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As We Ever Were

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They were brothers. Or, they weren't. But they were believed to be. Thor and Loki: brothers and best friends and inseparable. One day, one of them would be king and the other would kneel at their feet but right now they were just two young boys, looking out on the world with innocence and naivety in their eyes.

They slept in the same room with a window looking out onto the Bifrost and the sky. One bed surrounded by weapons—broken wooden swords, a hammer in preparation for the day he would wield the real thing—the other by more scholarly pursuits. Books, a pack of cards, a small bag of dice won—at eight years old—from the guards of the inner sanctum.

They were believed to be brothers. So if, say, after their mother tucked them in and turned off the light Thor slid out of bed—snapping wood shards beneath his feet—to crawl in next to Loki; or Loki moved silently across the floor to curl up next to Thor, no one objected. They were young.

Odin found out when they were ten—a chance remark from his wife at dinner—and was concerned. He knew the truth and though he loved Loki as a son, his trust was guarded and he worried for the possible ramifications of allowing Loki to get close to his own son.

He sent Thor into training to be a warrior—to the barracks North of Asgard—and Loki to the library, to learn of words and the way of the world. He thought each would be happy, and so they were, save for one thing.

Thor went first, sneaking out of his hut the first night and following the well worn road, reaching the library by midnight. He found the small room Loki had been given and in the morning the head librarian and the man sent to track Thor's escape walked in on them curled up together like cats.

Odin was sent for, the boys woken and sat down as their father tried to explain that they were too old for this childish comfort, that warriors and men had to have the courage to face the world alone. Thor was sceptical—surely the most important thing to a soldier is the men he trusts at his back—but he nodded, agreed and hugged Loki goodbye. Loki said his farewells and they went their separate ways.

But once an idea is planted, it is almost impossible to eradicate and Loki was ever more cunning than his brother. No one knew when Loki left the library, no alarms went off when he slipped out of Asgard or into the barracks. No one sensed the two people curled up in the same bed night after night.

They grew. Thor learned how to fight a man his size, a man twice his size, any man. Loki learned how to order the books, how to take care of the older volumes, how if he talked long enough he could twist the world into whatever he wanted. Thor befriended the men he was with, Sif and the warriors three. Aside from his nights in the barracks, Loki let no one get close.

They kissed for the first time on Thor's fourteenth birthday. Loki had talked his way out of the library early to stand in the shadows of the buildings and watch Thor at his party. There was ale, music, dancing. Thor was exuberantly hugging anyone who got close, celebrating their earlier defeat of some impossibly sized creature. Loki felt a shiver of something as Thor wrapped his arms around a girl, but he couldn't say what it was.

That night Thor held him loosely in the crook of his arm and spoke slowly, taking the time to find the right words. There had been a kiss at the party, between Sif and one of the warriors, and Thor didn't understand it. Didn't understand why anyone would want to.

It only seem logical to suggest they tried it. Thor's arms were strong as bars on Loki's shoulders, Loki's tongue quick as a snake in his mouth. It was good.

"I still don't understand," Thor said. "Why anyone would kiss someone other than you."

Loki got away less over the next few years—he was expected to learn more, to take on more responsibilities—but whenever they were together they would experiment further. Thor heard stories from the men about what they got up to beneath the covers with their women. Loki found the books he had been told not to look at and read them all cover to cover.

Thor grew up into a brash, overconfident man who loved destroying things. Loki grew into a liar and a thief, trusting no one but his brother. Neither of them believed the other was suited to being king and though they tried not to speak of it, the rage slipped through the cracks.

They fought. They fought about Loki's rule breaking, about Thor's arrogance. Over two years, Sif grew into a beautiful young woman and Loki learnt the feeling of jealousy. He threw her in Thor's face, over and over, accusing him of lying, cheating, loving her.

If Loki talked enough, he could make anyone believe anything and that summer he convinced both of them that Thor was in love with Sif. When Thor kissed her, it didn't come as a surprise and Loki couldn't listen to all Thor's explanations, his platitudes, his claims that he didn't enjoy it, he didn't know what he was thinking.

Loki returned to Asgard and didn't leave again. He spent three years honing his bitterness, anger and pain into an approximation of a plan. Three years hating everyone who got to be where he belonged, hating all the people of his mind who Thor invited back to the bed they had once shared.

Thor finished training, a feat which seemed to come as a shock to everyone. The day was coming when he would be back in Asgard, walking the hallways and vying for his throne. Odin started to talk about stepping down, found the hammer Mjolnir to give to his son as a congratulations present.

Loki listened to these plans then disappeared into his room, hating Thor for returning, Odin for being so glad and himself for ever believing he might have a chance to rule.

He had plans, so many plans, with every variable calculated. His vengeance would have been shocking and absolute leaving Thor destroyed, alone, unable to trust a soul ever again. He imagined visiting Thor's rooms after he had arrived and settled, setting his plan into slow motion.

He never planned for what would happen if Thor visited him first, but there he was, swinging the hammer between his hands, still covered in dust from the road. Loki had planned so many things to say but they all slipped his mind when he looked up into a face that was somehow unfamiliar. Thor had grown his hair out, down to his chin, his muscles were at least twice as big as they had been previously and all Loki could think about was how they would feel wrapped around him.

Later, Thor would explain that he had come up with so many things to say but the moment had caught him as much as it had Loki. At the time Thor just kissed him, pushed him inside, kicked the door shut behind them.

