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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Thor fic: By Any Means Necessary (1/1)

November 25th, 2013 (03:04 pm)
productive
Tags: , , ,

feeling: productive

Title: By Any Means Necessary

Disclaimer: I do not own Thor or Loki or anything else.

A/N: MCU, set when Thor and Loki are young. Encouraged by and beta’ed by lena7142. Everything I write with these two is her fault, and I love her for it dearly :)

Summary: Young Loki challenges Thor to a fight. They both suffer the consequences.



-o-

Loki moves, forcing his body to respond the way he has been trained. He has practiced this sequence countless times. He knows to defend, to parry, to retreat, and attack.

That’s how it’s supposed to go.

Somehow, it never works out.

He defends poorly, and his parry is deflected. He retreats hastily, but when he attacks, his balance is off. An elbow catches him in the face before his feet are swept from under him and he hits the ground hard. He blinks, clearing his vision, looking up just in time to see the spear pointed at his chest.

Above him, Thor grins.

“You almost had it that time,” he says, moving the spear. He relaxes his stance and reaches down to offer Loki a hand.

Grimacing, Loki accepts it, letting his older brother pull him to his feet. He wobbles for a moment, cheeks reddening. This defeat is not unexpected, but that does not make it any easier to endure. Thor is entirely good natured, of course, but since he is the victor, Loki does not feel that counts for much.

Especially not with their father in their audience.

Loki should probably be grateful he is the only one there. During the days, Thor and Loki train with the rest of the young warriors. But sometimes, in the evenings, their father thinks it fitting of princes to train harder, to be the best.

Thor takes to such sessions with vigor.

Loki finds them somewhat less desirable.

“Your attack is too tentative,” Odin says with a sigh. “You look so afraid of taking a hit that you will never pose any significant threat. Moreover, such reticence only costs you dearly in the end.”

“I am trying, Father,” Loki says, ducking his head.

“I hardly think these matches are fair anyway,” Thor proclaims loudly. “Surely there are other youths more fit as a sparring partner--”

“We do not get to choose our opponents,” Odin says firmly. “As the princes of Asgard, you have a responsibility to hone each other, and that is what we are striving for. If one of is you is to sit on the throne of Asgard, you must be weighed and trained together.”

“But he is younger--” Thor protests.

Loki feels his cheeks burn more. His brother means well, as he always does, but he does not truly understand. Pity does not help Loki’s standing. Pity does not help Loki at all.

“And you are sloppy and arrogant,” Odin says. “Do not underestimate your brother. You look like you are hardly trying.”

Thor stiffens. “I’m trying to be fair--”

“You are failing in your duty as a prince of Asgard and you are failing in your duty to your brother,” Odin says sharply. He turns an acidic eye to Loki. “Both of you have much work to do.”

Loki nods as his father departs, but Thor only grunts. When the room has been vacated, Thor shifts his stance with a glower. “He is a blind old man sometimes,” he mutters.

Loki purses his lips. “He’s right about this, though,” he says finally.

Thor looks surprised. “You have trained hard--”

“About you,” Loki interjects, as the thoughts solidify. He has seen his brother fight many of the older boys -- and win. Loki is still new to training, though. He has spent his youth in playful fights, but now that he is old enough, he has started to train with the warriors. To train with Thor. He’s been so focused on his own skills that he has neglected to gauge his brother’s. “Are you truly going soft with me?”

Thor’s mouth opens. “You have only started--”

Loki’s eyes flash. “Tell me the truth,” he snaps. “Are you treading lightly for my sake?”

“You are my brother,” Thor tells him, reaching out with a comforting hand. “I take no pleasure in your defeat.”

Loki shrugs him away, bending to retrieve his own spear, which he lost when their training first began. “So you do pity me.”

Thor laughs incredulously. “It is not pity,” he says. “It is simple reason. You are younger; you are smaller; you are not as skilled--”

“And how will I ever be unless you work with me?” Loki lashes out. For he is angry -- at himself, at his father, at his brother. Things always seem easier for Thor, as though he is a natural. Loki has to work much harder and without much praise. This has been hard enough growing up, but now that they are rivals -- there are consequences that matter. “A king does not rule with pity.”

Thor’s face hardens. “Who do you speak of then? Me or you.”

Loki lifts his chin, for in this, he is not sorry. “Take it as you will,” he says.

Thor’s shock is gone, replaced only by anger. “You wish to fight then, little brother?”

Loki does not flinch.

Thor inclines his head, lips twisting up into a dark smile. “Then let us fight.”

-o-

It takes exactly two seconds for Loki to realize what he has done.

He has provoked his brother. This, in and of itself, is not noteworthy. Over the years, Loki has often provoked his brother. In fact, he is an expert in such things. As children, he knew exactly what to tell Thor to make him do something ridiculous. He knew how to coerce his brother into making stupid decisions. Thor was easy to predict in these ways, and where Loki preferred reservation and care, Thor tended to act without thinking.

This is an entertaining trait to exploit at times.

As his brother squares off against him, Loki begins to see it as dangerous as well. Because this is not childish bantering. This is sparring. More than that, Loki has just talked his brother into not holding back.

True, Loki wants to prove himself and he has no means to do so while his brother is going light.

However, he has seen his brother fight. Thor does not win such fights because he is lucky. He wins because he is good. His brother is a natural fighter, moving effortless in the heat of conflict and unreserved in his pursuit of conquest. Thor has the very heart and essence of a warrior, and he stands taller than Loki and at least twice as thick.

To say the match is uneven would be an understatement of epic proportions.

Loki makes these realizations quickly.

On the third second, Thor strikes.

