When they were children, they would watch the elegant ladies and mighty warriors feast, drink, and sing from behind the great hall doors.
Thor would whisper stories he knew about each of the warriors, from Freyr, brother of the beautiful Freyja, with his magical self-wielding sword and his prowess on the battlefield, to Týr, god of single combat, who would one day lose his hand to a fearsome beast. Loki listened to his elder brother with rapt attention, remembering very little of the bloody stories he told but listening because his brother recited these exciting tales with such life in his eyes the younger Odinson could not help but be entranced.
Thor’s favourite stories, however, always centred on their honourable father – tales from how he lost his eye, to his leadership in the war against Jötunheimr and his defeat of the giant king Laufey. Loki never liked these stories, always suffering from a strange chill of anxiety whenever Thor spoke the words of Laufey’s defeat and Odin’s victory – but he never let his brother know his feelings towards his stories, for he knew that Thor would feel guilty for seemingly frightening his little brother before teasing him for his unmanly fears.
Loki hated to be seen as less by his big brother.
As the feasting and the singing died down, the brothers watched with anticipation as each of the warriors stood and told tales of their great battles, speaking of the honour and glory of their comrades and the shame and failures of their fallen enemies. Each story would be followed by a toast, and all the gods would drain their goblets before tossing their cups to the side and receiving another from a nearby serving boy.
(It happened quite often that a warrior, near the end of this telling of tales, would stumble over his words and eventually pass out from the mead – too drunk to finish, resulting in raucous laughter and jests from all around. Loki thought the spectacle to be embarrassing; Thor thought it to be just as amusing as the grown men in the great hall.)
And finally, as the telling of tales dwindled to a close, Loki’s absolutely favourite part of the entire feast began – the dancing.
It might be said that dancing was too feminine for a prince of Asgard to enjoy, yet Loki would disagree, even at his age. Dance required skill, coordination, and balance; it required teamwork, and one had to know where to move and when without saying a word to their partner.
Dance was a highly-trained art, and not everyone was capable of dancing well; for example, while Odin and his mother, Frigga, danced with the grace of the wood nymphs in Asgard’s distant forests, the goddess Idunn was no good at dancing and often stumbled over her own feet. Even Freyja, the most beautiful of women in Asgard, had to keep her wits about her when she danced – and this was made obvious by the expression of deep concentration one could see on her face.
Thor did not understand Loki’s fascination with dancing, and when he first learned of it he teased his brother terribly. However, he stopped when Loki pushed him into the hall in a fit of mortified anger before running away, leaving Thor to his father’s lectures on why children were not allowed to be present for the feast and his mother’s quietly disapproving gaze for the treatment of his brother. Any taunts he thought of, he kept to himself, and instead he tried to be as interested in Loki’s interests as Loki tried to be interested in Thor’s.
However, it was one banquet in particular that stood out from all the others during the brothers’ youth.
Thor was nearing his name-day, the day he would begin his training as heir of Asgard. He would start his intellectual lessons the day after his name-day, learning about the history of Asgard, Yggdrasil and the Nine Realms, and the bloody history of Asgard’s military.
Yet it was Loki’s name-day that the feast was held on, the same day that Jötunheimr fell, and while Frigga had made sure that Loki would receive a special dinner and the gifts that were expected, neither he nor Thor were allowed to attend the feast for they were still too young.
‘You are nearly men, but you are still boys,’ Odin had told them sternly when they had asked him earlier that evening. ‘You will attend the feasts when you are of age.’ And that was that.
Sitting on the floor in the hall, Loki looked through the partially opened door and watched as the tables were moved by servants for the dancing that was sure to begin, wide green eyes watching the proceedings with high interest. Thor was beside him, looking up at the high-vaulted ceiling, still chuckling to himself over how his estranged older brother Baldr had fallen from his chair and had to be carried out due to drunkenness. Loki had not been amused – but then again, Loki had never liked Baldr for one reason or another.
