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Dog inside the heart

Chapter Text

 

(The past)

 

 

Loki was late. Later than usual. Thor never rushed to get showered and changed after his work out session at the gym, because he knew he was going to have to wait, but this was a fucking piss-take.

Huffing and puffing, he went back into the sports centre, headed for the kids’ changing room —where he technically had not been allowed for more than a year now, since his fourteenth birthday. Loki was not there, but that kid Thor knew from Loki’s class was. (What was his name again?) 

“Well, look who’s here,” said the kid, batting his eyelids, as he picked up his gear and stuffed it into a duffle bag. 

Loki’s classmates knew his big brother well by now. Thor might look like any other bully, but he wasn’t one. And this kid was always flirting with him, safe in the knowledge that it wouldn’t get him a beating.

“Hey, have you seen Loki?” asked Thor.

“Mr. Fouché dared criticise his attitude dèrriere and he’s probably still in the ballet hall, practicing.”

Thor rolled his eyes. That sounded like Loki, alright.

“Thanks.”

“Anything else I can do for you?” said the kid, cocking his hip.

With a little grin to himself, Thor wondered what the kid would do if Thor said actually, there is. Run for the hills screaming, right? He couldn't be more than what, thirteen? Fourteen? He was bluffing.

So Thor shook his head in dismay and sighed. And when he walked out, he made sure the door was well shut behind him. 

 

 

He grumbled to himself all the way down the corridor towards the ballet hall, thinking about the moan he would be having later about this to his mum.

“He’s old enough to go by himself,” he would tell her.

“But darling, doesn’t it make sense that, since you’re both at the same sports centre, you take the bus home together?” she would reply, if Loki was within earshot. 

If he wasn’t, she would ruffle Thor’s hair and whisper, “He’s only thirteen. I don’t want him running around town on his own.”

Yeah, god knows what kind of trouble Loki would get himself into if he was ever unleashed without supervision upon the London streets. For such a quiet, reserved kid, he could really cause a lot of mischief. He was way too pretty for his own good, and too clever and well-spoken, and had a way about him, full of arrogance and contempt, as if everyone was beneath him, which was a bully magnet the size of bloody Warwickshire. And no matter how often he was advised to “just ignore them”, Loki’s preferred method of dealing with his bullies was to humiliate them with carefully aimed, pointed jabs; if he was feeling particularly Loki that day, he would also flirt at them. And, oh, he had a mouth on him, his baby brother, and some razor-sharp wits, and a way with words. Good job he was a fast runner. Even so, when bored and unsupervised for too long, Loki could quickly become a full-time job, and full-on headache, for his big brother.

And so, big brother had to sit around the front stairs of the sports centre every bloody Thursday afternoon, and wait on his arse for his royal highness to finish drying his fucking hair. As if Thor didn’t have homework to do and World of Warcraft to catch up on before dinner. 

He pushed in the door to the ballet hall, mirrors wall to wall, the incongruous grand piano in the corner, with every intention of having it all out on his brother. 

And there Loki was, indeed, doing the whatever it was the kid in the changing room had said, standing on his toes on a straight leg, while lifting the other one behind him, higher than his head, his back arched, arms decoratively held front and side, hands tense, his face serious, raven black hair slicked back, his long neck showing every relief. Thor froze and stared.

Loki took his sweet time before he even acknowledged Thor’s presence. When he did, it was with his back to Thor, casting a glance through the mirror that caught Thor ogling his long, beautifully shaped legs and his tight, motherfucking perfect arse under that lick of paint they called ballet leggings, which left nothing to the imagination. 

Loki put his leg down and turned; Thor's eyes flickered up, down, and away, with a fluster. (Yes, fuck, couldn’t he be curious? They used to have baths together and everything but not for, like, ages, and Loki had grown since then, ok? And you could fucking see everything through those ridiculous lycra pants. How the fuck did anyone get anything done in that class?)

Loki walked over, silent and graceful. Thor leveled him with a glower.

“Half an hour late, Loki,” he grunted.

“I’m finished now,” Loki said, in a purr. 

“If you do this again, I’m fucking leaving without you,” said Thor.

“Fair enough. I’ll enjoy hearing you tell mum,” countered Loki, a towel around his shoulders. “I’m going for a shower. Why don’t you wait in the changing room? It will be empty now. And it's warmer.”

