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Ship's-night, residential deck, third corridor

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Loki had converted a space near the quarters he shared with Thor for Sleipnir, and Thor found them both there one ship's-night. He wondered if he should ask what was being done with Sleipnir's manure, and opened his mouth only to have Loki interrupt before any sound issued forth.

"He has my intelligence, brother. He knows how to use a ship's cycler system."

"I was thinking of logistics," Thor said. "I've known you since you were foaled, nephew; I would never insult your thinking."

Sleipnir made a whuffling noise and bumped Thor with his head, and Thor rubbed his ear before taking a seat beside Loki on a bale of hay. The arched ceiling above them was transparent to the long dark of spaceflight, and starlight played over Sleipnir's hide and Loki's skin.

"Never change, nephew," Thor said. "I love you as you are, a mighty warrior and dearest of kin." Beside him, he felt Loki stiffen, going unnervingly still in a way that often prefaced an outburst of vicious temper. He turned, ready to apologize -- for what, he did not know, but surely he had given offense somehow.

After a long, tense moment, Loki spoke. "There are those that can change their nature, and those that cannot."

Thor shifted against him, pressed himself shoulder-to-shoulder and hip-to-hip. He knew what Loki meant, but knew just as surely that his brother was wrong. "No," he said. "Father and I could not change our natures. We did not. It is only that as we learned, we chose to express ourselves more wisely, with less blood and wrath." Sleipnir crossed to them, his dark eyes watchful. Thor rubbed his nephew's ear again, comfortingly; Sleipnir hated when he and Loki argued about anything. "And Father saw to it that I learned earlier than he did, it seems."

Loki drew a deep breath, and Thor felt the movement of his ribs, the lean strength of his body. His brother, tall and strong and dangerous, and alive beside him. He could not count all the empty spaces that Loki filled, without and within.

"Our sister," said Loki. "Our sister and I, we —" He let his head fall back, the waves in his black hair catching the starlight. "You said it yourself, Thor. You're you, and I'm me."

"I cannot speak for our sister," Thor answered, slowly. "But yes, you are mischief and tricks and lies. You cannot change that, and you would not even if you could."

"Yes," says Loki, his eyes falling closed, and there was something in his voice like despair.

Thor studied him. Everything about Loki was crafted illusion; he did not believe he had ever seen his brother in truth. It did not matter; the face that Loki wore now -- that he wore most often -- was the one Loki had chosen, and was therefore as true as any. The stars played over his black hair and white skin, his cruel mouth and his eyelids shut over eyes that were sane now, more often than not. Thor knew the madness would come again, for there were fault lines in his brother's mind, as much a part of him as every other part.

"I have always known that my little brother is full of mischief," he said, softly. Loki shivered against him, and opened his eyes -- yes, he was here, still, his mind present with his brother and his son. Thor smiled, and laced his fingers through Loki's, squeezing tight, and Loki gripped his hand back as if Thor were anchoring him to the world. "He has always been clever, and treacherous, and sometimes a mare." Loki snorted softly, and Sleipnir nibbled his mother's hair. "He fathered a snake two thousand years ago and left his child in my bed to bite me. None of this makes him less precious to me."

Loki smiled, still holding tight to Thor's hand, and leaning into his shoulder. "In some of the tales of Ragnarok," he said, "my serpent-son destroys you. I am — I am glad, brother, that did not come to pass. And I am glad Jormungand is sleeping safe among the roots of Yggdrasil. Worrying over this one was hard enough." He stroked Sleipnir’s nose, and Sleipnir pressed his head into his mother’s chest.

Thor laughed and threaded his free hand into Sleipnir's mane. "Do you think Father ever worried over us, as you did when you could not find Sleipnir?"

Loki buried his face in Sleipnir's forelock. "I might be the worst son in existence," he muttered. "I never once thought of that."

"You are not the worst son in existence," said Thor. "You are simply you." He paused. "You're worse than Sleipnir, though, brother. Your own child puts you to shame. Take lessons."

Sleipnir shoved Thor off the bale of hay with one sweep of his massive head, and Thor sprawled there, laughing, hearing Loki laughing above him: the bright, tiny spark of his brother's beloved life shining among the stars.