The dirt on their boots knew, the birds on the wing knew, the dark blades of their shapes falling on him in thick shadows, they knew. The wind over the water, their father's heavy eye, the murmur among the palace guard, the half-moment of caution behind their mother's hand, they knew. And Loki, small and sharp, singular, Loki knew. How could he not? Thor, though. Thor never did.
They were babes for a century, children for five. It was summer and then summer and then summer. Flowers in the air, stars beneath their feet. Riding on the narrow backs of hunting hounds, carving their names in flagstones, and always the cold breath on his neck. Always the opaque premonition.
Up, up to the rookery they climbed with their bare toes, their scuffed fingernails, up in a race to the screeching high haven. Loki was faster. Thor swiped at his straining ankles. A scree broke off the rockface beside them, scattering down to dust on the high road.
Loki could reach into the breeze, cup it in his small palm, and send it dusting into his brother's eyes. Loki could kick until the loose gravel carried Thor down. Loki could summon the birds from above, ask them ever-so-politely for the prince's eyeballs. Loki could keep them in his belt purse, could take them out every day to stare into them deeply because it was Thor, it was Thor and he would have no-one else at his side on the sheer face of a mountain, on the never-ending run through the gilded city, on three-candle nights at their studies, next to him in stolen pockets of the universe they shape in their beds with their glory, with the glory of the Aesir that is ultimately theirs.
The wind wanted him to, the rock under his skin wanted him to, the birds calling, calling above, they wanted him to, needed him to be the one who did this for them all.
Loki looked over his shoulder and Thor was there, dust on his shoulders, hugging the mountain like a bear cub on a tree, smiling, no subtlety in his gaze.
Higher, brother! he cried.
They climbed higher.