Thor stared into Loki’s sweet green eyes. There was no malice there, at first glance. But with Loki, Thor knew better. And of course, Thor blinked first. Loki was a bloody basilisk.

Thor's eyes kept dipping to his brother's crotch out of their own bloody accord. He should really wait outside.

 

 

Loki strutted out of the shower with a towel around his slender hips. Thor pretended to be checking his phone.

Of course, he wasn’t really, and when Loki turned his back to him, that’s when Thor spotted it. 

“What the fuck is that, Loki?” he said, rushing to his baby brother.

“What do you think?” grumbled Loki.

“Someone hit you?”

“I ran into a wall." He sounded bored.

“Who was it?” said Thor.

“The usual suspects, Thor." 

And he was irritated. At him. How fucking dare he...?

Loki shrugged off his brother's hand and dropped the towel to put his clothes on. Thor looked away, with the quick flash of Loki’s muscular, pale, smooth arse burned in his retinas.

The usual suspects. Someone at the rugby team. Or everybody at the rugby team. Shit.

“Was it at school?” said Thor, teeth gritted in anger.

“Why does it matter?”

“Because you have to report it! Mum and dad will have their heads on a pike if…!”

“Do not tell them, Thor!” cut Loki, with a shriek of panic. When he spoke next, he was calmer. “It will only make it worse. It was my fault, alright? I should just ignore them. Blame my big mouth.”

And for a horrible second, Thor did.

“I’m taking care of this,” he said, clenching his fists.

Loki raised an eyebrow, clearly unimpressed. He combed his wet hair back and put on a black knitted cap. It was chilly out there. 

“It’s nothing. Seriously,” said Loki, slinging the backpack on one shoulder. “I don’t care. They’re scum. Ignorant jerks.”

“Ignorant jerks twice your fucking size, Loki,” countered Thor, sizzling with wrath. “I’m not going to let them get away with it.”

“And what are you going to do, then?” said Loki sweetly, poison underneath. “Beat the shit out of them and fuck up your place in the rugby team? Over this?”

Thor opened his mouth to protest, then it hit. Damn. He never thought far enough ahead, did he?

His brother stared with coldness, eyed him head to toe, full of contempt. Then he turned his back and walked out. He had not looked very disappointed. He had not expected any different.

 

On the way home, they both had their earbuds on and walked without touching or talking, like strangers. Except when they were about to cross Edgware Road; a black cab turned up out of nowhere, and Thor stopped suddenly, a protective hand in front of Loki.

“I’m not fucking blind,” snapped Loki. “I wasn’t going to cross.”

It was the way he looked at him.

“Well, fuck you then,” snapped Thor.

“Fuck you." 

They walked the rest of the way ignoring each other.

 

When they got to the house, there was a unison “fine” to their mum’s “How was your day?”, as they both made for their rooms and slammed their doors.

 

The next week, Thor got home after rugby practice with a black eye, a split lip, bruised, bloody knuckles, and a letter of suspension from the school for two months. Dad shouted at him for half an hour and grounded him until further notice. 

Dinner was tense that evening. But every now and then, Thor caught his baby brother looking at him as if he was made of pure, shining light. 

 

That night, Loki slipped into his bed. He had not done that in years. He burrowed into the arch of his big brother’s body, and Thor held him tight. They didn’t say a word. There was lots to say, but neither had the guts.

Didn't matter. He had him now. It was all right. 

 

____________

 

 

(The present)

 

The moment the door of the limo opened, the circus started. Thor stepped out and he was met with an explosion of shouting, screaming and whooping, a lightning storm of flashes, his name called out from every direction, everybody trying to tear a piece of him. Half blinded, he waved and smiled at the beast, a crowd amassed behind the security fences, holding up signs and photos for the stars to autograph. The noise was deafening, the buzz electrifying. Would he ever get used to it? Did he want to?

Amora's legs appeared from the car, and for a while they kept on appearing, they were that long. Thor gentlemanly helped her out and up, the girl virtually disabled by those vertigo-inducing heels she favoured. Amora shook her head and her blond, wavy hair cascaded down her back. She clasped a possessive hand around the crook of Thor’s elbow and flashed him a grin. The photographers went nuclear. She was very beautiful, not cultured but not dumb, an OK fuck, and liked to laugh. They had been together for four months. The journalists had started to ask if they were getting serious. Thor could hardly answer that he was already looking for his next.

