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The Woes of Survival

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From the time he was old enough to want, Thor had wanted to be king.

He had dreamt of it constantly; dreamt of sitting upon the throne with a crowd of bowing people before him, dreamt of charging into battle to vanquish their foes, dreamt of fulfilling his destiny.

And then so much had happened, so much love and loss, and he had realized that no, he did not want to be king. He had told his father so, had abdicated, and had returned to Earth for the life he knew he was meant to live.

(Of course, it hadn't actually been his father he was talking to, but his message had been truthful nonetheless; he did not want the throne, he was not suited for it, and Loki   with all his faults   understood ruling better than he ever would.

His ruthless, damaged, cruel, intelligent, ambitious, determined, purposeless brother, wiser and stupider than the younger prince would ever even realize about himself.)

Life had a funny way of redirecting itself, though, and Fate brought him right back to Asgard and put him in a position when he had to accept the throne, his people needing him, looking to him, homeless and terrified and hopeful. The golden son returned.

Thor wasn't expecting Loki to be happy about it; he was expecting a fight, expecting cruel words shot at him as the power Loki had wanted for so long was stripped from him. Instead, his younger brother had just stared at him, level and filled with an astounding lack of fire, lack of anything, and then inclined his head respectfully, murmuring a quiet "Congrats, Highness," with a wry twist of his lips, before taking his leave.

The newly crowned king did not understand. Confusion and warmth warred inside of him; had Loki truly grown? Had the trickster god thought only of the people and known that they needed Thor? Had Thor been blind in not seeing this before?

Either way, Thor was now king, and Loki was his most trusted adviser.

However...

There was something different about Loki. At first Thor attributed it to growth, thinking that it simply came with how the prince had matured, but the deeper Thor looked the more he saw that it wasn't some new-found light Loki was feeling, but a subtle difference in his every action.

Loki was quieter, even when he was speaking, sarcastic and witty. He was isolated, even when he had the entire room's attention. And then he was flinching from touches he would have allowed before, even if he always rolled his eyes at them. Thor could not clasp his brother on the shoulder without witnessing a involuntary jerk before Loki controlled himself.

After noticing these things, Thor noticed the smaller ones. Loki had always been a suspicious person, but now he seemed to set himself apart from the others even more; he never sat next to someone unless there was at least a foot between them; was even more diligent about never having his back fully to someone than he'd ever been before; his fingers twitched with magic at his sides when someone got close to him before his hands clenched into fists, the power forced to fade.

Something was wrong with Loki, but with no new facts to go off of, all Thor could assume was that this entire experience had simply left Loki feeling a little lost, jumpy. It was a new thing to see on his proud, confident brother, but it was there nonetheless.

And then he overheard one of the strangest conversations in his life.


"I'm sorry."

Loki looked over his shoulder, away from the metal contraption on his work table that he was dissecting to figure out its workings, and saw the Valkyrie standing behind him.

The prince turned fully, standing and leaning against the desk, arms loose and relaxed purposefully, just like the rest of his body. He stared at her and she looked back.

The woman truly was beautiful; long luscious hair, deep brown eyes that looked golden in difference lighting, smooth, perfectly shaded skin. And, her best feature, the easy confidence with which she held herself; powerful stance, raised chin, smallest smile that conveyed the message that she knew more than you and wasn't afraid to show it.

Now, however, she looked at him steadily, an obvious lack of smile, lack of the exuded confidence she always wore so perfectly. She had come here for a conversation that she did not wish to act superior in, for a conversation she knew Loki could take the superior route if he chose, and be in the right. Loki did not want to have this conversation.

"For?" the prince asked with a raised eyebrow. Maybe if he acted ignorant of her meaning she would lose whatever propelled her to go to him and they could both be spared this conversation.

The Valkyrie stepped further into the room. Loki resisted the urge to step away; not out of fear, but out of the ridiculous instinct that he'd been unable to control as of late. He kept his position, though his hands tightened on the edge of the desk.

"I gave you to him for just a few mil. I didn't know what he was going to do, and I'm so sorry, Loki." She sounded sincere. For the first time in weeks, Loki felt fire streak through his veins, anger just out of reach.

Oh, 142, what a pretty one you've brought me.

"You didn't know," Loki repeated slowly.

