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All Hands Against Our Own

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i.

He wails like Frigga is going to murder him, squirms in his seat before hopping off and running over to Loki. They are children, cheeks still rounded and red with their youth. Thor hides behind Loki, clutching his shoulders and burying his face in his shoulder. Frigga sighs at them, still crouched, scissors in her hand. They run circles around her.  

"I don't want to cut it," Thor says, voice muffled in Loki's tunic. "You hurt me!"

"Because you squirm like a snake, child." Frigga's smile is a tired one. "It needs to be done."

Thor shakes his head.

"Loki has had his hair cut," Frigga says, and Thor does look up at that. He stares at Loki, and Loki stares back, his smile lopsided. Thor clutches at his own hair. It's tangled and falling around his shoulders, stubborn baby curls licking at his cheeks. He doesn't want to cut it. He's a prince, he should be able to do whatever he wants.

"I don't care," he says. "I don't want it cut."

Frigga sighs, setting the scissors down on the table. "You test me, darling. But it shall be done tomorrow."

She gathers them both up in her arms, despite Thor's protests, their legs kicking out behind her. They share a room still, just opposite their mother and father's, beds pushed together. Frigga drops them both into bed, kisses their foreheads before snuffing out the light.

They lay in the darkness together only minutes before Loki crawls over to Thor's bed. Thor sits up, squinting in the darkness.

"Loki?"

"Of course it's me," Loki says. "Sit up."

Thor does without question. There's a moment of silence in the darkness, and then Loki lights one of the torches. In the light, Thor can see the scissors in Loki's hand. He frowns.

"Brother, what are you—"

"Hush," Loki says. "Turn around."

Thor understands now. He laughs.

"You can't cut my hair."

Loki scowls at him. "Yes I can. Turn around."

It takes a moment for Thor to obey, still warily eying the scissors Loki holds. His brother is no stranger to mischief. But Thor does trust him, so he turns, perching himself on the edge of the mattress.

"If you hurt me I'll hurt you worse," he says, and can feel Loki's grin behind him.

The first run of Loki's fingers through his hair makes Thor jump. He's gentle, surprisingly so, maybe because he hands are still so tiny. Loki combs Thor's hair out with his fingers, so careful that Thor barely feels it. He sits silent, eyes shut as Loki removes the tangles and his hair feels like silk. Then Loki starts to cut. Thor breathes out.

"Careful, brother."

"I am," says Loki.

It is the truth. He's gentle in a way Thor does not understand yet, trimming off the dead ends and collecting them in his hand, little wisps of blond hair like spider webs. When Loki is finished, he runs his fingers through Thor's hair once more. Thor turns around and they face each other on the bed, squinting at each other, noses nearly pressed together.

"Well," Thor says, "how does it look?"

Loki smiles. "It is perfect."

ii.

Loki waits for word, three days and nights. They are on the edge of Nornheim, the edge of battle, Thor and Odin somewhere deep in the heart of the realm. Loki stays behind with the rest of the flank.

"There is no room for magic in this battle," Odin had said, and his words made Loki cringe but he said nothing. He waited.

He still waits.

On the third night, the horns sound the warrior's return and Loki emerges from his tent, anxious. He sees Odin but looks past him for his brother, any sign of him at all. Loki doesn't recognize him at first, there is so much blood. His hair is red and black with dirt, face streaked with it, and he holds his left side, leaning on his horse for support.

Thor is smiling.

"A mighty victory," Odin says, and everyone cheers, a chorus.

Loki watches Thor carefully, but Thor won't meet his eyes. It was his first battle, a trial of his coming into manhood. He's succeeded valiantly, Mjölnir strapped at his side. Loki walks to him but Thor goes right past, dismounts his horse before embracing the other warriors, voice deep with laughter. Yet his smile is off. No one seems to notice but Loki.

He follows Thor into his tent.

"Brother," Loki says. "You seem odd."

Thor shrugs, pulling at his armor. "The nerve of battle still flows within me."

Loki frowns at him, says his name quietly, almost like a spell. Thor doesn't look at him. He pulls off the rest of his armor methodically, almost robotic until he is stripped down to his breeches. Then Thor looks into the mirror. He watches himself with a detachment that terrifies Loki, makes him want to ask and prod but he knows better. He stays silent until Thor speaks.