Through the white dots in his retinas, he spied Loki climbing down out of the other side of the limo, unfolding to his full height and tugging at his suit to tidy it up, before making his way around and coming to a stop a couple of steps away from where Thor and Amora were posing for the photographers.

The publicist nudged Thor along, and he turned to his brother, to see if he was following. Loki flickered his green eyes to him, piercing and sharp, and winked. He cut quite a figure, strolling down the red carpet, hands in his pockets, as if he was having a walk in the park, without a care in the world. Such a fine actor he was. Loki hated these things. Terrified him. But nobody, and he meant nobody, would thank Thor for it if he tried to lend a hand somehow, so he turned his mind to the task at hand.

It came so easy. He inhabited this world like a second skin. His smile was made to dazzle the cameras, his swag to burn red carpets with a 6-feet-tall model by his side. So on he went, lead by Coulson’s nudges and whispers, on to charm the interviewers, sign across countless images of himself, pose for dozens of selfies that would be on Twitter within the minute, and almost, almost managed to shut down his father’s voice in his head, with that sarcastic lilt, “of course, son, you must do whatever makes you happy.”

 

“What are you wearing, Amora? Amora!” shouted the photographers. She disengaged to pose on her own in front of a white board covered in luxury brand logos. 

“Thor! Thor!” One of the reporters stationed along the fence was waving at him, his camera turning to aim at Thor, like one of those machine-gun posts in a World War 2 movie.

“MTV” whispered Coulson in his ear, as he lead him towards the reporter. “Michael.”

“We’re here with Thor Odinson, hot rising star of The Vikings,” introduced Michael, bubbly, full of enthusiasm, mouth full of teeth. "You’re up for Best Hero, how lucky are you feeling tonight?”

Thor gave him his stock answer about the tough competition and the honour that blah blah blah blah, lines he knew by heart and would probably be able to repeat verbatim in fifty years time. Of course, he always managed to make it sound as if these words had never been spoken before, because that was what he excelled at. Appearing spontaneous and fresh even after a dozen takes was Chez Odinson's specialty, so he was able to breeze through the interview without a glitch. He came across as enthusiastic, self-assured, and appropriately humble, and didn't fail to drop in a few jokes and a few names. A consummate professional already.

“You’re here with your brother Loki,” said the interviewer, taking Thor by surprise. Now, that was a new line in the repertoire. “Loki, please! Can we talk to you?”

Loki turned graciously on his toes and walked over, with the elegant weightlessness of his many years of ballet. His hands were still in his pockets, his stance nonchalant, his naturally aristocratic posture relaxed into something a bit more informal, a bit more ‘Hollywood.’ It was an act, of course, designed to help him blend in, after all those run-ins at school had finally taught him that it was hard, and a hell of a lot of a bother, to live in this world without filtering and subduing somewhat his princely ways. 

“Loki, you’ve just finished your run in England playing Hamlet. You’ve received rave reviews, and you’re up for an Odin Borson European Theatrical Award. It must be strange to be nominated for an award that bears your father’s name. How do you feel about that?”

Loki's big green eyes looked perfectly innocent when he deadpanned, 

“Incestuous.”

Thor's stomach dropped to his knees. As for MTV Michael, he was white. Could you even say that on TV? His expression was so ridiculous, if Thor wasn’t feeling an ominous ball of lead in his stomach, he might have laughed. As for Loki, he was was evidently enjoying too much tormenting the poor guy, or he'd be laughing himself.

Coulson just cleared his throat —the man was unflappable— and he subtly tapped his watch. MTV Michael finally snapped out of it. 

“So, Loki, you have your own movie coming in Spring. Are you excited? How was it to work with Tim Burton?”

“Which question would you like me to answer first?” said Loki, politely, exquisitely offensive. “It was a delight,” he cut with a honeyed tone, just when the reporter was getting his voice back, “and I am very excited.”

The interviewer had lost his bearings. Thor saw the camera guy looking away from the eyepiece with a raised eyebrow. MTV Michael scrambled for something to fill the silence.

