It's the same familiar dance they've been doing for years now. Words thrown back and forth, the desperate need to be understood just hiding behind every insult. The punches and the magick and all the tricks and robust, intimidating strength. It's nothing new or innovative and they'll be stuck in this repetitive cycle for the next centuries if something doesn't change. Or someone.
Thor has always figured that this someone had to be Loki. Loki who only by abandoning his wicked ways, his villainous plots and evil schemes could revert their life to how it used to be, how it was meant to be. The glorious, warm days of their youth could only return with Loki's repentance and only then. But that point of return has been long passed and Loki will not break his ways just for a mere memory and with every clash, every wound it feels more and more like it'll be him, Thor, who'll snap instead. Him, who will turn his back on the old ways. He's this close of letting it all go, tired and sick as he is of seeing Midgard in ruins over and over again because Loki is still chasing after a happiness built on death and betrayal. He is an ever restless force, impossible to satisfy, driving Thor further and further away and he can only forgive so much.
So when he finds himself circled by Loki, face to face with his internalized wrath once again, it all becomes so clear to Thor that he nearly drops Mjölnir. Of course. Of course. There is only one thing he can do for things to finally change and the realization is almost overwhelming in its simplicity: Either he lets go of his love or he lets go of himself. Accept Loki wholeheartedly or forsake him for all eternity.
It's not a difficult decision. No matter what Thor likes to tell himself, his love for his brother will outlast even this immortal shell. They have shared too much, loved too much, laughed too much in the past. He cannot and will not throw it all away, it'd tear him apart. But this middle ground, this tug of war for loyalties is wearing him down. It's impossible to keep this up; Midgard won't bear another hundred years of Loki's jealousy and neither will he.
So he lowers his hammer and because Loki is quick on the uptake, he slows in his steps too, expression stuck between mild confusion and distrust, knives poised in nimble, skilled hands and the glaring light of fire licking over golden horns.
"Is this another of your pathetic attempts to be the better man?" Loki mocks. "Don't be a fool." And he throws a dagger of ice but it's such a shallow cut along his cheek that Thor barely registers it. It does not change anything in the grand scheme, either. Loki has hurt him far worse in the past.
"No," he says, smile warm and slow because he's finally found the solution. Loki is Loki, always will be, and he should love him because of it, not despite.
"Subterfuge does not become you, Thor." Of course he has to lash out, expecting a trap with a mind poisoned by ill intentions and paranoia. Thor knows better than to try and reason with him.
"Perhaps," he says instead and dodges a flash of green light aimed at his heart, no doubt fatal. Loki wants to kill him, but Loki wants many a thing - not because he truly covets them, but because he feels deprived of them. He thinks killing Thor will return his sense of self-worth, of peace, when it will only kill the source of his everlasting yearning for acceptance.
But Thor does not want to be the carrot dangling in front of Loki's face any longer. He's here now, approachable, fully and wholeheartedly. He opens his arms in an invitation, palms up and Loki stills completely. This is different and unexpected, though the smoke and the debris, the blood and the noises of sirens are familiar companions to their confrontation.
"What," Loki says after a pause, eyes narrowed, shoulders tense and ready to jump between worlds or just towards Thor to bury his knives deep in his chest. "Offering yourself? Fight me."
"No." He is done fighting. Loki laughs, naturally, cruel and cold and at his own expense, seeing what he wants to see: dismissal, degradation. Unworthy of retribution and acknowledgement. Unworthy of Thor. He's hurt and beyond repair, always forcing himself to clash with his brother in fear of losing the destiny he has chosen for himself. Thor does not care anymore. He doesn't want to help or convert, he just wants to hold him. So he takes a step towards him and then another. And another, detritus crunching under his feet like hammer blows.
"You'll regret this," Loki threatens. It's all he does, though, watching Thor with big green eyes until Thor is close enough to cup one hallow cheek. His skin is cold but smooth and Thor thumbs the sharp-edged jawline in a soothing gesture. Loki does not move away, not yet.
"No, I'll never regret you."
"Fight me, or be known as a coward," Loki insists.
"I am no coward and neither are you." Loki looks at him like he used to, all wild, wondrous eyes, unsure why Thor suddenly decided to look beneath the layers upon layers he has built around his words over the years. At the core they are simple, barbed arrows carved out of his own doubts. "You are my equal," Thor adds. "A mighty opponent and worthy of my respect."
