Thor takes the turn a little too forcefully, swaying around the ballroom and nearly swinging Freyja out of his arms. He laughs, not quite as heartily at fourteen as he will full-grown, but with a definite developing boom. Unfortunately, Freyja does not see fit to join in the laughter.
"You great beast!" she scowls, voice echoing in the large, nearly empty hall.
Thor shrugs, briefly—dancing is no matter to him. "Loki is no beast. You might dance with my brother."
They may call Freyja beautiful, but she is no beauty now, her face twisted in disgust. "Yes, the boar or the snake. A splendid choice." She gathers her skirts and leaves the ballroom, spine stiff.
Sif, somehow, has managed to talk her way out of the dancing lesson, which leaves Thor and Loki alone in the room.
Thor frowns and shrugs at his brother, already a great shrug despite his youth.
Loki's lip twitches, but it's in laughter, not shame; Thor knows his younger brother holds no love for Freyja.
"So, brother, did you enjoy your turn around the dance floor with Asgard's greatest beauty?" he asks.
Thor's face clouds over. "She refused to dance with you. She's no beauty, then."
"Ah, brother," Loki says, so well-spoken for only thirteen, "If that were true, there'd be no beauties in this or any world."
Thor laughs again. "I've heard some call me a beauty, dear Loki."
Loki lifts an eyebrow. "A beauty, eh? Shall we dress you in skirts and set you to your sewing?"
Thor shakes his head, still chuckling. "I think not, brother. But I shall let you lead, if you wish."
"Ah," says Loki, "I always wish to lead," and he gestures for music, takes Thor's hand in his.
Loki is there the first time Thor calls down lightning.
Thor is unaware of this fact, will in fact always remain unaware of it.
It is a feat for Loki, too, this half-invisibility, this way of making eyes slide right past him.
He discovered it in Odin's dining hall this morning, already ignored; he moved his feet in the steps of a silent dance, a dance of not-being-noticed, and he found if he kept dancing no one saw his dance. It is a sideways sort of dance, a very Loki sort of dance, and all the other dances he learns, or has learned—dances with magic, to make himself many or change who he is, and dances only with his tongue—they are all different forms of this dance.
And after the breakfast, Thor is sent outside, to stay until he learns, and Loki follows and can see, watching him, that it will be days, long days, before he comes back in. He is clutching his big hand in a fist, wrinkling his brow, thinking so hard you can see it, which, Loki reflects, is not a good look on his dear elder brother.
Loki slip-steps around him, sees his back muscles tense not with readiness to fight, as he has seen them so often, but with stress and concentration. He ghosts dancing fingers across them, feels them relax under his touch, whispers dance at his brother, then goes and hides, watches.
Thor suddenly relaxes his body, lunges forward, raises a far securer fist, and pulls the thunder, the lightning from the air like his partner in a far more punishing dance than Loki could stand (though oh, how he'd love to try).
"Father!" Thor cries out, "I've done it," and Loki almost melts back into the shadows, except he next calls "Brother! Come and see!"
Thor rolls his neck, enjoying the rough tug on his scalp, the play of fingers in his hair.
"You like this, then, brother?" Loki asks.
"Mmmmm," Thor says.
Loki chuckles and stops his braiding. "Have I woven away your words with your hair?"
Thor shakes his head—gently, so Loki's work is not lost.
"I simply found it . . . pleasant. It is you who always sees the need for words, Silvertongue."
"And you who never sees their need," Loki whispers, picking up the strands of hair. Thor wonders what he means, but soon discards thinking in favor of enjoying the waltz of strand over strand, the whisper of hair against his neck, the feel of Loki touching him and yet not touching him.
"Do you mean to weave flowers in, too?" Thor asks.
"A very manly braid, I promise," Loki says, but Thor is unsurprised, later, to find red ribbons shining against the gold.
It doesn't look bad, actually—add an eye for color to the list (so long in Thor's mind, so short in others') of Loki's talents. And it is well worth his father's mocking to remember Loki's fingers dancing through his hair.
When they fight, they are supposed to use all they have; Loki's magic, Thor's hammer.
And they do, when someone is watching, when Father is watching.
But Loki lives for the moments when Father isn't watching, and in those moments, sometimes, they dive at each other, no hammer, no magic, not even armor, just bodies crashing (Thor) and sliding (Loki) and wrestling (oh, how they wrestle). Thor should win, every time, that's only logic, but then Loki twists, or isn't quite where Thor thinks he is, or, well, it would never occur to Thor that Loki's words are just as much a weapon as Mjolnir. But Thor is still the stronger, so they're evenly matched, or close enough that it's more of a dance than a fight, two bodies doing everything they can to impress each other, impress themselves.