The first pass is fast and furious, and Loki retreats hastily, tripping over himself and skittering across the floor to avoid a powerful swipe from the long side of the spear. Thor towers of him, stepping back tautly. “This is the only reprieve you get, little brother,” he warns. “Use it well.”

And then the fight begins.

-o-

Loki has always been a thoughtful student, though he’s always preferred magic and learning over fighting and training. Sometimes he wonders if these are just inherent interests or if he has gravitated toward them to define himself away from Thor. Thor, after all, contends to be a force of nature. Loki has always thought it wise to stay out of his way and seek praise for those things that make him unique.

Besides, he’d always thought that the ability to fight was overrated. Brute force is without nuance or skill. It does not take real discernment or reflection.

For the first time in Loki’s life, he is starting to think he is wrong.

Loki knows the right moves, but every move he makes his wrong. His brother, who is so lackluster in his other studies, has insights Loki cannot hope to grasp. His instincts are pure and unparalleled; Thor is truly and unequivocally talented in this.

In other words, Loki is going to lose.

Loki is going to lose badly and dramatically.

This is perhaps no surprise, and Loki thinks for a moment of accepting the humiliation. Thor does not hold grudges, and he is quick to forgive. They can end this and be jovial by mealtime and none will be wiser to Loki’s folly.

Yet, this is how it always is. Thor wins; Loki loses. Even when he is a close second, Loki is still lost in Thor’s shadow. He will never earn the throne; he will never gain his father’s respect. He will never be his brother’s equal as long as he accepts this so-called kindness.

Loki will lose fairly, justly.

Or maybe -- just maybe -- he will win.

Growling, Loki forgets his training. He forgets the patterns he has memorized and the moves he has practiced. If he has strengths, it is not in this. No, if Loki is going to win, it will be by his own means. He cannot overpower Thor.

But he can outthink him.

Thor charges, eyes blazing, and Loki feints. Without hesitation, Thor turns, moving to make another pass. This time, Loki jumps, squeezing his eyes shut and reverting to the first thing that comes to mind.

It’s a relatively simple trick, and Loki can’t hold it long, but he doesn’t have to. When his face disappears, Thor is thrown off balance, and Loki has time to round on his brother--

Thor growls, catching the movement and lashing out. At the contact, Loki’s deception is revealed, but Thor only manages a glancing blow. Loki ducks and rolls back, poised and waiting. When Thor moves forward, Loki summons his magic again, stronger this time -- more confident.

Thor’s attack misses, and Loki moves around swiftly now, fully out of reach by the time his brother gets to his feet again and yells in rage. This time, Loki capitalizes, lashing out to swipe his brother’s feet out. Thor lands hard, and Loki keeps moving. He summons another burst of magic, just in time for his brother to find his feet and fling himself forward, the blunt end of the spear right at Loki.

Only to pass through the illusion.

Grinning, Loki rounds on Thor, landing a few blows before knocking the spear from Thor’s hand before collecting it for himself.

Thor bellows. “This trickery is beneath a warrior,” he seethes. “Face me truly or you are still deserving of nothing but my pity.”

Loki’s mood darkens and his stomach hardens. If his brother wants a fight…

Loki will fight.

No reservations.

He will not accept his brother’s pity. But now he will accept his brother’s defeat.

He balances the spear in his hand and turns it out. He narrows his gaze and reveals himself.

Thor runs at him, Loki lowers the blade--

Just as Thor turns back, away from Loki’s projection and charges the position where Loki really is, right behind him.

Right into the jagged point on the end of the spear.

-o-

For a moment, everything is still. Loki is frozen, and Thor is locked in place, both staring in shock at the spear now embedded deep into Thor’s chest. They are both in light armor, but it is nothing against the metal. It is not so much the strength of the armor or the weight of the blade as it is the sheer force of the impact. Thor had been coming so fast and too sudden. Loki had had no time to turn away. He’d intended for his brother to fall through the illusion, so he could knock his brother down and mount his victory. He had never counted on Thor to see the illusion for what it was.

He had never counted on actually hurting his brother.

He’d just wanted to win, to show his worth. He’d wanted to be prove his worth, to stand eye to eye with his brother for the first time.

And ironically, he thinks, maybe the last.

Thor’s breath catches, and his eyes turn up. When they make eye contact, Thor is more surprised than pained, and he huffs a laugh of disbelief. “Well done, brother,” he manages to say. “You win.”

And then his body sags, falling heavily to the ground.

-o-

Startled, Loki doesn’t have time to act. His numb fingers release the spear, which falls with his brother. Thor lands on his back, arms and legs sprawled as he heaves for air, the spear moving erratically, still embedded in his chest. The sight is nothing short of horrifying. Loki has heard tales of battle, and when his father talks of slaying tens of thousands, Loki has always overlooked this part. The savagery of it. There is nothing valiant in death, and there is nothing virtuous in killing. It is messy, dirty business. It’s not that Loki thinks it is not necessary, but he merely finds it a tedious means of protecting the welfare of the state.

He’s never thought of it like this. Blood on the ground, sharp points dug deep into tender flesh. He’s never thought of those tens of thousands as parents, children, sisters -- brothers.

Brothers.

Eyes burning, Loki scrambles forward, falling to his knees next to Thor. The older boy is paling now, struggling to take breaths against an obvious onslaught of pain.

“Thor,” Loki says, his throat feeling tight. He blinks rapidly to keep the tears at bay. He hesitates, not sure what to do with his hands, not sure what to do at all. “Thor, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Thor’s breathing is strained now, and his eyes are focused on the ceiling while he winces, fingers curling into fists. “Not your fault,” he murmurs, the words forced and breathless. “It was a good--” He cuts off with a small cry, which he buries with a grunt. “--good maneuver.”

