I've done things I'm not proud of." Falters. "I... I think about that night a lot, you know? I hate myself every second for it." Takes a deep breath. "But I would never, ever leave you, Loki." Whispers: "Never."

 

lxxvi.

On Christmas eve, their parents invite a few family friends over. Loki doesn't know most of them, so he stays around for the first hour or so before sneaking upstairs. He glances out the window, at the empty house that used to be Balder's. Pushing down the swell of resentment, he decides he doesn't want to go to his room after all and heads for Thor's.

"You didn't like the party either?" his brother asks, sitting on the floor with a can of beer by his knee.

Loki sits next to him. "You're not supposed to be drinking that."

"I'm eighteen," Thor replies flippantly. "I can do what I want."

"Are you drunk?"

"No," Thor says decisively. "The can's not even open, or did you not notice?"

"It doesn't mean you haven't already finished ten other cans."

"Come here, then," Thor demands, and doesn't wait for compliance before grabbing Loki by the shoulder, turning him, and kissing him fully on the lips. "Damn mistletoe," he mutters into the kiss, and then deepens it still, and Loki wants to tell him that there's no mistletoe, you're being delusional, brother, you really are drunk, aren't you?

But he doesn't, because he would be lying if he said he was able to think in coherent thoughts.

Because one night, a year ago, when this same mouth kissed him for the first time, he might - might might might - have kissed back.

Thor pulls back, abruptly.

"What," Loki says, a little out of breath. "D-Did I do something-"

"No."

"Then why did you stop?"

Frustration edges its way into his tone; Thor snorts.

"For a genius, you sure can be an idiot sometimes, Loki."

 

lxxvii.

About brothers, siblings in general: Things happen, from trivial to bad to worse, but it all becomes happened, past-tense. A quarrel may last a week, but it may take a day for reconcilation - and sometimes apologies aren't even needed to be said out loud before they are playing together again.

Here, no apologies need to be said out loud.

 

lxxviii.

On the second day back from winter break, Loki comes to the library without a lunch and in tears.

"What happened?" Thor demands, rising to meet him, but his brother just collapses into the chair. His hair is damp, the strands soaking the shoulders of his shirt, and he's shaking, shaking so badly-

He stammers out a story, but Thor barely understands any of it. Scowling at the unwanted attention they have received from other students, he leans over, grabs Loki's shoulders, and enunciates, "Stop crying and tell me what happened."

In between, he catches swimming and water and scared and drowning. Thor thinks back on his own freshman year and remembers the swimming unit in gym.

"But you didn't drown, did you," he tells Loki, trying to calm him down. "You're fine, you're right here, Loki. There's nothing to be afraid of."

"Th-They're going to m-m-make me g-go back in t-tomorrow," Loki hiccups. He has never looked so terrified, so wrecked. "Th-They made me g-g-get in th-the water today, I d-didn't want t-to, b-but they made me, and I don't want to go b-back, Thor, I don't, I don't, I don't-"

Thor squeezes his hand. "Swimming? You don't know how to swim, Loki?"

"My arms were hurting," Loki is still rambling through tears, "I told th-them I c-c-couldn't any more, but th-they didn't listen t-t-to me."

"The teachers?" Thor asks, disbelieving, but Loki doesn't answer anymore questions. With a sigh, Thor simply lets Loki cling to him, letting the rest of his tears out.

 

lxxix.

"Don't tell Mother or Father," Loki begs him on the bus. "They'll think I'm getting worse again, and I'm not." His green eyes are wide with anxiety. "I'm really not."

The next day, Thor forges a note excusing Loki from swimming.

"This is the only time I'll do this," he warns. "You need to ask your teacher for help, Loki."

Loki fidgets with the note in his hand. He nods, short and clipped. "I don't like them," he says sullenly. "...Will you teach me, Thor?"

"I'm already busy enough-"

"Please. I'll do something for you in return - I'll do your homework, if you want, or your chores."

Thor watches him warily. "It's that bad?"

Loki's eyes flick down, ashamed. "I don't like being afraid of drowning." (Balder would have taught me, he thinks. But Thor isn't Balder; Balder is gone now.)

The bus screeches to a stop. Thor shoulders his backpack, gets up. "Okay, fine. There's free swim after school, so we can do it then." During their walk home, he nudges his brother's arm and says, almost jokingly but not quite, "You owe me."

 

lxxx.

"Is Loki home?" Balder asked.

The date was December twenty-second.

Thor held the front door open, half tempted to just shut it in the boy's face. It was freezing. "No, he stayed after school for a club," he said. "Why?"

"Oh." Balder looked embarrassed. For a while, he seemed to consider leaving - then he suddenly thrust a package out at Thor. "Can you give this to him?"

"What is it?" Thor accepted it gingerly. He already had a vague idea; the bright Christmas wrapping gave it away.

"A goodbye present. There's... There's an envelope inside, a letter for him." Balder fiddled with the fingers of his gloves, standing there awkwardly. "Can you just make sure he gets it?"

Thor finally took it. "Yeah, sure."

Balder's facial features relaxed, and he looked up at Thor gratefully. "Thank you," he said. Then, he added, "A-And could you also tell him I'm sorry? That I didn't get to give it to him myself? My parents didn't want to wait any longer..."

"Yeah, no, I understand," Thor assured with a nod. "I'll explain it to him."

There came a honk.

"That's my dad," Balder said sheepishly. "I- I guess I'll be going, then. I never talk to you much, Thor, but you were really cool." He smiled. "...Take care of Loki, all right?"

"I will," Thor said, and even waved as the younger boy ran back to his car.

 

lxxxi.

The present sits somewhere in the back of a dark closet.

Chapter Text

lxxxii.

Their parents are out, and Loki has already tried to entertain himself with the television, but that didn't work (it never does, really). Eventually, he deigns to go upstairs to his brother's room; he has literally not seen Thor all day, and it is well into the evening.

"Thor, can I come in?"

"What are your legs for?"

Loki pouts and enters the room.

Thor is seated at his desk. He hasn't turned around to look at Loki, fingers still tapping away at the keyboard. "What are you working on?" Loki asks, collapsing on his older brother's bed. "You haven't come out of your room all day, not even to eat, and that's not normal for you, Thor Odinson." He grins lazily up at the ceiling.

"Applications," Thor replies, and that makes Loki's expression falter a little.

He rolls over on his stomach, observing his brother's back. "For what?"

"College. What else?"

"Oh. Of course." The grin completely gone now, Loki rests his chin on his forearms. It's an odd concept, that Thor will be gone one day, that this room will be empty one day. It leaves a strange feeling in his chest.

Something creaks. Thor has swiveled the chair around to face him, and he is beckoning with a hand. "Come here."

Loki presses his face into the soft cover. "I like it here."

"Loki," Thor says, softer, and there's something about his voice that convinces Loki to get up.

"Do you need help writing your college applications, too?" Loki means to sound sarcastic, but his voice cracks a little towards the end. He stops in front of Thor, standing, but his brother puts two hands around his waist and pulls him closer, until he has no choice but to clamber onto his older brother's lap.

"Loki, hey. Look at me." Thor cards his fingers through Loki's hair comfortingly. "I'm not going to be gone forever."

You might as well be, thinks Loki, imagining the hundreds of lunch periods he'll have to endure by himself. He nods at Thor's words and presses in closer, putting his arms around his brother's shoulders for balance. They barely fit on the chair, Loki's feet dangling and still not quite touching the ground. He feels very small this way, despite being only four years younger, but he can't say he dislikes the feeling.

"Can I stay here?" he asks and swells with elation when Thor puts a hand on his back - not to pull him off, but to keep him in place.

He ends up falling asleep, and Thor ends up not finishing his applications that day. The older sighs when he first hears Loki's soft snoring, knowing that he should set his brother down on the bed, turn back around, and keep working, but he doesn't.

Later that night, his back aches in protest when he finally gets up to move them to the bed. Loki has a death grip on his shirt, so Thor figures it can't hurt and slides under the covers with him.

Sleep doesn't come easily that night. Thor stares down at his little brother, and the guilt returns - no, it has never left - to gnaw at his gut. Looking down at him, Thor wonders why he has ever wanted to hurt such a fragile thing.

He tucks a stray lock of hair behind Loki's ear, like it is supposed to make up for something.

 

lxxxiii.

Next month finds the two brothers walking together down the street. It's not too cold, the temperature somewhere around the higher 40's, but Loki is wearing gloves and a scarf. He's sorely tempted to hold Thor's hand as they walk, just like they used to, but he's almost fifteen now; surely they have become too old.

They're headed for the local post office. Thor has his college applications, completed, tucked under his arm.

"Where did you apply to?" Loki asked once.

"There was this nice one in England. Dad's always been wanting an excuse to move us there, anyway."

"Oh. That's nice."

"...I'm kidding, Loki." Thor nudges his shoulder, spotting Loki's confused and helpless expression. "Maybe you shouldn't keep asking about these things if it's just going to make you upset."

"I'm not upset," says Loki indignantly. "You can do absolutely whatever you want, go wherever you want."

Thor chuckles, ruffles his hair teasingly. "If you say so."

When they arrive at the post office, Fandral's there too. Upon Thor's questioning, the other boy is also sending off his application forms. He and Thor launch into a conversation almost immediately, and he doesn't seem to notice Loki until the youngest boy taps Thor's shoulder and asks if they're going yet.

"Loki," Fandral says, sounding surprised. He looks over him once, twice, then grins, and Loki can't help but feel under scrutiny. "Wow, you're taller than I remember." He says it like they haven't seen each other since they were nine, which isn't true, because they have lunch and German together.

"Wait for me," Thor says, putting a hand on his brother's shoulder and speaking lowly. His eyes show mild displeasure, but it's not directed at Loki. "I'll be a few minutes."