Finally noticing that his younger brother’s attention was not on him, Thor looked over his head to see what had captured his interest and grinned when he saw the musicians prepare to play the dancing music. “Still like the dances, do you brother?”
“Yes,” Loki murmured softly, drawing a leg up to his chest and wrapping his arms loosely around it. He said nothing more, not wishing to urge his brother’s inevitable teasing. Thor, however, held his tongue.
He thought it strange that Loki loved the dancing so much, yet never tried to dance himself. Thor would often play at sword-fighting with sticks he found on the ground or the wooden swords Odin had had carved for his boys from previous name-days. He would even fight against the terrible wench Sif, who was tough as iron and hit harder than any boy Thor had ever met outside of himself.
(Sif did not like being called a wench, and if Thor ever dared to call her such to her face, she would not hesitate to kick him where it would truly hurt.)
Yet Loki did not so much as attempt one single dance, even in the privacy of his rooms where only Thor could get by his tricks and traps.
“Brother,” Thor spoke after a moment, keeping his voice soft so as not to startle the younger Odinson. Loki blinked, turning to look over at Thor and give him a curious tilt of his head. “Why don’t you ever dance?”
“Why don’t you ever dance? I try my hand at being a warrior, yet you never try your hand at being a dancer. Why is that?”
Loki raised his brows at his brother’s question, seemingly surprised that Thor had even noticed that, before he smiled a little sadly and shrugged a thin shoulder, turning back to the hall to watch as Odin pressed his hand against Frigga’s, the two circling each other carefully in time with the others.
“I have no partner to dance with.”
Well, that was actually perfectly sensible. But an easy enough fix, really.
“Is that all?” Thor questioned, before snorting a laugh and jumping to his feet. “Well then, I have your solution, Loki!”
“Oh, do you?” Loki asked, a smile curling on thin lips, green eyes flicking up to his brother in amusement. “And what is your solution, brother? Shall I ask the Lady Sif? I’m sure she’d love that.” She would hate nothing more, truly – Sif despised being treated as a girl, despite being one.
(One of the worst teases Loki ever suffered throughout his childhood was Sif remarking in front of Thor and his three closest friends that out of the two of them, it was Loki who should wear the dress and practice needlework while Sif practiced sword-fighting, shortly after the girl had beaten the prince in a mock battle with sticks. Volstagg and Fandral had laughed for quite some time, Hogun quiet as ever and Thor oddly silent.)
“I am almost positive Lady Sif would beat you black and blue if you tried, brother,” Thor remarked, shaking his head. He then held out his hand, wide and large for a boy his age, but promising of the great growth that was soon to come for the oldest of Odin’s sons. Loki stared at it in confusion, a single brow lifting in silent question. “It is obvious, is it not? I shall be your dance partner!”
Loki’s eyes widened, threatening to pop out of his skull, as he stared at Thor with incomprehension.
“Does it not make the most sense? After all, you are the one I tell all of my tales to first; you are my sword-fighting partner. Most importantly, you are my brother, and as such I wish to aid you in all things which I am capable in aiding you.” Thor grinned, then, twiddling his fingers patiently. “What say you, Loki? Teach a warrior the secrets of the dancer?”
“…You are being strangely kind,” Loki said suspiciously, standing up slowly and reaching out to take hold of his brother’s hand. Thor laced their fingers together, bare feet barely making a sound as they shuffled into what seemed to be the proper starting position. He grinned once they were in place, shrugging amiably.
“Think of it as your name-day present.”
“Oh, for the one you forgot to give me?”
“I did not forget!”
Loki laughed, tugging on his brother’s hand and forcing Thor into a clumsy spin. Stumbling, Thor shot a look at the trickier of the Odinsons that said ‘challenge accepted’ before yanking Loki into a sudden circle in retaliation.
“You would lie to me, Thor? I’m disappointed – you know I can always catch you in a lie.” Tug, swing.
“That is because your tongue is made of lies, and you can taste a falsehood just as you can taste a grape, Silvertongue.” Tug, swing.
