There is a vein.
It is the unwavering constant, a path that never ends yet never yields to time or space. The vein is a mysterious thing, running deep to stretch absolutely. It connects all the universe, even those that which the branches of Yggdrasil do not touch.
It is Fate.
And if you do not know where you’re going, any road will take you there.
The taste of irony is sharp and metallic, like the muzzle that locks Loki’s mouth closed. He is in Asgard once more, stowed behind closed doors to await this Fate. Waits for the vein to be cut wide open and show him dark blood that will reflect the stars.
Two guards pace back and forth past his chamber. He can hear them from his meagre accommodations, up and down the stone floor with heavy footfalls and the clank-clang of too heavy armour. Clockwork.
By count, it’s been weeks.
Perhaps more. He can’t be completely certain. No matter how hard he strains to stay awake the darkness of sleep takes him away at times, slipping past his control with its kind weightless touch. It’s difficult to keep alert in such boring solitary. He hasn’t many ways to pass the time.
Thinking and waiting.
He could go for that magazine right about now.
Loki feels the bubble of laughter rise up within him fast and uncontrolled but with nowhere to go it explodes in an uncomfortable burst of hot breath and an odd hollow choking sound reverberating against his lips.
If you fail, if the Tesseract is kept from us, there will be no realm, no barren moon, no crevice where he cannot find you.
He has failed.
People like you always fail, it’s in your nature.
The Chitauri are the least of his troubles. Loki’s insides grow cold, as though the heart of a Frost Giant can grow colder, and he glares until his eyes become unfocused. He whom courts Death will come for him. And as far as hiding places go, behind the guarded walls of Asgard is as good as any.
It is with a vicious sense of revenge that he hopes they will ruin Asgard when the army of snivelling crawling slugs come. He would welcome all the pain in the world if he could watch them destroy all the gleaming gold. If Loki cannot have this realm then why must it remain beautiful? He means to laugh, when it happens. Laugh like he could not when the mortals ruined Thor.
Loki’s mind immediately swings towards his brother, quick and smooth, like the traitorous curve of a blossom seeking sun.
The guards outside clang up and down, ticking away the minutes.
Loki knows in a detached sort of way that he wastes too much time thinking of Thor. But he cannot stop. It’s the kind of way one thinks about the feel of sun against closed eyelids. Annoying. Go away. It hurts. So. Warm. Shut out the light. Feels cold. Return.
It has always been this way. It’s so simple, thinking of Thor. There is something safe in doing so, a distraction from the sick twisting dread that claws Loki’s gut when he allows it in.
Oh, how they’ve ruined Thor.
He is a changed man now, like Loki. Changed from the brash strong Prince, loud as thunder and bright as lighting. He has been made into a piteous careful man. It’s disgusting.
Loki hates Midgard intimately, for what they’ve done.
It is Thor who has put him here, after all. Locked up where no one can see, gagged and cuffed so that he may not flee. It’s boring. Thor seeks to do justice by mere mortal standards. He thinks a single apology and a promise of home can wipe away blood on Loki’s hands.
As if blood was so easy a thing.
It’s funny, this irony thing. That Loki was revealed to be a monster, but Thor has been turned to something worse: The parody of a mortal. A sentimental god.
Loki feels like laughing again, a fat lump in the back of his throat pulsing as though his heart is trying to escape through his mouth. It’s nonsense really, to feel this way. To feel such maddening anger over Thor. Thor, who is not his. Not in blood or in brotherhood.
He swallows thickly. There’s no worth to something you cannot possess.
Right on schedule there is a knock at the door. The guards have stopped their pacing.
Time stands still.
He does not know why Thor bothers to knock. He is the only one to ever visit.
Thor marches in without that youthful swagger Loki remembers, holding the expected platter of food. Another way his brother is changed. No one else can bear to look upon Loki, but here is Thor, willing to wait on him, to personally try and ease Loki’s suffering.
Thor does not know what true suffering is.
He is lucky, Loki thinks as he looks upon his brother. A stubborn overgrown lock of blond hair hangs in his face and new frown lines are beginning to etch just as deep as the old laugh lines. Sometimes Loki forgets that they are so old.