So Loki tries wandering around the post office for a while, but eventually that gets boring. The man behind the counter looks almost as miserable as he is.

"Thor, I'm waiting outside," he calls to his brother, but Thor is too occupied talking and doesn't hear him.

Loki steps out and takes a deep breath of fresh air. There's a bench outside, and he takes a seat, hoping Thor won't take too long.

Fifteen minutes later, Loki touches the empty space next to him and can almost imagine a picnic basket-

 

lxxxiv.

When Thor finally comes out, he does so with a slightly panicked look in his eyes. He spots Loki sitting on the bench and demands, somewhat accusingly, "Where did you go?"

"Here?" Loki says, tilting his head.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I did."

Thor seems to remember then - the anger leaves his face and is replaced by relief. "Well, I mailed the stuff."

"Good for you," Loki says wryly, sticking his tongue out. "Do we have to go home?"

"What kind of a question is that?"

"I don't want to go home yet." Lately, he hasn't gone out of the house for anything other than school, mostly in part to the weather. This was their highest temperature for the week.

Thor doesn't say anything for a while, so Loki sighs softly, realizing he's about to get shot down. To his surprise, Thor finally shrugs and says, "Where do you want to go, then?"

Loki cheers to himself. "I don't know," he says, which makes him feel a little silly. He beams.

"I had a feeling you'd say something like that." Thor rolls his eyes, but the gesture is affectionate.

They end up at a convenience store, after a ten-minute drive of Loki changing the radio station frequently and incessantly. "Just pick one," Thor complained, and to spite him, Loki left it at the country music station.

So when he finally kills the engine and steps out, Thor has to breathe a sigh of relief. Loki is already ahead of him.

Inside, the convenience store is already over-decorated with Valentine's Day paraphernalia, white-pink-and-red hearts everywhere even though the actual holiday was still two weeks away. He doesn't know where Loki went, but he knows his little brother well enough to check the candy aisle first.

"Oh no you don't," Thor says, plucking a chocolate bar from his hands. "You're hyperactive enough without the sugar." But he knows that Loki will try to sneak a bar when he's paying, so he doesn't say this with much conviction.

The next aisle is full of Valentine's cards, inscribed with cheesy words and sometimes innuendos. Loki finds him glancing through them disinterestedly. "Are you buying someone a card, Thor?" his brother asks, whispering, eyes almost comically wide.

"Yeah, sure." Thor plucks one out at random, because he kind of likes the way jealousy flashes across Loki's features. "Come on, we're paying."

On the way to the counter, he grabs some chips and soda. Loki does indeed try to sneak a chocolate bar when he's not looking, but Thor's been having trouble saying no to him lately, so he lets it slide.

Loki seems to know that he knows; when they step out, he puts his arms around Thor and declares something akin to, "You're the best."

 

lxxxv.

Loki is happy that things between him and Thor are a lot smoother than they ever have been. There are, of course, fights over the most trivial things, but they're small and forgotten by the next day.

Sometimes he forgets that besides him, Thor still has his other friends.

With the first semester of the year over, Loki gets a new schedule with a new second semester class. Now, as he's walking to first period, he passes by his brother's locker.

Most of the times, he doesn't see him, and sometimes, he does. Thor is often talking with other boys, all who easily tower over Loki.

Loki knows that his friends are a big deal to Thor, so he never interrupts them.

But on some days, Thor isn't talking with boys, but girls, all who cross their arms in an attempt to make their boobs look bigger and leaning towards him with not much subtlety. Loki does interrupt those by tapping Thor on the shoulder and asking some question he already knows the answer to.

He finds that if he looks lost enough, Thor will forget completely about the girl, and Loki will have the pleasant opportunity to shoot her a snooty look as Thor leads him away.

But on other days, his trick doesn't work, and Thor waves him off, completely enamored by the girl.

These times make Loki's chest hurt a little, because hadn't Thor kissed him? Didn't that mean that he liked him?

Then again, his brother had been drunk.

Loki would walk away with these thoughts, his day dampened just a little.

 

lxxxvi.

On Valentine's Day, their parents declare they're going out. "We should be home before eleven," their mother tells them. "Don't stay up too late, okay?"

Thor nods. He has a feeling they'll be coming home later than that. "I know, I know."

"Stay safe, you crazy kids," Loki chimes, and laughs to himself. He's perched on the counter, long legs dangling.

"The fridge is stocked, so you two probably won't starve," their father says. "If you use any dishes, just load them into the dishwasher." And then, right as he's leaving: "And take care of your brother."

This one is for Thor. "Don't I always?" He cocks an eyebrow, lying straight through his teeth and not entirely apathetically.

When the car is finally pulling out of the driveway, Loki's legs stop swinging and his shoulders slump a little.

"Usually you're happier about being alone," Thor comments, getting a glass of water.

"I'm happy," Loki says defensively.

"Come here." When Loki doesn't move an inch, Thor abandons his glass on the table to stand in front of Loki. "I threw out the Valentine's card, you know," he says gently.

Loki sneers. "Why would you do that? What a waste of money."

"It was ninety-nine cents."

"Do you know what you could have bought with ninety-nine cents? Chocolate. But you-"

Suddenly, Thor is leaning forward and kissing him, effectively silencing Loki. He feels his older brother's hands slide down to rest on the side of his thighs, a warm and pleasant pressure.

"Thor," Loki mumbles into the kiss, a hand on his brother's chest. The kiss is devoid of any traces of alcohol, which is wonderful. "Why did you kiss me on Christmas?"

"There was a mistletoe."

Loki frowns, but he does pull Thor closer with his legs. "No there wasn't. I think you really were drunk."

"Okay, fine, you caught me." Thor has moved his attention to Loki's neck, kissing the soft skin there. He doesn't sound particularly caring. "It was all some elaborate plot to find a way to kiss you."

"You could have just asked," Loki grumbles, and then he feels Thor's teeth sink into his shoulder - gently, but enough to elicit a gasp from Loki. "No marks," he has the mind to say, fingers winding into Thor's hair encouragingly.

Thor's lips are back on his again, and his brother's hands are moving up, cupping the swell of Loki's ass and lifting him from the counter.

Loki feels a rush from being lifted so easily and the way Thor's muscles tighten as he carries his weight. A few seconds later, Loki feels himself being lowered onto the couch.

Thor joins him not soon after, settling back between his legs and kissing him again. This kiss is dizzying, mainly because Thor is so close, and then pressing even closer, his hips rolling into Loki's. Through the thin fabric of their pajama pants, Loki can feel the heat radiating off Thor in waves.

Thor breaks the kiss to take one of Loki's hands and guide it downwards. Loki gives a soft gasp when his hand comes in contact with something hard between his brother's legs. "That's your fault," Thor grunts, and because he could, Loki gave an experimental squeeze.

"Fuck," Thor hisses into his ear, which only spurs Loki on.

He has next to no idea what he's doing, but if Thor seems to like it, then Loki has no qualms.

"Stop that," Thor finally groans, though he doesn't sound too glad. He takes Loki's wrist and pins it to the cushion beside his head.

"What," Loki asks, breathless, staring up at Thor with confused emerald eyes. A red flush has settled on high his little brother's normally pale cheeks. He half-heartedly tries to tug his wrists free, but knows it's futile and resorts to lying there. (He won't ever admit it, but he likes this, being trapped under Thor.)

Thor leans in close, and his breath is hot across Loki's skin. "What do you want, Loki?" he murmurs, lips brushing against the outline of Loki's collarbone.

The lithe body beneath him arches up, but Thor keeps his wrists pinned down. "I want you," Loki whines, and Thor would be a liar to deny that that is one of the most arousing things he's ever heard.

He releases one of his brother's thin wrists in favor of hooking a finger around the waistband of both Loki's pajama pants and underwear. They slide off easily, leaving his younger brother's legs bare. He feels Loki shiver slightly beneath him.

"So eager," he whispers with a chuckle, wrapping a hand around Loki's erection. Beneath him, Loki lets out a choked noise.

He leans down to kiss him for the umpteenth time, Loki's free hand gripping his shoulder. "I'd break you," Thor says against their lips, almost grinning.

"Don't care." Loki cants up, all too eagerly. "Please, Thor, do something-"

"You will care when your ass is sore the next morning." Thor doesn't give him a chance to reply to that. He starts moving his hand, slow, lazy strokes that have Loki's eyes glazing over in pleasure.

"I won't take you, not tonight," Thor tells him lowly, his hand never stilling. "But I can already imagine how tight and hot you'll feel around me." He moves up the couch, lifting Loki's legs so that his own clothed erection is pressing against Loki's ass.

Loki is panting under him, cheeks flushed even redder, looking so wonderfully disheveled already.

"I would have you all night," Thor leans his forehead against Loki's and shoves his hips forward. He groans at the contact, tempted to pull down his own pants and feel Loki flesh to flesh. "You'll beg me to stop, but I won't- God, you're beautiful like this, Loki-"

His little brother comes with the sweetest cry, nails digging  into Thor's shoulders, and it hurts but it's worth it, seeing Loki come apart right before his very eyes.

"I love you," Thor utters, his hand coated with cum. He holds Loki through the aftershocks, kissing down his precious little brother's cheek. "I love you."

"Thor," Loki mumbles, shifting against the other's still-hard cock poking against the back of his thigh. "You're still..."

And Thor honestly doesn't mind, he can take care of himself- but he also doesn't mind it when, minutes later, Loki is between his legs, lips stretched so prettily - and clumsily - around him-

When he finishes, he'll pull Loki back up to face level and sink his teeth into the flesh of his brother's neck, uncaring that it will leave a sizeable mark. "Mine," he whispers, holding him tight. "You belong to me, Loki."

