Thor scarcely knows how to react when Frigga gives him Loki to hold for the first time. He is quietly overwhelmed by the prospect of this child.
Overjoyed, of course, but he doesn’t exactly know what he’s supposed to do. He has never had much interest in children; even as a child, he moved too quickly, willing himself out of childhood with his love of playing war. And now, of course, after all these years, he’s been consumed with the actual war that has been happening.
He didn’t even know his mother was pregnant.
Frigga is smiling as she tucks Loki into his arms, gently making sure that his head is supported. The child rolls toward him and Thor implicitly thinks that his armor cannot be comfortable, but Loki does not stir. His hair is incredibly dark, reminding Thor of the underside of a raven’s wing.
Tentatively, he moves his hand to brush a few fingertips over the top of his brother’s head. It is softer than he expects.
And even then, the word brother forms strangely in his mind. He had never felt the absence of a sibling when he was growing up. As a prince, there had been far too many playmates for him, and he had never wondered over why his parents had never bothered to have another child. It is a strange contrast now, now that he is old enough to have children of his own, to hold this small body against his own and know that he is expected to protect him.
Loki’s face scrunches up and he raises one fist. It moves harmlessly against the sheen of his armor, but Frigga steps in closer anyway. Thor does not relinquish the baby just yet. And Loki does not begin to cry just yet. Instead, he opens watery green eyes and looks up at Thor.
Thor looks down at him in return, meeting his gaze without any hesitation. The surprise of seeing him seems to startle the cry in Loki’s throat. For his tears cease all together and his eyes widen. His fingers unfurl and he reaches up to try and grab a handful of Thor’s golden hair. He cannot reach, but the gesture brings a smile to his face regardless.
“He will be a troublemaker, Mother,” Thor warns with a laugh. Frigga smiles at him and there seems to be an element of relief in her face that Thor doesn’t understand.
Odin stands a few feet from them all, lingering near the arm of the throne. He looks down at them all with his one good eye. Thor had been horrified to see the wound that his father had sustained, but Odin has reassured him time and time again that is of little consequence. There is far more to celebrate now than there is to mourn, Odin reminds him patiently.
On this, he is right of course. Jotunheim has called a ceasefire for the time being; whether he knows it or not, Loki has been born in a time of peace—even if that peace lasts mere days.
Thor holds Loki a little longer and eventually his brother falls back asleep in his arms. He is largely a quiet child and Thor takes great pride in him; he is already aware that he will continue to do whatever he can to protect his family, but he knows that he will do whatever he can to protect his brother now. Loki is presented before the court mere days later, swathed in the warm colors of Asgard. Thor is the one who holds him as Odin presents him as the second Odinson.
The ceasefire has lasted longer than Thor has expected. It makes his skin itch. He feels the need to wrap his fingers around his hammer again and to call upon his power. He would rather strike now; he does not like the idea of giving Jotunheim more time to prepare an attack, but he knows that it goes against honor to attack now. Still. He thinks it would make good strategy. Their guard is down and it would not be expected. They were on the verge of winning when they had left in any case. It would take little to finish off Laufey and every Frost Giant now.
He tries to content himself with what is happening in Asgard. He is constantly pulled to feasts, into drinking matches. There are many who want to hear the stories of Thor, and Sif, and the Warriors Three. They drink and feast in the name of the battles they have fought, and they battles they will fight, and in the name of Asgard’s new prince.
Loki is perhaps the sole consolation he has in all of this. His brother grows in leaps and bounds and Thor finds him a quiet wonder to watch. He finds himself talking to the infant more often than not, but he can tell from the way that Loki watches him that there is something more to him; he understands what Thor tells him. He reaches for him whenever he walks into a room. He cries when any other besides Thor or Frigga holds him. He has become large enough that he can now tangle his hands in Thor’s hair and seems to delight in pulling it. He has reached for Mjolnir on more than one occasion. Thor tells him stories of his fights, of the victories he has won at the end of the hammer.
It is because of Loki that he initially decides to keep the peace. But it is because of Loki that he decides to return to war.
From the moment they have returned from Jotunheim, his father has warned him the Odinsleep is approaching. It is something that Thor frets upon, because he suspects that is why the Frost Giants bide their time. He is convinced they are waiting for Odin to fade from the battlefield so that they can resume the war.
Odin is less convinced. Instead, he begins to make plans for Thor’s coronation. He reminds him of the great things that he has done, of his potential to be a truly great warrior. He reminds him not of the battles he has won, but of the time that he spends with Loki and the cares he shows for his mother and Sif and the Warriors Three. But Thor is adamant that his battles not be forgotten. Was it not he who vanquished near three hundred Frost Giants when completely surrounded on his own? Or the time that he brought down an entire temple with a single stroke of Mjolnir? He knows that he can indeed be a great king.
