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He’d always known.

Deep down, where one kept the things that couldn’t be explained, he’d always known he was not Odin’s son.

It was the little things, so subtle he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Like the guarded way Odin watched him the first time he’d shown him and Thor the Casket, carefully ensuring he didn’t get too close. Or the way he had always looked at Thor like he would just have to do as King one day, despite all his arrogance and vanity and desire for fame. Like Loki was never an option, like he wasn’t really there. Or even the way Thor growled at him “know your place, brother” in Jotunheim, as if he was nothing more than a lowly servant.

It was a lifelong deception that made his little prank at Thor’s coronation seem ridiculously naïve.

He curled one first on the throne’s arm, cold resentment taking over his soul. It all made so much more sense now.

But it didn’t hurt less.

*

Going to Midgard to say goodbye had been… strange. The look on Thor’s face as Loki took from him everything he loved, piece by piece, was burned into his soul. It was indescribable, watching his teary eyes go from hopeful to pained to utterly defeated. Still longing for home and his friends and his family but hopelessly conformed, accepting of his fate.

He looked so humbled, nothing like Loki had ever seen before. And it fascinated him immensely. This. This was what he’d been hungering for his whole life. This was what he’d wanted from Thor. He didn’t care about being king and Jotuns were nothing but an unpleasant reminder of his heritage; this, this was why Loki did what he had done. Thor thanking him for his merciful visit, thanking him for his lies and for destroying his dreams of ever returning home.

Thor as lost and alone as Loki had always been.

He’d never loved him more than in that very moment.

He’d wanted to stay and watch him for a while longer, revel in that powerful feeling that he couldn’t quite explain. Touch his brother’s face and feel the tears on his fingers. Touch his hair and comfort him for losing what was most precious to him. Kiss him, for giving him this most exquisite gift, a gift of justice and rightness.

He’d left, determined to never return.

*

He hadn’t meant for any of it to happen. It just seemed that life kept turning in a different direction every time he felt things were under control. Being king did not make him feel any less of an outcast, quite the contrary. It wasn’t only the Warriors Three and lady Sif that looked at him like he had usurped the throne from its rightful heir, everyone else did, despite knowing that it had been Odin’s decision to banish Thor from Asgard.

How could he undo Odin’s explicit command and bring Thor back? How could he expect to be respected then? Wasn’t it enough that he wasn’t Odin’s true son, they wanted him to rule against him too? No. He’d prove himself just as fit for the throne as Thor was thought to be. He’d prove himself just as ruthless in times of war and as ready and capable of defending Asgard as Odin himself. He would be a good King.

He tried very hard not to think about Thor.

*

There were times when the hatred was so intense that he would just sit there on his throne, wondering how heartless Frigga and Odin had to be to lie about his true origins his entire life. And how manipulative, to take a small child as a war trophy for the sole purpose of gaining control over a gelid planet in the future.

He felt like he had a wound that would never heal.

And he missed Thor, terribly. Despite all his arrogance and despicable joy at thinking himself superior to everyone else, he was uncomplicated, transparent, predictable. Loki felt almost like he could trust him. Almost.

On the nights when sleep evaded him, Loki would let himself conjure Thor. Just a specter, a shadow, a distinctive enough figure that he could look at it and feel a presence. He’d make it kneel by the throne, with the same crushed expression he’d committed to memory not so long ago, head bowed in silent reverence. Sometimes he’d touch its hair and his imagination would make Thor lean into the touch, starving for some affection, his affection, warm hand covering his and pressing it to its face. Other times he’d just watch it from a distance, fearing what his magic would do if he gave it free reign over his carefully concealed desire.

When one day he woke to Thor’s figure lying beside him on the bed, with no memory of conjuring it, he thought it time to return to Midgard.

*

He never got his chance to return to Earth. The Warriors Three and Lady Sif disobeyed his explicit orders and beat him to it. Then there was no more time left and he had no choice but to send the Destroyer after them. He would not tolerate treason.

He should have let the Destroyer finish its job and simply ignore Thor’s pathetic pleas. Or killed him right after saving Odin’s life and told Frigga he was a traitor. Or even better, thrown him off the edge of the Bifrost with no witnesses to worry about.

But he knew he had lost this battle. He knew it the moment Thor pulled Mjölnir off his chest to shatter the Bifrost into pieces, even before Odin refused to acknowledge he was doing nothing more than following his footsteps, honoring his legacy.

There was nothing left for him in Asgard, nothing. There was only a family that he once thought his and the clinging memory of a screaming voice as he let the abyss swallow him away.