"Yours," Loki agrees listlessly. He tilts his head back, eyes fluttering shut.

I have never been otherwise.

 

lxxxvii.

The next morning, Loki wakes up, remembers the previous night's events, and then burrows back under the covers. He stays there for a while, blushing furiously even though he's alone in his room, until he finally has to get up lest he miss the bus.

He finds a note and a card on his bedside drawer.

Looks like I didn't throw it out after all, reads Thor's messy scrawl. Happy Valentine's Day.

The card has something horribly cheesy, but it's from Thor, and that's enough to save it from going straight to the trash bin.

Cradling it to his chest, Loki smiles.

Chapter Text

lxxxviii.

Dear Loki,

I'm really s

I w

I know that you're either extremely angry at me or you're crying your eyes out. You're scary when you get angry, so even though I hate to make anyone, especially you, cry, I'd rather have you doing that instead of planning my ultimate demise. (You taught me that phrase, by the way.)

I liked like you. A lot. When I first met you, I thought you were a little weird because you were really tiny, and I wasn't sure whether you were a boy or girl until Thor called you "brother." A few years later, I realized that I never really cared about whether you were a boy or girl. You had the most bea pr greenest eyes I'd ever seen, and you were one of my only friends, and you were nice and sat with me at lunch and told me that if anyone tried to take my lunch money, I should tell you, because you would tell your brother and then he would beat them up.

I always wanted to do the same for you, you know. I always wanted to be able to tell the guys who picked on you to go away. I guess you did ward them off through your own ways (that one prank with the glue was hilarious) but that didn't stop me from feeling a little useless.

I hate myself for not telling you any of this sooner, but I had a good reason not to. I knew you didn't like me back. I remember when you were in sixth grade, you had a crush on that boy before he moved away (was his name Tony? I can't remember). You always seemed distant and thoughtful and you would ask questions like "How do you tell someone you like them?" or "Do you think someone would ever like me?"

I'm not nearly as smart as you, but I can notice things. You've been like that for so long now. At first I was hurt because you never told me whether you did like anyone else or not, but then slowly I now I just want you to be happy, you know? And since you've been happier smiling a lot more lately, I'm assuming that whoever they are, whether I'll ever know about them or not, they do make you happy and that makes me happy.

I'm sorry(x1000000) that I couldn't get my parents to change their minds about moving and I'm even more sorry that I couldn't tell you all this to your face and I'm also sorry that this letter so messy, but I'm writing this even though I'm supposed to be packing.

One day, when you're famous for being super smart, you can invite me over to your giant mansion and we'll go around pranking your rich neighbors. I'm really going to miss you, Loki, and I promise I'll try to write to you as much as I can, and I hope that you'll still consider me enough of a friend to write back.

lo your (best) friend,

Balder

 

lxxxix.

By the end of the week, two more letters have joined the unwrapped present.

 

xc.

"What have you been doing lately, Thor?"

Senior year truly isn't as exciting as Thor thought it to be, back when he was a freshman. College is a daunting concept (he isn't even one hundred percent sure about what he will take up, he just sent those applications in to whichever place sounded appealing). His mother and father don't know this, of course, and they probably assume that Thor will pursue business, but he will neither confirm nor deny that.

His friends are definitely more enthusiastic about their last year of high school than he is.

"We don't even know if we'll be cities or whole states away, next year," Volstagg says. He and Fandral walk alongside Thor to the cafeteria.

"This can be our last year together, but it's like you're making yourself more and more scarce every day! Has someone else been keeping you busy, Thor?" Fandral, the most dramatic out of their group, raises an eyebrow and grins, teasing. "What's her name, eh?"

Thor shakes his head, adding a laugh to make it more convincing. "It's not someone, it's something. My parents are adamant about my focusing on my future." He smiles broadly at them.

"Oh, adamant. Expanding your vocabulary, I see. Are you dating someone smart, then?"

"Shut up."

"Okay, okay. We'll assume you're telling the truth, then." Fandral elbows Volstagg in the side. "Sif will be happy to hear that."

Thor doesn't realize the implications until two days later, when Sif asks if he's going to Spring Fling with anyone, no?, well then, would you like to go with me?, and a yes slips out before Thor can really stop himself.

 

xci.

He keeps meeting Loki at the library, though he now does this consciously. He didn't know that the time he spent with his brother was that noticeable.

"Are you okay?" Loki asks, glancing up from his book. He didn't bring a lunch today, claiming he wasn't hungry. They're in a fiction aisle with shelves filled with books upon books of teenage supernatural romance. Charming. "You've been staring at the same math problem since I came in here."

"It's a hard one," Thor defends.

Loki pulls a half-amused-half-confused expression. "It's been twenty minutes and you haven't even picked up your pencil!" When Thor doesn't bother to retaliate, he adds, "No, really. Are... Is everything okay, Thor?"

Thor leans back against the shelf, sighing in a way that made Loki even more worried. "I'm failing math," he announces.

"Why are you smiling?" Loki cries out, looking about ready to fling his book at his brother. "Can't you ask your teacher for help?"

"That's the problem, Loki." Thor shakes his head. "This is my only study hall, and I spend it with you."

Loki's face goes blank suddenly, and the younger boy's shoulders sag visibly. "Oh," he says. "Well, um. You don't- You don't have to...keep spending it with me."

"Are you kidding? What if your awful swimming teacher makes you cry again, and I'm not here to comfort you?" Thor says playfully, slinging an arm around Loki and pulling him over.

Loki nearly trips over his own feet, and his face colors bright red as he pounds his fists half-heartedly against Thor's chest. "Let go, someone will see," he hisses.

"Or worse," Thor continues, eyes dancing in mirth, "someone else will come to you instead."

"Stop it," Loki complains, glaring up at him.

"Come here." Thor glances around before dropping a quick kiss on Loki's lips. "I'm going to have to start seeing my teacher for extra help - if I fail the class, I'm pretty sure that'll get me kicked off football and swimming." He tilts his head down at Loki, eyebrows furrowing a little. "Is that okay?"

"Of course it is," Loki says, nodding. "You don't even have to ask, Thor."

"You're the best little brother ever," Thor tells him with a grin, hand coming up to pinch Loki teasingly on the cheek. "Look, to make it up to you, I'll start teaching you how to swim better."

And Loki can't deny this, because his final swimming assessment is in a month, and if he fails that, then his grade will drop and he would have to retake the class during summer or repeat it next year. Honestly, why did the school find swimming to be so important?

"When are we going to do that?" Loki knows that the swimming team held practices after school sometimes, and there was no way they could sneak in during the school day.

"There are no swimming practices on Wednesdays and Thursdays," Thor replies. He hears voices nearby, and he releases Loki and steps back to appear normal. "We'll come in after school."

"Wouldn't the school care?"

"The guys and I used to meet up there all the time. The pool's open for free swim after school, but no one really likes getting soaked in chlorine more than they have to."

Loki bites his lip. "Well, okay." The thought of the deep end still makes him a little nauseous, but knowing that Thor will be there makes him feel a little better.

"I'll turn you into the best swimmer in your class." Thor claps him on the shoulder, the grin returning to his face. "They'll never know what hit them."

 

xcii.

The first time Thor takes him to the pool, Loki doesn't get in at all. "I don't think I'm feeling very well today," he mumbles, and Thor knows he's lying, but he can also see the flecks of anxiety in Loki's green eyes and decides not to push it. He gets in instead and gives Loki a few words of advice:

"You have to stay relaxed. You won't drown. Even though you're convinced your teacher hates you, they will never, ever let you drown."

The second time, Thor finally manages to coax his brother into the water, but they stay in the shallow end. Loki keeps having to stop in the middle of a length to catch his breath, and later they find it's because his pacing is uneven.

"We'll practice," says Thor, pulling Loki to the side. "You're going to put your face into the water, count to four, and once you get to four, you're going to come back up for air. Then you'll do it over again." Already seeing his brother's eyes going wide, Thor puts a hand on the back of his neck and says, "I'm here, Loki, I'm not going to let anything happen to you."

Loki keeps a death grip on his arm, but obeys nonetheless. He takes a deep breath and then ducks down into the water, counting: one, two, three...

On four, he realizes that Thor's hand is still on the back of his neck, and for a terrifying moment, he thinks that Thor will keep holding him down until he runs out of air.

But Thor doesn't, and Loki is able to resurface easily. He blinks the water out of his eyes, heart still beating irrationally fast, and is too ashamed to look at Thor. How could he think that about his brother, after all Thor was doing for him?

"Again," Thor says gently, and his thumb rubs a soothing pattern into Loki's skin.

Loki nods shakily and repeats.

 

xciii.

As they agreed, Thor no longer comes to the library. For the first week, Loki still comes there to eat his lunch, but it's not the same without Thor.

So he starts eating at the cafeteria again, and a nice upperclassman named Peter even invites him over to their table. When Loki takes a seat and scans the other students sitting around them, he can't really call any of them his "friends."

But after two eventful lunch periods full of inside jokes (all of which, to Loki's delight, were explained to him), much badinage, and an almost-food fight, Loki begins to think otherwise.

 

xciv.

One day, on the way back from the bathroom, Loki sees his brother walking down the hall.

Thor is with his friends, and they're walking in the opposite direction, so none of them notice Loki. Since Darcy hasn't come out of the girls' bathroom yet, Loki starts to call out to Thor until he sees his brother's arm slung around a girl's waist.

Loki falters, his lip twitching down into a frown, and just when he thinks that perhaps he's reading too much into it, they stop, Thor turns to the girl, and she leans up and kisses him.

"I think the school has cinnamon-scented handwash," Darcy announces as she comes out of the bathroom. "Oh, hey, sorry if I took too long. I got distracted."