She shook her head silently. Her eyes were sad. Loki wished she would go away, because he didn't like seeing her this way. She was like him; powerful and sharp and intelligent and never needed to be vulnerable. She was an amazing force to be reckoned with. And she had stripped away some of that for him, thinking it would make this easier, to see that she was not putting on a show, but he didn't want the truth in her eyes, did not want her apology, did not want the acknowledgement of all that had happened.

Obedience can be a beautiful quality, pet; you should try it. I promise it will feel good.

"You didn't know," he said again. Ice scorched along his bones, fueling the flames which then fueled the ice in a never-ending paradoxical circle.

"I'm so sorry," she replied, for lack of anything else.

The fire and ice met and exploded. Anger and rage and pain surged through out his entire being, more feeling than he'd felt since everything happened. Loki stopped it before it reached his magic (wouldn't be good to blow a hole in the ship) but let all of it come out of his mouth.

"You didn't know," the prince snarled. He pushed off of the desk, not stepping towards her but no longer relaxing easily, now pulled to his entire height.

"How could you not know? You knew him for a long time, sold people into slavery for him; you knew what he liked, the way he worked. You saw how he looked at me, the way he spoke to me, about me. It was so obvious that a newborn baby could see what he was going to do! And you, the best of the best, the last Valkyrie, didn't even suspect what was about to befall your captive?" He laughed, cruel and bitter. "No. I think you, even in your drunken state, saw exactly what was going to happen and you didn't fucking care. As long as you got your money for more booze, it didn't matter who got hurt in the process, right? The only reason you're bringing it up is because now you have to work side-by-side with me and you're hoping to jump over this. But I don't want your apology, or your pity, or your weak attempt to get in the royal good graces so why don't you leave me be?"

The Valkyrie's lips were parted, her sad eyes wide, but the surprised, horrified, regretful expression didn't last long, closing down to a much more subtle version of it. Loki didn't care about her pain. He didn't deserve it. He didn't deserve any of this.

I'm sure a lot of people might see this as karma, my sweet; you have done an awful lot of bad in your life, after all.

Loki turned away from her, unable to look at her any longer. She was sincerely sorry, but that didn't help him. It didn't reverse what occurred, didn't turn back time and stop it from ever happening.

The prince went back to sit in his chair, refusing to let loose the magic that had built inside of him, his seidr desperate for an outlet for all the pain. Instead, he picked up his tools to resume his tinkering. His hands wouldn't stop shaking.

The Valkyrie still hadn't made any move to leave. "You should talk to your brother," she said quietly, after a long silence.

Loki scoffed. "Why on Asgard would I ever do that?"

"Because he loves you. Because he wants to help you."

I know you want this. I want to help you see how much.

"I don't need any help," Loki muttered. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, willing himself back into control over his body. His hands stopped shaking.

"Tell him anyway." A pause. "He'd do anything for you." A rustle of clothing as she took her leave.

Soon, Kingling, I'll have you begging to serve me. You'll do anything I want.


Just out of sight and not having meant to eavesdrop, Thor Odinson frowned, unsure of the meaning of what he'd just heard. Concern sat heavy in his stomach.


"What is wrong with my brother?" Thor demanded, striding towards Brunnhilde.

The Valkyrie raised an eyebrow at him, a teasing smile on her lips. She looked as she always did, but there was something very sad and guilty that flickered across her face before vanishing. "I'm sure you know better than I," she said, amused. "Though you might want a therapist for a definite diagnosis; I don't think we can just declare him crazy without going through the proper channels."

She was very convincing, but Thor had heard what he heard in that conversation and knew there was something wrong.

"Do not lie to me." The words came out much more pleading than he'd meant them to.

Brunnhilde sighed, her expression softening. "Talk to your brother," she stressed. "This lack of communication is going to get him killed." Thor opened his mouth to protest, fear for Loki spiking in his chest, but she shook her head and repeated, "Talk to your brother."


Loki's landing on Sakaar was made easier by the pulse of magic he sent to the ground, but slamming into the piles of garbage still hurt like Hel.

When he got to his feet, he looked around and saw that he was basically in one giant garbage can, and rolled his eyes. Of course; of all the places for the Bifrost to spit him out, it had to be a planet for broken, abandoned things. Never let it be said that Life didn't have a sense of irony.

