He stands before the tiny shop, staring up at the unadorned and plain sign hung above its windows and door in bold, block letters, reading simply “Antique Books”.
Thor smiles a little at that.
Of course his brother wouldn’t bother with trying to come up with some cutesy, clever name. That’s just the sort of thing that would irritate Loki to no end.
The inside of the shop is blocked from view by blinds pulled down over the windows, and Thor hopes it’s actually open as he glances down at his watch, frowning at the time.
Just past ten thirty at night.
Looking back up, he sees no sign indicating whether the place is opened or closed though, and he came all the way down here, after no little effort to get away from Jane and the kids for a while. She’d understood, once he’d explained what his intention was, that it involved Loki. But it hadn’t been easy, considering the day, and she’d been stern in telling him not to stay away all night.
“You better be home before morning Thor. Your kids expect you here when they open their presents.” She’d warned, and Thor had smiled and laughed, before kissing her cheek and giving his word that he’d be back in time.
But Jane understood. She’d even encouraged it.
He’d been planning this for weeks now. Finally taking the initiative, when at last his guilt had gotten to be too much, and he’d acknowledged to himself that it was wrong. All wrong.
It hadn’t been hard to find Loki. A little bit of asking around. Looking his name up in the phone book. Finding this place, this shop, which at some point in the last five years, Loki had managed to open.
His brother hadn’t been hiding. He’d just… run away.
Thor tries pushing the memories aside, but it’s hard.
He still remembers the devastated, betrayed look in Loki’s eyes, when he’d confronted their parents. Remembers the tears coursing down his face. Loki, who never really cried. Stoic, quiet, shy Loki, who always kept to himself. Who always tried to keep his feelings hidden, to act like he felt nothing at all. But Thor had always known that wasn’t true. Knew his brother did that because the truth was, he felt too much. How sometimes, if only for the briefest of flashes, the depth of what he felt could be seen plain upon his features. Instances of such raw and naked emotion, splitting Loki’s masks wide apart and revealing him underneath.
He’d always taken everything to heart.
Thor had had his own questions after, asking Mum and Dad why. Why hadn’t they told Loki? Why hadn’t they told him?
Eighteen years old, and Loki hadn’t had a clue he was adopted.
Though, Thor thinks, he’d always known there was something off. Something different about him.
Loki had used to say that to him. That he didn’t feel like he belonged. Wondering aloud sometimes at the radical difference in his appearance from all of their own. Wondering why he was of such differing disposition. Where Dad and Thor were so loud and outgoing and confident. Of all of them, Loki most resembled Mom, of course, in her quiet manner and gentility.
But even from her, Loki seemed like something other. Mom had a subdued confidence and strength to her. She wasn’t brash, like Odin and Thor, yet she was determined and as sure of herself and her actions as any of them.
But Loki had always been withdrawn and introspective, to the point of harboring and obsessing over his faults, rarely seeing his worth or his talents; though his brother was extremely, exceptionally gifted at many things, and radically intelligent, having graduated college at the age of fourteen.
Loki didn’t believe in himself, despite all he’d accomplished from such a young age.
He was fragile.
The blow of discovering he wasn’t related to any of them by blood had been too much. Even if underneath he’d sensed it all along.
It’s easy to see it, in retrospect, Thor knows. But his brother had always felt it.
It didn’t make the affirmation of it any easier a truth to bear.
Thor hadn’t cared. It had changed nothing in his mind or his heart where Loki was concerned.
Loki was his brother. His little brother. And he always would be. Thor would always love him, no matter what. Would always feel responsible for him. Whether the same blood flowed through their veins had absolutely no impact on that.
He hadn’t understood at the time why it had been so upsetting to Loki. Hadn’t understood why his brother had reacted so badly, or so extremely. Why he’d disavowed himself of the family and their support. Why he’d refused from then on to have anything to do with the family business, rejecting Odin’s offers of financial support and career opportunities.
It had taken Jane, strangely enough, to help him understand.
Mum and Dad had only been trying to protect Loki. Thor knew that. Because Loki had already struggled his whole life to fit in. To find his place in the world.
His brother had always had such a hard time making friends. The fact he was a child surrounded by college age students hadn’t helped, of course. But there had been plenty of children in their neighborhood, comparable in age to both he and Thor. Children whom Thor had readily and easily made friends with. That had never been the case for Loki.
He’d tried. And Thor had tried to help him, insisting his brother be allowed to join in on whatever games and shenanigans they might have been up to. But it just never really worked. The others just never took a liking to his brother.
Loki just never really fit.
And Mum and Dad had just been trying to protect him, thinking that to find out he was adopted, when already he felt so out of place, when already he struggled so with everything, would be devastating to him.
They hadn’t considered how it was on them, all of them, Loki depended and clung to for identity and place. How he had trusted them entirely. Trusted them to always tell him the truth, to be his one, real anchor in a world where he felt constantly adrift.
To then have that trust betrayed, to realize he’d been lied to his entire life by the very few people he felt he could depend upon…
Thor understood now, why it had so completely crushed his brother.
And he shouldn’t have let him go. Thor understands that now too. He should have gone after Loki, should have called him back and tried. Tried to fix things. To explain better how none of it mattered to him. How he understood why Loki was upset, but he was still his brother and he would always love him. Always be there for him.
But Thor’s temper back then had been high and short, and instead he’d seen Loki’s tear stained face and heard his voice, vicious and ripping as he’d screamed at their parents, angry and despairing, and Thor had lost hold of himself, emotions all over the place. Had started screaming back at Loki, questioning why he was so angry, why he even cared.
That had been, he thinks, the greatest mistake of his life.
Loki had wheeled on him, he remembers, and his face had been… God, even to think of it now brings a hot stinging to Thor’s eyes.