Loki shakes his head mindlessly and asks if they can just go back to lunch.

 

xcv.

"Am I really getting better, Thor?" Loki says quietly as he pulls his shirt over his head. (Whenever he closes his eyes, he can see the empty hallway and Thor and that girl together, and it's awful, awful-)

(Why was he getting so upset? One instance didn't mean that Thor had lied to him about having to see his math teacher.)

(Besides, Thor had said he loved him.)

"You can swim a whole length without stopping now," Thor points out.

The locker room is empty save for the two of them.

Loki exhales, rubbing the back of his head. "I guess."

"You'll pass that test, Loki."

"I hope."

"You're going to do just fine, okay?"

"Okay."

He turns around, and suddenly Thor is there, sans shirt and expression inquiring. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"Bullshit."

Loki rolls his eyes. "You kiss our mother with that mouth?" He slaps Thor on the shoulder before skillfully ducking away. "Did you bring your math grade up, by the way?"

A beat of silence.

"Yeah. I mean, I'm still getting help, but they're definitely better."

Loki bites his lip. "That's good." He glances over his shoulder and quips, "And put a shirt on."

 

xcvi.

Thor doesn't know why Loki keeps deflecting his questions and shying away from him. He hates knowing that something is bothering Loki and then not knowing what it is.

"There's nothing wrong, Thor," Loki would persist and lean up and kiss him, in order to stop Thor from asking any more questions.

So Thor, not knowing what else he could do without forcing Loki, begrudgingly takes his word for it.

 

xcvii.

It is on an innocuous day that Thor finds It.

He's hunting through his parents' file cabinet for one of his old report cards when he pulls out document, several pages thick with a birth certificate attached to the book.

Words: printed on paper and a little faded but still clear enough, they swim across Thor's eyes as he tries to comprehend them.

They tell him that he does not, in fact, have a brother.

 

xcviii.

That night, Loki opens his eyes blearily to the feeling of someone picking him up from the bed. "Trust you to fall asleep in a pile of homework," his carrier grumbles, and Loki recognizes it to be his brother.

His cheek aches, probably due to being pressed against the surface of his desk for so long. He sighs when Thor lowers him onto the bed, the soft covers wondrously soft. "Don't leave," he mumbles when Thor gets up.

"I was just going to take my shoes off," Thor tells him, and Loki smiles tiredly.

Moments later, another body joins him in the bed, and Loki lets his older brother's arms come around him. They encircle him easily, and Thor is a comforting warmth. No matter what has transpired in the past month, no matter how many nights Loki lied awake, staring at his ceiling and seeing that hallway over and over in his mind, he will never tire of feeling so safe.

"I love you, brother," Thor says into his hair. His breath hitches a little on that last word.

Loki tenses. Did you tell her that, too? "Mhm," comes the sleepy response, a few seconds too delayed.

Thor frowns, but Loki seems to have already fallen asleep.

Chapter Text

xcix.

Thor acts no differently towards him in the next several days - at least, there has been no change for the worse. In fact, Loki could say that he has started acting more…affectionate.

He also thinks that Thor and their parents may have had another argument lately, one that he missed. Conversations at the dining table are terse and awkward, and Loki once caught Thor and his father speaking in hushed voices, their tones suggesting that the subject was none too happy.

He tries asking Thor about it, and Thor’s answer is that they’re arguing about what he will pursue in college. That makes sense; their parents have been pushing him towards a business track, while Thor held little care for such things. It would also be the reason why he has been so lenient around Loki lately - perhaps he realized that they were going to be separated soon?

Usually, Loki would try not too feel too giddy about that prospect. He will miss Thor very much, and his brother probably will too, but the truth of the matter is he needed Thor far more than Thor needed him.

But he still questions Thor’s motives. What about that other girl?

Wouldn’t Thor have the decency to tell him first?


c.

Loki slips into the water and immediately puts his arms around himself. The pool was always warm during actual classes, but after school, it was freezing.

“You okay?” Thor asks above him, grinning at his younger brother’s obvious discomfort.

“Shut up,” Loki grumbles. “You try coming in here.”

“I probably will have to, won’t I? Last time, you almost drow-”

“You pushed me in when I wasn’t ready!” Loki splashes him, scowling. The action isn’t entirely playful. He takes satisfaction in the way Thor almost stumbles back from the water.

“You’re going to make me come in there,” Thor warns.

“Why don’t you?” Loki challenges.

And Thor’s shirt is halfway over his head when there comes a ringing.

“Is that mine?” Loki peers over the edge of the pool.

Thor pulls his shirt back down and walks over to their pile of clothes, digging through the pockets of Loki’s trousers. “Hey,” Loki complains, because he’s still a little mad at Thor and therefore displeased with the fact that his brother just looks through his things without permission.

The ringing stops.

“Who was it?”

“Solicitor,” Thor says. “I’m going to block this number, all right?”

Loki pushes off onto his back, choosing to float and stare up at the ceiling. “Okay.”

“Oh, good, you’re in position. We’re starting off with backstroke today.”

 Loki is relieved at that, because he has little trouble with backstrokes, mainly because he doesn’t have to actually put his face in the water.

Thor is waiting for him on the other side of the pool. “Thor,” Loki says, before going onto his second length, “you tell me everything, right?”

“No.”

“…What?”

“I recall the last time I tried to tell you how good you smelled, you smacked me and told me to keep those things to myself.”

Loki flusters, then immediately feels angry at himself for doing so. “I don’t mean that,” he grouses. “I mean…if it was something important, you’d tell me, right?”

“ ’Course I would.” Thor raises an eyebrow questioningly. “Why? Do you think I’m hiding something from you?”

“No!”

“Are you hiding something from me?”

“Never mind, you’re hopeless!” Loki bats him away and returns to starting his second length.

When he finishes that one, Thor has walked to the other side again and is on the phone.

“Who’s it?”

Thor holds up a finger at him. “No, I’m with my br- Loki. Yeah, I know. Uh huh. Okay, okay, don’t worry, I’m leaving right now.” He flips the phone shut with a sigh.

“You’re leaving?” Loki frowns. “But we’ve barely started!”

“I know, and I’m sorry.” Thor crouches over by the side of the pool. “But Sif is freaking out because we switched math packets, and she doesn’t want to turn in an empty one and get a zero for homework points. We’ll continue after school, yeah? Homeroom’s almost over, any way.”

Loki agrees begrudgingly and pulls himself out of the pool. By the time he’s drying himself off, Thor has already left.



ci.

To: Thor
From: Loki
Do you have an extra towel? Mine’s still wet from this morning.

To: Loki
From: Thor
oh yeah I was going to ask you sooner…. do u mind if we cancel? hogun wants me to come over after school.

To: Loki
From: Thor
he’s moving away in a couple days, so



Loki would have perfectly understood, if Thor hadn’t driven them to school that morning and thus was his only ride home. Loki misses the bus as he waits by the pool area. When he finally walks out in the parking lot, wondering about his brother’s absence, he finally receives the texts.

Darcy has stayed after school in the library, so he asks her (sheepishly) if she would mind driving him home.

Loki is in a sour mood for the rest of the evening. At around ten o’clock, Thor comes back home, and when he tries to wake Loki up to ask for help with something, Loki turns over on his other side and ignores him.



cii.

This is the first time he has ever felt so vehement towards Thor, and it could nearly be described as exhilarating. Loki thinks back to a time in his room, where he had stood in front of the mirror, looking over his bruises, and Thor had come in and assumed that they were from Balder.

Loki has half the mind to just confront him about it, as Thor had done with him: grab his arm and force him to explain what’s really going on. And although he might not succeed in keeping Thor in place, for his brother was still much stronger than him, it would certainly yield more answers, as opposed to doing nothing and letting hurt fester in silence.

So he decides that he will put his foot down for once.

Unfortunately, this will all happen on Spring Fling.


ciii.

A day before the dance, the following transpires:

“Are you going with anyone?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Tomorrow. Spring Fling.”

“Uh, no. Are you, Thor?”

And for a single, foolish moment, he wonders with baited breath if Thor will ask him.

“No. My friends and I are going as a group. Are you not coming, then?”

“Probably not.”

“You need to get out of the house more often, Loki!”

“What, and be one of the people standing awkwardly by the side, while everyone else grinds on the dance floor? No thanks."

 

civ.

Dear Loki,

After today, I have officially been a member of my new school for a week. (Hooray!) It's actually a good place - the teachers and the students all seemed nice, even if some of them were just faking it because their teachers probably told them to. Apparently, they rarely get new students, so I'm like a miracle or something. No one's ever heard of shoving someone else into a locker. For phys ed, they don't force you to run 23490823401 laps as a warm up and they don't scream at you when you have to stop and take a breath. On the downside, the food's worse here than it was there. Also, they overcharge for muffins. A dollar for a thing that isn't even as big as my palm? Blasphemy!

And I made friends! (Only two this week, but one step at a time.) We sit together at lunch and it's ridiculous because they have a bunch of other friends too, and no one ever shuts up and we're probably the loudest table in the whole cafeteria. 

I wish you were here. Every day, I can imagine you taking one of those muffins and going into a rant about how it's completely absurd that the school is ripping us off for such puny things.

still your best friend,

Balder

p.s. did you like the books?

 

cv.

Loki sets the paper down shakily, moving to the package with his name written on the top. From Balder, says the bottom, which doesn't make sense, because why would this be in Thor's closet?

He takes care with opening it, revealing two books and a folded piece of paper. He reads that before anything else.

The first book Dealing with Brothers for Dummies and the second is an anthology of short stories. He hears Thor coming up the stairs, so he quickly gathers everything up and rushes to his own room, not out of fear of being caught, but because he doesn't know how to face his brother after this. He completely forgets the textbook that he had originally been searching Thor's room for.