He was soon surrounded by a group of men in rags declaring their intention to eat him, and that simply wouldn't do. Loki drew his twin blades and engaged them, evading their blasts and taking them down one by one, feeling satisfaction when his enemies dropped. For the last four, Loki simply extended his hand and flicked it to the side. Simultaneously, their heads snapped to the side, broken, and they dropped like ragdolls.

"That was impressive," a voice called from behind him.

Loki turned around, on guard for another fight, but saw a woman standing before him, dark hair pulled into a ponytail. She was swaying slightly, clearly drunk, but her eyes were keen.

"Thank you," Loki called back hesitantly. He lowered his weapons, seeing that she was not an immediate threat, but didn't drop his guard; beneath the copious amounts of alcohol he could tell that she was a strong warrior.

"Who are you?" she asked, staggering a few steps closer.

"My name is Loki," he replied with a charming smile. "And you are?"

"Loki?" the woman said, her nose crinkling in thought. "Asgard's prince?"

Loki tilted his head, and couldn't resist correcting her. "King now, actually. How do you know-"

"So the old man kicked the bucket then, huh? Wait, wasn't there another one, the favorite one? Wasn't he supposed to be king?" Loki just barely kept the sneer from his face and opened his mouth, but she spoke before he could. "Nevermind, I don't care. So, your highness, would you mind following me? I know someone who would love to meet you."

"No, thank you," Loki replied graciously. "I actually must be on my w-"

The electric disk hit his neck before he could even finish his sentence.

When he woke up, he was bound to a large chair and voices were murmuring around him. He opened his eyes and shapes slowly came into focus, starting with the tall man in front of him. He had short, silver hair and shimmering blue paint on his face, and his golden-brown eyes were fixed hungrily on Loki's face.

"Oh, 142, what a pretty one you've brought me," the man cooed, satisfaction clear in every syllable. The woman he'd met in the junk yard stepped forward, a smug smile playing on her lips.

"He's a mage, too," the woman announced. The man's eyes lit up. "And, he is King of Asgard."

"Oh," the man purred, a sound full of pleasure. "Oh, oh, oh. 142, you are the absolute best. I always say that, you know. My absolute favorite. You brought me my champion, after all! How much do you want?"

"Excuse me," Loki interrupted smoothly, tone perfectly pleasant despite the vaguely worrying conversation that had been going on around him. "I will have to insist you release me." He could feel his seidr beginning to flow throughout him, having been dulled by the aftereffects of the electric shock. The familiar presence of it was a comfort in what seemed like a dangerous situation.

The man smiled at him. "Sorry, Your Highness, but I'm afraid I can't quite do that." Somehow he managed to simultaneously sound regretful and like the cat that caught the canary. The man turned his attention back to the woman. "So   price?"

Loki did not wait any longer. With a burst of magic he snapped his bonds open and then swiftly extracted himself from the center, moving to the side so that he could see everyone in the room. There was the man, clearly in charge but also clearly not a threat by himself; the woman was a danger, definitely the one he'd have to focus on; the two guards didn't look like much, but he'd have to engage them to assess their skill level. He was going to be out of there in no   

Electric fire spread from a small point on his neck to his entire body. The level was a lot lower than the first had been, so he didn't fall unconscious, but he did drop to the ground, his body spasming in pain.

When the shocks stopped, Loki collapsed, boneless, and breathed deeply to try to regain control of himself. His vision was slightly blurry, but he could see enough to recognize the man, grinning down at him, eyes roaming. "Well?" he asked, clearly not talking to Loki.

Turning his head, Loki saw the woman   One-Four-Two, he'd called her   looking down at him appraisingly. She looked at the man, looked at the way he was watching Loki. For a moment her eyebrows furrowed, but the hint of disquiet disappeared as quickly as it had arrived, replaced once again by satisfaction. She said, "Seven million."

Still not taking his eyes off of Loki (an expression that was now making anxiety curl in the god's gut), the man grinned, a hungry look that promised nothing good.

"Done."


Thor paced outside Loki's door, almost-knocking a thousand times.

He was trying to figure out the best way to go about this conversation, since he wasn't quite sure how to ask what he wanted to, or even precisely what it was that he was going to ask. Well, Thor had never been very good at the subtle approach, so he forced himself to knock heavily on the door, preparing himself to flat out ask Loki what was going on with him and what the conversation with Valkyrie had been about.