Loki had been crushed.
For an instant, his face had crumpled, fallen in such abject despair and betrayal, because… because he’d been relying on him, Thor now realizes. He’d been relying on Thor to understand. To support him…
And Thor had blown it, in the most awful, thorough way imaginable.
It was after that Loki had gone running from their house, Mum crying after him to come back and Dad holding her from pursuing.
He hadn’t seen Loki since.
Five years now.
He hadn’t seen his little brother in five years.
He can’t forgive himself for it. For letting it go on like this. For letting Loki be out there, in the world, a world he’d never fit into, on his own for so long.
Loki had never been particularly good at taking care of himself. Not that he was incapable but…
He just wasn’t very good at it…
Thor shakes his head, clearing it of the memories and concern.
He’s here now.
He’s here to make amends, if it’s at all possible. He’s here to make this right.
And he’ll be damned if he hesitates any longer.
It’s starting to snow now, light, powder soft flakes floating down from the black sky, silent and slow, the air growing colder as it clings to Thor’s skin, his breath hanging in white puffs before him.
He reaches out a hand, wrapping his fingers round the book shops handle, the metal cold in his palm.
He pushes it in.
It’s open, he thinks, relieved, as the door swings wide, followed by the sound of a tiny, clear bell overhead, announcing his arrival.
The first impression Thor receives is one of warmth.
The musty smell of old books is almost overpowering as it fills his nostrils, and he can’t help breathing it into his lungs, reminded instantly of Loki’s old room, at their parent’s house, where there too had been such a scent, from how many books his brother had always collected.
The place is small, Thor notices then. No bigger than the outside would indicate, he thinks, glancing around.
There, of course, are numerous bookshelves, lined from end to end with row upon row of what, from where he’s standing, looks to be leather bound volumes.
The floor is some sort of dark wood, a little bit dusty, and the lighting low and soft, sconces along some of the walls offering the only, real illumination.
There’s a small fire burning in the corner the farthest left, up from the front door, on the other side of the room, a ratty looking couch and high backed, upholstered chair positioned around it with obvious care and attention. Almost incongruous how carefully they’ve been positioned, for their depleted state.
At that too, Thor smiles. That’s Loki, all the way. He’d always talked about how a things value wasn’t in how much you could sell it for, but what it meant to you personally.
Whatever the condition of the chair and couch, they’d meant enough to Loki to give them their proper place.
Already Thor can picture his little brother, curled up in that beat up chair, book supported on the arm of it, face close to the page as he engrosses himself in the words printed there.
Beside the arrangement of seats and fire, there’s a long, wooden counter, running along the room’s back wall, piled high with stacks of books and other, various knickknacks. There’s a cash register situated atop and at the farthest, left side. One of those old fashioned ones from the 20s or 30s, it looks like.
Little glass figurines stand at attention along one of the counters short sides. Little cats and dogs and birds. Thor feels his throat tighten at the sight, a heavy sadness settling into his stomach at it.
He remembers too how Loki, ever since he’d been little, loved to collect those things. Glass figurines. He and some of his friends had used to tease Loki about it…
Beyond the counter, slightly to the right, the back wall breaks off into an entryway, leading into the back, Thor supposes. Maybe where Loki keeps his stock, or his work room maybe…
“I’m sorry, but we’re closed for the evening.”
Thor nearly startles at the sound of a voice, coming from his right, and he whips his head around, eyes searching for the source.
He sucks in a sharp breath as his gaze lands upon the figure, seated at a small desk, pushed into the corner opposite the one with the fireplace and seats.
It’s his brother.
He’s got his face turned down, a large book opened up before him, a small table lamp turned on and glowing soft, yellow light. In his hand, he’s scanning down the pages with some sort of magnifying tool, his left eye pressed up against it, over his reading glasses.
Thor can hardly believe what he’s looking at.
It’s almost as if it’s a dream. Some sort of surreal fantasy.
There’s Loki, who he hasn’t seen in five years.
As he works past his initial shock, he begins to take in closer details of his brother.
Loki’s hair is short and slicked back behind his ears, as he’s always worn it since about the age of twelve or thirteen. So black it almost appears blue in certain lighting, and such a startling, intense contrast with the equally opposing color of his pale skin, nearly white as the falling snow outside.
His brother wears a blue knitted sweater, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows to expose whipcord thin arms, the muscles visible as they shift with each, minute movement.
Beneath the space between the table top and floor, Thor can see Loki’s absurdly long legs, clad in simple, black slacks, a pair of matching black loafers over his feet, and black socks.
He looks well groomed. Clean cut, clean shaven and put together.
He’s too thin, Thor thinks, even before he’s seen his brother’s face. Loki’s always been incredibly thin, but he looks now like he doesn’t eat.
And then it occurs to Thor that Loki doesn’t realize it’s him. Doesn’t know who’s standing there.
For a moment, he feels frozen there, a kind of panic gripping his insides as thoughts of anger and rejection on Loki’s part flash cross his mind. What if his brother doesn’t want to see him? What if he’s upset by his coming here? By his seeking this place out? What if…
And then Loki, at last, lifts his face.
He is too thin, Thor thinks again, seeing the almost painfully defined lines of his brother’s high cheekbones, the hollows of his sunken, gaunt cheeks and white skin. His glasses are round and large upon his face, the light from the lamp reflecting off their lenses and blocking Loki’s eyes from view.
Thor doesn’t need to see them to register the shock in his brother.
There’s a sharp intake of breath, the magnifier between Loki’s long, elegant fingers slipping free and hitting the book with a soft thud, a visible tremor working up his arm.
“Th… Thor?” He stammers out, bemused and disbelieving.
Thor smiles softly, uncertainly, back. He nods.