They continued their lighthearted banter, tugging at one another and swinging each other until they eventually collapsed into laughter, still gripping onto each other by their hands. Looking up at his brother through messy strands of hair, Thor couldn’t help but grin in pride.
For it was Thor who had brought a true smile to Loki’s face on his name-day and no one else.
When Thor and Loki were much older, but still too young to be called true warriors, they were summoned by their mother to her closet
It was not a large room, but it was big enough to fit the two rapidly growing boys and their delicate mother. Bowing to her respectively, both Thor and Loki waited in silence while Frigga set aside a scroll she had been reading, rising up and embracing both of her children. Kissing Thor’s cheek, and then Loki’s, Frigga stepped away from her children and looked at them intently, before nodding.
“It has been decided, at the next feast, that you both shall be joining us. You shall be the cup servers for Odin and me; however, since you are our children, it will be expected of you to dance when the time calls for it. I have been made aware that you have both been learning the art of the steel, but not the art of dancing, is that correct?”
“Yes Mother,” both sons answered, Thor looking as though he were dreading Frigga’s next words and Loki barely containing his excitement. Frigga smiled peacefully.
“Well then, you’ll just have to start learning this art as well. We’ll start today; Thor, love, come here and I’ll show you proper positioning.”
For the next three hours the All-Father’s wife led her children through the steps of proper dance. Where Thor was awkward and clumsy because of his massive size and his lack of grace, Loki moved with the fluidity of a serpent in the water, following his mother as though he had been dancing with her all his life.
The lessons were only interrupted when a serving girl appeared at the doorway of the closet, curtseying politely and keeping her head down in respect to the Queen and the princes.
“The All-Father wishes to speak with the Queen,” she had said, and Loki remembered this very clearly for Frigga had given a great sigh and seemed as though she wished for anything other than that. The serving girl left once Frigga nodded, and the queen turned to her boys and held her arms out again.
Obediently, both went up to embrace their mother and kiss her cheek, Frigga patting Thor’s cheek and sweeping back an unruly strand of Loki’s hair. She had then turned them to each other, smiling as serenely as she could. “Practice with one another for another hour or so. I’ll see you both at dinner.”
With a sweep of her skirts, she left them, Loki staring after her and Thor contemplating his brother. When the door closed, Loki turned back to Thor to see him holding up a hand and smiling at him easily.
“…You are actually going to go through with this?” Loki asked in disbelief, lifting a single dark brow questioningly. Thor only smiled wider, twiddling his fingers, and his tricky younger brother sighed and shook his head hiding a smile of his own. Placing his hand against Thor’s, the two easily fell into the steps that they had just learned – though it was a bit more difficult, as they were both trying to dance the man’s part.
“I would have thought you would take this chance to make your escape. You’ve never liked this sort of thing, it has always bored you.”
“Very true,” Thor conceded, glancing down at his feet so that he wouldn’t trip over his or Loki’s. His hand was on his hip instead of behind his back, but Loki decided not to point that mishap out to the golden prince; he would simply ignore him, surely. “But I do not wish to face Mother’s wrath should I abandon you to your own devices.”
“Oh? What mischief do you think I will get into, spinning in circles by myself in a small room?”
“You will surely get bored and wander off to do something despicable.”
Loki snorted delicately, rolling his eyes and switching hands, turning in the opposite direction seamlessly. Thor stopped a moment, watched what his brother was doing, and moved to copy him.
“Such a lack of faith in me, brother, I believe I am heartbroken.”
At that, Thor forced them to stop, fingers wrapping around Loki’s and squeezing them. The paler Odinson held back a wince.
“I have complete faith in you, brother. Never doubt that.”
Staring blankly at Thor, Loki soundlessly slipped his hand out of the other’s grip, stepping around him and exiting the closet.
Thor did not follow.
It was the celebration of Thor’s first successful victory.