This time, Loki has the advantage, and his blood is singing, because there is nothing quite like having the advantage. "Brother," he calls, "shall we wager?" and Thor growls, because he knows he's losing, because even if he didn't that would signal him he was, because he knows better than to make a wager with Loki and yet he also knows he's about to open his mouth and say, "What shall we bet, then?"
Loki grins, swipes his tongue along his teeth. "Everything," he hisses, and goes for the kill.
Thor seizes his brother by the neck.
By the neck, because that is the back he clapped after their first hunt, almost bowling his little brother over.
By the neck, because that is the hair he was scolded once for pulling.
By the neck, because those are the legs he heard pattering down corridors, after him, in front of him, following or leading, it mattered not.
By the neck, because those are the arms he has been held in, and held in turn.
By the neck, because that is not a face he can do violence to.
By the neck, because of all the steps that make up the dance of Thor and Loki, a touch on the neck is not one of them. Yet.
Loki is dirty, afterward, and he wants to revel in it.
Dirt and sweat and blood and worse things still cover his body, worm their way inside it, and he never wants to wash again. The humans have their battle scars; Loki will have his dirt.
But Thor leaves him in his cell (forever, Loki thinks, but no, it's minutes) and comes back with a bucket of water, and sits down.
Loki shuts his eyes against his brother, readies himself to hear, but this is Thor, and what comes are not words but thick, wet fingers, combing the blood and sweat and dirt out of Loki's hair.
He doesn't realize how hot the lank, greasy mess had felt on his neck until it suddenly feels cool, doesn't realize how much he hated to be dirty until he finds himself beginning to be clean. Doesn't realize, either, how much he feared never feeling Thor's touch again, even in violence, until he doesn't have to fear anymore, until Thor's fingers are clumsily rubbing and pulling at strands of his hair.
Thor washes Loki's hair like he fights, like he speaks, like he walks; eagerly, and earnestly, and without finesse, and in the end skillfully.
Thor washes Loki's hair like he dances.
Thor is there when they take off the chains, let Loki use his tongue and his magic again.
Thor believes Loki is unaware of this, because in bargain they have made him blind. (In actual fact, even blind and deaf Loki would know Thor, but Thor is unaware of this, or simply not remembering.)
Loki stands, blindfolded, plainclothed, a figure of humiliation to all who are present. All, that is, except his brother, who sees a strong man, a proud man, and, yes, a danger, though he wishes he could unsee that last.
But someone's laughter rings out, and is echoed, if shakily, and Thor longs to call the lightning down and turn every one of them to so much smoke. Not as much, however, as he needs for Loki not to know he is here, as he understands that if Loki knew his brother had seen him like this, he truly would be broken.
So he watches, and waits, doesn't step into the one dance he can do without looking like a bumbling oaf, and wisely lets Loki do the dancing.
(And dance he does, absorbed in remembering his magic, even the paltry tricks he spins in this state far more mesmerizing than any whirling round or graceful pair.)
Mostly, Loki has his sight, and may not practice magic; rarely, his magic and not his sight. In the second case, he twists his fingers not quite enough, slides through the world as much as he can, stretches, at least, though really remembering, really feeling his old tricks, is forbidden him by both law and exhaustion. In the first case, the common case, Loki wanders. He has never been inclined to know the world of Odin's palace, preferring the one outside, but now he is without choice, and so he wanders.
He rarely sees anyone. The palace is large, true, but the palace is also a legend, and built for stories, and right now Loki's is the story of the solitary prince.
Except, of course, when it isn't that at all. Because today he finds Thor in the ballroom where they danced as boys, and today he does not run and hide from his brother.
For once, Loki finds himself without words, looking into Thor's eyes, and he does the only thing he can think of; he gestures for music. That much illusion he can muster, even chained, and soon it fills the air.
Loki has been trying not to hope for so long, maybe forever, but today, for once, he lets himself indulge, and it's all right, it's fine that he hoped, because here he is gathered up into Thor's arms, swaying with him, cheek to cheek.
The music changes, a waltz, and Thor slides his hand down to Loki's hip. Loki touches his wrist. "Stay, brother," he says, "May I lead?"
And Loki leads the waltz.