“Loki,” Thor’s voice rumbles through the quiet of the room, a thread of regret in his tone.
You are so soft, Loki wants to say. Without me to fight, who would you be?
Thor stops in front of the lone chair and kneels so they are of height as he reaches large arms around to unclasp the muzzle. The bones in Loki’s knees rattle as he seizes up when Thor’s chest plate crushes close. A static charge prickles across from Thor’s skin to strike the soft pulse points of his neck. He holds himself still, makes sure his eyes are refusing.
But even a God of Lies cannot help the relieved gasp that escapes when the contraption is cast aside.
“Please, Brother.” Thor implores as he cups Loki’s cheek with one warm palm. His eyes cast a hook that catches Loki’s each and every time. “Eat.”
It is like this every day. They do not speak. Words alone cannot bridge this chasm between them.
At first Thor had greeted this revelation with white hot anger that brought storm clouds to the sky. He’d topple the plates of sweet meats and cheeses and wines in defiance of Loki’s silence. But why should he speak when told?
Slowly, over time, Thor’s heated words were filed down, smoothed over into this temperance that resembles pity too strongly, as if he sees Loki as a pet that had run away and now refuses to obey.
Thor’s righteousness is equally infuriating to Loki, just as everything they do to each other must be. If the only ones you hurt are the ones you love then it must work both ways.
It makes Loki lose his appetite every time.
It is after the third month Loki knows for certain why no crueller punishment comes.
The Allfather sleeps.
The dark magic spent sending Thor to Midgard has been paid for by heavy lids and weak heart.
Loki detests this, of course. Because he does not understand. He wants desperately to know why. Why even bother wasting power on such an uncertain end? Odin could not have known that Thor would be able to take the Tesseract. Take them home.
Odin would sacrifice his shining son to chase a shadow?
The thought cleaves Loki with a surprising slice of pain.
There are no windows in his room. He imagines a bird, black wings flapping against an endless blue sky only broken by clouds. If you fly that high, is it even possible to see the dark?
How could Thor ever be so foolish, so overwhelmingly stupid, to search for a brother he knows is not real?
“Brother,” Thor says when he enters one indistinguishable day. His cape is muddied at its edge, dirt spray high on the backs of his knees. There is the lingering smell of the sugary grass that grows in the fields south of the city and Thor’s brow is framed by streaks of dirt swept carelessly back into golden hair.
He has been out riding. Thinking. For Thor, it is the pastime of a troubled heart. He moves with countenance that all but screams frayed nerves.
This is what Loki has patiently awaited. Seems that Fate is too slow in the face of Chaos after all.
“Loki,” Thor removes the muzzle quickly, and as Loki breathes that customary sigh of relief, Thor’s thumb ghosts overtop his heat swollen lips to hold his chin. Loki stills and Thor, carries on, clutching Loki by the shoulders in something akin to desperation.
“Please, speak to me. What have I done to make you hate me so?”
Because you are too easy to love, Loki thinks blindly, mentally going through the motions to split himself and go far away. So that he is not so close to folding into Thor’s hands, crumbling under his weight.
Because I’ve loved you already too much. All that’s left to give is hate.
“This is not my home.” Loki says distantly, not surprised that the words spill so easily with a voice so long unused. Resentment is a blade that never dulls.
Thor immediately looks chagrined, upset that this fretful confrontation will not go his way. What had he been thinking, out in that field? Did he look out into the starry arm of the universe that curled around their realm, in hopes of glimpsing Fate?
Did he think Loki would give him everything without a fight?
Still, Thor cups his cheek with that careful palm and Loki feels wretched as his skin warms at the touch, like a trained dog waiting to be stroked. He hates it, hates the way Thor can affect him with such a meaningless gesture.
They aren’t anything to each other. The thought is vicious. The worth of nothing is still nothing.
“Loki, you belong here.” Thor says this in the softest voice he can muster. It’s truly impressive. Now that he is tainted by living with mortals, loving mortals, it almost sounds believable.
“Cease acting as though your birth is a mistake that you must correct.”
“Isn’t it?” Loki asks, poison words rolling off his tongue. “Perhaps I mean to correct those who birthed me.”