“You’ve said before that you prefer to work in the theatre, but is this the beginning of a big Hollywood adventure? Are you going to be up for Best Hero next year?”

“God forbid,” smiled Loki. “Best Villain, maybe.”

Used to longer answers, with lots of waffling, MTV Michael gaped like an idiot.

“You guys come from a family of great actors,” he said, this time addressing Thor. Much safer. “Your mother was a great muse of European cinema in the seventies, has won two Oscars for her acting, and has been the queen of the London stage for thirty years. Your father directed the Royal Shakespeare Company for two decades, has received Oscars for acting and directing, has run national company theatres in Russia, Norway and Sweden, and is still one of the most respected figures in the industry today. How do you cope with the pressure of expectations when it comes to your own career?”

Thor stepped in before Loki could say something outrageous.

“We try to make our own way. We’re very proud of our parents, and we’re lucky and grateful to have grown up in a very creative environment. They have always been sincere and open about both the ups and downs of the profession, and they have always been supportive of us. We’ve always been told that the only people we have something to prove to is ourselves.”

Good answer, thought Thor to himself. He saw Loki turn his face away and do a quick, minute eye-roll the camera hopefully did not catch.

There were a couple more questions about Thor’s co-stars, about the other nominees, and then they let them go. Thor would need to stop and repeat a slightly different variation of the same babble to a dozen more interviewers before he even made it through the door, but with some luck, Loki would find his way inside the building without further interruptions.

Because Thor was well on his way to the A-list now —and if he won tonight, he was as good as in—, but Loki was still lurking in the shadows on this side of the Atlantic. The buzz around him was not inconsiderable within the industry —his Hamlet was really that special—, but at the moment he was a name only familiar to the initiated, so to speak, while the public at large still didn’t know who he was. 

Thor feared the day when Loki would have to run this treadmill of inane interviews and autographs. If tonight was an indication of his future attitude, Thor had every reason to be concerned. While Loki could be charming and perfectly diplomatic if he put his mind to it, he was not generous with his time, and he had a very limited tolerance for shallowness and stupidity. And there was just so much of it in this business. And big bro wouldn’t always be there to rescue the poor interviewers from Loki’s playful paws, and he certainly would not be able to be there to ease their hurt prides and protect Loki from their petty revenges. The whole thing was a disaster waiting to happen, thought Thor with a shudder.

As he walked into the hall, he caught up with his brother and grabbed his forearm, a fake smile for the cameras plastered over his face.

“Incestuous?” he hissed through his teeth, for Loki’s ears only.

Loki smirked, mischievous.

“Just a bit of fun.”

 

*

 

Once inside the hall, a throng of adorers and well-wishers crowded around Thor and the other men of the minute. Thor patted backs with Steve Rogers, the only other real contender for the Best Hero award, according to the bookies, and crushed Tony Stark, the big star producer, in his signature bear hug. After that, Thor doled some more greetings, hand-shakes, kisses, one-arm hugs and hearty back pats, warm and charming and charismatic.

Loki observed from a distance the expressions of the lucky mortals who had succeeded in securing the attention of his god-like brother for an instant, their faces brightening up, infused with elation and pride and a kind of nirvanic contentment that Loki could relate to, easily and painfully. He kept his eye on them after Thor moved on to the next person, and he recognised that expression too —a soft resignation, gratitude tinged with sadness, and always, always, that glimmer of hope that, at any time now, Thor would look at them again, single them out again, and smile for them alone, and they would be, for another second or two, the envy of the world.

If Loki wasn’t so happily married to his own misery, he’d spare a thought for those poor devils. But he had enough with his own burden. Loki had had a whole lifetime of what they were to endure for one evening. They could suck it up.

He knew, on a purely intellectual level, that there was no-one dearer than him in Thor’s heart. But Thor loved so many, and Loki so few, and so very much. The imbalance was soul-wrenching. It crushed him, it angered him, it terrified him.

Loki’s struggle to make his own way in the world was about more than just succeeding as an actor and stepping out of his family’s long shadow. He had made his resolve some time ago to cut Thor out of his life completely, fearing that, if he didn’t, he would waste his days just waiting for Thor to spare him a thought. He knew he didn’t have it within himself to bounce back indefinitely from the feeling of emptiness and loss whenever Thor pushed him away and moved on from him.