"Good to know. Now. Fight. Me. Save your precious Midgardians." Loki's grip on his wrist is like a vice, tearing his hand away from his face. Thor lets him, they only need to touch. Physical contact has made Loki always more susceptible to Thor's appeals.
"I mean it. Please," he beseeches him and Loki just grins widely, thinking his plea a well worn pattern that he is bound to refuse. He'll never come home, he'll never fulfill the part that Thor wants him to.
"Let me come with you." And this is new.
Loki steps back, jarred and his eyes map out Thor's face for the lies hidden in the line of his mouth, the arch of his eyebrows. "What trickery is this."
"None. We have chased each other like rabid dogs. Don't you think it is time we stop?" Thor chooses his words carefully, unwilling to face another rejection. Being denied again when he gives himself up, completely, with everything he is, would be lethal.
"I bow to no-one's will, lest of all yours," Loki spits, but he is still listening to him, so Thor takes that as a good sign to keep pushing.
"I am not asking you to change." Thor realizes this is true. He wants Loki as he is, brittle and fierce, ambitious and full of surprises, a master of unpredictability. The only thing he does not want is for his anger and bitterness to be directed at him, Thor, any longer.
"Someone throw this man a feast," Loki sneers and he's further away now, slipping back into the shadows, obviously flustered and upset in a way that has drained all of his bellicosity. "Validating my life finally. How gracious of him. Odin will be so proud."
Thor can hear the noise of the Iron Man's boot jets close, dimmed through the half-torn wall of the destroyed factory and he is most certain that the other Avengers are not far either, sure to bring this battle to its end soon. Thor must intervene now, or Loki will be lost to him for the next months if not years, hidden inside the rifts between the worlds. He holds out one hand, determined and says "Please," again, not begging but asking Loki to reconsider. "Have I ever lied to you in this?"
Loki reluctantly admits that it is not so, his form gaining substance in the shadows again and Thor cannot help himself but to reach for Loki's lapels. He pulls him forward and into his personal space, pressing his face into the black hair. Loki's ear and cheek feel cold against his chin and he smells of dust and ozone and winter. It's a smell he's missed more dearly than anything.
"Let me be your equal. Let me be your brother again." Loki is struggling in his embrace, pulse beating fast into Thor's palm where he's holding him around his neck and Thor cannot let go. Not now, not before he has not driven home his meaning and intention. He wants Loki to understand that he's chosen him, his brother, over Midgard. Over his friends and family. "Let me join you."
"My equal? You know not what you are asking for," Loki says in a voice strangled so tightly with emotions Thor is unable to untangle them. So he doesn't.
"I am asking for your trust." For no matter what others might say to the contrary, Thor has failed his brother too, disappointing him long before Loki turned his lies against his good-natured blindness.
"You are asking for a life in shadow and fear."
"Yes," Thor hesitates, but only between one heartbeat and the next for there are nimble fingers in his hair, tearing at the roots just this side of painful and it's good, it's right.
"Your friends will forsake you, no throne will ever be yours, all deeds will be forgotten. Midgard but a faint memory."
"You are mine," Loki states and looks at him, eyes contemplating and dark, head titled to the side with the smallest of frowns. His hands are cool where he lays them against Thor's cheeks.
"If you will let me," Thor says. He's not afraid and there are no regrets. His brother is worth more than all of his worldly belongings, all of his relationships.
The air shifts with a whisper and the ruins of their battlefield bleed into the vast darkness of space that seizes him with icy claws. It hurts, not unlike being sent through the Bifröst, limbs feeling displaced. But Loki's cool hands are still on him and Thor holds his bony wrists tightly as his atoms are torn asunder.
The floor hits his knees hard as the universe stops spinning and it's like he's been ripped open, skin tender and burning and he wants to retch, feeling sick and shivering and altogether miserable. When Loki's legs come into focus, Thor looks up at the imposing figure of his brother, completely unaffected by the jump from one world to another. They are in a dripping despicable cave at one of Yggdrasil's roots, a bleak place that invites brooding and desperate plotting. This will be his life from now on but he cannot find it in himself to care.
When Loki extends one slim hand towards him, Thor clasps his arm without hesitation.
"Yes," his brother replies, squeezing his forearm tightly as he pulls Thor back up to his feet. "I believe I will."