Loki all but curses, his mother’s admonitions about such language a long forgotten lesson. It is appropriate, he reasons. When you’ve stabbed your brother in the chest, foul language may actually be warranted. “I never meant to,” he says, words stumbling over one another. “It was an accident, brother. I promise.”

Thor looks toward him, although it is an effort. He’s wheezing, the rise and fall of his chest growing shorter and more desperate. “I know,” he says resolutely. Somehow he smiles. “I know, brother.”

There is no accusation; there is no blame. There is no fight; there is no resistance. There is acceptance and love and absolution. Thor’s affections are freely given and his forgiveness is unconditional. For his brother has no guises, not like Loki. Loki hides behind deception and illusion; he finds expression through circuitous means. He has always believed that life is about perception more than reality, that truth can be formed from any number of avenues. He knows to look beyond the obvious, to see the hidden things that so many people discount.

Thor is his opposite in this. For Thor, emotion is plain and expression is simple. He speaks truth, be it good or ill. Loki has always thought this to be plain of him, unfitting of a king.

Loki still believes this, but as he looks at his brother, impaled by Loki’s hand, he counts it as a strength. If not of a king, then of a brother.

It is not such a terrible thing to remember a fondness for one’s sibling.

It is a difficult thing when such a remembrance comes when it is far, far too late.

“Thor,” Loki says, looking for words and failing. He knows not what to say. He knows not what to do. He is helpless and flawed; he is foolish and mistaken. “Brother--”

But Thor smiles fondly before he sighs, his body going lax against the floor as his chest stills.

And Loki screams.

-o-

Loki understands perception. He knows that life is more than what it seems; he knows that reality can be manipulated for the best possible outcome. He rarely accepts things at face value, for he knows he is smart enough to turn things around the way he wants.

That’s how this started, after all. For being weaker in the fight, he’d strove to use magic to even the scales.

He had been, of course, victorious.

For now, his brother lay bleeding and prone before him.

Dead.

This is a reality, for Loki can see the stillness of his brother’s chest. He can see the blankness in his eyes and the vacancy in his expression. Thor is dead.

This is the reality.

It is also something Loki flatly refuses. His brother will not die, not here, not over something so small and mistaken. Loki has worked harder at less.

Nothing will stop him now.

Getting to his feet, he breaks into a run, stumbling as he approaches the door at full tilt. It is a cumbersome door, and it takes time to heave it open, but once he does, he does not hesitate.

“Guards!” he yells, voice bellowing down the corridors. “Guards, quickly!”

The closest one is just down the hall, and he raises his chin in curiosity. “Is there a problem, prince?”

“My brother,” Loki says. “He’s been injured.”

The guard’s expression freezes, as though he does not quite believe him. “If this is one of your tricks--”

“Would I fool you about this?” Loki demands incredulously. It does not matter if he is known throughout the kingdom for his mischief. It does not matter if he has played many tricks on the royal staff many times. It matters not. “My brother bleeds and you waste time with trifling doubts!”

The guard looks somewhat dumbfounded.

“Send a healer,” Loki orders, his gaze sharpening. “Now.

The man may not trust Loki’s words, but he does not doubt his growing temper, and when as his voice echoes down the corridors, Loki moves back into the room. When he returns to his brother’s side, Thor is even paler than before, his skin turning a sickly gray. Loki goes to his knees again, pressing his fingers around the spear. He feels the warmth of blood, thick and sticky on his fingers.

“You are too strong for this,” Loki hisses. “Come on, brother. Not like this.”

They have grown and played together; they have fought and trained together. Someday, Loki thinks, they will die together -- many, many years from now.

This is not how it ends.

This is not.

Loki feels the anguish rise in him, surging with his power. He is beyond coherent thought, now. There is only emotion, raw and primal. More than his desire to prove himself, more than his needs to be equal, he wants to save his brother’s life.

He will.

The heat builds painfully in his chest, mounting so strongly that he thinks he may explode. When the energy bursts forth, he scarcely knows what to do with it. It tingles down his arms, surging through his fingertips -- right into Thor.

He’s not sure what’s happening, but he’s too terrified to stop it. At this point, it cannot possibly be worse.

Nothing can be worse. Though Loki is looked down upon, though he is the lesser brother; though his brother does not understand him, though his brother scarcely sees him for who he actually is -- Thor is his brother. He is the constant in his life that makes everything make sense. Without Thor, Loki barely knows how to define himself. Without Thor, he does not know what to measure himself against. Thor is a part of him, just as he is a part of Thor. Their bond runs deep, deeper than blood, deeper than family. Destiny, he thinks. He and Thor are destined for each other, two sides to the same coin, complementary parts. One cannot exist without the other.

One cannot exist--

He closes his eyes and bellows--

--without the other.

Behind him, there is a sudden commotion, and Loki feels himself being pulled away. Confused, he fumbles, trying to fight his way back to his brother. He struggles as the guards hold him back, fighting pointlessly as the healers swarm in and surround the fallen prince.

Loki is crying now, seething against their grasp. He needs to see; he needs to get close. He needs to fix this--

Then the healers move, and Loki watches as his brother is hoisted onto a stretcher. Someone has stabilized the spear, and Thor’s hand falls listlessly off the side. But as they pass, Loki sees his brother’s face, still pale but his eyes are closed.

And his chest his moving.

He’s breathing.

Thor’s alive.

Thor’s alive.

Nothing matters more than this.

In fact, for this moment, nothing else matters at all.