“Hey Loki.” He says, and suddenly his own nerves feel on fire, a kind of queasiness working its way up his throat.
Maybe he hadn’t been as prepared for this as he’d originally thought.
There’s a long beat of silence, Loki continuing to stare back at him with his whited out glasses, unmoving and speechless, and Thor’s shifts, feeling by the moment increasingly uncomfortable and unsure.
And then Loki lifts a hand to his face, pulling his glasses away, and Thor sees his eyes, as vibrantly green and intelligent as he remembers, looking back at him with breathtaking intensity.
“What are you doing here?” He asks.
His voice isn’t accusatory. Isn’t angry or upset. If anything, he simply sounds confused, and almost afraid.
Thor feels both relieved and anxious for it.
He takes a step closer, and Loki doesn’t move, doesn’t take his gaze from him at all.
“I wanted… I… I needed to see you Loki.” He starts slowly, unsure exactly of how to explain. “It’s been… it’s been too long and…”
He trails off as finally, Loki looks away, his face bowing down, hands pulling off the table and into his lap.
For a long moment, he just sits there, silent and still, before abruptly it seems he looks up again, this time standing and moving around the table.
He looks almost exactly as Thor remembers him, he thinks, as his younger brother moves closer. Like not a single day has passed since last they saw one another, except for Loki’s being somehow thinner.
Perhaps on a frame so slight and tall, any loss of weight would stand out stark, even if minimal. Thor hopes. He hopes Loki’s been taking care of himself.
Even as he thinks it though, guilt eats away at his insides.
He should have been there for his brother. He should have…
“Come into the back?” Loki asks, stopping a few feet in front of him, pointing towards the entryway Thor had spotted earlier, behind the counter. “There’s more places to sit and I have drinks.”
“Alcohol?” Thor asks.
Loki looks down, almost seeming embarrassed. He shakes his head.
“Uh, no. No, just… some soda and things.” He answers softly, and Thor suddenly feels bad. He hadn’t meant to embarrass his brother.
Loki had never expressed any real interest in alcohol or drinking. He used to say he wanted always to be in control of his faculties.
“That’s fine.” Thor says, trying to smile. “That’s great.”
Loki gives a stiff, jerky nod, not lifting his eyes before he moves past Thor, towards the counter, saying nothing.
Thor stands there a moment, concerned, before he forces himself to follow after. Loki’s strides are long and quick, and Thor has to put in an actual effort to catch up.
By the time he does, his brother’s already disappeared into the back room, and upon crossing the threshold, Thor spots him at a mini refrigerator, tucked against the room’s farthest wall. In the quiet of the space, Thor can hear its low, electrical hum, and the clinking of glass bottles as Loki retrieves the drinks from it.
The rest of the area if fairly small, and a little cramped, with two tables and three chairs. One of those tables is pushed into a corner, adjacent the little fridge, covered in papers stained with ink and covered from top to bottom with his brother’s elegant script. And there are pens and pencils and markers, strewn across the top, spilling out of a knocked over, old coffee can.
Definitely a work space, as Thor had assumed then.
In the middle of the room sits the other table, longer and rectangular in shape, two chairs on either end. There’s a few food wrappers and paper cups scattered across it. Some sort of break table, Thor guesses.
There’s a small trashcan sitting against the back wall too, overflowing with more wrappers, fast food boxes and cups.
The light’s a little brighter in here too, an overhead lamp illuminating the space fairly well.
It gives Thor a better look at his brother as he stands up from the mini fridge and turns round, coming back towards the table.
He can see now the tired lines of Loki’s face.
His brother is only 23, now, and he looks young as he is, but for the heavy, dark bags under his eyes, indicating a lack of sleep, along with the whites of his eyes seeming too red. And there’s a kind of stressed pull about the corners of his lips which seems like it shouldn’t be there.
Though Loki always was a worrier, Thor knows. Unnaturally so for one so young. He used to worry about seemingly everything and anything, working himself into almost a frenzy at times.
Thor continues standing as Loki places a bottle of Coke at the opposite end of the table from which he stands, nodding his head to the chair, indicating for Thor to sit.
Thor obliges him, pulling the little roller chair out and lowering himself onto it carefully. These damn things have a tendency to roll out from under him because of his size and weight.
Loki watches him with an unreadable expression before following suit, lowering himself with considerably more grace and surety into his own seat.
Another, heavy silence ensues, Thor watching as Loki takes his own drink between his long hands, rolling the glass between his palms, keeping his face turned towards the table top.
So far, this isn’t going near so well as he’d hoped.
“How are you Loki?” Finally Thor determines to break the awkwardness.
Loki seems to start slightly at the question, before glancing up, holding Thor’s eyes only a moment before again looking down.
He shrugs absently.
“Well enough, I should think.” He answers softly. “How about you?” Again he looks up at Thor, holding his gaze longer now. “How are Jane and the children?”
Thor gapes at him a moment, thoughts shorting out.
“How do you…” he starts.
“I still talk to Mum Thor.” He answers, already anticipating the question. “Sometimes. She… she told me. You and Jane got married. Congratulations. I’m sorry I wasn’t there.”
That hits a sore spot with Thor, and Loki seems to sense it, again averting his gaze, shoulders hunching slightly.
Thor had married Jane three years ago now, shortly after they’d found out she was pregnant.
He’d wanted to get in contact with Loki then. Had wanted Loki there, at their wedding, as best man.
But he’d been afraid, unsure of himself, and so unsure of how to go about finding his brother. In the end, he’d talked himself out of it. Another decision he continues to regret.
More so, he regrets the fact that Loki has never met either of his two children.
“It’s alright.” Thor says now, shrugging himself. “And thank you. Jane’s is wonderful and… and the children are beautiful. I wish you could meet them Loki.”
