"A what?" Thor laughs, only half paying attention to the pale boy striding in step with him. The thunder god’s gaze is fixed on the dense forest ahead of them, at the mouth of which he has been challenged to a fight. He is thrumming with excitement, hungry for the victory. Victory is certain, Loki knows. As certain as the sunrise that unrelentingly trails over the dark world, leaving only small nooks of shadows and calm respite.
"You said. If you win, I can ask for something."
"A kiss?" Thor questions, grinning at his brother, and Loki can almost see him shrug at the simple request. Not one thought towards what design may underlie those words. "If you so desire. I thought you would ask for your book instead."
"The one you took, not to read, but to prop up your shield with?"
"I needed leverage – how else can I properly display it in my chambers?"
"You don't need to display it. It’s a weapon," Loki argues, trying to reason with the foolishness. As bookish as he is, even he knows that weapons are not jewelry. Soldiers are not princesses. Thor rolls his eyes and Loki gives up. "Fine, as long as you're not polishing it with the pages."
They walk in the direction of the plain in front of the trees where the challenge has been appointed. Young warriors are already assembled in haphazard circles, organized just enough so that the fight doesn't start before the competition arrives.
They are still a hundred feet away when Loki slows his pace and Thor adjusts to him without hesitation.
"So you accept?"
"Why would I not?" Thor says easily, and Loki can feel his heart pick up its staccato. He hadn't specified terms, so he doesn't know whether his brother will kiss his cheek – the childish peck that their mother finds adorable. Maybe a press upon the forehead – like when Loki was sick and young Thor mirrored their mother’s kiss goodnight. Or maybe he'd feel those vivacious lips upon his own, settling like lighting upon water. A nerve ticks at the corner of his mouth and he suddenly feels Thor's scrutinizing gaze on his face. He nearly flinches.
"You ask such unexpected things, brother mine," Thor murmurs, and Loki could see him beginning to puzzle it, trying to understand what scheme the crafty youngster has started weaving. Let him come to his own conclusions, Loki thinks a little wildly, stomach almost queasy at the less-than-infinitesimal possibility of being caught. Of Thor understanding what Loki truly wants. But he won't be caught. Not unless he wants to be. And this – this is the first ripple in the pond.
The fight is over much later than Thor anticipated. Loki knows, sees it in the way his brother stands over the opponent, breathing hard, eyes burning into the felled young soldier on the ground. There is a rumble of noise around them, the trees shaking in the ionized air. He will be a mighty warrior one day, his blood burning, ready to consume all. He will bend the universe around his fist. Idly, Loki wonders if he will be by his brother’s side when that day comes to pass. If he will be trapped in those dark pockets, forgotten by the sun, or whether they will rise to the horizon together.
Thor’s friends gather to clap him on the shoulders, and he smiles into their faces, heart open, proud. His shoulders are thrown back with easy arrogance. Even the defeated soldier lays a hand on his brother’s bicep and they make peace, nodding at each other. All forgiven.
Little by little, the horde starts moving in the direction of the castle like a string unraveling, and Thor is bumped along between them, boxed in by their admiration. Loki holds his breath, not budging, the edges of his vision blurring slightly. That golden head he stares at turns, and a bruised hand quickly motions him to follow.
Loki keeps at a distance, trails after the crowd with restrained steps, an after-thought. They pass a family of merchants and Loki wonders what he looks like to them, the frail boy pretending to be a part of his big brother’s boisterous world. He quickens his pace, but doesn’t dare to catch up to Thor’s strutting companions. The conflict burns pink upon his cheeks as he watches them jostle each other with camaraderie.
Not one face looks back.
As soon as they are inside the gates, Loki slips away, skirts the courtyard and the great hall, and flees directly to the library. He leans against the inside of the heavy carved doors with a burning in his throat. His breath flutters unsteadily and he covers his mouth with his hand, trying to inhale deeply through his nose.
Humiliation doesn’t hurt as much as the disregard. Or maybe it does. Maybe they’re mutually inclusive.
Loki frowns, then smoothes out his features, picking out the book he left off with last. Hours pass before he tears himself away from its pages. He may not control the thunder, but his fingertips are stained blue and frost cracks off the binding when he throws the hardcover to the floor. Cold pulses up his arms. He does not care to wonder what magic put it there.
When he reaches the corridor that leads to his bedchamber, Loki sees his brother leaning against the right wall, arms crossed, one foot bent and propped on the wall behind him, golden hair curtaining his face as he stares down at his boot. His weapons are not in sight.
Loki approaches quietly, thinking to pass the thunder god, knowing he could do it without Thor noticing.
Maybe he gave himself away on purpose.
Loki does not admit to it. Even centuries later. Yet it must have been a scruff of a boot across the floor or a soft sigh of resentment – and suddenly his shoulder-blades are pressed to the cold wall. And Thor is there, large hand upon his ribcage, one hip pressing into his stomach, breath skimming past his ear. Loki’s blood surges with the crackle of magic through his veins. Always at his defense.
Thor pulls back slightly to look into Loki’s face and they stare at each other, bright blue eyes reading the irate green.
“Brother, I looked for you. Have you been avoiding me?” Thor asks, his mouth level at Loki’s temple. His voice sounds nearly hurt, as if he cannot comprehend what went wrong, what he did to deserve the punishment.
And I hope punishment it is, Loki thinks darkly, feeling his breath leave him to make room for rage that seizes his heart and lungs. A promise made, then dismissed without acknowledgement. And the one who made the promise counting himself the victim.
Loki shakes his head and ignores the way his chest clenches, intercostal muscles spasming. The outer edges of his vision blur with shimmering grey from his anger, from Thor’s force.
“I’ve not avoided you, you could have found me any time.”
Loki briefly considers trying out the new spell he just learned, a trick along the lines of thrusting seidr against the solar plexus and has an image of Thor sputtering.
He raises his hand to do just so but Thor’s fingers clamp violently around his wrist.
To this day, Loki has not forgotten the sharp pain that shot twisted burned through his nerves as Thor pressed his mouth to Loki’s palm, lips parting to trace the fortune lines with his tongue, unlocking their destinies with a kiss.