Thor lets his hand fall away and Loki feels iciness crawl over him like a thousand white spider legs. It’s difficult. To not give into desire and take Thor’s words as truth. He wants so badly for this all to be a nightmare that can be extinguished by morning’s light. Wants to be able to open his eyes to that painful brightness and still be able to see.
Loki speaks quietly, choosing his words with care. “It is a dilemma, you have. To find good in what your precious mortals deem evil.”
He knows well how to manipulate Thor. He lets his eyes fill with the shine of bitterness. To people like the God of Thunder this is indistinguishable from sadness.
He lifts his shackled hands, “You would see me neither free nor chained.”
“You’re right,” Thor bites his lip, thinking furiously. It’s amusing to watch and Loki stamps down on the insect-sized feeling of affection that crawls around in circles. “This isn’t working. I just…”
Thor’s fingers encircle his wrists. Loki’s heart slams fast against his chest, the anticipation of freedom nearly suffocating.
“There is no sense to this! Father told me of what must be done but now he sleeps, and I…”
“Shhhh,” Loki soothes with a lie, “You have done no wrong.”
“I’ve kept my Brother prisoner.” Thor grimaces in a look recognizable as self-loathing. It’s unnerving for Loki to see it on someone other than himself.
“You’ve kept me safe,” Loki tries.
Thor’s brows clash together like the beginnings of a thunderstorm even as he finds the keys in his pocket and sets to unlocking Loki’s hands. The small metal rod is hot against Loki’s cool skin, as though Thor has been carrying the key for a long, long time.
“If I free you, will you run away to where I cannot follow?”
“Thor,” Loki grins at this. “You live to spoil my fun.”
But the lock snaps and clicks open, falling in a loud clatter to the floor. Loki marvels at how easy this all is. All it took was a little waiting, biding his time until the proper time to play. Waiting is something he’s good at, it seems.
Thor watches him warily, holding him as though he will disappear. Loki takes this opportunity to pity Thor in return and flips his hands so that he mirrors Thor’s hold. Palm to palm. The effect is immediate. Thor’s face loses its ashen worry, his cheeks awash with a healthier happy glow.
What would you do without me? Loki thinks fondly, feeling the strong pulse below his fingertips. You’d die if I weren’t here to make sure you kept living.
They stand together as one and Loki sways, the vertigo hitting him suddenly after sitting prone for so long. How long has it been since he’s been forced to move? Thor’s grip tightens and for a second Loki feels truly trapped.
He flexes his raw wrists and cracks each finger one by one. There’s an odd well of anxiety and he grins to cover it up.
“I’m free now, am I?” He asks lightly.
“You are no prisoner,” Thor says, an unexpected bit of political tact. He expects Loki to lash out at any moment so Loki treads on tiptoes with his words, slipping into something they both know intimately.
“How do I look?”
Does freedom ever really show? It’s difficult to tell these days, who rules who. The portrait of a free man can only be painted by those who are still captured. Only they know what it is to yearn.
Thor takes a measured stance. Looks, as if he can see just how tarnished Loki really is. The scrutiny sends a sense of unworthiness roiling deep and unsettling in his stomach.
He wonders what Thor sees when he looks at him. Is Loki just a small dark smudge, smeared by the Allfather’s hand? How could he possibly be anything but? This is just a game of who can wipe Loki’s face in his failures the hardest.
“Skinny.” Thor jests back with the small beginnings of a very big smile. He gives Loki a slap to the shoulder and lets his hand curl around the nape of Loki’s neck. “But still a King.”
Loki shivers and hates Thor even more for playing.
“King of what?” He snaps.
Thor looks genuinely surprised. “Of Asgard.”
“Right now I am only your brother!”
“Don’t call yourself that.” Loki seethes, hunching away. Better Thor realize now what they never were. Never will be.
“I have no brother.” Loki scowls, trying to back away but Thor does not let him go.
“Then… I am just Thor.”
Thor’s expression is so painfully open and earnest it would be so easy to allow him to keep talking, keep Loki chained here by sweet promises alone.
I don’t have you. He wants to scream. Don’t lie. You’re not allowed.
They are not related by blood, not tethered to each other by any great love or purpose. Perhaps hate is more powerful a nail, hammered sharp and deep into the very roots of Yggdrasil that has them tangled.