Loki turns his face away at that, glancing off to some indistinct spot aside from him. Thor can see his frame go rigid, and for several, long seconds, he says nothing.
And then he clears his throat, still looking off.
“Shouldn’t you be with them?” He asks quietly, voice hardly more than a whisper. “It’s Christmas Eve.”
“I’ve been with them all day.” Thor answers, and with it, suddenly it occurs to him that it’s almost eleven at night, on Christmas Eve, and Loki is still here, at his shop, alone.
“What, uh, what about Loki?” He asks, feeling his chest tighten, struggling to control his voice. “D-do you… I mean, have you got anyone to…”
Finally, Loki turns his face back towards him, smiling softly, and the expression is so plainly full of sorrow, it makes Thor’s eyes begin to sting, just to look at it.
“No.” He answers, shaking his head. “No, I… I live alone. I like to work since it occupies me, which is why I’m still here so late.”
Thor nods, feeling his throat begin to tighten as well.
He swallows thickly, refusing to embarrass his brother by crying over his state.
“What about friends?” He pushes, knowing the answer beforehand all the same. Knowing how it will break his heart to hear it. “Anyone you’re planning on spending Christmas with or…”
Again, Loki smiles that same, awful smile. His brilliant eyes seem for a moment over-bright, and he again shakes his head.
“You know me Thor. I’ve never been very good with people. I don’t know many. Just the two girls I’ve got working here and a few regulars who come into the shop every now and then.”
Thor wants to cry. He does.
This isn’t right. This isn’t okay. Loki should be with them, with his family, on Christmas. He shouldn’t… shouldn’t be alone like this.
His brother seems to note his distress, as suddenly he reaches out, his cool hand landing gently atop Thor’s wrist.
“It’s alright Thor.” He says. “It’s fine. I’m used to it.”
Thor wants to protest. Is about to. But Loki cuts him short.
“What about you? Are you just spending the day with Jane and the children or…?”
Thor frowns, brow furrowing as he tries to reign his growing emotions in.
“Part of it.” He answers with an effort. “Then later during the evening we were probably going to go down to Mum and Dad’s to have dinner and maybe spend the night.”
Loki nods, his gaze again flitting away.
“Loki,” Thor starts, but once more the younger man cuts him short.
“That’s good. That’s… that’s good. And the children? How are they? Are they in school yet?”
Thor feels frustrated. He knows what Loki’s doing. Knows he’s purposefully keeping the discussion off of himself, though he thinks the interest in his brother’s questions is also sincere.
“Yes.” He answers. “Well, Modi just started a few months ago. He seems to like it. He’s already made friends with a lot of the other children. Magni is still too young.”
Loki nods again, looking up at him and smiling briefly.
“That’s good Thor.” He says. “That’s good to hear. I’m glad. And work? How is your position in Odin’s firm going?”
“It’s fine.” Thor replies. “A little boring some days, but nothing to complain about.”
Again, Loki nods.
“What about you? You’ve opened up this book shop.”
“Ah, well…” Loki begins, smiling again, if only just. “yes. I finally managed to gather the funds to do so. It wasn’t particularly easy, or fun. And it’s still a struggle. People just aren’t interested in books anymore. They’ve all got their tablets and smart phones and what have you.” He fluttered his hands about to indicate, clearly annoyed.
“Well it’s beautiful Loki.” Thor says, meaning it. “You’ve done a fine job.”
“… I suppose.” Loki says, again looking away and shrugging.
“I mean it.” Thor pushes. “I’m happy for you Loki. When I heard, I was so happy. I know books have always been your passion. How long have you had the shop for?”
“Almost two years now.” Loki replies, looking up at him. “It’ll be two years in February.”
“Wow.” Thor breaths, again feeling the awful weight of regret.
He’d only recently discovered this place, only recently realized it belonged to his brother.
“It doesn’t make much money. Odin would no doubt be disappointed, that this is what his Cambridge educated son decided to do with his life. But I enjoy it, and it makes enough for me to get by on.”
Thor nods, trying to ignore Loki’s jab at their father. The two of them had never really gotten along all that well. The discovery of his adoption had only seemed to be the final straw in their relationship.
“So you aren’t hurting for income?” Thor asks warily.
At that, Loki laughs, if briefly.
“Well, some months it’s a little tight. They upped the rent on my flat, so that hasn’t been very nice. But I’m managing.”
“Your flat?” Thor asks, suddenly curious. “Where do you live?” He goes on, wondering why he hadn’t thought to find out sooner.
“Just a short walk from here.” Loki answers easily. “About ten minutes.”
Thor nods, trying to picture it.
It doesn’t sound like Loki makes all that much money, and rent in London can get pretty damned high, depending on the size of the place. He can’t imagine his brother lives in a very big space then.
Again, guilt surges up into his throat, as he thinks of his and Jane’s house. Five bedrooms, six thousand square feet, out in the suburbs. He makes six figures working at Dad’s firm. Meanwhile, his little brother can barely afford to eat, it seems.
“I can help.” Thor offers warily. “If you need money…”
Loki interrupts him by shaking his head, offering a brittle smile.
“No, Thor. No, I’m fine. Thank you, but I don’t need your money.”
“Are you…” Thor tries again, and again, Loki shakes his head no.
“I’m fine.” He repeats, and Thor knows better than to keep pushing.
“What did… what did you do before you got the money to open this place?” He asks, trying to stave off the lead weight sinking down in his gut.
“A fair few things.” Loki answers, sounding bored. “I worked for a local news paper for a while, as an editor. But it didn’t pay enough and I had to quit, eventually.”
That reminded Thor suddenly.
“What about your writing?” He asks. “Are you still doing that?”