And when he kneels in front of Odin, he is thinking of the great things he has to do, the battles he still has to fight, and the war he has yet to finish with the Frost Giants. Perhaps, perhaps when he is king, he won’t have to wait any longer.
But just when Odin is about to declare him ruler of Asgard, he falters and pauses. Thor does not know why, but fear clenches his heart as they hear a cry that is distinct from any other.
Thor knows there are a thousand reasons for Loki to be crying. He could be hungry or bored or any other number of things that cause infants to cry. But he stands and leaves the ceremony even before Odin can gather himself. Once inside the nursery, he finds that whoever has been charged with watching the young prince has either neglected their duty or is dead. There are three Frost Giants standing over Loki’s crib. Loki wails.
Thor acts without thinking. He swings Mjolnir and tears the Giants apart before Odin even reaches Loki’s nursery. Fearfully, he goes to his brother’s side and picks him up from the cradle. Loki is still crying, but he appears unharmed. His hands swing up and around, clutching at Thor’s fingers.
“A temporary truce?” Thor shouts, his voice booming throughout the room. “This was an act of war. To take a prince of Asgard from his crib! This cannot be forgiven, Father.”
There are deep creases that line Odin’s face. But he does not raise his voice.
“Your brother is unharmed,” he declares. “You cannot risk the peace.”
But he does risk the peace. He does risk the peace because he does not believe that peace exists. He goes, without permission, to Heimdall, who lets him pass because Laufey has powers that even he cannot understand. He goes to Jotunheim and he kills Giant after Giant. He laughs as he cuts them down, bathed in Jotun blood. He is angered by his father’s inability to perceive the threat that comes from Jotunheim. But he understands. He knows that nothing that came from Jotunheim can ever be good.
He works his way through their ranks, decimating them, until he finds the Casket that they have spoken so highly of. He takes it and he returns to Asgard because now he knows that they are powerless against him. Now, he knows that he can return with the armies and that they will destroy Jotunheim entirely. He can prove to his father that he will be a great king—perhaps an even better king than Odin. He is a fool for not understanding the steps they must take to protect their family and their home.
He is laughing, smiling, triumphant when he steps off the Bifrost. Sif is waiting for him, ashen faced.
“Your actions have caused your father to enter the Odinsleep,” she says, her voice quiet.
“It matters not, dear Sif,” he declares arrogantly. “For I have the Casket of Winter. And together, you and I, all the other true warriors of Asgard will return to Jotunheim and we will wipe it from the Nine Realms.”
He doesn’t know if Sif tries to say anything or not. He heads back and stows the the Casket before returning to his mother. It is no surprise to find her at his father’s side. Loki is balanced on her hip, but he is still howling. Fat tears roll down his cheeks and every time Frigga tries to hand him anything, he turns his face fitfully away from her. Thor has never seen his mother look so frayed.
She looks up in surprise when he enters the door.
“Thor,” she says, and he can hear the desperation in her voice although she is barely audible above Loki. “Your father—”
“Fear not, Mother,” Thor answers easily. He strides toward her. “I have handled everything. You need not worry for Asgard’s safety. My first act as King will make sure of that.”
“Thor,” Frigga repeats. “Your first act as King cannot be to do undo the Allfather’s last. You know that he did not wish for you return to war with Jotunheim. You must find a way to make peace.”
“I am King,” Thor answers. “I will do as I please.” He frowns and looks down at Loki. “Why does he cry so?”
“I do not know,” Frigga responds, sounding tired. She jostles Loki a little on her hip which merely causes him to turn his face and hide it in the folds of her golden dress.
“Give him here,” Thor commands and reaches to take Loki from her before she can hand him over. She looks as if she might argue even over this request, but Thor leaves the room, still wearing his dirty armor and takes his baby brother away.
Loki still sniffles, but his cries are no longer loud. His fingers wrapped in the red of Thor’s cloak and Thor doesn’t try to remove his fingers although Loki’s hands come smeared away with blood. He takes his brother down into where he has hidden the Casket. He thinks that if no one else will appreciate what he has done, at least Loki will. He may not understand it, but one day he will. One day, he will be able to speak with pride of how it was his brother, the King of Asgard, who defeated the Frost Giants.
The Frost Casket is resting on the floor near the back of the room, the closest place that Thor can currently put it to the Destroyer. He sits down on the ground, feeling grateful for the rest. He will admit that his body aches pleasantly after the long fight. Loki toddles about it in the area between his legs, seeming pleased by his new freedom. He moves down the length of Thor’s legs as if drawn to the blue glow of the casket.
“This was Jotunheim’s finest weapon,” Thor tells Loki. “Without it, they will be powerless. Laufey will no longer be able to work his fiendish arts.”
Loki reaches for the cube and Thor’s first impulse is to snatch him away. The cube did not harm him, but he is hardly a child and he knows that he does not understand the thing entirely. It is made of foreign magic.