Loki locks himself in his room for a majority of that night, surrounded by letters, torn-open envelopes, and an opened book.

 

cvi.

The next day, their mother sends them both off to a tuxedo rental shop, and no matter how hard Loki tried to dissuade her, she shook her head and said simply, "You're brothers. You should be doing this together."

The car ride is painful, because it's all Loki can do to stare out the window and keep quiet while Thor goes on obliviously. He wants to ask his questions but at the same time he wants to believe that he never saw those letters, that Thor never hid them from him, that Thor would never do such a thing.

So as they're on their way back, Loki asks quietly: "Do you know the story of the scarlet ibis?"

Thor shoots him a sideways glance. "What's that?"

"Actually, the story isn't even about it, but it's a bird, and it's r-"

"Just get on with it, Loki," Thor says, and evidently that's meant to be taken light-heartedly, but Loki still flinches.

"It's about these two brothers, see, and the younger one was really sick. I think he might have had leukemia, I'm not sure, but as soon as he was born, everyone thought he was going to die. Their father even... He built a coffin for him. But when the baby exceeded expectations and lived, the father turned the coffin into a wagon." Loki keeps his eyes fixed outside the window. He can sense that Thor's mood is slipping, and all he can think is, Good, good, serves you right-

"And who else was there to pull him around other than his older brother? Not that the older brother was happy about it, because one, he hated that everyone knew he had an unhealthy brother, and two, his younger brother wanted to follow him everywhere. At one point, he even wanted to smother him with a pillow, just to put him out of his misery.

"Then he saw an opportunity to change things. He would teach his little brother how to climb better, run better, swim better. One day, his little brother would be just like the other kids, and he himself wouldn't have a sickly brother any more! So he convinced his younger brother to start 'training' with him. It was for his own good, he would say. This would all be for his benefit, when really, the older brother just wanted to clean up his own reputa-"

"Loki," interrupts Thor sharply. "What are you getting at?"

But by this time, they've already pulled into the driveway, and Loki doesn't do anything until Thor twists the keys out of the ignition. Then he leaves, not once looking at his brother.

 

cvii.

On the actual day of Spring Fling, Steve texts Loki if he would like to go together. After the initial surprise that Steve knows how to text?, Loki finds no harm in agreeing. He doesn’t like Steve like that nor does Steve like him like that (Loki is sure that he likes another girl). They simply had an even number of people in their little group of friends, and eventually decided to split up into pairs and then go together.

Loki just decides to avoid Thor as much as possible - this is for an innumerable amount of reasons.

Thor leaves the house first, under the assumption that Loki isn’t going. Loki waits for the sound of the car pulling out of the driveway before going upstairs to change.

Half an hour later, Steve pulls up in the front and Loki, adjusting his dress shirt one more time, hurries in.

“We’re going to stay as far away from my brother as possible, okay?” he says as he buckles his seatbelt.

Steve raises an eyebrow. “Is he homophobic or something?”

“No, he’s just ridiculously overprotective - even though he has no right to tell me who I can and can’t be with - and also, I don’t want you to get punched.”

“I’m on the football team too, Loki. I think I can handle myself,” Steve says with a small laugh, and Loki doesn’t doubt his strength.

“But you haven’t seen him when he’s angry,” he says, a little quietly.

Steve nods once. “I guess I would need to have a sibling in order to understand that, huh?”

This is why Loki doesn’t lump Steve with the list of people he would like to gouge in the eyes. Steve doesn’t try to tell him that Thor is only trying to protect him, and that Loki should be grateful he has such a caring sibling. He cares for Thor, but he doesn’t go around manhandling him and shouting at him when he makes a (wrong) assumption. He doesn't hide things from him. He doesn't tell him he loves him and goes and does something that contradicts that.  “Yeah, probably.”

“We’ll steer clear of him, don’t worry. Besides, I don’t think our groups would be seen anywhere near each other.”



cviii.

On the contrary, they run into Thor right at the front.

Loki, busy glancing back and searching for Steve after being separated in the crowd, walks straight into Thor. “-told him th- Wait, Loki?” Thor catches him by the shoulders with a hand, preventing him from falling down the stone steps and into the mesh of people. His brother’s blue eyes are confused. “What are you doing here?”

Thor’s friends are looking at him. Loki’s gaze falls to a girl with dark hair pinned up in a messy bun, outfitted in a dark blue strapless dress that hugs her upper half tightly, then transitions into a flare near the bottom. It’s Sif, Loki thinks with a dizzying realization. And she looks stunning.

“Loki?” Thor’s hand slides up to the back of his neck, like he always does when he’s especially concerned. “How did you get here? Did you come with someone?”

He’s on his way to spouting a lie when two things happen: he sees Thor’s other hand slung around Sif’s waist, and Steve comes up behind him. After the former, Loki’s expression hardens. “Don’t worry, I didn’t come with anyone,” he says, bitterness biting at the edge of his tone. “I came with friends.”

He doesn't bother waiting for a reaction and leads Steve inside. Once they're clear of Thor's group, Steve turns to him and remarks, "You don't do that often, do you?"

Loki picks at the sleeve of his jacket irately. "What?"

"Stand up to him."

He smiles, warily. "It's a new thing I'm trying."

There are several students in line for the punch bowl, and it is not a teacher serving the drink, so Loki has good reason to believe that, like the high school stereotype, it's spiked.

"Punch?" Steve offers, probably not with the same mindset as Loki.

"You just want to stand next to Peggy, don't you," Loki says with a smirk.

Steve turns red, like he doesn't know that everyone else knows. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Go." Loki nudges the upperclassman towards said girl. "Actually, don't get any punch - it's probably spiked. Just talk to her."

"I'm not just going to leave you, though!"

"Darcy's right over there, I'll be fine." He adds, as one last push: "And I've heard that Peggy likes you back, too."

He smiles when Steve finally relents, watching him walk off with an air of wistfulness.

 

cix.

After that, the lights and the loud music start becoming too obnoxious. Loki spends a good amount of time ducking into the throng of gyrating bodies on the dance floor, if only to disappear in the crowd and from Thor. He had to do this several times, because Thor was very, very stubborn. Loki thinks he might have let his brother approach him, if he hadn't come every single time with his friends in tow.

As a last resort, Loki slips past the set of double doors in the back of the gym which happens to lead to the pool area. The doors swing shut behind him, and then the music is nothing but a dull thrum through the walls.

He takes a seat on one of the benches to clear his mind, but of course, the peace doesn't last long. Someone has followed him in, and he doesn't need to turn to know it's Thor. And, judging by the silence, it's now just the two of them.

The anger that he has been suppressing rises up inside him, and Loki wants to lash out. He wants to tell Thor that he knows what he's done, and he wants to hurt hurt hurt like Thor has, to tell him he loves him and then afterwards say that it's a shame Balder moved away, because Loki liked him too-

-and maybe Thor would have an idea, an inkling, of the gravity of the things he's done to Loki, not just recently, but their whole lives: physically hurting him, manipulating him, and that damned picnic-

 

cx.

"We need to talk about things," says Thor, and he has the gall to sound guilty.

The pool shimmers: a nice, tempting blue.

"Yeah," Loki says. "We do."

He stands and braces himself.

Chapter Text

cxi.

He slammed the papers down on the dinner table. Frigga looked up from her cooking, and Odin's fingers stilled over the laptop's keys.

"When did Loki need to be picked up, dear?" Frigga - his mother, their mother, asked with a genial smile. Then, her eyes fell upon the papers, the yellow-brown document the contained adoption and Loki Laufeyson and your brother has never truly been your brother and-

Two things happened at once: his parents rose up noisily and he demanded, "What is this?"

Frigga froze at the head of the table, her hand flying to her mouth. "Thor," she said, and she sounded uncertain and afraid. She sounded on the verge of tears.

Thor never liked to see his mother cry, especially when he knew that he was at the root of it. But he loved Loki, loved and does love no matter anything and everything that has marred the slate of their history, and if finding out the truth means he must upset his mother, then so be it. "Is there another set of papers I should know about," he said - a challenge, not a question - and Frigga moved to touch him.

"No," she said, her voice small. "No, Thor, you're our son-"

"But Loki isn't," he said. "He isn't." So surely had they called each other brothers, had been called by their parents our son, our children. He always ratiocinated Loki's different physical appearance to be because of some recessive trait in the family genes.

"Where did you find these?" Odin asked, calmly, and Thor only partly heard him.

He sank into a chair and cradled his head in his hands and wondered why he didn't feel at least a little bit glad. Now, his relationship with Loki wouldn't be so wrong because they weren't related by blood - but this did virtually nothing to palliate his discovery.

He loved Loki like a brother and also in a way that he wanted to be with him for the rest of their lives, but those two things were separate; they did not depend on each other. Thor valued Loki like a brother and a lover, but they were brothers for far, far longer, and to break that bond was impalpable.

(But had it ever been a bond in the first place?)

"Please don't tell your brother," his mother pleaded, and Thor flinched at her words.

"What, so you could tell him yourself?" he retorted venomously.

"When we adopted him, he- they told us of his history. He hadn't been a planned pregnancy. When he came out, no one thought he would live past his first week. But when he didn't, his parents - his real parents-"

 "When he exceeded expectations by living, his parents put him up for adoption," Thor said, hollowly.

"They hadn't planned for him, Thor, they considered him a mistake. His real parents weren't ready for a child, so they took him to the orphanage instead." Frigga paused to take a deep, shaky breath. "We didn't want Loki growing up knowing those things. We wanted him to grow up loved, with a brother-"

"Yes, because if you want someone to feel loved, you should lie to them!"