Another, forced laugh slipped past Loki’s lips, though Thor didn’t understand what was so funny.
“On occasion.” Loki at last replies. “But I don’t think that’s going anywhere.”
“You don’t know that brother.” Thor starts, and Loki shakes his head.
“No. You should see, I’ve got an entire room in my flat half filled with rejection notices. Nobody wants to read my work Thor. Almost every rejection letter I’ve gotten says the same thing. That my writing’s too dark and depressing. They say I have potential, and that I should try writing some type of teen romance or young adult adventure.” Again, he laughs, but there is no mirth in the sound.
“That’s bullocks.” Thor says, incensed.
“Oh, I agree.” Loki nods. “They all want the next “Harry Potter”, as if that classifies as real literature. All they care about is money, and I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a dull spoon than sell out like that.”
Thor can’t help but smile at that.
It’s something he’s always admired in his brother. His unwillingness to compromise his art, despite having often received pressure from multiple sides to do just that. Dad had tried getting Loki to major in journalism while he was in school, telling him at least that way, he would have a way to put his writing to use. Loki had scoffed at the idea. Loki was into classics. He loved the Romantic period most of all, and was interested in writing stories, works of fiction in that vein.
Thor had read plenty of his stuff, mostly short stories. And though he wouldn’t judge himself an expert of any sort, he’d always thought his brother’s talent was immense. The way he could write just like those guys from back in the day, like Joseph Conrad and Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe. It had always managed to blow his mind.
“You should keep trying Loki.” He says, finally popping the cap off his soda and taking a swig. “I’m sure there’s someone out there who will recognize your talent and actually want to publish it.”
He watches as Loki follows suit, popping open his own Cola and taking a drink. He shrugs.
“Maybe.” He says softly, sounding unconvinced and suddenly down.
Once more, a heavy silence falls over them as the rhythm of their conversation hits a lull, the awkwardness of them seeing each other again after so long reasserting itself.
There’s a horrible tension between them, and Thor hates it. He and Loki had once been so close. Inseparable, truly.
Loki had always been his shadow, as their mother had used to joke. Following Thor any and everywhere.
That they’ve so grown apart, that they treat each other now almost like strangers, it’s unbearable to the older man. He can’t stand it.
“Listen, Loki,” he starts again, at the same moment Loki says his name.
The both of them pause, peering at one another.
Again, Loki is the first to look away.
“I’m sorry.” He says.
“Loki, don’t…” Thor starts.
“You should be with your family.” Loki continues speaking right over him, again fiddling with his bottle of soda, not looking at Thor at all. “It’s Christmas Eve. Almost Christmas day.”
“Loki,” Thor says again, and this time it’s him who reaches out, taking hold of his brother’s wrist, unable to keep the frown from his face at how thin and birdlike it feels. “you are my family.”
Loki still won’t look at him, and Thor sees the way his shoulders hunch, as though trying to hide within himself.
Thor shakes his head.
“Don’t you know that?” He asks, unable to keep the pain from his own voice.
For several, long seconds, Loki says nothing, still with his face turned away, frame thrumming with obvious tension.
“Loki,” Thor tries again when it seems his brother isn’t going to answer.
“You should go Thor.” He says then, and Thor feels his heart sink, even as determined refusal takes hold his mind. “You should be with your wife and children. I’ll… I’m just going to close up here and head home for the night.”
“Loki, no.” Thor says, his fingers closing firm over his brother’s wrist. “No, I… it’s me who needs to apologize to you.”
“No, listen to me.” Thor plows forward, needing to say this. “Not just for that day, though God knows I’m sorry for that too. I should have supported you. Been there for you, instead of getting angry. I fucked up, and I’m sorry. But also because I let you go. God Loki, it’s been… been five years, and I never once tried contacting you. Never tried finding you.”
Loki’s eyes are on his hands again.
“I didn’t try either.” He says, almost too softly to hear.
“No, but Loki,” Thor says. “it was our job to do that. We’re the ones who messed up. Mum and Dad were the ones who lied to you, and I’m the one who didn’t listen when you need someone to listen, to hear you. And you’re… you’re my little brother. I’m supposed to look after you.”
“I can take care of myself Thor.” Loki says, just as softly as before, still hunched in on himself. His voice sounds thin and weak.
“I know you can Loki. But that doesn’t mean you should always have to. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have someone to take care of you for you once in a while. We all have that Loki.”
Loki doesn’t say anything now, sitting still and quiet.
Thor swallows, anxiety working up through his insides.
“Have you had anyone in these last few years?” Thor asks, knowing the answer before the words are even fully formed from his lips, seeing the way his brother’s face lowers away from him all the more.
He feels his eyes sting sharper, his chest tight.
“Oh, Loki.” He breathes, resting his other hand atop his brothers, squeezing tighter.
For a long time, Loki continues to remain quiet, and Thor can see he’s struggling then. He doesn’t say anything else, doesn’t move as his brother lifts a hand and covers his eyes behind his broad palm.
Thor waits for him, knowing to push Loki only ever led to his brother pushing harder back.
He has to be careful.
At last, Loki’s hand falls away from his face, turning it up slightly, though he still won’t lift his eyes directly to Thor’s.
“It’s getting late.” He says, voice a little rough, and Thor can see his eyes are red and bright. Knows he’s been struggling these last, long moments to keep from shedding tears. “Almost midnight now. You should go home to your wife and children Thor.”
Thor doesn’t even realize he’s said it until it’s coming out of his mouth, and by then it’s too late to stop it, even as he realizes he may have made a foolish mistake.
“Come with me.” He says, and then feels his body wind tight, watching Loki, watching for his angry reaction, his fast refusal.
But Loki only blinks at him a moment, as though he hasn’t quite heard him.