There had been a great battle between the gods of Asgard and the fire giants, or Múspellsmegir – large creatures with orange-red skin and eyes that burned white. They breathed fire and conjured such maelstroms of flame that they threatened to burn the Nine Realms – Asgard could not have that.
Thor had just been deemed worthy of fighting his own battles, given the mighty Mjölnir as his weapon and told to prove himself in the battlefield – for no one trusted the boasting of a green warrior. And so he had ridden off with Odin, Freyr, Týr, and Baldr, along with hundreds of other Asgardian warriors and their steeds.
Loki had stayed behind, not yet deemed worthy of carrying a weapon and fighting among the warriors. And truly, the younger brother was fine with that; the fire giants made him wary, and he always felt too hot and practically smothered in their presence, as if his insides were melting, the few times they had come to Asgard for false peace talks. Surtr, the leader of the fire giants, especially made him nervous; his white eyes would stare at Loki as if he knew something, and he always gave a twisted smile when he caught the younger Odinson’s eye.
While Thor had not defeated Surtr (Freyr had fought him, and had called it a draw when he could not cut him down – too wary of his flaming sword), he had decimated the armies of the Múspellsmegir until they had retreated back to their planet of fire and heat, Muspelheim. And he had achieved this practically by himself with the aid of Mjölnir.
This was why there would be a feast to celebrate.
Dressed in his royal regalia of green silks, black leather and silver metal, Loki could be found in the stables. He was feeding an overgrown carrot to Odin’s warhorse, Sleipnir – a gigantic creature with devastating eight hooves and a love of carrots and apples. Loki had always been fond of Sleipnir, having been the one to find him in the woods, and he would often visit him after battles to make sure that he had been well taken care of and fed.
“Mothering that horse again, brother?”
Loki sighed, smiling to himself in resignation and looking over his shoulder to see Thor standing at the entrance to the stables. He was dressed to impress as well, chainmail covering his muscular arms and his formal vest decorated in the symbols of strength and valor. Loki knew the runes that covered Thor’s clothes as well, if not better, than his older brother; he had been there with Frigga as she sewed the runes in, slipping his own protective magic into Frigga’s domestic witchcraft.
The smile his mother had given him when he finally left had told him she had realized, and he was grateful for her silence on the matter.
“Someone has to,” Loki replied after a moment, turning back to Sleipnir and stroking his neck and crest carefully. “The other horses will not go near him, and the only company he ever has is the stable boys or the All-Father. He may be a warhorse, but he needs care just as any other creature; his nature tends towards the gentle, just as any equine.”
“Shall we call Sleipnir your child?” Thor teased, walking over to Loki. The younger prince ignored the jibe, resting his forehead against the creature’s face and lightly brushing back his forelock before pulling away. He looked down at his hands, sighing at the black residue from Sleipnir’s coat, before closing his eyes and mentally imagining all dirt, grime, and filth falling off of him. When he opened his eyes, his hands were clean, and he didn’t smell quite so much like horse.
“Why are you here, Thor?”
“Mother was wondering where you were – as was Father.”
Thin fingers curled into fists before relaxing, and the magic-wielder turned towards the favoured son.
Over the years, as Thor grew stronger and larger and Loki continued to stay thin, despite very nearly being his brother’s height, the brothers had grown more and more distant. Thor spent more time with quiet Hogun, flirtatious Fandral and hungry Volstagg, and helping the ambitious Lady Sif in her sword training. The only time Loki was ever included in these moments of camaraderie were when they needed help training against multiple enemies, making use of Loki’s ability to duplicate, or when Loki suggested the spear for Lady Sif’s weapon of choice and was thanked with a sound beating from the woman once she got her hands on one.
Just because they smiled and laughed at his kinder jokes did not mean that Sif and the newly named Warriors Three ever truly appreciated Loki and his magic. And lately, it seemed, neither did Thor.
“The All-Father was asking after me?” Loki repeated, looking over to his brother and smiling thinly. “How rare.”