He knew well that it would not be any warmer out of Thor’s shadow but, lonesome and cold as it was, at least this new path would be Loki’s own. He would treasure it. After all, he had never really believed he would grow up to live a happy life, and had settled long ago for a busy one.

He watched his brother tend to his court, girlfriend of the week on his arm, dazzling, electric, magnificent. He schooled his face to remain blank over the seething anger, the jealousy, the longing.

 

 

*

 

 

A girl with an earpiece approached Thor in his seat during the ad break, to warn him that he had twenty-five minutes before he was up for presenting, and would he kindly make his way backstage to get ready.

Thor kissed Amora and followed the girl, noticing only then that Loki’s seat, in the row behind theirs, was empty. He had not even heard him leaving. Where the hell was he?

He had the drill explained to him once again, and then he was told he had time for a breather. He bumped into Tony, who had just presented an award himself. 

“Hey, I’ve just seen Loki out there,” he said to him.

Thor made it to the outside by an emergency door and into an alley, flanked with fire exits and dotted with the flicker of half a dozen solitary cigarettes. Where was he

He tugged at the neck of his tux. It was suffocating him.

“Nervous, brother?” rumbled Loki’s voice behind his back.

Thor smirked and turned to the voice. Loki was under the fire stairs, having a fag, his eyes glinting in the dim light.

“Have you ever known me to be nervous?” laughed Thor, slipping easily into their usual banter. 

“Whenever you have to read in public,” said Loki, puffing smoke. “There’s nominees from Poland and from New Zealand. Did you know the Polish have accents on their consonants? Good luck with that.”

Thor threw him a dark look, but he wasn’t angry. And he was nervous, but not over any complicated surnames.

“Do you think he’s watching?”

“Of course they are watching, Thor,” said Loki, with a little grin of endearment. “They wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Thor closed his fists because his hands were trembling. The thought of their parents watching the award ceremony, that three-ringed circus their eldest son was riding and courting, that was more terrifying than any number of accents on the surnames he'd have to read out for the world to see and the internet to immortalize.

“He’s proud of you,” said Loki, a puff of smoke. “You’re his golden son and you’re going to storm Hollywood at twenty-one. He just doesn’t like to make it too easy for you. You know dad.” His cheeks hollowed around the filter of the cigarette. 

“He’s proud of you too,” said Thor, looking away. “How could he not be. You were awesome in Stratford.”

Loki smiled without mirth, and said nothing.

“And this… It will be you next, you will see,” insisted Thor.

Loki still had nothing to say. He smiled sweetly, and gave his brother a quick once-over.

“Nice suit,” he said.

The change of subjects was not lost on Thor, but he played along. 

“You don’t want to start this again, do you, Plastic Tie?” Loki had already commented today on his choice of outfit (hey, it's not red, it's dark rust, alright? And very fucking classy and distinctive, if you asked Thor).

“It’s patent leather,” said Loki. “And I'm being sincere.”

“You're incapable of sincerity," laughed Thor.

“Am I." Loki smoked quietly for a moment. Then the smile, and the mischief too, melted from his face. He stared at Thor intently, as if he meant every word he was going to say. "I’ve looked forward to this day as long as you have. You’re my brother, and my friend. Sometimes I’m envious, but never doubt that I love you.”

Thor stared back at him. The intensity of the moment had taken him by surprise. He found himself searching Loki’s expression for hints of mockery or irony. There wasn't any. Well, that was... Well. Feeling it, he hooked a hand around his brother’s neck.

“Thank you."

“Now give us a kiss,” said Loki.

Thor tensed up. He interrogated Loki's expression again. It revealed nothing. His tone was light, nothing but a joke, but with Loki, one never knew. 

They had never talked about it. Nobody had ever said "it's over." And Thor had no idea what Loki was getting at right now. So he did what he always did -pretend he hadn't noticed a thing.

“Stop it,” he said, wagging a finger playfully.  

He did not miss the cold, dark metal flashing in his brother's eye.

“They’re waiting for you,” said Loki.

“Aren’t you coming in?”

“I have seen you present awards before, thanks. And you really don’t want me anywhere near a camera when you start to grapple your way with the Polish surnames. Not even I am that good an actor.”

