A week into their tragic, limping journey through space, Loki finds himself coming face-to-face with his most dangerous foe: boredom.
As it turns out, it's difficult to fill your day so thoroughly you can't think, even when you're sticking to your best behavior and helping heal, and rebuild, and making sure your brother doesn't forget he has only one eye and trip through a window into space somewhere.
Really, it's probably in everyone's best interest that Loki find something to do. When he's bored, he schemes; and it's possible he's come to terms with the fact that his sense of appropriate scale is, at times, lacking.
The safest thing for Loki to do is to return to his oldest, most entertaining pastime:
Loki enters Thor’s room noiselessly, cloaked from sight, even his scent masked. Still, Thor frowns slightly and briefly flicks his gaze around like he’s noticed something, before returning to whatever report he's looking at.
Perhaps there's hope for him after all. He’s even reading, when a few years back Loki would have claimed he wasn't sure if Thor even knew how.
Loki settles on the edge of Thor’s bed, carefully preserving the illusion of an undepressed mattress. He studies his brother in silence, picking at a loose thread in his sleeve as he bides his time.
The trouble is, he hasn't had any time to prepare. Oh, Loki’s all for spontaneity, but his best tricks are always his best-planned.
Oh well. Needs must.
Thor mutters to himself as he runs a finger over the paper before him. He picks up his pen and scribbles something in the margins, then sets the pen back down. Loki watches him do this three times, wholly absorbed, tilting his head so the entire paper is in the view of his one good eye.
The next time Thor goes to pick up his pen, he closes his hand around a toad instead: it croaks sharply, puffing up in his fist and flicking out its tongue.
Thor yelps before dropping it, though Loki’s sure he'll deny it to the end. Loki’s laughing so hard he almost misses Thor wiping his hand furiously on the cloak hanging over his chair, face screwed up in disgust like a boy. Thankfully he catches it, and gets to immortalize that scene in his memory as well.
“Very funny, Loki,” Thor huffs. “How old are you, again?”
Loki drops the spell around himself, still laughing. He leans out of the way of the boot Thor launches at him.
“Sometimes it’s nice to return to the basics,” he says, grinning. “Anyway, they're basically just round snakes, I don't know what your problem is.”
“They're bulgy, and they — you know what, we're not doing this again,” Thor says, bending to grab and throw his other boot at Loki, who barely has to dodge it. That depth-perception still isn't quite there. “I tell you I don't like them because they're warty, and you'll make the next one wartier. I know how your twisted little mind works.”
“Ouch,” Loki says, putting a hand over his heart.
Thor snorts. “Like you don't take that as a compliment.” He cocks his head to the side and sighs, put-upon. “And everything was going so well. To what do I owe this return to form?”
“Just trying to add some life into this place,” Loki says, shrugging innocently. “The decor leaves a little something to be desired.”
Thor squints at him with his one eye, which Loki finds more amusing than he probably should.
“Oh, no,” Thor says, shaking his head. “No, no. No.”
“What,” Loki says, brow furrowing.
“I know that look,” Thor says. “If you're bored, why don't you take up a hobby? Banner could teach you how to knit; or you could put on some theater! We all know how much you love that sort of thing.”
There is a definite smirk on Thor’s lips, one better suited to Loki’s face. It's a new expression for Thor; it doesn't look to be going anywhere.
Change, and growth.
Loki scowls in response. He's forgotten how unspeakably irritating it is to be known so well.
He recovers quickly.
“Thank you for your suggestion, brother,” Loki says very sweetly. “Perhaps I will make some friends, to combat my boredom.”
“Friends are good,” Thor agrees slowly, and very suspiciously.
“Particularly friends who have stockpiled two-thirds of the alcohol aboard this accursed ship,” Loki says.
Thor’s eye widens slightly before he catches himself.
“Tell me, brother,” Loki says, fluttering his lashes. “Did you faint when you found out she was a valkyrie?”
“Shut up, Loki,” Thor says, rolling his eye. Loki's little smile widens; oh, he's got him.
“It was your heart's greatest desire when we were young,” Loki continues, getting to his feet and stalking toward Thor. “Do you remember the little costume Mother made you, sword and all? I certainly do. You wouldn't take it off for a week; Father had to throw you in the bath fully clothed.”
“Loki,” Thor growls, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
“You know, I was very rude to her a while back. Perhaps I should make amends with a memory of my own?” Loki says, smirking and inching his way closer and closer to the door.
For all his talk of growth and change, Loki’s glad to see that Thor is still, in some ways, eminently predictable. Loki lets himself be tackled back onto the bed only because a good fight might be exactly what he needs to break up his doldrums.
“It’s too bad — you don’t still — have the hair for it,” Loki pants as they wrestle. He kicks Thor in the stomach and manages to push him off the bed, but Thor is on his feet in an instant, ducking the two little knives Loki aims at him.