-o-

Upon seeing that his brother still lives, Loki finds his self control. The frenzied emotions that led to this incident are in check now. This is good, he knows. For he will need his wits about him for what is to come next.

The palace guard cannot do much but keep him at bay, and they escort him to the healer’s wing after Thor. But he is not allowed much closer than this, and he is forcibly kept at a distance while the healers treat Thor.

Loki knows some of medicine, and he knows that Thor’s condition is not good. The spear has done significant damage, and while his heart is still beating, it is clear the healers are afraid of what comes next. Removing the spear is necessary for healing to continue.

That is, of course, if the shock and blood loss do not kill his brother first.

Healers face these challenges every day, but Loki knows their trepidation. Not just because the boy lying before them is a beloved prince of Asgard.

But because of Odin.

Loki knows this fear, for it is his own. The guards he can talk down to; the healers he can handle. But his father…

His father will not be pleased.

That much, as it turns out, is an understatement.

Odin comes through the doors, barreling forward without hesitation. He shoulders past the guards and barely spares Loki a glance. Instead, he moves toward the healer’s table and looks down at Thor. Thor is breathing, but unconscious, and Odin seems to take stock of this before he turns to the healers.

“Will he live?”

The lead healer inclines her head. “We will have to extract the spear, which will cause significant bleeding--”

Odin glares at her. “Answer the question,” he says harshly. “Will my son survive this injury?”

The healer looks startled for a moment, before she remembers her own skill. Odin has that ability; to make even the most confident suddenly lacking in esteem. “It will be a near thing,” she says. “But he is young and strong, and he is faring better than I would have expected considering the nature of the injury. I believe, given time, he will recover.”

Odin sucks in a breath and nods tautly. “Very well, then,” he says. “Proceed.”

The healer nods her consent, turning back toward her patient. She gives quiet orders to her team, who all assemble about Thor in obvious preparation. Loki leans forward, standing on his toes to see, trying to watch as they set about removing the spear. But just as he catches sight of Thor lying still among them, his father steps in front of him.

“Loki,” he says gravely. “You will retire with me.”

Loki would not protest, especially not since his father actually has cause, except for the severity of the situation at hand. “But Thor--”

“Is being treated by the very best in all of Asgard,” Odin says firmly. “You have done all you can for him. Is this not true, my son?”

Loki swallows, trying his best not to flinch under Odin’s stares. His father knows. They do not call him the Allfather for nothing.

Odin narrows his good eye. “You will retire with me,” he says again, even firmer than before. “Alone.”

Loki looks to his brother again, still unmoving on the table. His mind flashes with various ploys and tricks, but this time, more than usual, he does not have the heart.

He bows his head. “Yes, Father.”

-o-

Loki is not unaccustomed to his father’s little talks. As king, Loki supposes Odin has earned this right. He is the Allfather, after all. He has ruled Asgard and protected the Nine Realms for countless years, and Loki knows he is a productive king. He is measured and careful, which is something Loki does find admirable.

It does, however, have a tendency to make him long winded. Centuries of giving decrees and edicts have made him fond of hearing himself talk, and where Loki sees value in holding his tongue, the Allfather sees no need to temper his expression for the sake of any man, woman or child.

Including his children.

Especially his children.

Normally, this is a nuisance.

Today, with Thor still in precarious condition back in the Healer’s Wing, he finds it nearly painstakingly impossible to endure.

True to form, Odin takes his time. He leads Loki through the halls, dismissing guards when they pass until they are very much alone in the private residence of the palace. Loki swallows, feeling nervous. He is about to ask to go back to his brother when Odin finally begins.

“I will assume before we begin this conversation that you will be entirely truthful with me,” Odin says, conversationally enough. But Loki can feel his father’s keen gaze.

He swallows. “When am I not--”

“Do not test my patience, Loki,” Odin says. “I overlook many of your exploits as childish whims, but do not assume I will be so lenient in this instance. Actions have consequences, and since there is a spear lodged in your brother’s heart, I hope you can do away with your nature and offer me some truth.”

Loki swallows again, feeling his cheeks redden. He thinks of a dozen lies, each better crafted than the last. Then he thinks of another dozen reasonable explanations, that take the truth in the best possible light. Normally, he would think nothing of such parsing. It is a duty of a king, he thinks, to know how to best present facts to the populace. This is a strength of his, telling people what they need to hear in ways they will accept.

But he thinks of Thor, and the emptiness of his eyes as he bled out beneath Loki’s touch.

He sobers. “It was an accident.”

Odin inhales deeply. “I should think so,” he says. “Your pranks are often devious and can be vindictive, but I have never known you to wish actual harm on anyone, especially your brother.”

“This was not a prank,” Loki says. “It was an accident, nothing more.”

Odin looks at him, keeping pace along the long stretches of golden corridor. “That is all you have to say, then. That you took your brother’s life by an accident?”

Loki’s stomach churned. “Thor still lives--”

“By no thanks of yours,” Odin returns sharply. He comes to a stop, and there is anguish visible in his aging features, but it is overpowered by the anger. “Your brother lies bleeding, so I will have you tell me plainly what happened.”

Loki feels small, suddenly. He wants to hide; he wants to avoid this. But this time, he can’t.

He won’t.

He holds his head high, even as his shoulders tremble. “We were sparring,” he says. “I wanted another chance to prove myself.”

Loki hopes this is enough, that the rest will be self explanatory. Accidents happens, after all. Thor has injured other young men on the training field, and both he and Loki have been to the healers for a myriad of minor injuries. It is not unheard of, though most of the injuries are not severe.

“Your brother is a skilled fighter,” Odin says knowingly. “Tell me, how did you get the spear into his chest.”