“What?” He asks after a moment, sounding almost dazed.
There’s no taking it back now, Thor reasons, latching onto the logic to push forward.
“Come with me.” He repeats, allowing his hope to build. “Come spend Christmas with us.”
“Thor…” Loki starts, but Thor doesn’t give him the chance now to say no, pressing on.
“Jane would love to see you again. And… and the boys would love you. I know they would. You’ve always been good with children Loki.”
“Thor, I can’t.” Loki says, shaking his head. “I couldn’t do that to your family.”
“Do what?” Thor asks, taken aback.
“Intrude on their lives like that. Now of all times…” Loki starts to explain, and Thor thinks his heart will cave in at the words.
“Loki, no. Don’t say that. You wouldn’t be intruding. Loki, you’re my brother. It would… it would mean so much, to have you there. For you to meet my children.” He adds quietly at the end, looking away.
It takes some time, but when Thor finally manages to look back up at his brother, he finds Loki staring at him intently, as if trying to determine the truth from his face alone.
“You want me there, truly?” Loki at last speaks, and Thor can’t affirm quickly enough, nodding his head almost frantically in reply.
“Yes. Loki, there’s nothing I’d want more.”
Again, it takes a long moment for Loki to say anything in return. But then he laughs, the sound light and almost startled, shaking his head.
“Well, you always were a sentimental fool.” He says, and Thor can’t help but laugh in turn. Because he knows for Loki, giving insult is only a form of affection. And in his brother’s voice, he too can hear relief, and it makes his heart both soar and sink in sadness, for the years he’s allowed himself to lose with the one person who’d always meant more to him than anyone.
“So is that a yes?” Thor asks, allowing his hope now to reign free.
Loki sighs, as though exasperated, rolling his eyes and shrugging.
“I suppose.” He says, sounding put upon. And then, more softly, eyes turned away, he adds… “If you truly want me there.”
“Yes, God yes Loki. Please.” Thor can’t hold it in any longer, finally having received an affirmative. He smiles broadly, and, corny as it sounds, he thinks, he can’t help feeling as if the world’s greatest weight has suddenly been lifted from his shoulders.
“Jane will be so happy to see you. She asks after you nearly every day, you know.” Thor starts, standing.
Loki smiles tightly up at him, unsure.
“A little patience Thor.” He says, standing himself, taking his bottle of Coke up with him. “I need to close up shop here first and get my things together.”
“Oh, o-of course. Of course.” Thor replies, feeling vaguely embarrassed. “Take all the time you need.”
Loki nods, and Thor watches as he moves towards the light switch near the rooms entry.
“Come on in to the front,” he says, reaching for the switch.
Thor obliges, moving past him, into the book shops front, and Loki kills the lights, emerging after him a moment later.
Thor positions himself leaned against the counter, watching his brother silently then as he moves about the shop with practiced ease and familiarity.
Loki must do this every night, he thinks. His brother had always had his little systems. His routines which he followed to the letter. It had helped him to accomplish his goals, Thor remembers him explaining. Having certain things which he’d required himself to do during the day. In the midst of Loki’s generally chaotic and messy handling of things, it had used to make Thor laugh. Whatever his rituals, they had often remained a mystery to the older man. He remembers Loki’s bedroom, back when he still lived with their parents, had always looked like a small bomb had gone off inside it. Books and papers scattered everywhere, drawings and pens and pencils littering the floor.
Though Loki’s personal hygiene had always been impeccable. He’d always hung his clothes up, or folded them away into drawers. Never left anything out on the floor. Always hung his wet towels up to dry. Always kept his bathroom incredibly clean.
Thor watches him now as he tinkers with the fireplace, turning the switch which feeds oxygen into the fire, and a moment later, the flame dies down to nothing but a tiny, blue glow beneath the grate and logs.
There’s a few other things Loki needs to take care of, apparently, which Thor hadn’t even noticed or realized. He takes up the book which he’d been looking over when Thor had first entered and moves it over to a small recess in the wall adjacent to the counter, moving aside a painting of a rural landscape to reveal a safe behind. Thor raises his eyebrows as he watches Loki put in the combination, before pulling the thick, metal door open and placing the book inside. There’s other books in there, Thor can see, even from this vantage, as well as some other items which he can’t get a quick enough look at to determine, before Loki closes the safe once more and spins the dial, putting the painting back over it afterwards.
“Specialty items.” Loki explains with an almost sheepish smile when he sees Thor watching him curiously. “There’s probably about five thousand pounds worth of old volumes in that safe. Nobody’s bought any yet, but,” he shrugs. “they’re on display every day, and I get a few customers asking questions sometimes.”
Thor smiles back.
He can tell Loki is somewhat embarrassed over his enthusiasm for old books, but Thor finds it incredibly endearing. His brother has always appreciated fine things, more than most people. He’s always handled a well made binding with all the care and delicacy of a mother with her child, he thinks.
“I’m sure they’re beautiful. Someone will want them.” Thor tells him. “I’d love to see them myself, sometime.”
Loki looks less than convinced, but he smiles anyway.
“Maybe sometime.” He says, before turning and moving for the coat rack by the door. Thor follows behind, standing by the front door as Loki pulls off a full length pea coat. It looks as though it’s made from cashmere. More of Loki’s fine taste. As he slips it on, it hangs beautifully off of his brother’s thin, tall frame, Thor thinks. A moment later, and he’s wrapped a wooly looking scarf round his neck. He turns to Thor then, nodding.
“Alright.” He says, and Thor smiles, reaching for the shop’s front door and pushing it open.
A blast of frigid cold air hits him in the face, and Thor realizes then it must have dropped ten degrees cooler, at least, in the time he and Loki have been talking. Stepping out, and the snow is falling heavier too, he thinks, coming down harder and faster than before.