His tone was bright, but his eyes were dull. Thor feared that look.

“But you’ll be in soon, right?” he asked, anxious. “I mean… you’re not going to run away on me, are you?”

“Of course not,” said Loki, still brightly. “I’ll be there to see you win.”

Thor beamed, with full force this time. He moved to hug his brother.

“Go on,” urged Loki, flinching away from him, avoiding his eyes. “Go.”

 

*

 

Loki watched him go back inside, and lit up a fag with the butt of the previous one. He checked his hand, how badly it shook. He cursed between his teeth.

He should not have come tonight. Avoid triggering situations, his therapists always said. Well, Loki could think of very few situations more triggering than this one he found himself in right now. Thor had been a selfish bastard for asking him, but Loki had been a downright imbecile for accepting. It would mean so much to me, Thor had said. Oh, the bastard. He wore his stupid heart in his fucking sleeve, which was a virtue, surely, but translated into never fucking thinking, never fucking stopping to consider what came out of his big dumb mouth. It would mean so much to you, brother? What about what it would mean to me?

Ah, his oblivious, unwittingly cruel brother, marching down glory lane and trampling and crushing everything and everyone in his path, while receiving only praise and adoration in return. How must it feel to be him?

It would mean so much to me... How bloody dare he. Oh, it meant a hell of a lot to Loki too, though apparently, not the same thing. It's not like Loki suspected that Thor had forgotten the last time they had attended an award ceremony together. Oh no, it was vastly, vastly worse than that. Of course Thor remembered, he just did not fucking care, did he? He was over it, thought Loki bitterly, tasting bile. On Thor sailed, ravishing and radiant, and didn't even notice that Loki was staying behind, retreating more and more into the distance. Oh, Thor had not had time for this, for Loki, for years now.

But Thor was not Loki’s only contentious issue tonight. That interviewer had not been the first, and would not be the last tonight, to mention the Odin Borson Award. 

“I can’t believe an award in my name will be going to a bloody teenage Hamlet,” he had heard his father grumble in the background, while Loki was on the phone to his mum. Dad had wanted it to sound like a tease, but it fucking wasn’t. Loki was not an idiot. And nobody had laughed.

Furious tears were swelling up again. He tried to push them down with a long drag. The tears receded, but the darkness didn't go anywhere. It was a special kind of darkness, Loki had met it before. He could feel his thoughts becoming darker and more obsessive by the day, spiralling ever downwards, anxiety gnawing at him relentlessly, taking one rodent-sized bite off his sanity at a time. He should not have dropped his meds, right? 

Loki wasn’t an idiot, if he may say so himself. He knew not to screw around with his meds. But he had managed to make himself believe that, since he was now a prosperous young man on his way up, with exciting professional prospects and growing recognition for his many artistic talents, he would have enough good in his life to fend off the black thoughts all by his little old self, without the chemical crutches. He did not want to be a lifer.

And for a few months, he had not missed his pills. He had fought, he had kept busy, and he thought he was staying strong. No, Loki was not stupid, but he had been on the things for five years, and he had wanted to try and make do without, so sue him. He had wanted so badly just to be normal.

Well, he sure as fuck wasn’t feeling normal now.

He chain-smoked another two fags, and tried a few breathing exercises he had learned in therapy, as he psyched himself up. No, you can’t stay out here and you can’t run away and hide under a rock. How would you explain it to Thor? You've come all this way. You can do this. Don’t think. Just walk. One foot in front of the other, chop-chop. That’s it, Loki-boy, you’re not a complete and utterly useless mess just yet, not just yet. Atta boy. (Oh, he could talk himself into whatever he had to. He had been told he ought to be kinder, though. I don't work like that, he had said.)

 

 

 

Thor had thanked his mum and dad, the people who had voted for him, and his brother. 

“For always being there for me. I love you, man."

Loki had smiled and nodded, as he was supposed to, but inside he was fuming. Is that all?, that voice had hissed inside him. He should have not bothered at all. He could have fucking saved it.

It would not shut up. Loki recognised that voice for what it was, and feared it. The sign that he needed to get back to his meds, is what it was, and very fucking quickly.