A few seconds passed, and then the door swung inward. Loki hadn't physically opened it, still sitting across the room on his bed, reading a book, but had simply used a push of his magic. Thor had always found the use of seidr so fascinating; barely anyone could access it to do as much as light a candle, and Loki could create illusions, teleport, move things with his mind, and countless other things. It was so impressive, especially since Loki always did it with barely a thought, as if it were the easiest thing in the world.

"What can I do for you, brother?" Loki asked, not looking up from his book. The prince turned a page.

Here goes. "Tell m   " Thor paused; demands had never worked well with Loki, only ever causing his hackles to rise. The king amended his words. "I would like you to tell me what has been going on with you."

Loki's eyes, sharp and perceptive, flicked up to Thor briefly, taking in his posture and expression and tone and probably a million other things Loki could see that would betray Thor's emotions and thoughts. The green eyes twitched and then lowered back to the book. It felt deliberate, a forced calm after seeing whatever he had in Thor. In the past, Thor didn't think he ever would have noticed such a thing; he had grown quite a lot in the last years.

"Further context might be necessary," Loki drawled in a bored tone, flipping another page. "A lot has been going on in general, if you haven't noticed." Wry teasing, exactly what he would expect from Loki, but there was something more. How had he never seen his brother's layers before?

"I am referring to how you have been acting since the events with Hela. You are...more closed off, more withdrawn, hesitant. You are quieter, in every aspect. And you do not seem overly fond of touches, as of late. I want to know why."

"I've never been overly fond of touches, Thor," Loki said with a dismissive roll of his eyes. He seemed tenser   was he tenser? "As for the other things..." a shrug, dismissive. "Thought I'd lie low; a lot of bad blood around here."

"Loki, please-" Thor tried, knowing there was more to it.

The dark-haired prince slammed his book shut and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. There was a sneer on his face, the one Loki always portrayed when he was going to say something scathing.

"Fine, you want to know what's wrong?" Loki sneered. He stood up. "You stole my throne. You abdicated, Thor! You gave up your right to be king! And sure, when I was king I put up a statue and made some plays but did you look around in the one second you were there? Our realm was at peace! All of the realms were at peace! You know who was a leading force in getting us there? Me. While you were off on Midgard doing whatever you've dedicated your time to, I was on Asgard. I protected my people. And then suddenly you return and snatch it away! And fine, I accepted it, because a power struggle wouldn't be good for the people when in such a fragile state. But don't come here begging to fix my problems when you are my problem."

Loki made a very good point; everything he said was true. It was not, however, what had been creating the change in him. It was a shift, designed to look real; saying that nothing was wrong hadn't worked, so the best way to get Thor to back off would be with some problem that could be the cause. Thor was sure that in the past, Loki had probably pulled this off countless times, and suddenly the king was deeply sad; how much pain had his brother been in throughout his life that he'd covered with easy words?

How had Thor never seen it? Thank the Norns he was seeing it now.

"You speak validly. But not, I think, truthfully," Thor replied calmly. Loki's eyes narrowed. "Please," Thor beseeched, "brother, I wish only to aid you. If you would just-"

"Leave me be, Thor!" Loki snarled. The green-eyed prince strode past the king, heading for the door.

Thor caught his arm. "Why do you always refuse help? I can help you, just tell me what is wrong!"

Loki reared around, jerking his arm in Thor's grasp, but the blonde didn't let go, not even when panic flashed briefly through Loki's gaze before being controlled. "You really want to know?" Loki snarled. There was more than irritation in his voice now, noticeable and thick. "Here." The prince thrust his free hand towards Thor's forehead, and when his palm made contact, Thor was sent flying back, images and emotions filling his mind.

PainRageFearConfusionHateDesolationResignation

You're such a beautiful creature, Highness.

It'll hurt less if you stop fighting.

How lucky I am to have gotten you.

Thor vomited.

When the king felt that he could move without collapsing, he turned his head to look at his brother. Loki was slouching against the wall, slowly sliding down it until he was sitting on the floor. His eyes were closed and his breathing was deep in a way that was obviously forced.

"Loki-" Thor began in a broken tone.

"I was on Sakaar for a month before you arrived," Loki said. His voice was eerily calm. "Like you, I was taken to the   the Grandmaster by Brunnhilde. But while he was interested in you for what you could do in the arena, he was interested in me because he thought I was pretty and I was a King and a Mage and it excited him to be able to control such a powerful creature."