"I took four lives," he says, so soft that Loki barely hears him.

The wind outside howls.

"Brother," Loki says.

"I did not expect…" Thor shudders. He doesn't want to let the others see him like this, shaken by battle. It is the first time Thor has taken life. "I hear their screams in the wind, brother."

Loki touches him for the first time, hand on Thor's shoulder, which is burning hot. There is blood in his hair, dried and caked, a thick iron smell that makes Loki want to gag. He doesn't. He reaches out and grabs hold of it, almost a calming gesture. Thor shuts his eyes a moment before opening them.

"Ready a bath for me, Loki," he says.

Loki nods.

Thor bathes for longer than normal and Loki waits for him in the tent, listening to the men outside as they laugh and get drunk off mead, celebrating a victory and mourning their fallen comrades. He wonders what Thor saw, what it was like to hold those lives in his hand, to have that power over them. He wishes he could have gone, wishes father would have let him.

Thor emerges from the bath suddenly, naked and dripping still, a short blade in his hand.

"Will you cut my hair?" he asks.

Loki watches him.

Thor says, "Please," a word that has not come from his lips in ages.

He nods, takes the blade from Thor's hand and guides Thor to a chair, makes him sit. Loki cuts only a little off, running his fingers through the tangles as he did when they were children. The blade is not meant for cutting hair, but it suffices.

"Cut more," Thor says. "I want it short."

Loki hesitates. He's never wanted it like that before, has always prided himself on having longer hair. A warrior's hair, Thor calls it. But this time he reaches up and grabs Loki's hand, lacing their fingers together before turning around. His eyes are wide and pleading. Thor doesn't have to say anything else, Loki isn't about to argue with him. He squeezes Thor's hand before letting it go, nodding to him.

Thor turns back around and Loki cuts. He cuts until Thor's hair is nearly cropped, until Thor reaches up again to grab his hand, steadying him. For the first time, Loki realizes that he's shaking as well. They both are. He lowers the blade and Thor stands, exits the tent to join the others. Loki hears his laughter from outside, as if nothing has happened.

His hair takes months to grow out again.

They do not speak of it.

iii.

Thor is not a quiet drunk. His voice wakes Loki far before he ever gets to his chambers, rumbling all down the hall like thunder. Loki sighs into his mattress, and then growls when Thor opens his door, light spilling in from the hallway.

"What are you doing," he hisses.

There's no answer. Thor just shuts the door and then stumbles to his bed, toppling into it, and on top of Loki. Loki grunts and shoves him, but Thor is deadweight on top of him. He nuzzles Loki's ear, breath hot and ripe with mead.

"Brother," he says.

"Get off of me, you great oaf." Loki shoves again. Thor doesn't budge. "You smell like a rotten goat."

Thor laughs and his breath tickles Loki's face, makes him feel warm.

"Why must you be so cruel, brother, when I love you so?"

"Because you are suffocating me with your girth," Loki says. "What do you want?"

Thor laughs again but suddenly goes quiet, and for a moment Loki thinks he's fallen asleep, and he curses the Warriors Three for it. No doubt they're the ones who plied Thor with mead and then set him loose. But then Thor curls tighter around him, and his voice comes out warmer than before.

"Cut my hair, brother," he says, "like you used to."

Loki inhales without meaning to.

"I have no blade to cut it with," he says.

Thor's lips are pressing into his jaw.

"I miss when you cut my hair," Thor says. "I miss you, brother."

Loki shifts underneath Thor, suddenly the weight of Thor on him is even heavier, suffocating. He squirms but Thor doesn't relent, and his lips are wet and warm against Loki's skin.

"There is nothing to miss," Loki says. "I'm right here."

"No." Thor presses closer to him and the warmth that Loki feels from it is unnerving. "We've grown apart as of late, haven't we? I see you watching me from the shadows, brother. You needn't hide."

He wraps his arms low on Loki's waist, squeezing lightly and Loki suddenly panics, body going tight. The more he struggles, the tighter Thor holds on, so Loki stills, unable to stop his breath from coming faster.

"Let me up and I will cut your hair for you," he says. "Please, brother."

Thor does eventually let him up, and Loki scrambles away from him, grabs a blade from his weapons pouch and holds it close. As if he needs to protect himself from something.