Still, the air is cool and crisp and refreshing, and he sucks a large lungful in, letting it sting a moment before exhaling, watching as it comes out a big, white puff.
Turning, he finds his brother following behind him, and sees him shiver visibly at the cold, wrapping his arms around himself a moment before turning and closing the door, pulling a set of keys out of his pocket and locking it up.
“You okay?” Thor asks when he’s finished.
Loki’s never been very tolerant to the cold. As a boy, he’d often been ill with colds and the flu. He’d been somewhat frail, though thank God with time, he’d grown mostly out of it.
Folding his arms back over his chest, Loki gives him a lopsided grin, nodding.
“I’m alright.” He assures, the sound of his feet crunching in the snow the only to fill the space then.
He casts his gaze up, looking at the whited out sky.
“I’ve always loved the snow.” He says. “I love how quiet everything gets.” He looks back to Thor after a moment, still smiling, the expression genuine, and Thor can’t help but smile in return.
“Yeah.” He agrees.
His heart feels light then. He feels happy.
“So, did you drive here, or…?” Loki asks after a moment, moving from foot to foot to keep warm.
“Oh, yeah.” Thor laughs. “I drove. My car’s just about half a block away.”
Loki nods, looking mildly relieved.
“Come on.” Thor tells him, and as he starts to move forward, his brother falling into easy, familiar step at his side, Thor throws a large arm about the younger man’s shoulders, unthinkingly, pulling him against his side.
For a brief moment, he feels Loki stiffen, and worries suddenly that he’s made a mistake. But an instant later, and he feels his brother relax against him, arms still wrapped cross his middle, against the cold.
They walk then in companionable silence, the streets entirely empty of other people and sounds, the snow looking faintly a glowing blue as it sits peacefully upon the ground, soft and undisturbed.
It’s a few minutes only before they reach Thor’s car, and Loki gives the brand new Jaguar an appraising once over.
“Fancy.” He says, grinning at his older brother.
“Shut up.” Thor says back, grinning also as he presses the button on his key, unlocking it.
Loki’s teasing aside, he wastes no time opening up the passenger side door and slipping in, seated and situated with the door again closed before Thor’s even halfway sat himself.
It upsets Thor, to think then of how his brother walks home every night. How the weather’s been well below freezing for the past couple of weeks, and how obviously the cold bothers him.
He tries pushing the thoughts from his mind though.
He’s with his brother now.
He’s going to take care of him from now on.
Maybe, during the cold months, he’ll start showing up in the mornings to Loki’s flat and drive him to his shop, and again in the evenings to take him home.
That’s looking ahead though, he knows. He should focus on the present. Right now.
The drive takes maybe twenty minutes, made longer by the snow and ice on the ground.
The two brother’s sit mostly in silence for the duration of it, speaking up occasionally to talk about mundane, day to day things. It’s mostly Thor who does the talking, though. And as they draw nearer to his home, Loki goes almost completely silent.
Glancing over at him, Thor sees his little brother staring out the passenger side window, watching the scenery as it passes by. His long fingers, Thor notices, are kneading and fidgeting with the material of his slacks.
He wonders what he’s thinking. He seems nervous, and again, Thor feels his heart grow heavy.
Loki shouldn’t feel nervous. He shouldn’t feel uncertain around any of his family. That includes his nephews and sister-in-law.
Just further reminder of the mistakes Thor’s made.
Again pushing the thoughts from his head, Thor finally pulls into his and Jane’s neighborhood, and from there, it’s only a short minute to their driveway.
“Well, here we are.” Thor says, putting the car in park and shutting off the engine.
He glances again at his brother, seeing Loki peering intently through the windshield at the house before them.
“Wow.” Loki breathes, almost disbelieving.
And suddenly Thor feels vaguely self-conscious, remembering again that his brother lives in a no doubt cramped, one bedroom apartment. Probably with barely enough room for a single tenant. And here he’s just brought Loki to his luxurious, sprawling suburban home with a considerably sized back yard and two car garage.
He feels like such an insensitive asshole.
“It’s, uh, a little cookie cutter, I know…” he starts lamely.
Loki shakes his head.
“No, it’s… it’s very nice. It’s…”
His voice trails off, and his gaze drops away, fixing on his lap.
“Loki?” Thor begins, picking up quickly on his brother’s sudden unease.
“Are you sure this is a good idea Thor?” He asks abruptly then, lifting his face and looking to him. His brow is creased in obvious worry, the expression plain and open.
Thor shakes his head.
“Loki, what are you talking about? Of course it’s a good idea.” He reassures.
“But what if… what if they don’t want me there? What if Jane doesn’t want me near her children? What if your boys don’t take to me and…”
“Loki, Loki, calm down.” Thor reaches out, grasping the nape of his brother’s neck. The same gesture he’d always used when they were younger. Which had always worked to quiet Loki to peace, when, even as a child, Loki had been so prone towards almost crippling anxiety and bouts of debilitating stress.
It works now, and Thor is grateful for it as Loki falls silent, still looking at him with almost despairing eyes.
Thor smiles, though he fears the expression is frail for how his heart suddenly hurts.
“They’re going to love you brother.” He promises, and means it. “You know how much Jane’s always cared about you. And the boys, they… I speak about you to them all the time. They’re always talking about wanting to meet their uncle Loki.”
And that too is the truth. He thinks there’s scarcely a day that’s gone by without him mentioning Loki to his son’s in one capacity or another, and always the boys’ eyes have lit up, asking after his brother. Asking where he is…
More than once had Thor shed tears over their asking.
For long seconds then Loki continues to stare back at him, with the same, scrutinizing perception. Again as though trying to determine if there is any sort of lie in his older brother’s words.