He drags Loki by the ankle toward the edge of the bed and leaps atop him, grabbing him in a rough headlock.
“It's too bad that even after this butcher's haircut, you're still the uglier brother,” Thor retorts.
“I thought I was the liar here,” Loki hisses, and lets the lower half of his body fuse together into a serpent, winding around Thor and constricting tighter and tighter.
The half-transformation is a mistake, it turns out: Thor grabs a fistful of Loki’s hair and pulls him away, as if hoping to separate them by strength alone.
There’s a crackling sound near Loki’s ear, and a faint burning smell.
“Did you just fry my hair,” Loki says dangerously, two-legged once more. His fingers twitch for another knife.
“You needed a trim, anyway,” Thor says unapologetically. “And a wash, honestly Loki, how long has it been?” He squeezes his limbs around Loki and rolls them so he can pin Loki in place, unwisely leaving his forearm a little too close.
Loki bites him, viciously.
It's nothing more than Thor deserves; just because he looks like a stripped chicken doesn't mean he has to share the misery.
“Ugh, what is wrong with you,” Thor says indignantly, before smacking Loki on the side of the head so hard it leaves his ears ringing. Loki calls a knife to his hand and embeds it deep in the meat of Thor’s thigh, his blood rising hot and pounding in his ears. Thor growls and rears back slightly, just enough for Loki to wriggle free, and he almost has enough leverage to turn and get at Thor —
— but then Thor is on him. For all his size he is capable of such speed; he forces Loki down onto his stomach and puts a knee square in the middle of his back, a punishing weight. He catches Loki’s wrists together in one hand and pins them in place behind him, tight enough to bruise; with his other hand he grabs Loki by the back of the neck and shakes him, like an errant puppy.
Loki snarls and bucks up; he could get away; he could, if he could just get a moment to think —
But Thor won’t give him that moment. Loki tastes the lightning in the air before he feels it, a sharp burn that travels through him from head to toe. It makes him go limp, even as he’s struggling with all of his might.
“Do you yield,” Thor says in Loki’s ear; the playfulness has gone with flash-flood suddenness, and now there is thunder in his voice, chilling and immense. His brother is his brother and also something more; Loki’s strength is his mind, and he can’t think.
He fights again, because he has to know. Thor shocks him once more, enough to leave him stunned. “Do you yield,” Thor says again, booming. Immovable.
The days when Thor would give Loki an opening and let him stab it wider are long gone; he’s wise to him, now. He’ll give him no quarter. By being himself, Loki’s taught him all too well.
There is a paradox within Loki’s heart. For as long as he has spent straining himself against the tethers that bind him to Thor’s shadow, for as desperately as he has yearned to stand taller than Thor, there will always be a part of him that wants nothing more than to be Thor’s little brother. To know he can be held down — or held.
If Thor can best him, then Thor is in charge; if Thor is in charge, then Loki will always have a place to return to. That is a truth that has held firm, so far. Loki trusts in that more than he trusts himself: if left in his hands, he will ruin this just to spite himself, like a child who destroys his toys simply because he can. He knows it.
Loki squirms beneath Thor’s weight once more, to see if he can get away. He can't. He can’t.
Something within Loki unwinds and slithers away. He huffs out a breath, and lets himself relax, going boneless. Finally, he grumbles, “I yield. Get off me, oaf.”
Thor breathes against Loki’s back until he’s no longer panting for air, and then chuckles quietly, a bare exhalation. He releases Loki’s wrists and neck, and drops his head further down until his forehead is pressed against Loki’s shoulderblade, and doesn't move.
Loki frowns slightly where Thor can't see him. The exhaustion seeping from Thor is a palpable thing, from the poor excuse for a laugh that left his throat, to the bow of his posture, slumped against Loki. It isn't new — just well-covered until now.
Loki’s chest tightens. He wants to stab something again; possibly Thor, for making him feel this way.
“Stay,” Thor says quietly, after a long, unmoving moment; his brother, his king, whose words are innately a command to every being aboard this ship; who can't manage to make this one anything less than a plea.
“Fool,” Loki whispers. Even he doesn't know which one of them he means.
Loki rolls himself out from underneath Thor, who looks as if he is planning to retreat halfway across the ship. Loki grabs him before he can move, and pulls him back down until he's settled himself with his head on Loki’s shoulder.
“Two eyes can keep better watch than one,” Loki says, finishing derisively, “especially when that one is yours.” There is a flutter against Loki’s shoulder that means Thor has swallowed a smile.
“Shut up,” Loki says to the ceiling. He passes a hand down Thor’s side, healing the sluggishly bleeding wound in Thor’s thigh.
Thor’s head crushed Loki’s back with its weariness worn like a crown; it fits better on Loki’s shoulder, where he can feel every sleep-slow puff of air that proves Thor’s fool-headed trust.
Like this, Loki can breathe.