“No, no, they were probably making sure I wasn’t off to ruin something for your important feast. After all, the jealous younger brother would try something awful to ruin his big brother’s day, wouldn’t he?” Tugging at a sleeve to distract him, Loki started to leave the stable. “Let’s go, then, before Mother sends one of the Warriors Three to find us.”
Pausing, Loki didn’t move as Thor came up to him. He looked up at Thor’s blue eyes when the thunder god stood before him, staring at him with an expression Loki would really rather not go through the process of deciphering.
“When did you become so bitter?”
“You are the golden son,” Loki said, smiling at him emptily. “I am the son left in the shadows. Anything made to grow in the dark will turn out bitter.”
Thor shook his head, stepping closer; Loki stepped back, keeping a good distance between them. Brows furrowed in frustration, Thor opened his mouth to speak before closing it again, shoulders dropping.
“May I have my brother tonight? Not the one who has taken his place?”
Staring up at him, Loki forced himself to relax, his chilled gaze melting into something warmer. “…Thor, you may have whatever you wish.”
Thor contemplated him for a moment, before he smiled and nodded, stepping back. He then held out his hand expectantly, his other arm folded formally behind his back. “I wish for a dance, then. We have not practiced together in a very long time.”
“Lady Sif is usually your partner,” Loki murmured quietly, staring at the hand uncertainly before turning to see his brother watching him expectantly. Inwardly sighing, he gave a weak smile and lifted his own hand, pressing fingertips and palm against Thor’s. “Who shall lead?”
“Out of the two of us, you are the better dancer. You always have been.”
“…Why are we dancing in a stable?”
“Because I wish for it, and you said I can have whatever I wish.”
Loki snorted, shaking his head, yet still continued to stall. “We have no music.”
“We’ll make due.” Stepping closer again, Thor leaned in so that Loki and he were practically nose-to-nose. “Loki, will you dance with me?”
Green met blue, and Loki gave a single nod before Thor smiled and stepped back, waiting for the younger to lead the elder for once.
It was strange, dancing with no music. They circled one another in slow, measured steps, Thor surer of himself than he had been as a younger man. Neither knew the woman’s role in the choreography but they made due, making steps up along the way. Slowly Loki relaxed more and more, smiling and enjoying himself, feeling as though everything was as it once was. He could forget that Thor had purposely separated himself from his younger brother; that he had turned back to teasing him for his magic and his tricks and interests. He could ignore that Odin had been more and more openly showing how he favoured Thor over Loki as they grew older.
It was just them, and it was perfect, and Loki never wanted the moment to end.
But of course it had to. Steps slowing down as they neared the end of the set, Loki’s expression started to close off again, his eyes dropping from Thor’s and his hand following once they completely ceased movement. He pressed his lips together, ready to move away from the other Odinson when Thor’s hand suddenly grabbed his, fingers squeezing around his and making him wince subtly. Of course Thor noticed, and so he loosened his hold – but he did not let go.
“Thor…” Loki started slowly, looking up at him under dark lashes. The golden son leaned forward, his expression intent and his eyes far away. Leaning up towards him, he could taste the other’s breath –
– before he slipped his hand out of Thor’s and sidestepped him, making his way to the stable doors and back to the awaiting banquet.
“…we have to go before someone comes looking for us,” he remarked, pausing by the door and looking back at Thor to see him standing where he had left him, staring at the spot where Loki had been as if wondering where he had disappeared. “Coming?”
Looking over at him, the warrior nodded, following after the sorcerer.
During the dancing, Thor’s excited recollection of his battle against the fire giants ringing in his ears, Loki led Frigga through the set, smiling down at her when she looked up at him with a questioning upturn of her lips.
Green eyes flicking away from her for a moment, he noticed Thor leading Lady Sif through the set just a few feet away, the two of them talking and Lady Sif laughing at something Thor had murmured to her.
Blue lifted up, then, catching green, and Thor gave his brother a curious look before smiling hopefully. Feeling his neck heat up under his collar, Loki gave him a slight nod and looked away from him.
It was a promise made for later, and that was alright for now.