"He was already a sickly boy! We weren't blind, we saw how the other children shunned him. We couldn't tell him about his real parents, not when he was already going through so much!"

"When were you planning to tell us, then?" He stood up, nearly knocking the chair over.

The silence was an answer: never. They had never planned to tell them.

"You saw how much he was struggling," he rasped. "You said you saw. Do you think it would make him feel better, to also know that the life he's lived has been a lie?"

"He will never know." Odin continued speaking, frustratingly calm, quiet, and Thor had never wanted to rise up against his father so badly. "We never planned for him to know. You were the one who-"

"Who discovered the truth? Who found something that I - Loki and I - should have known from the very beginning?" Thor grit his teeth: rage was hot in his chest and so was the urge to lash out-

You saw how much he was struggling-

-but so did I so did I-

-I saw and I should have-

-helped him-

-not made-

-made it worse-

-it was my fault too-

-I claim to have been your brother from the very beginning-

-but I so rarely ever acted like it, Loki-

-I'm so sorry I'm so-

-sorry I'm-

Something struck his cheek, hard, and Thor stumbled, hand flying to the side of his face. At first, he thought he had struck himself, if only to quell that fervent voice of guilt, long suppressed, finally voicing itself, but no- it had been Odin. (Their father- his father.)

Thor left the room. He did not look back, did not dare to see if his parents looked as guilty as he felt.



cxii.

Dinner had been tense that night. Thor felt his parents' eyes on him the whole time, like they were expecting to suddenly pull out the adoption papers.

He didn't.

That night, he had kissed Loki and told him, "I love you, brother," and the last part still slipped out so naturally that Thor almost did not notice.



cxiii.

He knew they had been drifting apart lately. The selfish part of him hissed: And how would telling him the truth fix that?




cxiv.

He approaches Loki like one would a wild animal. Bitterness, a little of it, had lingered in his chest since he found out his brother had come to the dance with someone else, though it vanished when he walked in and saw Loki.

"We need to talk about things," Thor says. He wants to tell him about some things, anything, everything-

"Yeah, we do," Loki says.

-but first, this: "There is nothing between me and Sif."

Loki laughs, sharp and cruel and an unnatural sound to be coming from his little brother. "It didn't seem like it when you were kissing her."

Thor shook his head. Sif caught him off-guard when she kissed him for the first time. She was the one who asked him to the dance and he said yes, because there had been a time when Thor did like her more than a friend, and even more because Sif usually never went to dances. If she wanted to go with him, then she must have been serious on some level.

Earlier, he had spent more time thinking about Loki (and the boy he came with) than Sif. Not long after that, Thor came to the decision to tell Sif that he loved her only as a close friend. He had been about to tell her so when he spotted Loki and followed him instead.

But before he can even get a word in edgewise, Loki continues, "I know what you've been hiding."

Where he was going to take a step towards his brother, Thor freezes.

"Why would you..." Loki's voice softens, only to return with more bite: "You knew how much it would mean to me. Why didn't you tell me?"

And the awful thing is, Thor isn't sure which one Loki is referring to.

The first things his mind revert to are the document and the conversation from some nights ago. His parents had been guarded around him - had they thought that he would tell Loki? Did they want to lessen the blame on their shoulders by telling him first?

He searches Loki's face, as if it may relay a hint. "Brother-"

"Don't call me that," Loki cuts in sharply, nearly sending Thor reeling back.

He knows. "No," Thor says, for the first time in his life feeling small. "No, don't say that, Loki-" He knows he knows he knows-

Thor has always been quick to anger, and this is true now: but he is not angry at Loki, he is angry at himself for the things he's done to make Loki renounce him so readily.

"Brothers don't lie each other," Loki says, voice tight. "They don't keep secrets from each other, especially when they know how important it is."

"I was going to tell you." Thor squanders apprehension; there's three steps of distance between him and Loki and he closes that. "I was going to tell you, I swear it," he repeats, looking down at his little brother, one part because he does mean it, a second part because he can't find anything else to say.

"Were you." It isn't a question, but it isn't like Thor would have had an answer.

"I don't understand. Why are you acting like this, Loki?" With the anger, there is hurt. The years they had spent sharing the same bed, playing together, staying up all night under the covers, walking around with that wagon, announcing each other over and over as brother.

Surely Loki remembered those times?

Loki looks as if Thor had struck him. "Acting like this?" he echoes. "You make it sound like I'm the one at fault here!"

"That's not what I was trying to say!"

"Then what? That I'm not allowed to feel hurt at the fact my own brother lied to me?"

"It. Wasn't. My. Fault!" On impulse, Thor's hand shoots out to grip Loki by the shoulder, shaking him once. He knows he shouldn't get angry, but he can't help it - how could Loki say these things? "I hadn't known much longer than you did! I'd found out just three days ago."

"Liar!" Loki hisses, and the anger spikes.

"And I defended you too, you know! The papers, every damn one of them, they all said you weren't my brother, that you never were - but I still call you my brother now, don't I?"

Loki's green eyes stare up at him, now bewildered.

"We've fought in the past," Thor continues, his voice becoming thick. "But I never once stopped wanting to protect you."

"Stop, Thor," Loki utters, and Thor's barely aware of his hand now gripping the back of Loki's hair.

Thor doesn't let him get away, keeps his hold tight.

Stop just listen to me stop making accusations before I can even explain-

"I never once stopped loving you! And in return, you... you call me a liar?"

-just shut up shut up shut up shut up-

"The only reason I didn't tell you as soon as I found out was because I didn't know how to do it without hurting you, because I loved you, I love you, remember? Or do you not remember that, too?"

There are fingers scratching at his wrists, demands barely registering in his mind.

Thor sees nothing, feels nothing, hears nothing except his own words:

"Maybe you're right. Maybe we aren't brothers, after all."

He shoves Loki back. There's a cry of his name, splash, but he's deaf, he's blind, he's numb. He's angry and hurt and why did Loki have to say those things and get him angry, why why why-

The door to the pool slams shut behind him, and then he's back in the dance and there are people clamoring around him but right now all he sees is red, red like the-




cxv.

-color of the cloth that he draped around his little brother's shoulder. "There," Thor said, beaming with the pride of a nine-year-old. "Weren't you cold, Loki?"

"No," Loki replied, never wanting to admit his own vulnerability. At Thor's exaggeratedly dismayed face, he relents, "But I'm warmer now."

"Good." Thor smiled, putting an arm around Loki's shoulders and sitting next to him.

It was the evening and he was sent to fetch his brother, and after searching every room in the house, he had finally found Loki on the front porch, singing to himself.

"You're like a bird," he sometimes told Loki, to his younger brother's chagrin.

Thor told him this now, and after glancing at Loki and the way the cloth almost swallowed the younger boy's slight figure, he added, "Like a little red bird."

"Shush," Loki said, not looking at him. His eyes were focused on the sky. "I want to watch the moon."

They were supposed to be getting inside now, but Thor saw no harm in indulging him. "Fine," he said, and settled back on the steps until he was comfortable, an arm still around his little bird.

Chapter Text

cxvi.

Oddly, he remembers something, right before he hits the water: a memory that comes in a quick flash, and later he'll think back on it and wonder if it was the start of his life passing before his eyes.

They once tried on their father's suits just for fun, and Loki remembers the way the fabric had limply on him. "You look ridiculous," Thor told him, while the jacket suited him just right.

"No more than you," Loki protested and left it on for a little while longer, feeling the heavy draping of the cloth.

He likes to think that his brother was not the cause of the fall, that the jacket of his suit had become so heavy throughout the night that it threw him off balance. Loki puts a foot in front of himself to stop the fall, but there is nothing to hold on to, and something twists horribly in his foot before he's falling.

The heaters are off during after school hours, and the temperature of the water is evident of that. The first instinct is to start kicking his way back up to the surface and he moves to do so, only for a sharp pain to come racing through his body.

Loki shouts, and of course there is no sound under water, and water starts filling up his mouth fast until he clamps it shut again. He screwed his eyes closed as soon as he started falling, but he thinks chlorine might have gotten in them anyway, because they sting. Or perhaps they're tears.

Something brushes his cheek and he cries out again, swatting at the object. Later he'll come to know it's simply his tie, which had become loosened, but he does not know that now. There's a terrible nightmare he had once, and it parallels the present with a frightening accuracy: all he can is darkness and he cannot feel any surface beneath his feat and his chest feels like it's about to burst-

Thor, he pleads in his mind, or maybe it came out of his mouth too. Maybe his brother is still standing there on the edge, expecting him to come back up. But I can't, he thinks moving his right leg again and earning a jolt of pain for his troubles, I can't, brother, please-



cxvii.

Do you know how the story ends, Thor?

Would you like to know what happens to the little brother?


cxviii.

He wakes up in a white room, and honest to goodness, when he first opens his eyes, he thinks he's really died this time, fourteen years too late. There's a stranger sitting by the side of his bed and two more sitting in chairs. The blankets feel itchy against his skin.

"Loki," someone says, and it's the one sitting by his bed who's spoken.

It comes back slowly, at first: Finding the letters, arriving at the dance, feeling dizzy, retreating into the pool.

Then, all at once: a fight, being pushed, the pain, hitting the water, feeling so scared that he'd thought he would die of a heart attack before he drowned-

"Where am I," Loki says. His vision is swimming. When he moves his leg, it feels heavy, and he reaches under the covers to find a cast around his ankle.

His parents have awoken too. "Loki," says his mother, drawing him close. It's a little too fast and his head throbs, but he himself be held. "Thor, let them know he's awake," she says.

Loki stops paying attention after that. He tunes in to only half of what's happening, allows them to check his body, answers their questions, tries hard not to think of how chlorine feels and tastes and smells. Thor is looking at him; he can feel the heavy weight of his brother's stare.