There was a long silence. Finally, Thor said, "You're very powerful, how did he manage to...why didn't you..."

Loki opened his eyes now, looking at Thor. There was something dead about his gaze, but at the same time a spark of bitter anger was lit. "The same electric disk you'd had attached to your neck I had as well. And he had these...he had these special bindings. They...it was like I couldn't reach more than a trickle of my magic. And when I even tried to use what I could access the shocks would be worse. I couldn't do anything. I didn't let it happen. It wasn't my fault."

The words sounded like they'd been said many times before. Had Loki tried to convince himself of those very statements? How many times?

"Of course it wasn't your fault," Thor said desperately in response. "It is no one's fault but that awful man's. If we could, I would go right back to Sakaar and end his life myself. If I had known..." Now that the shock had worn off, rage filled him. "Oh if I had known I wouldn't have let us leave until I ripped him limb from limb!"

"I don't need you to protect me, Thor," Loki snapped in response.

"Clearly you do!" Thor roared back. His anger wasn't directed at Loki, and he hadn't meant to yell. He regretted it instantly, since it sounded like he was blaming Loki for what had happened. He felt even worse when he saw Loki flinch.

The trickster's eyes hardened and he pushed himself to his feet. Before Thor could apologize, explain, Loki spoke. "Yes, the big strong Thor," the prince sneered. "The Golden Son would never have been weak enough to be brought down so low, taken advantage of in such a way. If only I had wailed to you about my problems, you could've hunted him down and saved the day, just like always. Ever the hero."

"That is not what I meant," Thor replied sternly. "Do not twist my words."

Loki gave a mocking bow. "As you command, my King."

"Why must you always-" Thor began angrily, before stopping himself. Loki was trying to incite an argument to distract from the actual subject at hand. He knew exactly how to push Thor's buttons, exactly how to push everyone's, and Thor wasn't surprised that his brother was pulling out that particular skill in this moment. He simply felt so sad that Loki felt the need to.

Thor took a deep breath. "I know you do not need my help. You have lived your entire life not needing help from anyone; your self-sufficiency was always something I admired. I only wish that you would accept it anyway."

Loki looked at him, his stance slowly softening as the prince forced himself into calmness. "Throughout our time together, Thor, your help only ever did more damage than good. You wanted to help me become a better warrior, and only succeeded in showing all of Asgard how the darker prince was a failure with most weapons. Odin's ever-present disappointment grew then, and I spent hours upon hours struggling to be better."

"You are the best warrior with knives I have ever met," Thor said in response. "The way you use your magic is unbelievably impressive, and you are a very skilled fighter."

Loki ignored him. "Then you tried to help me gain a woman's affection when I didn't want it in the first place, and only succeeded in winning the girl over for yourself. Not that it took much; you had every girl in a thousand miles desperate for your attention."

Thor had no response to that.

"Countless times you tried to help and countless times you made life harder for me. I do not want to accept your help, Thor, because your help hurts more than it makes things better."

"Our childhood was not all bad," Thor said, his eyes sad, almost pleading. "You were my best friend, and I yours. We had countless adventures together, played together, fought together. I hear your pain and know there is truth in it, that my shadow was long and you were often put in it, but that was not the entirety of our relationship. I wish more than anything that you could remember the good times as well as you remember the bad."

Once more, they had veered off topic. Loki was a master of misdirection, especially when he used anger or the truth.

"What do you need, Loki?" Thor asked. "I understand my help is not welcome, but what do you need? Trauma is not easily gotten over, as proven by the last few weeks, but I'm sure there is something that might aid you. Anything you need. I will do anything you need."

For a moment, Loki looked as if he was going to snap back again, to try to get a rise out of Thor again, but instead he just walked over to an armchair and sat down, his shoulders slumped. He didn't look at Thor for a few moments, but when he did, his gaze lacked anger, only a lonely, vulnerable sadness.

"Just...just sit with me, for a while," Loki said tentatively. "Right now, I would just like some peace. And to..." he hesitated, clearly feeling uncomfortable with his own vulnerability. "And to not be alone."

Thor nodded, walking over slowly and settling into the other armchair. "Of course, Loki."

The smile Loki gave him was small and not quite happy, but it was real, and it was true. And it was a start.