When they are both very small, before the last of the younger prince’s milk teeth have grown, he does not know the differences between them.
They sit upon Father’s knee, and he does not mark that his brother receives a steadying hand, a casual embrace to keep him near. He does not mark that the hand on his own shoulder comes later, as an afterthought.
Two little sets of fingers grub in the soil of the palace gardens to bring back flowers for Mother’s chamber, and he does not notice that his brother’s are given pride of place in the center of the hearth. He does not notice that there upon the table, when the door stands open as it often does, his own flowers can not be seen at all.
Other children crowd around them, bright eyes and eager voices, ready for some breathtaking game of adventure, and he does not see that when his brother moves ahead, longer legs giving him the advantage of speed, the crowd moves with him. He does not see that the press of welcoming faces around the younger prince thins and then is gone.
When they are both very small, before the downy hair on his head has lost the texture of warm silk so common to babes, he does not know the differences between them. When they are both very small, he is content.
* * *
When they have shed the soft lines of childhood for the gangling limbs and sharp angles of adolescence, he has known for some time.
It has not come as a revelation, as a stunning flash of insight as brilliant as his brother’s lightning. It has crept in around the edges, slipped in while he was not paying attention, settled in his heart like a serpent coiled there to constrict the flow of happiness.
It has come in omissions: in the touches he does not receive, in the words that are not spoken, in the thousand little ways that the things he wants most find their way unerringly to someone else.
It has come to truly take hold on the day when he enters Father’s chamber, aglow with pride, grin across his face and glad words on his lips. “Father,” he says. “I’ve something to show you.” The spell is ready on his tongue; his fingers tingle with the magic so recently learned- so recently perfected.
Father raises his single eye from the papers upon the table before him, lifts the pen so that the ink will not drip nor blot. “Loki, my son,” comes the somber reply. “Can this not wait? I have pressing matters to attend.”
The young prince schools his face into unaffected blandness, masks the disappointment he has become so adept at hiding. He inclines his head. “As you wish.”
In the hall he finds his brother, freshly arrived from the training grounds. Thor moves to knock, and Loki tells him, “Father is overwhelmed by his duties. He wishes a respite from distraction.”
He might as well have argued against a force of nature- informed the summer rain that it was a season too early, instructed the stars that they ought not to shine so brightly.
“I will trouble him but a moment.” His brother’s grin is confident, brash and warm and easy. It is the sort of grin that makes whosoever sees it love him all the more, and despite himself, Loki feels its hold.
The smile he returns is a small thing, but no less affectionate for that. “Claim not that I did not warn you, brother.”
And the younger prince lingers in the hall, intending to distract Thor when he returns, crestfallen. Intending to suggest that they find something more suited to such a gorgeous, sunlit day than pestering a king shut up in his chambers with dusty papers. But a minute stretches into two, and then into five, and his brother does not return.
From behind the closed doors of Father’s chamber, there is laughter.
The serpent in his heart shifts its coils, tightens its hold, and Loki turns to walk back down the hall alone.