However, he doesn’t reach Loki in time. Instead he stares in something that is a cross between horror and fascination as the blue seeps into Loki’s skin. It stains it, making it darker than the light that is emanating from the cube. It curls up his arms in small tendrils. He doesn’t cry out, barely seems aware that anything is happening to him. The blue continues to spread, rising up and up, until, when Loki twists around to look at Thor and let out a small laugh, his eyes are red.
Thor feels sick. His stomach curls in something he can’t quite describe and he’s on his feet before he can even process what has happened. Loki’s face drops almost instantly, but Thor doesn’t bend down to pick him up. He feels the room, moving as fast as he can. Behind him, Loki begins to wail again. His cries pierce through the air and seem to fill all of Asgard.
He flees down the halls, ignoring the guards inquiries. It is only when Frigga comes running down the hallway does he pause.
“What is he!” Thor can’t help but shout. His voice is thunderous and he gestures with one hand back toward the room where he has left Loki on the floor, still crying.
“He is your brother, Thor,” Frigga answers staunchly.
“He is one of them,” Thor answers heatedly.
“And you would destroy them all without a thought,” Frigga responds. She still has not raised her voice and Thor doesn’t know what unnerves him the most.
“Yes,” Thor spits angrily. “I would. They’re monsters.”
Thor broods. He leaves and walks. He is still in his armor, still cast in blood that has long since dried. The skies crack with lightning and thunder bellows across the clouds. He feels betrayed. He is angered. How could his parents deign to raise a Frost Giant beside him? To act and pretend as if he is a true prince of Asgard, that he shares blood with Thor, when he is nothing more than some Frost Giant? He is nothing more than a cast-off that Odin decided to pretend was something more than filth. He isn’t even worthy to be a pet, much less a brother.
He walks half the night before making up his mind. He has already dedicated himself to the task at hand, he reminds himself. He knows how he wants his reign to begin and he knows how he wants it to be written.
While Thor may be restless, the rest of Asgard seems to be asleep when he returns. He does know how anyone could sleep after what has happened, but he does not mind, not for his purposes. He walks back to the nursery; it seems to be a lifetime ago when he saw the Frost Giants stand over Loki’s crib. It all seems so different now.
He doesn’t know if it’s luck or fate that has allowed Frigga to return him to the same cradle. He is asleep although his face appears pinched. He is the same soft pink he was when Frigga first tucked him into his arms and Thor does not understand how such a thing is possible, but he does not care. Loki rocks one fist against the side of the crib and Thor reaches down to pick him up.
Loki startles awake almost instantly, his green-again eyes snapping open. His eyes and cheeks are blotched red, as if Frigga has only recently been able to get him to stop crying. He stares at Thor as Thor lifts him up. Thor wonders if he understands what is happening as he has with everything else. He doesn’t seem to. He lurches forward, trying to grab a handful of Thor’s hair as he always does.
“I am sorry,” Thor tells him in a solemn voice. “But you don’t belong here.”
He tucks Loki under his arm and heads back toward the forest. He considers it a kindness to his mother to not perform such an act in the place they consider home. He does not want to grieve her more than he has to.
The air is charged with electricity as they descend into the night. Loki is watching him and when a fat rain drop lands on his arm, Loki reaches for it almost immediately, as if he can catch it. His fingertips brush over Thor’s arm. Thor glances down at him for only a moment, and, while he is not expecting it, he cannot help but be amused by Loki playing with the rain. Loki’s mouth is turned up into a smile and his hands flail about it in gestures that seem far too graceful for a baby.
He is halfway through the forest when Loki falls asleep, nestled in against his arms. It seems too much like the first time Frigga handed to him. He halts. He stares.
And he realizes that he is unable to harm the child that is sleeping in his arms. It doesn’t matter whether he is a Frost Giant or not; Thor hears Frigga’s words echo about his head once more. He is your brother.
It is true in a way that Thor couldn’t understand until now—until seeing the inherent trust that Loki places in him. Unafraid even in the face of death.
Thor closes his eyes and tilts his head back. The rain water ran down his face and Loki did not wake.
When Odin wakes, Thor likes to think that everything is as it should be. The Casket has been returned—in exchanged for a peace that is more permanent and a promise that Loki will remain where he is. It will remain a secret that the second prince of Asgard does not share as much blood with the royal family as some might wish. Thor still fears that war will come again. But he understands the lesson that Odin has taught him all these years; he will not go looking for a fight. He will only enter one in defense of peace.
Loki has taken his first step by the time Odin awakes. He totters about the palace on unsteady feet. He follows after Thor at every opportunity he gets. His smart hands cling to the back of Thor’s cape.
He is standing only slightly behind Thor when Odin looks down upon them. His fingers clutch the fabric and Odin cannot help but smile at the pair of them.
“You have learned an important lesson, my son,” Odin decrees. Thor can do nothing but look down upon Loki and nod.