Loki hated him and resented him and fell in love with him all over again.

Loki let the frost giants in to disrupt Thor's coronation, he convinced Thor to attack Jotunheim meaning Odin had to step in to save them. He followed his plan to the letter, save for the times Thor came to his room, touching him and kissing him and tearing him in two.

Thor was exiled, and Loki had to lie in his cold, empty bed reminding himself over and over that this was a good thing.

He found out he was Laufey's son and became king of Asgard on the same day. On Earth, Thor met girl—a physicist. Loki watched them together from the throne, watched them bumbling their way towards love with uncomfortable laughs and awkward smiles.

He wore his helmet at all times now, and every moment it seemed to grow heavier with the weight of people's expectations.

Loki should have followed all his plans to the letter, but he didn't. He returned to earth to step into the box they had locked Thor into and told him that his father was dead.

Mjolnir wouldn't move in his hands, but he would never have been naive enough to call himself a righteous man. He kissed Thor goodbye, almost tempted to break the chains and feel those arms around him one last time.

Let Thor have his pretty young scientist. Loki had the whole of Asgard, the whole of their home. He had the Bifrost, control of all time and space.

Gungnir was unwieldy and fragile as if it could break at any moment in his hands. He couldn't shake off the feeling that it was fighting him.

Thor killed the destroyer, regained his powers and returned to Asgard. Loki hated how much his heart leapt when Thor stepped into the room, light glinting off gold hair, strong and beautiful and in love with someone else.

Loki killed his father to prove his loyalty to Asgard, but he could see in Odin's eyes that all he'd done was prove his ability to kill any man he called father. Destroying the Jotunheim was supposed to fix that, to fix everything, but his plans never worked out the way they should and Thor was always standing in the way.

Fighting Thor was almost like sex with Thor. Hot, desperate, pinned down, love and anger warring for dominance and it all ended with Loki falling.

***

Loki is standing in the middle of the room, wearing a tight fitting suit with his hair combed back. Thor remembers human clothes, remembers a loose shirt and denim trousers that restricted his movement a little too much to be comfortable. He doesn't remember anyone ever wearing a suit to look like this, like they could be placed on a pedestal as a work of art, the light casting them in black and white shadows. "Brother," Thor breathes.

Loki turns, his expression falling into a mask of cool indifference that makes Thor long for the days when there was nothing between them. "Let's not lie to ourselves," Loki says. "Prince."

Thor takes another step inside, letting the door swing shut behind him. "Did you come from Earth? How did you get here? Is there another way through?"

Loki adjusts the cuffs of his white shirt slowly. "I knew a thousand secret paths from Jotunheim to Asgard. Surely it stands to reason that I would know at least a handful between here and Earth." He tugs the jacket sleeves forward in what would be perfect apathy if it wasn't so flawless, so practiced. "It's not so hard, even your physicist is searching for a way."

Thor's heart leaps and he jumps in blindly, the way he always has. "Can you bring her through your way?"

Loki believes himself so good at lying and before Thor never looked, always believed his brother would speak the truth to him. But now Thor can look at Loki's blank face and see the pain of betrayal cut into his eyes, his cheeks, the set of his jaw. "You really have no idea, do you?" It is a mark of the strength of his feelings that Loki's voice shakes. "You don't think before you speak and you hurt the people who love you so easily."

Thor takes another step forward and when Loki doesn't stop him, he reaches out to touch the pale skin of Loki's cheek. "She always believed the best of me," he says. "She trusted me and laughed with me and made me want to be a better person."

Loki's eyes close for a moment, a brief flash of vulnerability beneath all the layers of lies he hides himself under. "And me?"

Thor takes another step, turning the touch into a clasp at the back of the neck. "You make me want to be more like you."

"So?" Loki breathes, barely moving his lips as he tilts his head back to meet Thor's eyes, his lips parted in silent permission.

"A worse person," Thor says.

Loki's tongue is as skilled at kissing as it is at lying. Quick, twisting and perfect.

"Do you remember what you said the first time we kissed?" Loki asks, buttons half undone, jacket lying with Thor's armour in an untidy heap on the floor. "How you didn't understand why anyone could want someone other than me." His fingertips are starting to callous from whatever he's doing on earth, Thor can feel the rough pads on his cheeks. "I suppose you figured it out."

Defence after defence has crumbled at Thor's touches, leaving Loki looking up at him young, delicate, with an untold sorrow in his eyes. "Loki—"

"Would you mind explaining?" Loki asks. "Because, you know, I never quite got it."

Thor kisses him again. There are no words to reply.

Loki is lying back on the bed, Thor arched over him trying to memorize every hitch of breath, when he starts to fade. "Oh," he says, in soft surprise, holding his hand up to look through his palm at Thor. "I had hoped it would last longer."

Thor grabs at his wrist. "Stay with me," he pleads, even as his fingers start to slip through Loki's vanishing arm. "Like nothing's changed, like we're still who we used to be."

Loki leans up to press his lips to Thor's, like nothing more solid than a breeze. "My prince," he whispers. "Nothing is how it used to be." And Thor is left to sink onto the mattress alone.

But the next night, when he lies down to sleep, a half substantial figure in silk pyjamas curls up next to him.

They're not brothers, they're not innocent and in so many ways they are enemies.

Thor wraps an arm around Loki's shoulders, pulls him close and sleeps.