Everyone said that Thor was Loki's greatest enemy. These were all people that had watched far too much TV and probably enjoyed epic fantasies like Lord of the Rings and anything that involved elves. The actual truth was both sadder and more complicated: boredom was Loki's greatest enemy. Like the ubiquitous whirring motor that was the centerpiece of any decent mad scientist's laboratory, Loki's brain had only two speeds – fast, and insane – and its faulty internal gyroscope meant that fast was only really in use as a means to get to insane, when things started spinning out of control in interesting ways, right before the motor jumped the track and set an innocent village on fire1.
Thor was just really Loki's best avenue for entertainment. Which was not to be confused with Loki not loving his brother; he loved him as much as he was really capable of loving anyone, in the way that most human beings love their pets, because the pets are adorable but not terribly bright.
This was why, after watching Thor get hit by a garbage truck driven by a particularly irate but otherwise uninteresting minor villain, that Loki realized he might actually have pressed things a little too far. It was fun to mess with Thor, because the man made such lovely faces when he was upset, and there was enough extra intellect on the Avengers team to keep things interesting. But on the other hand, he didn't actually want to damage Thor2. At least not in a permanent way. And having spent enough time with the morally reprehensible that this realm had to offer, he was familiar with their plans and purposes and didn't particularly want any of them to come to pass3.
And it would be interesting, he thought, so very interesting to play both sides. Pretend to help the tiresome little megalomaniacs, just to keep the pot stirred, but then help out Thor's side as well just to keep things running smoothly. It would be almost like playing chess against himself, except the pawns would occasionally walk around on their own and whine if he pushed them too much, and that sounded like an interesting prospect indeed.
Of course no one could know. Because that would ruin the fun. And because Thor would be smug about it, insufferable almost, and he just wasn't prepared to take that sort of attitude from a man that thought striped boots were fashionable4.
So he played his game, laying careful trails for the Avengers to follow that let them foil the plots he was supposedly helping the other side with. It was actually a bit of a challenge, crafting clues and hints that were stupidly obvious enough for some of the team to notice, but still subtle enough that the boys got to feel like they had to work sufficiently to achieve victory. And Loki allowed himself more than a few little maniacal giggles that when the team toasted their good luck, or Tony's brain, or the Captain's leadership skills, they were really toasting Loki and his newest game.
Then one day, the doorbell of his fashionable and ridiculously expensive flat rang.
This wasn't actually all that unexpected, considering he'd just ordered take out from the local Indian place. Causing trouble made him feel like having a vindaloo, so as one might expect, the lady that answered the phones at that restaurant was on a first name basis with him.
Loki, freshly out of the bath, threw on his robe5 and got into his slippers, then went to open the door, already catching the tantalizing scent of vindaloo, though it was mixed with... musk?
His normal deliveryman was nowhere to be seen. Instead, there was Thor, head almost brushing the somewhat low drop ceiling of the hallway, holding the familiar brown paper bag.
For the first time in years, Loki was speechless.
“Brother!” boomed Thor. “Are you going to invite me in?”
Loki reached out to take the bag, but Thor pulled it back, draping one meaty arm over it protectively. “I don't think that would be entirely appropriate,” Loki said. “I seem to recall that I want to kill you.”
“Maybe. But that doesn't mean we can't be civil about it.”
Loki pressed one hand to his forehead for a moment, counting silently to ten as his mind raced. Damn Thor and his notion of honor anyway. “Fine,” Loki said, stepping aside. “Come in.”
He shut the door behind Thor, then immediately swept around the apartment, picking up a few papers and magazines and stuffing them into his stereo cabinet. There was nothing terribly incriminating about; just a fashionable, well-appointed apartment with impeccable yet simple décor.
Thor looked around, his expression bemused. “Not what I expected.”
“Oh, I'm sorry,” Loki snapped. “Would you think it more appropriate if I had a baby roasting over the gas fireplace? I can arrange it if you like.”
Thor frowned. “No, that's not what I meant. It's... nice6. It suits you.”
“Still a terrible liar, brother. The table is over there. I'll fetch plates.” Loki stalked to the kitchen. He also picked a bottle of mead – he didn't much care for the stuff, but you never knew just who might show up – out of his little wine refrigerator. A flash of white caught his eyes as he bent – his slippers, modeled after the rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He hastily kicked them off, shoving them into the cabinet under the sink. He could only hope his brother hadn't noticed. Though if he had, he would have probably made a joke about it by now.
Thor had set out the styrofoam containers on the table but still stood, examining Loki's bookshelves. He picked up a scented candle and waved it at Loki. “Almond, eh?”
“Cyanide tastes of almonds, you know.”
“Yes, but this smells of almonds.”
Loki snatched the candle out of his hand. “It's not as if you can get a candle made to smell of blood. I tried7.” He thumped the candle back down on the shelf. “Please, brother, let us eat.” He offered the bottle of mead to Thor, who took it with a broad smile.
They sat and began to eat their food in awkward silence. Thor, Loki noticed, had gotten what appeared to be two entire chickens done tandoori-style. Which was typical. “So to what do I owe the pleasure of your company, brother?”
