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A Battle None Too Vicious

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The hunt is unsatisfying.

They capture their quarry with admirable ease (no one can be quite sure, in the end, whether Sif or Thor landed the killing blow), and the beast will make a worthy trophy. It is twenty times at least the size of a man, built for speed, skin thick with an armor of impenetrable scales. To have felled the creature on its home terrain, with so small a party (Thor, Sif, the Warriors Three) is an accomplishment well worthy of the triumphant festivities that will greet their return.

But Thor rankles at this victory. He can’t ignore the twist of selfish ire in his chest, tight and vicious.

Loki is not here.

Loki’s absence sours the taste of victory and leaves Thor feeling petty and small. After all, what does it matter if Loki would prefer to bury himself in quiet study than embark on some adventure? Has Thor not his friends to share his conquests?

But his friends are looking at him now with furrowed brows and dark concern, and Thor knows he is being an unworthy companion.

He doesn’t apologize for his mood, but he forces himself to smile. If his revelry is shadowed by ungenerous irritation, he at least does his best not to let the shadows dim a triumphant return to Asgard.

- — - — - — -

He retires early from the feast, though not so early as to arouse undue worry. He can hear the clatter of voices vanishing gradually behind him, the rumble of laughter, the clinking of mugs growing more distant. He pays the fading noises no mind as he retreats, and he tells himself (unconvincingly) that it is not Loki’s absence which has spoiled the party for him: he is simply tired.

“You look miserable.”

Loki’s voice nearly trips Thor’s stride, and he whirls to the left to find his brother leaning against an arched doorframe. The corridor behind Loki is dark and empty at this late hour. Loki’s expression manages to look like a smirk despite the neutral line of his mouth.

“Finally come down from your tower,” Thor mutters, turning aside with a scowl.

“Why so gloomy, Brother?” Loki asks, stepping to Thor’s side. He sounds genuinely quizzical. “I’d have thought tonight a festive enough occasion. Even in the library I’ve heard murmurs of your great victory.”

Thor tries not to feel petulant, but he’d rather have told Loki of this victory himself. No, he’d have preferred Loki there, sharing in the glory alongside him, and no need of telling the tale after the fact.

“I am tired,” Thor announces, feeling ridiculous. Like a child denied some trifling favor. He cannot tell Loki the reason for his foul mood. There’s too great a risk of Loki’s sharp tongue turning to mockery at the confession.

“No, you’re not.” Loki steps in front of Thor, ice-blue eyes narrowing in consideration. “But you’re angry. With me?”

No,” Thor snarls, but he may as well have answered truthfully for all his denial accomplishes. Loki’s eyebrows rise with comprehension, and Thor turns his glare impatiently aside.

“You’re upset I didn’t accompany your ridiculous hunting party to Vanaheim.” Loki’s lip twitches at one corner. “I don’t understand. This isn’t the first time you’ve embarked on some foolhardy quest without me.”

No, Thor realizes. It’s not. He can call to mind a dozen other times, none of which have left him in such an unworthy sulk. He has certainly hunted without Loki before.

But this is different.

“You decided not to go,” Thor says, then curses himself for putting the complaint into words. Aloud, it sounds even more foolish than in the privacy of his skull.

But it stings just the same, and Thor doesn’t try to take the words back. Thor asked Loki to come. For all the times they’ve pursued separate endeavors (more and more often now that they are grown men with responsibilities of their own), Loki has never turned him down without purpose or obligation.

Thor is accustomed to having his way—or at least to knowing there’s a reason he cannot have it. Rejection simply because Loki doesn’t feel like joining him? Thor had never before considered the possibility.

As always, Loki understands despite Thor’s reluctance to explain. Inevitably his eyes widen with comprehension. Thor only scowls at him harder, and Loki shakes his head in disbelief.

“You are completely ridiculous,” Loki informs him, and Thor deflates, embarrassed and suddenly every bit as tired as he has claimed.

“I wanted you at my side.”

“I was busy.” There’s a chiding tone to the words, but Loki steps closer instead of away. “I am allowed to have other interests besides you.”

“I’d prefer you didn’t,” Thor says, and Loki snorts dryly.

“However did you become so spoiled?” Loki mutters, and then he’s reaching for Thor, brushing aside Thor’s hair and tucking it behind one ear.

Thor captures his hand, and Loki’s skin feels cool and familiar against his fingers. Loki sighs, an exaggerated put-upon sound, and shakes his head.

“Come along, then,” he says, reclaiming his hand and turning his back to Thor, angling down the corridor Thor had quite forgotten he was storming. “Let’s retire somewhere you can regale me with tales of your brute strength and mediocre tactics. I can’t bear to see that petulant look on your face.”

Loki makes it barely two steps before Thor has captured him from behind in a crushing hug.

Loki is cool fabric, straight spine, taut and calm along Thor’s chest. He is silent, but that’s all right.

“Thank you,” Thor says, and smiles as Loki relaxes in his arms.