While the release papers are being signed, Thor says, quietly, "He can come home in my car."

Their mother is quick to react. "No," she says, "Loki is coming in the car with us." For the first time, Loki notices the distance between his parents and his brother. It was too subtle to catch his attention before, but now he sees it, and he looks between them hesitantly.

"Frigga," his father murmurs, setting a hand on her shoulder. "Let him."

His mother clearly wants to disallow it, but they all know: everything their father did, he did for a reason.

"Do you need help?" Thor says as Loki climbs out of the bed.

"No." The crutches support him well. He moves forward experimentally, then stops near the door. "Are you coming," he says, not a question. Thor opens the door for him in a stiff motion.

He wants to tell his parents that he would rather ride in their car. He doesn't want to deal with the inevitable discomfort of being in such a small space with Thor. Not yet, at least, when the scars of his words have yet to fade, much less begin to heal: Maybe you're right. Maybe-

He'd had no idea what the argument turned into, only that Thor was suddenly denouncing him.

-we're not brothers after all.



 cxix.

He gets into the back seat. Thor was clearly expecting him to sit in the passenger's seat, but quickly recovers from his surprise. They pull out of the hospital parking lot, and Loki's crutches are bumped around. Their parents' car is right behind them.

"They asked me what happened," Thor says, which Loki was expecting but not at all ready for.

He doesn't want to answer. He has no obligation to. But he also had no obligation to do anything else for Thor that he's ever done.

Their parents will talk to him later - this he also expects. This is what he tells Thor. This is what he adds: "And I will tell them the truth, all of it."

They stop at a red light. He's sitting directly behind his brother, so he cannot see his face. He leans against the window as much as he can, so that Thor can't see him through the rear view window either.

"You will only confirm what they've heard from me," comes the response.

Loki barks out a laugh. "What modifications have you made to the story?"

"None."

"Liar."

"I'm sick of fighting, Loki." The car starts moving again. "When we fight, I hurt you. I don't want to hurt you, I never mean to hurt you. I don't want to fight.

"I told them the truth. I left out...unnecessary details, but I assure you, they know that I was the one whose anger got out of control. I pushed you into the water, and then I left you for dead."

Loki already knows these, but things always hurt more when they're said out loud. "Who pulled me out?"

"I don't know. Steve? I don't know." Pause. "The next thing I knew, someone had called 911 and...you were just lying there and you looked so pale and you weren't moving." Pause. "They let me ride in the back of the ambulance with you. I held your hand and it was cold and I thought you'd died. And now I realize that if they hadn't managed to get all that water out, my last words to you would have been..."

Thor trails off; both of them already know.

They arrive at the house a few minutes before their parents. Thor pulls the keys out of the ignition, but neither of them make a move to leave.

"Do you want to know," Loki says, voice thick, "what happened to the little brother?"

Thor doesn't answer, but answer or not, Loki would have kept going anyway.

"It started storming one day, while they were out in the forest. They tried to run home, but the narrator was running a little too fast. He heard his brother calling out for him, but he was fueled by spite and by anger, and he outran him.

"Eventually he stopped. Eventually he could think again, and he turned around and went searching for his brother."

Lights flash as their parents turn into the driveway. Suddenly, it's hard to find the words to finish.

"Loki-"

"I hate you," is what comes out instead.

He gathers his crutches and leaves the car.



cxx.

Their parents do talk to him that night, when Thor has retreated into his own room. They sit on the foot of his bed, the first time they have done so in a long time.

"Loki," one of them says softly, "we need you to tell us what really happened."

He does. And then a lot of other things come out, too: the picnic, the bruises, the letters. He almost wants to cry in relief; for how long has he practiced this confession? How long has he waited to finally tell someone?

Then there are also details that he withholds, of the library and the swimming lessons and Valentine's Day - not because they are too intimate, but more importantly because only he and one other person are allowed to know about them. They remind him that there were times before this, before something went wrong somewhere, and he will not let them be tarnished with the ugliness of the way things are now.

His mother holds him through it, but he's fine, really. No, he's great, he's soaring, it feels exhilarating while he speaks.

And if a sense of betrayal starts manifesting in his chest as it's always wont to do, he ignores it.



cxxi.

Someone comes into his room that same night.

Loki refuses to give any sign that he's awake. If anything, he would like to fall back asleep.

Finally, he hears the creak of the door opening wider. Then: the rustle of clothing as someone kneels down next to the side of his bed.

A hand comes down on his shoulder, and that's when he knows it's Thor, when it slides down to cup the back of his neck.

It's frustrating, the next few minutes: All Thor does is simply stand there.

"I know you might never forgive me for what I did, Loki," Thor says, suddenly, and Loki flinches. Thor must have feared he was waking, because the hand on his neck is lifted.

A few seconds of silence pass.

"But I love you. And- god, I know it's too late and it'll hardly make a difference, but for what it's worth- I'm so sorry, Loki."

The mattress dips, and then Thor touches his lips lightly to his cheek.

Expecting him to do more, Loki waits-

-and waits and waits and waits until he can't take the following silence anymore and opens his eyes and sits up in bed.

But his room is empty.

He tries to lie back down and sleep. The closed door is an image that burns itself into the inside of his eyelids and commits itself into his memory.



cxxii.

He doesn't go after him.

What he thinks is this: I'll talk to him in the morning. We will sort everything out.



cxxiii.

Except Loki doesn't see Thor at all the next day. Or the next, or the day after that, and then the day after that.

"Where's Thor?" he asks on the third night.

His parents do little to stop him from going upstairs and throwing his brother's door open. "Stop avoiding me-" he starts, and never finishes; Thor's room looks virtually untouched.

"Thor?" Loki says to the empty room. The closet is half open and he can see that it's empty. "Thor," he tries again, a little louder this time, because his brother could be hiding somewhere and he might have been difficult to hear.

"Thor, it's okay, you can come out now," he says, opening the closet door the rest of the way. No, Thor isn't inside.

So he puts his crutches aside and tries under the bed, because it used to be Thor's favorite hiding place when they played hide-and-seek.

No, he isn't under there, either.

"Thor," he says, his voice cracking, and no, he does not get a response.

His last words had been "I hate you."



cxxiv.

We... We all agreed that it was for the best, Loki.

"We?" He agreed that he would leave me?

He was hurting you, Loki. We all saw that. Sending him away was for the best.

He never meant to hurt me! I'm his brother, he loved me, and I love him-



cxxv.

He seems him at school. He catches him once, during his lunch period, and he grips Thor's arm tightly, afraid that he will simply walk away. "You can come home, Thor." It's not a plea. He swears, it's not.

"I left for a reason." Thor bends his head towards him and speaks in a low voice, like he's admitting some secret. "I can't go back, Loki."

The warning bell rings, giving Thor an excuse to gently slide his fingers off and leave with one last, "It's for the best."

"How is it 'for the best' when I-" But he is talking to an empty hallway by this point.

This is the last time he and Thor speak for a long, long time.



cxxvi.

The rest of the school year blurs past.

He attends the graduation ceremony and he finds himself smiling through tears when he hears Thor's name get called and his brother steps up onto the stage. After Thor accepts his diploma, he turns to wave to the crowd, and Loki thinks that their eyes meet for a second. Then Thor is being ushered off.

Loki tries to find him after the ceremony. No, he doesn't succeed.



cxxvii.

Two days after the graduation ceremony: his parents show him the adoption papers.



cxxviii.

He isn't the same after that. Everyone tells him so, but he thinks they're wrong - he hasn't been the same since almost drowning.

His ankle heals and he gets the cast off a month into his sophomore year. Everyone knows what's happened to him, of course, and not all of them are exactly sympathetic (not that Loki needs any of their sympathy). One of them makes an off-handed comment and Loki ends up doing something to his locker.

He won't ever remember what he did, only that it's bad enough that for the rest of the week, people are either giving him looks of awe or distaste. Sif and the rest of Thor's friends give him the latter.

Which is fine. He realizes he likes the attention, because now the spotlight for some other reason than being the kid who almost drowned. If the shift in his behavior bothers his teachers, all they do is give him pitiful looks during class.

He doesn't remember much of the rest of high school, either.

 

cxxix.

He does remember that it's hard.

He graduates a semester early, and when he finally leaves high school behind, he moves out to an apartment closer to the college he's been accepted to. He's decided he wants to be something along the lines of a graphic designer, but he's not even a hundred percent sure about that. And it's been long enough that he wishes he could talk to Thor about it, because he's learned his lesson after bursting into the room next to his and realizing for the nth time that Thor isn't there any more.

The first thing he does on his own is drive two states away, to the street address written on the upper left hand corner of a four-year-old envelope. There is an elderly couple who lives there, and Loki tentatively asks if they might know anyone by the name of Balder.

And yes, replies the father, in fact, that's our son, why are you looking for him? And Loki is about to start explaining when Balder himself appears behind the couple.

"It's me," Loki says when they're alone on the porch, a smile tugging at his mouth. "Loki."

"You've grownBalder remarks with the most priceless expression on his face. "You- I couldn't recognize you at first."

His hair has grown longer and more unkempt without someone he can trust to cut it. He's taken to simply smoothing it back so it's out of his way. "I'm sorry?" he offers. Balder laughs and invites him in.

There's more he wants to say. He wants to apologize for not writing back. He wants to tell Balder about everything that's happened since he left. He wants to know how his new school is. He wants to ask if he's still interested in music.

When they bother to glance outside again, it's already gotten dark and Balder tells him they have a guest bedroom. "How long did you say you took to drive here? Five hours? Yeah, I'm not going to let you go home now."