“I was moving to take him down, and he turned,” Loki explains. “You know how Thor gets. I had no time to turn away, and he did not slow down.”

Odin studies him, his gaze hard. “So you blame your brother then?”

Loki’s mouth falls open, but for a moment, no words come out. “Of course not,” he says. “It was an accident.”

Odin tilts his head. “How did your brother not see you?” he says. “Surely he was aware of the spear.”

Loki feels his indignation rise. “I am capable of surprise in combat,” he says defensively. “I am not wholly incompetent.”

“No,” Odin muses. “With Thor still bleeding, I suppose we cannot say that at all.”

Loki swallows hard, feeling tears start to build behind his eyes. His guilt flares, and he is tempted now to tell everything. To explain about the magic, to let his father know this was an innocent misstep. This was not supposed to happen. This wasn’t anything Loki intended.

But under Odin’s relentless eyes, he knows his father will not understand. His father does not favor magic, especially not in battle. He values strength and courage, not deception and cunning. This is what he has hoped to train out of Loki. If he knows the truth, it will not change anything.

Thor will still be injured.

Loki will still be responsible.

The only difference will be his father’s wrath.

“Are you sure there is not something else you wish to tell me, Loki?” Odin presses.

Loki can no longer look his father in the eyes. He shakes his head, stubborn. His throat is tight. “I just want to check on Thor--”

“Your concern is too late,” Odin snaps. “Where was your concern and caution in the battle? Where was your focus? These sessions are not merely to win or lose, but they are about control and balance. They are to teach you how to find your limits and expand your strengths. It is discipline and order, two things which you will never understand for you are a selfish child who thinks himself immune to the wisdom of his forefathers.”

Loki blinks rapidly, his tears nearly overpowering him. “Father--”

“By your ignorance and embarrassment, you acted outside your purview and grievously wounded your brother,” Odin continues, his anger mounting. “How can you ever hope to prove yourself in the heart of battle when you cannot even master simple elements in the training itself? There is a reason for the things you are taught, Loki. You may not pick and choose them anymore than your brother or anyone else. For there are consequences. Serious consequences, born in blood, that you cannot circumvent. Can you not understand?”

It’s too much. Loki is used to criticism, and he has endured much censure. He knows he is held to a higher standard than other Asgardian youth, and he is fully accustomed to being the lesser brother when measured next to Thor. But this is an accident; this is a mistake. This is not how it is supposed to be, and for all that Odin lectures him, Loki can still feel Thor’s life escape him, and it is a terrible, stunning weight he will never be able to forget.

It is a burden to take a life, especially one of someone he cares about. People talk of the glory of battle, but Loki knows the reality for what it is. It leaves everyone a victim, even those who claim the victory. It is a last resort, and if it may be necessary at times, it is also horrible to endure.

And this is Thor, the brother who loves him. Thor does not always understand him, but no one has stood by him more fervently. For all his brother’s faults, Loki clings to that.

And now he has speared it in the heart.

He feels, suddenly, as though everything may fall apart.

“Father,” Loki says, trying to remember to breathe. The pressure is building in his chest again, and the emotion threatens to choke him. “It was an accident--”

Odin all but roars. “An accident? You would take the life of one you care for by such oversight? No king can fall back on such feeble excuses and still expect anyone to respect him at all!”

“Father--” Loki tries again.

“I was foolish to think you were ready for such training,” Odin continues. “Perhaps I was foolish for thinking you would ever be fit for kingship in these realms when you are so clearly unable to perform a simple expected duty--”

“Odin,” a voice cuts in suddenly.

Loki looks up, feeling relief swell in his chest.

His mother crosses the floor, moving past Loki to look sternly at Odin. “Surely this is not the time,” she says.

“The boy must learn consequences--”

“And I would think he has,” Frigga says firmly. “Besides, do you not think your presence is better served elsewhere? Do you not have one son barely clinging to life with the Healers? Would he not benefit more from your steady presence?”

Odin does not look happy at the suggestion, and he gives Loki a scathing look. But he takes a breath, and seems to regain some of his composure. He nods, eyes lingering on Loki once more. “Do not think this conversation is over,” he warns.

Loki inclines his head. “Of course, Father,” he says, doing his best not to mumble.

Odin hesitates.

Frigga stands taller. “Thor,” she says. “Go to Thor. If anyone needs you, it is him.”

With that, Odin turns and leaves, his heavy footfalls retreating down the corridor. When they are alone, Frigga places a gentle hand on Loki’s shoulder. Loki stiffens, doing his best to stay in control of his emotions.

It’s too much, though. The entire day has been too much. From his humiliation in training, to Thor’s relentless fighting; to the magic, to the mistake, to the power that somehow brought his brother back to life. Much has happened today, and Loki has been so caught up on it that he scarcely has understood the gravity of it.

There are consequences, his father explained.

So many consequences.

Loki does not know what to do.

Faltering, he turns to his mother, an apology on his lips. But her look is so sympathetic, so understanding, that he breaks instead. “Mother--”

The sobs catch and he feels lost, but his mother’s face is gentle as she reaches forward for him. “Oh, Loki,” she says with a sigh, pulling him close as the tears start to come. “How do we always end up here?”

-o-

When his mother leads him back to his chambers, he does not resist. He says nothing as she settles him on the bed, sitting close to him while his cries taper off. He feels silly in this -- crying like a child is beneath him -- but if there is any one person who is safe for such things, it is his mother.

Frigga has always understood him, better than the rest. Though Thor is overt in his affections, it is Frigga who has actually encouraged Loki’s individuality. She is the one who talks about literature and discusses the stories of the stars. She laughs at his jokes, and plays the games of logic that Loki so enjoys. It is Frigga who has not only support his use of magic, but taught him much of it. She recognized his aptitude and saw its potential.

