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It starts because Loki is afraid.  And because Thor needs to be a good big brother.  

Thor can barely abide haircuts.  He can’t sit still long enough and doesn’t care about anything so mundane as personal hygiene.  He’d run around outside forever if he could, with no care at all for when his next bath is.  But he puts up with it anyway, because he doesn’t dare disobey when his mother gives him that look.  

However, it doesn’t take him long to realize that while a haircut is a chore to him, it is something else entirely to Loki.  His younger brother is far more cautious than he, but it can be said that he is scared of relatively little.  His curiosity is boundless — and so while Thor may run into situations while Loki merely walks, Loki will explore far beyond where Thor will.

But he can see that his brother is terrified during their haircuts.  And he doesn’t understand why no one else can see it, because it’s so obvious to him.  Loki sits ramrod straight, his small, thin fingers wrapped tightly around the edge of the chair.  He doesn’t quite flinch, but the muscles around his eyes tighten each time the scissors close, the blades glinting near the vulnerable nape of Loki’s neck.  

And it makes Thor impatient and irritated to see his brother feeling so threatened.  Because suddenly it seems wrong that anyone should be allowed to put his brother in such a compromising position.  

When Thor could noticeably tell that Loki’s hair had gotten longer and could see the familiar look in his mother’s eye that meant she was feeling the need to groom them, Thor had taken matters into his own hands.  The hardest part had been getting hold of a pair of scissors.  He had expected Loki to fight him over such a thing, but his brother had merely bowed his head and Thor had moved carefully, more slowly than he had in the entirety of his life.  He didn’t dare hurt his brother.  And when he was done, he might have made a mess of Loki’s hair, but even their mother didn’t chastise them.  

And over the years, Thor got better, taken care each time.  He was able to wield the scissors as well as he could wield Mjolnir.  In time, Loki would return the favor and Thor couldn’t deny that he always cherished those few moments.  He liked the way that Loki’s fingers artfully carded through his hair, lingering against his scalp.  He always felt better, lighter, calmer, when all was said and done.  It was one of the few actions that seemed to seal Loki’s silver tongue and didn’t tempt a prank.

...

Pepper offers to cut his hair after Tony starts to make fun of him.  He calls him a fair maiden, Goldilocks, Rapunzel — referencing all sorts of Midgardian legends that Thor does not know.  His quips manage to draw smiles from even Steve.  They throw Thor off guard.  He knows that he wears his hair longer than the Midgard fashion, but he had thought little of it until Tony starts commenting on it.  

Now, he looks in the mirror and realizes that his hair is indeed longer than he has ever worn it before.  It curls down around his shoulders.  

And yet, he doesn’t know what to do.  

Pepper stands in front of him, holding a pair of scissors and she makes the offer nonchalantly. She says she’s cut Tony’s hair often enough.

Thor knows he’s hanging onto a ghost of a memory. He knows there is little point in fighting this battle.  It’s a practicality. 

But it’s never been before and it makes his heart ache to think of his brother and to know that such moments have been lost.  

He refuses Pepper for now, managing to thank her with a wide smile.  She nods and he wonders if she understands.

The next time Thor sees Loki, they’re standing across from one another.  The street is cracked, the asphalt jutting up into the sky.  Water sprays freely from a hydrant and there is glass everywhere.  The sound of screams has long since faded as everyone else has retreated.  Thor had last seen the Captain when Loki had thrown him through a storefront.  Iron Man is on a rooftop above, trying to regain control of his suit.  Loki’s magic had easily overpowered its systems, making them go haywire.

And Thor knows that he should be concentrating on the fight, knows that he needs to stop being distracted every time he sees Loki, but he cannot.  The hurt of it is too fresh and when he sees him this time, all he can think is that Loki hasn’t cut his hair either.  

Out of the two of them, Loki had always been far more meticulous when it came to keeping his hair a reasonable length.  But now the ends dip out, arching like raven’s wings.  It is simultaneously held in place while looking far more chaotic than Thor has ever seen it.  

And he wonders — why does his brother wait?  What does he wait for?

Loki slips forward, knife in hand, and Thor doesn’t raise Mjolnir.  Before Loki can get too close, Iron Man dives down.  He catches Loki by the nape of his neck and as Loki is pushed down into the shattered ground, Thor sees the same shadow of panic that he used to see on his brother’s face.  It was the moment when he realized he was vulnerable and the fear that stemmed from knowing he could do nothing.  

And while everything might have changed, some part of Thor never will.  He rears forward and knocks Iron Man away from Loki.  Loki looks up at from where he is sprawled across the ground. A piece of glass has cut his cheek and a bead of blood slips along his pale skin.

Thor offers a hand to him, longing to soothe him as he did when they were children.  

Loki continues to stare at him although his expression turns incredulous.  Everything seems to freeze and slow around them and, for one instant, Thor thinks that Loki might accept his hand.  

But then, Captain America is shouting his name somewhere from behind.  Loki’s eyes snap to him, snatching his attention away from Thor.  The wariness fades from his face, replaced with the hard mask that he seems to wear all the time now.  He disappears entirely and Thor is left standing in the street by himself.

A week before Thor’s coronation, Loki takes it upon himself to give Thor a haircut.  He surprises Thor with the action, because Thor does not expect it.  Loki makes some comment about how they must try to make Thor look better than his norm.  He makes it a compliment and an insult and Thor smiles because the statement is uniquely Loki.

Loki’s fingers are gentle as they brush across the nape of his neck, artistic in a way that only Loki’s can be.  Thor settles into a seat in his room and Loki stands behind him.   He brushes out Thor’s hair, the motions repetitive and soothing until Thor thinks that he might be able to fall asleep.  When Loki brings the brush away and lets his fingertips linger through the strands, it sends a slight shiver down Thor’s spine.  He longs to push into Loki’s touch, but before he can do anything else, Loki raises the scissors. 

Loki moves slowly, measuring and then snipping.  The strands of hair fall along the floor and tickle the backs of Thor’s arms.  Loki goes about, making sure that everything is even and then runs his hands back through Thor’s hair.  He blows away the loose ends that stick to Thor’s neck.  

Thor reaches for him, assuming that he will reciprocate the action, but Loki pulls away.

“You’ll owe me,” is all he says.  He places the scissors in Thor’s hand and leaves the room.  

Thor’s ribs are bruised and his heart drowns with sorrow.  Natasha has not moved from the hospital bed they brought her back to.  He knows that Tony has broken something important, but he doesn’t know what and there is an entire city of people who have no homes now.  And Thor does not know his brother.  Each time he sees Loki, he seems more loss to Thor, seems to be a shade of the boy that Thor once knew. 

He knows he stands at an impasse and he knows he chases after what no longer is there.  He knows that he can no go backward, but he fears stepping forward.  He stands in the dark of the room he has been given and lets his thoughts assail himself.  He calls himself coward, because, for fearing of hurting only Loki, he cannot protect anyone.

When Pepper comes to tell him how everyone is, he asks her for the haircut she once offered him.  And if she finds the request strange, she says nothing — and continues to say nothing when he begins to weep as she cuts away strand after strand.