“What is it, brother?” he asked, taking Loki's shoulders in his hands.
Loki's misery was enough to break Thor's heart, but his message was also enough to boil his blood. Sobbing his tale in a pitiful voice, Loki replied, “I was on my way here, just-just minding my own affairs, when one of the guards harassed me!”
“What?” Thor boomed in outrage. “Who was this villain? What did he do to you?” Thor squeezed Loki's shoulders savagely, quite unaware of his painfully digging fingers. “Did he lay hands upon you?”
Loki could not reply instantly, for he was battling against his own sniveling. “I didn't recognize him. I encountered him in the hall, not far from your chambers, brother. He...he...”
“Yes? Tell me!” Thor demanded as he gave Loki a passionate shake.
If Loki had use of his arms, he would have thrown one of them over his brow, so he had to be content in tossing his head to the side, letting his eyelids flutter closed in martyred misery, and wailed, “Please, don't make make me say!”
Thor's reply was a breathy grunt of fury, and he yanked his brother into an equally furious hug. “I shall avenge you, Loki,” he growled as he pulled back. “How can I identify him?”
“One of his nostrils has been slashed,” Loki was quick to answer, and with great relish. “Leaving a terrible scar that divides his entire face, all the way around his scalp, for upon it, there is no hair. His frame is massive” --here Loki noticed the glint in his brother's eye, so he was encouraged to embellish-- “A giant of a man! I cannot be certain, but he seemed to be twice my height at least! And those arms! Brother, I have never seen such massive, sinewy arms.” He glanced at one of Thor's biceps with a trace of amusement visible on his face. “Never.”
Another terrible growl and Thor released Loki. He thirsted for this mysterious attacker's blood so much, he neglected to retrieve Mjolnir.
The second Thor had stepped over the threshold, Loki's lips stretched into a toothy grin. Unable to resist, he clamped a hand over his mouth so he could indulge in a hearty chuckle. How he would have loved to watch his brother demanding everyone he saw of the whereabouts of that fantastic character Loki had invented. How many extra details would Thor tack on, just to impress his evil upon anyone unfortunate enough to encounter him?
But Loki had a different purpose. Once Thor had turned the corner and disappeared from view, Loki walked over to Mjolnir and cackled, rubbing his hands together as he gazed down with lusty avarice. He withdrew a pouch from his pocket and from that, a handful of salts, which were infused with a powerful, magical element. He spat in his hands to better bind the salts, and rubbed the concoction over his palms, completely covering them. The salts shone and glittered far more brilliantly than they would if not for the extra ingredient.
Grinning with supreme self-satisfaction, Loki took hold of the hammer's handle and tugged.
It did not budge.
Loki's smirk dropped into a scowl as he tried again, propping one foot onto the chest the hammer stubbornly lay upon. He was pulling so hard, his upper body was bending backwards, and he let out a desperate grunt. When that failed to produce anything but a red face slicked with sweat, Loki let go, cursing viciously. He was vowing to hunt down that charlatan for selling him this useless stuff even as he rubbed more of it on. He even dumped the rest of the pouch's contents all over the hammer.
But he did not get to try again, for he heard his brother's thunderous footsteps behind him. Pausing a moment in surprise, he turned around to face Thor, who wore an almost comical look of bewilderment on his face. And as he stepped closer, his frown deepened when he noticed the mess.
“What are you doing?”
Loki opened his mouth to reply, but was not sure how. He saw his brother lift his hand, and for a split second, didn't think anything of it. He almost realized too late; he just barely dodged out of the way as Mjolnir sped towards its master.
Thor brushed the salts off his hammer with great displeasure. But that look of distress faded as he slowly looked up to meet Loki's eyes. And Loki could just imagine the cogs in his brother's brain click into place. Thor grinned darkly. “There is no fiendish, scarred guard, is there, brother? You thought to distract me so you could try to steal Mjolnir!”
Loki sighed and rolled his eyes. At least his brother was amused and not angry at his stunt, he supposed. “Did you figure that out all by yourself?”
Thor's shoulders shook as he filled the room with hearty laughter. His eyes were narrow slits as he completely enjoyed this joke at Loki's expense. And just to increase his mirth and Loki's humiliation, he inspected the salts that remained, rubbing the coarse granules between his fingertips. “Did you think this sorcery would help? What is this, anyway?” He put a salted finger to his nose and sniffed. Loki slapped his hand to his face and groaned in exasperation as his brother, in all his wisdom, stuck out his tongue and licked. Apparently the stuff was just as bland as it was useless; Thor just shrugged and wiped his hand clean on his hip.
“I believe you have been cheated, brother.”
That was the last straw. The tears from Loki's earlier performance were still wet streaks on his face as he stormed past Thor. But Thor reached out and grabbed Loki's arm before he could leave. Turning back to glare into Thor's eyes, Loki snarled, “Alright! You've caught me, how clever of you! Are you going to punish me now?”
Thor's face softened, and his grip loosened until Loki could jerk his arm free. “Of course not, brother,” he assured, and gazed at his hammer for a moment. Loki would have taken this opportunity to flee, but Thor's expression was curious. With a soft, playful smile he held Mjolnir out to Loki, who just frowned in return.
“Go on,” Thor coaxed. “If you so desire it, you may hold my hammer.”
Loki stared at Thor with narrowed eyes. “Do you think me stupid? Only you can hold it.”
“But if I give it to you...” Thor suggested, and that did seem like a valid point to Loki. Cautiously Loki wrapped the fingers of one hand around the handle, just beneath Thor's. Although Thor was still holding it, Loki could feel a small fraction of the weapon's weight, and an electrifying power that resided inside it, like a living essence. A spirit. Loki was grinning again, beside himself with excitement, as he felt that weight increase as Thor let go.
And then it dropped like a stone, with Loki still holding on.
Loki fumed on the floor while his brother guffawed like a fool above him. He would have kicked the accursed thing if he weren't sure that would only hurt his foot and add to Thor's delight. So instead, he got up and shoved Thor hard on the chest. “It appears I wasn't lying about the bully after all,” he said, fresh tears forming at his piercing eyes. “I just described him inaccurately!”
Thor's laughter faded instantly, and he bounded in front of Loki to prevent him from leaving. Tossing Mjolnir onto his bed, Thor fell to his knees at Loki's feet and seized his hands. “Oh, Loki, I am so sorry!” he cried. He pressed fiery kisses upon the backs of Loki's hands. Loki glowered down at Thor, but when Thor turned his eyes down, Loki's face flashed with a quick, giddy smile. “I only wished to play with you, brother. I did not wish to make you cry! Can you forgive me?”
Loki had to fight valiantly to keep from bursting into laughter at Thor's heart-felt pleas. His face could be read like a book, and always could. Loki loved that, and not just because that made Thor easy to manipulate.
But when Thor gave his hand yet another kiss, this one lingering and moist, he capitulated and sank to a crouch. He laughed, “Perhaps I can try.”
Thor's face lit into a joyful smile, and he stood up, pulling Loki up with him in a tight bear hug that squeezed the air out of his lungs. They left Thor's bedchambers then, with Thor's arm wrapped around Loki's back, gripping him tight and close. Loki in turn snaked his arm around Thor's back and gave Thor an affectionate bump on the shoulder with his cheek.
“What a wild imagination you have,” Thor said. “To think up a man stronger than me.”
Loki merely laughed.