In short, there is no one who knows him better. And there is no one he loves more.

“You have to believe me, Mother,” he says, looking up at her. “I would never hurt Thor on purpose.”

Frigga’s smile is small but genuine. “I know.”

“It was an accident,” he insists, almost desperately now. For someone needs to understand; someone needs to know.

She nods, somewhat thoughtful. “I have no doubt in that,” she says. “However, what are you failing to tell your Father?”

Loki blanches, but he is not surprised. The Allfather suspects, but his mother knows. His mother always knows.

He swallows. “I insisted we continue our sparring,” he says. “I knew I had no way of overpowering Thor, so I used what strengths I did have.”

Frigga waits for him to continue.

“The magic was simple,” Loki says. “Just false images, hiding my true location. I thought if I could disorient him, I could come at him from behind. All I needed to do was get him on the floor, and I would win the bout. Thor would be too embarrassed to ever tell anyone it was by magic. That’s all that was supposed to happen.”

“What did happen?” she prods lightly.

Loki’s defenses falter, and he feels a tremor move through his body. He can still feel the weight of the spear, breaking Thor’s armor and punching through his chest. “He predicted my trick,” he says guiltily. “He turned when I did not expect and I had no time to move the spear.”

Frigga sighs. “Your brother did not hold back, did he?”

Loki shrugs. “I did provoke him to use his full strength.”

“Thor knows nothing of being half-hearted,” she says wistfully.

“I never imagined,” Loki adds quickly. “I swear to you, Mother. I would never hurt Thor.”

“I know,” she says. She pauses, reaching up to smooth a lock of Loki’s dark hair. “You two have always been so different, but there is a bond between you. It is one that most mothers could only hope for between their children. You need each other, you and Thor. You provide an important balance that can never be replicated and should never be taken for granted.”

Loki nods, earnestly now. “How is he?” he asks. “Did you see him? Is he living still?”

Frigga hushes him. “He is holding strong,” she says. “There has been much damage from the spear, and he has lost blood, but he is Thor. If anyone can survive such an injury, it is undoubtedly your brother.”

It is a hopeful prognosis, but Loki knows too much of trickery to take it entirely at face value. “Can I see him?”

“I do not think it wise,” she says. “He is still deeply unconscious, and he needs to rest if he is to recover. Besides, your father waits with him now.”

The implication is plain, and Loki has no desire to risk another confrontation with his father. Not today; not so soon.

Not even for Thor.

“It is late now,” Frigga continues, getting to her feet. “You should sleep.”

“But Thor--”

“Will be well cared for, I assure you,” Frigga says.

“But if something happens?”

“Then I will tell you,” she says. “But I know your brother. Just as I know you. Tomorrow will be a better day. For all of us.”

Loki wants to believe her, even as he doubts. Loki wants many things in life, and so few are freely given to him. He always has to work harder, plan more carefully, just to get noticed. He lives a life where he takes little for granted.

Except this: his mother’s love and his brother’s strength.

He has this, and it has to be enough.

He nods, forcing a small smile. “Thank you, Mother.”

“Sleep, Loki,” she says. “Tomorrow will have trials enough.”

If Loki doubts the rest, that, he knows, is very much the truth.

-o-

In the darkness, Loki struggles with himself. He can still see it, every move, every mistake that led to this. He sees his brother fall; he sees Thor go still.

He has told his mother the truth about their fight, but he neglected the part where he brought his brother back. His brother died by his hand, but he also lived.

This is a power Loki does not understand; he does not even know how to comprehend. There are healing magics, but he has not studied them. His mother never speaks of them.

And yet, Loki cannot deny them.

It is possible, of course, that he imagined them. That fear and grief got the better of him. It is easier that way, one less complication in a life that is growing fraught with difficulty.

Yet, in the dark, nothing is clearer to him.

Most people shun the dark, they think it obscures the necessary facts. But for Loki, the dark brings clarity. When nothing else is visible, only the starkest truths remains.

For all the ways in which today has been a failure, Loki has done two things right. He has beaten his brother -- and he has saved him. These two truths are dependent on each other, and while Loki would not do it again, part of him can’t regret it.

Assuming, of course, that Thor lives.

For if his brother should perish, then the darkness would not end. The darkness would encompass everything, consuming worlds in its path. It is as his mother said, they balance each other. Thor shines like the sun, but Loki sweeps in like the night. There is beauty in this, a perfect ritual where one depends on the other.

In this, Loki thinks Thor cannot die.

Not while Loki still lives.

Maybe this is where the magic came from -- the simple fact that they need each other and the entire universe will cave to that.

Until the very end of time.

-o-


When Loki wakes in the morning, the sun is streaming through the windows. His room is alight with the gentle glow, the reassuring warmth smoothing over his face. He is rested; he is alone.

Thor.

The horror of the memory galvanizes him, and Loki is on his feet instantly. He is still dressed in his armor from yesterday, and he makes no effort to change as he rushes to the door. His mother promised to get him if something changed, but it is not beyond his mother to lie for his own benefit. Loki knows this; he often considers it a comfort.

This day, however, it frightens him. What if Thor did not survive? What if the impact of the blow was too much? What if Thor passed in the night? What if Loki killed his brother?

The quiet certainty of the night is gone from him, and he carries a nervous energy deep in his gut as he races down the halls. He almost knocks over a contingent of guards as he passes, but he makes no apology as he rushes.

In his mind, he can still see Thor, still and unseeing. It is a horrible, unsettling memory that he thinks he may never replace.