So Loki stays the night. While he's changing into the night clothes that Balder gave him, the other boy speaks up, "Did you ever get my present?"

Months too late. "The snow globe? Yes, and it's wrapped up in layers upon layers of tissue paper so it doesn't break while I'm moving into my new apartment. I'm going to put it on my center table."

"I can't tell if you're being serious or not."

"I'm being completely serious."

Balder laughs, and Loki can't stop himself from smiling. He's missed this. He's missed Balder. He's missed having a friend.

"And...so you read my letter, right?" Balder sounds a little more hesitant this time.

Yes, he did, and he still has it packed carefully away in his suitcase. Loki nods.

"You know," Balder muses, "you never did tell me who you liked."

"Doesn't matter now." Loki shrugs. "It didn't work out."

"Oh. I'm sorry."

"Why are you apologizing?" Loki rolls his eyes at him. "But what about you? I never heard you talking about who you liked, either." He realizes the implication of his words a split second too late.

Thankfully, Balder doesn't take it the wrong way. "I met a girl a year ago, actually," he replies sheepishly. His cheeks are a faint red. "Her name's Karnilla and she's... She's just great, Loki."

He goes on about her, and Loki listens intently, becoming gladder as Balder grows more animated. He genuinely feels happy for him; if anyone deserved to be happy, it was Balder. "I'll have to meet her some time," he teases. "Have you played your lute for her yet?"

"She doesn't know about that-"

The rest of the night goes as pleasantly as this, and Loki sleeps peacefully for a change. In the morning, he wishes he didn't have to leave, but he has one more stop to make before going home.

"I put my number into your phone," Balder tells him on the way out. "I'll text you, and you better not take four years to return contact."

Loki cracks a wry smile. "That was one time. I'm usually punctual, I'll have you know."

Thirty minutes later, as he's waiting at a red light, he purposely sends a text to Balder just to prove his point.

 

cxxx.

His next stop is two hours away: a cemetery. He makes his way slowly down the rows of tombstones until he finally reaches one with a certain name on it. This is the man he was told about.

He puts down a bouquet of flowers: peonies for a father he's never known.

 

cxxxi.

And life goes on.

Loki doesn't know what else he could say about it. It's not fair that the world could keep spinning on while he didn't have Thor by his side, while he was suffering like this, but it does, and he has no other choice but to move on with it.

He runs into Steve once, while he's wandering downtown. Sometime during their conversation - which is a little strained - Loki says, "I never thanked you for saving me."

Steve shoots him a puzzled look.

"You pulled me out of the pool, didn't you? I was... That's what Thor..."

"Loki," Steve says, looking puzzled, "I didn't pull you out. Thor did."

 

cxxxii.

He knows where Thor is. No, he's known where Thor is. His adoptive mother told him before he left for college; a parting gift, of sorts. But he's never had the courage to do anything with the two addresses: his college, and his apartment.

It's four states away, but he makes the drive. His first visit is during Thanksgiving break, where he waits anxiously by the front for a sign of Thor. No, he doesn't see him that day, and he ends up going home disappointed.

He comes back when the holiday break begins and ends up waiting so long, his car stalls out. It's all due to the unreasonable amount of snow, he's sure, and he's kicking ice off his tires when someone approaches and asks, "Need some help?"

Loki already knows who it is.

 

cxxxiii.

But Thor doesn't seem like he can say the same.

"I think you're good now," he says as he finishes checking on the rest of Loki's car. "But it's generally a bad idea to park here. We try to warn all the freshmen on their first days, but do any of them ever listen?"

"I-" Loki wants to get in his car and drive far away and never come back. He should never have come here. What made him think he was ready for this? "I don't go here."

"About to graduate high school soon and just staking out the place, then?"

"No, I'm already in my second year of college, actually."

"You don't look like it." Thor grins, even though their height difference is blatantly close. "So what were you doing here?"

"Nothing. My car just happened to break down here."

"Perfectly parallel-parked?"

Loki feels his cheeks heating up in embarrassment. "Look, thank you for fixing my car, but I have to-"

"There's a café just down the street. You look like you're about to freeze, so I'm going to buy you a cup of hot chocolate and then you can up and leave me."

When he says it like that, it makes Loki feel guilty. Moreover, he hasn't seen nor talked to Thor in years, and while it's unnerving that they're speaking so casually, it's contact. He misses Thor.

Fifteen minutes later finds them sitting in a booth together, Thor wiping up a spill because no matter how much older he's become, apparently he's still prone to knocking things over. "Sorry." Thor tosses the napkins into a trash bin before sliding into the seat across of him.

"Do you still play football?" Loki blurts without thinking, and Thor casts him a curious look. "I mean," Loki hastens to correct himself, "you look like the type."

"Well." To his relief, the suspicion seems to fade from Thor's face. "I do, whenever I get to meet up with my friends from high school. But when you're studying to become a lawyer, you don't exactly have a lot of time for things like that, right?"

Loki blinks. "You're going to become a lawyer?" He would be lying if he said this didn't feel like the old days, when he would be awed by his big brother.

"I didn't see it coming either, to be honest," Thor replies with a grin, and Loki's chest hurts a little.

Eventually they run out of hot chocolate and Thor has to attend to other things. "But if you're gonna be in town tonight, you should come by my apartment." He writes it on one of the napkins, even though Loki already knows the address by heart. "All we talked about was me. There's still you."

Thor not being able to recognize him - that's not what hurts the most. It's knowing that Thor could be so open with a stranger he just "met," and Loki starts thinking whether Thor even thinks about him at all.

"I never told you my name," he says, when Thor makes to leave.

"It's okay," Thor says, still smiling, though it's tinged with something like sadness. "I could never forget your face."

 

cxxxiv.

It had terrified him and he almost didn't come to Thor's apartment that night.

A year from now, Loki will look back on this moment and feel glad that he made the opposite decision.

He knocks on the apartment door and on the third knock, Thor answers.

"Hi," Loki says, only to be suddenly swept up into someone's arms.

"Welcome home," Thor says into his shoulder, "welcome home, Loki."

 

cxxxv.

"Did you honestly think I wouldn't recognize you?"

They're sitting on the couch together, watching some Christmas special on the TV.

Loki doesn't reply. He thought he managed to keep his memories under control, but evidently that's not the case; fragments start coming back and he drums his fingers on his knees, anxious. Thor's knee is just barely touching his and it's an effort not to move to the other side of the couch.

Baby steps.

"I was thinking," one of them says with great trepidation, "we could start over."

 

cxxxvi.

It was Loki who said it, because it is Thor who responds with a sharp:

"No." He adds with great difficulty: "I once- I once tried to- drown you, Loki."

"Do you think you're the only one who this is hard for? I had every right to forget about you after what you did, to just carry on with my life - but I came back here because we might not be brothers and we might not have acted like brothers, but we still spent years thinking we were.

"You may have hurt me, but you helped me far more often, and I can't spend half of my life with someone, only to have to forget about them in the end. That's not fair."

"It's not about being fair, Loki-"

"You said you loved me, and I- I still love you. That's why I'm here. And if you meant what you said, then you...you would at least try, too."

Thor isn't looking at him. The only movement he makes is to shut the TV off, filling the room with a sudden silence.

When he talks again, he does so with stinging eyes and a heavy voice: "It won't be easy."

 

cxxxvii.

No, it's not easy.

But time passes and they haven't fallen apart, and Loki will take that more than anything as a sign that they are doing something right.

Months later, Thor asks:

"You never did tell me how that story ends."

Loki's cooking breakfast for them. They only times they get to physically see each other on weekends and holidays - besides that, they're either calling or texting. He thinks that the distance between them frustrates Thor sometimes, but he never once hears him complain about it.

Loki personally likes it. The days in between their meetings give him time to adjust to everything that's happening. He still has nightmares about drowning, even though they've been less frightening since he found out who had saved him.

No, he hasn't gotten over what happened between them, and he's admitted this to Thor, who in return reminds him that that's okay, that he understands, that he will wait as long as it takes.

They do fight. Things in the past do get dredged up. They do end up hurting each other, and though none of the wounds are ever physical, each one of those fights reminds Loki of when they were younger. He does, on numerous occasions, regret coming back. He does contemplate never coming back to see Thor.

But by the next morning, both of them would still be there - and for Loki, that's what counts. Thor has apologized over and over for what he's done, and Loki forgives him each time, but they've yet to formally address it. He doesn't know when that time will come, but for the time being he and Thor trust each other enough, and they have the rest of their lives to have that talk, along with so many other things. They will take one step at a time.

"The story of the scarlet ibis?" Loki asks over his shoulder as he turns on the burner.

"What other story was there?"

Loki tries to remember where he had left off. It's a little uncomfortable to think about the story again and now, of all times. But he supposes it was bound to come up again soon. "Eventually, the narrator's anger died down enough that he stopped and turned around to look for his brother." He focuses on the food in front of him. "He finds him under a tree, dead."

The vegetables are cooking and there's nothing else he can distract himself with, so he turns to the sink.

Perhaps he will never understand why Thor didn't tell him he was the one who pulled him out of the water.

 

cxxxviii.

Later, Thor will come up behind him, put his arms carefully around his waist, and murmur into his shoulder, "It's a good thing that isn't our story."

 

cxxxix.

It took weeks alone for Thor to be able to touch him without Loki recoiling. He hopes that means Thor will be around even longer.

Loki isn't sure what will become of them, if they will ever be as intimate as they were. Sometimes he wishes they could be, though sometimes he's glad for the ambiguity. It takes a while for him to realize that he doesn't care how his and Thor's relationship is labelled - as long as Thor is in his life in the first place.

 

cxxxx.

No, it's not easy; it's anything but easy.

But isn't that what makes most things worth trying for?