He doesn't cut Thor's hair. His brother passes out on his bed, limbs sprawled and in the way. Loki watches him, the way his mouth hangs open, the way his chest rises and falls as he slumbers. Then Loki curses him. He shifts to lie next to him anyway, lets Thor's snoring lull him back to sleep.

He keeps the blade clutched in his hands all night.

iv.

They set up for weeks, and the whole realm is buzzing about it, there isn't a corner that Loki can turn without hearing about it. Thor's coronation looms over him, haunts him, mocks him. No one seems to question Thor's ability, as if they are blind to it, and Loki's tongue burns in his mouth from it. It is futile to tell them, they will not listen. Thor is the golden son, infallible. Loki is no more than the second born, the trouble maker, the trickster.

So Loki does what he must.

He loves Thor, with an intensity that is sometimes frightening, and that is why he does it. That is why he goes to Jotunheim. He will make father see, and Thor will wait. His coronation is inevitable, Loki knows that, but he's not ready.

Loki wanders the night before the ceremony, eyes flickering out to the bifrost, bright and heavy stars around him. He hasn't seen Thor for almost two days, he's been so busy getting ready, everyone fussing about him. Loki doesn't hunger for that attention. At least, not from the others. He wonders if Thor has even noticed his absence. Probably not.

They are men, now, no longer children. Thor is strength, Loki is magic.

Loki walks the halls without being noticed, a shadow.

He opens the door to his chambers and Thor is there, sitting on his bed like he belongs. Loki is so shocked by his presence that he just stands frozen in the doorway. Thor smiles at him, charming but hinting at unsure. There are scissors in his hand.

"Brother," he says.

Loki shuts the door, composure regained.

"You're in the wrong room."

Thor laughs. "I know."

He stands and goes to Loki, close enough that Loki can smell him, freshly bathed. Loki stares at his hand.

"You should be in bed, brother, tomorrow is your coronation." Loki cocks his head, grinning. "Or have you forgotten?"

"Of course not," Thor says.

He fidgets with his hands, lips twitching. It's a small tell that only Loki knows—he's nervous. Loki grins wider.

"Then what is it, brother?"

Thor holds up the scissors, as if Loki has yet to see them.

"Would you trim my hair?"

Servants have been fawning over him all day, getting him ready. Any one of them could have done it for him, but Thor did not ask them. He asks Loki. He hasn't forgotten. Loki's heart swells a bit, his chest prickles, but he doesn't show it. He curls his hand around Thor's, taking the scissors from him.

"Turn around," he says, soft, and Thor does.

He sits on a chair, Loki behind him, long fingers running through his hair. It is like it used to be. He trims Thor's hair with serious concentration, paying attention to the length of it, makes sure it falls even. There aren't many tangles, but Loki combs through his hair anyway, fingers massaging Thor's scalp. Thor hums beneath him.

It's finished too soon. Loki sets the scissors down but then Thor grabs his wrist, turning.

"Wait," he says.

He squeezes almost too hard, pleading. Loki doesn't move.

"Trim my beard," Thor says. "Please."

Loki's never done that before. Thor has never asked, and he's never offered. It seems too intimate, too close to crossing a line they shouldn't.

"What is the matter, brother, you cannot do it on your own?"

He says it to break the tension and it doesn't work. Thor only smiles at him, but it's not the arrogant, raucous smile Loki's used to.

"I'd rather it was you," he says.

They watch each other in that moment, gauging, testing. Eventually, Thor lets go of his wrist and it's Loki's decision. He can barely recall that last time Thor didn't just outright demand something from him. There is hope for Thor, and that is why Loki doesn't regret sneaking the Jotun into Asgard. Who else can help Thor but him?

Loki picks up the scissors.

Thor closes his eyes as Loki bends down. They are face to face. Loki trims carefully, starting at the chin, cutting away loose hairs and smoothing his thumb over it. He can feel Thor's breath on his face, warm and constant. He cuts the hair of his mustache, and little stray hairs fall onto Thor's bottom lip. Loki wipes them away, swallowing. It doesn't take long, but it feels like an eternity before Loki sets the scissors back down and Thor opens his eyes. He holds Loki's face in his hands before he can think to pull away. They stare, and it's like Thor is trying to see something in Loki, trying to pull something out. Loki swallows again.

"Tomorrow," Thor says, and brings Loki's face to his, kisses his forehead. Loki frowns.