Suddenly, he craves the punishment. He craves denunciation. He deserves it. For what he has done, accident or not. For his brother’s sake--

He pushes past the guard at the Healer’s wing, and though someone protests, no one stops him. He is almost running by the time he reaches the room, and his heart is lodged in his throat as he comes to a stop at the Healer’s table.

It is empty.

The slab is vacant, and the machinery is turned off. Someone has cleaned away the blood, and the throng of medical staff is nowhere in sight. There is no sign of his father, no sign of his mother. There is no sign of Thor.

Terrified, he moves forward, running his hands along the vacant slab. His brother should still be here; his brother should still be healing. Unless…

Unless…

The realization breaks him, and his knees go weak. His head spins, and he has to lean forward with both hands on the healing slab just to steady himself. The idea of it is too much. Thor cannot die. Thor simply cannot die. Not by Loki’s hand; not by anyone’s hand.

Tears burn in his eyes, hotly slipping down his cheeks. He chokes on a sob as his knees threaten to give out entirely from the weight of the crushing grief.

“Loki?”

Startled, Loki turns. His mother is in the entrance, and Loki’s face crumples. “I am sorry, Mother--”

She blinks in alarm. “Loki,” she says again, moving forward. She reaches out to steady him. “Loki, is something wrong?”

He looks up at her. “Thor is -- Thor is,” he tries to say, but fails. “I have killed my brother.”

Her eyes widen. “Oh, Loki,” she says. “No--”

Loki’s chest hitches, and he takes a strangled breath. “He is gone--

“Yes,” Frigga agrees. “He was healing so well that he was moved to another room to rest more comfortably.”

Loki stops, blinking at her. “You mean--”

Frigga nods with a gentle smile. “Your brother still lives,” she assures him. “He is doing very well. Better than you, in fact.”

Loki swallows, feeling shaky. “But…”

“But nothing,” Frigga says. “I would not lie to you; not about this.”

“So he’s really all right?” he asks, too aware of how young he sounds, how his voice wavers so uncertainly.

“He is awake and demanding food,” Frigga says with a wayward cluck of her tongue. Then her eyes soften again. “He’s asking to see you.”

Loki’s eyes widen again.

“Go,” she says, nudging him a little.

“But--”

“Go,” Frigga says, a bit stern this time. “These things should never go unspoken between brothers, no matter how difficult it may be.”

Loki inclines his head submissively. He hesitates, glancing up at his mother one more time. “It was an accident--”

Frigga smiles. “Yes,” she says. “Which is more reason to be purposeful in its resolution.”

Loki nods again. “Is he -- angry?”

Frigga rolls her eyes. “He is your brother,” she says, as a matter of fact. “Go see for yourself.”

-o-

At the entryway to the next room, Loki hesitates. When he had awoken, his only concern had been Thor’s welfare. However, now he finds himself uncertain. Even if he believes his mother’s reassurances, he is faced with the harsh reality that Thor is still injured by his hand. More than that, Thor knows the truth about the confrontation that led them to this. Thor is not a vindictive brother, but he does have his father’s temper. It is possible, then, that Thor will not be as relieved to see Loki as Loki is relieved to see Thor.

This gives him pause, but he finds he has no choice. Whether it is guilt or concern, he is compelled through the entryway, stopping short as he crosses the threshold.

“Brother!” Thor exclaims. “You have arrived!”

Loki is almost dumbfounded. For in the bed, Thor is propped up on pillows, covered in a blanket from the waist down. He appears to be reading a book, which is unusual enough, but Loki is too stunned by the vibrant smile on Thor’s face to bother with the other details.

Thor is smiling. Thor is sitting up. His complexion is healthy, and his manner is enthusiastic. There is a wide bandage across his chest, but there is no trace of pain in his eyes.

It is a far cry from the pale, lifeless figure Loki remembers.

It is almost like it never happened.

“Come!” Thor says. “I have been positively beyond myself with boredom. They have supplied me only with books.” He holds up the copy in his lap. “And not even good books!”

Loki blinks, mouth open.

On the bed, Thor frowns. “Are you well?” he asks. “They did not say you were injured--”

“I’m not injured,” Loki interjects, almost in disbelief.

“But you are quiet!” Thor says.

“Because you almost died!” Loki exclaims, too aware of the hysterical hitch in his voice.

Thor’s eyes widen.

Loki swallows back awkwardly, stepping farther inside. “I am just surprised to see you so well recovered.”

“Ah,” Thor says. “The healers are surprised as well. They said the damage should have been much more severe.” He grins. “They clearly underestimate my brawn.”

Loki laughs, in sheer shock. For such a grievous injury, there is so little visible effect. Thor looks as though nothing happened, even if Loki knows better. Even if Loki wonders what ill effects were stayed by the inadvertent magic from his hand.

The relief if invigorating, and for a moment, Loki feels nothing but pure joy.

It is tempting, then, to leave it at this. Thor shows no desire to dwell on the accident, which might be a convenient way to avoid it altogether. But Loki knows better. He will not be able to close his eyes without remembering. And for what he did, he owes Thor something still.

He gathers a breath, ready to speak.

He has no chance, though, when their father enters from behind him.

“It is good to have you both here,” Odin says. He walks by, giving Loki a cursory look before turning his attention to Thor. “The healers say you are recovering well.”

Thor beams. “I feel fit already,” he says. “I could leave now--”

Odin waves a hand. “You will abide the healers’ advice,” he says. “You have incurred enough disaster for your headstrong ways.”

Thor is somewhat chagrined. “Of course,” he says. “I am sorry, Father.”

