His brother has taken to pacing of late.
In the deep dark, Thor watches as Loki walks in a broad circle, the farthest extent of his reach. Torchlight occasionally catches at the magic thread, glinting where Loki’s outstretched hand keeps it not-quite-taut.
“The others are making bets,” Thor comments, hoping for a reply. He never gets one, but he always spends these visits trying.
Loki doesn’t look up, doesn’t pause. He just keeps going, boots making soft sounds in time with his graceful stride.
“Fandral claims you’re trying to escape by wearing a hole through the cavern. Sif pointed out that you’d still be bound to the stone.”
Loki does pause, but only to look contemplatively at the thread and test its reach. A step farther from the stone, he resumes his pacing.
Thor feels that he’s the one wearing away, not the cavern floor. He feels as though every easy, hypnotic footfall erodes some piece of him.
He sighs. “Would that you would share your mind with me as you once did.”
“I have never shared my mind with you,” Loki dismisses.
“But you did,” Thor insists, grasping at the one subject that has finally gained him some small attention. “When we were very young. When we were children, you told me everything. We had no secrets between us.”
“That we knew,” comes the cold correction.
Frustrated, Thor turns away. “Again with this.”
“Yes, Thor, again,” Loki snaps. “Didn’t he tell you what I am?”
“You are my brother,” Thor says. “You have been the very dearest thing in my life for almost a thousand years. Such a small matter as blood cannot change that. Our mother did not bear either of us in her womb, and yet she raised and loved us—would you dare to make little of that?”
Loki stops walking. He freezes, like a deer that has heard a sudden sound.
Thor immediately guesses what has caught Loki’s ear. “They told me many things while I grieved and tried my best to become a worthier heir. If we had known such things sooner, we would have whispered of it in the darkness of our room, huddled beneath the furs and afraid of the unknown. You would have told me. You would have told me of the fear it puts in you, and of the way it makes you hate yourself, and of the way you’ve let it spoil every joy you once had.”
“And what makes you think I ever knew joy?”
“I know your smile better than I know my own hands, Loki, you cannot convince me—”
“A smile is the first thing a child learns to fake when his father never says, ‘I am proud of you.’”
Thor flinches and looks away. “You speak nonsense. I can remember very clearly—”
“Only ever when you stood beside me,” Loki snarls. “Only ever when it was the both of us. Never just me. By myself I was only a tool with a swiftly fading purpose, but next to you I was a mirror for your glory. Like a jeweled collar for a prized warhound. And what sort of brother were you to me, that you didn’t see or hear the way they all looked on me?”
Turning, Thor peers across the dimness to where Loki is a dark shape with a gleaming tether.
“Weak,” Loki hisses from behind his shoulder. “Womanly. Worthless. But you couldn’t hear any of it over the sound of your own greatness. You never knew I lived in your shadow because you stopped looking. And here you have the audacity to call yourself different from your thief father, different from the man who all but discarded me when he didn’t see what he wanted of me. What care did you ever have for me that could compare to the love you held for yourself and your crass displays?”
They stand in silence for a time, darkness heavy above them and stone unyielding below them, and Thor has never felt so far away from anyone.
He swallows. “I cannot speak for Father, but I would rend the skies for you.”
“As I rent them for you?” Loki whispers into the darkness.
“Not for cruelty,” Thor denies. “Not to prove a point. But if you lay dying and the Chitauri promised to cure you, yes. I would have unleashed such horrors for that much.”
Loki turns and laughs, and his face is free of malice. He shakes his head. “You’re such a conundrum, Thor. I can never tell if you’re actually as stupid as you seem. Pompous and blustering and constantly surprising in your naïveté. Did you really think my plan was to just let the Chitauri lay waste and then swoop in to have them hand me victory? To simply burn the things you love and stand laughing over the ashes?”
“I…” He doesn’t know.
“Of course you did,” Loki goes on, slow and patronizing. “Because, as everyone knows, sorcerers are scavengers, not hunters. We pick the bones of battle, living off the scraps of others, too weak to earn glory for ourselves. Kill a few humans, destroy a few buildings, sow terror and chaos the very length of Midgard…all well and good, but rather short-sighted, and it lets one culprit go unpunished.”