"You'll be by my side?" he asks, and sounds so much like a child.

In that moment, Loki questions himself. Only once.

"Of course," he says, something in him hurts.  

v.

He doesn't see light for seven days. Odin keeps him in the darkest of the dungeons, secluded. The muzzle is gone but the shackles remain. A collar is added—it subdues his magic, renders him nearly useless. It exhausts him, and Loki lays limp on the cell floor, unmoving. There is a bed, but he will not go to it. He will bide his time, he will wait.

For now he is a prisoner. He is defeated.

And if he escapes, then what? Thanos will find him. The Chitauri will find him. Thor will find him. Loki cannot decide which is worse.

On the eighth day, his cell door opens. The light that floods in nearly blinds him, and Loki shuts his eyes tight, hissing, turning away. But he does not need to see to know who it is.

"Brother," Thor says.

The door shuts, blocking out the light once again. Loki doesn't turn around. This is not who he wants to see. It's not.

"Come to gawk at your prisoner?" he asks, venomous.

"I've come to see my brother," Thor says.

He rolls Loki towards him, forcing him upright. Thor props Loki against the wall of the cell, the shackles rattling loudly between them. Loki sneers at him.

"You will find no such thing here."

Thor doesn't even anger at his words. He's truly changed, yet so has Loki. He reaches out, at first, Loki thinks, to grab him, but Thor strokes his hair instead. It's grown longer, wild. The act of it confuses Loki, and he can only scowl further. Something outside clicks and then Thor is standing, looking down at Loki with a sadness that cannot be described as pity, but regret.

"I will return," Thor says.

Loki says nothing.

He does return, that night, or perhaps in early morning, Loki cannot tell. He hasn't moved from the position Thor put him in earlier, legs sprawled, hands curled together. When he finally looks up, he can see the scissors in Thor's hand. Loki inhales sharply. Thor doesn't say anything, but he bends down to Loki's level, watching him. He maneuvers Loki so that he's sitting behind him, between Thor's legs. Loki doesn't bother fighting it, he knows he will lose.

It's in his nature.

Thor touches his hair hesitantly, fingers combing gently through the ends before reaching for the top and burying in. It's dirty, oily, sticking up in all directions probably, tangled beyond belief. But Thor doesn't stop, he runs his fingers through until Loki's hair is smooth and knot free. And he tries, he tries so hard to be gentle, but Loki revels in each painful tug on his scalp. He wants the pain.

When Thor cuts the first lock of hair, Loki feels like a huge weight is falling from him. He wants to scream at Thor to stop, but he doesn't open his mouth. He doesn't even move. The cut is probably uneven, Thor's hands are steady but he's never cut Loki's hair before. He cuts it to Loki's neck, an imitation of what it was before he fell. After he's finished, Thor runs his hand through Loki's hair once more, sliding down until he reaches Loki's collared neck. Then he holds on.

"Brother," he says, suddenly much closer than Loki thought he was. "I've failed you so much."

"No," Loki says, and then chokes before he can say anything else.

He doesn't know what he was going to say. He has no idea about anything anymore. Thor turns him around and his eyes are wet, unbelievably blue and the sight of it makes Loki want to retch.

Thor kisses him. The pressure of it is almost painful, desperate, and Loki doesn't mind. He doesn't kiss back, but he doesn't fight it either. He's tired of fighting. He's so tired.

Something wet touches his cheek and Loki realizes they're tears—Thor's tears, but then he realizes that it's both of them. They're both crying, and Thor won't stop kissing him, cradling Loki's face in his palms. There is still so much hate, it's burning inside of him and Loki doesn't know what to do with it anymore. He hates. He loves. The one thing he cannot do is stop feeling.

Thor pulls away, and the moment is over. Loki is still a prisoner. It is not the same. It never will be.

"I will fix this," Thor says. "I will save you."

This terrible laughter bubbles up from Loki's throat, spilling past his lips before he can stop it.

"You can't," he says. "You can't."

Thor stands, hangs lingering on Loki's jaw before sliding away.

"But I will try," he says.

He leaves, and Loki does not move for a long time. He reaches up eventually, fingering the ends of his hair, shorter now, more familiar.

"I know you will," Loki says, and the darkness does not answer him.

He waits for Thor's return.