 

 

*

 

 

The party at Chez Stark’s was in full swing, and Thor should probably mind his drinking, but he was fucking celebrating, goddammit! He was in! King of the world! He intended to get massively pissed tonight, laugh, fuck, and make merry. He could regret his life and his choices tomorrow.

Loki had only just left.

“Oh, come on, brother!” Thor had said, words slurring. “Hasn’t Coulson told you that you need to work on building up your contacts?”

“I’m tired and I want to stop seeing people,” Loki had replied, sounding irritated. “Any contacts I make tonight would not be helping my career. Or yours, for that matter.”

Thor had been more disappointed than he cared to show. It showed anyway. He was on his fifth glass of champagne after all.

“I was looking forwards to spending some time with you, brother,” he said, his tongue loose. “All these months, me here, you in England… I miss you.”

That dark, cold metal glinted in Loki's eyes again.

“You’re a slobber when you’re drunk,” he said, cutting. “I’ll see you at mum and dad’s next week.”

Thor had watched him leave, graceful and slender, his posture slowly straightening up from his artificial Hollywood slump to his true, proud aristocratic self. He was a prince among commoners, beautiful like some gems and some animals are beautiful, sharp as a razor blade. He saluted him.

Then he sighed, resigned, and let him go. 

 

 

“Hey, Thor, Variety is out” shouted that mousy little guy who fancied himself his new best friend tonight (Thor could not for the life of him remember the guy’s name.) He was waving his smartphone at him. Thor took it. “You’re on the cover! Had you seen it yet?”

Thor squinted to try and read the small print. They had done an in-depth article on him, and had requested some family photos. He smiled at the old pictures. Mum, so young, as Ginny in Camelot, in man’s clothes in Victor or Victoria, on set with François Truffaut and with Ken Loach, and more recently, in a still from her latest movie with Kenneth Brannagh. There was dad, majestic as Hamlet in the Sixties, directing his celebrated Death of a Salesman, lifting his three Oscars —best actor, best director, best movie for his adaptation of Henry V. And ruddy-cheeked Thor at twelve as Jem in a theatrical version of To Kill a Mockingbird, and as a teenage heartthrob in a Channel 4 soap (yes, so what? Where did people think the fan base that had landed him this award tonight came from?). Then in his more serious parts for the BBC, and a few recent stills from his three Hollywood movies (the third one still unreleased.) And look at that, Loki in Hamlet —those huge, crazy, bottomless eyes of his, that had scared the shit out of his brother, both times he had attended a performance. And Loki and him, at nine and eleven, in The Secret Garden. The only time they had worked together, apart from their amateur shenanigans around the house. Their first kiss.

Over his shoulder, the guy said, “I didn’t know Loki was adopted.”

Thor tensed, and turned slowly, very slowly, to face him.

“Excuse me?”

The guy shrunk.

“He isn’t?” he said, voice weak, sensing he had screwed up with a man who was one foot taller, and forty pounds of pure muscle heavier than him. “It says here…” 

He scrolled frantically, and showed Thor the phone.

Thor snatched it. There it was. In a fucking caption. “Upon returning from Moscow with his adopted brother Loki…”

What the fuck was that. He was used to crazy shit being printed about him, but not about…

My god. Loki.

Thor stood up so vigorously he toppled the chair, and dashed out, leaving it there. He had to dodge, nudge and push to get through the crowd. He could only hope that they would have got in Loki's way too. If he was lucky, he could still catch him.

 

The front yard of Stark Mansion was full of black limos, all looking the bloody same. How to tell them apart.

There. A slim figure standing by the car, pale face turned towards him.

“Loki!” he shouted.

Loki stood there, his expression difficult to make out in the dim clarity of the yellow lamplights. 

Had Loki seen the article? Had he read it? Had somebody stopped him while he was making his way through the crowd, had they showed him the screen, had anyone poked their nose over his shoulder as he scrolled down, and casually let it drop just like that, “I didn’t know you were adopted?”

Thor ran. He wasn't fast enough, all those fucking limos.

Loki got inside the car. The door slammed shut. The engine started. The tail lights shrank and disappeared into the night. Thor's heart was beating in his mouth. He tasted metal.

Shaking, he tried Loki’s phone. It was off. Shit, he didn’t have a clue where in L.A. Loki was staying.

“Loki,” he muttered, breathless. “Baby…”