Thor frowns; a nameless dread is building in the pit of his stomach, cold and hard and heavy.
“My plans never ended with me ruling over those weak-willed worms. My plans always ended here, in the deepest pit of Asgard. Shall I tell you why? You look very confused.”
“Why, then?” Thor asks.
“Because I didn’t make that deal with the Chitauri—I made it with Thanos.”
Thor’s heart misses a beat and races to catch up.
Loki laughs again, bright and childish and carefree. “Do you see now? No doubt you do, Odin Child-Stealer.”
Their father casts aside a mantle of shadows. It scatters into crows’ feathers and vanishes.
“You didn’t think I’d forgiven you, did you?” says Loki. “Of course not; only Thor is that arrogant. And yet your all-seeing eye failed to see the end of this plot until only this moment.”
“The end?” Thor asks.
“My revenge wasn’t on Midgard—it’s here, on Asgard. I was never going to give Thanos the Tesseract. And now he’s going to come here to punish me for cheating him, and he’ll have to blast his way to the dark and hidden depths, laying waste to this glittering Realm and its foundations of falsehood and faithlessness.” He laughs again.
“You have brought ruin down upon everything you once held dear,” Odin says wearily.
“You have no idea what I held dear,” scoffs Loki. “Not that it matters. Thanos is probably at your doorstep. I win.”
“Not if I give you to him.”
Thor feels the breath rush from his lungs. He expects Loki to show fear, or at least faltering bravado.
Loki only smiles slyly. “Look at him. Do you really think he’ll let you hand me over to Thanos?”
Would he? To save Asgard, to save their parents and their friends?
Something of his hesitation must show in his face, because Loki’s smile crumbles at the edges, becomes something cold and brittle like melting ice.
“So you’ve learned to lie at last, Thor,” Loki says. “I’m surprised it took you so long, with such fine examples, but you always were a slow student. And so the pretty words you said when you thought we were alone are naught but sunshine on dust—a trick of the light. ‘The dearest thing in my life,’ you said. ‘I would rend the sky,’ you said. How vexing to be so taken in, when I make such an art of lying myself.”
“It was no lie,” Thor says, but the words sound small and hollow in the vast darkness.
“And you’ve learned not to admit to the lie, well done. Anyway, it hardly matters now. Drag me before Thanos. Put a bow and tag on me, if you wish: that’s how the humans like to present gifts. ‘For Thanos—please don’t crush our pathetic Realm.’ But he’ll still want the Tesseract, and I don’t think Odin is willing to give it to him. Even if I die in screaming, unendurable agony, I still win.”
Odin sags slightly, and he looks so drained, so old and frail in a way that Thor has never seen him… “I had always thought you the wiser son, but for this petty vendetta you have brought doom to us. To your mother and brother, who love you still. Where did I go wrong with you, Loki?”
With a sneer, Loki begins to pace his prison again. “We don’t have another thousand years for me to enumerate your failings as a father. At least you no longer lie to my face that you love this…twisted, heartless, frost-runt that you trawled from the discarded rubbish of your ancient enemies and gave to your wife as a pet.”
“You are not heartless,” Thor protests. “And many things once twisted can be restored.”
Loki laughs again, far away in the dark, but tears mark his face, glittering as the magic thread glitters. “Oh, Thor,” he says. “Don’t you see there’s nothing left of me? I am but emptiness and hatred and the laughter of the carrion crow.”
But Loki swallows, shakes his head. “I am the end of all things bright and beautiful, and though you may think it strange, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. For whither shall your thoughts fly, when Asgard is crumbled and burning around you? Your precious human woman may have changed you in all the ways I failed to…but I will leave you with a scar so deep and dark and indelible that her soft little hands cannot reach to erase it. At the end, the uttermost end, you will be mine and mine alone.”
Above them, around them, the world shakes.
Loki smiles upward into the darkness. “He is here.”