Thor poured himself a glass of the mead, and downed it in one long swallow, then poured another. He almost seemed nervous. “Mother sends her greetings,” he said.
“That's nice of her, but doesn't answer my question.”
Again, Thor drained the glass. “Can we... can we just end this, Loki? Can we not be friends again? We... I miss you.”
Loki sat back abruptly; he would have fallen if the chair hadn't had a firm back. His robe fell open around his chest, though he didn't notice. “I... what?”
Thor had noticed; for a moment he stared at his brother, lips parted just slightly, then abruptly looked down, examining his plateful of chicken with feigned interest. “I miss you, brother. Like my left arm. Like...” Thor stopped.
Loki shook his head. “I've tried to kill you five times, haven't I?”
Loki paused, thinking back. “Ah yes, of course. Well, the shark hardly counts. Five and a half.”
“Then why in Odin's name would you want us to be friends?” Loki shouted, shooting to his feet.
Thor watched him pace, draining his third glass of mead. He was more than half done with the bottle now, not that alcohol was a thing that ever gave him pause. “Because I don't think you truly wanted to kill me,” Thor said. “Because if you'd truly wanted it, you would have succeeded.”
Loki paused, a surprised laugh passing his lips. “Perhaps,” he admitted.
“I remember the lesson we learned as boys. That there is no light without darkness – and no darkness without light. I have thought of that much, lately, and I wonder if the same is true for us. Because I remember how I felt, brother, in that short time I thought you were dead.”
Loki stared at Thor, at those big, complex thoughts – if simply expressed – coming from his brother's mouth. “I must write your friend Stark a thank-you note,” he murmured. “I feel as if he's had a surprisingly good influence on you.”
“Nothing. Please, continue.”
“Even if that is true, and I think it may be, I don't see why it means we must be at odds. You were my greatest companion as a boy. If we are two halves of some whole, there is no reason we must be at war.”
Loki smiled sadly. “Perhaps you are right, brother. But much has changed since we were so young and innocent. As tempting as a return to that sort of innocence sounds, I think it is also impossible.”
“Nothing is impossible, brother.” Thor stood, then reeled on his feet. One waving arm knocked over the mead bottle, the other a decorative flower arrangement8. “What treachery is this?” Thor demanded.
“Poison,” Loki said, his throat feeling oddly thick.
Thor let out a dismayed grunt, and then his legs gave out completely. Loki made one small gesture toward him, though he'd never think of trying to catch the big oaf with his muscles. Instead, magic cradled his fall, laying him gently down onto the light gray carpeting.
Loki knelt down by his brother as Thor made a few incoherent sounds that ended in a snore when his eyes rolled up in his head. Poison indeed, though to a god, it was really just going to be the worst drunk Thor had been on in a while, and would no doubt give him a lovely hangover when he woke.
He smoothed Thor's hair back. “You may be right, brother. But I am right as well. Things can't go back to the way they were. Your world is too small, and I've made far too many people angry. Though it's nice of you to think otherwise.” He leaned over and planted a soft kiss on his brother's forehead. “I do love you, you big oaf. But on my own terms.”
He straightened up, looking around the apartment. “Oh well, I suppose it was time for a change of scenery anyway.” Most things, he left behind, though he did fold his electronics, armor, and spell books into a pocket dimension for ease of transport. The little bit that remained in the bottle of mead, he poured down the front of Thor's pants, just for the malicious fun of it.
And just in case, he left a few bits of paper carefully here and there, indicating the next supposed step in his plans for world domination. Because he couldn't let a few disturbed feelings get in the way of his larger game. Then, dressed impeccably in a gray suit, he left the apartment with his evil bunny slippers tucked under one arm and disappeared into the evening.
1 - Though that may be taking an already strange metaphor just a little too far, since strictly speaking it's normally not the motor from the workshop that wreaks havoc, it's the horrifying monster that motor creates.
2 – Or rather, not any more. To start with yes, he had filled several little leather-bound diaries with childish scrawls of red ink that read things like, “Die Thor” and “You never really accepted me!” And then he'd attended a few sessions of primal scream therapy and taken a modern dance course at the local community college. Between finding a constructive way to express his anger and making some lovely friends that he still had tea with every Wednesday afternoon while they chatted manicures, fashion, and lap dogs, he felt much more comfortable in his own skin these days. All it had really taken was escaping the poisonously macho atmosphere of Asgard, which according to Kevin was something like living in Omaha and not being interested in Football.
3 – For example, Loki didn't see the use in destroying the world. While Midgard wasn't anything to write home about, it was a nice enough place that contained hot chocolate, Lady Gaga, his stupid big brother, and acted as an enormous closet in which Loki could keep his stuff.
4 – Though let it be understood that there were many matters of fashion the two brothers agreed on. Capes, for example. Probably because gods are adept at not getting their capes caught in automatic doors. It's one of those things that comes with the territory, along with a captive, dramatic breeze.
5 – Black silk, of course, he had standards.
6 – Translation: The lack of gilded furniture or bearskin rugs has removed me completely from my element, but I don't want to criticize you because I remember what happened the last time I did that.
7 - True. The customer service representative that answered Loki's call is still out on workman's comp, though it's hoped that with a few more months of therapy he'll be able to look at a tangerine without screaming.