Until finally he breathes out, looking away.
“Alright then.” He says softly. “Alright.”
Thor smiles, lifting a hand to Loki’s thin shoulder and giving it a light squeeze.
“Alright.” He repeats.
They exit the car together, Thor again putting his arm round Loki’s shoulders as they make their way up the walkway to the front door.
He can feel the tension seeping back into his brother’s frame, and once more, he pulls the smaller man against his side in reassurance, reaching out for the front doors knob and pushing it open, knowing it would be kept unlocked still.
He hears Loki inhale sharply at his side as the door swings wide into a large foyer, and he helps guide his brother in, closing the door shut behind them.
“Jane?” Thor calls, voice carrying easily through the house. “I’m back!”
Loki stands still at his side, face raised and looking about the space with blatant curiosity.
It’s only a moment before Jane appears from round the corner, leading into the living area, a dish towel in her hands.
Her eyes go first to Thor, smiling warmly and happily, and then, for a moment, they go almost comically wide, as she takes in the sight of Thor’s brother, standing there beside him, Loki looking back, hands folding in front of himself, tightly, and Thor knows it’s to try and keep them from shaking, from the tiny tremor he can see working through his brother’s arms, up into his shoulders.
He is the first to speak.
“Hello Jane.” He says softly, almost inaudibly, unable to entirely keep the nervousness from his voice.
“Loki?” She starts, her own voice thick with disbelief.
“I’m afraid so.” He returns, smiling weakly.
Her own shock lasts only a moment more, and then she’s breaking into a massive grin.
“Oh my God, Loki!” She exclaims, and without further prompting, she’s striding cross the space, towards him, throwing her arms around him in a hug.
Loki’s face goes momentarily slack with shock, eyes wide and mouth agape. He looks over at Thor, bemused, and Thor only smiles at him, nodding.
It takes a long moment, but eventually, his brother seems to recover from it, and he lifts his own arms, wrapping them round Jane’s petite frame, holding her back.
“I’m so happy you’re here. Oh my God, I didn’t think… I didn’t think I’d see you. That Thor would be able to…” she looks up at Loki, eyes over bright, unable to stop smiling. “God, it’s really you. You look so good Loki. So handsome…”
Loki blinks down at her, again seeming confused, before at last his own smile breaks over his lips, and he laughs in astonishment.
“It’s good to see you too Jane. You looking ravishing, as ever.” He tells her in turn, before bending down and giving her a kiss on the cheek.
She giggles, reduced, as she’d been from the first time she’d met Loki, to a blushing schoolgirl. Thor can’t help but laugh at the display, warmed by his brother’s charm.
“Still the perfect gentleman then.” She says, swatting Loki playfully on the arm.
“I try.” Loki teases back, eliciting another giggle.
She looks to Thor then.
“Thor, you didn’t tell me…” she starts, but her words cut short as the sound of tumbling footfalls come round the same corner, and an instant later, their two son’s come rocketing out of the living area, barreling towards their father.
“Daddy!” The oldest one cries, throwing his tiny arms round Thor’s thick legs. The younger is slower to get there, but get there he does, following the same action.
Thor laughs, bending down and scooping each of them up in one arm effortlessly, hugging them close to his chest.
“Hello my darlings!” He greets enthusiastically, kissing each of them on the forehead, eliciting their own, shrieking giggles. “Did you miss me?”
“YEAH!” Again, the older boy proclaims in a shout. The younger simply throws his arms round Thor’s great neck, burying his face to his father’s shoulder.
The greetings last a few seconds longer, before finally Thor lowers his boys back to the floor, taking their small hands into his.
“Boys,” he starts, glancing over at Loki, who he sees is watching the scene with rapt attention, his eyes again bearing the weight of uncertainty. “I’d like you to meet someone.” He goes on, and sees as Loki’s eyes snap to his face, heavy with worry.
Thor tries smiling at him once more in reassurance, even as he begins walking the children in his brother’s direction.
“This is your Uncle Loki. Remember? I’ve spoken of him to you many times. He’s my younger brother.”
Loki’s eyes are fixed on the children now, plainly, heartbreakingly fearful as he stands frozen to the spot.
“Uncle Loki?” Magni asks shyly, peering up at Thor’s brother with a curious gaze.
“That’s right.” Thor goes on.
“You mean younger brother like Magni’s mine?” Modi asks, gaze flickering between his father and Loki.
Thor laughs, nodding.
“That’s right too.” He replies happily.
Loki continues to stand silent and unmoving, his fingers gripping at the sides of his slacks in still plain nervousness.
Thor is about to step in, to try and ease the introductions, but his eldest son beats him to it.
“You’re tall like Daddy!” Modi declares excitedly.
And all at once, he’s letting go of Thor’s hand and reaching for Loki’s own, Magni following suit quickly, taking up Loki’s other.
Loki’s eyes go wide in astonishment, looking for the second time in any many minutes utterly bemused.
“I wanna show you my room!” Modi tells him.
“It’s my room too!” Magni interjects.
“Boys,” Jane tells them. “be nice. You should let your Uncle get settled first.”
“N-no, no, that’s… that’s alright.” Loki finally manages to speak, glancing up at Jane, and then Thor. “I… I’d like to see their room.”
Both the boys erupt into cries of triumph at that, and Loki bursts into a sharp laugh at their enthusiasm as they tug with all their strength on his arms, trying to get him to move.
He obliges them, falling into step behind, letting them drag him away.
One last time he glances over his shoulder, toward Thor, and Thor feels his heart swell with sudden, overwhelming pride for the smile he sees across his little brother’s face.
The happiest Loki has looked in longer than he can remember.
Home then. His brother is finally home.
And Thor swears to himself, he isn’t ever going to let Loki go again.