The night before his first hunt, a shadow appears next to his bed.
“Thor,” Loki whispers. There is a tugging at his blanket. “Thor, wake up.”
He dredges slowly up out of his dream. His body feels heavy. His limbs are weighed down as if by lead. Loki is bent over his bedside, one hand on his shoulder, the other still trying to pull him. He mumbles. “Loki, what are you – ”
“Wake up, get dressed. Hurry up.”
He fumbles out of bed. This is how he is around his brother – unquestioning, certain. His bare feet touch the tiles. He is not even truly awake, not sure if he is still asleep.
“Where are we going?”
“Out.” Loki shoves a shirt into his arms, and then a fur-lined coat. “I want to show you something.”
They inch out of the palace by a silent back way, stealing along the corridors like ghosts. He does not recognise the route; but Loki is moving quickly, furs gleaming wetly in the moonlight, and it’s a natural instinct to follow. It is bitingly cold and he abruptly remembers that he is not wearing boots. His toe stubs a corner of carpet – a chest clatters, when he nearly trips over it in the dark.
Loki spins around, grips his arm too tightly. “Shh!”
“Where are we going?” he whispers. He navigates himself around the chest, gingerly. “If this is another game of yours – ”
“Would I get up out of bed at this hour for a game? Hush, just follow me. And don’t rouse the servants.”
“I’m freezing. Aren’t you cold?”
Loki makes an exasperated noise. Something brushes, soft, against his face. There is a faint stir of movement as Loki unhooks his own cape and drapes it over his shoulders. “Better?”
“But what about you?”
“I do not mind it so much.” An impatient pull on his arm. “Come on, now.”
The fabric smells of herbs and rain and the peculiar electric-scorch of Loki’s magic. His brother’s warmth is still huddled inside its folds. He pulls it closer, faintly remembering that it has not rained in Asgard for months and months.
“Are we going outside the city gates?” he asks.
“No,” Loki says. “Just up to the Tower.”
Loki pulls himself up onto the roof, then reaches down. “Give me your hand.”
Starlight breaks over the side of Loki’s face. The collar of Loki’s shirt is lined with feathers and they flutter gently in the breeze. He bats the hand aside. “I can do it.”
“As long as you don’t break your neck.”
“I’m not Storr.”
The tiles of the roof are slippery with dew. It takes him a little while to find his balance; by then, Loki is already lying flat on his back with a coat pillowed beneath his head. He looks up. Above them, the heavens are laid out like an unfurled map: inky, faintly lustrous, the stars glittering like pearls, the coy slip of the second moon Lira like the horn of an antelope against the black.
“What are we looking at, brother?” he says, sitting down.
“I suppose you are trying to read the future.” He shivers and tucks his feet underneath the edge of his borrowed cape. “Is that it?”
“Then what are we doing?”
“Hush. Just look.” Loki’s head tips up and light trails down into the hollow of his throat. “The Seven Sisters are out tonight, just over there. And the White Badger. You see that star – that there is his eye.”
Loki shuffles until their sides are pressed together. “There, I’m pointing right at it.”
He cannot see anything. “I don’t – ”
They are very close to each other. He can feel Loki’s breath fanning out against his cheek. For a second he almost turns – out here, so high above the rest of the city, just the two of them, it is no great shame to admit that he is afraid of tomorrow. When he rides out with the other warriors, they will be watching him. They will be measuring him up against their own sons. And he has never felled a beast before with his own hands, never had the practice.
“Do not think about tomorrow just yet,” Loki says, and he jumps.
“How did you know – ”
“It is no great mystery, when you’ve been so distracted all day. I know you like to give the impression that everything is alright,” Loki adds, “but I notice you when you don’t think anybody is watching.”
“It’s not right, for a son of Odin to be afraid.”
Loki snorts. “Do you think Father is never afraid? Fear is not a bad thing.”
“But we are warriors!”
“And we would all make bad ones, if we never knew fear. You remember the story about the Legions of Sabbathek, whose prince was granted a wish from the White Tree?” Loki’s head, which is currently resting on his shoulder, shifts into the crook of his neck. “He wished that all his men would never be frightened of anything – so that he could lead them into any war, without them shying away. But they were all slaughtered within a week in the Lesser Wars. Courage made them reckless.”
“But our forefathers were not ever reckless.”
“No. And that is why it is a good thing you are afraid.”
“I won’t always be. When I am older – when we are older – I won’t be. I will make sure of it.”
Loki props up on one elbow to look at him. “How?”
“I don’t know. But I will. I promise.”
They stay like that for a long moment. It is not so cold now, when they are flank to flank. He remembers belatedly that Loki does not have a cloak and offers it, the one that Loki gave him, to huddle under.
“I brought you out to look at Lira,” Loki says at last. Bony elbows jabbing into his ribs under the furs. “Tonight, I have calculated, there will be a meteorite. A fallen star. And it will collide with our second moon. Not a big collision – it’s only a small star – but it’ll be something to see, at least.”
“Why has nobody else stayed up to see it?”
“It’ll only show for a second. I suppose they don’t believe it’s worth seeing.”
“But you do.”
Loki’s hand sneaks into his coat, keeping warm. “I think it will be beautiful.”
It is not the sort of beauty he understands. The fleeting, sudden sort of beauty – that is Loki’s domain. The soft whisper of a knife through air. The flicker of a shadow, or the glint of a horse’s mane, or the flash of a jewel placed under just the right light; he turns his face to his brother’s, watches the rise and fall of Loki’s chest and the elegant jut of his collarbones.
He feels a sudden need to say something, but he doesn’t know what.
Abruptly, Loki cries out. “Look! Thor! There it is! Did you see it?” Loki’s eyes, fire-green, turn on him. An excited hand wrings his. “Were you watching? Did you see it, did you see when it crashed?”
He squints out into the night. “I’m not really sure – ”
“Oh, you missed it, didn’t you!” Loki gives him a glare. “Weren’t you looking? I told you to look!”
“I think I saw it. A little.”
“You’re wretched at lying.”
“Don’t be angry.”
He tugs Loki back towards him. He can see a future in which he’ll return to this moment. In time, when things change – for the better, or for the worse, it is not yet clear to him – this night will be one that he will come back to: Loki’s glare slowly melting, the frown on his pale, narrow face giving way.
“I don’t ever want you to be angry with me,” he says, earnest. “I want us – to be like this forever.”
“That’s not possible. We’ll both grow up.”
“I know,” he says. “But I just – that is what I want. That is how I wish things could be.”
Loki hums and settles down against him. He can almost sense the soft, gentle tick of Loki’s heartbeat, wonders what it would feel like beneath the flesh of his palm.
“You will need all of your strength for tomorrow, brother,” Loki says at last. “You should sleep.”
“Can you not at least ride with us some of the way?”
“If Father permits it.”
This is how he is around his brother. He nestles his face into Loki’s hair – the smell of thunder, and wormwood, and many other things he cannot comprehend – he drifts, content, obedient, into his dreams.