The side of Thor’s mouth curves up into this wry thing and he tilts his head so that stubborn lock of hair falls away from blue eyes. Eyes like stormy skies.
You think you know pain? Says the ghost of the Chitauri henchman still lingering in the back of Loki’s brain. He will make you long for something sweet as pain.
Loki squeezes his eyes shut and snarls. I know pain, you pathetic simpering slug!
True pain is being made a fool, because he’d never known, never realized that his rank stood atop someone else’s sacrifice; but that someone else was his true self. In reality, the truth makes even the most wonderful of lies worthless.
But fools are the sort of people who receive worthless power.
“Loki,” Thor shakes him and Loki gasps, blinking fast. Vision’s blurry edges coalesce and there is Thor’s determined earnest face. All of a sudden he wants to scratch it right off.
Loki’s knuckles burn white from gripping Thor’s wrists so hard it hurts. His own brand of shackles. Irony is starting to become a familiar friend. They are an ugly parody of a planet and its moon, entwined in a circular dance.
I know what it is to believe lies.
“Then prove it.” Loki hisses, squinting against the light of Thor’s honesty. “Give me a kiss.”
It’s obvious in the way his breath hitches and forehead wrinkles. This is where the familiarity of the banter ends. It nearly has Loki in hysterics. Nearly. He grins wide and bright for that heartbeat moment that always comes at the end of a bad joke. Do we laugh about this for years to come or choose to forget?
But Thor does not refuse.
Loki’s wide smile shrinks disbelievingly then falls away.
Thor breaks his grip easily, like oil sliding off the glistening surface of a lake, and he cups Loki’s cheeks with both hands.
Loki gulps and the air tastes hot, disgustingly so. He knows this is just reflex, that day after day of receiving this simple touch has addled his already scattered brains. The suffocating heat makes him pant once, twice into Thor’s face.
“Loki. But you must know I love you.” Thor tells him as he uses one thumb to paint a careful line across his cheekbone and Loki takes a deep shuddering breath.
He can pinpoint the moment desire blossoms across the skin of his cheeks. His fingertips prickle, unlocked arms having fallen somewhere to his sides, useless. Immediately Loki reaches up and digs his nails into either side of Thor’s waist.
There’s a certain sense of satisfaction he gets when Thor winces.
Loki knows this game is beyond his control, if Thor listens. Thor’s not supposed to listen. He’s not supposed to care.
There’s no such thing as a wrong desire. Loki has always thought this. But there are some things that you mustn’t desire. And there isn’t anything worse than telling a God what he cannot have.
Loki bares his teeth and all but spits, “You love me so much? Prove it.” He squeezes Thor’s hips.
“Hold your tongue, Brother!” Thor growls and his hands tighten, holding Loki’s head prone.
“Do it for me.” Loki smirks and then sticks his silver tongue out in triumph.
Thor’s nostrils flare. And then, as Loki’s tongue slips back Thor follows.
Loki gasps at the intrusion of Thor’s lips against his own, a hot puff of air in between the pockets of their mouths. Thor growls again and Loki’s face is yanked forward, tilted up, so that he is pressed down with the force of gravity, of Thor’s whole ego atop his.
What are you doing? He wants to shout but cannot. How dare you change the rules.
But a part of him relishes in the Chaos. Maybe he traces those words against Thor’s demanding mouth because Thor catches Loki’s lower lip between teeth and pulls.
“Mhhnf,” Loki groans against the pain and draws back enough to take gulps of air. The overpowering cloud of heat rises around him like a treacherous vein of mercury.
Are his eyes closed? He can’t see. There is something painfully bright on the other side of his eyelids. It hurts. But too soon he feels cold.
They kiss again.
Loki’s nose digs into Thor’s face. His teeth find Thor’s stubbly chin and then he chews. Thor gasps and there are fingers tangled in Loki’s dark hair, gripping so tightly it hurts. You only hurt the ones you love. It goes both ways.
Loki licks at Thor’s bruised chin and then his lips, and it’s so simple, to slip right in. Thor’s mouth is hot, a blue flame. Plunging into it is like touching his silver tongue to a bolt of lightning. The feeling is electric and sends a jolt all the way down to Loki’s toes.