Odin seems only somewhat appeased by the apology. “You behaved foolishly,” he says, turning a pointed glare at Loki. “You both have.”

Loki shrinks in on himself. “I was just about to apologize--”

“For nothing,” Thor says. “Loki is still too soft. This was not his error.”

“Was it not his hand that injured you?” Odin asks.

“Only because I was over-confident and too set on battle,” Thor says. “It was my temper that brought about the conflict, and it was my temper that blinded me to Loki’s moves.”

Loki is surprised by this; Thor is not usually so gracious, although he has never been one to offer excuses in battle. As it is, there is no time for him to reply.

“Are you saying that your brother bested you?” Odin presses.

There is a tone of condescension in Odin’s voice, as though such a reality is impossible to believe. As though Loki will always be the lesser brother, no matter what evidence there is to the contrary.

Thor, however, does not hesitate. “I am.”

“Loki,” Odin clarifies. “Bested you, the strongest and most talented in amongst your peers.”

Thor is resolute. “As I lay here injured, I cannot lie to you, Father.”

Odin holds a breath in disbelief, and Loki clenches his teeth, not daring himself to speak. He is not even certain what he would say. He does not like the lack of faith his father shows, but he does not wish to incur his father’s wrath again. Not after yesterday.

Finally, Odin presses his lips together. “Very well, then,” he says curtly. “You will both continue to practice. Thor, for your misjudgement, you are to train twice as hard until you prove yourself fit. You will do the same, Loki.”

Loki steps forward in protest. “But--”

Odin is not in a trifling mood, though. His mood has softened somewhat since yesterday, but the stiffness in his shoulders suggests that Loki should not continue on in this line of thought. “It seems you have more skill than I thought,” Odin says, turning his one eye skeptically on Loki. “It would be a pity to have that all be for naught.”

It is a punishment laden with doubt, anchored with irony. Odin does not know what transpired, but he suspects. Loki’s trickery betrays him, and unlike the days of their childhood, Odin does not seem inclined to show those lies for what they are. Instead, he will punish them, not just for their mistakes but for their failure to accept them.

As it is, Loki cannot argue. For his mistakes, he deserves worse than this. He nearly took his brother’s life, and admitting to magic would be no better than having Odin suspect his lies.

In short, he has no choice but to accept.

He bows his head. “Of course, Father.”

Odin makes a low sound of disapproval. “Fine, then,” he says tersely. “Loki, you may stay only a little while. You are expected to continue on with your studies--”

“But Father, I could use the company,” Thor interrupts.

“You could use many things, my son,” Odin says to Thor. “Starting with a lesson in consequences.” He looks to Loki. “Is that not right?”

Loki’s cheeks burn.

Odin gathers a breath. “I expect to see you with your tutors shortly,” he says to Loki. To Thor, he says, “You will be the picture of obedience. You shall not move until Eir gives you expressed permission.”

“Yes, Father,” Thor says.

Odin grunts. “Sometimes I wonder if either you will survive to ascend to the throne,” he mutters, shaking his head again as he exits.

Loki stays unmoving as he leaves, only daring to look up when Thor chuckles.

“That went better than I expected,” Thor comments.

Loki raises his eyebrows. “What did you expect?”

“To be banned from combat training,” he says. “I worried he would divert me to the next class back, and I would lose a year to my peers.”

“He could not do that,” Loki says. “You are the best student, by far.”

Thor offers him a lopsided grin. “My performance yesterday leaves that questionable.”

Loki pales. “That is why I came here,” he says. “I wanted to apologize--”

Thor makes a sound if indifference. “For what? The purpose of such sparring is to win.”

“But you know what happened,” Loki says. He drops his voice, glancing behind him nervously. “You know what I did.”

“You won,” Thor says with a shrug.

“But you did not tell Father how,” Loki says.

“It does not matter,” Thor says.

“You know how Father feels about the magic,” Loki hisses.

“But you won,” Thor says. “The blame for that is mine, and no one else’s.”

“But I didn’t fight fair,” Loki insists.

“And why should you?” Thor asks.

“There are rules--”

Thor waves a hand through the air. “The only thing that matters in battle is who is standing in the end,” he says. “You must win by any means necessary.”

This is absolution in the truest form; wholly spoken and freely given.

Loki is too incredulous to accept. “But I nearly killed you!”

“To my detriment, not yours.”

Loki’s mouth falls open. “You truly believe that? Do you think so little of my skills that you need to protect me from Father just as you do in battle?”

“Loki,” Thor says. “Metal sharpens metal. I have had many worthy opponents chosen by our father’s hand, but none more challenging than you. You bring the element of surprise.”

“No one sings songs about the element of surprise,” Loki says quietly.

“Because those who witness it rarely live to attest to it,” Thor says. “You are a worthy opponent. More than that, you are a worthy partner. I was foolish to think you an unfit challenge.”

Loki stops, understanding the implications for the first time. “Wait,” he says. “Are you -- calling us equals?”

The idea of it is exhilarating. It almost makes the rest worthwhile.

Almost.

Thor laughs, loud and bellowing. “We are not equals,” he says. “But that is what makes it so rousing, does it not? You make me better, little brother. For that, I am always grateful.”

Loki feels himself blushing, the smile twitching on his lips for the first time since the injury occurred. He has made mistakes; he has nearly lost the things that matter most to him; but he has prevailed. Together with Thor, they have prevailed.

In some ways, this feels like destiny.

Metal sharpens metal.

Brothers hone each other.

His smiles turns into a grin. “I should stab you more often, then,” he jokes.

Thor chortles. “I would like to see you try.”

Loki trusts that, in time, they will find out.