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Changeling Child

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Odin meant to send Thor to Midgard. Powerless, undefended. That ... hadn’t quite been what Loki had in mind, that hadn’t been quite what he intended, but it might still have been acceptable. It might have worked in his favour.

Except that something was wrong. Loki knew it. Something fundamental, that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Something in his brother’s mien. Something in Odin’s expression as he looked down at him from the throne. Something … like pity? Fear? Pain?

Something was happening, something different, and it was not a father’s judgement on a foolhardy son. It was not a king’s punishment for a reckless, unsuitable heir.

And Thor knew what it was. Loki had seen it, in his brother’s face, in the clenching of his fists and the … the way he hadn’t fought. Thor, who would start a brawl at the drop of a cup, who would fight down to the ground for whatever he felt was worth it at the particular moment. Thor, listening to a judgement of unworthiness, a judgement of banishment, and saying nothing.

Loki had aimed to humble him. Had aimed to teach him. Had aimed, a little, to rub his mistakes rather thoroughly in his face. But this, whatever this was …

He stopped outside his brother’s room (cell, now), ignoring the guards to either side. Pausing, to gather himself, to fix some insouciant, sympathetic calm upon his features. No fear. No worry. No hint of knowledge. Not yet. Not until he had some idea .. which way would be wisest to jump.

“Thor?” he asked, softly, as he slipped through the door. “Brother?”

He almost didn’t see him, at first. He had been looking for the most dynamic figure in the room, for the way Thor, even at his most perfectly still, was yet the thing that drew every eye. He had been looking for the Prince of Asgard, golden and boisterous and strong. So … he almost didn’t see.

The figure sitting by the window, and the view out over Asgard. The body curved in on itself, arms dropped heavily onto knees, the head hung between the shoulders, and the eyes fixed … on the hands. Powerful, lax, empty. Eyes, fixed emptily, and nothing in them.

“Thor?” Loki asked, dread suddenly beating in his chest. “Thor?”

His brother looked up. His brother raised his head. And the expression there … bleak. Blank. Distantly confused. Thor looked at him, and for one blind second, Loki saw nothing of his brother there.

He dropped to his knees. Hurried to his brother’s side, dropped to his knees before him. Mind turning over everything, every angle, searching for something that could have caused this. Surely not the banishment. Surely Thor, surely his brother, could not be brought so low, even by that?

“What’s happened?” he asked, soft and desperate, edged. “Brother. What has gone wrong?”

Thor laughed, at that. Not big and booming. Soft, and rusted. Frail, in a way Thor had never been. Thor laughed, and held up his hand before Loki.

“Everything, brother,” he said, softly. “Everything has gone wrong.” He paused, shaking his head, smiling down into Loki’s confusion. “You were right, brother. As ever. You were right.”

Loki frowned, ignoring the clench in his gut. Once, perhaps even still, he would have been happy to hear that. He would have wanted nothing more. But not like this. Not in this … empty, distant tone, this crushed spirit. Loki did not want this. So he spoke.

“What was I right about?” he asked, reaching up to grip Thor’s hand, to press it tight between his, and force his brother to look at him. “I am right a hundred times a day, brother mine. You’ll have to narrow it down.”

That startled a laugh. A real one, a proper one. Loki carefully shoved away the conflict within him, the bitterness and the reflexive pride. Focused, instead, on the worry, and the cold, glittering readiness to act, as need be.

“Brother, I shall miss you,” Thor said, and it was with something of his old self, his true self. Reaching up with his other hand to catch Loki’s, to hold as he was held. Smiling softly, down at him. Undeniably loving. Loki, desperately, did not flinch away. Did not twist aside, into his bitterness.

“What do you mean?” he asked, and he was savage now, pressing. “Brother, your banishment is not so serious as that.” For him, it would have been, but Thor was Thor. Thor was confidence, and strength, and the casual refusal to fall to such paltry things as despair, as common sense, as fear. Thor was stronger than that.

Thor smiled. Softly, sadly. Raising their joined hands, holding them up between them so that Loki could not help but see them.

“I am not your brother, Loki,” he said, very quietly, smiling so sadly. “I … I don’t think I ever was.” And he kept smiling, kept his gaze fixed so gently on Loki’s, as his hands turned slowly blue between them. As Loki stared at them in horror, in stunned recognition.

Jotun. Thor. Thor, of all people. He was a Jotun.

“I am going to Midgard,” Thor told him, almost gently. “And I do not believe I will be coming back.” He ducked his head, so frail, so not Thor, and moved to pry his hands away. Moved to remove them from Loki’s still frozen grasp.

And Loki … Loki clenched his own hands tighter. Staggered, shocked, his mind nothing but a black glitter of confusion and pain, Loki clung tighter without thought, and blindly refused to let him go.

“No,” he said, soft and low, blankly. “No.” Confused, reeling, but the refusal was crystalising inside him. The rejection solidifying like ice in his stomach, and he refused this. He refused this end, refused this game, refused this lie.

Not this. Not ever like this. Loki had fought too long in his brother’s shadow, had spent too many years trying to match up to Thor. He was not going to succeed now, just because Thor decided he wasn’t going to fight anymore. He was not going to win, just because Thor gave up.

On his own merits, by his own tricks and his own wiles, or not at all.

“You do not get to do this,” he hissed, low and vicious, into Thor’s blinking shock. “Do you understand me, brother? You do not get to do this. I don’t care if you are Aesir, Jotun, Alfar, or … or Fandral’s horse. You do not get to bow out, and leave Asgard to me.”

He stood, all but dragging Thor after him, and snarled into that handsome, thick-headed, oh-so-perfect face, into the soft, bewildered love in Thor’s eyes.

“You will go through this banishment,” Loki hissed. “You will fight it. You will succeed at whatever tests Odin has set you. You will prove yourself. And then …” He smiled, black and glittering. “And then, brother, we will see which of us is more fit to rule.”

By hook, or by crook, and with all the tricks at his command, all the illusion Loki, and not Odin, could weave.

“I will make a place for your return,” Loki said, perhaps more darkly than he should have allowed himself. Watching the life return to his brother’s eyes, watching that thick-headed, stubborn heart stir once more at the promise of a quest. Thor. Stupid, idiotic, manipulable Thor. “And Thor? Do not disappoint me, and be late in claiming it.”

Thor grinned, fiercely. His hands tight in Loki’s. “I will not,” he swore, tight and proud, an oath on his honour. Tch. “I will not disappoint you, brother.” And then, a softer smile, dazed gratitude in now-shining eyes. “Loki. Brother. I …”

“Don’t.” Loki flinched back, some little, refused it casually. No. Not yet, Thor. Thank him for nothing yet.

It might not yet be deserved.

“Just do not disappoint me,” he said, at last. Clipped and defiant, and Thor smiled. Bemused, tolerant. Forgiving of all Loki’s foibles. Loki thought there might be nothing he hated more. But Thor smiled knowingly, trustingly at him, and something turned in his chest. “Promise me that, and no more.”

Give him the time, to decide what way the future would go. Give him the time to decide … what mattered most, in this sudden game of illusions.

And Thor, oh, Thor. Be careful, changeling brother. What lies you believe.

“It is done,” Thor promised him, low and happy and grave. “I swear it, brother. It is done.”

Yes. Yes, it was. And now, to see where the pieces fell.