It is the sweetest kiss Loki has ever tasted.
Ironic, that it should have waited until now. He could have been less bitter, if he’d had this before. Maybe he would have been more.
Thor’s hands restlessly tug at his hair, their lips pressed together softly then hard then softly again. It’s convenient. That Loki is skilled enough to trace the runic spellwords he needs in order to seal the deal on his freedom.
Thor must feel the change, because Loki grows beneath him until he is no longer something Thor can mould. Thor jerks back when the magic is complete, his eyes wide and wretched, lips a raw red.
Loki smirks back, knowing it must look ugly while wearing the God of Thunder’s face.
Thor takes it in. Loki, who has transformed into Thor’s double, a dark mirror image with a mad grin.
“Was this all a trick?” Thor yells so loudly the sound reverberates in his bones.
“If it is…” Loki swallows. Heart furiously fluttering, he utters every word in time with its painful beat. “If it is, then I am the greater fool.”
There is a sudden crash of metal covered feet against the stone floor outside the doors. A parade of warriors, from the sound of it, all clamouring over each other in haste. There is no discernable beat to their stomps. Time has run out.
“What is that?” Thor asks, voice dark and low. The ceiling shakes and golden paint flakes down on them like peels of Idunn’s apples. Thor whirls. “Is this your doing?”
“I know not what happens.” Loki shakes his head and smiles. It is an ugly and cruel thing upon Thor’s lips.
An explosion of brick and wood splinters the wall inwards causing the two Gods to dive out of the way. The sun, so blinding, streams forth in a powerful ray from the Asgardian noon sky. Out of the rubble a Chitauri cruiser with its wildly repulsive head bobbing makes a high-pitched squeal as it spots them.
“Other Worlder!” Thor shouts, already on his feet and arm outstretched to receive Mjölnir from wherever it rests. The hammer comes hurtling forward through the sky and smashes the alien into sweet death before landing safely in its owner’s palm.
Thor stands in the opened wall, a silhouette against a sky that seems filled with a plague of dark insects. Chitauri soldiers flying over all of Asgard. They have come.
Thor looks over one mighty shoulder with deceptive calm as Mjölnir points to the sky and sends forth power to encase his arms in gleaming silver armour. The look in his eyes is unreadable.
Loki watches all this with a disconnected smile, the kind of smile that is just hanging on, that would only stay put if you sewed it into place.
Irony meets Fate.
“Loki!” Thor booms across the destroyed space. It is a voice of command coming from lips Loki has kissed. How fitting.
“Fight with me!”
“No, Thor.” Loki yells back. His lower lip trembles with something akin to glee.
Thor’s features crash into a scowl. “So be it. After I have banished the army from Asgard, we will have words.”
Mjölnir spins in his fist and then Thor is fired across the sky, shot out into the daylight like a burning comet on the tight arc of its trajectory.
Stupid, foolish Thor. He should know by now. No words said could ever bridge this rift.
Loki must slash it deeper and wider, so deep, like the space between stars. The emptiness between them must push them apart, far enough that He whom courts Death will never find him. And if it means leaving Thor behind, so be it. They are ruined anyway. This is what must be done.
There is another sound of an explosion, farther inside the castle now. There are no guards in sight. All Aesir hands have joined the fight.
Dressed as Thor, Loki simply walks out the door.
The disguise melts away as Loki runs through the streets.
Chitauri soldiers are in every crevice, crawling out of cracks in the city. His elbow connects with the looming wet face of a large creature, its bloody looking teeth smash inwards.
Loki snarls and throws it down, sends a blast of ice into its eyeless sockets.
The rip in this realm is not so far along. Loki’s feet pound harder against the golden roads that have been turned red with blood and filth. He can escape. He can be free, and Asgard will be too busy with their fallen to worry about the likes of him. What do you have when a war breaks and a king who sleeps?
A good night.
“It is useless to run.”
It makes Loki screech to a halt, booted feet slamming into the ground hard as a stallion. The dark opal wall of the universe calls to him from beyond Asgard’s edge but he spins on a heel, knowing that it is out of reach. At least, for the moment.
He must listen to this. Oh, how he longs to hear this.
“You.” Loki spits at the Other Worlder, the Chitauri henchman who haunts his mind. That grotesque thing, it hugs the outcroppings of a destroyed stone wall, its thin filmy lips split open into a blood-red smile. Such a taunting little target, Loki muses, watching with lazy eyes. He cannot bear to not kill it.
“Did not I say there would be no place to hide? We have found you,” It hisses in delight.
“You also spoke of pain.” Loki says, almost bored, even as the javelin of ice shoots from his palm and rams through the Other’s chest. It lets out the most fiendishly wonderful cry as Loki pins it. A helpless squirming bug under a nail.
Cling, Loki thinks. Cling to what little power you have. You are a gnat to be crushed beneath my heel. I work for Chaos now, not you. No one is equal to me.
All around them the war persists. The air is thick with fierce warrior cries, and Loki can hear it, if he listens closely. The sound of thunder. He always listens too closely.
“Look,” The Other lifts one vile shaking hand and points.
Loki sees across the distance, Thor and his band of warrior friends knocking back the army from the castle, killing Chitauri swiftly as their weapons allow. But like on Midgard, the foes come absolutely, their flow never ebbed.
Out of the palace bursts a contingent of Chitauri, lumbering about from the quadrant where the vaults are based. There is a flash of blue, and through their mess of tentacle-like limbs he sees the Tesseract held high.
Loki feels fury take him, cold and fast.
“How disgraceful— Humans have done what you Gods could not. The Cosmic Cube is ours.” The Other wheezes viciously, “And your unimaginable pain is our gift.”
Loki smiles, wide and cruel. “You will not have me.”
“Not you,” The Other shudders and laughs, high and bright as a blade. “We come for your pain.”
There is the deafening crash of thunder and a bolt of lightning as thick as Yggdrasil’s branches strikes the ground causing a rumbling quake that nearly knocks him off his feet. Loki’s head swings back to watch, shocked still as the Chitauri throw warriors aside and pile atop Thor in a mountain of writhing sea-slime limbs.
There is a detonation of lightning from all angles, crackling rays breaking out through the tiny spaces in the swarming knot and then—Blue light.
Are his eyes closed? Loki blinks, but they are wide open, blinded for a moment from the sheer intensity of the explosion. There is a throbbing pulse that Loki mistakes for his heart, but it soon makes way for a ringing in his ears.
The mountain of Chitauri is gone.
Thor is stolen.
The Other’s mouth is moving, but Loki cannot hear. It is long minutes before its cruel laughter crackles to life in Loki’s blown ears, aligning with the image that hangs before him.
“You are a lost c-creature with no master,” It chortles. “Who will love you now?”
The second icicle that pierces the Chitauri’s sick flesh sends waves of dark pleasure flooding in.
“It is a mistake to think I have a master other than myself.”
“Of c-course you do.” The Other laughs wetly, red blood bubbling between sharp teeth. “Because you are a shadow, Loki. You exist only because there is something brighter pushing you away.”
There is a crack-rip of cartilage and bone. Loki does not flinch as speckles of the henchman’s dying breath spray across his face. It is true enough that no matter how much you think you love someone, you’ll back up when their blood edges too close. But hate is a different thing.
Loki relishes in the thick red footprints he leaves behind.
All this time, Loki thinks while starring up into the star-filled veil that hangs at the realm’s edge.
All this time he’d thought it was his Fate, his vein that he would inevitably cut. He’d imagined such pain, hiding in the darkness only to be found and gutted for his failures, never being mourned when cast aside in favour of Thor.
How dare they think him silver tongued? It is Loki who has believed the most lies. How bitter it is, to know even Loki’s own enemies would choose Thor over him. He should be used to it, used to the things he loves so dearly being ripped away.
Of course, he’d believed in only loving himself. The image of himself. The Loki of Asgard who had been born a King. But there is the second—Thor. Fitting, in a way. That he should love everything he wants but can never have. For Loki is a disgusting thing, superimposed against a vast universe, only visible in the night.
Unimaginable pain, It said. And it was right.
Humans who can do what Gods cannot.
Loki laughs and laughs and laughs.
“It seems I have something worth avenging.”